They were surrounded by a body of thick white clouds. There wasn’t much to see through the windows. Chikelu had tried as many times as possible to see beyond the thick mass of clouds but the view made him think they were stationed at a spot. The clouds reminded them of nothing but their distant location and there was certainly no hurry to where they were all headed. Some made their way down to the rest room, few had their eyes glued to the television; but majority slept, kept up chats or just read something in front of them. An air of patience swam about the space they all shared. Everyone had their minds on one thing: home.
A pleasant looking lady, with a deep chocolate skin, gently pushed the cart quietly to where Amara and her son sat. The cart was filled with drinks and snacks of all types. She came upon them with a basketful of treats like Chikelu’s uncles always did. She wore her dark shinny hair short, and her white sparkling shirt did not only compliment her glossy complexion but gave her red bowtie and tight navy blue skirt a-must-stare attractive but professional look. Her looks reminded Amara of the picture of a young dark skinned lady, whose picture was always used on the cover of black promotional magazines for black beauty products; her attractive red lips parted, and showed off a row of impeccable set of white dentition. Her highlighted eyes paced from Amara to her son and back to Amara. Her attraction grew wider when she leaned a bit and asked:
“Mam, may I get you anything?”
She smelt of sweet oranges mixed with ripe mangoes; her name plate read ‘Jane’. Amara smiled up to her and then turned to her son who closely paid a close attention all the while.
“I think we are good. Thank you very much, Jane.”
The air-hostess smiled along with her eyes and made her way to the next row. Amara put her head back on the headrest and gathered her jacket around her body. Her hands gently shook. She unclasped her fingers and took hold of her son’s arm. The little man smiled but searched his mothers face, as though he searched for something. She needed some warm comfort. Her heartbeat had paced uncontrollably for the past few hours and it had been very difficult to get proper sleep while on board. Leaving her parents and loved ones behind had been a very difficult task; they had been there for years and she wasn’t sure of the life that waited for her far across the oceans. She rummaged in her mind like someone who was looking for something that had been left behind; something felt out of place but she couldn’t explain what it was. Amara put her hand into her jacket and brought out her phone; she pressed a button and a text flashed before her very eyes, and for the tenth time, she read his message: ‘I will be waiting at the airport. Kachi’. Her head suddenly felt heavy and her throat suddenly longed for something cold. Amara turned her head to look for the air-hostess who formerly came to take their orders, but at that point she was no where nearby; instead, her eyes caught the eyes of another passenger who smiled and waved at her. Amara smiled back and turned back to her son who busily played with his game. After some few minutes, a pleasant voice came up on the speakers over their heads and said:
“Dear ladies and gentlemen, thank you for choosing to fly…. In few minutes, we would be arriving at…. We advice you buckle up and do enjoy the ride….”
Amara turned to her son and said:
“Nna, we are home at last.”
The little man smiled up to his mother and squeezed her hand. Amara closed her eyes; he didn’t know how much she needed that comfort after so many years.
As they made their way to the door, out of the plane already, a blonde lady in a short blue gown busily welcomed each one of them:
“Welcome to New York, mam.”
Amara nodded in response, but she noticed the look on her son’s face right from the minute they were about stepping into the hall. She understood better: it was his first time away from home and having to deal with seeing so many people of different colours in one place. Apart from his mother, the only people he had around him were his maternal grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. He held her hand so tight that it reminded her of his father’s strong grip. It was the first time he had touched her then, but the memory had grown rusty and the feeling like a whiff of quick sand.
He didn’t want to move any further. The lady at the gate smiled at both of them as she struggled to convince him that there was totally nothing to worry about; she finally untangled her arm from his. She went down on one knee, looked into his dancing eyes and said:
“Nna, don’t be scared. I have a surprise for you.”
She dipped her hand into her pocket and brought out a candy bar. At that moment, the frowns on his face automatically vanished and were replaced by burst of smiles which tore from different sides of his tiny face –unfortunately, he took after his father. It was the best thing he could ever do: to leave a son behind but also his replica. He quickly ran into her arms and said:
“I love you so much. Mummy, you are simply the best.”
She equally smiled at his excitement. His confession nearly brought tears to her eyes; how she wished she got such praise and comments from someone who mattered to her the most.
Travelers walked by in a hurry; some stood to make calls, while others just walked towards the exit end. Some people came in through the entrance door to pick up their loved ones: some had sheets of paper with names boldly written on them. The announcer made known the different flights and their routes, sometimes; the reverberating female voice would call on names or kept time. Some people didn’t mind but stared at the beautiful young lady who dragged a little boy by her side. The boy was as lost as his mother; it was their first time to travel out of Nigeria. Amara was impressed with the state of the airport; she couldn’t wait to be done with the business of the day. She took her son by the hand, and walked straight to the nearest counter. He had earlier sent her a mail, and asked her to wait for him. She felt nervous inside, but didn’t want it to show. She looked at her son for the first time since they landed, and thought, he needed to be with his father.
She walked through the check point with their son. Amara handed their passports to the man. He opened it, and looked at her twice, and then turned to look at the boy who hung on her shoulder. He didn’t just look, he stared. He wanted her to know how beautiful she was, leaving Nigeria to come and live with a husband who kept her for years without coming home. Amara didn’t want to get angry; she obliged him the embarrassment until he handed her passports over to her.
It was the same stare she got from men for eighteen years till Kachi came back and paid her bride price, they wedded and he went back to America; the same way he came, but he forgot something in her, a seed that grew into a foteus, and a baby that was born to his name, and into his family lineage. People came for her hand in marriage after he went back, but she was taken. Her friends asked her to leave the baby with his mother, but her parents prayed her to be patient, that one day, the God of America would answer their prayers, and her husband would send for her. His voice over the phone or video call was not enough to calm her sexual urge; she had tasted it once and it then came like pangs of raging storm. Ubaka, her ex-boyfriend would have had her if not for the priests that her parents invited to the house to caution her against adultery. It was not enough to touch her privates, neither did the adult movies she bought made the pains go away: she was a woman in great need.
Everyone wanted to have her: the priests that came to the house for holiday, the neighbor across the street, the professor that taught ‘Human Kinetics’, and her friend who suddenly decided she didn’t want to grow breasts or have vagina. It was the same look that stirred up a fight between two people on the plane: both men wanted to have her, not minding she had an eight year old by her side. She felt caged and imprisoned under her skin and in her own body. She felt like escaping to where nobody could find her. The torment was too much and she got too close to the end of her life. But one day, God of America answered everyone’s prayer: Kachi called.
“Amy, I have filed your papers, and we will be together by June.”
Her parents dragged a fat cow to God’s altar; her uncles and aunts came all the way to celebrate her miracle; after five years of marriage, their son would finally see his father, face to face. But five years counted the slow fingers of six, seven and on the eighth year, her parents drove her to Murtala Mohammed Airport; they waited till the door was shut and their plane took flight. She still remembered how they smelt; they smelt of nothing but old age.
Her son was her double; Chikelu cried so much on the plane that she thought it might not really be a good idea that they joined his father. Her grandmother often told her that children could smell evil spirits or danger ahead. Her grandmother joined everyone to pray for her before she left, and when they got to the airport, her uncle called her father, only to inform him of his mother’s death.
The immigration staff repeated what he earlier said, when he found out that the woman before him was too far away.
“Mam, do you know where you are going?”
Amara flinched, and the man gave her a suspicious look. She answered:
“Yes, I do.”
He cleared his throat, and asked:
“Do you have an address?”
Amara used a free hand to produce her husband’s address, boldly written on a card. The man took his time and studied the address, punched something on his system, and asked:
“Who is he to you?”
“And how long have you been married?”
Amara kept quiet, it was embarrassing, because she knew what his next questions could sound like.
“For how long have you been married?”
When she was able to unlock her tongue, the words came like stones mashed against a hard surface. Her lips shook, not out of fear or anxiety, but from years of loneliness.
“Eight… Eight years.”
The words came as though she was not sure of herself. It made her realize how long she had waited beside a well and yet felt dry. The man looked at her again, and continued.
“Have you visited or is this your first time in the US?”
“No and Yes!”
She wanted to pee in her pants, because the questions unnerved her. As though he noticed that he made her uncomfortable, he stopped asking questions, gave Amara a paper, and said:
“Here is your pass at the gate. Welcome to the U.S, I hope you enjoy your stay here.”
He gave her a quick smile, and even as he attended to the next person, Amara felt his eyes on the back of her head.
She went over to claim her luggage with her son; people looked their way but she didn’t care. She picked up their bags, put it on a trolley, along with her son, and then pushed towards the waiting area. They sat, and she brought out some biscuits and gave her son while they waited for his father.
Her phone beeped, and her heart skipped. She looked at the screen and it was a message from Kachi; “I’m on my way,” he wrote. There was no single feeling of love, haste or panic to see someone, no eagerness. She tucked the phone back into her jacket; it was among the first cloths he sent to her while she was in Nigeria, an enticement, and a reminder that she belonged to him. Each cloth had a tag to it, as though he wanted her to know that it cost him a lot to maintain her in Nigeria, as though it was what she ever wanted. Each time the bags arrived, she felt unhappy the more. It would have been better if the bags arrived with her husband, but no, he kept on making empty promises and years passed her by.
She hunched on a chair with the rest of others who either waited for their flight or for their loved ones to come pick them up. Amara looked at everyone who passed her vision; none bore a close semblance with Kachi. She imagined how he would look like after so many years of living apart. She wondered if she would ever get used to him or living with him under the same roof, sleeping in the same bed or making love. Cold shivers ran down her spine. Amara felt too angry to think of the many wasted years in Nigeria. While she looked around, her eyes fell on a man who walked towards her. Amara flinched. As he came closer, he smiled and his features broadened before her eyes. Heat from nowhere started building up under what she wore. Her palms became wet that she had to wipe it on her dress over and over; her heart paced faster and before she knew it, a little girl of eight jumped out from nowhere and jumped on the man:
“Daddy! I missed you so much!”
The man threw his head back and for the first time, Amara saw unclothed happiness and joy marry as one. The man dropped kisses all over the little girl’s face and hugged her so tight. She had her little arms tightly around his neck and laughed throughout the time the kisses came. Within a twinkle of an eye, a woman joined them and the man put the little girl down and looked into the woman’s eyes. They both locked eyes, and what they felt for each other was as naked as daylight. She was all smiles as she went into the man’s arms and he gathered her into a warm embrace. The man brought down his head and planted a long wet kiss on the lady’s lips. At that point, Amara saw the wedding band on their fingers. Her heart wept. Her eyes followed them even as the man grabbed their luggage and they all went through the exit end, hand in hand. Amara blinked and looked away. She looked on the other side and caught her son watching. His eyes wished for what he just saw. She drew him close and hugged him tightly, making him know that she was always there for him, no matter what.
People came and went, but there was no sign of Kachi. Her son had finished eating his biscuits and juice; she gave him one of the story books his father sent, but he wasn’t interested; he was too eager to explore the city. She allowed him be, but kept a close eye on him as he walked about looking at people or just jumping into space. Amara noticed that once in a while, a police man with a dog walked by, and gave her a suspicious look, through the corners of his eyes. At some point, her son ran to touch the dogs, because he was so fond of them. She knew what it took her to convince him to leave without Tom, a dog his grandfather bought him on his fifth birthday. It was as though he was leaving his better half, that he cried himself to sleep before they got to the airport.
She went into one of her trance when a male voice propped her from behind. She jumped out of fright, and was thrown back to reality. A man had walked up behind her with their son in hand. He smiled in order to make her feel more comfortable before he asked:
“Hi! Is this your son?”
She looked at her son and looked at the man; she wondered what he had done wrong.
“I think he lost his way. I found him wondering in the men’s room. I earlier saw both of you walk out of the plane, and I knew you ought to be his mum.”
As he talked, Amara remembered that he was one of the passengers onboard their flight.
“Yes, thank you.”
Her son left the man, and hugged her. The man looked at them in a confused way.
“Have you been waiting for someone?”
Amara didn’t like him hanging around them; he had already delivered her son to her, and it was time to go, but he still hanged around like a wet rag. His action made her feel pensive.
“Yes, my husband.”
She nearly choked, but it was too late, the words were out before she could slap her mouth. There was no change on the man’s face. He just said:
“Oh! I am waiting for my sister to come pick me up,” he looked at his wristwatch and murmured in Igbo which Amara didn’t get.
“Your husband must be running late, likewise my sister. She works in a hospital as a nurse. What of your husband, what does he do for a living? By the way, I am Chinedu, and you are?”
It vexed Amara so much; who does this man think he was, trying to invade their lives? She looked at his outstretched hand, and looked back at his face.
“My husband is a doctor.”
The man felt embarrassed but didn’t show it; he locked his hand back in his pocket, smiled and said:
“Well, I have to ….”
But he was cut short by a female voice:
“Chinedu! Nwanne m!”
It was his sister. They didn’t know when she walked up to them. Both hugged. The man turned to Amara who watched them; if she felt any pang of jealousy, she did well to hide it.
Amara offered a hand, along with her name:
Chinedu’s sister smiled from ear to ear, she also bent and offered Chikelu some chocolates, which he willingly obliged. Amara knew he was already bored and couldn’t wait to meet new people. Chinedu’s sister was too nice that their conversation made Amara feel at home. Before they left, she left her card with Amara, and promised to come pick her up for an American tour.
Immediately they left, Amara saw a man walking towards them in the same direction. He had glasses on, and he took his time as he walked towards them. Amara was concerned at the way he walked, but as he came closer, her blurry vision became clearer than ever. Kachi walked straight towards them and stood right before her; Amara didn’t know if it was right to offer a handshake, a hug or just a stare. Kachi on the other hand thought of nothing better than dialogue:
“Amara, how was your journey?”
Amara couldn’t look him in the eye: she was shy; she didn’t miss the wrinkles on his forehead, neither did she fail to notice that he looked older than what she remembered, eight years ago. He didn’t wait for a supply to his question before he bent and gave her a greasy hug, then turned to their son who watched him suspiciously. His body felt like a dry rock that she quickly pushed back. He noticed and gave her a long indulging look. When he made an attempt to touch Chikelu, he recoiled, and hid behind his mother. Amara saw the pain on Kachi’s face. She made to drag Chikelu, and at the same time, she said:
“Nna, come, this is your daddy. You know I promised you a surprise?”
The boy looked at his mother and stayed where he was. It was too obvious that he was disappointed with the surprise. She saw the pain written all over Kachi’s face. Amara knew exactly where his mind had gone. It was Kachi’s voice that cut through the silence:
“Don’t worry, we will get used to each other in no time.”
He turned, took over their trolley, and led the way out.
They caught the first wind when they stepped out of the airport. Her son looked up and some droplets of bright sun fell on his nose and head. He brought out his tongue and took in some few amounts, looked at his mother and gave her the widest smile ever.
“The car is over there!”
Kachi spoke into her ears because of the noise outside. He pointed to a black Lexus SUV and they all made their way towards it. When they got to the car, Amara opened the back door for their son and when she tried to open the front door, a hand came and gently rested on hers. She felt as though some electric waves ran through her body; she quickly took back her hand. His touch felt coarse and cold.
Kachi opened the door for her and helped her in while she busily rubbed the back of her palm. It was impossible for her to get used to his every move; everything seemed too new, too quick, and she knew it might take a little longer before everything got back to the way they should. Kachi got into the car and put the key in ignition before easing out of the driveway of the airport.
“Kedu? How was your journey?”
Amara didn’t know how to answer the question. Her head was full and the last thing she wanted was a conversation but Kachi insisted. She took her face from the window, looked at him and how well old age had been too kind to him. She had so many questions which had been left unanswered for years. She needed to know, but so many of them would not make so much sense.
“O di nmma.”
“How have you been with our son?”
She smiled. She didn’t know how he came by that question. It was difficult to know that he cared.
“Do you actually care?”
Her question hung in the air like a dangerous hurricane waiting to descend or a bad smell which wouldn’t go away so quickly. She turned back to face the road. She gently shut her eyes and everything came back like the rush of a great wind. The first day he touched her and got her pregnant; the pain she had to bear alone throughout the period and having their son without him by her side. The long eight years of living without his support. As though he read what went on in her head.
“I had to work. I had to earn some money, woman.”
She closed her eyes and few drop of tears escaped her lashes. It was of no use, he was a complete stranger to her.
Kachi talked throughout the drive, explaining the reasons why he abandoned them for eight years, but his voice was drowned by everything that happened around them. Amara had her face glued to the window throughout their drive around New York. They passed: tall buildings, hotels, the stores, flood of people crossing the streets, and cyclists. Chikelu jumped around the back of the car, from one window to the other; he didn’t want to miss a sight. They drove for sometime, and Amara read Manhattan on a sign post. Before they knew it, their car stopped in front of a big building, and her husband said:
“We are home.”
Their son shouted out of excitement, opened the door and ran down. He ran straight to the carpet grass which formed part of the frontage, and started running around in circles. Amara could see the excitement on his face. Their house sat on a hill and in a serene environment. The first thing Amara noticed was the brown paint which was a turn off for her. She looked around and met people walk by with their kids or dogs; some waved at them or called at her husband with smiles hanging down their jaws. Their car had moved right into the drive way which was lined by green shrubs. When Kachi was done with their bags, he came over and unlocked the door for them.
It was their son’s excitement that got to her the most. Kachi stood at the door way and watched both mother and son take in the look of their home for the first time. The walls that were covered with brightly coloured wall papers, the furniture, light, kitchen, living room… He ushered them to their son’s room and the first thing he did was to jump on his bed. Kachi said:
“I had the whole place redecorated before your arrival. I hope you love it?”
They left him to his excitement and Kachi led the way to their room. When he opened the door, the first thing that caught her attention was the white bed sheet which was all made and readily waiting for her arrival. Her heart began to pound in her head. She left the door way and went to look at the next room which served as their wardrobe and bathroom. She opened the door to one of the closet and whiffs of his perfume combined with his smell hit the hair under her nostrils; it was an unfamiliar smell and for the first time, it occurred to her that she knew not his smell; it smelt like a stranger’s air. Amara was thrown out of her trance when a hand gently touched her arm.
“You don’t know how long I have waited for us to be together like this. I had to work my ass out for today to happen.”
Kachi said huskily. He reached for her shoulders and brought his lips a little bit close to her neck. His hot breath made her feel like jumping out of her skin; she shrugged his hands off and faced him while wrapping her hands round her body, shivering. Kachi moved closer with his lips but she moved back and pushed him away as though he smelt bad. His eyes showed his intents as well as his muscles; but her reaction poured some guilt into his excitement, tipping everything over.
“I am sorry. I am tired.”
Amara didn’t know how she found her tongue.
“I understand. I didn’t intend to push it. I know it would take time. I am happy to have you here.”
Amara didn’t say a word. It was Kachi who left her in the middle of the closet and quietly shut the door behind him. Amara’s heart sank like a bag full of wet sand, because she knew it was the beginning of motherhood and family.
The couple smiled from ear to ear, it was doctor Thomas who said something first:
“We are happy to have you with us, Amara. We have been looking forward to this day.”
Amara smiled. His wife, a blonde who seemed a little bit older than Amara added while placing one hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“Really, and they both look very much in love with each other. We are really thrilled for you. Your son is two, right?”
At first, Amara didn’t hear her question well, but Kachi was faster. He coughed before adding:
“About that age... But he looks older than his age.”
The man and woman nodded while Amara kept a tight face. It was obvious what her husband just did. It made her bite her lower lip to find out all of a sudden that a lie had just been told.
Thomas had invited Amara and her husband for dinner the minute they learnt of her arrival. Kachi came home one day with a dress for her.
“Wow! It looks nice,” she said.
She noticed that he had watched her closely and didn’t say anything.
“We have a dinner to attend. A friend and colleague of mine wants us over at their place.”
It would be her third outing since they arrived. The first had been a tour, the second a birthday party of Kachi’s colleague and now this.
“Really? How nice of them to invite us.”
“I have made arrangement for a baby sitter. She arrives at eight before we leave.”
She was so impressed at how organized her husband was. She thanked him once again and left to change for dinner. And now she wondered why her husband should lie to his friends about their son’s age without flinching.
“So, Amara, what do you plan on doing, now that you are here?”
May, Thomas’ wife turned her attention to Amara who just sipped a glass of grape wine. They had earlier had dinner and were relaxing in the living room. Kachi had his strong arms wrapped around her; it was the only time she would allow him to get too close to her in public.
“I plan on going back to school or getting a job.”
She felt Kachi’s grip tightened around her shoulders and got a little bit tighter for her comfort. May looked at Kachi and then back at her. She nodded and smiled.
“That’s a very good plan. I know some good universities, and also, I could recommend you to some offices whenever you start job-hunting; it shouldn’t be that difficult.”
At that point, Amara began to feel too uncomfortable that their guests seemed to see through her discomfort. She knew exactly where Kachi stood when it came to her decision. She knew he had never asked her and they never discussed about it. Her heart pounded in her heart as soon as Kachi said:
“Well, I think it’s high time we headed home. We wouldn’t want to keep the little man waiting, would we?”
He looked at Amara who smiled and nodded her head, and turning to her host, she said:
“Thank you so much for the beautiful evening. I really enjoyed myself.”
Both couples hugged and made their way straight back to their house. Kachi never brought up the issue and at a point it seemed like he had forgotten about it.
Amara tucked their son into his bed before she went around the house to check the locks. She was getting used to the big house, and their son also was adjusting to his new school. Amara made her way to their bedroom. She slowly let go her thick jeans, shirt and sweater, and then walked under the shower. She made sure the water was extra hot that the steam covered the whole space. She was about sponging her body when the door opened and Kachi stepped under the shower with her. Her eyes nearly crawled out of their sockets and goose bumps covered her body from head to toe. Her heartbeat increased and her head felt heavy; it was as though a ghost stepped into her space.
“No, you can’t come into this place!”
Kachi frowned. He felt out of place.
“Please, I beg you, just go,” she insisted.
She covered her body with her hands; the way he looked at her made her feel as though she was in great danger.
“But you are my wife?”
He came closer and touched her but she pushed him away as though his hands were made of spikes.
“You can’t reject me? I have been waiting for years.”
He was literally begging, but the more he did, the more she felt pained. When he saw that it was of no use, he accepted defeat and shut the door with a loud bang.
Amara busily made copies of her certificates when she heard her husband open the front door. She was surprised that he came home early that day. They had already settled in, and Chikelu had already new friends. She finished up and went into their bedroom. Her husband came in before she did and had already gone to use the shower. She sat on the bed, and busily arranged her documents. It was already two years, and she believed that it was the right time she started looking for a job or school. She was tired of staying at home while her husband went out each day. The bathroom door opened and Amara said:
“Welcome. Let me get your food ready.”
She left her certificates on the table, and opened the door. He caught her hand, drew her to his chest, and put his lips on hers. Amara clenched her lips together and drew back.
“Sorry, I have to go.”
He didn’t listen. She didn’t care that he was already erect, or that his hands were all over her body. Kachi lifted her up and placed her on the bed; he tried to lift her skirt but she drew it back. He looked at her, but she looked away, and kept a straight face.
“What is wrong with you? Do I have to force my wife to have sex with me?”
Amara kept silent. He tried to kiss her again, but she pushed him away. He got up and sat at the foot of the bed. It had been difficult accepting him back since she came. The many times they had sex was like a bad dream to her. She couldn’t stand having him touch her. He got up and went to the table; he picked a copy of what she had left, and looked at it. Amara said:
“I need to get a job or go back to school, please.”
He looked at her and continued going through the copies of her certificate.
“I make enough for all of us.”
“I need a job. I can’t sit around this quiet house for the rest of my life.”
He looked at her and said:
“Do I irritate you that much?”
Amara didn’t answer; she looked away, and started weeping. Kachi dressed up and left.
Amara walked to her car as fast as she could; she had to get home before Chikelu. Her husband agreed to a settlement in place of her working. Amara had to get her people involved, and they settled amicably: her husband sent her back to school for her masters. When she put the key in ignition, someone tapped on her glass. When she looked up, the face smiled and waved. She let her glass down a bit, and the man still smiling, asked:
“Do you remember me?”
She looked at him again, but didn’t say a word. He said:
“At the airport, remember?”
“Yeah. How is your sister?”
“She is good. We didn’t get to hear from you, again?”
“Oh! I have been busy. Do you teach here?”
He smiled, and said:
“Yes, but I am a visiting lecturer.”
Amara nodded and said:
“Oh! I go here, now.”
“Wow! Interesting! Why don’t you join us for lunch someday? I will be going back to Nigeria, soon.”
Amara thought for sometime before she replied:
“I don’t know. It is just me and my husband and our kids.”
Chinedu gave her a frown, and she said:
“Do you know what? I will think about it, and call you.”
They shook hands and she drove away.
Amara was impressed at the way Chikelu played basketball with his mates. He was getting used to everything except his father. He preferred to be with her or his friends, and seldom stayed in his room whenever his father was at home. She made it a point of duty to accompany him to basketball practice. She cheered along with his baby sister who was barely five. After practice, he came over to meet his mum with a friend of his:
“Mum, meet my friend, Ekene.”
Amara gave the young man a handshake, and her son said:
“He just invited me for lunch. Can we go?”
Amara looked at the two little boys and weighed the possibility of saying no. She smiled and nodded her head, and before she knew it, they were on their way to Ekene’s side of Manhattan.
Ekene’s mother was too excited to have them over that she couldn’t wait for them to get to the front porch before she opened the door. Amara nearly fainted when it was Chinedu and his sister who bid them welcome.
Everyone laughed because it was almost seven years since they met at the airport. They were too happy when they met Chidubem, Chikelu’s younger sister. After lunch, Chinedu showed Amara some papers which he thought she might be interested in writing for the University; he said it could be a good way of getting employed. Amara couldn’t tell him that she was banned from working, but took the papers, and promised to send hers in for publication. She decided to write under a pseudonym - her maiden name.
Amara was busily going through the books in her husband’s study when she came across a loose sheet. She brought down the thick back, and in an attempt to fix the loose sheet, she discovered a lock behind the books. She gently brought everything down, and opened it. She reached into it, and the first thing she saw was a family portrait: her husband stood in-between a woman and two little girls. Her heart sank. She saw a file and opened it, and to her dismay, it was her husband’s birth certificate; it showed that he was much older than what he told her. There were pictures of naked men and women, and x-rated movies. She opened a journal, and found lists of different men and women, and their contacts. It was too obvious why he refused a court wedding. Her hands literally shook, and she was in tears when she carried everything to the copier.
Amara heard the door to their bedroom open and close. She didn’t move. She pretended to be deep asleep. She heard her husband’s footstep towards the bed, but what came next nearly snatched the life out of her. Two hot slaps landed on her cheeks, and a brown envelope was thrown at her. She opened her eyes, and met the light on, Kachi was standing over her. She took the envelope, and opened it; what fell off made her scream: pictures of her and Chinedu in the parking lot and in an office, and a divorce letter.
“You think I wouldn’t find out. Prostitute! No wonder you wanted a court marriage! No wonder you wanted so much freedom! No wonder you couldn’t stand the sight of me! I have given you your freedom, but first…”
He came over and started beating her. She could hear herself scream. She could taste her blood in her mouth. Amara tried to remove her cloth; she ran out of the room naked, but her husband was close. She ran down the staircase as fast as she could. Her husband came after her, but he missed his step, and fell. She heard his neck break. Her kids ran out of their rooms when they heard the noise. Her son wrapped her up in his blanket; she was shivering, and when she looked up, the camera closely watched.
Amara handed their passports to the immigration officer; they were back from Kachi’s burial. The man looked at her and smiled; he remembered who she was. He didn’t ask questions. He said:
When they turned, they met May’s smiling face; Amara and her kids were gathered in a warm embrace. Kachi was gone, just like the cold days in June.
Amara’s eyes caught the painters from a distance. May had been so kind to come pick them from the airport. Amara had ordered some renovations to the house, starting from the colour — in and out — and some other things. She ordered that the sheets should be changed and additional space made for her parents who would be visiting quite often. From then on, they would be experiencing some changes which swam around the atmosphere around them. Her late husband’s demise came as a shock to everyone – including his family. It seemed like he went ahead to bring a wife from Nigeria who offered him nothing else than death. It nearly earned Amara a bad reputation; but immediately the footage of their final event was released, everyone went back to their shell.
May and her husband stood by them all those while; they were the ones she dropped the keys to their house with before leaving for Kachi’s burial. All she wanted was to erase his memory as much as possible; marrying him killed something in her and she wasn’t sure if she would ever get it back.
His colleagues couldn’t believe that Kachi lived with such a secret for so long and hid it from all of them. Doctor Thomas was so disappointed that he personally saw to the legal fees and what was due the deceased family from the hospital. May gently took Amara’s hand and squeezed:
“We are home at last.”
Amara looked at all the work that went on in her house, turned to May and wept. She moved from one room to the other, inspecting the finished work. She was glad that everything looked the way they ought to, but some things seemed to look out of place: Kachi’s voice, his smell, the noise of the soles of his shoes on the carpet, or him opening and closing the door in the middle of the night after a call. Although they kept their space, his absence formed a huge vacuum in their space. She was surprised that the kids didn’t ask for their father; what surprised her the most was the calm which guided them throughout the burial. Amara came into their room and went straight to the closet they shared, opened it and met an empty space; not even his smell was left behind. It surprised her what the dead took along with them: their memory, their moments, their thoughts, their small talks and their smell.
Amara turned on the answering machine and discovered that they had more than a hundred messages — condolences — she reckoned. She kept on deleting the messages till she got to a particular one and paused; the voice was so familiar that she swore it felt he was in the same room with her; cold shivers ran down her spine as she listened to the message.
“Hey!... It’s me Chinedu… Emmm… How are you? I know it’s not the right time to call, but all my attempt to reach you so far had proved abortive. Well, I finally got a job at a University in New York. I would love us to have lunch one of these days. Emm… call me.”
She read the hesitations in his voice. Amara picked up the phone and punched in his number, but at the last number, she paused: Kachi was only three months cold, what she was doing wasn’t right. She dropped the phone and went straight to bed.
“And now, we are going to show…”
Amara busily took over the classroom while all eyes were glued to the screen of the slide. Luckily for her, she got a job as an assistant lecturer on completing her Masters. It was that same day that Chinedu came to deliver the good news to her personally that Kachi had someone take a picture of them. Her good news had turned into her worst nightmare. As she busily put up the slides, a voice came over and whispered into her ears:
“Mam, someone brought this for you.”
Amara looked at the young lady’s hand and saw a note. She took it, read the short message and said back in a whisper:
“Tell the person to hold on in my office. I will be out in a short while.”
“Thank you, mam.”
She quietly left after the short interruption. Amara turned back to her student and continued with the lecture till the last slide. She rolled up everything, turned the light back on so that she could see their faces; the class of a hundred capacity was nearly full. She looked at their faces, which reminded her so much of UNIZIK; it was difficult to see them without the look of innocence that hung down on each corner of their faces. She remembered how it used to be back then; how they would always rush to get a seat in front and how each moment passed till she graduated and came back from Youth Service. How she met Kachi in church, and everything she ever knew turned into a long scary nightmare. It was impossible to know if she would ever give a shot at love again.
“Do we have any questions?”
Nobody raised their hands. She remembered spending virtually all night to research for each lecture and how happy it made her to find out that her students had no worries.
“In the absence of any, let’s call it a day.”
Her final conclusion heaved weight off the seats that led directly to the exit-end of the hall. Amara packed the rest of her stuffs, took the long passage way and walked directly to her office.
His hair was shaved just the way she remembered, like that of a high school prefect: it was low with a little bump in front. He had on blue jeans, white shirt and a brown jacket. He had his back to the door and certainly, didn’t see her watching. She had avoided his calls and messages, and he had no choice than to trace her to her office. She left the door handles and gently shut the door behind her; her movement distracted him and he turned and found her watching him. Chinedu was dark, a little bit above five with a chocolate build to go right with it. He got up and walked towards her, took her arms, looked into her eyes and said:
“Amara? How have you been?”
His question begged for her attention; it begged for the very yearning inside of her. His arms were strong, stronger than whatever debris her past had left her to seat in. Before this friend, she broke down like a strong tree attacked by an army of termites. The tears came first, followed by the heavy subs:
“Nedu, not well, not well at all.”
She bent her head to hide her face from him. It was too embarrassing to break down after so many months.
“I have tried to be strong all these while.”
“Chai! Nne ndo. What of the kids? How are they doing?”
“They are well. Chikelu is in high school while his sister is in primary.”
“I came as soon as I heard. It is a pity to learn all these at this moment. But why did you stay? Why didn’t you call me or family? He could have killed you?”
Amara nodded her head in agreement. She was long dead even if death came in silver lining.
“I know. I was just confused, scared or something. Where would I have gone? Who would have believed me? People saw nothing but a happy couple? Had it not been for the camera at home, I would have been convicted of murder.”
“Thank goodness. I am so sorry about everything you have been through. It was impossible getting through to you until I heard... I had to leave everything to come and see you. Come, let us seat. I know there are lots of things you need to unburden from your shoulders.”
Chinedu gently took her to the only cushion in her office and they both sat down. He withdrew a white handkerchief from his pocket and passed it on to her. Amara took it almost immediately; it smelt of nothing but comfort.
The door bell rang but Amara looked around in the kitchen and found out that she could not move an inch. From where she was washing the fish, she shouted:
“Chikelu, check who is at the door!”
She went back to what was before her and all of a sudden, the door opens and the kids screamed:
Her heart skipped. He had arrived an hour before the time and nothing was ready yet. She could hear his voice with the kids who seemed too excited about something. She quickly put the fish in the oven and turned to the rice on the burner.
“Look at what we have here! Nne, isigbugo mmadu!”
Chinedu shouted from the door. He had on a black trouser and a blue shirt. He smiled at her from ear to ear from the door way. Amara smiled back and asked;
“Bia, we agreed on seven. What are you doing here this early?”
He was interrupted by her kids who rushed into the kitchen with wraps of what he had bought them.
“Awww. You shouldn’t have.”
She said to Nedu who shrugged, rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, came over and started with the dishes. Amara frowned. She walked up to him and gently removed his hands from the dishes.
“No way. You are our guest. Chikelu would serve you some juice.”
When she tried to remove her hands from his, he held on tighter and looked into her eyes.
“You know, I am too happy at the stronger woman you have become.”
“Thank you so much. You have given me reason to live again when I never saw it coming.”
What he said next nearly fell her in her kitchen.
“Will you have dinner with me? Will you go out with me?”
Chinedu smiled because he saw that his question caught her off balance.
“But you live so far away?”
“We can have an arrangement.”
“I will certainly think about that. You know my challenges with the kids and all that. Moreover, I don’t think it is the right moment for all these.”
Chinedu smiled. He let go of her slippery hand and her pores which raced beneath her skin.
“I will wait till the right moment comes.”
He went back to doing the dishes and Amara went to check the rice. She knew that a whole new life awaited her, but she didn’t know how to embrace it, or if she could. The thought of Kachi always stood in the way each moment she tried to take a new step in life.
The taxi man patiently waited for them, but Chinedu wanted to take his time before he left her. They had seen the kids to bed, talked a little bit before he decided to go back to his hotel.
“I enjoyed the meal.”
“I am happy you did.”
“So, when do we meet again?”
She didn’t answer the question. Chinedu persisted.
“I enjoy your company a lot, and I would love us to meet as often as possible. I miss the kids too!”
“You have to get going. You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. But I love this moment.”
He came up the stairs to stand before her.
“Thank you for a great meal. It reminded me so much about home.”
“You are welcome.”
He came closer to drop a kiss on her lips but instead she politely offered her cheeks. He took what was offered, hugged her and made his way down the stairs. He waved goodbye before the taxi sped off. Amara took in a deep breath, watched till he saw their light no more before she walked back into the house.
Amara went around the house to make sure that the whole door was shut. She made a mental note to call in the men who would work on their lawn the following morning. She went to check on the kids one more time and added more sheets to their beds, and then she made her way to her study; she had a presentation the following morning. Chinedu had forced her to get a PhD form and not wait till Chikelu went to college. “It will do you much good,” His words rang in her ears.
He had really been their rock for months unending. Amara went to the window to look at the streets. Her eyes fell on the road which was buried under snow, including the trees and the flowers in front of her house which she had paid so much for. She went back to take her place in front of the laptop; her phone suddenly rang. She looked at it and a familiar number spread before the screen. A smile crept from nowhere and covered her face.
Amara said shyly.
“Hallo! Are you already asleep?”
“No. Just trying to get some little stuffs ready.”
Some minutes of silence passed before he asked:
“How is your presentation coming? Do you need help?”
“Not at all. I’ve got everything covered. I’m just waiting for daylight to break.”
“Oh! I see.”
He kept quiet again. Amara knew he wanted to say something but didn’t know how to put it. She had learned to know him better these few years.
“Oh! Very well then. Let me leave you to get some work done ahead of your big day.”
She smiled mischievously.
“Thank you so much for everything.”
“No. You don’t have to thank me at all.”
She waited for him to say something.
“What of the kids?”
“They are asleep. They are so thrilled for me.”
“I love the sound of that. They must be proud of their mum.”
She didn’t know if she needed to answer that.
“Well, sweet dreams.”
He waited for some minutes before the line went dead with a huge smile on Amara’s face.
She caught his face in the crowd as she made her way back to her seat. At the end of the presentation, he came over and without warning, gave her a tight hug and a warm kiss on both cheeks. She flushed but it was too late to hide her face. She felt like a little girl in high school and not a mother of two.
“You were exceptional in your presentation. I was so proud watching you and I wanted to do this above anything other thing.”
He came forward to kiss her but she offered her cheeks instead. His smile grew wider.
“Thank you so much for the surprise. I didn’t expect anyone.”
He slapped his hands in the air and said:
“No my dear, you are not in this alone. We are with you all the way to the top.”
Amara smiled from ear to ear. Chinedu came closer and said:
“Please don’t say no. Go out to dinner with me. Please...”
His request didn’t slap the smiles off her face; they grew broader and revealed the dimples on each side of her cheeks.
“Yes! I will go out with you!”
He put his head back and formed two fist and said:
He came close and gathered her in a warm embrace. Both made their way out of the hall and into one of the cold eves of Christmas.
The candle cast a faint shadow on the green sleeveless gown she wore. Her chocolate skin glowed like coffee seeds under the candle light. Her bunchy natural hair hung like a crown on her head, leaving the white pearl that dropped from her ear lobes and on her neck to highlight wherever they sat. Her eyes were fixed on the picture of the young woman before her: she was smiling at her and her features looked soft and free of worries. Chinedu closely admired her and the effect the candles created around their table.
“How long were you married?”
Amara lifted up her eyes and caught Chinedu drooling over her.
“The doctors must have been devastated trying to save a mother and her twins at once?”
“I died at that point. The truck driver didn’t show any mercy when he mistakenly hit their car. The doctors who handled the case still lived with the pains.”
Amara brought out her hand and rested it on Chinedu’s; she looked into his eyes and asked:
“And you? Are you still living with the pains?”
“It has been ten years without them. Time healed, I guess…”
His words trailed off like waters rushing through a brook.
He threw her words back at her. Amara removed her palm which rested on his and threw her arms around him. She looked up and saw people dancing on the floor.
“Chinedu, you know, some pains don’t just leave you. They are there for you to remember how much you need happiness in your life. Kachi is gone, but the thought of him…”
Chinedu brought one finger and placed it on her lips. He got up and came to her side.
“Come on. Let us dance to happiness.”
He placed his two hands gently on her shoulders and lifted her to her feet. Both walked hand-in-hand to the dance floor. Chinedu wrapped his arms around her waist; there was no space to spare. Amara rested her head on his shoulders while they danced to an oldie by Marvin Gaye.
“After I lost Nneka and the kids, something went dead deep inside of me. I didn’t want to know love like it should be. But that day at the airport, you made me remember her so much that a day never passed by without me thinking of you. I have always wanted you here, deep in my heart.”
Amara lifted her head from his shoulder and looked into his eyes. Then placed it back.
“You know what? I would really want to have you by my side for the rest of my life, Amara. You make me a different man.”
She left his arm and brought her hands and placed them right around his neck.
“I am so sorry if I have offended you, but I don’t want to lose having you by my side. I love you so much. I want you above any other thing I can imagine. I have waited far too long to tell you this. Amara, marry me.”
His words sang like sweet melodies in her ears; it reminded her of the bird which used to sing very close to her bed. How she longed to hear its voice each morning.
“You know, with you, it is different. Life seems to be a whole different world of experience. Thank you for coming my way. Thank you for being too patient with me. You waited for me so patiently.”
Few tears escaped under her lashes; she knew that there won’t be cold nights ahead of her; her fears had taken flight, and safety had come home to rest. Her heart panted, not out of fear but for the fact that she had waited too long for something worthwhile. Amara tightened her grip around his neck and didn’t want to let go; even as Chinedu bent and dropped sweet kisses all around her face, her heartbeat danced along with the rhythm of the music, all night long.
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