The cock stretched its neck while shrouded in the thick morning fog to let out the third loudest shrill; it was what roused him from another moment with her, his first wife. She is late now. Ten years older than his first son. He looked about him and heard the cricket scratch off dust while the hens roosted in their pen, but the pot of Aloe Vera sitting idly on the window brought him back to reality.
Chuka thought he was still in the village, mourning his very dear wife. He wakes each morning this way, feeling nothing but the clutches of mourners; it has haunted him for the past ten years and still keeps him company. He frowns: it is that same cock that roused him up to face Nkem’s lifeless body beside him on the bed, ten years today. He had to make a haunting journey down to her village after the doctor confirmed her dead.
‘Dead from what?'
Her people had asked – teary-eyed. His lips quivered when he tried to unclasp them; her aged mother nearly tore her teeth apart due to bitterness. He could not gather his shame to tell them that she suffered from fast breathing after they had their first child and she wanted more. He too wanted more, and he had allowed her to push herself beyond the limit. She pushed herself too far and beyond the cliff.
He felt more sour footed when he remembered the big fight they had a night to her departure, how he turned his face to the potted plant of Aloe Vera which the herbalist had given to her for conception. That night, she breathed too fast, and at some point, it was doused by a slow, soggy snore. Yes, he might have killed his late wife, not with his bare hands but through his peaceful silence.
The potted plant has grown ten years older, but he is still where he was ten years earlier, where she left him; on the cold floor of grief even after his new wife massaged his back for an early morning round before he ran off to work.
Nkem would have been in the kitchen by now preparing breakfast because she knew how much he would wrestle with traffic to get to work at the Enugu State Ministry of Agriculture, close to subway. She was the one that would rouse him up from sleep, then leave to make breakfast and lunch which accompanied him to work in an ash coloured food warmer she had when she earned her first salary at the post office after the strike, not too far from his place of work. The government owed them for years, and they decided to put up a challenge. Most of them had to relocate to their farms in the village, while others went into trading at Ogboete, a nearby market around Holy Ghost cathedral.
He gives out a heavy, labour-laden sigh of frustration; he does not want to go down the bitter memory lane of living with his first wife, Nkem. Chuka already has his back on the bed when their first son, Obi bangs on their door to say ‘good morning’. His second wife grabbed the wrapper close-by, tied it around herself to cover her full naked breasts and her hanging pubic side, which he had asked her severally to lower a bit, and then ran to the door to attend to their son. He uses the opportunity to walk into the bathroom for an early morning bath.
Chuka arrives at the Ministry that morning and meets the gardener burning the rubbish he had gathered that morning.
"Hah! Oga welcome."
"Fred. What are you up to this morning?"
"Na chaman wey ask me to clear the compound for govuno visit."
His eyes leaves the man and falls on images of potted plants that idly burn under so many rubbles. He remembers how these potted plants made their way to the Ministry of Agriculture; this was a move by the former commissioner to distribute hybrid plants of different varieties to rural subsistent farmers. It was a means of encouraging commercial farming among rural dwellers. Unfortunately, this same project was used as a means to embezzle funds, which the governor discovered later on; he canceled the plan and forced the commissioner to resign. It did not end there since the commissioner was an old friend of the governor and a member of his campaign team; he was transferred to another ministry where he walks about freely without much regret.
He remembers how he picked one of these neglected pots for Nkem, which was on the day they came home with the plant the herbalist gave to her. The memory gives his face a transparent look: he immediately tastes bile on the tip of his tongue and walks away before the gardener could reply to his greetings.
The ministry is expecting the visit of the new governor very soon. He knows that some money must have been released for this assignment and signed somewhere, but it must have ended up in someone else's pocket. He is already tired of working with this group of swindlers and cannot wait for his retirement. Chuka wants to go home and start looking after the expanse of farmland his parents had left in his care. He has not told his second wife just yet about his big plans. He wants her to have as many children as possible before he gives her the good news.
Although, when Nkem was alive, they made it a point of duty to go home and farm at each farming season; her death had left the farm fallow for many years. He walks straight to his office after his conversation with the gardener, unlocks the door and raises the curtain to let in some morning sunlight. He looks at his wristwatch – Ada has made him come to work very late for the unnumbered times. He has lost touch with everything including his punctuality, and very soon he might lose his sanity over her leas-affairs attitude towards her family.
Chuka never wanted to re-marry, but his kinsmen would not let him be. They said he was the only child of his parents and his bloodline must continue. He works as the head of quarantine and supervision, but not a single good or document in that account has crossed his desk for the past one year. They have all gone through a higher channel, where they will be quickly approved without much hassles and questions.
The first thing that hits the white hairs under his nostrils is the smell of burning clay. He knows the gardener must have set the rubbles on fire and the pots are burning hot clay beneath it. He imagines how it must feel: burning under something hot without any form of refuge. He imagines Nkem burning under the heap of barrenness and not having any children to call hers. She must have smoked under the pile of his mother's regular visits, their silence and her demons. They must have felt too much for her to bear; maybe that was why she developed high blood pressure some years after their wedding, and it intensified when trouble came.
At times, when they try too hard in many nights to have babies they can call children, her breath would come in heavy bunches which develop into sweat and tears because she was fast losing her breath. Most times, he could not help it. He would shove in-between her legs with his penis, tear through her fallopian tube and up to her uterus; and out of frustration, he would want to fix that one sperm that would make his mother let him be – that one child that would call him father and give him a sense of fulfillment. He would go deaf to her pleas, for him to stop at his hastened and desperate throttles, until he hears her breathing change from moaning to sickening shrills.
It was as though the herbalist was in the know of her fatigued state and impending demise. He had not offered her a child neither did he assure her of getting one through this root, but he stated emphatically that it would make her miseries flee like a bird, and it did. When they returned from their last journey from Kogi, she took to juicing the Aloe Vera. Sometimes, she ran to juice it at night after they might have had sex to hasten conception; she was only a woman in need and what more has she to lose?
The herbalist had just offered her a haven from him, his mother and her demons. She knelt and prayed to the potted plant. Most times, he could not look her in the eye or watch her face change from stress to distress. She punished herself at will. Her supplication to the potted plant accelerated and intensified after his mother's last visit when she gave the two of them an ultimatum: she threatened to marry a younger girl and get a man from her late husband's lineage to continue his bloodline. It was like setting a hill ablaze while the bulls were grazing. Such scenario reminded him of the rampage of the hyenas on the bulls. The forest rustled, and his wife was on fire.
After he had some few crucial documents signed, he looks at his watch which says four; he then decided to leave to prepare for his journey to Anambra the following day. He leaves the quiet office and makes straight for home. Chuka unlocks the door with his spare key; he meets nobody in the sitting room. When he gets to his room, he notices that some stems from the Aloe Vera were crudely missing. He sees that the door to the bathroom was unlocked; it was left wide open, and when he walks in to make water, Chuka noticed some turfs of hair and backs of Aloe Vera carelessly smeared all over the sink and littered all over the floor. He nods his head in disgust. His first wife left everything prim and proper. He goes back and shuts the door behind him, walks to the wardrobe, draws out his bag and begins to pack.
The sides of each mud-soaked tire punched at the edges of each sharp jagged edged pot-hole, and it rubbed off a lasting continuous dent. Yes, he has a pain right inside here within the enclave of his strong man's heart. It tears his tendons against his skin each time the setting sun throws an orange crimsoned light through his window and settles on his face. He has something against himself. He took the only jewel he has ever known, snuffed the life out of her through the strong man's arteries that lay deep within her olive black skin. Those arteries, even the doctors confessed receded before their eyes.
The team of well-crafted brains hidden behind wide-rimmed spectacles jolted back in a bewildered wonder which nearly threw their white lining off their hunched proud shoulders that has seen years of sniffing and snooping over cadavers to look dejected at the discovery of death in a swift moment of letting their guard down.
"It is quite impossible!"
Then the other said, "She can't be dead!"
They argued on like cocks about to lay one hen and watched while death that rode on the back of whistling wind rode away with his wife's remains.
Chuka makes it a point of duty to travel to the village every 25th of April, but this time it is different: it is not to greet the elders or farm, but to pay homage to his wife who now dwells among his ancestors. Although she comes each night to keep him company, he makes it a point of duty to visit with her favourite hair shampoo, deodorant, sweets, and drinks. Although he never meets what he drops the previous time, he knew they must have made her happy while she sat among his ancestors to look after him when he goes about his day to day activities.
This time around, he has come with her favourite potted plant; it illuminated her darkness during the latter days of her miserable life while on earth, and he wishes that it would bring some sunlight while she rests on the other sunny side, while he too slowly healed from within.
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Woow!!! Very interesting story