Thursday, 26 August 2010
Saturday, 7 August 2010
Amaka Nwafor watched intently as her daughter played with her friends. All the children from the homes that made up the compound were playing outside, enjoying their Saturday morning. Toddlers huddled together sharing toys while their mothers’ swapped recipes and the older boys played sweaty football screaming out fouls and penalty kicks at the youngest who grudgingly accepted to be referee.
Chiamaka and the rest of the girls played ten-ten at the farthest corner of the field. Under a shade provided by a mango tree they clapped their hands and stamped their feet singing in unison “open, close, faster, faster, kick, open, faster, faster...”Chiamaka landed awkwardly each time failing to get in sync with the rhythm, scrunching up her nose as she lifted her knee higher in an effort not to come last. Amaka stood up and walked across the makeshift football pitch, reaching her daughter she grabbed her ears and led her back towards the house
“Ouch ouch” Chiamaka yelped
Chibuzo seeing that his sister was in big trouble rushed to get his father who stood over the mechanic fixing Amaka’s car.
“Daddy, Maka J is in trouble”
“With who?” Femi asked scanning the mango tree for signs of a quarrel “and what have I told you about calling your sister that”
“Mommy is angry with her” Chibuzo said hopping impatiently on one foot “Mommy is angry with Chiamaka” he later corrected. “Let’s go” he said pulling on his father’s shirt
Walking into the house, Chiamaka sat on a chair wincing as her mother cleaned an open wound with a damp cloth. The sight of the iodine sent her into tears, edging away from the brown soaked cotton wool Amaka tried to press into her cut
“Sit still” she snapped in Igbo
“Mommy please” she cried “Daddy” she pleaded once she caught sight of him at the door
“Amaka what happened?” Femi asked calmly
“This children will not kill me. Mba it will not happen” Amaka shook her head as she applied pressure on the wound. Chiamaka cried louder. “She injured her knee, maybe yesterday or something and didn’t tell me. If I hadn’t noticed it today only God knows what would have happ...my friend if you move.” She warned her daughter when she tried to back away. “What if it got infected?” she asked Femi, “What if it had to be amputated?”
Femi Coker nodded his head slowly; Amaka was obviously losing her marbles. It was only a grazed knee nothing serious besides it was natural for children to hide wounds from their parents for this exact reason, they hated the scolding and iodine ritual that came afterwards. Still he was smart enough not to use the word “overreacting.” He waited for her disinfection process to end before he added gently “Maka you are scaring the children.” Amaka looked up from the cloth she was bunching around her daughter’s knee to see her tear stained cheeks and Chibuzo hiding behind his father’s knee.
Amaka was quiet for a moment. Femi jumped in “Okay so what have we learnt? If you cut yourself you tell mommy straight away okay,” the children nodded with heads bent. “Good now both of you go to the fridge and finish that ice cream there. Don’t come back till the bowl is clean. Do you hear me?” They did not wait to be told twice.
“Maybe I overreacted” Amaka said as she closed the First Aid box.
Femi did not gloat
“You have been intense for the past week” he said sitting down
“It’s just that time I guess”
Femi was smart enough not to fall into that one
“That is not it” he disagreed. Amaka eyed him, “Its Nabila” he continued unperturbed, “Her miscarriage, it’s affecting you more than you will admit. Since then you have been extra protective with the children”
“You don’t know what you are talking about” Amaka threw used cotton balls into the trash can
“Monitoring their playtime, shoving Swedish Bitters down their throats, bandaging minor cuts...” Femi looked at her “Nothing is going to happen to them Maka.”
“How do you know? Accidents happen. At any moment when we’re not looking...”
“I need you to relax. Will you like me to take them away for a couple of days or so? Give you time to clear your head”
“They are my children Femi”
“I understand Amaka, but just now...dragging her into the house like that...”
Amaka stopped and looked at the wall, at the portrait of the three of them. She promised herself their childhood would be unlike hers. They would be free to run around and be children. What she did right now was not the mothering style she preached. It was frightening what came over her.
“Come” Femi outstretched his arm. Amaka didn’t take it. He got up and took it for himself, pulling her to the couch
“Sit and listen” he instructed. The twins laughed in the kitchen “ice cream fixes everything. She’s forgotten about it already”
“I will never forgive myself if something were to happ”
“Nothing will happen”
“How do you know?”
“Because it’s not their time”
“How do you know?”
“Sssh you ask too many questions” Femi lay her head on his shoulders and put his arm around her waist. “Let’s watch TV.” The children finished the tub of Walls Vanilla and presented an empty plastic bowl as proof before running back out to play, informing jealous play mates of their dessert. The mechanic reported he was done with Amaka’s car. A neighbour asked permission to borrow the baking trays. Femi and Amaka did not move.
After dinner, the kids revelled in staying up late on the weekends and searched through DVDs for the perfect movie while their parents made a snack. Femi chuckled as he dropped Maize into a pot.
“What’s funny?” Amaka asked as she broke a coconut in half
“Do you remember the first time I met Ulonna?” he asked pouring in hot water and closing the lid
“My mother hated you on sight” Amaka laughed
“Hate is a strong word”
“Ignorance is bliss”
“Chinedu wasn’t such a big fan either”
“Oh that’s true. He chased you from the house and threatened to burn you alive”
“But we made it work. Lucky for us your driver was very eager to be bribed”
“Not so easy to sneak around when you’re heavily pregnant”
“Do you remember that time in the car” Femi grinned
“Yes I remember”
“That hotel close to the filling station”
“The changing room in the...”
“Femi I get it” Amaka said with a hand on her waist “Check on the corn”
“Just taking a trip down memory lane”
“Okay it’s time to come back now. That was a long time ago. We were very young”
“And in love”
“Like I said, a long time ago. Have you added salt?”
“Of course I have” Femi replied. When Amaka turned her back he started to look everywhere for it
“Bottom left drawer”
“I swear you have eyes at the back of your head”
Amaka laughed, handing him some coconut before straining and dishing the rest on a plate. “It is an Nwafor secret”
“Well we Cokers are pretty powerful as well” Femi said chewing fast and taking another piece
“Really what will tha-”
Amaka looked at him like he had just said something silly. “Don’t be silly” she scolded. Pouring drinks into four tumblers.
“I am as serious as a heart attack”
“Then take my answer seriously. No”
“I want us to be married”
“I thought we had to win the lottery to get married” Sarcasm soaked Amaka’s words
“I just want to be with you and the kids”
“Oh so pigs really do fly”
“You know what that’s enough. I took your insults and put downs because I deserved it. But I have not put a foot wrong in months and yet you won’t admit that.”
“You know what Femi? Get over yourself. You want a pat on the back for doing what you are supposed to, you have come to the wrong place. And months does not make up for years”
“You just refuse to admit that I am a good father”
“Is that so?”
“Yes it is.” Femi walked up to her
“And why will I want you to fail?” Amaka removed a tray and dusted it
“Because then you will have to face up to the fact that you love me”
“I am not in love with you”
“Yes you are”
“No Femi I’m not and the corn is ready. Don’t ever try to intimidate me again. I am not 18 anymore”
“Neither am I. I am not going anywhere Amaka. Deal with it.”
Back in the living room, she and Femi were all about civility. Laughing with the children and watching the Hunch back of Notre Dame. Amaka didn’t know why the children chose this, it always scared them. Afterwards it was Girls vs. Boys contest, Femi told a riddle “what happens when your nose runs and your feet smell?”
“You’re upside down” Chibuzo shouted. Earning a high five from his father and a point, he stuck his tongue out at his sister
“Mommy it’s your turn” Chiamaka said determined
“If my first name is Amos and my surname is Quito. Who am I?”
“A mosquito” Chiamaka shouted laughing.
It was a good night.
The next morning Amaka woke Femi up by shaking his shoulder, he stirred, stretched and rolled forgetting he was on the couch. He fell to the carpet, landing with an “ow!” “How is it you keep doing that?” Amaka asked laughing; it cracked her up every time Femi stayed over. At first she thought it was a ploy to get into her bed but now she knew he was just that clumsy in the morning.
“Man is not designed to sleep on the couch”
“Well no man sleeps as much as you do”
“I’ve actually been awake for a while. I just drifted off a few minutes ago.”
“You were up?”
“Yes waiting for you”
Before she could ask why, he patted the cushion next to him announcing “Kids mommy is up now”
Chiamaka and Chibuzo strolled in, wearing their Sunday best. As she tried to figure out how Femi got them both washed and dressed without waking her, together they presented a card. Smiling and wondering what game they were playing, Amaka tore open the envelope, “To the Best Mommy.” Amaka placed it down tearing up, it was so unexpected. It was neither her birthday nor Mother’s day; she stood to hug the children but they stepped back. “Oh you want me to open it” she said. Animatedly she did, cello taped to the inside of the card was a ring with the words Mommy please marry Daddy......
Amaka paused and stared at the bright eyes eagerly waiting her answer. She turned to Femi and caught him in a thumbs up to the children, they gave him one back, giggling when they realised they had been caught.
“WELLLLLL” the twins chorused
“It’s a big decision guys” Amaka said wondering how she was going to get out of this one. Femi would pay, she would burn him alive. The twins were in his arms now and confidently he held on to them both. Amaka remembered when he was a stranger who couldn’t pack their lunch’s right and thought after school hobbies were boring. Now he was running for PTA chairman. Picking them up every day and helping with homework while Amaka put her feet up. She didn’t remember the last time Femi complained or fought with his father. Didn’t remember the last time she slept for less than 8hours, the last time she called in a plumber or an electrician. She simply returned from work and noticed the leaky pipe had been fixed, the news channel was no longer scrambled and the AC was silent. Femi did all that. Amaka stared at her daughter’s grazed knee and remembered how Femi handled her melt down and calmed the children. She remembered how they watched TV comfortably for hours when months ago Femi couldn’t be in her house without irritating her. Now he regularly slept over. When did that happen? How did they slip into this role? Maybe she did love him... He was a great father. A father her children wanted, she would do anything for her children.
“Yes” Amaka heard herself say “I’ll marry Daddy”
A massive group hug followed, pushing Amaka off her feet and to the floor, in the midst of the children singing and clapping Femi found her mouth and kissed her.
Friday, 6 August 2010
Woman 1: "I had sex last night, did you?"
Woman 2: "Yes."
Woman 1: "Was it good?"
Woman2: "No, it was a disaster. My husband came home, ate his dinner in three minutes, got on top of me, finished having sex in five minutes, rolled over and fell asleep n two minutes. How was yours?"
Woman 1: "Oh it was amazing! My husband came home and took me out to a romantic dinner. After dinner we walked for an hour. When we came home he lit the candles around the house and we had an hour of foreplay. We then had an hour long session of fantastic sex and afterwards talked for an hour. It was like a fairytale!"
At the same time their husbands are talking at work.
Husband 1: "You wanted sex last night, how was it?"
Husband 2: "Great! I came home, dinner was on the table, I ate, had sex with my wife and fell asleep. It was great! What about you?"
Husband 1: "It was horrible. I came home, there's no dinner because NEPA cut our light, so I had to take my wife out which was expensive. Because of hold up, we had to walk home and that took an hour -and when we got home I remembered the no light, so I had to light candles all over the house. I was so angry that I couldn't get it up for an hour, and then I couldn't come for another hour. After I came, I was so aggravated, that I couldn't fall asleep and my wife was yacking away for another hour!"
Thursday, 5 August 2010
“Sannu Alhaji” he greeted Jamal as he opened his car door and took his briefcase. That was all Jamal heard before Nabila descended on him with the wrath of Jahannam (hell).
“Sannu mai-gida” She gave him a round of applause. “Finally you come home to your wife. Nagode fa- thank you,” she curtseyed before giving a long hiss. At least today you remembered you have a house.” Jamal calmly walked past her towards the door, “eh eh where do you think you are going?” She grabbed his briefcase from the mai-guard and flung it on the floor marginally missing the left side mirror of his Mercedes. “You will tell me where you are coming from because it is not from work. When I called Zainab said you had already left. Yes, I called your office so don’t even try to lie to me”
Jamal signalled that the mai-guard shut the gates and make himself scarce before turning to face his wife, she bounced on and off her right foot with a smirk on her face, finally after weeks of taking her punishment he had provided her with something to spin into an actual fight.
“Don’t call my name. I know my name. What I want to know is the name of my kinshia (mate). The cheap whore that you wish to replace me with should make herself known now or peace will not reign. Wallahi”
“I went to Gwagwalada for a meeting”
“Kariya- lies!” she hit her hand against her mouth taunting him
“It’s the truth.” Jamal’s voice rose. Remain calm his head reasoned. You are the sane one here. “I was with the Minister of the FCT call his wife and ask her. Go on call Maryam to check”
Nabila eyed him and dialled a number on her phone, once Maryam asked if Jamal had relayed her greeting Nabila found an excuse to hang up... Jamal slowly walked past his wife and lifted up his briefcase, dusting the black leather that was now scratched in places from the impact on the gravel. He would live to fight another day.
“You are still a useless excuse of a man. Kaman kare (like a dog) running around Abuja with your tongue out. You think anyone takes you seriously? Let me just tell you. Jamal Mujahid in this town you are nothing but a joke” she wagged her finger at him and made a rude noise, whistling at him the way one ordered a dog to heel. Jamal’s head began to pound; the heat, the unprofitable deal and now to return home to this, knowing it will last through dinner and she would scream it outside his door tonight, it will be uttered at breakfast. It will never end.
He turned to her with his hand on the door knob and relayed back her favourite insult.
“Nabila you are not a woman. You are a pathetic shadow of one and everybody feels sorry for you.”
Nabila stopped her tirade of insults and stood with her mouth open. She placed her palms on her chest and began to pull her hair. Jamal did not have time for her theatrics, and it would only get worse once they were inside the house. Making a quick u-turn he walked towards his car, shaking off the hand she placed around his ankle he got into his driver seat, the gate was wheeled open and Jamal sped away leaving dust in his awake. He heard Nabila cough it out.
For the first time in his life Jamal walked into a bar and ordered alcohol. He stared at the brown liquid in his large glass and sipped past the foamy head. He tried to like the bitter taste, it was horrid. So he was not a beer man. Jamal tried again with the Spirits; vodka, gin, whiskey nor brandy proved to be his poison of choice. It seemed like corporal punishment and upset that he could not even find a decent means to escape his problems Jamal sat dejected in the corner of the seedy shack he drove into. The Elephant Bar at the Sheraton, the Capital Bar in the Hilton were his usual hang outs, which meant they were the usual hang outs for colleagues and acquaintances he did not wish to see. He ran no risk of running into someone he knew in the off the road dive. The lighting was provided by naked bulbs it was hard to make out the rest of the occupants anyway.
His Mercedes drew too much attention in the open sand dune that was the parking space, customers- drunks and those getting there- marvelled at the shiny silver finish and double headlights. Jamal didn’t care if it was stolen he needed a new car anyway; never had he kept one for so long. It reminded him of Rabi. The hot afternoons they made love in the back seat, AC blasting and John Mayer on the stereo. Sometimes he parked on the deserted hill overlooking Jabi River where they used to picnic and inhaled the leather, summoning up her scent. He couldn’t do that clearly anymore because Nabila had bled all over it. He saw the miscarriage: the loss of a life that trapped him in his.
A prostitute with a flabby belly and too much perfume sidled up to him “Oga you want something?” she inquired smiling at him. This would be the best looking man she ever took to bed. Jamal considered it for a moment. Alcohol wasn’t his vice. Perhaps if he slept around, did exactly what Nabila accused him of... The lady began to rotate her breasts on his shoulder, stretching a hand dusted with dark hairs she grabbed his glass and downed his drink. She licked her lips “make we dey go,” taking his hand. Jamal stared at her and tried to guess her age, he could not but at that moment he felt for her. Reaching a hand into his pocket he brought out his wallet and emptied it. Soundlessly he slapped naira notes onto the wobbly table, as fast as he dropped them she quickly collected and stuffed into her worn purse. Both her palms could not contain the naira notes he repeatedly shoved into them. Her mouth was agape as she watched this man ‘display himself’ in a place where people would not hesitate to break bottle and rob him.
She pulled out a chair and sat on it shielding the view of his wallet from some particularly menacing looking thugs in the far corner. Was he trying to get them both killed? She wanted to tell him that this was quadruple her rate even for performing the most perverse of sexual acts. She had watched him try to drink himself unconscious but to no avail, well she could help him forget whatever it was that was too hard to remember. Besides she had not eaten in nearly two days, alcohol would at least be something. This man with the curly hair and un-rumpled suit that met her eyes so boldly did not belong here. As if hearing her thoughts he got up to leave. Could he read minds? She wondered. In answer to her question Jamal gave his plate of untouched peppered chicken and jollof rice to her.
Jamal Mujahid knocked on his mai-guard’s door, Dauda croak it open gripping his machete in case it was an unwelcome guest. At the sight of Alhaji all sleep cleared from his eyes and apologising he put on a shirt scrambling to open the gate.
“No, drive the car in slowly. I don’t want to wake anybody up” They both knew who he meant by ‘anybody’. With furious nodding Dauda complied driving the expensive car in without the aid of headlights and wondering how women could reduce men to nothing. This was precisely why you had to marry them young, so they grew to respect you.
There was a chill in the air as he walked into his dark house, it could be impending rain or Nabila’s breathe. He tried to pretend that he was not tip-toeing to avoid waking her. Slowly creeping up the stairs to the spare bedroom he paused. At first it sounded like snarling causing him to startle in surprise, now that he paid attention it was definitely sniffles. It seemed to be coming from the forbidden room- the nursery. Jamal wondered if the ghost of the baby was there, then realised he was probably tipsy. The minute sips out of each glass had managed to get him slightly drunk. Well, that settled the question of his alcohol tolerance. He was pushed by an unfamiliar sense of curiosity to find out what made that noise, he slowly made it to the door half-expecting to see a toddler with his father-in-law’s face wearing a bib with ‘I am Danjuma Mujahid’ clearly displayed across it. He carefully opened the door and saw a pregnant Nabila surrounded by stuffed animals talking to the wall paper. Jamal blinked once then twice, clearing his vision. Nabila’s bump was provided by a pillow stuffed under her blouse; she stroked it and spoke to it. He didn’t think she even realised she was crying.
“Nabila” he slurred. Wincing when he realised he had said her name out loud; he steeled himself against her retort. None came
“I’m not crazy” she defended herself. Jamal looked around the dusty forest that was the nursery, he noticed the rocking chair had been broken, destroyed beyond repair, its wooden splinters facing the ceiling, a hammer lay beside it.
“What happened to your rocking chair?”
“Don’t do that. Don’t pity me” she shook her head
Jamal walked in and sat on the opposite side of the room beside the crib. Dried petals crunched under his shoes, he remembered Nabila hung flowers on the crib most days so this room scented like her garden. He remembered she did a lot of things for this baby.
“Did you mean what you said?” She asked rubbing her un-natural bump
“I was angry”
Nabila shook her head as tears fell down “but its true isn’t it? I am pathetic”
“Nobody likes me. Since I lost Danju...it, no one cares”
“It is difficult for them to be around you”
“Them? Don’t you mean everyone? Don’t you mean you?”
“Not me. Not right now” Jamal shuffled across the dusty carpet till he was beside Nabila “To be on the safe side” he said picking up the hammer and tossing it out of her reach. She watched it land with a thud, raising dust. “You are a little unstable” he said, but it was said gently, almost with a smile. They were a few feet away from each other now
“You never wanted that child” Nabila said
“That is true” Jamal agreed “In the beginning, but then I understood being around you would be less intense if you had someone else to focus your attention on. I did not wish what happened to happen. No one did.”
“Intense” she repeated... “I smother you”
“It’s the only way you know how to love” he stared at her
“You know me so well” she wiped her running nose
“I have always understood you Nabila. I do not know how come”
“The reason I love you. I never had to apologise for being myself” she watched him shift uncomfortably “... but I know it’s also the reason you don’t love me. I am not versatile enough for you. People need to be complex to hold your interest.”
“You know me so well” he said
“Maybe when you realise that you will give me a chance to be your wife”
Jamal kept quiet. “I think we need to focus on your unresolved issues first Nabila”
“Like ignoring your garden, ignoring Amaka...”
“So?” her voice was defensive
“So those are the paramount things that made you happy. You were happy before you got pregnant too Nabila, do you remember?”
Her lips held the promise of a smile “If I close my eyes and pretend, you sound like you care”
“I wasn’t always like this” Jamal said hurt by her remarks. He knew he hadn’t been the best husband but there were times they got along. Gisting like old friends who have not spoken in years, “It hasn’t all been bad”
“Well the good was so long ago it’s hard to remember” Nabila corrected. Have they been in different marriages this past five years? “When was the last time you held my hand?” She asked “Or told me...” she was interrupted by warmth as his hand gripped hers reassuringly. She looked at their joint hands resting atop her belly, a minute later he let go
“There...the last time I held your hand was a minute ago. What else were you saying?”
“Err...ah...um...” she swallowed “or told me I looked nice”
“You look nice. Beautiful was the day you put the water feature in. You wore the gold shimmery thing with the tight skirt...that was really nice.”
“You didn’t know I was pregnant then”
“How did I not notice that?”
They both laughed. “You see we can get along” Jamal said
“Then kiss me” she suggested. Jamal stopped laughing, his smile disappeared.
“I guess it was worth the shot. I felt your skin against mine for the first time in two years and I‘m grateful. I really am” She spread her palm over a crocodile’s back, shifting undisturbed dust from the wallpaper, it rose in the dark causing her to sneeze
“We should get back to our rooms”
“I’ll stay here just a little while longer” Nabila said
Jamal got up and bid her goodnight, at the door he turned once more and realised the insane picture she struck with her fake bulge; an image that fled his mind once he sat down to talk to her. She looked crazy till you discovered that she was just hurt and looking for a way to hold on to what had been lost. She needed something for the pain. Jamal walked back to her, knelt by her side once more “I’ll wait with you” he said
“I would prefer to be alone”
“Well too bad” he said before he kissed her
Nabila was stunned. Her husband’s lips were on hers tasting faintly of alcohol. He put an arm around her waist and she forgot the dust and everything else. It felt so good to feel human again, to feel contact. She sighed and moaned as he reminded her why she couldn’t get enough of him when they began dating. His tongue was in the roof of her mouth then in her cheeks, at her throat. She sighed so loudly, the victory dance of a woman that had forgotten pleasure of the flesh. This wasn’t gardening nor the other simple pleasure of life, it was hot and hurried. Her heart thudded so fast she began to fear she would faint again and awake in a hospital. Hungrily her lips lapped up his kisses not knowing when next they would be offered.
Jamal pulled back to catch his breath, “no” Nabila groaned as he pulled away. She wanted him, placing her forehead to his she begged for more, “Kiss me please. Just once more, kiss me.” Moved by his enormous ego and reassurance that someone was begging him to touch her Jamal held her hand and whispered words he never thought he would say ever again “let’s go to the bedroom.” Nabila’s eyes widened, just as they did the night he took her virginity, brimming with untapped desire.
“O-o-kay-y” Nabila stuttered
He pulled her up and led her to the master bedroom, a room he had not slept in for 7 months. He removed the pillow from underneath her blouse and tossed it aside, kissing her flat stomach. He unhooked her bra and chuckled when socks used to fill her maternity cups fell out displaying her once again humble breasts, in turn he sucked each nipple till her moans became fearfully loud. He placed her hand on his penis, “touch me here,” he instructed rumbling in his throat as she stroked the shaft, squeezing the engorged head.
Surprised at his wife Jamal threw her petite figure on the bed and parted her legs; he slid his fingers into her waterfall till he found her centre. Making a ‘come hither’ signal with his index he drove her wild, causing Nabila to trash about, clamping her things shut and shaking her head contradicting her cries begging him not to stop. He kissed her all over and freed his body up to her touch. Nabila roamed her fingers everywhere tasting, re-discovering. She kissed him till her tongue went numb and smelt him till she no longer felt oxygen but his presence in her lungs. Jamal lay atop and made love to his wife, lifting her tiny frame clear off the bed with each massive thrust, squeezing her buttocks and muffling her loud moans with kisses. Her body shivered and sweated till it released. Nabila lay suspended in white light, her body sore from the pounding it had received. She tried to rest her head in the crook of her husband’s shoulder but he turned away. What had changed in the mere seconds of orgasm till now??
“I am trying to sleep Nabila. I gave you what you wanted, let me rest now”
Nabila turned to face the wall and quietly she cried herself to sleep. In the recesses of her unconscious mind she heard drawers open and shut, these noises persisted till it broke through alerting her brain to wake up. Nabila opened her eyes to see Jamal taking shirts off the hanger, he was still naked
“What are you doing?” she asked her voice heavy with sleep
“Transferring more clothes to my room”
“The guest bedroom? I thought you were moving back here”
“We made love...” Jamal shook his head. “Yes we did. We did Jamal don’t lie to me, not now. The way you touched me, kissed me”
“I still don’t love you Nabila. That has not changed.”
“Jamal” Nabila felt tears fill her eyes
“Aren’t you tired of crying?” he asked. He was not about to pull another pity fuck out of the basket
“Yes I am.” her voice went whisper-quiet as an epiphany dawned on her, “I have nothing left to give to this marriage. Not a baby, or tears, sweat, blood, I am empty.”
“I can’t love you because I love someone else okay. There I said it” Jamal looked her directly in the face
“You have punished me more than that in the past two minutes” Nabila met his stare
“That’s not all. It’s Rabi”
“Rabi” Jamal repeated. Nabila’s eyes shut tightly as she absorbed this
After a two minute silence “She’s exactly your type” she finally said. Jamal stared as she continued to look at him.
“Nabila did you hear me?”
“Yes loud and clear.” She shrugged her shoulders “You have worn me down Jamal. I have no fight left in me”
“I’ll be gone in the morning” he reassured her
“I heard you Jamal.”
Amaka Nwafor opened her door at 7.00am, to find Nabila sitting out on the veranda. It was drizzling and the air was chilly, Amaka walked to her friend. The one that had come out of the hospital half the person she was.
“Why didn't you come in?”
“I didn’t want to wake the kids”
“It’s windy and cold out here”
“He is in love with Rabi”
Amaka wanted to be shocked but she remembered that night in the Hilton. The way they held hands, laughing as they walked to their cars. She had known, even as she fed herself that bullshit about giving everyone the benefit of doubt. Nabila was awaiting her shock and horror, Amaka decided to be honest
Nabila stared at her “you know! How long have you known?”
“I saw them in the parking lot at the Hilton months ago, but the next night you told me things were good and you two were starting a family, so I let it go. Nabila please don’t be upset with me, I didn’t see anything improper. I did not know for sure they were having an affair”
“Yes you did” Nabila got up to leave. Amaka held her hand. “We have barely spoken since you lost Danjuma.”
Nabila swung the net door open and walked into the cold rain, marching towards the gate and ignoring Amaka’s apologies. She wished she drove her jeep here but she did not trust herself to drive. Her eerie calmness was alien to her and she was certain that any moment she would explode. It seemed a safer idea to get into a taxi at that point, well obviously when she made the decision she was dry, unlike now. Nabila got into the main street and raised an arm for a taxi; a beat up Toyota painted green with black stripes slid to a stop nearly splashing the puddle in her path. Getting in the back seat Nabila gave the address of her parents’ home.
Baba was having breakfast in the library, surrounded by his books and the aroma of coffee. Nabila wanted more than anything for Mama to hear this but unfortunately she was out of town. She showed herself into the study ignoring the servant who tried to offer her breakfast.
“Baba” she swung the large doors open. Baba looked up from his journal, setting down his journal
“Jamal and Rabi” she said as carefully as she could.
Baba sighed. “Yes” was all he uttered. Nabila’s eyes stung from tears that would not fall. “You k-knew-w Baba how could...” there were disrespectful words begging to be said. She had to walk away. Turning around she started to shout Rabi’s name. There was no response
“She’s at work” Oda said emerging from the kitchen and as usual wiping her hands on her apron
“Tell me you did not know about this” Oda wanted to ask Nabila what she meant but Baba emerged and the question was rendered useless. She bowed her head instead
“EVERYBODY knew I was a laughing stock?”
“Nabila I was trying to...”
“I am your daughter Baba” Nabila interrupted her father. Without words his look seemed to say “and so is Rabi”
Nabila insisted that one of the drivers take her home, they all scrambled when they saw her approach the garage. It was Oga’s pikin and not the nice one sef. Was anything in her matrimonial home still sacred? For all she knew he and her sister had violated every single piece of furniture in her home. She tried to cry still no tears came, she was pretty certain that if she pierced herself she would not bleed either.
This marriage had drained her of all fluid; embryonic, tears, blood, sweat... At her gate she got out and marching past Dauda stormed into her home. Jamal was not here, Nabila rushed to pack her things, shoving anything and everything she could find into boxes. How did she accumulate all this stuff?
Each time she came across something precious such as a perfume bottle or an antique necklace she wondered if Rabi had worn the scent, adorned herself with the jewellery. She sat on the bed and wondered if last night was the first time she experienced what Rabi had been getting for free. She was his wife but she had to beg and plead to receive a portion of what had become Rabi’s property. That stung. Did her husband also take permission from his lover before he offered up a kind word? Nabila thought of the hostility her sister displayed after she got pregnant, she walked around in a bubble while everyone sniggered behind her back, knowing the truth. Her husband preferred her sister to her, because she wasn’t worth falling in love with.
Surrounded by clothes and suitcases she felt completely overwhelmed; she also had no idea where she was going to once she left what had been the home she created for herself, the one she wished to grow old in. Walking into the bathroom she saw a pair of scissors in the medicine cabinet, the sharp blades gleamed. Nabila held it up to the light coming from the window and snipped the air, the noise was crisp, with no beginning and no end just function. It was obvious what needed to be done. She held it up to her hair and snipped off the long braid down her back. Her hair clip clattered to the floor loudly and the ends of her hair stuck out. If this was her only resemblance to her sister Jamal could have it, she would be her own person without being criticised for falling short of her perfect sibling.
She took the scissors to her hair again and snipped, tuft by tuft of curly hair dropped into the sink and onto the Italian floor tiles. She snipped till she hit flesh, scraping her scalp clean she severed it all, her bald head red in parts that flesh had been taken out along with hair, and other patches retained stubble like prickly strands. Coating her wounds in baby oil she tied a Hermes silk scarf on her head watching as the blood soaked through the material. The oil reminded her of something...She knew where to go. Walking out of the bathroom Nabila opened up a new bag and dropped in: Kermit teddy, a nightgown, toothbrush and underwear, zipping up the Louis Vuitton carrier she walked away from the rest of her belongings strewn about the room, open jewellery boxes and diamond earrings and silk scarves. She threw her phone in the toilet. Four hours later her flight touched down in Kano and she ran into Kaka’s arms.
Sunday, 1 August 2010
Nabila Mujahid was being released from hospital. It is safe to say it was not in the way she envisioned. Yes, her parents were around her, fussing with the arrangement of her kaftan and brushing her hair back. Her husband was pushing the wheelchair she sat on, her best friend holding her right hand. It is the scenario she saw her in her future. Four months into her future to be exact.
But with one major difference; in her arms she cradled not a baby. The cards on her lap did not read “Congratulations,” “To the New Mommy” and “It’s a Boy” instead they were words of condolence. As she was wheeled out of the maternity ward she had been admitted into; past rooms of wailing babies and nursing mothers, her loss sank sharp teeth into her flesh and bit hard. Nabila could feel the tears coming on.
This happened every time, every time she believed there were no more left to shed. That her eyes could produce no more; her heart defied her. Two fat salty drops rolled down her cheeks breaking the damn, a torrential flood followed, a sound escaped her lips. This was her baby, this child brought so much joy into her life yet it was taken away from her.
Pain questioned her faith in Allah. It no longer made sense the Holy Book insisted everything happened for a reason. The wheels on the chair stopped; everyone looked down at Nabila crying into the Kermit the Frog teddy. Her hands squeezed the webbed feet, her mouth open as she talked and cried into the defining symbol of her loss. Saliva and sweat dripped onto the green polyester fibre.
No one stopped her; no one had the heart to. What do you say? That it will all work out for the best? The pain will heal soon? Her mother turned into Baba’s shoulder and with her face away from everyone else silently joined her daughter in tears. Baba put an arm around his wife and averted his gaze also; he stared at the plasterwork on the ceiling. Amaka busied herself with rearranging the hem on Nabila’s gown, occasionally stroking her neck.
She did not cry, but the look on her face was far more reminiscent of pain. She sucked in her cheeks and craned her neck backwards then forwards, she closed her eyes for long moments on end before opening them up again. In the midst of this despair was Jamal. He released his grip on the handle and wiped his sticky palm on his thigh. Everyone had done nothing but question him for the three days Nabila was admitted. He had re-told the story, the miscarriage story; so many times it no longer felt it like a firsthand account.
Going through the motions of that fateful morning: finding Nabila in a fragile heap at his feet, the blood trickling down her leg, the red stain on his shirt as he carried her down the stairs, speeding through early morning traffic, the emergency room, Nabila on a stretcher and two hours later Dr. Mahdi’s solemn expression, as his lips quietly delivered the devastating news.
It felt unreal to Jamal. He didn’t know what “foetus in distress” and “tangled umbilical cord” meant. He merely nodded and walked in behind the doctor as they entered his wife’s room. It was when he saw her hooked up to the transfusion machine that it slowly began to dawn on him what had occurred. The large plastic bag with a pint of O+ blood dripped steadily into her veins.
Nabila became conscious and asked of the baby, Jamal watched Dr. Mahdi go through the process again: the quiet movement of his lips, his defeated stance, and shoulders down. He had after all lost a battle with Death; he could not save an unborn child. Even with the added risk of delivering the foetus via caesarean in the hope that it would survive its first premature weeks in an incubator, came to no avail. “I tried everything,” he said. He swore it. Nabila began to scream. It clawed from deep within, animalistic and raw. A lioness had lost her cub. She gripped her still swollen belly. “Give me back my child” her head spinning wildly as she became increasingly delirious, a mad woman. Eyes bulging out of her skull slightly yellowed in the irises from the blood loss. She tore at the sheets and pulled the tubes out of her veins.
Dr. Mahdi carefully approached her, urging her to lie down before she fainted. Nabila refused his help, slapping away at his hands, screaming and crying and calling out to her child. She spat at his feet, called him a thief- not a murderer- for she still believed her child to be alive. Not dead. She ran her long nails across her face breaking skin. Two nurses were called in and one forced her down while the other sedated with an injection to her forearm. Her unconscious body was caught mid-slump, lay on the bed and hooked up to the transfusion machines once again. Dr. Mahdi clearly relived, placed a hand on Jamal’s shoulder before exiting. Staring at his wife, Jamal finally got it.
The pity transformed his attitude, care he did not show in the six months she carried his child came oozing out of every pore. Jamal made the necessary phone calls to family and friends and spent the night in an uncomfortable chair by her bedside. When he awoke the next day with a stiff back it was to not-so-yellow eyes staring at him
“Is it true?” she whispered with a hoarse voice
“Yes” he said gently
“Which was it?” she asked
“A boy” Jamal replied
“Danjuma” tears rolled down her face. “Danjuma Mujahid”
Although curious he did not ask what she would have named the child had it been a girl.
Jamal Mujahid led Nabila into their home, setting her down gently on the blue sofa. They had finally departed from the rest of the group and with everyone scheduling their time for visits, Jamal felt confident he would be able to return to work without fearing harm would come to her.
“Ruwa-water?” he asked. She shook her head
“Nabila you have to be strong”
“Don’t tell me how to feel”
Her whole body tensed up when he spoke to her. Her hostility grew. Jamal began to fear she blamed him for the miscarriage. What else could cause such a reaction? He tried to talk to her about it- he was told talking helped- but she shouted him down. She screamed a lot now. It really brought to light how much her personality had changed whilst she was pregnant, for this was a side of Nabila he had not seen in a long time. Hours turned to days. Jamal found himself walking on egg shells around his wife, fearing he spoke too much or not enough. He returned from work praying she was at Amaka’s or pottering around in her garden. But the days turned to weeks the Cherokee never left the garage and the garden over grew.
Rose beds and chrysanthemums jumbled, suffocating one another. Clear pathways had become obstructed with prickly grass, thorns jutted out everywhere, and the hedges blocked the views from all windows. Climbing ivy spread over cement and once upon a time beautiful brickwork. Her water feature clogged by debris and twigs had long since stopped working. The work load surmounted and the area became hazardous but no one dared prune it. It was her garden. Nabila would get around to it soon. They hoped.
The rainy season came and watered the city, the weeds grew and so did Nabila’s anger. The cook and mai-guard ran scared of her, neighbours avoided the house and her phone stopped ringing as much. Seeing as she never answered, people stopped calling. All the sympathisers ceased to visit. The last two standing did their best- Ikenna dropped by a few times and Amaka whenever she could- but Nabila remained seething at whoever was brave enough to get close. Jamal in particular got the brunt of it. She cursed at him: for chewing loudly, walking too fast, breathing heavily, and generally being alive.
If he avoided her she sought him out; be it in the study or the guest bedroom.
“You think you are a man?” was a common line of hers.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” a close second.
Each passing day she resembled her pre-pregnant self erasing all trace she ever carried life, the more her stomach flattened the more bitterness seemed to seep out of her every orifice. Jamal’s empathy had long since emptied. The pity that filled his being at the hospital had been trampled upon by Nabila’s insults, poisoned by her venom. Jamal craved Rabi more than anything else in the world. He needed the balm that was her essence to soothe his pinching wounds, dull his ache. But she was lost to him, because of a child that no longer existed. Still Jamal prayed for a chance encounter.
One night when the rains were particularly ferocious, she was gifted to him. Placed right at his doorstep in a slightly wet t-shirt and snug jeans, her wet lips spread into a sincere smile. There might as well be an arrow with KISS ME blinking atop her dark hair.
Rabi Bello walked in accompanied by her father.
She had not been alone with Jamal or her sister since her engagement party in Kano. Rabi knew the phones will not be answered so she left voicemails. It was too difficult to bring herself to the hospital bed, so she did not. In some cosmic way she felt her ill will and lack of love and support hindered the growth of this child. There were extra shifts at work and she gladly took them on. Mama screamed at her to find time for her sister but it all fell on deaf ears. When the home visits began she trailed in behind someone: Oda, Kaka, Mama, Uncle Dauda, usually in the day time too, when Jamal would be at work. Avoiding him took planning.
Baba had her summoned and instructed she drive him to Nabila’s house. It was nearly 10pm and she had just returned from work no more than an hour ago plus there was an army of drivers at his beck and call. She was aghast but Rabi was wise enough not to argue and with a swift nod she rushed to get her car keys. Weeks of careful orchestration demolished in one swiftly barked order. Driving to his gate she felt underprepared and very uncomfortable. Pressing the doorbell with damp fingers and cowering under her blue umbrella in a tatty Kings of Leon shirt and stonewashed jeans that had seen better days. Hair held back with three rubber bands, smelling like the pungent disinfectants used in her ward. Jamal opened the door resembling the stuff dreams are made of; relaxed in a crew neck jumper and dark slacks. His hair as usual was beautiful and thick. He gave her a once over before greeting his father-in-law and letting them in. He did not utter the inconvenience of the time, he dare not
“Where is Nabila?” Baba asked in his quiet voice and immediately he took off in that direction.
Rabi wished she had jumped in the shower instead of succumbing to exhaustion back in her room. She smelt horrible and given that the last time Jamal saw her she was decked to the nines in Chantilly lace and satin and silk, it made her feel even more ugly in her regular clothes
“I am getting married in two months” she had no idea why she blurted that out
“Yes Rabi I know” Jamal held up the invitation card in the silver tray by the door
“I am sorry I said it like that”
“Do you know what’s funny?” he asked with no humour in his voice “even if you had decided to wait for me, how do I leave...after the miscarriage.” He ran his hand through his brown curls. “It was better that you got on with your life. You were right”
Rabi stared at him as he breezily denounced all they shared. All they had been through, both together and apart
“So just like that, you no longer feel the same way”
Jamal altered his stance to mirror hers. “You almost sound disappointed”
“You know why I did it.” Rabi said. She did not have to use the word, he knew what she meant.
“So you can go to heaven?”
“Get married Rabi. I wish you all the best I really do”
“Wait wait, is this some sort of goodbye”
“I am stuck in my marriage for the unforeseeable future. That baby was supposed to be my ticket out instead it has locked me in. Worse of all, your sister is now crazy” Jamal suddenly went quiet like he had said more than he intended to. He never clamped up before. Not with her anyway, he told her everything.
“What you can’t talk to me anymore?”
“I shouldn’t be discussing this with you”
“Jamal I don’t think you are appreciating that this is tough on me too. My surname will change-but that is it. I am still the same person. It’s still me” Rabi looked at him like they were alone. The look she always wore in their room on the 14th floor.
Simultaneously they took off their armours. All they ever had was each other. To lose that connection would be to end existence. With a nervous gulp Jamal went first, parting his mouth he confessed
“I spend my days praying to see you then realising that if I do, it will only make my need to be with you worse”
“I’m sorry if I make being without you look easy. It’s not.” Rabi replied
“Rabi... I...I am... I’m drowning. If you would please just answer my phone calls once in a while or reply my texts...”
“We both know where that will eventually lead”
“That part doesn’t matter to me. How many times must I tell you that I lo-”
“Rabi” Baba barked as he emerged from the study. Rabi wondered if the electricity between her and Jamal seared her father’s skin. “Go to your sister,” it was not a request.
As Rabi departed Jamal focused all his attention on his father-in-law while trying to clear his thoughts of the one he wished to kiss. Baba walked by him and into the smaller lounge, Jamal sensed he was required to follow.
“Zube” Baba ordered
Jamal blinked. His hearing was obviously off, because there is no way he was just commanded to kneel in his own home
Baba did not repeat himself but instead confidently waited for Jamal to do as he was told.
“The only thing stopping me from having you dealt with is my daughter. You will kneel and you will do it now”
“What did I do?” Jamal asked in shock. A question he had not asked since teenage years
“Ask me that one more time” Baba threatened
Jamal opted for a squat; a fair compromise given the situation.
“I will talk and you will listen. At the end you will say yes and then get out of my sight”
Jamal did not bother with a reply this time. This old man was really crossing the line, and elderly or not this was unacceptable. His silence was taken as a “yes”
“Using one sister to ruin the other takes a higher level of wickedness than any other form of adultery. You disrespect your wife. Worse of all you do this by disrespecting her family as well.” Baba bunched his fingers into a tight fist when Jamal opened his mouth to speak. Wisely, Jamal changed his mind and stared at his toes.
“You have ruined my daughter. You will stay in this marriage and make it up to her. You will perform every task she requires of you.”
“If I ever see you around Rabi I will have you dealt with and I am sure Alhaji Tukur will insist on being a part of your punishment. You do not come into my home and drag my name through the mud. You do not play my wife and me for fools. You are not worthy to treat my daughters as your playthings.” Fist clenched, voice hardened. “Pray Nabila continues to love you because the minute she stops...” Baba did not need to complete the sentence. Jamal was shaking, unsteady on his toes. He feared to look up in case it pushed his threat over the edge. He wanted to say that his feelings for Rabi were serious and that given the opportunity he would marry her right here and now. He loved her that much. However the image of his body floating along some river undiscovered for days glued his mouth.......
“Yes Baba” Jamal replied before standing up and getting out of his father-in-law’s sight