FOREWORD: Introducing a new series by Seun Odukoya, award-winning writer of the book, Saving Dapo. This will be a promotional run. Read, enjoy and sound off your opinions in the comments section. 🙂
“It was really good having you guys over. Really.” Igo’s eyes asked her husband, abi? and he nodded, kissing her on the nose.
“Thank you so much for coming – and bring the kids over next time. You know we love to have them always!”
Together they watched the Osagies’ rear lights disappear over the landscape of their NEPA-abandoned street – the wailing and screaming of several generating sets providing theme music for the moment. And then they turned, arms around each other and walked into their compound.
“That was great, wasn’t it? I like to see Ese – and her husband? Cool guy.”
Igo eased herself from her husband’s arms and opened the door ahead of him. She stepped inside and waited for him to enter so she could close it after him, but he pulled the door out of her hand, closed it, shot the deadbolt and kissed her.
Chuckling, Igo kissed him back briefly and then leaned away – but he followed her, backing her into the wall beside the door and pressing insistent lips against her resistant ones.
“Hmm…baby…” she started – and inadvertently gave him access to her mouth.
He laughed loudly as she, sighing, threw her arms around his neck in surrender.
“Thank you, dear,” Igo said, sipping wine from the glass he’d just handed her and allowing her shoulders sag into the chair. “So – what do you want to do next; watch TV or play Monopoly?”
He smiled, drained his glass and shook his head. “Those will be too distracting. I just want to hold my partner – my wife, my better whole and sing to her.”
Igo smiled. “You’ve been doing that for ten years. Aren’t you tired yet?”
Walking over, he started to speak. “You’ve been breathing for thirty-six years; aren’t you tired yet?” He stood beside her chair and stretched out a hand.
Placing her empty one in it, Igo set down the wine glass – and then allowed her husband pull her to her feet. She blinked in confusion for a moment as the lights dimmed – and then focused on his eyes as they stabilized again.
There was an intent gleam in them – a shine that made her heart sing and her ears heat up. She stood in front of him, as though mesmerized – and then closed her eyes as he leaned in and kissed her forehead softly.
“Happy tenth anniversary, sweetheart,” he said.
She hugged him to herself, lay her head against his shoulder and mumbled, “Happy tenth anniversary, darling.”
They stayed hugged up, swaying softly to music that played from the speakers of their hearts – music only they could hear but no less real. It was a really romantic moment –
And then the lights went dim again.
“What’s wrong with that generator?” Igo said out loud.
Her husband stopped moving. “Wait her a moment, sweetness while I go check it out.”
He kissed her cheek softly and moved away, effectively creating a vacuum in her arms. She sat down on the floor beside the chair, amazed by the realization that she missed him.
She missed him already.
The lights flickered, went off and then came back on a little brighter. Almost immediately she heard the rattling of the door, smiled as the generator sounds became momentarily louder – and then faded out again.
“The plug was shaking in its socket – baby, what’s wrong?”
The tears streaming down her cheeks were startlingly clear from the doorway.
Moving into the room, he crossed it in swift strides and knelt beside her chair, to take her hand in his. “What is it? What happened?”
She inhaled, drawing in a huge shuddering draught of air and then swallowing the sob that almost spilled out. And then burst into tears, throwing herself into his arms as he mumbled “It’s okay” over and over again, soft tones at direct conflict with the confused look on his face.
“I’m sorry darling,” her voice came from the depths of his right chest area.
He looked down – but could only see the top of her head. Leaning in, he kissed that gently, noticing a few whitening strands in the midst of the raven-black mass. He kissed her head again, and she moaned sadly and raised her face.
“Did I just do a number on your anniversary mood?”
He shook his head. “Everything will be right again – as soon as you tell me what inspired the flood.”
She turned away but leaned into his arms. “Oh – it’s –” She fell silent as he squeezed her softly, and she closed her eyes against still-leaking tears. “You know why Ese doesn’t bring her kids here anymore, don’t you?”
He cleared his throat. “Because they want to spare our feelings? They don’t want us feeling awkward?”
The gentle up-and-down movement of her head told him he was right. “And it hurts so much,” she spoke. “So much – it hurts when I see you look at their last one – when you carry her up…it hurts to see the pain in your eyes. It hurts to hear you cry in the bathroom…”
His arms tightened around her reflexively, but other than that, there was no sign he had heard. She sobbed softly.
“I can’t help but feel it’s my fault – even though I know doctor after doctor has given us both clean bills of health. I hate that I cannot give you the thing you want most – “
Gently but firmly, he turned her around and kissed the corner of her mouth. She trembled slightly as her arms found themselves around his shoulders – his quite comforting shoulders – and she kissed him back enthusiastically.
“How do you know it’s the thing I want most? Have you ever asked me what I thought about the situation? Sure, it hurts at times – I feel so hurt that I may never know the joy of being called daddy; or the pain of watching my child fall and hurt himself –” He caught the look on his wife’s face and added, “Or herself, for the first time, it hurts more when I think of you.
“But I’m comforted. And happy – and fulfilled. I married the woman I love more than life itself – and I would like to think she married the man she loves more than anything else. I didn’t marry you for children, Igo. And like someone in the good book said, ‘Am I not worth more to you than ten sons?’”
She chuckled, wiping back tears and made to speak, but his quick kiss silenced her quite effectively and he continued, “It’s been ten years. Ten years of ups and downs – ten years of it being just me and you. And you know what?”
She shook her head, spellbound by the lovingness in his eyes.
“Child or no, I can’t wait for the next ten.”
Igo snuggled against the warmth – against the security, love and happiness her husband represented. “See baby, I still ask myself how you chose me in the midst of all the girls who were hanging onto you then.”
He shrugged. “Really? I had eyes only for you.”
“You do say the sweetest things – “
He shook his head. “You make it easy for me, darling.” He leaned in close till her eyes, nose, ears – everything was full of him – and then he said, “Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.”
She would have answered too, except that her lips were quite busy.
Two Years Later
It was one of those afternoons in which the sun seemed to be on a mission – a mission to keep everyone behind closed doors, or to make everyone else wish they were. It beat down with unrelenting fury, rubbing the heads and shoulders of the people in it with fiery palms and at the same time tickling the soles of their feet with scorching fingernails.
Those on Mushin Street thought they had the worst of it.
“E no go beta if we come back come carry dese tins later? Dis sun na wa o.”
The speaker, a tall lean Segun Arinze lookalike, stood beside a haulage truck, squinting down the street while squeezing sweat from his forehead. His dirty-blue overall stuck to his body around the shoulders, chest and back. Sweat ran down his arms in rivulets. His partner wasn’t much different; he also had similar patterns of sweat on his costume. He happened to be the shorter of the two.
“Ol’ boi, wetin we wan do na? De man dey para!”
The taller looked over his shoulder at the house they were moving things from. “E jus’ dey provoke. Now-now e no go talk, before now e go begin yarn opata. Dem say im an in wife fight – na im make e commot.”
“Ehen. No wonder. You no know say woman fit drive pessin craze?”
The subject of their quite-intense discussion sat in what was before a sitting area for two people with bright hopes and even brighter smiles. Now, he tried to smile but his lips quivered with strange emotion. So he gave up.
How long does it take to end a life?
His fingers wandered through the suede frills of the seams of the chair he was sitting in as the question repeated itself in his head.
How long does it take to end a life?
Of course, there was no answer.
He scratched his neck and wiped sweat from his forehead.
Why is this room so hot?
Leaping to his feet, his eyes darted to the air conditioner, except a gaping hole was what met his gaze. Oh. Air conditioner left yesterday.
He thumped himself on the forehead. How did I forget?
It was almost impossible to believe two people in love had once lived in the apartment. Now it looked as though a hurricane had come through and left nothing in its wake – nothing except organized carnage. Papers littered everywhere, pieces of a life that had once been the envy of everyone around them. A brightly-colored gleam caught his eye and he leaned over to pull something from underneath paper debris.
Something that turned out to be an anniversary card.
Happy Tenth Year Anniversary, darling; it read in sprawling cursive – Igo’s handwriting. His hand trembled, and he jumped as the shrill ringing of his phone startled him into dropping the card.
“Wetin?” he swore loudly, reaching in his hip pocket for the offending device. It was a call from a number he did not recognize. “Yes?” he said curtly, shaking slightly from the fright. “Who is this?”
“Oga Frank, dem no let us enter the house o. Dem say another pessin don rent am since last week –”
“What?!!” He ejaculated, moving quickly towards the front door as he spoke. “Wait. I’m on my way there now!”
He ended the call, swearing loudly as he bumped into a small stool set negligently beside the door. “Who be de madman wey put this stool dia?” he yelled as soon as he stepped out of the house and into the yard, brandishing the stool like a security guard holding up a dane gun.
The taller of the two furniture movers scratched his head. “Em, oga na you o.”
Frank slowed down, embarrassment making his movements awkward. “Ehen,” he said, setting the stool down gently. “Okay. Dem say de pipo for de house no gree dem enta – I wan run go settle am.”
The shorter of the two watched as Frank hurried out of the house, and then nudged his companion who was stacking the stool in the back of the truck. “Dat man get problem no be small,” he said, shaking his head in pity.
“But sir, this isn’t fair! It isn’t right! I paid –” Frank was interrupted.
“Young man, I said the landlord has changed his mind!” The caretaker, a hungry-looking version of Saka retorted. “Give me your bank number, and I will have my boy here” – he gestured towards a teenager wearing sagging jeans and a dirty white vest leaning against the wall – “transfer your money back now-now.”
“Don’t call me young man,” Frank muttered under his breath. “I’m forty-one years old.”
He turned away, dismay making a lie of his comment – at least facially. Feet dragging, he walked to a truck the twin of the one back at the house and addressed the driver who was looking at him with hopeful eyes. “Sorry, Peter. We have to go back to the house.”
Peter, the truck driver shrugged. “No problem, oga Frank. No be so all dese yeye caretakers dey do?” And he nudged his dozing assistant for affirmation.
“Na so, oga mi,” the boy jerkily muttered, and promptly went back to sleep.
“There’s a small issue with the house I got, so I’ll have to keep these things here while I get it sorted out, ma.”
The old, bent woman looked at him from over her glasses. “You’re the one who chased yourself out, Frank. Nobody asked you to leave. You can keep your things here for as long as you like.”
Frank tried to smile but couldn’t quite make it. “You should understand, ma. It’s not easy –”
She cut him off. “I know, Frank. I understand. My prayers are with you and that wonderful girl Igo. So beautiful.”
Frank hurried away as some peppery sensations behind his eyes made their presence known. Igo…I thought we could make it.
“Make we begin dey offload am?”
Frank nodded. “Begin offload am.”
“…so I need a place to stay for a little bit while I sort out my house issues…”
Frank nodded, thinking wryly that he hadn’t completed a single sentence all day.
“Sure man, thank you. I’ll probably be around in the evening…” He moved the phone from his ear to look at the screen. “Around eight or so.”
He nodded. “Thanks, Fola.” And disconnected the call.
He looked around the apartment, wondering at the detachment he was feeling – a feeling perfectly complimented by the long shadows drawn on the floor, shadows of the burglar proof. He was standing in the middle of the shadows and the effect combined to make it look as though he was behind bars. Tears pooled in his eyes and started the slow journey down his cheeks.
He made no attempt to wipe them.
His feet echoed hollowly as he made his way to one of the rooms. He went in, spent a few moments before coming back out, this time carrying a phone charger. And then he walked out and towards the gate.
Aliu, the gateman opened the gate wide as he saw Frank approach. “Kai, Oga Phrank. Kai Allah, no be so e por be o. Kai kai…” he muttered, shaking his head.
Frank nodded as he walked past the man, forcing trembling lips to stay glued together for fear of sobbing.
Down his cheeks they ran, on the streets they dragged.
Tears and his feet.
His phone started ringing and he mechanically pulled the device out of his pocket. In that moment, he wore the entirety of his forty-one years on his face – jagged lines that seemed to emphasize the idea that all of life is but a puzzle.
“I hear you finally purshued that your emuti barrel of a wife. Good boy! Good –”
Frank impatiently interrupted his father. “Papa, look – don’t insult my wife, you hear? Do not…”
It was his turn to be interrupted. “Quiet there! What does a pikin lak you no? Ehn?! What do you…you…” the man spluttered and began to cough, loud and deep coughs that seemed to come from his belly instead of his chest.
“Papa, sorry. Take it easy…” Frank wiped tears off his face and sighed – a deep, tired sigh. He knew what was going to follow. He could repeat the conversation word for word.
“You see, Franklin, I do not have much longer to live on this earth, and Chukwu did not see fit to bless me with plenty sons. Only you, so if you don’t want me to be forgotten…”
“It’s okay Papa, I hear –”
The man yelled into the phone as Franklin hastily held it away from his ear. “No! You don’t hia me!” He coughed a bit and then continued to speak. “Nna, come to the house on Thursday. Me an your mother haff a new wife for you!”
Staring at the phone in his hand, Franklin muttered, “Oh great. My life is now one big Nollywood movie.”
He started to laugh, horrible croaking laughter that broke and then became a sob. He opened his mouth to scream, to yell – to complain to a stoic God – and then, from the corner of his still-streaming eyes, he noticed a woman staring at him in fear, arm around a pretty little girl who was also staring. He was quite the spectacle. Okadas had stopped with riders pointing at him. Cars were slowing down and causing traffic.
“Frank? Frank! Are you alright man?”
Not stopping to check who it was, he started to jog, scrubbing his face as he ran. Car horns blared behind him, tires screeched, but he heard it all through a layer of static; a steady buzzing in his ears. The tears continued to stream unabated and he continued to run.
After running for what seemed like forever, but was only a couple of minutes, he collapsed against a wall, hands on knees, inhaling jerkily. Some turmoil inside his belly let itself known. And then he started to retch, dry body racking spasms that made him jerk as though he was being mildly electrified.
Minutes later, the retching stopped and he straightened.
He hadn’t eaten all day – thankfully – but his mouth was sour, and a little something to wash it out wouldn’t hurt. He looked around to get his bearings; loud music and assorted smells told him he was in the notorious area of his neighborhood.
A smile darkened his features – a sinister, unpleasant smile – as he pushed away from the wall, resolving to do something he had not done in fourteen years.
Smoke a cigarette.
Written by Seun Odukoya