The first thing Sharon Nwosu noticed about the mad woman, apart from her immediately apparent scraggly appearance, was her eyes. Narrow, beady and squeezed into their sockets underneath heavy lids and sparse lashes, they bore at once an intensity that gave her gaunt face a crazed mien, and an eerie intelligence that unnerved Sharon.
Another thing that unnerved Sharon was the grip the mad woman had on her arm. The moment the heavily-pregnant Sharon waddled out of the shopping mall, the scrawny figure had darted toward her and pounced, encircling her right hand with her grimy fingers and speaking to her in a harsh whisper, “God gave him permission to persecute Job in the Bible, you know…” Her mouth worked. “Job did nothing wrong, and yet, God looked the other way, and let him do with Job as he pleased…”
“Get off me!” Sharon squeaked, as a ripple of nausea surged up her spine at the sudden proximity with the mad woman. Both her hands were weighted down with the bags containing her purchases, so she moved her body instead, trying to dislodge the mad woman’s grasp. The exercise was futile.
The mad woman clenched harder and inched closer. “Job did nothing, and God let him have his way. But you – you killed one of God’s own long, long ago. You did wrong. You have blood on your hands!” Spittle flew from the mad woman’s cracked lips and Sharon recoiled, gasping. “You are tainted. You are ugly. And God don’t like ugly. And once again, God has looked away. And he knows. He knows God has looked away. And he’s coming.”
“Get away from me!” Sharon screeched, her nausea threatening to overtake her. The clasp her left hand had on the bag in it slackened and the bag dropped to the ground. Its contents spilled out on the asphalt. But Sharon wasn’t thinking about that. She lifted the hand and tried to pry the mad woman’s vice-like grip from her right arm.
“He knows. And he’s coming!” the woman hissed, her remarkable eyes looming closer still.
“Help!” Sharon chocked out, involuntarily dropping the second bag, as she fought the mad woman off her personal space. “Somebody, help me get this crazy woman away from me!”
“He knows, and he’s coming!”
There was a rush of feet toward the two women, and moments later, a burly man clad in the mall’s security uniform was yanking the mad woman off the pregnant one. The mad woman fought against his intrusion, writhing about in his hold, all the while reaching out her gnarly hands and widely staring eyes at Sharon as she screamed over and over again, “He knows! And he’s coming!”
A couple of other people broke out from the small pocket of spectators that had gathered, and helped Sharon regain her purchases from the ground. It was a very rattled woman who got into her car and drove out of the parking lot.
Her hands were still shaking as she let herself into her house. Her bunch of keys clattered on the mantelpiece close to the front door, a minutiae of a sound that appeared to echo in her subconscious, startling her and causing her to gasp as she flinched from the bunch.
Get a grip, Sharon, she admonished herself as she proceeded to take deep calming breaths.
“Hey, Shay, is that you?” her husband called from the general direction of the living room.
She knew he was probably in his study, putting the finishing touches to a presentation he had to give at work on Monday. And yet, in spite of the distance of the study from the front doorway, and his focus on his work, he’d heard her come in. She’d always marveled at Chidi’s acute hearing. That was also accompanied by a keen sense of observation. And she couldn’t afford to have him discover her like this; he’d instantly want to know what had happened. And knowing her husband, he wouldn’t let up until he’d ferreted everything from her.
And what the inquiry might lead her to admit was not what she wanted. A foray into the past was definitely not what she wanted. The past had to remain there. She had buried it and moved on.
And yet, she couldn’t help but feel that it had come crashing in on her present.
Why, because of what some mad woman said? a voice argued inside her. He knows? And he’s coming? What a load of bunkum!
It’s not that! she countered. It’s not that –
Then what is it?
You killed one of God’s own long, long ago… You have blood on your hands…
That is still rubbish –
But I do have blood on my hands!
You made a decision that saved you from ruin, that gave you a chance at the good life you now have, the voice reasoned. That is not blood on your hands. It’s common sense in your head! Besides, how could she have known?
That was the question that had haunted Sharon on the drive home from the mall. The mad woman, in that brief spell of acuity that no insane person should possess, had accused her of killing. She had killed. But how could the mad woman have known? How could she have known of the dread that swamped her eleven years ago when she – after doubling over the bathroom sink to a racking bout of morning sickness – had placed a hand gingerly over her stomach and wondered? How could she have known the panic the nineteen-year-old girl tried to fight after a secret trip to the hospital confirmed her suspicion, that she was pregnant? How could she have known the misery she tried not to wallow in when she thought of how fast her promising future would vanish if her pregnancy became known? How could she have known the resolve that drove her to book that appointment in the abortion clinic, the numbness she felt as she sat in the waiting room, the aching emptiness that throbbed inside her when it was all over…
How, dear God, had this woman known? Sharon wanted to cry out. And who is He? And why is He coming?
“Shay?” Chidi called again, his voice rousing her from her fevered reverie.
“Yea, it’s me…” Her voice cracked. She cleared her throat and tried again, “I just came in.” She began making her way to the kitchen to stow away her purchases.
“How was your trip to the mall? Did you get all of your cravings?” The teasing words were accompanied with a chuckle.
“Uh, yea… Um, I hope you’ve had something, because I can’t make lunch. I think I’m going to lie down.”
“Are you okay?” his voice had become more alert.
“Yes, yes, yes,” she hastened to reassure him. “Just a little too much sun, nothing a quick bed rest won’t take care of.” She was already lumbering out of the kitchen en route the master bedroom.
“Well, God must disapprove of what the sun did to you, because it looks like it’s going to rain.”
God has looked away. And he knows…
A frisson raced through her heart as the words snuck into her mind, and she tried to stifle it as she stepped into the bedroom.
To find the mad woman sitting on the corner of the bed, still looking unkempt and animated.
The sight of her stopped Sharon in her tracks. All she could do was stare. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be happening. She couldn’t be here.
In the silence, the mad woman’s eyes blazed at her. Her chapped lips peeled back over her bad teeth as she hissed, “He knows. And he’s coming.” Her voice was a hoarse promise.
When Sharon blinked, the mad woman was gone. In the distance, thunder sounded, low and ominous. There was a storm on the way, and the sudden heaviness in the air portended a big one. A sudden gloom descended in the room from outside, remarkable for the fact that it was still afternoon.
Sharon turned to move back out of the room, to seek her husband’s company where once she’d balked from it. A flash of lightning briefly illuminated the room. And on its heels, a streak of pain scissored through Sharon’s abdomen. She drew a sharp inhalation and grasped at her distended midriff, staggering back.
Another hot streak zipped through her, propelling her further backward until she plopped unto the bed. She was gasping heavily now, as more and more flashes of pain cleaved through her insides. Her body began to heat up, a ripple of fever that raced over her skin, raising goose-bumps as it went. She wondered fleetingly if this was labour. She’d never had a child; she had no way of knowing.
But you could have had a child once, something malicious reminded her.
And then, another bolt of pain, sharper than the previous ones, slammed inside her. She threw back her head and screamed. She dropped back on the bed, writhing as the fire scorched her insides. Then the fire appeared to collect into a pinpoint somewhere in the centre of her womb, before exploding outward. She screamed again, arching her back to ride the pain. Sudden sensations of motion inside her tummy caused her to left her head; she pulled up her loose-fitting gown, and began to whimper when she saw her womb…
Or more accurately, something moving about inside her womb – A lot of somethings!
The skin of her distended midriff was streaked with tiny protuberances that moved this way and that, as though someone with many big fingers was poking outward from inside her. They darted about, lifting weals on her skin. And they hurt. Rivulets of pain speared at Sharon, firing up her nerve endings, and she flopped backward again, screaming and thrashing about on the bed. Outside, the thunder clapped and the lightning flashed, the presence of the storm underscoring her excruciation.
Fleetingly, she wondered why her husband, for all his acute hearing, hadn’t heard her and come running to help her from this.
And then, the fire whooshed forward, descending on her groin, and an involuntary force pulled her legs apart, tearing through her privates with an intensity that caused her to give one long wail of agony. The tendons stood out on her neck, and her fingers dug, claw-like, into the bed.
“God, please… Oh, please, God…!” she cried.
God has looked away. And he knows…
Then, a different sort of pain clamped down on her vagina. It was pincer-like, as though very sharp talons had been clinched on the sensitive skin down there, forcing the labial walls viciously apart. Another cry was torn from Sharon, and her consciousness dwindled and drifted, as her vision swam. She was going to faint.
And then, she wasn’t. Awareness rushed back over her, when the pincers bit in again. Harder. The shock of the pain jolted her forward, and she very nearly sat up, screaming.
Then she looked, and stared. And began screaming again, harder, more out of horror than pain. She was giving birth to something. And it wasn’t human.
The tentacular arms had made an appearance first, scaly, even though they dripped with the slime of her insides. They bore fingers, lots of them, talon-like, which dug painfully into her body as the arms pulled the rest of the monstrosity out.
The head shoved its way through. Small. Bulbous. Dome-like. Its back was to her, and a hissing rattle accompanied its exit from her womb.
She screamed harder.
With a sharp, serpentine motion, it jerked is head around to set its ugly mien on her terrified face. Its face was flat and snake-like, and the eyes were scarlet slits. The mouth was barely existent, but through them, it said in a high, cold voice, “He knows. And he’s coming.”
Sharon stared at it, and kept on screaming, and screaming…
She was propelled into wakefulness by a tidal force, as though she was being buoyed on the waves of an ocean. Her eyes snapped open, and she dropped, a quivering bundle, into her husband’s arms.
“Oh my God, Chidi… Oh my God…!”
“What is it, Shay? Are you okay?”
“Oh my God… I don’t want this…I don’t – Oh my God!”
“Sharon, talk to me!” He tried to pull apart from her, so he could look at her face.
Tears were streaking down her face as she suddenly broke free from him and began feverishly patting about her body, lifting her dress to gaze upon the smooth skin of her abdomen.
“I don’t want to have this baby, Chidi!”
“I don’t want it!” She turned to him, her expression crazed. “I don’t – I can’t… Oh God, I can’t!”
“It’s a little late for that, Sharon. While you were having your nightmare, your water broke.”
And that was when she became aware of the dampness spread out over the bed sheets on top which she sat. The realization that her delivery was at hand wrenched a most keening wail from her, a revelation of the terror she felt at the impending situation.
The subsequent events whizzed by in a blur. Unperturbed by her hysterics, Chidi maneuvered her out of bed and into the car with an equanimity that she did not feel. She was frantic. She didn’t want to have the child. She simply wanted the pregnancy to go away. She screamed herself hoarse trying to let everyone know that. But her husband, and then the nurses and doctor, remained oblivious to her terror. Labour pangs descended and numbed her fears. She was soon ready. She was whisked into the delivery room. The birthing was swift. And in remarkable time, the lusty wail of a newborn pierced the air, causing relief to ripple across the room.
Another safe delivery, they were all thinking, as congratulations abounded.
The child was swaddled inside a cloth, and passed on to the grateful father. He beamed at the tiny bundle, and approached the bed, where his wife watched, worry and consternation etched on her face.
“See, Shay, we did it,” Chidi husked as he leaned toward Sharon, angling his body so she could look at the miracle they’d both created. “It’s a boy.”
Sharon stared. She looked down at the small, wrinkly face, the buttony features, and the wet thatch of hair on the head. The baby made gurgling sounds that were so cute, a smile was dredged from her.
And then, the newborn’s eyes snapped open, stabbing at Sharon with a gaze that was startling sharp and crystal clear, and his rosebud lips appeared to move over the hissed words, “I know. And I’m here.”
Sharon gave out a strangled shriek, and dropped backward into a faint.
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