“Why am I even the one carrying all this stuff?” I huff angrily.
I’d just tripped on my floor-length skirt, while on the task of lifting cartons after cartons of malt and wine to just outside the door, for the gateman to heft from there and to the boot of the car.
I balance myself, and carefully take the remaining steps to the door, and drop the carton. A sheen of perspiration is already dampening my brows, and I fear that my makeup will be ruined.
Sighing, I decide that I will no longer carry on with this hard labour. The remaining two cartons of malt and wine, three cartons of beer and 20 litre keg of palm wine will have to wait to be carried out by Ifeanyi whenever he decides to show up. Imagine! It’s his introduction we are going for, and he hasn’t gotten here at this time. We are supposed to at least be on our way to Awka by 11am, so that we will arrive at our destination on time, do what we are there to do, and come back at a time when we can still see our feet.
And he isn’t here yet at 11:30!
I am about to walk into the bedroom to lie down and wait, when I hear the kettle whistling in the kitchen. I veer off in that direction. As an afterthought, I had decided to pack some hot water and Golden Morn, just in case Gabby refuses to eat any other thing at the event. I pour the hot water into Gabby’s water flask and fit it into his school lunch bag, which I’d already packed with a small container filled with Golden Morn and a milk mixture, some drinking water, and a change of clothes for him.
“I’m not carrying those cartons again oh!” I announce as I enter our bedroom.
My husband is just putting the finishing touches to his dressing.
“What cartons?” he asks, looking up from the mirror before which he’d been adjusting the pocket of his shirt.
I instantly notice it has a little tear.
“What happened to your cloth now?” I ask, reaching out to see how manageable the tear is.
“I saw a stray thread, and pulled at it,” he answers, dropping his hands to give me the chance to access the damage.
“I know! You don’t use eye to see thread hanging out of your clothes or anybody’s clothes!” I accuse, looking around for the tiny safety pin I’d last seen on the dresser while I was applying my makeup.
“It looks untidy now!” he says, smiling.
“Ehn! Now that you have torn the shirt, which one is untidier?” I query, wiggling my brows.
Just then, I spot the safety pin. I pick it up and carefully hold the torn pocket with it, from inside to conceal it from detection. “There!” I smile, withdrawing from the mirror to sit on the bed.
He sprays perfume on his body, and walks out of the room.
Seconds later, he pokes his head into the room. “What happened to all the malt and wine?”
“That was what I was saying now. I was taking them out to the car. Then I got tired.”
“Who sent you? Biko, be careful how you lift heavy objects oh!” he says, disapproval firmly etched on his face.
Before I can reply, my phone starts ringing. A glance at the screen reveals the caller as Mercy.
“Hello?” I say immediately after picking up.
“Hello, Ada, how far now?” she responds.
“Nothing oh! I just don’t know how I feel jaré! Are you at home? Let me come over. We could open up that bottle of Chardonnay.”
“I’m at home oh, but not for long. We’re going for my brother-in-law’s introduction. I told you about it now.”
“Yeah, it’s true.” She sighs audibly. “Sorry jaré! All of una don dey too busy for me, abi? Chinwe is hanging out with Ebuka, you’re going out.”
“Nneamaka is around,” I suggest.
“Mba, biko. I don’t know her that well,” she declines
“Mimi, kwanu? You could go visit her.”
“It’s true. Has her stomachache stopped?”
“Wow! You remembered,” I say, impressed. The old Mercy wouldn’t have remembered that Mimi was indisposed. The things finding out that your fiancé is gay can do to you.
“Meaning what?” she asks. Her feigned annoyance is apparent, because I can hear the smile in her voice.
“You know now,” I reply with a chuckle. “Anyway, she might not even be seeing visitors now. She says she called her brother, who is a medical doctor, and he asked her to observe a strict bed rest,” I say, remembering my conversation with Mimi this morning.
“Arrgh! When you come back and hear that I have committed suicide, my blood will be on all your hands!”
“Yeah, right! What would be your reason for committing suicide? Chidubem?” I guffaw. At the silence on the other end, I wonder if my attempt at levity had come too soon.
“He’s not worth it, abi?” Mercy’s voice comes through the phone in a more subdued tone.
“Not at all!” I declare fervently. “You know, you could come with us to Awka for the introduction,” I blurt before thinking.
“Yeah, I could. Is there space in the car?” She instantly seems excited.
“Yes, there is,” I answer, wondering if my husband will okay the idea.
“Cool! I will dress up and come over immediately!” she says, her voice very cheery. She ends the call.
The cheeriness in Mercy’s voice makes me feel a tad better that I invited her. I just have to convince my husband to go with the idea, in case he’ll be against it. And I don’t have a lot of time to do that. I rise from the bed.
“Sweetie…” I say, my voice preceding me to the sitting room. I look around; it is just Gabby in the room, watching Dora the Explorer with rapt attention. There is no sign of my husband.
“Gabby, where is your daddy?”
“Heee outshite,” he replies, pointing at the front door.
I follow his tiny index finger to the verandah. Just then, Ifeanyi comes through the pedestrian gate, out of breath, with a suitcase in his hand.
“Ha! Nwokem, are you not going again?” I hear my husband holler at him.
“Sorry, brother. I had to settle some official issues and I lost track of time,” he replies with a slight pant. “Then, I had to rush down to my house and pick up my clothes and drop the car –”
“Ozugo! Just go and dress up, let’s leave this place,” my husband cuts him short, interrupting what was gearing up to be a long convoluted explanation.
“That reminds me…” I start to say to my husband as Ifeanyi walks past me into the house in long hurried strides. “Do you mind if one of my friends comes along with us? At least, let me have a pair of eyes watching Gabby at all times,” I add quickly, hoping the reason would do the trick.
“Really?” Ifeanyi speaks up, pausing at the door, with his hand hovering over the handle. “Is it Chinwe?”
“Tah!” I hush him good-naturedly. “Okwa nwanyi k’ina-eje inu! Focus!”
The three of us share a brief laugh, before Ifeanyi goes into the house to dress up. I turn expectantly to my husband for his reply.
“Who are you going to call at this time?” he asks.
“That one is not a problem. I just want to be sure that you don’t mind.”
“No problem then. But I won’t wait for anybody. Once Ifeanyi gets ready, I am moving.”
“Thank you!” I blow a kiss in his direction, before turning and heading back into the house.
Minutes later, Ifeanyi comes out to the sitting room all dressed up. He picks up my handbag and Gabby’s bag, while I turn out the lights and lock the door.
Mercy hasn’t come yet, and she isn’t picking up my calls either. I wrack my brain for a delay tactic while I lock the door. I make a production of strapping Gabby in his booster chair. Once done, I decide to make sure the back door is securely locked.
Precious minutes pass by, and there’s still no sign of Mercy. Giving up, I get into the passenger’s side of my husband’s car. Just as he engages the gear to move out, I say, “Let’s pray for the journey now.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Ifeanyi pipes up from the back seat, astonishing me.
He has never been a religious person. I smile as it dawns on me that he too wants to have the company of my friend, whom he thinks is Chinwe.
Great disappointment awaits you, dude, I think amusedly.
“Oya, pray the prayer,” my husband says to me.
“In the mighty name of Jesus,” I begin.
“Amen!” Gabby’s shrill voice resonates in the confines of the car.
“Please, make it brief,” my husband mutters loud enough for me to hear.
Nodding, I continue, “Our Lord and Heavenly father…”
Just then, Mercy’s car glides in through the gate that had been opened for our exit. Smiling happily, I quickly wrap up the prayer. We are just ending with the Lord’s Prayer, when Mercy taps her knuckle lightly on my window to alert me to her presence.
“Baby, this is my friend, Mercy,” I say to my husband, as I open my door and step down. “Mercy, this is my husband and my brother-in-law.” I gesture first to my husband, and then to Ifeanyi at the back of the car.
“Oya, Ifeanyi, bia n’iru biko,” I say, opening the door for him.
“Stay with your husband jaré!” he protests.
“No. Stay in front, so that you will focus. Oya!” I am holding the door open for him to come down.
A minute later, we exit the compound on our way to Awka.
The introduction goes by smoothly, the event very successful. The list has been handed over to my husband. Now, we (the in-laws) have been presented with small coolers of both rice and garri with onugbu soup, and I am doing my duty, serving our entourage. Uncle Donatus arrived with a few of the family elders just before the introduction began. Easy banter flows all around me as I serve the food.
“I think you should come outside,” Mercy whispers into my ear as I scoop spoonfuls of onugbu soup into the bowl set before me.
“Why? What happened?” I say, mildly alarmed, while staring around her for Gabby, whom she had taken out to pee.
“Relax! Nothing happened to Gabby,” she says, smiling.
“Where is he?” I ask, not totally believing her.
“See him now!” she says, pointing at the chair on which Gabby had been sitting all through the program.
“Ok. Give me a second,” I say, finishing up the dishing of the soup bowl. I hand it over to the elderly man, whom I am certain I have been introduced to, but do not remember his name.
“Oya, let’s go. This had better be good,” I warn. “Sweetie, please help me keep an eye on Gabby. Let me go and ease myself,” I whisper to my husband before walking out of the house after Mercy.
“So, what is it?” I ask her once we are out of the house.
“I heard someone screaming inside a locked room while I was taking Gabby to ease himself. She was saying some stuff about… In fact, I didn’t understand half of what she was saying, but it had to do with the wedding. Just come and hear for yourself.” She draws my hand as she starts walking.
“Ebee ka unu na-aga?” a voice stops us.
We turn to confront an older woman’s glare. I recognize her as the women who’d been introduced as Leticia’s mother. She is matronly with a doughy face that looks uncannily like an older version of her daughter. Even her small lips are pursed in that sullen expression that I disliked on her daughter.
“Mummy, achorom ije nyuo mamiri,” I reply with my most winning smile, “Enyim si ka oduje m,” I add, gesturing at Mercy.
“You sabi road?” she queries, her owlish gaze turning to Mercy.
“Yes ma. Them don show me before,” Mercy replies.
She pins us with her laser glare for a few seconds, as if to ferret out any evidence that we might be lying. Then, evidently satisfied, she turns and goes back to the house.
Mercy and I walk briskly towards the place she claimed to have heard a woman shouting.
“There,” she says, pointing at toward a tiny house with a wooden door, which is shut. A padlock is hanging on the lock staple, but it isn’t locked.
Edging cautiously towards the door, Mercy knocks tentatively.
“Onye? Oo gini?” A very angry voice comes through the door.
“Shhh,” Mercy shushes the voice, before saying in a low tone, “Can we come in?”
“Who is that?” the voice reiterates, this time in a lower tone.
“We are with the people that came to marry your sister. I heard your voice earlier,” Mercy explains through the closed door.
“Ehen! I have been trying to get your attention since!” the voice hollers with glee.
A little child cries out from inside the house.
“Mechie onu gi ebe ahu!” she screams at the child.
The cries immediately reduce to a whimper.
“Tell that anu ofia that you people are coming to marry to come and take care of her children oh!” the woman with no face screams at us through the closed door.
“What?” I totter back a step, shock slamming into me. “She has kids?” I croak.
“Yes! She didn’t tell you people, abi? Typical! She has two children! And they locked me in here with them because they don’t want you people to see them, and they don’t want me to talk!” she shrieks like a mad person.
I can’t help but take note of her good English.
“She thinks that the whole world revolves around her!” the woman continues. “Gwakwa ya ko bia kporo umu ya! She will leave them here and be gallivanting all over the world without dropping money for their upkeep…” She stops mid-rant, and then screams again, “I will kill you, you this devil’s child!”
I cringe at the sound of beating coming from inside the house and the attendant child’s cries following it. Unable to stand the plaintive wails of the child anymore, I unhang the padlock and pull open the door.
“What is wrong with you!” a voice calls frantically behind us. “Who asked you to open that door?”
Mercy and I turn to see Leticia making a hasty beeline for us from a short distance away. Her expression is a mixture of panic and rage. I step out of her way as she rushes for the door.
But the woman inside must have noticed the door had been unlocked, because just as Leticia reaches for it, it swings open with a force that causes Leticia to stagger to one side. The woman springs out from her confinement, and darts to the open compound, screaming.
“Ndi ogo, biakwa nuru oh!”
She is a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties. Her resemblance to Leticia is striking, the only difference being that she is thin, gaunt and unkempt, while Leticia is well rounded and healthy-looking. They are obviously no match for each other physically, as Leticia pounces on her. The woman succeeds in screaming out twice before Leticia wrestles her to the ground and straddles her, clasping a hand over her mouth.
“Shut up, you witch!” she hisses, and then yelps in pain when the other woman sinks her teeth into her palm. She withdraws her hand at once.
“Leave me alone! She wants to kill me oh!” the woman screeches, lashing out with her frail hands as Leticia begins punching her face.
Edging closer to the door, I open it wider. Two scared-looking faces stare out at me from inside the gloom of the room. Two girls, I can tell from their braided hair, which is uncombed.
“Bia,” I say, stretching out my hand to them.
They recoil from the gesture, withdrawing further into the darkness of the room. They are obviously scared of me.
“Jesus! Do you want to kill her?” Ifeanyi’s voice startles me out of my preoccupation with the children.
I turn around to see that the ruckus had drawn the attention of the people in the main house, the people that are here for the introduction.
Ifeanyi, in a bid to separate the women from each other, puts both arms under Leticia’s armpits and tries to heave her away from the other woman. However, one elbow punch from Leticia sends him flying backwards. Two young men detach themselves from the crowd and grab at the angry woman, struggling to lift her away from her opponent. Both women are now screaming at each other.
I cross my hands and exchange a look with Mercy. The day of reckoning has obviously come, and just in the nick of time too.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Okwa nwanyi k’ina-eje inu – Is it not a wife you are going to go and get?
Bia n’iru biko – Come to the front please
Ebee ka unu na-aga – Where are you people going?
Achorom ije nyuo mamiri – I want to go and ease myself
Enyim si ka oduje m – My friend offered to escort me.
Onye? Oo gini? – Who is that? What is that?
Mechie onu gi ebe ahu – Shut up your mouth there
Gwakwa ya ko bia kporo umu ya – Tell her to come and take her children
Ndi ogo, biakwa nuru oh – In-laws, come and here!
Written by Adaku J.