The silence that follows Mimi’s declaration is complete and awkward, and it lasts for about thirty seconds, before Chinwe decides to break it.
“Mimi…” she begins falteringly, “you really shouldn’t talk like that. You have to speak positively. Positive confession…” She trails off, looking at me for help.
“Are you still in pain, Mimi?” I jump in, not knowing what I can possibly say about the issue at hand.
She doesn’t reply. Instead she keeps her stare on the ceiling and her expression flat and resolute. Her countenance is almost unnerving. And for a second time, there is another bout of uncomfortable silence.
This one lasts for another short while, and is interrupted when a nurse, a different one from the one we encountered earlier, opens the door and walks in, wheeling a drug trolley.
“Good morning, ma,” she directs at Mimi, with a nod at Chinwe and I.
“Good morning,” Chinwe and I chorus.
“It’s time to take your drugs and injections,” she says again to Mimi as she moves to her bed. “I will just pull up the head of your bed, so that you can sit up a little bit, okay?” Her hand hovers over the lever that causes the elevation of the upper section of the hospital bed.
Mimi nods her acquiescence.
The nurse proceeds to hoist Mimi slowly until she is sitting up. Then she brings out a thermometer from her pocket and sticks it under Mimi’s armpit. She wraps her patient’s upper arm with the band of the automatic sphygmomanometer and turns it on.
“Do you have water here?” she asks.
“Yes, here,” Chinwe answers, reaching out to the bedside table and lifting a bottle of water.
The nurse starts with the business of administering the tablets and injections to Mimi. I observe her ministrations with my mind remaining blank. I know I should pray, but I don’t know the words to say. So, I sit there, staring blankly at the nurse doing her job.
“Okay,” the nurse says, startling me out of my preoccupation. “You ladies should consider going and coming back later. The painkiller I just injected her with should make her drowsy soon. You should bring her pap in the evening too,” she instructs, wheeling her trolley back and reversing her way through the doorway, shutting it once she had cleared the door.
“So, Ada, do you also think that nothing has happened to my husband?” Mimi asks suddenly the moment the nurse was gone.
I am startled around to see her watching me. My heart begins a quick little tattoo as I automatically reach for words of reassurance. “I believe he is okay wherever he is, and I believe that he will reach you as soon as he can.” I am not even sure I believe my words.
“Okay.” She looks away from me, and focuses her gaze this time on the window, beyond which we can see a traffic of patients and personnel moving about in the hospital environs. “I had this dream,” she says in a quiet tone, “this terrible dream while they were operating on me –”
“Mbanu!” Chinwe cuts her off. “No, whatever you dreamt doesn’t count biko. That one is a drug-induced dream. It doesn’t count.”
“Really? Is that a thing?” I ask Chinwe, partly out of curiosity and mainly out of the need to change the topic
“Yes now! You haven’t heard?” she says, embracing my intention to change the topic. “My cousin said that he had a dream about where he was involved in a battle when he underwent surgery for fixing his leg bone after he had an accident.”
Genuine amusement rocks through me in a laugh. “What kind of battle biko? Guns and bombs abi swords and spears?”
“Swords and spears o, with horses and all!” she replies, laughing too.
I glance at Mimi, and feel relief course through me when I see her laughing as well.
“He said that his side won the battle,” Chinwe concludes.
“Maybe if his side lost, he would have died,” Mimi says.
Her speech is slurred. The painkillers must be taking effect already.
“Yeah, maybe,” Chinwe concedes hesitantly.
“And that means…” Mimi continues drowsily.
Just then, the door is jerked open and a Mimi’s house help walks in with her baby. She is followed closely by a haggard-looking man, tall, fleshy-faced and mustachioed, whose heavy-lidded eyes sweeps around the room as he enters, taking stock of the environment.
Chinwe and I stare with stupefaction at Mimi’s husband.
“That means,” Mimi is still talking, oblivious of the new entrants, “that something has happened to him…because he didn’t win…” Her voice finally fades away as the drugs overpowered her, and she slips into a drug-induced slumber.
“No, nothing happened to him, Mimi,” Chinwe says softly. “He’s here.” She squeezes Mimi’s hand and carefully places it back on the bed. Then she turns to face Mimi’s husband, the softness on her face vanishing to be replaced by a distinctive severity. “Welcome back, Mr. Arigbe,” she says tersely.
“What happened?” the man bursts out, his anxiety making him impervious to Chinwe’s snippiness. “I heard there was a surgery. How did it happen?” He moves past Chinwe to the bed where his wife is lying.
“No, no! You don’t get to ask plenty questions!” Chinwe snaps at him. Her sharp tone registers with the man, who draws back from her with some bewilderment on his face. “Where were you when you were needed to sign to save her life? Why did you switch off on your sick, pregnant wife?” Chinwe’s voice keeps rising with each word.
“Calm down!” I rise from my seat to place a cautionary hold on Chinwe’s hand. “This is a hospital.” Turning to Mimi’s husband, I continue, “Oga, I really hope that there is a good explanation for this. Your wife would have died if our only option was to wait for you.”
“I was robbed!” he exclaims. “She was the last person I spoke with right before I came out of the bank that afternoon. The thieves probably thought that I had money in my briefcase. They snatched it and my phone.”
“Couldn’t you have called her with any other number?” Chinwe asks. Her tone is still reproachful.
“MTN blocked her line. And the new number that she’s using for the time being, I don’t have it off-heart.”
“It’s true,” I say.
“What is true?” Chinwe turns to me.
“About the blocked line and new number,” I answer.
“So what happened?” Mimi’s husband interjects, glancing concernedly at his wife again, before returning his look to us.
“The baby was growing in her Fallopian tube, and it damaged it. They had to remove the tube and the foetus.” I go on to narrate everything that took place since yesterday morning. By the time I am finished, his countenance had become distraught and tears were slipping from his eyes.
“God!” he chokes out in a voice that is a tortured mix of misery and relief. “Is this how I would have lost my wife?” He raises his tear-stained face to the ceiling and then back to us. “How can I thank you ladies? God bless you, Ada. God bless you very much. And God bless you too, er…I don’t know your name please.”
“Chinwe,” Chinwe supplies.
“God bless you, Chinwe. You will never lack help when you need it.”
“Amen,” Chinwe says.
“Since you’re both here, we have to get going,” I say.
“Yes,” Chinwe adds. “The nurse says she can take pap when she wakes up.”
“I wonder what I’ll do with the remaining one hour and thirty minutes before Gabby’s school let’s out,” I say, looking at my wristwatch as I settle behind the wheel of my car.
“Let’s go to your house,” Chinwe suggests as she climbs in beside me. “I took permission for an off-day from my office today, and I don’t have to go back.”
“OK then.” I turn the ignition.
“So, what’s the latest on Nkaiso?” Chinwe begins conversationally as I steer my way out of the hospital parking lot.
“Hmm! Nne, do you know that she went back home to her husband? And he had the silly guts to call me and taunt me with that piece of information, even dared to tell me my friendship with Nkaiso is over,” I bristle afresh with my recollection of the phone call with Nkaiso’s husband yesterday. Reacting to the thought of the phone call, I reach into my handbag with my right hand for my phone, while guiding the wheel with my left.
“Nawa oh,” Chinwe exclaims, appalled. “This victim mentality of a thing is real oh!”
“I call it foolishness – Ewoo!” I stare with dismay at my phone screen, at the text message from Mercy.
“What’s up?” Chinwe asks.
“It’s Mercy. She told me that she would be moving her stuff out from Chidubem’s house today. Now, she’s texted that Chidubem walked in on her as she was packing and has seized her car keys and some of her stuff, saying that he got them for her.”
“Oh God! Is she still there?”
“According to the text, yes. She should just leave those things and come out of there o, before it turns to something else. Seriously, I don’t even know why she went back there.” I shake my head in exasperation.
“Meaning what?” Chinwe impales me with a vexed look. “She has a right to her things. Abeg, can we go there instead? It’s not that far –”
“Of course, we’re going!” I rejoin, ignoring the voice in my head that is reminding me of my husband’s words of admonition yesterday.
“You are just a bloody gold digger!” Chidubem’s voice thunders from the upper floor of the house as we approach. “You have found another mugu, abi? I won’t let you take any of these things out of this house! In fact, I will make sure I leave you as wretched as you were when I found you!”
When he found her? I think, bristling at the disparagement. Who the hell does this Chidubem think he is sef? I glance askance at Chinwe to see from her tightened expression that she shares my outrage.
“I am trying to do things amicably now o!” we hear Mercy retort. “Heen! Respect yourself now and hand me my car keys and let me get out of here with my things!”
“Your car keys, my ass! Could you even say those words before you met me and I bought a car for you?” The sneering tone in Chidubem’s voice is rich and jarring. “You are talking about ending things amicably, and you won’t even tell me what I did to you! Why did you break up with me? In fact, you know what? I don’t want to know. Just get the hell out of my house!”
By this time, Chinwe and I had walked into the sitting room; the front door was open.
“We should go back out and ring the doorbell,” I say to her in a low tone.
“No! Let’s just get up there and–”
“Who is there?!” Chidubem hollers. I tense when I hear him bounding his way downstairs. “Amos, how many times have I warned you about coming into the house when I am inside with my friends without…” He stops short upon emerging into the sitting room to see us. The disbelief that eclipsed his face quickly evaporates, to be replaced by sneering amusement. He barks out a laugh. “Great! Just great!” He angles his head upward to jeer at Mercy who is still upstairs. “You called your friends to come and fight me, abi? Let’s see how you will succeed in doing that!” He pulls out his phone from his pocket.
“Who are you calling?” Chinwe asks.
“Just the police. You ladies are trespassing, and I know just the remedy for that.” His thumb begins moving swiftly across the phone’s screen.
“Can you do that?” Chinwe asks, looking genuinely intrigued.
“Of course! Do you know who I am? Do you know who my father is?” he hollers, seeming to inflate with each word. “I will show you guys pepper today.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Excuse me?!” The man stabs his wrathful gaze at us.
“I said you won’t show us pepper,” Chinwe reiterates, her tone calm, her manner unfazed by Chidubem’s anger. “Clearly, you don’t know why Mercy broke up with you, do you?”
He’d been about to obliterate us with more shouted indignation, but Chinwe’s matter-of-factly uttered words causes him to hesitate. His expression turns wary. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It just means that if you knew Mercy’s reason for breaking up with you,” Chinwe says, now crossing her arms, “you wouldn’t want to involve the police and probably your father” – she drops a delicate stress on the word – “in this breakup.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” As he bites out those words, he turns to give me a glare so withering, I find myself fighting the urge to recoil from him and duck behind Chinwe.
Behind him, slowly walking into the room is Mercy. Chinwe turns a fractional look at her, a change of her focus that Chidubem notices. He turns too and a visible change comes over him as he begins to address Mercy. Gone is the confrontational man of a few moments ago. His voice is conciliatory as he speaks.
“Baby, what is going on here? Did you break up with me because of what she told you?”
“Because of what who told me?” She eyes him beadily.
“Her!” He points an indignant finger at me. This time, I flinch. “Because, baby, I can explain. She’s a liar, a bloody liar!” He turns a gaze sparkling with rage – and fear – to me, and snarls at me, “You’re a bloody, conniving liar!” He turns back to Mercy. “And she’s very jealous of you. Shebi you even said it. She doesn’t like you! Remember?”
“I remember. But, I believe her. I believe her, because I have seen the evidence.”
Chidubem flinches. Horror washes over his face, slackening the muscles. “Evidence?” he croaks.
“Yes, Chidubem, evidence,” Mercy says grimly.
“What evidence?” he asks hoarsely.
“We don’t have to tell you,” Chinwe interjects, “but be rest assured that it exists. And it will never see the light of day as long as you don’t make trouble for Mercy. Just let her go in peace. That way, no one else has to decide whether to believe the story or not.”
There is a moment of silence, which gets more strained as it lengthens. But neither one of us women breaks it. The next move belongs to Chidubem.
He lets out a shaky sigh, and then divides a glower between us. “You’re not going to spread rumours about me, are you?”
“Not necessarily,” Chinwe, who is still clearly the oga at the top of this matter, replies. “But that evidence, I could let the people that matter see it too, and then let them decide if they believe it or not.” She shrugs, an eloquent gesture that puts exclamation marks on her threat.
“You are lying!” Chidubem blusters. “There’s no evidence!”
“Do you want to take a chance on that?” She arches a brow that dares him to call our bluff. When he doesn’t respond, she continues, “Trust me, it exists. And you don’t have to worry about what it is. Just know that it is there, and was capable of convincing your girlfriend that your relationship is a sham. Just her have her stuff and let her go, and all will be well.” Her lips curl with disdain as she adds, “It’s the least you can do after everything you’ve done.”
Chidubem sighs again and says nothing.
“That must be a yes then,” Mercy says, sauntering forward to pry her car key from Chidubem’s fingers. He lets go of it without a word. “Ok then,” she continues as she prances toward Chinwe and I, while still talking to her ex-fiancé. “Don’t worry, darling. I have gotten everything I need from this house. It was nice knowing you. Better stay away from me and my friends, or else…” She lets the sentence hang there, unfinished and yet portentous.
“Babes, let us go,” she says to us, as she pulls a large valise on its small wheels out of the room.
Chinwe and I follow her out.
I ask Chinwe and Mercy to go on to the house while I go on to pick Gabby up. Chinwe rides shotgun in Mercy’s car, while I go on to Gabby’s school by myself. Several minutes later, I am back home. I pull up in front of the gate and begin tapping the horn to alert the gateman to my presence.
Through the corner of my eyes, I see someone approaching my car. I turn and my eyes widen with pleasant surprise at the sight of Aunty Esther, the estranged wife of Uncle Donatus.
I wind down my window to exclaim with delight, “Aunty Esther! What are you doing out here? They didn’t let you in?”
“No…” Her voice breaks on the word, and standing right there, she begins to shake as her body gets wracked with her sobs.
“Oh my God,” I gasp, hurriedly pushing my door open and clambering down from the car. I am reaching out my arms to embrace her consolingly as I ask, “What happened?”
Written by Adaku J.