A knock on the front door rouses me from the novel I had been trying unsuccessfully to focus on due to the fact that I keep drifting in and out of sleep. I’d totally forgotten how lethargic I felt during the third trimester of my pregnancy with Gabby; the lethargy appears to have come early this time.
With a sigh, I heave myself off the couch and walk to the door to check who is knocking.
“Surprise, surprise!” Nneamaka shrieks as I open the door.
“Aahh!” I squeal back in excitement. “What are you doing here?” I ask as we hug each other.
“I came to organize the packing of our remaining load,” she says as I admit her into the house.
“We chatted on WhatsApp two days ago, and you didn’t even hint that you were coming back,” I say. “What do I get you?” I am already on my way to the refrigerator.
“Don’t bother with anything, nnem. I’m on a diet,” she says as she drops into a seat.
“And you automatically assume that I’m about to get you something unhealthy?” I ask with a playful frown as I hold the door of the refrigerator open.
“No oh! Not that. It’s just that I’m doing Keto Diet,” she replies.
My brows hitch upward in incomprehension. “What the heck is that?”
“Er… It’s a kind of diet where you eat more fat and minimal carbs.”
“More fat? So, you’re dieting to get fat?” My confusion is complete.
“No!” Nneamaka says with a chuckle. “It’s like fighting fire with fire…fighting fat with fat. Do you get?”
“Mba. But, it doesn’t matter. So, are oranges allowed? Water melon juice? There’s pineapple, but, you’ll have to peel it yourself…” I am looking into the fridge as I list the non-carbohydrate and healthy items in there.
“Actually, no to all that. Fruits aren’t allowed.”
“Ha! This kind Kegel Diet… Fruits are like –”
“Keto oh! Not Kegel! Jesus!” She is laughing.
“Keto… Whatever! But fruits are like the healthiest thing one can eat. What kind of diet doesn’t allow fruits?” I query.
“I wondered too oh! But, I’ve seen tons of people that it worked for, so I’m trying it out.”
“Ok oh! So, nothing then? Water nko?”
“Water is perfect,” she acquiesces.
“Ah! Thank God water is allowed,” I say, bringing a bottle out of the fridge.
“Why won’t water be allowed kwanu?” Nneamaka says with a grin.
“Amam? Am I the one doing, er…Keg –”
“Keto!” she cuts me off with another laugh. “Before you’ll say Kegel again.”
“Which one I sabi?” I say, laughing too, and setting the water down before her.
“So, what’s up? How’s my Lady Ella?” I ask as I settle down on the couch next to her.
“She’s fine oh! I left her with my youngest sister and my husband. I’ll just organize the movers and leave by tomorrow afternoon,” she replies. “You’ll come around and help tomorrow, right?”
“Ah! I wish I could oh! I have to go for antenatal tomorrow morning, and I don’t know when I will be back.”
“Uh-oh! How long gone are you sef?” she asks, twisting off the cap of the bottle of water and taking a sip.
“Twenty-four weeks. I’m just rounding up my sixth month,” I say, rubbing my belly.
“Wow! So, in three months time, Gabby will have a sibling. That’s cool.”
“Yeah. And he’s all excited about it.”
“You don’t look like you’re six months along, though. Your tummy is still small.” She gives me a quick onceover.
“It’s all in the waist, baby!” I say. “I carry my pregnancies in my waist. Plus, I’ve always been on the big side, so, before anyone stops noticing fat and starts noticing the belly, I’d be almost due.”
“It’s true sha,” she agrees. “We’re waiting to settle in before trying for another baby, me and my husband – more so, since I won’t be following him to relocate anymore.”
“That’s okay. I bet Ella will be excited to have a brother or sister.”
“Yeah! She wants a sister, but, it’s a brother she’s getting, biko! So that I’ll draw the final line.”
“Only two?” I ask, surprised. “You just want two kids?”
“Yes oh! Country hard, biko!”
“Hmm! I never pegged you as someone who would want only two children. I’ve always seen you as a four-to-six-kids kind of person.”
“Well, yes, I used to be. But things are so difficult, I had to advise myself accordingly.”
“It’s all good.”
“So, what’s been happening since we left?” She takes another sip of water as she changes the topic.
“Nothing much oh! We’re just there,” I say, trying to think of what gist to give her.
“How about that your friend that helped us watch Gabby and Ella that time we had to go to Idodo Market?” she asks.
“Nkaiso?” I say, my lips curling with distaste.
“Yes! That’s her name. Such a lovely lady,” Nneamaka says. “One of my new neighbors reminds me of her.”
“Well, we’re no longer friends,” I inform her.
“No!” Her eyes widen with surprise. “What happened?”
“Long story o, my sister!” I start. “So, Chinwe and I went to visit her one day, and we saw her all bruised, battered and bloody. Hmm! It now happened that her husband hit her, and that that wasn’t the first time. We tried to help her oh, even called her brother. He came and took her and her children away to Lagos. Only for her husband to call me like a week later to insult me, saying that he’s back together with her and that I should keep my bad influence away from his wife. As if the insult wasn’t enough, Nkaiso sent me a text, that we can’t be friends anymore, that my bad influence is affecting her marriage–”
“What!” Nneamaka exclaims, her hand fluttering halfway to her mouth in stupefaction.
“Yes oh! Plenty more snide and insulting remarks that she sent in that text ehn! I simply couldn’t believe it was Nkaiso that sent me that message.”
“But are you sure that her husband did not use her phone to text you?”
“Actually, I thought of that initially, so I called her back, and she was so cold when she answered, and basically told me to not call her line ever again.”
“Ah!” Nneamaka’s eyes are twin goggles of confoundment. “This is unbelievable! Nkaiso that is so good-natured and soft-spoken. I can’t believe she’s being abused oh!”
“My dear! I tried to help her, and she rejected my help. I won’t kill myself oh!” I say, remembering how much her words had stung, and reliving the hurt I’d felt then.
“But, what if she said all those things under duress?”
“Whose duress? She said she was alone when I called, and then I asked about the text, and she agreed that she sent it, and went ahead to ask me never to call her again. Even if she was under duress then, what stopped her from reaching back to me to explain? Or are you saying that her husband is now constantly with her and monitoring her every call and text?”
“You may be right. I just feel for her, and wish that you won’t give up on her so easily.”
“Me that have already given up? I don’t go to where I’m not wanted, biko!”
“It’s well with her oh. At least, be praying for her safety.”
“Yeah, that’s the one I can easily do. I keep praying that her eyes will open to understand that she’s worth way more than being a punching bag, that’s all.”
A little beep from my phone informs me that it’s time to go and pick Gabby up from school. Once, I overslept in the afternoon, and Gabby was the last kid to leave the school that day, as my phone was silenced to his teacher’s and my husband’s calls. I had to set this daily alarm to remind and wake me up, peradventure I sleep off again.
“I have to go for Gabby now,” I inform Nneamaka.
“Wow! It’s already time? I’ve spent time here oh!” she says as we both stand up. “Time is flying by so fast oh!”
“I know, right? It seems to me that it hasn’t been a minute since I came home from dropping him off at school!”
“I’d come with you, but I have to go and pack stuff up into the big bags I got, in readiness for the movers tomorrow.”
“It’s alright. That won’t be an easy job, I’m sure. One minute, let me grab my keys and footwear,” I say, moving further into the house.
Seconds later, I return to the living room with my handbag. “Oya, let’s go.”
“How are your friends? Mimi, Chinwe, and that annoying one – what’s her name again?”
“Mercy?” I volunteer with a small laugh.
“Yes! Mercy!” She stands by as I lock the front door.
“They’re fine oh!”
“Your brother-in-law, nko?” We move at a leisurely pace out into the front yard. “Is he still going to marry that yeye girl, abi he’s now with Chinwe? Their chemistry that day I met them was unmistakable.”
“Really?” My brows crease as I try to remember just how Chinwe and Ifeanyi seemed the days I’d witnessed them together. “They just seemed to me like old friends oh! Actually, it’s Mercy that he’s with – well, technically with. The marriage with that – as you said – yeye girl didn’t happen. And Chinwe is with another guy, I believe.”
“Maybe your brother-in-law really likes Chinwe, but is dating Mercy because of the other guy Chinwe is seeing, have you ever thought of that?”
Nneamaka’s words surprise a laugh out of me. “Ha! You and your theories! I don’t think so oh. Besides, I don’t even think Ifeanyi knows about Chinwe’s guy.”
“Anyway, I may be wrong though.” She shrugs.
“Yeah, you’re wrong.” I laugh again. “Let me get going oh!” I move toward my car as Nneamaka proceeds to the gate.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning before I take Gabby to school,” I call after her as I get into the car.
“Okay. Till then,” she calls back.
I rise to open the door upon an expected light knock. Chinwe had asked to see me this evening, and I’m sure it has to do with Ebuka. I hope she isn’t angry with me for anything. At least, I didn’t ask Ebuka to come back to Nigeria.
“Welcome, dear!” I beam, standing away from the door so she can come inside.
“Thank you, nnem!” she says, throwing her bag and suit jacket on one sofa and collapsing on another. “Chai! If you see how tired I am ehn.” She expels a heavy breath.
“Gi na oru nu!” I say in commiseration.
“You don’t even know the half of it!” she says, kicking off her shoes.
“Do you want water melon juice or oranges?” I offer.
“None!” she says, observing me warily. “What’s with all the health food suggestions? What happened to good old Coke and Malt?”
“Oh! You’re not watching weight too? Ngwanu, Malt it is!” I say, going to the fridge to get her drink.
“Ebuka appeared at my office today oh!” she says to my retreating back.
“Really?” I say simply, unsure of how much Ebuka has said to her.
“Yes! He came to tell me that he’s here to stay until I give him a definite answer on the way forward in our relationship.”
“Okay? What did you say then?” I ask warily, dropping her drink on a side stool.
“Well…” She pauses to take a sip of the cold drink. “Ooh! Just what the doctor ordered!” she gushes over the drink, taking more sips.
“Well, what?” I prompt, bringing her back to the matter at hand.
“Well, I’m going to give him a chance. I didn’t tell him yet oh! But, I just feel like he has tried.”
“Well, he has.” I wait a beat before speaking again. “Don’t be offended o, but, what’s your exact issue with him in particular?”
“I don’t even know. I guess I’m being twice shy after being bitten once,” Chinwe says, looking down at the bottle of Malt in her hand, but not before I have caught the expression of ghosts past fleet across her face.
On her behalf, I cuss at men like her former fiancé, Okechukwu, who come into women’s lives just to wreck them. However, I am positive that men like Ebuka are also there to take away the hurt and make it alright.
“But, shey you know that it’s not fair to him…?” I start to say.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Chinwe says impatiently. “That’s why I want to give him a chance.”
“Well, I can live with that. Just give him a chance to prove that he’s for real…or not.”
“Ada” – she looks up then and the look on her face has been replaced by a fear of the unknown – “do you think I’m doing the right thing?”
My heart suddenly begins to ache for her. My friend is one of the strongest women I know, so strong in fact that I have forgotten how vulnerable she was when Okechukwu hurt her.
“Personally, yes,” I say, wanting to reach out and take her hand to reassure her, but choosing not to because I am not sure she’d welcome the gesture. “But, I could be wrong. The truth is, you’d never know by staying away.”
“Hmmm!” she grunts, observing the side of her Malt can for a while, and then, proceeds to take a long sip.
“Kuku eat your dinner here, so that you’ll just rest when you get home,” I offer.
“You’ll live long, my sister!” she says, her face wreathing instantly with a smile. “What are we having for dinner then?”
“What do you want? I have soup in the freezer and I made rice.”
“I think I’ll –” She is interrupted by a knock on the door.
I walk to the door and open it a crack. Samuel, our gate man, is standing there with my husband’s briefcase in his hand.
“Good evening, madam.”
“Good evening, Samuel. Where is my husband?”
“He dey discuss with person for outside gate. He give me his bag to bring in. He no come back with him car.”
“Why? Wetin happen?” I ask, taking the briefcase from him.
“I no sabi, madam,” he replies.
“That’s okay. I’ll ask him,” I say, dismissing him.
“Your husband is back?” Chinwe asks immediately I close the door.
“Yes, and without his car. I wonder what happened.”
“I should be going then,” she says, rising from her seat.
“Is he chasing you? The food nko?”
“Forget the food. I’m too tired anyway.” She bends to pull her shoes on.
“Let me give you with a take-away plate instead,” I offer, somewhat glad that she’s insisting on leaving.
“Ngwanu,” she acquiesces.
I walk to the kitchen to dish some rice for her. A few minutes later, I come out with a nylon bag with the food in it.
“Oya, let me see you off, and see what my husband is doing out there too.”
I open the door, just as my husband has lifted his hand to knock on it.
“Welcome, baby,” I greet, hugging him.
“Thank you,” he replies.
“Good evening, Chigozie,” Chinwe greets.
“Ah! Chinwe, you came to visit us?” my husband returns.
“Yes. I’m on my way out already.”
“Ewoo! I hope I’m not the one chasing you away oh,” he says with a wry smile.
“Mba oh! I’ve stayed for a while already.”
“Ngwanu, take care,” he says, moving aside so Chinwe can step out into the verandah.
“Thank you and good night,” Chinwe says.
“Baby, let me see her off,” I say, following Chinwe out into the verandah.
“Alright,” he says.
“Oya,” I turn to Chinwe, “let’s go.”
Written by Adaku