Your secret came out a little too late. You were already dead before I knew. You had gotten yourself drunk and into a car accident that claimed your precious heathen life. Don’t bother blaming your gods for letting the cat out of the bag. It was them but they had no choice. It is your corpse you should blame for giving you away.
I know I said the gods didn’t have a choice in outing your secret but we both know they did; that is how they always want us to feel, like we are the ones to blame for running to them for help. Now they’ve made it look like it is your corpse we should fault for everything that has happened. You knew them and yet you sought their help. It is you I blame for seeking their rubbery crutch; for whatever they give, they find a means to take away. In your own case, they used your corpse.
After your death, your corpse refused to be buried. We thought it had problems with where we buried it even though I didn’t know a corpse that chose its abode. Well, it is now under control and you should finally be on your way to heaven’s gate. I pray you receive this mail before you get there because I don’t want the angels having to check if the contents are pure enough for heaven’s receipt. I felt I should let you know of the events that ensued after your death. You must be curious to know how I finally saw that there was a side to you that I didn’t know existed. We were husband and wife for five years, father and mother of mixed twins for two years, but you forgot to mention that though I gave birth to them, they were children of the gods.
I thought they lied against your corpse. I felt they wanted to take advantage of your death – the gods. You know how the gods would say the spirit of a dead person wanted something after their death when it is actually the gods that wanted something? It happened in your case too. They said your spirit requested the death of our twins before it could find rest. You had spoken into their invisible ears. I asked the priest how he managed to hear you since you were dead already but he asked me who I was to dare what the gods said. The gods didn’t stop there; they accused you of something else. They accused you of being infertile.
“Nwanyiaga,” the priest called it. You couldn’t make babies. I didn’t believe it. There was no living proof. The only person who could testify to their accusation, you, was somewhere roaming the seven realms. Remember the adage of your people that it is only a liar that says his witness is in heaven? That is why I stood my ground and defended you when the priest called you an Nwanyiaga. The pictures of my defence are still fresh in my memories. In one of the most vivid ones, while I was earnestly defending you, my wrappers slipped from my body and behold, my nakedness. I’m sorry the eyes of other people have seen your wife’s nakedness but it is not my fault. It was your people that had asked me to shave every strand of hair on my body and tie a black wrapper without underclothes. Your custom demanded I did it for seven days but my American body was not accustomed to the tying of Ankara wrappers. You should still applaud me for being a virtuous wife or am I not? A loosened wrapper should not change that. We both know I was a good wife; even if your mother fails to give me credit.
Your mother remained her old self. Her distaste for me soared and broke the boundaries of hatred. She must have thought I was responsible for your death. Even Obiageli, your sister and my only friend in your family, loathed me. She and your brothers believed your mother was right all along; right that I married you for your money. Did I? You know better. I am not making things up against your people; they said it to my face. All because I refused to have my hair shaved during the first few days of your death. They said it was a testament to my widowhood, my untimely loss, and respect for my husband but they forgot to tell me it was the beginning of my deliberate madness. They said it brought honour to you. Did it? I don’t think so. If it did, you wouldn’t come back asking for the lives of my children.
I wanted to remind them that I was only Nigerian by birth and as a woman who had lived all her life in the United States of America and held its citizenship, I didn’t believe in such cultural bullshit. Your mother came banging on my door like a deranged woman; I’m sorry for insulting your mother but she gets on my nerves. The only reason we haven’t fought is because it would make me like one of those women in your village. Remember Awero that beat up her mother-in-law because she deliberately broke her pot of soup, during our last Christmas visit? I feel like doing the same to your mother too but you’ve always asked me to be patient with her and she has not broken my pot of soup yet. I remain obedient.
Your mother banged and shouted but I would not open the door. You know I’m used to her oral doggerel of how she warned you against marrying an oyinbo woman like me (I’m still trying to figure out what is oyinbo about me). How people like me never made good wives for African men like you and how you turned deaf ears. I proved her wrong, didn’t I? Or was I not a good wife? You wouldn’t say no, would you? I shelved my American mentality, my American degrees and my more-American-than-Nigerian family for washing your clothes, cooking your meals, cleaning your house and making your babies. I even strongly declined when you brought the idea of a housemaid and I didn’t do so because I was afraid you’d sleep with her. Are they not enough evidence for being a good wife? Despite these, your mother wouldn’t be satisfied!
I would not have opened the door but for Buki. I hope you still remember Buki, my Ghanaian friend; the one with the fake British accent. Please don’t tell her I said that. It was she who begged me into scalping for you. You know how convincing she can be. Remember how she cajoled you into allowing me to accompany her to Ghana for her mother’s burial. Now, life is an irony, she was also at your own burial. It was she who asked me to show respect for you. I succumbed even though I knew you wouldn’t want to see me all-scalp.
There is nothing more victorious than having the head of your enemy between your legs, blade in hand. That was how I felt, like a defeated foe, when your mother shaved my hair. I fearfully expected her to cut me under the pretence of making a mistake but thank God the deities don’t allow trickling of blood in this kind of ritual. Instead, she was over meticulous. It didn’t exceed her intentional bending of my neck.
Chidi, you shouldn’t see my head. Not even your ghost should. It’s a good thing women only have to shave their hair after the death of their husbands. You might have divorced me if you married me for my beauty. Even your illiterate brothers would refuse my young American body if I was given to them for marriage. I look more Kenyan than Nigerian or American and I thought of changing my name to a more Kenyan name like Lupita, till my hairs grow back. Beneath my head is a monster I didn’t know existed. It looks like an unripe Africana pawpaw, with two polar edges slightly shooting out. My hair did a good job – better than your corpse – of keeping the secret. Touching my head is like touching sandpaper. Sometimes I imagine my head in the hands of a carpenter, scraping the dark reddish-brown surface of mahogany and sometimes I yelp in pain as if it were real. Shaving my hair brought honour to you but my pain was your gain. I soaked the pain because it was part of being a good wife. I afterwards hid myself from everybody including our two year old twins. Perhaps I couldn’t bear to see them run away at the sight of their mother. Poor little things, their frail minds must have thought you were on one of your long journeys. It was a good thing you travelled a lot. It gave me more time to mourn the loss of my hair before their father-sickness.
We buried you but you refused to be buried. Remember I told you the gods accused you of being an Nwanyiaga? Well, this was how it all started; your refusal to be buried. The necessary rituals had been done but your coffin kept reappearing. The first time, your cousin, Anansa, had wanted to sweep the compound early in the morning but opened the door only to find your coffin, unburied. The little girl was scared to death because she thought she had offended you before your death. She frantically began to ask for your forgiveness and for you to spare her life. When we buried you the second time and you still reappeared, we summoned the priest. Your mother had thought the reason for your previous reappearance was because I delayed the shaving of my hair and that you were angry because of it. This time, we found you in the twins’ room. I couldn’t bear to have you kill my children.
The priest came and he did the usual chalk markings, bead throwing, tuneless dancing, and inaudible chantings. They looked rehearsed, I must tell you but who cared? All we wanted was for you to remain where you belonged, in the soil. Even your precious mother thought the same, perhaps her motherly love diminished. You had also terrified her with your stubborn coffin. It is true what they say that people only loved a person when that person was alive. You gave us reasons to believe that saying in your own case. Nobody loves a corpse. Nobody loved your corpse.
The priest, after his demonstration, said that the reason for the reappearance of your coffin was because there was something that belonged to you that you wanted. To get rid of you, he asked me to get rid of everything that belonged to you. I did as he said. If it makes you feel any better, I did it reluctantly. Reluctantly because I had to burn everything including your expensive designer clothes, Italian shoes, Rolex and Gucci wristwatches, and also your autographed ball. The one signed by Sir Alex Ferguson during your trip to Manchester. Lest I forget, there was no one from your favourite football club to mourn your death. Not Wayne Rooney, not Rio Ferdinand. I always told you that you were too much of a fanatic, didn’t I? But I was a woman and football was meant for men. These people you were so crazy about never knew you existed. They didn’t know anyone with the name Chidi Opkara. I’ve not seen any mail from them, with a Manchester United seal, to offer their deepest condolences. If I have the time, I might send a post mail to inform them of the death of one of their ardent supporters. The priest wanted us to bury the ashes with you. I agreed. They were your belongings and you bought all of them with your hard-earned money.
You returned! Diabolically!
Even in death, you remained stubborn. You should turn a new leaf before you finally find rest in heaven. Heaven is only for obedient children. I can’t deal with the imagination of your fair Igbo skin burning in the brimstone-fuelled fires of hell. Again, we found you in the twins’ room. I thanked my stars because they had not woken up when we found your coffin. They might have died of ghost-phobia because your coffin was open and you laid in it in your complete corpse attire; white cloth wrapped around your body, hands folded at the abdomen, eyes closed, and two white clothes blocking your nose. I suggested we burn you. You know how Indians burn their loved ones and pour their ashes inside a vase? Like that, but your people rejected my idea saying burning a dead man is like preparing him for hell and for the first time I became conscious of the fact that you and your people’s beliefs are contradictory. How come you people don’t believe in the big God but believe in his heaven and hell? Well, I don’t expect you to know, it’s a question for divinity.
The priest was summoned again. This time, the look on his face departed from confidence to surprise. You seemed to be undermining his spiritual powers. Good for him, I had thought. People like him always seemed to think they were God and they could handle all situations but then, it was not good for me, not at all.
“I must take this directly to the gods,” the priest said repeatedly as if he had always been doing it without the gods.
I don’t believe in you and your people’s traditional baloney but I think he actually took it to the gods. No one else could have revealed your secret. That was when they said you couldn’t make babies – an Nwanyiaga. I imagined you as a woman when he said the words “Your husband couldn’t make babies.” Doesn’t that sound feminine? Remember those Nigerian movies where a doctor tells a husband that his wife’s womb is spoilt and so, she can’t make babies? In our own case, the priest was the doctor breaking the bad news to me your husband. If it were a movie I would be the husband, would I not? You were the one who could not make babies.
That’s actually by the way, let me continue before my spittle dries up.
The gods said you couldn’t father a child because of a reason that even the priest did not know, perhaps the gods did not want to divulge the entire secret. It was because of this that you asked them for twin children; a boy and a girl; one each for both of us. Please, never for a moment think I’m impressed with that request.
The details of your contract with the gods, I still don’t know, but the priest said the reason you were reappearing was because you wanted to take the twins with you to the other side, because they were part of your belongings. Do you know what the priest said when I contested the claim? He told me, with his tobacco-blackened mouth, that I was foolish to think they were my children and that they were children of the gods. Do you believe that, Chidi? Imagine your gods claiming Amarachi and Chike that I carried in my own stomach for nine months; oh! How heavy they were. Children that came out of my own genitals after several hours of severe labouring. It was I who bore the pain and yet you and your selfish gods had the guts to claim my children. That was when I defended you and my wrapper fell off.
Well, I now realize I was actually defending myself.
That was the lie I thought they told against your corpse; that you wanted the death of your own children. They said it was the reason you couldn’t find rest in heaven. The reason your corpse refused to make friends with the soil. I asked your spirit, imploringly, to come down since they also said you were still roaming the seven realms. Perhaps you were near, I thought. I wanted you to come and look me in the eye and deny what the gods had said. I asked you to unwrap yourself from your white corpse clothes and tell me you did not speak into the invisible ears of the gods and that they were just taking advantage of your infirmity. It was better to hear it from the horse’s mouth but you didn’t show yourself. Then I believed the gods. Your silence was an affirmation that you actually wanted the death of our kids. I contended with whether to cry or laugh but I chose none. It was too painful for tears, too comical for laughter. I remained silent for days, speaking to no one but my twin in the mirror. There was nothing I could do. I have now learnt not to argue with the gods and that there was no law against their crime. You can’t report the gods to the police, not even in America. Touché, right?
My parents were right after all. You were an educated heathen. A heathen with a PhD in management – who also got it at thirty. I remember you almost getting into a fight with my father over the grandness of deities in our society. You argued that they were invisible and unappreciated helpers of our community. You believed it was only a few people like you that understood this but father wouldn’t succumb too. To him, Jehovah was the supreme God and your gods only have eyes but they cannot see, have legs but cannot walk, nose but cannot breathe. He was referring to the figurines that you and your people worshipped. You were Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo but father was Chimamanda’s Eugene. You remember what happened after that dinner at Los Angeles? My parents and I disowned each other – this is why I didn’t even inform them of your death or ask for their support. It served me right. My mother would have matched your mother beautifully. I wouldn’t even have had to shave the hairs on my privates talk less of the ones on my head. Our dis-ownership was unspoken but sealed with our hearts. I was Titanic’s Rose.
Not that I disagreed with them that you were a heathen but my chance with love was close to nothing. But I won’t blame love just as you should not blame the gods. They didn’t beg to help you, you did. You don’t bargain with the devil, you should have known better. As heathen as you were, you did not even understand the principles of your gods, people you saw as role models. Since the revelation, I have often pictured you inside a red painted, figurine filled shrine with you on your knees, a red cotton wrapper tied to your waist and a brown calabash with two wooden dolls representing the babies in it on your head and then I laugh at these pictures. I laugh because your pride and Western education actually ended with mere figurines. Your deities have exploited you and now they are cunningly taking away what is left of my joy. Sly gods.
I know words are more active than actions themselves but you should have told me, in plain words, that you couldn’t father a child. That though you were not impotent, you still could not. You should have told me we were going to be just husband and wife forever and waited to see my response. I might have flared but I might have finally accepted fate. Then our love might have transcended the borders of infertility. We might have blossomed as newlywed couples everyday or adopted two beautiful children from an orphanage. A girl for me and a boy for you; then I might have been impressed. No one would have known, not even the kids that we adopted. They would have borne your name and inherited your properties. You didn’t prepare to die at thirty-eight so you didn’t write any will. Now there would be no children to inherit your lands, houses, and cars. Not even your brothers who only have form six certificates to show for six years of substandard primary education. Well, you should know they are still better than you. Remember the adage of your people that says a man with many children is better than a man with many parcels of land; it is one of the many children that would inherit the parcels of land. You have houses, they have children. Their children will inherit your houses.
Thank you for delivering my message to your gods. I had told you to tell them to take the twins peacefully and painlessly. I didn’t want shedding of blood or sickness. Thank you for sparing me the extra grief. I found them dead that morning; eyes closed and skin so pale they looked like Michael Jackson’s thriller character. It was better than small or chicken pox; regular killing weapons of the gods. It was just the way they came. Remember how none of them would cry when they were given birth to and we thought they were dead? Perhaps, I should have known then that they were children of the gods.
I hope you can finally find rest now that you and the gods have taken your children. Part of me wish you rot in hell for all the grief you have caused me but I know the twins would be with you and I wouldn’t want to be selfish; the twins may still need a father figure there. I’d rather you all be in heaven, so I prayed for you. That is why you and the children are now on your way to heaven’s gate – we buried you and the twins together since they were part of your belongings that you came back for. We didn’t burn them like we did your other belongings.
Please do not blame me for anything and everything that happens after this. Do not blame me when I retrieve my dusty certificates from dusty shelves; when I put my MSc in Business Administration to good use. You know how companies in Nigeria run after people like me; people with degrees from an American university especially when it is from an Ivy League member – Yale. Don’t blame me when I wear cut-throat miniskirts and high heeled shoes to the office. Don’t blame me when I say yes to the marriage proposal of another man, maybe a widower too but unheathen; do not worry, I’d be careful enough to check; when I no longer bear Louisiana Opkara. Do not blame me when I warm his bed every night and make love better than you can ever perform or imagine and then give birth to another set of twins. Do not accuse me of being unfaithful or get jealous. Mind you, only God is allowed to be jealous in heaven. “For I am a jealous God,” that’s what the Holy Bible says of Him. So, you don’t want to get on the bad side of the big God. You’ve taken the only leverage you had. Though the gods be sly, you gave them reasons to.
Some of your relatives have returned to wherever they came from. Your mother and siblings are still here. We have surprisingly become friends. Though it’s one borne out of sympathy for my losses and particularly your revealed secret, it’s a good thing. It is the only good thing that has come out of your death. The world now knows you for who you really were.
It has been me and the mirror alone in our bedroom. Silence is the dirge being played at my own privately organized funeral for you and if gazes were drills, mine would bore holes into the mirror and the walls behind it. Thankfully, gazes are abstract. Just staring at the mirror allows my bitterness less time to melt, my despair less time to dissolve and perhaps my hair lesser time to grow. I need them to grow as fast as possible since I have now become a victim of temporary, razor-caused alopecia. I need them to grow very fast because no man would marry a bald woman. I doubt if baldness is also a criterion for love.
While I wait for my hairs to germinate, I want to be alone and free and far from everything; far from your mother; far from your family members; far from the unending rituals to send your ghost away; far from your ebony-coloured coffin that has been tormenting us; far from smiling pictures of my demised children; far from the maddening mourners; far from the echoes of infertility.