You ensure that the door is properly locked. There is no room for any form of carelessness. Or mistake. Not now that there is barely enough ventilation in your personal life owing to Andy and his recent obsession with politics. You pull the key from the hole and try the door knob. It is solidly locked. All these you do still holding her hand as she nervously brushes the hotel room with her eyes. When you turn to her to begin with a kiss in your favorite style, you see that she has her eyes on the wallpaper on your phone. Andy and you.
In that picture both of you are smiling. It was your wedding day and you had all the time in the world that day. Today, you have barely enough time with this new one you met not long ago. You turn her face so that her eyes pierce yours. You pull her closer to you and press her chest to yours. Her breasts are soft like a pouch of flesh filled with water. You lean forward to have a taste of her lips and realize that her heartbeat is faster. Yours is racing at that same speed. But it is the rush of excitement that is making it so. You cannot tell if it is this same thing that makes hers beat so fast. Or fear.
“Relax,” you whisper to her.
You felt that heartbeat the first time you came home from school in your junior class three. It was in the church in your hometown. Mama felt the need to ask Aunt Perpetua to bring you home. As she was wondering what kind of books you were reading in Lagos that kept you from your hometown, Chidubem, your immediate elder brother, was always talking about the recent deaths happening in the village that you could not help but agree with Aunt Perpetua’s husband’s favorite belief that just as God threw Lucifer to inhabit hell so did all evil men inhabit the village. Mobile phones were new commodities and Brother Okwy, the eldest in your family, had just sent one to Chidubem. Mama spoke to you on the phone and asked you to debunk everything Aunt Perpetua’s husband said about the village. After all, you did your primary school in the village and you must be home to witness the investiture of an Ezinne title on her by the Catholic Church.
“But, Mama, you are a good mother already,” you reminded her.
“Don’t be blind, Ada. This is a Good Mother title coming from the church this time. Not you, my children.”
You had no choice but to be home, to endure the boring Igbo Mass in your hometown parish and to discover yourself in the process.
The Mass pattern was so familiar that one would not call it absurd to think that as Catholics you were born with a biological copy of The Order of Mass in your heads. Apart from the pigeons that constantly whirled over Father Joachim’s head, hardly startling anyone in the church, as he holds the holy Eucharist in his raised hands and apart from the occasional cry of a child which would pierce the solid graveness and prompt whoever was responsible for such a child to carry him out, here this Mass pattern was mostly comprised of the priest’s wailing intro, the congregation’s reply mostly sung in strained unison, the choir’s songs accompanied by local instruments, the kneeling, the standing, the sitting, the Catechist’s every-Sunday announcements for funds to start up the roofing of the church, the priests reification of the same issue, (the congregation’s unvoiced belief that those from abroad would come to the rescue that Christmas) and the waving of hands unto heaven to mark the end.
“Go in peace. Mass is ended…Glory to God.”
Even though you did not know what to call this feeling then, and for a long time, it was here that first love rounded you up. It was the first time that you saw her. In the roofless expanse of St. John’s you never believed that it would be so incidental to pick out a face and tag it special, and to follow that face from the centre of the church where she went to cast her offering back to the choir section. But as the flood of faces swept through the aisles, trickling left and right into the pews, her face bounced up and down on the surface – dipping, rising – daring the circling current of parents and their children with hands interlocked. When they all sat down, you hardly saw anyone’s face, so this flood became that of multicolored head ties and you looked around to find her face again.
“Bring all that God has given you for thanksgiving…”
Every Sunday in the choir, it was her voice alone that you heard. You listened as it polished every note. You watched as her lips curved round the lyrics, as a smile fell into one or two of her favorite lines and as she closed her eyes sometimes, opening them with such electric vigor that tiny tears hung on her eye lids and dried off just as fast as she beat them.
“Is it possible that one can enjoy Igbo Mass that much?” It was your first question to her when you met her outside the church after three Sundays of close attention. You left Mama with the other women engrossed in how faithful God has been to your family since Brother Okwy travelled abroad and started sending dollars. You had gone straight to the choirgirl. She was waiting for her mother who was apparently one of the women in the ‘faithful God’ discussion.
“Are you new in town?” This was the answer she gave to your question. It did not occur to you that she would think of you as someone new. Obviously she knew a lot of girls in town. She could not just let go of a visible smile which without mistake or disguise reflected the good soul she had. She did not have any makeup. Unlike what you saw other girls wear to church here, her gown was not the type you and your Lagos school Igbo friends referred to as mgbeke because it was worn by local girls and had no ‘style’ to it. She had a head tie of gold color on. On the two sides of her face, on the same level as her eye brows, she had two little incisions each. Mama had told you when you were younger that such marks were used to set the children free who were tied from birth to one spiritual sickness or another. It was an incision made using a razor and rubbed continuously with mashed charcoal till it healed. It stayed on till the day the individual would die.
Mama did not also believe that such a thing worked. During family meetings, she would scream it to the hearing of her brothers and sisters, your uncles and aunties and your grandmother that it was their meddling with petty gods and deities that brought such a price on the lives of those other people.
“As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. Though Thomas is dead I will ensure that we continue in the light that he showed us.”
Then, you would sit, watching her with your arms holding your knees up to your jaw, as she made an avenue to remember the dead, your father and also appeal to her family to start going to church. When you came of age you came to discover that as far as you remember none of those you have ever seen with such incisions fell spiritually sick afterwards. This confused you the more. Grandmother was still alive then. You needed answers. You could remember her smiling at Mama’s words, shaking her head at each full stop she made. When you came to her with the question, she answered it with a quote you did not believe she had ever heard in her entire life.
“Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs to God.”
Remembering this and the passion with which this beautiful choir girl carried on at Mass, you knew that she belonged to God. You said your name and she said hers too. Nkechi. Normally you would regard such a name with deprecation. It was the kind of name these village market women loved to brag with but the vessel which carried this one was special. You wondered where the men were. It was that same day that you invited her to the Ezinne ceremony and she agreed she would be there.
The date of the ceremony was still far ahead and somehow you two kept seeing each other in the village stream. You wondered why she only followed other girls to the stream and never came with her own container. One day when you were done fetching water you walked up to her to ask her help in placing the container on your head. She helped you lift it, but put it instead on her own head and said, “Let’s go.” The surprise that gripped you was almost crippling.
“No, I can carry it, Nkechi,” you protested. But she was already climbing up the little hill, ignoring your half-hearted protest. You did not also get any answer when you asked her, “What about your friends? Are you going to leave them behind?”
On the way, you two talked about a lot of things. You realized from the way she spoke about things that she was intelligent, a kind of girl that was doing well at school. Then you drove the talk to the direction of your performance at school. You let her know that you have stayed three years in Lagos and were enrolled in a school where you frequently clinched the second position at the end of every term.
“I will soon start taking the first position when I get back. I am preparing for it.” Nkechi only smiled at you in that self-satisfying way of hers as if what you just said was equivalent to “I will start flying when I get back to Lagos.”
“I want you to come to my house tomorrow,” she said to you once you reached the gate that leads into your compound. “Chinedu, my brother will be leaving for London the day after tomorrow. My father has arranged for a kind of sendoff party. I’d like to see you around.” She removed the container from her head and you helped her balance it on yours.
“You know that I don’t know your house yet.”
“Oh. Sorry. You know Atakata’s house? Atakataelo? That’s it. Bye-bye.” She turned and started leaving.
“You are Atakata’s daughter?” you screamed to her. She nodded and smiled in that way that makes tears threaten to fill your eyes. You had been getting conversant with the daughter of the richest man in your village and you did not know it. Nkechi’s father’s nickname stood for a sachet water factory, a filling station, uncountable shops in the village market and many more investments outside the village. Added to this he was also a well respected politician at the local government. You began to see why she did not need to come to the stream to fetch water for drinking. They had a borehole tap running in their compound.
Your hands go to her buttocks and press them gently. It is then that you realize that she has been stiff all this while, for she slowly closes her eyes and gives a soft moan of pleasure. The weak point. As her lips part in this ecstasy you close your eyes and fix your lips to them, savoring the sweet taste of bubble gum. Your hands press harder and harder until her body becomes a cloth without weight in your hands.
With the grace of a child she lifts her arms and puts them on your shoulders then she tactically disengages your lips and begins to lick and kiss your neck. Your eyes are still shut as you lift your face to the ceiling. You are seeing Nkechi’s face in the blank full of light. What is Nkechi doing in you again?
You were there at the sendoff party. Before you left home you told Chidubem and Mama where you were going and watched as their faces changed. Mama’s face was filled with both horror and surprise while that of Chidubem gleamed with joy.
“That man who has drained the village money in the name of politics? What are you going there for?” Mama asked you. You explained it all to her and she asked you to ensure you were home before supper. Of course, supper time passed and you had not returned because after the party that afternoon, every member of Nkechi’s family got into a bus and drove off to Sam Mbakwe Airport where Chinedu would board a flight to Lagos. From Lagos he would then make his way to London. Nkechi said that she was not feeling well and she was allowed to stay behind. She took you to her room upstairs and poured you cups and cups of juice until your stomach started rumbling. You two talked about the village old men who fought over the pieces of turkey meat and laughed, she holding her tummy bulging with food. You watched as she slid her dying laughter into that wondrous smile of hers, as she looked into your eyes deeply, affectionately, as she touched your face, her hands cold, as she gave you your first kiss and you responded as if your survival that moment depended on it.
After you two were done, she turned on the radio; the same that Chinedu, her brother gave to her while he was packing things in his room for the journey. You lay in her arms, ensuring that you were well enveloped in them, while both of you listened to 2Face’s ‘If Love is a Crime.’ This would happen so many times between you two, even on Sundays after church when you follow her home. She would whisper the lyrics of that song in your ears every time and you would just lie there, unmoving, because you did not want her to smile if you smiled nor to laugh if you laughed nor even to adjust her body if you adjusted yours. You did not want her to stop whispering for a second.
“If love is a crime then I’m ready to be wanted…”
She would softly bite your ear and you would chuckle helplessly because it touched you somewhere very far from the ear, somewhere very deep. Then she would chuckle too, go bumpy on the lyrics and hold you tighter, slightly, almost imperceptibly rocking from side to side.
After the Ezinne Ceremony, it was not hard for you to agree when Mama told you that you would have to stay in the village with her for the meantime because Chidubem would be travelling to Asaba to stay with one of your paternal uncles who was a knight in the Catholic Church there and also a successful businessman. It meant that you would continue your secondary school in the village.
“I have one that I want already, Mama,” you blurted out to her happily as the woman wondered what had brought such acquiescence into you concerning staying in the same village that you have loathed for long. She did not know that you dreamt day and night of being in the same school with Nkechi. She was a class ahead of you but both of you were going to get closer.
And when Chidubem finally left, handing the mobile phone over to you, it was as you had dreamt. Nkechi taught you everything you would come to know in school. As much as she was outstanding in literature, because she read a lot of novels, she was entirely helpful to you in all other subjects. It was in that school in the village that you achieved your dream of being in the first position at the end of every term. It was within this period that Mama came to take Nkechi as her second daughter and Atakata’s family came to see you as one of their own too. Everyone talked about your friendship and how it was never going to end.
It is her lips on the nipple of your breast that makes you start to feel like a huge stone has been fixed on this chest. It is your own time to moan – that slow softness of a sound coming at very short intervals but requiring so much air to carry on with. This one is very much experienced than you had thought. She knows the magic of making you realize with surprise that your buttons are already open and that her lips and tongues have taken over the nipples of your breasts. The feeling she gives you makes you tighten your thighs to ease the shivering already taking over, makes you remember the cold smoothness of that snake that lay on your lap that evening.
On the bed, she lays on you. You cannot still let go of her buttocks. Without the pant binding them they felt as loose and soft as her breasts. You can go on thinking of how the ube fruit feels to touch when thrown in hot water but you keep on kissing her, feeling her smooth pubic, oscillating your fingers along her vagina and finally decisively digging them in. Something stands erect in her and you know that it is an invitation for more. You pull the fingers slightly and push them again but more forcefully this time. She is wet. So wet.
The weather outside has been wet and moody. It has been drizzling so much for three days that Lagosians begin to curse the skies. You imagine Andy pulling his convoy from the house of one Yoruba godfather to another, prostrating before them and expecting his political wish as an Igbo man to come to pass in this Lagos which belongs to the Yoruba people. Even though you two believed in yourselves you did not as much understand yourselves after the agreement. The only thing you understood was that you were as free as birds. But in this country you must be as discreet as what you two were demanded. Then in the third year, to your disappointment, he told you that this would be no more. You begged for a reason. You cried to be free. The only thing he said was, “Politics. I am going into politics. And I must protect my reputation if I must make it.”
At first, you blamed this country but you could not continue blaming this country throughout. Andy started getting most of the blame when he began using force on you, beating you day and night because you found it hard to let go of the birds you had caught over the years. Maybe he found a way to set his free or even kill them but you are not like him. You are not the person he begs you to be. You believed he wanted you to run away from yourself and help him in chasing his dream as the first Igbo governor of Lagos State. You are ready to be the first lady for him, not to run away from you. He does not understand this so he tried to force sex on you that day.
His penis was barely hard when you told him, “No.” It was not the agreement. Then like thunder he struck your face with a fist, screaming, “You are my wife!” As you struggled on the cold marble floor to catch all the breath which he had struck out of you, you heard as he shredded your blouse in pieces. Andy slapped your breasts endlessly until they were as red as a dry boiling ring. You cried. You begged. Yet he pulled your trousers from your waist. Before you could scream he had turned you on your face, had spat on his palm, wetted the tip of his penis with the saliva and was driving his massive member into your anus. You did not blame him there. Since you got married you never did anything more than play on the bed like children and giggle at the stories of your sexcapades with the birds. He had confessed immediately after the marriage that he had never had a girl before. Why would you be surprised that he was deriving pleasure from having you through the anus as he does his birds? You understood that he was trying to force himself to convert. You saw your doctor after that and you lied that he did it on your consent.
One day, Brother Okwy called and asked you to put Mama on the phone. She held the phone, smiling as if it was her first time of hearing his voice after decades; and you watched her with your own smiles as she listened to the source of light in your family since the death of your father. In the middle of the call, Mama screamed a deafening “Halleluyah!” You would later know that Brother Okwy was coming home in two weeks time. This made you sing and dance along with Mama. After that you dashed to the phone and called Nkechi to give her the good news. She was excited too. That evening when both of you sat under the ube tree in your compound you talked about foreign shoes, foreign clothes and foreign perfumes. She talked about the questions she would ask Brother Okwy and deeply within you thought of the attempt of honestly letting him know what you have with Nkechi. When you looked at Nkechi’s face you saw that she was entirely happy and she was not bothered about people getting to know what was going on between you two. Then you took her into your room and kissed her like it was her birthday. When you two were done, you lay on her chest and for a thousand times both of you said “I love you” to each other as if it was the only line in a duet you were rehearsing.
It was on a Thursday that Brother Okwy arrived at Lagos. From there he called and asked you and Mama not to worry.
“I have already called my friends, Onyeeze and Gozie. They will be coming to pick me from the airport tomorrow morning.”
Mama did not sleep that night. When you came out in the midnight to use the toilet you saw her figure in the dimness of the living room, her radiant chaplet a little light in that darkness lighting her face as she murmured the Rosary. More than once she mentioned Okwy in her prayer, throwing you back to what tomorrow meant. You did not bother to tell her that it was one a.m. in the morning. You knew what kept her awake.
Before the first cock’s crow Mama was knocking on your door, asking you to get up for preparation. You went down to the kitchen with her and started the day’s cooking. You could not remember waking so early before and not feel sleepy again. The whole excitement cleansed your eyes that early Friday morning. When the kitchen preparation was over the whole house smelled of rice and chicken stew and you and Mama smelled of all the various things that went into the stew.
That morning when you went out to brush your teeth the sky was brimming with a kind of brilliance that brought custard to your mind. It was a kind of ready custard with liquid milk floating on top of it, waiting to be spoon-beaten into the light preparation. It was a kind of hope and you could swear that Mama saw that sky too. It was then that Nkechi came in one of her best gowns which you loved to call ‘Flora’ because it had too many flowers on it. You watched and smiled as she walked in through the gate. She was also smiling, the gown making her an ant queen. When it was time to have your bath you were tempted to call her from the living room where she sat to go with you to the bathroom.
You all waited too long and Mama became worried that the food was getting cold. Forty-five minutes later her worries graduated to whether Brother Okwy was not coming back that same day. The next level of her worries and the last was the fear that something bad had happened to them on the road. You knew Mama and you would have kept your calm but you started feeling her worries too. For more than five times Mama stood up, went to the window to look out, listened for the sound of a moving car and came back to her seat. All the while with her eyes Nkechi told you to be calm and you, partially assured, told Mama to be calm. Nobody said anything amongst you three until you heard a car pull to a stop outside and heard also as someone was pushing the gate open. You all rushed outside to meet a Mercedes car pull into the compound, its tyres crushing some ube fruits on the ground. It had barely come to a stop under the ube tree when a man rushed out of it and went straight to Mama, his arms open.
“Okwy, nwa m,” Mama declared that it was Okwy, her son and the whole compound became filled with teeth exposed in smiles. You jumped on them as you fought as a bundle of bodies to find balance. Brother Okwy was now fat.
Onyeze and Gozie helped in carrying his luggage to his room upstairs and then followed you three into the living room for the meal. Mama barely ate anything. She busied herself with putting more and more rice into Brother Okwy’s plate, never minding what he said about being filled already. As the discussions went on and you all laughed you saw the way Gozie looked at Nkechi and you wanted to shout at him, to tell him to stop doing that. You saw that Nkechi fixed her eyes on Brother Okwy and pretended not to see the eyes brushing her.
On the second day of his return, Nkechi was with you as Brother Okwy unpacked his luggage, throwing shoes and clothes to you, Nkechi and Mama; keeping Chidubem’s own by the side of his bed. It was another day of smiles. In the afternoon he brought out pictures of himself and his white friends in America. While he mentioned their names to you and said many wonderful things about them, Nkechi wondered out loud why their skins were almost no different from that of the wall gecko and why Mr. Clark’s black dog looked like it was smiling while its master had a bold frown on his face. You all followed with laughter. In Brother Okwy’s eyes you were seeing likeness develop for Nkechi.
On the Sunday, Mama asked Brother Okwy not to worry about church. This surprised you.
“I am going to give the first thanksgiving today on your behalf,” she said. “Stay home and rest. America is not something of here.” But instead of staying all alone, Brother Okwy decided that he was going to visit people all around the village and share some gifts he had brought with him to them. Mama would later say to you as both of you walked to church, “I am proud of your brother. See, he even remembers people who did not care if he existed before he travelled to America.”
When you returned from church, he was back from his visits. Mama hastily plunged into the kitchen as you were busy fetching water from the well with which you would wash the American clothes he had brought you. As you thought of talking to Brother Okwy about how you feel for Nkechi, you threw the bucket into the well and watched it as it stood on the surface of the water as though unwilling to sink and gather water. It bobbed stubbornly from left to right, undecided in its compulsory immersion. You looked on and wondered how this bucket was just like you. How are you to tell Brother Okwy? How are you to bring yourself to do it? The rope suddenly became taut and you saw that the bucket had become filled with water. You would do it and before you knew it you would be done with it already. You thought that Nkechi did not need to know about this.
You and Mama were in the kitchen preparing supper. There was no electricity in the house and you were not expecting it to come anytime. You felt that this was the perfect moment to talk to him, to hear what he had to say while the darkness hid your faces from each other, saving you the looks that might bring your courage to wreck. You would start by reminding him that he was your elder brother and tell him not to judge you no matter what. After that you would tell him of what you and Nkechi shared together.
“The food is almost done. Mama is watching over it in the kitchen,” you said to him as you stepped out of the room to the balcony where he sat, looking into the darkness.
“Okay. You are a very good girl,” he said. “Come. Sit with me while we wait.”
You sat with him, looking into the same darkness as if a ritual was happening before you two. You did not speak. You were trying to remember how you had planned to start. You could see the mass of the ube tree standing there in the middle of the compound, erect like a shadow reaching for the night sky. You fixed your gaze on it and thought and thought. A rustling sound broke the silence you were both holding in communion. It was an ube fruit falling from the tree. You heard it tear through the thickness of the leaves, struggling for every little space to fall through. Once or twice, it paused in a second as if a mass of leaves has held it in midair but it slowly pressed down and down until it reached the ground with a thud. You made to stand.
“Don’t worry,” Brother Okwy said to you. “Leave it till morning.”
“Oooh,” you agreed even though you were aware that the squirrels loved to walk that ground and eat parts of the fallen fruits before anyone could get out in the morning to pick them. You also thought of the birds.
“Do you remember that time when you caught a bird, brother?” You were smiling. You heard him chuckle and you imagined him leaking his lower lip in his natural characteristic after a chuckle.
“Yes,” he said to you. “You were in nursery three then. We were both small.” It was your own time to chuckle.
“You put it in a cage and warned me and Chidubem against going near it, and then you fed it gari and pepper throughout that day. I loved the bird. But when we came back the next day…”
“It was dead. Yes. Its body was stiff already. Mama said it was my fault. I had kept the cage in the cupboard before we left for school. There was no light and no air coming into it. Mama said that that was what killed it.” He said that last part like the American woman you had once seen in a movie talking about her dead cat.
“But, brother, I don’t think it was just the lack of light and air that killed the bird.” You had seen a way to begin. “I think it was because it was kept in a place and deprived of the ability to fly as it had done from birth.” He did not say anything to this but you knew that he had nodded agreement.
“There is something I’d like to talk to you about, brother,” you heard yourself say.
“I’m listening,” he replied.
Before you could bring yourself to say anything more Mama called from inside, asking you two to come in for supper.
“Can it wait till tomorrow, Ada?” he asked you, knowing that after supper it would be family prayers and then sleep.
You two went in together.
You would have had a change of mind that morning – or you already did – if it was not for Brother Okwy who strolled into your room and, like you have seen Nkechi’s father do severally, had called you to meet him in his room in ten minutes. You sat up on bed, your thumb fixed in the twentieth page of Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood which you were reading. You were thinking about telling him that it was nothing, that you had finally taken care of it but a voice kept saying to you that this was your only chance.
When you walked into his room Mama was there discussing with him. It was almost like a whisper. You were sure you heard your name glide out of Mama’s imperfect whispering before Brother Okwy noticed you and asked you to sit on his bed. They stopped the conversation immediately and as Mama walked out she looked at you with eyes like that of a traitor.
“When you’re done come down and help me prepare food for our guests,” she said to you. “There are going to be so many persons visiting today.” Had she not just avoided your eyes as she said this? You only nodded.
Almost everything in Brother Okwy’s room was new. You loved the softness of the bed but you only let your mind go into accessing the bed because you did not want to think that Mama and Brother Okwy were discussing what you have with Nkechi. He got up from the sofa where he had been sitting with Mama and went to the window, and as he parted the curtain to let in more air he complained that he was having a headache and that his face was feeling strange.
“Maybe I miss Houston already,” he laughed. You smiled an uneasy one and said, “Maybe.” You thought of how you mentioned ‘America’ when asking him questions about where he lived but when he replied he would say ‘Houston’ and not ‘America’. When you asked if he had any Nigerian friend in America he had told you that he had so many Nigerian friends in Houston.
“Okay. I’m all ears.” You came to realize that he was sitting by your side on the bed already. He was touching his face. As he softly pressed his finger on various parts, he grimaced and for the second time since his return you noticed that the skin at the back of his neck was folded up to three parts and you thought how much America had made your brother a ‘big’ man because it was only the ‘big’ men like Nkechi’s father who drove jeeps and had duplexes that afforded a folding of the skin at the back of their necks.
The pain in your anus stings a bit and you are jolted back to the new bird singing to you. She is coming so long and so professionally. Her wetness trickle on your belly and some of it run down your hand to your elbow. It is then, as she is catching her breath after the orgasm, that a horrible thunder shatters your ears. Both of you jump and look into each others’ eyes. You want to ask her name, to act as though you are not shaken as much as she but the light you are seeing in her eyes starts to dim gradually. You feel something start to drop ceaselessly on your belly. When you look, the whole area around your navel is filled with blood running through all sides to the bed. Your eyes widen as she falls face down on you. Shaking, you push her aside and spot a bullet hole on her back. Shock drives your eyes to the figure standing right there. Andy has a revolver gun in his hand still pointed at the dead girl. Right behind him, at a distance, is a camera man shaking at his job, the overhead microphone probably dropped by his scared assistant there at his feet.
“Andy.” The only word you can find is his name. How did he enter? He suddenly shifts the smoking revolver to you as if it just dawned on him that you are here. Written in his frightened eyes are a remembrance of what he said to you and the fact that it was your own time to die. Somehow something stuffy is in your throat. You cannot swallow. You cannot vomit.
“You have ruined my chances in this state, Ada.” Spasms of grief keep forcing him to pause at intervals as he says this.
“Wait,” you plead with tears in your eyes but another thunder blows your words to pieces and you fall on the bed… Then a breezy swell of pleasure all over your body ends as you open your eyes. What just happened was not real. No one is dead and Andy is not in this hotel room. It was a crazy vision. The girl is with you, and having succeeded in giving you your own orgasm she lies by your side, panting. Then the thought of looming danger cannot leave you. This comes with the thought of Nkechi in your head.
“Martin was shot dead by doz terrorists in d Nairobi mall,” she had written to you as you were chatting with her on Facebook. “Was in Kenya for a conference.”
“Am so sorry abt dat,” you had typed back to her, deeply touched by this.
“Funeral was 3 wks ago.” Then there was a pause. You tried to type something in reply but you ended up wiping them with the backspace. Thrice your chat window said to you Nkechi Wangai is typing… but soon you did not see this again and you did not see any new message. You knew that she wanted to say something about you two. And like corn in fire five fragments of messages popped up to you, all counting up to one meaning – why she married Martin. She wanted to make her parents forget that she was in love with you. She wanted to make them happy.
“So, Ada,” she sent, “can u end ur marriage wit Andy nd cm ova hr? We stand a beta chance hr 2gthr.” This hit you like a large pebble to the head then and made you logout immediately. But now, that large pebble has melted into a vivid realization that if you do not do something about this the vision you just saw or something like it will come to pass.
As you spoke, your eyes were on the voltage scale of the stabilizer to which he plugged his desktop computer. Suddenly, the arms of the scale left its position and ran across the middle to the other end. Then it tarried there, shifting now and then. Power had been restored just as you said the last thing to him. Brother Okwy slowly stood from the bed and heaved a sigh. As he lazily went to the ceiling fan control, you wondered within you if he was tired from what you have been telling him all along or from missing America. He switched the fan control to one, the highest, and came back to you where you were barely breathing, wringing your hands in silent prayer.
“Does Mama know of this?” He was looking you in the eyes.
“No,” you said, avoiding his eyes, “I’m telling you so that you will help me tell her however you can.” You started crying. Brother Okwy hesitated for some time before he held you, burying your face in his enormous chest, filling your breath with the smell of his perfume.
“It’s okay, nwanyi oma,” he urged you. “There is no need to cry. I promise I will talk to Mama and explain things to her but we have to wait a little bit. You know that it has not been long since I came back. Wipe your tears.”
When you left his room you did not go downstairs to join Mama in the kitchen. You went straight into your room and locked yourself up. You soaked your pillow with tears and you longed for Nkechi’s arms again. You only stopped the stifled cries when a knock came on your door three times. You opened and Brother Okwy walked in.
“I thought I asked you to stop crying, nne?” You replied that you were sorry.
“I was discussing your academic fate with Mama. She wants you around her and so she asked me to beg you to stay here until you get admission into the university. I don’t expect a reply from you now but think about it and we’ll discuss it tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came but the discussion was put off because Brother Okwy became too ill and had to be taken to the village health center. There the doctor gave him instant medication and promised you all that he would be fine. But for any reason unknown to you all he insisted on him staying the night there. Mama asked you to go home and get his lunch. She would stay with him that night. In the evening, you brought their supper too and bade them good night.
Without Mama’s help you were able to wake up early enough the next day and cook breakfast. You wanted to call Nkechi to come with you to the health center but time was running out; so you went on alone. When you entered the health centre with the flask you saw Mama in the reception hall. She had tears in her eyes and she sniffed too often. When you asked what was making her cry she pointed you to Brother Okwy’s ward. Slowly you entered the ward and who you saw on the bed was not your brother anymore. It was him really but his face was swollen beyond recognition. You panicked. Your heart raced. You rushed to him.
“Brother, how has it come to this?”
“It will be alright.” He only forced a smile.
You were crying on the way, oblivious of the staring eyes in the streets. You only let your legs carry you through the familiar route and you saw yourself in front of your compound’s gate. There, Ginika, Nkechi’s classmate at school, was waiting for you. She had a smile on but it faded when she saw that you were crying.
“Ada, what is it?” She asked. You told her about Brother Okwy’s condition. She only shook her head and added, “Ndo. It will be alright.”
“Why are you here?” you asked her.
“I have good news. Nkechi sent me. I would have teased you with it but I can see you are not in the mood so I’ll just go straight to the point… Nkechi has travelled to America! She left last night. I don’t know how it happened so fast but…”
You were no longer listening to her babble in excitement. Your countenance did not change, for why should it? How could your NK have left for America without telling you? You started walking to her house and you sensed Ginika follow you. At the gate you knocked. The Hausa gateman came out and greeted in his familiar way and when you asked of Nkechi he told you the same thing Ginika had said.
After five days of having turns staying in the health center with Mama, you were with Brother Okwy, thoughts of Nkechi swirling in your head like the sea, when you overheard two nurses examining a nearby patient, a male teenager who was raped by another man. They were lamenting how evil and satanic homosexuality was.
“It shows that the world will soon come to an end,” one of them said.
“Was it not the same thing that made God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?” the other added as they left. You looked at Brother Okwy. He was looking at you. He had been looking at you. Tears ran down your cheeks. After a few minutes of his assurances, Mama entered and you left for home.
You kept thinking of Nkechi’s abandonment in the climax of your relationship and what sense the nurses at the health center had made. You walked out of your room and went down to the home chapel downstairs.
You lay there on the floor of the chapel. The softness of the rug dug into your skin mildly. You felt you were not fully reaching for that divine mercy, and once you jumped into a worship song.
“Oh Lord, my God, how wonderful is your name…”
Soon, you were not just sweating. Tears clouded your vision of the cross. You beat your eyelids the way you do whenever Nkechi’s singing at the choir touched you deeply. But what you were feeling now was more than the soul-soothing texture of some Catholic hymn. It was soul-searching. And so you used your hands instead to wipe them.
“I know you can do everything. I know that my hope is unimpeded which comes from you. I know that you are God.”
You kept singing and you kept turning on the floor, your arms and your legs stretched out. You could feel your short gown stretch up to your buttocks.
“Father Lord, I come unto you naked. Bathe me, Jesus. Cleanse me, Holy Spirit. Let me be as white as snow… Oh Lord, my God, how wonderful is your name… I have sinned against heaven and earth!”
You remembered. You remembered his swollen face once again on the sick bed as he beckoned you to come closer after the nurses left.
“Ada. Ada, the eyes that I see with. My precious egg, what is making you cry? It will be alright.” Through his lips which barely moved he had breathed this to you. Somehow he had seen through his loosely-shut eyelids that you were crying and so he made this praise to make you smile. You had forced a visible raise of your cheeks. He saw it and continued.
“If it was left for me alone I would ask you to remain true to yourself. But Mama wouldn’t hear that. It would kill her to know what you are. Don’t worry. I promised to talk to her on your behalf and I won’t back out. It’s still on my mind.”
Brother Okwy was still willing to accept you but you did not want him suffering all that pain and carrying your worries at the same time on his sick bed. You wanted to change, to keep from every girl in this world. You began to hate what you are. And when you go to give him his food the next day, you wanted to tell him that God had changed you, that you were no longer that thing. You looked up to the picture of the pope, the holy Eucharist in front of him, his hands open towards you. God’s soothing powers seemed to flow from them to you and you slept off.
You heard the gate screech but you did not get up. It was twilight already. As you remained in that semi-conscious state, you felt it moving on your laps. Very close to your buttocks. It was cold and a bit slimy. The feeling reminded you of Nkechi’s cold hands moving under your pants, looking for a hold to pull it down with. When you moaned sleepily and touched the spot, you realized that the cold was more than you could hold. You picked it up from your laps and threw it by the side. You looked. It was a snake. A black snake. The serpent had probably entered through the little opening of the chapel door. Even though you heard that black snakes were the most dangerous, you did not shout. You only looked at it as it regained stamina on its belly and, like a thing that had crawled out of you, turned its head towards the door. You let it slither on until the last of its tail dragged away and disappeared. It was Mama who had pushed the gate open. She was calling you now. You got up quickly, adjusted your gown to your laps and went out to meet her.
“You are back,” you said to her.
“Nne o, you’ve been sleeping. Sorry that I woke you.”
She had the flask with her. And she was tired. She had aged forcefully within these few days and was looking worse than a plantain tree set ablaze. You took hold of the flask and were about to talk about the snake when one of the women at St. John’s ran in through the gate, crying and shouting and asking what could be done to this wicked world.
“Ezinne Beatrice, Okwy your son is dead! Immediately you turned your back… Okwy who came back from America the other day! They have succeeded in killing a child that came into this world o!”
You dropped the flask and your jaw at once. You heard Mama shout, “Jessica, what did you say?” She grabbed Jessica’s blouse and asked again as if they were fighting. Then something started moving three of you simultaneously to the direction of the health centre. You were racing at the speed of thought, struggling with each other for space on the road. Within you was the hope that it was not your brother.
Is this what the snake had come to tell you?
It was in an underground homosexuals-only party hosted in a hotel outside the university campus and it was in your third year in the university that you met Andy, a final year student who could not do without Dennis, his boyfriend. Andy and Dennis were gods. They had a striking aureole of handsomeness that followed them. The other girls wanted any of them but you and your girls laughed at these ignorant ones. You kept their secret though as you all kept your common secret at school for each other. During the party, Dennis, probably drunk, had come to you holding Andy’s slender hip and had introduced himself and his boyfriend.
“Andy, this one does not look like a lola,” Dennis joked about your smatter of difference from other lesbians in the house after you said your names to each other.
“If in the future we end up not marrying each other, sweet, maybe I’ll pick her as my wife. After all, we are in Nigeria,” Andy threw his own joke and you laughed. But Dennis did not find it funny. You could see jealousy on his face already as he pulled Andy away with a feigned smile. You and Andy, as he was being pulled forcefully, laughed even more. As they left from one little group to another you saw yourself guessing who among both of them was the top and who was the bottom. You had placed Dennis in the previous and Andy in the latter. But you would later learn that the reverse was the case.
Throughout your stay in the university, you kept going to Asaba to see Mama. She was now living with Chidubem who had established his own business. After Brother Okwy’s death she was not herself anymore. She began improving when you graduated and started working in the marketing department of a bank in Lagos. It was in this bank that you met Andy again and he couldn’t stop talking about how much you had changed into a ‘big’ woman.
“Andy, you tease me,” you laughed inside his car, “And what about Dennis? If he sees me in this car with you my life won’t be the same again, you know.”
“Dennis?” he laughed. “Dennis is now married to a white man in South Africa.” He said this with a kind of nostalgia, a kind of sadness, a kind of ‘I want him back in my life.’
“But there are other people in my life now. Nothing special, though. We just fuck and we go our ways.”
And so began your tales of each other’s lives. You told him about Nkechi and how you would not give any other girl a chance in the university due to the shock. He said that it was cruel to your affective domain. You laughed and remembered that he was a Psychology student at school. He told of how he left Psychology, following life into his father’s business in Lagos. In each phase of his story he never left out the mention of Dennis and his struggles as a single homosexual unto whom a family is looking to marry soon.
“I’m talking about opposite sex marriage o because my family doesn’t know yet.” Andy did not seem to be happy inside.
“My family doesn’t know too. My elder brother who I told died with the secret.”
Seven days later Andy called you to meet him in a restaurant after work. When you got there, you saw that he had a mischievous smirk on his face. You protested that you were not going to have anything until he told you what was up.
“Ada, are you ready to get married now?” he asked you. You laughed for long and stopped only when you saw that he was not laughing with you.
“Of course. Yes. But, to a man? I don’t think I’m ready.”
“My family is on my neck for me to get married. To a woman. I will make you a proposal, Ada. Let’s get married. You just have to be my wife. We won’t have sex. You can go ahead and see your girls outside the marriage and I can go ahead and see my guys outside the marriage too. The main thing is for us to get married so as to save ourselves these family troubles.” He was looking at you with pleading eyes, desperate eyes.
The marriage made Mama smile again after so long. She was ever thankful to you for bringing joy again into her life. You felt a stab of guilt whenever she said this and a painful fear in your stomach whenever Chidubem made comments on how fast the marriage arrangements had gone between you and your university friend. But he was happy all along and, before Mama’s death, always joined her in prayers for God to bless you with children.
It was Mama’s death that brought Nkechi back into your life. She left you a condolence message on Facebook. You replied saying “Thank you”; then she sent another message, explaining that she was forced to urgently leave the country by her parents who she had told about her relationship with you. She was now married to Martin Wangai, a Kenyan-American academic. You were surprised that you two took to revealing your sexual relationship within the same period to members of your family without letting each other know before hand. It was as if some kind of magic was on then. You scouted her pictures and were impressed by them. She was even more beautiful now as a woman. After three minutes of struggling with yourself you sent her a friend request and almost immediately she confirmed it.
The girl beside you is already asleep. You reach for your handbag and pull out your phone. Straight to Email you go, and you type to Nkechi:
I am leaving Nigeria for New York immediately. Please send me further instructions on how I can meet with you there.
Send. You pull out ten one thousand Naira notes and place them on the bed beside the girl. You dress up and leave the hotel for home. There you sweep your wardrobe and jewelry straight into three suitcases and leave a note for Andy, saying you will call to explain things. In your handbag your phone beeps that you have a mail. It is Nkechi. You know. You will read it when you get to the airport. You agree that you are also a bird after all, and this time you can only fly away to where your heart truly lies.
(c) Prince Jacon