Cloaked in water.
Bathed in blood.
Dark and warm was our shared enclave.
Yours was the first heartbeat I felt.
I felt each movement, each jerk, each flutter.
Before my eyes ever opened, I knew you were mine.
When it grew too small,
Face to face, a firm hug,
I wrapped my limbs around yours.
Was that when the promise was made?
Yes. The first time.
‘In your arms, I will take my last breath.’
He gave us the ability to choose,
I chose you.
Their moans filled the room. I watched his thrusts – the movement of his buttocks—up and down. When he was younger, the twin cheeks were firm and smooth, as most of his parts, except for the wrinkles that doubled around his eyes and forehead since last year. I can’t say for how long I stood in the doorway, watching him pump himself into her. Bile rose at the back of my throat, and it may have been the gagging as I struggled not to heave the content of my stomach that caused him to swerve around, or perhaps it was my reflection in the mirror-ceiling that drew a gasp from her…. I don’t know.
I was considerate, opting for a uber from the hospital. He left the hospital late last night – a good hour after visiting hours. I knew a call from me would mean disruption of much-needed sleep for him. The night nurse tried without success to get him to leave, but he ignored her, as he always did.
‘That man loves you.’
Can love and treachery inhabit the same DNA?
I turned around and gingerly made my way down the stairs, stepping over his pair of black jeans, as I had when I ascended minutes before. As I descended the stairs, I lingered as if seeing anew the pictures that lined the wall, each one a hallmark of twenty-seven years of being fettered to each other. Before age chipped away at youth; the children born to our union; the celebrations of milestones in our lives. And the last picture – us now, empty nesters.
It was one thing to suspect his infidelity or even for him to confess it. It was totally different to see him butt naked in another woman’s arms.
I was numb and then searched for even a smidgen of anger.
Instead, what came to the fore was the ugly bedsheet…and my inability to recall if I had actually chosen such an off-color…it didn’t go with the lilac wall. I could hear their voices as they moved around upstairs. His was harsh… hers was shrill… the dull thuds of things falling over… the clatter of keys hitting the hardwood floor.
I struggled to find a vantage point on the couch. It was increasingly difficult finding a comfortable position. My back and sides hurt like sandpaper had been rubbed on the inside of my muscles and bones.
My oversized handbag lay half-open beside the couch; half its contents spilled on the rug beside the coffee table – half bottle of 30cl Evian water, the green and blue Ankara wrapper I carried around to cover my frequently cold extremities, and an almost empty box of sour cream pringles – the only thing that didn’t lead to projectile vomit at night. The water was from Tomi, Bade’s only sibling’s church. There were several videos online of the general overseer healing ailments; Bade was desperate for a cure frequenting churches the way we initially sampled out doctors. Hoping the next one will be the bearer of good news. All the doctors said the same thing, unlike the pastors whose recommendation went from memorizing scriptures, prayer points at midnight to bathing and drinking water prayed on. I drew the line when one said I needed to walk the length and breadth of my bedroom naked, holding my offending breasts saying prayers that sounded more like curses. Drinking the water gave Bade hope. I would never be the person to take that away from him.
I picked up the Ankara, then remembering it was a gift from him, dropped it like it scalded my palm. The bedroom door slammed, and for the first time, I kissed my teeth.
She descended the stairs quickly without poise. Something about her was familiar, but I couldn’t for the life of me put my finger on it. She clutched a pair of strappy gold sandals in one hand, a wig under the same armpit, her hair in a couple of messy cornrows. Frightened eyes darted in my direction for a second, legs almost tripping over my luggage at the base of the stairs; she ran through the front door.
After he left last night, unable to sleep, I decided to stop chemotherapy.
I was tired of feeling like shit, tired of lying in a dark hole where there was no sliver of light to pierce the inky box my body was trapped in. Chemotherapy was no longer working.
After breakfast, before signing the consent forms, I practiced my speech while I slowly packed my bag… ‘I know you love me and want to keep trying…but I don’t want to do it anymore… yada yada yada…’The words eluded me now.
I saw the remnant of a meal for two on the dining table for the first time.
Our table. Our bed. Our house.
I heard running water from our bathroom.
The same bathroom where my hair fell in wisps of dark clouds around my shoulders and our feet as his clipper sniped at my scalp, taking off what was left from chemotherapy. He stopped several times to wipe tears and blow his nose while I grabbed the tufts of hair, rubbing the strands between my fingers. Slowly releasing my clenched fists…watching wistfully as the clumps fell from my fingers, leaving dark patches on the otherwise pristine white tiled floor.
That was a year ago.
I leaned back into the pillows, switched from CNN to a local channel. The news was the same – the break out of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The figures of the dead were growing daily.
I switched the channel back to CNN and pressed the mute button.
He walked down the stairs clad in only black jeans. For the first time, I felt the glowing embers of anger. As he slowly approached me, the warm chunks sparked and grew with a ferocity that scared me. Then as he sunk to his knees before me, his hands towards me, placating… it was gone. A sudden coldness made me reach for the Ankara wrapper again.
I sent him an icy stare that froze him in place, and his eyes spilled over.
‘Who should be in tears….me or you?’
‘Sorry for your indiscretion…or that you were caught?’
He lowered his eyes, got off his knees, and sat sprawled legged on the floor.
‘Why did I do this?’ he mumbled, his eyes firmly fixed on the coffee table between us.
‘Are you asking me?’
He started to speak… I raised my right hand to silence him.
Gbe enu e soun!
There was a lull in silence.
‘How long has this been going on?’ My voice was flat.
‘A couple of weeks.’
He reached towards me again.
‘If you touch me…bastard!’
He shrunk from me, eyes still pleading.
Everything was disintegrating, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
This was a nightmare like the ones that woke me at night – my eyes wide open… gasping for breath, and my body covered with cold sweat. Night terrors, Anike called them. She said my fears held me captive. This past couple of months, she encouraged me to get away from it all.
How could I get away from it all if I could not leave my ailing body behind?
‘Leave the house…Bade…and come here. I will pay for your ticket. Please.’
She believed changing routine would help my state of mind and possibly add more quality to my physical form. Even as I faded away, all I wanted was to give myself to him as I have always done. Perhaps, if I could fold what was left of myself into what little time we had left together, then a future without me would be bearable. How can a man fully invested in me be so treacherous?
At that moment, as the invisible cord tying me to him began to disintegrate, I felt light-headed.
My twin had asked for one last visit. She wanted me in her house, where I would leave my imprint in each room. She wanted us to take walks in the neighborhood where we rode our bicycles as children, kissed boys under the street light as teenagers, our favorite watering holes as young adults, and create more memories she could hold on to.
My last visit had been riddled with doctors’ appointments and anxiety.
We spent the nights crying in each other’s arms and cursing the genes that bequeathed me our mother’s destiny. She didn’t make it to fifty either.
But I found excuses not to return, the chief being Bade. I knew he would worry, despite knowing I was in capable hands.
‘When will you choose yourself, Abike? It’s always Bade this…and Bade that…’, her voice broke with unshed tears. She didn’t realize that I thought I was choosing myself in choosing him. We had been together for so long…it was challenging to see myself outside us until today.
Why can’t you wait for me to die?
I didn’t realize I said the words aloud until he wrapped his arms around my ankles.
‘Abike! Don’t say that…please…I wasn’t thinking…!’
‘Not with your head anyway…how can you shag someone in our house…what kind of person are you…what kind of….’ My voice ceased.
At that moment, I realized why she was familiar. The night nurse lingered at the door after her duties as she told me I was her last patient before her shift ended.
‘This your husband loves you.’ She smiled sweetly before taking away the empty drip bag.
His reluctance to leave took a different meaning. He was waiting for her!
‘I can explain…’ he stuttered.
I reached for my phone and speed-dialed my twin. His eyes filled with panic.
She picked after the first ring.
‘I will be coming over.’ I imagined her playing with her full head of curls with her free hand while holding the phone with the other.
Her voice was sing-song with excitement.
‘As soon as possible.’
‘Ehhnnnn….are you really doing this….wait…don’t answer…I don’t want you changing your mind.’
Bade reached for me again. I sent a clumsy kick at him, barely missing his groin. He rolled away and again tried unsuccessfully to go for the phone…. I snapped my teeth at his exposed wrist. He darted out from my line of sight.
‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine.’ I mustered up forced cheerfulness.
‘Make it a one-way ticket…send it to my inbox once the transaction is complete.’
I hung up as she yelled, ‘Praise the living Jesus…’
He came into view at that moment.
‘Abike…! Twenty-seven years of my life…I never have….ever…. you are my life….please. I have always been reliable, dependable… never have I given you cause to doubt my devotion to you. Give me time to make this up to you. I promise it will never ever happen again….’
He was ugly when he cried.
Time. The one thing I didn’t have. I wasn’t going to spend what was left of my life in emotional turmoil…talking over his indiscretion…. why, and who he did it with…. and of all the venues he could have chosen, why he chose our home. His complete disregard and utter disrespect for me… all the while helping him feel better. I wanted to run far away from him and the mess he created.
Every object in our house that was a memento was forever sullied by what happened in our bedroom.
Yet his words held water. We had both put each other first, even after the children came. I was not one of those women whose love for the children cemented my relationship with my spouse. My love for him was independent of our children – a direct quotient of what he demonstrated from the beginning, choosing me – excluding all others, until now.
In my silence, he continued to speak.
‘Think of everything we are to each other. I have never brought her here before, but last night … I felt so lost… and miserable. She came here to cook for me… I was desperately sad…. afraid…’
‘So, you found comfort between her legs.’
His lips were moving like the muted news anchor on the screen behind him, but I was deaf to the words. I imagined myself dancing on the bed upstairs; only it was not me as I am now – frail, bald, and pasty skin, but me, as I was two years before the monster took my health – head full of massive curls. And the bedsheet was not a colorful throw-up that clashed with the lilac of the walls.
Different versions of who I was, danced in reckless abandon.
First, I was a child…naked and happy. Then, a teenager wearing my favorite bright pink pedal pushers. In my early twenties, when big loop earrings were the rave.
As I transitioned between consciousness and lack of…the images playing in my head, I hoped my sister could afford a first-class ticket. My phone pinged.
My eyes flew open, and I reached for the device.
It was a first-class ticket, departure Tuesday. I had a week to get ready.
My eyes swung to him as I held the device to my chest.
‘Look at the bright side…. you have the whole house to be with your girlfriend.’
‘She isn’t my girlfriend!’
‘Please Abike…forgive me.’
He put his head on my lap and started crying afresh. As I absentmindedly stroked the back of his head, I felt a profound sadness and loss that wrapped itself around me like a wretched blanket.
‘I am so very sorry.’ His words were muffled by the Ankara wrapper.
Image by Cdd20 from Pixabay
* Eledumare means Lord of the universe
* Jo o means Please
* Gbe enu e soun means Shut your mouth
* ode means fool