It was wrong, I had always known. He was thirty-five, working, married and expecting a baby soon. Though he always called me baby, my baby—he would say slowly in that husky whisper that always gave me an icy tingle at my sides. I wondered if he’d still continue to call me baby when, Aunty Jane, his wife, finally gives birth. Her tummy has bulged firm, pushing her middle scarily forward.
One day she came around and as usual requested for a cool glass of water. I stood still before her with the slippery tumbler staring at her protruding stomach, imagining what was inside, it bursting and a little pink body rushing out in a pool of pink fluid, staining the brown sofa and indigo tiles, till Mummy glared at me and barked, “Will you pass the water to your Aunty, this foolish girl!”
I left them in the sitting room and walked into my room, still thinking about the little thing in Aunty Jane’s stomach. It’d be cute; I was sure, a cute, fair little thing with Uncle Alex’s straight nose and Aunty Jane’s plump cheeks. I knew in no time it would arrive, the real baby, and rightfully take its place. This somehow made me upset.
I was fifteen, still in SS2 and still only wore clothes picked by Mummy. Mummy is a tough one. Not the one to tell anything, anything outside school, health, and church!
Once, she overheard me on the phone with Cynthia (how, I did not know), telling her how I liked Chijioke, the new boy at school. Next the door of my room opened and Mummy wearing her light pink nightgown stood at the door, staring at me like a warrior from heaven. The phone slipped out of my fingers to the bed. “Come here,” she said.
I rose from the bed. She closed the door quietly and walked up to me. “Judith, who is the boy you are falling in love with?”
“I wasn’t falling in love with anybody, Mummy.”
“What were you supposed to doing at school?”
I did not respond.
Without warning, her palm met my left cheek with tremendous force, painfully jerking my face to a side. “Next time when I send you to school, only learn and leave the boys alone.” She stared at me. “Have you heard me?”
“Yes, Mummy, I heard.”
“Good. Now go back to bed.”
Mummy did not approve of the young boys, not for friendship, not for anything. She called them little devils, “one day those little devils will get you pregnant and you come home looking for who to rub the disgrace on!” she said the day Cynthia came with Wale to visit, after I saw them off.
Uncle Alex ran into me one afternoon on my way back from school—I stopped using the school bus since the day I sat next to Biggie, the fat and flabby boy in SS1, and he rubbed me over with sweat. Mummy did not know. Uncle Alex’s clean Honda pulled over in my front and when I got to his window, he lowered the glass and offered to take me home.
But he did not make the turn at Maryland roundabout; he went up the road to Ikeja instead, claiming to pick a file from his desk. In his office, he picked no file, but he offered me juice, and then he touched me.
I did not tell Mummy of course. Probably because I had liked it, and I wouldn’t want Mummy to call Uncle Alex a devil too. Devil, Mummy used the word often. “The devil is at work,” she said the day she was trying to reach one of her managers on phone and the call keep failing to connect. She paced about the sitting room, her full bulk vibrating from restlessness under her loose lemon-colored gown.
Fool and foolish is another word.
“Whatever do you know how to do, this foolish girl,” she said to Ngozi, the help, often, whenever she did not get things right. She often did not.
“Darling, can you imagine this devil o,” she said to Daddy one morning at the table, referring to one of her employees who had called her on phone to resign. “I think I’m going to get him arrested.”
Daddy dropped his spoon and looked at her. Junior and I too. “Why?” he asked.
“He was rude,” Mummy said. She took a sip of her juice and dabbed her lips with the napkin. “How did the fool manage to get my number anyway?”
Mummy was that tough. She became even tougher last year when she became the new president of Wives of Christ. They all seem holy, the women married to Christ. They never wore sinful clothes and never shouted in public. Most Sundays they come up to the altar, clad in their classy golden lace blouses and deep blue wrappers with matching dark orange gele, to make a donation or talk to the other women why they need to accept Christ’s proposal as soon as possible and get married to Him. Their faces shone from heavy make-up, teeth flashing in well-timed self-satisfied smiles, they always held the whole congregation spellbound. Even Pastor Isaiah stared at them from a corner of the altar with a frozen smile, as though unable to believe such magic could happen in his own church.
Mummy always stood in front, her gele the widest and her black shoes the tallest and also the noisiest. With grace she adjusted herself to the space before the glass rostrum before picking the mic. She talked slowly, seasoning every word with appropriate expressions. She smiled frequently, appropriately, and each time she did, her beauty seemed to leap off her flawless brown face and spread among the quiet congregation in warm exciting packets. At the end, they would give a deafening applause as if in appreciation and the good wives of Christ would swagger back to their seats. Even Pastor Isaiah would put up his small hands in the air and clap frantically, giggling like a child.
But at home Mummy was different. She smiled less and snapped often. “Silly boy!” she snarled when Junior mistakenly dropped her BlackBerry. She was in the corridor reading that big book about “women taking control” she often read in her spare time when the phone rang. If it had been Ngozi, she would slap her hard before asking her to kneel on the hard tiles of the compound under the sun. And if it were to be me, she would scowl, like I was some irredeemable thing not worth wasting words on.
But it was Daddy that suffered most. She easily raised her voice at him and sometimes Daddy would appear to cower. He is lean and tall, and quiet, too quiet to be a daddy. But I like him anyways. Even the day Mummy called him useless, because he forgot to take the new Jeep to the mechanic and made her go to an occasion in the Corolla which she claimed everybody in Lagos now knew she drives, I had expected Daddy to say something to her, do something to her, but, as usual, he didn’t.
“I am sorry,” he said instead. “I did not know you meant today.”
Mummy stopped shouting and scowled at him. She finally hissed and walked inside, the pointy heels of her shoes clucking behind her.
Most times I wished Daddy was like Cynthia’s father, and other times I wished he wasn’t. Cynthia’s father is a short, stocky, angry-looking man. One needn’t look at him twice before he discovered he was of the no-nonsense variety of men. He’d slapped Aunty Bernice, Cynthia’s mother, in my front once, not even minding the presence of a visitor. What’s worse, Cynthia didn’t even look the slightest bit surprised. She only quietly took my hand and we walked out to the verandah and never talked about it. Even though I was so tempted to ask her about it, to initiate a discussion that would eventually lead to us to talking about our families, I did not. I knew Cynthia hated to discuss it when she quickly applied an exaggerated smile and asked me where I had gotten in Purple Hibiscus, the novel recommended for our coming Literature debate. “Page 29,” I said.
Cynthia looked surprised. “29?”
“You don’t like the book?”
“Not that much. It’s boring.”
“No it’s not, Kambili behaves so much like you.”
How wrong Cynthia had been, they always were, quick to think that I’m shy and timorous. I have finished the book now, it wasn’t so boring after all. But I am truly in no way like the girl in the book. Not all. I am not afraid to tell Uncle Alex what I want him to do to me, where I want him to touch me. Though they all seemed very nice, I wouldn’t hesitate to talk back at any idiot at school that dared to make the slightest derogatory remark about me. I may not be able to talk to Mummy, to fight for Daddy, but I am definitely not like Kambili. I don’t want to be.
Everything ends today anyways.
Everything changed today.
Mummy left for Abuja in the morning for another business trip, the ones she went for often only to come back angrier, complaining about a delayed payment or an incompetent manager that needed to be replaced as soon as possible. Not too long after, Daddy called me in a loud drawn-out voice to come and buy him antacid. He was snoring on the couch when I returned with the medicine and I knew he had drank again.
He woke up later in the afternoon looking very dull and still obviously sick. I went to tell him that I was going to see Cynthia when I met Ngozi with him, telling him that she would be leaving, that she no longer wants to work with us. “Sorry, Small Madam,” she said when I asked her why, “I no longer want stay. I dream bad dream last night.”
I did not go to Cynthia’s house of course. It was mid-term and she’d told she would be traveling to Ibadan with Aunty Bernice.
I went to Uncle Alex’s office in Ikeja. He was just the thing I needed to forget.
He took me to the staff canteen, as usual, introducing me to anyone who bothered to ask as his ‘beautiful little cousin’. He never forgot to add beautiful. I am anyway. Mummy is too.
I had a great meal of rice and chicken— probably for the same reason of change, I decided not to have my regular roll and Coke.
Back in his office, wide, modern and exquisite, Uncle Alex ran up from his swinging chair, threw his lips at my cheeks and moved to bolt the door, to check if I had bolted it well.
He appeared rather too quickly behind me again and held my shoulders, squeezing lightly. Then he guided me up, his wide palms covering my cheeks as he held my face up, staring at me in grave silence, the way he often did and for a brief blissful moment made me believe I was all the world to him.
I blinked to the warmth the devilish glint in his eyes sent my way. He leaned forward and slipped his lips into mine. I unbuttoned his shirt while he wetly moved his fleshy lips round my mouth.
He took his arms back to let the shirt off. I slipped my face away from him to catch good glimpse of his muscles. He noticed and drew back slightly and allowed me to look, to feel. I ran my hand on the hard swollen chest, toned to the last fiber by fervent gym work, highlighted in the light brown color of his skin, like milk chocolate. He allowed me tickle his hard nipples some more before he bent toward me again, enclosing me like a shell.
Slowly with the effortlessness granted by frequency, he unbuttoned my blouse and set to work on my stiff nipples with his lips, handling each bouncy lump with masterly control. When he was sure he’d sent me off to the other world, the world where things seemed so colorful, dull and surreal, he carried me onto his desk and pulled up my skirt.
As usual, he did not pull off my pant completely. He merely slid it aside to create enough space for his thick organ. But no space was always enough. The first time he’d come into me, I had cried out loud and when he asked me if he should stop, his voice deepened by hunger, I said no. And he was glad I did.
It was the best, one of the best we ever had. Each thrust came with so much energy, a foreign urgency that I liked, like one wanting to get all the satisfaction he could all at once. It was only after the act and I had worn back my clothes that I understood.
It was difficult for him to say at first, very difficult, but he eventually said it, that today would be the last time we’d meet, the last time we’d see each other again. He gave no substantial reason, none I could remember now. I remember him mumbling something about his family and baby, his real baby.
For a moment, I appeared dead, devoid of any feeling. And then slowly the feelings returned, and I wished they never did. He kept asking me to say something, but I did not know what to say, where to begin.
Unlike the usual two freshly minted N1000 notes he usually gave me for transport, which I barely touch because it does not cost any more than N300 to go from my school in Maryland to his Ikeja office and then back to Gbagada where we live, he gave me N10, 000, which only made me feel worse. It was as though he was paying me for it all, all the satisfaction I had given him over the months, to be sure nothing linked us anymore.
I kept counting the money over and over again, not because I wanted to be sure of the amount—I cared less about it, but because I knew not of what else to do. I wanted to go home, but a part of me wanted to linger, to be entirely sure.
He took my hand. “Don’t worry, baby,” he said, “I’ll be here whenever you need me, I—” I freed myself from him before he could utter any more nonsense. I picked my hair-grip on the desk and ran out of the office. Tears were now flowing. I halted in the hallway and with a deep breath, I choked them all back. It was one of the things I had mastered how to do over the years; experience had taught me. With another long breath, I put my face in order, happy and smiling. Those nosy colleagues of his must not see, sense something was wrong. It would only add spice to their already boiling pot of gossip. They still stared as I walked to the main door, but I did not care.
But now I am happy that he had given me the N10, 000. It was with it that I had purchased this small bottle of freedom in my hand. They said it does the work so quickly and with little pain, just like the way it works on stubborn rodents.
When I came back and Ngozi told me that Junior had stubbed his toe on the step and that he has been “crying my name since” before Daddy took him to the chemist shop, the turbulent emotions already whirling inside me sped up.
Ours is a peculiar connection; it wasn’t fully explicable, like the easy bond between mother and child. He cannot stay a minute without me, and neither I either. He’d cried so much the first time he was taken to school and I had to stay in class with him the whole day. Codzaz Int’l Schools allowed special treatments for wards whose parents, mothers, were rich and popular.
This isn’t the best thing to do, I know. Junior will not only cry, he will refuse to eat for days if not weeks. Daddy may gulp down a full bottle of brandy at once, probably that will make him say something strong to Mummy, for once. And Mummy, she will hum, hiss, shake her head and then say, “This is the devil’s handwork. This foolish girl has finally become partners with the devil, but it’s not me they will rub disgrace on.” She will shake her head vigorously, clucking. “Not me at all!”
Truly, this isn’t the best thing to do, but I won’t be happy if I didn’t do it either. My soul yearns for revenge, though I don’t know who the punishment is for. Mummy? Uncle Alex?
I am sinful.
Anyways, now is the time. Daddy is away with Junior at the chemist shop and Ngozi would be busy packing. Whatever she has that needed packing anyway.
At the back of the bottle, the bold sign PLEASE DON’T INGEST written beside a symbol of a skull and two crossed bones glared at me, but this only offered motivation, like the skull was telling me something—to join him quickly.
As if in obedience, I shook the bottle and lifted it into my mouth. Without hesitation, downed all the contents in one gulp. It tasted nasty, but I did not care, not about the taste, not about dosage. I needed action!
I threw the bottle to the wall. It shattered into pieces, just the kind of action I sought!
But it has been over four minutes now and except for the minor stomach irritation, I feel no close to death yet.
Another two minutes passed.
Then suddenly it started. It grew tense…the pain. It was hot and twitching. My stomach twirled round and round, as if someone was in there, uprooting all the intestines, liver and pancreas, packing them in a nylon bag.
It slows now…the pain and the twitching.
I started to feel numb, first at my fingers tips and then the coldness and lack of feeling spread out. It was like the cleaner in my stomach had cleared out all I needed to have feeling.
I see him now, clad in a dirty pale blue overall, like an eccentric medic. He is going and I am following him along, through a long and featureless path like a road across the sky. I don’t know where he is taking me to, I don’t care. Somehow I am happy to be going with him…
A knock on the door. It persisted. It must have been loud and jarring, but not any louder than a mosquito hum in my dreamy mind, not enough to bring me back.
…not enough. …not…n…o…t!
….Diary edited and summarized by Junior Obinna Ibene (Oct. 2013) in remembrance of a dear sister.