An hour ago, your body was dancing on a tattered mattress in that dark room, slowly and gently, till it gingered and consumed you. Fast-fast, you managed to get used to things that hot afternoon, because you hoped they were going to be your normal things. But you couldn’t stand one: the soured-geisha smell that popped up each time he brought his mouth, so you continued to crane your neck sideways. But, then, he had his way: even more than enough to change things in your system.
He went into the bathroom thereafter, but you remained on the bed, because your stomach was cramping and making noise, a dull nausea running in your gastrointestinal track. You had never felt those ways before in any aftermath. But you were happy anyway, because you wanted it. You needed that to show him how much you were really back and ready, and, of course remorseful; the reason you suffocated yourself in the discomfort of that ramshackle vehicle that took a whole day to drive you from Port Harcourt to this overpopulated, Lagos.
Years ago, he was just too demeaning for you. Everything about him disgusted you: the strand of hairs at the back of his neck, his too-deadened eyes, the fresh saliva that bubbled at the corners of his mouth when he spoke, his heavy snoring even in brief sleeps. And, finally, you told him: not to stand on your way. Standing on your way was the only euphemism you thought could lighten the sad message. It was a Sunday evening at Spar Mall, in Port Harcourt. You sounded polite but damn serious, just the way you wanted to sound. Eyes reddened, he stared at you crazily. You busied your face staring at your phone screen every time, to overrule his body language. The drive home was slow as usual, but you never cared anymore. You ordered him to pick up speed. He refused. You opened the car door and went away into a taxi, then he speeded away and stopped standing on your way. But the truth was that, at 22, you thought you were still too young to begin to be bored in the custody of one man: till death do you part.
So you sat still on the bed and listened to the substance break protocol into your system. Your throat went dry, like desert, but you refused it even a drop of water –you thought it could’ve washed things off. You made up your face again, re-perfumed your body and breezed out to the parlour. You sat in a single sofa, rolling your eyes around and across the tensely quiet and scantily furnished parlour.
The afternoon was hotter now, the sun filtering into the living room through the windows, its yellowness standing so real in the room you saw even the sun itself reflected on the grey tiles. The sun filled your heart with emotions: the first sun you saw after you took in your first child: the first sun that visited your home, shone its blessings on and fortified things after you’d just hopefully reunited in that dark room. But, then, you knew that the same sun, too, was somewhat harsh, and, in that sense, there could be some harshness in this union, this forever union that yet only really existed in your mind, that you willingly brought yourself into. And against the last sense, you reached and dressed the window blinds and looked elsewhere. You wanted to walk around the room and check things, but you found it kidding freezing around, ransacking a house you just visited only for a second time, so you sat back. Your knees started to ache, throat drier. Just then, the clock’s tick tacks echoed in the room, and reminded you to wonder why he spent so long just to bath off ordinary sweat. By the time you were dating, you never had the time to observe this: that he was one of those men who stay long in the bathroom. And, as long as you were concerned, this was very unromantic, and it really mattered, but only then.
You watched the clock steadily, as though it meant something else, did something else than a mere wall clock that told time –perhaps a speedometer that measured the speed at which you had become pregnant. You were determined to keep your eyes there even longer, till the minute hand crawled to 12, so you see when it was 3 p.m., when you were one hour pregnant. But, then, he came out of the bathroom, knotting a white towel loosely over his navel, smelling significantly of Dettol. He turned on the switch on the wall before settling heavily on the sofa beside you and remoted the TV to Channels.
“Sorry, Bibi. I took time,” he said and looked at you. His voice, velvet as usual, titillated you. It was the first and only thing about him that you managed to love, that attracted an acute admiration from you when you first met in Port Harcourt, and melted away the annoyances you accumulated for him for keeping you waiting for too long at Spar Mall. Now you had waited angrily for an hour, and the same voice had quenched everything, so you simply smiled.
The strand of hairs at the back of his neck still disgusted you. It looked even more awkward and fetish. You loved men with hairs, though, but not when the hairs littered elsewhere than the jaw and the chest. Not when they germinated out of their ears like yam tendrils or crawl out through their noses like carpet grasses. He didn’t have much in the ears, though, but so much out of the nose that tickled him, made him touch his nose often.
You watched his buttocks wobble in quick curses as he walked into the bedroom. You wished he went in there to change into something manly homely: you didn’t like men tying wrapper too much. He came back still in the towel, but with a bottle of cognac.
It was the first time you set your eyes on a cognac, though you knew it was one of those talked-about, foreign brandies in town, and had been there for more than a decade. Your friend, Chizi, had told you many years ago in Port Harcourt, how big men in government house drank it as though it were water, using it to wash their hands before and after meals during government functions or rich funerals. And by the time she told you the price –ten thousand naira per bottle –you eyeballs yanked.
He popped it, standing in front of you. The cork bounced on the ceiling and returned into your handbag, and you both laughed at the magic. He interpreted that to mean a welcome-back, and you didn’t dispute it, were even pleased. Years ago, you would’ve definitely disagreed to whatever meaning he would’ve adorned to whatever magic the cork did to you: when you hadn’t thought twice; when you never developed black armpits and black-dotted face; when all the prayer houses you visited never said the same thing: make hay while the sun shines; when you never had your stomach cramping and making noise. He poured the wine into two glasses and the welcome-back toast went off, short and boring, but you didn’t comment. You both sipped from your glasses and dropped them uniformly on the table.
Cognac entered your mouth for the first time. You couldn’t describe its taste, but when you rolled your tongue again and again, you realised it tasted much like the concoction you took to abort your last pregnancy in Port Harcourt. The feeling came over and hanged heavily in your nose: abortion. It filled your nostrils and started to swell your lungs till you started sneezing –two body-loathing sneezes that so shook the walls he rushed and brought you water. You stagnated both the water and the cognac on the table, because you didn’t want the pregnancy aborted –this willing and purposeful pregnancy.
“Sorry,” he said. Twisting his face, he added, “You don’t take alcohol?”
“Not really, shaah. I’ve never taken cognac.”
“Serious?” His brows raised. “So sorry, dear!”
A mild silence hanged.
“Cognac is a good wine,” he said.
“Really.” You nodded. “Tastes fine.”
“I take it a lot”.
“Huuhuu!” You rolled your eyeballs as he looked at you, and just realising the fun, you both laughed.
He took another, longer sip, creating silence. Then, he dropped the glass noisily on the table and leaned back in the couch.
“Betty called last night,” he said.
“Betty? Which Betty?” you asked.
“My daughters’ mother.”
You looked around. “How?”
His smile went broader now, tearing his mouth.
“What?” You shouted, damn shocked, sitting up on your toes. You searched him entirely, and he gave you the time, being quiet. He started to crack in your sight, tears blurring your vision. You blinked off the tears quickly, because you didn’t want them piled up and feasible to him.
“You told me you’re single?”
“Oh, really, But I later married. Or what did you expect?”
The last words rang loud in your head, like a bell. Of course, nothing less should have been expected of an urbane man in his early forties, who used to talk to you, on one hand, with a genuine incandescence of a married man, and on the other, with the open-heartedness of a man searching for settlement. When you resumed phoning him, to come back, you had wondered if he had married, but the thought of asking him later faded in your mind because you had inspected his wardrobe, during your last visit, and the clothes there were all masculine, his. And because the whole thing looked surrealistic, it occurred to you that he might just be stressing you with the sad jokes.
“She doesn’t stay with you?” you asked.
Louder, now, he laughed again. And it seemed surer now, that it was a joke and because you wanted it all a joke, you laughed after him.
“Well, she quitted,” he said.
The coolness you felt in your head did not radiate, it accelerated in a quick pace and covered you down to your toenails.
“Why?” You asked.
You searched the floor, as if your next statement fell to there.
“So you guys decide to stay apart and be calling, abi?” You sounded calmer.
“Funny you.” His smile was beeping. “We don’t call. But she phones Mama to talk to her daughters.”
“But you said she called last night.”
“Yea, for the first time.”
“So what came on her?”
You both laughed.
“Nothing serious,” he said. “Just apologies.”
“Apologies? What for?”
“For me, for everything.”
You leaned in the chair, and your mind went out briefly. Your head banged. Your heart started to pound as fast and loud as the clock ticked. Then your mind returned and you searched his face.
“You mean she’s coming back?” You didn’t mean to say this, but it pushed out on its own volition.
He said nothing.
“So what’s on your mind?” You looked at him dull-eyed, as though already defeated.
“Nothing. Just my normal mind.” He laughed a short laugh that didn’t arc his mouth too much. “Betty is just making me laugh.”
His laughs discomforted you: your stomach cramped again and made noise, and the nausea was now intoxicating and repugnant. An insensitivity cleaved to your feet, and you became unconscious of those feet.
“Perhaps she might just have her way back because of these girls. And my mother needs the relief,” he said.
“That’s no problem, Jones. I’ll take care of them.”
“I know, Bibi. But I think they’d feel better in their mother’s hands.”
“What do you mean, Jones…?”
“Not that, Bibi. I mean….. It’s really just difficult for me.” He shook his head childishly.
“Jones.”. You shifted closer. “Jones please! I told you I’ll take care of those girls. Hope you know I’ve already taken in…” Your voice cracked.
Your tears were hot, dropped repeatedly on his hands. He looked at them and looked away. You held his hands and shook him as your cries intensified. He made to shift away but you didn’t allow him. The towel loosened off him and you set your eyes on him again, him looking shrunken up, insignificant, like a little boy’s. He pulled his hands to redo the towel. Your feet slanted and pushed the table. The cognac bottle fell off and rolled on the floor, but did not even crack. You watched it roll on the floor and the thought of drinking much of it, all of it, to wash your hours-old, now unwanted pregnancy, ballooned in your head. You let go of him and started to strategise how to go home with the cognac. But your plans failed: he stood up, picked the bottle, broke it on the tiles and chased you away. You panted out of his house.
It was after sunset. The evening was deeming, the street calm but loaded with people, who watched you run in the street madly, wondering what could make a lady of your age, not mad-looking, run like that in a typical Lagos street.
At Shoprite, you paused to buy a bottle of cognac, but the cost chased you out, too. You went home with the pregnancy, your stomach cramping and making noise.