The One Who Keeps Appearing
Jide did not just walk me out of his house. He did not just do that. What in the world!
I breathe in deep. Calm down, Mary. He didn’t mean it. He would never knowingly treat you like that. It’s the jazz, so calm down…
Heck, I can’t! I am so mad I feel like walking back to his house and giving him a piece of my mind. How can he talk to me like that? Is he insane?
Anyways, I don’t blame him sha. He’s seen my nakedness, that’s why. But all the same, I’ll keep my cool. He’ll apologize when the juju clears.
I pull in another breath and glance down the street to see if a bus is coming. There’s a crowd waiting and I’m ready to cuff anybody that tries to stop me from getting into the next bus that shows. I’m so not in the mood.
I take out my phone in the meantime and begin to connect with my girls. I can’t keep this Tarela’s issue under wraps. I notice movement around me and look up. A bus is on its way. Not many empty seats for all of us. Oya Mary, time to bring out the barracks side of you.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I get into Noka’s posh home and feel so dirty because I’m smelling of automobile fumes. I dust myself futilely. Damn this town and its pollution!
I hear a baby crying. It should be Bimpe’s or is it Peace’s?
I can hardly keep up with their kids. It’s as if they’re trying to outdo each other in childbearing. I even hear that Bobby’s wife, Kate, is already pregnant. Lol! Sharp shooter. I don’t want to be like them abeg. I want a husband with whom I can keep the honeymoon fire burning for at least a year and a half before kids come. I wanted Jide to be that man. Too bad we don’t always get what we want.
“Hi Mary!” Celia comes along with the baby that’s making all the noise and thrusts it at me as if it’s biting her. And I’m there looking at her like what am I supposed to do with it.
“I want to piss.” She runs off.
I look at the baby. It doesn’t look like Bimpe’s. It’s quite younger and has Ibro’s nose.
“Whose baby is this?” I ask as I walk into the kitchen where Noka, Peace and Kate are having coconut cookies and milk. Bimpe is missing.
“Can the mommy of this baby raise her hand?”
They all look at me. I notice Noka’s eyes are red.
“It’s Eno’s baby,” she tells me.
Eno is Ibro’s second wife.
“Okay, so why am I carrying her?”
“Where is this Celia sef?” Noka asks tiredly as she comes for the infant in my arms. “I gave her baby and she disappeared.”
“Why is the baby not with her mother?”
“Long story,” Noka responds and cradles the newborn.
I place my handbag on the kitchen counter. “Gist me.”
“Eno left Ibrahim. She got up two nights ago and just left.”
“Without her baby? Why?”
“Because he’s adamant on marrying the Kanuri chick his family wants him to marry. Eno told him she won’t stand for it, that she’s still young and since she didn’t give him a son, she’s not obligated to stay, so she left.”
“And you’re sad because…?”
“Because Ibrahim has been acting like a dick since she left. And then he dumped this child with me and when I complained, he told me to also pack and leave if I can’t take care of his child.”
I don’t get why Noka is breaking her head over the issue. Ibro has never loved her and it’s not like he’s going to anytime soon, so why break her head over him? Anyways, I’m not one to talk.
“Noka, don’t let Ibro and Eno’s madness get to you.”
She nods in sadness and tries to placate the baby as she turns to Peace.
“P, breastfeed this baby for me nau.”
“Noka give the child formula abeg. Na me born pikin? Me that I’ve already weaned my own baby.”
“Only last week. And look, your boobs are leaking.”
Peace stares at her breasts as if they have betrayed her.
“Please. She’s just a baby. I beg you.”
Peace gives in with a grunt. She takes the baby and begins nursing her.
“Madam Mary, what is this Tarela gist you have for us?” Celia appears. “I hope she has finally killed herself for real so that we can all rest.”
“Be nice,” I tell her and then go right ahead to give them details of Tarela’s sorcery ways. They are left stunned; well apart from Peace who claims she always knew Tarela was from the dark side.
“Oh please!” Celia hisses at her.
“Seriously, I knew. You know at that time I was strong spiritually. Not now that you people have influenced me into drinking alcohol.”
Celia smirks. “Abeg make I hear word.”
“But seriously, how could Tari do that?” Noka seems more affected by the news.
“Please who is she?” Kate asks quietly. As Celia gladly gives her the history of Tarela and Jide, I study Kate, taking note of her reluctant eyes and shy looks, and I’m thinking to myself that Bobby is such a cradle snatcher. The girl can’t be more than twenty-three. We know little about her apart from the fact that they courted for about a month or so, as he told us, and then he popped the question. Add another month and they’re walking down the aisle.
“But how can Tari stoop this low?” Noka remains bewildered.
“Well what do you expect from somebody who slashed her own throat?” Celia comments, picking a cookie.
“But I don’t understand some women,” Kate murmurs. “You’re killing yourself for a man that doesn’t give a damn about you. It’s just plain stupid. Like men are finished in the world?”
The kitchen goes hush. None of us want to look at Noka. Only Celia dares murmur a sardonic ‘mm’, at which point Kate realizes her gaffe and apologizes to Noka straightaway.
“No, it’s okay.” Noka puts out her hand to stop her. “Not like I don’t know what you all think about me.”
Each of us mumbles some form of polite defensive but she shuts us all down with another raised hand.
“Seriously, it’s fine. I sometimes sit down and wonder what is wrong with me. Why I can’t just walk away. I tell people that it’s because of my vows and the kids but the truth is I feel too weak, even helpless without Ibrahim.”
“But he keeps breaking your heart, Noka,” I remind her.
“All the time,” she emphasizes. “But I always look forward to those moments when he loves me. They’re few but they are enough to keep me with him.”
“You sound like an abused woman, Noka,” Celia blasts. “Ibro is abusing you emotionally and you still cling to him as if he’s life. My dear, you can do better without him.”
Oshey feminist Celia.
“It was Bruno Mars who said ‘a whole new world is waiting. It’s ripe for the taking.’”
“You didn’t have to sing it,” I chip in. Celia and Bruno Mars sef. I wonder if she still has wet dreams about him.
“Zip it, Mary. As I was saying, Noka, we women have to start showing these men our worth or they’ll keep treating us like shit. I hate Eno but right now, babe just upped her status on Ibro’s respect bar. And if you’re not careful, you might be the sacrificial lamb he’ll use to get her back. This just means that your place is still not secure in his life after two boys, first wife status and seven years of marriage. Why? Because you’re a wimp. You have no self-worth.”
Celia finishes and in typical character remains in Noka’s face to ensure her words sink in well.
“So you’re saying I should leave him?”
“You’re his first wife, Ajonoka. You’re not going anywhere. See, the thing with men is that they always complain that we demand too much and yet if we don’t demand, we are taken for granted. I think it’s time you start demanding what is rightfully yours. Demand Ibro’s love. Demand his time. Demand his devotion. Demand his property. Demand his cash. Demand his dick. Demand all of him.”
I’m not sure if Celia’s advice is the best but Noka sure needs some confidence boost.
“Thank you,” she whispers and takes Eno’s baby who is now deep asleep in her arms.
“So, back to Jide…” I say.
“Let’s fast and pray for him,” Peace suggests. My face melts into a smile. Woman after my own heart. “Juju is not something we joke about. I’m not comfortable with Jide seeing Ezinne’s ghost. It’s not funny. If he has been charmed, then only God can help him.”
“Yes. I also think we should pray,” Kate agrees.
“Yeah, we should.” Noka nods.
We all focus on Celia. She cringes. “Can I pass?”
“This is not the barstool, Cee,” I scold. “It’s someone’s life at stake here.”
“Must we fast? Prayers energized by food work just as well.”
“Okay. We’ll fast.”
“For three days,” Peace directs as she stands. “We’ll break it every evening in my house.”
“You’re leaving?” I ask.
“Let me follow you so you can drop me abeg.”
We share hugs with the others.
“Can you guys pray for Ibrahim too?” Noka pleads. “That he’ll love me.”
“I’d rather pray for you,” Celia declares, “that you you’ll stop loving him.” She throws her hands in the air and shuts her eyes. “Jesus, take the wheel!”
With a smile, I join Peace outside and we drive away. She drops me off at a stop not far from the Onuoras’. I use a keke to find my way there.
Mommy is at home. She gives me a hug when I walk in and scolds me for not visiting as I used to. I apologize. She asks me to join her in her garden at the backyard. She wants to get some fresh ugwu for some soup she wants to prepare.
I find it difficult sharing the news of Tarela’s acts and Jide’s present state. No mother should have to hear that the one woman she endorsed for her son turned out to be a villain. But I have no choice, so I share with her every single detail.
“Thank you,” is all she tells me and then pats my cheek, giving me that calm, small smile of hers that always takes the heat out of every problem.
“Jide will be okay,” she adds. “Don’t worry about him.”
I wish I could have her faith or her calm.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I’m calling Jide for the fifth time today and he’s still not taking my calls. I think I just got into my worry phase. And I’m panicky too. I haven’t spoken to him since Wednesday. And today is Monday. I know he said to give him time but why is he not picking my calls? What have I done that he’ll act this way towards me?
Many bad thoughts run through my mind, thoughts that I can’t put a lid on. I fear that there is another girl. I fear that now that he’s had me, he has become disinterested. I fear that he doesn’t really feel anything for me. I fear that we are done.
I try his number again. It rings off. I redial. Same response. Panic level increases as the air in the taxi I’m in becomes tight.
I let down the window and poke my face out. The busy street flies past me unnoticed.
“Are you alright?” the cabbie asks. He is Saratu’s special cabman. Old, greying hair at the temples, beany-eyed, fatherly.
“I’m fine, Glen.”
“So you’re leaving us,” he says. I catch the warmth in his eyes in the rear mirror.
“I’d love to visit Nigeria one day.”
“You’ll love it,” Saratu sitting beside me, says. I’ve almost forgotten she’s with me. She has been giving me the silent treatment all day. I’m surprised she still has a tongue. I look at her.
“Stop looking at me jor. Deserter of the friend.”
I smile in distraction at her. Jide has just ended my eighth call and switched his phone off entirely. Tears burn my eyes and I’m glad that Saratu doesn’t notice as she suddenly comes alive, engaging Glen in some talk about the last time they went out to play Bingo.
I face my phone again and this time, I try Oba’s number.
“Aunty?” Oba answers instantly.
“Hi Oba.” I infuse life into my voice.
“Are you in town?”
“No,” I reply.
“Okay. So how are you?” he enquires.
“Good. How’s everyone?”
“We’re all fine.”
“How is Jide?”
Oba pauses at my question. “He’s fine, I guess. Haven’t you spoken to him?”
“I haven’t. His phone is switched off.”
“You tried his other line?”
“I think that phone is bad.”
“Momsi just mentioned that he’s been switching off his phone lately.”
I feel a little consoled hearing that piece of information.
“Sha we’re going there now to see him.”
I feel my heart leap.
“Good. When you get there, please flash me. I’ll call back and you’ll hand the phone to him.”
“Please, don’t tell him I’ll call. I want it to be a surprise.”
“Okay.” There is puzzlement in Oba’s voice.
“So, Gatwick, yeah?” Glen asks just as I hang up.
“Yes,” Saratu and I answer together.
“Lover boy still not answering his phone?” she asks. I say nothing. She squeezes my knee. “I won’t rub it in.”
She sniggers. I drift away. I can’t wait to see my dad who is seriously ill, as I’ve been informed. I’ve missed my siblings too. However, my need to see Jide is foremost. It’s annoying that he’s someone I’ve known for only a short while and he already means so much to me.
I try not to think of him as I take in the most I can of the city that has become almost like a second home to me. I don’t know when I’ll be back here. I think of my colleagues and how much I’ll miss my life as a flight attendant. I feel anxious ending ten years just like that; but I am too excited to care.
“We’re here,” Glen says to Saratu and I. We get down and he helps me with my luggage and gives me a warm, bear hug, rubbing his stubby hands on my back.
I try not to cry when I face Saratu. She doesn’t cry so easily so it means something to see her eyes moist.
“You’re crying?” I tease.
“Yes, over the fact that you’re going to get your heart broken.”
“Yeah, I’ll miss you too.”
She hugs me and won’t let go. I have to wrestle myself off her clutch.
“Bye,” she whispers as I turn away. Tears flood my face, ruining my Mac. I’d like to think I’m crying because I’ll miss Saratu and whatnot but truth is I’m crying because…heck, I don’t know. It just feels good to let it all out.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
The file containing Ezinne’s details is spread out on my bed with a paper with names and numbers printed out and pictures of her. The paper contains contacts of her friends and relatives. I have called every one of them and now I’m doing a double check to see who I have missed, except for the ones that were unavailable. None of them had any news about Ezinne. In fact, most of them were mad at me; some terminated the call the moment I let them know why I was calling. I didn’t really bother about their attitude. I just wanted someone to give me something tangible.
I fall back on the bed and resist the urge to turn on my phone. I wish Honey would just give me a little more time. I feel I am close to unraveling the mystery. Or am I just plain ridiculous here? But I saw Ezinne. I saw her…
Someone’s at my door. I groan. I am not taking visitors but what if it’s Ezinne? Crazy thought, but she showed up from the grave, didn’t she? Finding my house shouldn’t be a problem. I drag my feet to the front door and look through the peephole. When I see it’s my mom, I bump my forehead to the door and wish her away in my mind.
“Jideofor!” She bangs loudly. “Or are you saying you can’t hear me? What type of foolish behavior is this?”
Shit. She spoke entirely in Igbo. And she’s wearing her glasses. Means I’m in for an earful today. Thank you, Mary. You want to be my girlfriend and you can’t even keep a small secret.
I unlock the door. It pulls open with a whine and I stand, staring down at Nne’s small frame, realizing how much I’ve missed the nosy, old woman. I bend and give her a warm hug, diffusing her annoyance. After the hug, I drag her in and ignore Oba outside. I lead her to a couch. She sits and gives my house a good stare. This is her second visit. She still doesn’t like my décor. Flat, was what she called it the last time.
“Obasi, please wait in your brother’s room. We need to talk.”
She’s still in her dialect mood. Try not to push any buttons, Jide.
“Why are you like this?” She gestures, making a sweeping movement from the top of my head to my feet.
“Like how?” I reply in Igbo.
“Like you have not bathed in days.”
“But I have.”
“What is the problem, Jidenna?”
“Just come straight to the point, mom. I know Mary told you everything.” I sit.
“Yes, she did. So where is the juju?”
“Go and bring it.”
I don’t argue. I walk into the guestroom and return with the box. She takes it in her hands and studies its contents keenly. And then she puts it aside.
“It’s totally useless,” she mutters. I am surprised at her conclusion. She is deeply religious. Aren’t there special prayers she needs to pray and demons to exorcise from my life?
“Mary came to me on Saturday and since then I’ve taken my time to fast and pray. And my God doesn’t disappoint, Jideofor. From the instant Tarela tried you, she lost the battle. Have no fears, my son. This nonsense cannot work on you. But as for her, it is the beginning of the end. For her to resort to this means after all we did for her as a family, then it means something bad is coming her way. She will pay for her evil acts.”
I watch my mom speak and grasp that her real reason for showing up is not Tarela but Ezinne. I wait for the moment when she’ll take off those glasses and ask me to look into her eyes so she can give me a good talking to. I don’t understand her sometimes. She wears the glasses when she wants to show she’s not kidding but will take them off when she’s about to get serious.
“What is this nonsense I’m hearing about you bumping into the ghost of Ezinne?”
Just as I predicted. And yes, she has taken off the glasses. I know she came with swords drawn. It will do me no good to argue with her. I will be the good son today.
“So you have started this your madness again.”
“Hurtful words, ma.”
“No, you need to hear it!” She flares. “It’s madness! And you need to get out of it fast before it takes you again. Ezinne is dead! She died five years ago. You have moved on. Keep moving on, Jideofor. Don’t let her take your life from you again. You have Honey now and that girl loves you. Don’t break her heart.”
“Does she know about this your latest misbehavior?”
“What misbehavior…?” I start to say but remember my resolve to act cool. “She doesn’t.”
“She’d better not. And you dare not mess with her or I promise you you’ll hate me for what I’ll do to you.”
“Chill abeg. It has not reached that level and stop talking to me like I stole meat from your pot abeg. You’ll just come into somebody’s house and be forming angry mother.”
Yeah, I know I said I’ll be calm but I just had to stop her.
“Why shouldn’t I be angry?” the stubborn woman throws back. “My son has something good and he wants to spoil it.”
“Nne, it’s okay nau! Hian!”
She sees on my face that it won’t go well for her if she continues, so she stops and tries another slant.
“Have I told you that Honey is going to be your wife?”
“Yeah. Just a day after I met her.”
“Okay. Then, let me tell you what I have not told anyone.”
I lean back. This is going to be an epistle.
“The day before I met Honey on the plane, while I was at Emeka’s in New York, I was having my morning devotion and I was particularly praying for you when God dropped a scripture on my mind concerning you. Exodus chapter twenty, and verse six. It says, ‘on that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of lands.’”
“I didn’t understand what it meant until I met Honey.”
“And then it made sense. The land flowing with milk and honey.”
“You got to be kidding me, mom.”
“God was speaking to me, Jideofor.”
“I’m sorry but mom, come on! Milk and honey? Okay, I believe you. But the thing is I have honey. What about the milk? Does this mean I get to marry two wives?”
“You’re joking with God’s word?”
I let out spurts of laughter that I can’t control. She watches me in a heavy-set scowl.
“Okay, let me explain what milk and honey mean from Songs of Solomon.”
“The first passage says, ‘your lips, my bride, drip honey. Honey and milk are under your tongue’. While the second passage reads, ‘I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride. I have gathered my myrrh along with my basalm. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey. I have drunk my wine and my milk’.”
I clear my throat loudly. “I’m sorry but that is so sexual.”
“And you think it’s a mistake that it is? Sex is God-ordained. But only for married couples.”
“And that is why that message is for you because Honey is your wife.”
“You said that the last five hundred times.”
“One more scripture is there as confirmation.”
I give her dizzy eyes.
“That one says, ‘my son, eat honey, for it is good. Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.”
I now give her side eyes. “Can you stop?”
“I am hundred percent sure in my spirit that those scriptures give a clear message from God to you. Honey is yours. And no Tarela or Ezinne, those two evil Egyptians in your life, can separate you and her.”
“Amen!” I laugh.
Nne adds more scriptural admonitions before she asks me to burn Tarela’s voodoo. Subsequently, she prays for me. She stays for quite some time and I genuinely do not want her to leave because of the color she has added to my gloominess. For a moment, I begin to believe that I never saw Ezinne, that my mind has played a good one on me.
“Jide, someone wants to speak with you.” Oba walks into the sitting room, interrupting Nne in the middle of some hilarious tale about village folks.
“Who?” I stare at the phone he’s stretching out to me. He shrugs. Clueless, I take the phone and put it to my ear.
There’s no answer at first.
“Hotstuff, why are you doing this to me?”
Honey’s voice instantly makes me feel a cocktail of warm emotions. I realize how much I’ve missed her. I rise from my chair.
“So you’re even okay? I heard you laughing just now.”
“Is there anything I did that you’ll treat me like this?”
I make my exit from the sitting room to have some privacy.
“You won’t pick my calls and you keep switching off your phone on me. What did I do?”
I walk into my bedroom and shut the door.
“Honey, first of all, I am sorry, baby.”
“Sorry is not what I want to hear. I want an explanation for your strange behavior.”
I earnestly don’t want to tell her about Ezinne.
“Or are you tired of us?”
“No. No, sugams. No. Get that out of your head.”
“Then what is going on?”
I feel bad for putting her in this state.
“Jide, please talk to me. I know something is going on. Is there another girl?”
I stare out into the darkness through one of the windows. There is no moon in the sky, no stars. Just darkness that mirrors some part of me.
“Yes, there’s someone else, Honey. My ex… she is supposed to be dead but I saw her last week. Imagine someone whom you were told died five years ago, popping back into your life just like that.”
Honey listens to me in silence as I tell her everything about Ezinne. Her life, her death and reappearance.
“Maybe I’m crazy.”
“Maybe you’re not.”
I’m surprised at her statement. I haven’t told her how my friends reacted to the news, so I know she’s not trying to score points by believing me. It is a genuine act.
“You don’t think I imagined the whole encounter?”
“Why would you?”
I breathe easy for the first time in days.
“Well, unless you’re still in love with her.”
“I am not. I just want answers, Honey. Why did she fake her own death? Why does she look different? Where has she been? What…?”
I stop, noting how I’m getting worked up over the matter.
“I’m sorry, sugar lips.”
“I understand, Jide. If my ex who is dead shows up from nowhere it would throw me off balance too. So, I understand. I just need to know that you don’t love her anymore.”
“And that she’s not going to come between us.”
“She won’t. I promise.”
There’s a short pause. “Can you…stop looking for her?”
Oh, Honey, don’t ask me to do this.
“I know what I’m asking is hard but please, stop going after her. If she faked her own death, it means she didn’t give a damn about you and she wants to be left alone, so please respect her wishes and stop looking for her.”
“If you continue you’ll hurt me. There’s so much I can take, Jide. And you know how hard it is for me to trust anyone. Please, don’t give me sleepless nights over this issue. If she shows up to offer an explanation, fine. If not, let her be.”
I sit on the bed and stare at Ezinne’s pictures. In all of them, her mysterious eyes stare back at me.
I draw in a quiet breath . “I promise.”
“We’re both letting go of our pasts. That’s the only way this relationship will work.”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry.”
“You’re forgiven.” Her voice softens. “I’ve missed you.”
“So much so that I’ll be seeing you tomorrow morning.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. I quit my job.”
“You go girl!”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a while. Finally, I have you all to myself and Honey, the things I’ll do to you.”
She giggles again.
“I’m so proud of you, smoochie. That job was chipping off at your life little by little. I’m happy you’re done with it. So you’re flying in when?”
“I’m at the airport right now. My flight leaves in like thirty minutes. In seven hours I’ll be knocking at your door.”
“No, I’m coming to pick you at the airport. I can’t wait to see you.”
I’ve missed her. I can’t wait to see her. I think she’ll be what I need to get Ezinne out of my mind.
“Hotstuff, I have to go,” she says.
“See you, baby.”
The line goes off. I give Ezinne’s pictures one last glance and decide to gather them back into the file they came from. I still need answers but for now, I have to let things cool off, especially since Honey is going to be around.
The file finds a hidden corner in my wardrobe. After which, I turn my phone on and walk back to the sitting room. My mom informs me she’s leaving. I walk her and Oba downstairs. They drive off. I go back in, fix myself a cup of coffee and start preparing for work. Several minutes later, I’m out the door. I take a bus and sit in front, waiting for the empty seats behind to fill up.
An SMS comes in and thinking it is one of those promotional ads from five-digit numbers, I ignore it. The bus fills up with more people, we pay our fares and begin our journey. I go online and reply some comments from the few readers who visit my pregnancy and childbirth blog. I’m growing popular by the day. People are intrigued by the idea that I’m a male midwife. I like the attention I’m getting.
The bus driver stops at a fuel station to refuel his tank, ignoring protests from his passengers. I lean back on my seat and remember the SMS that had come in earlier. I click on it only to discover that it’s not a promotional. The very first word I read quickens my pulse.
Jay, let’s meet tomorrow evening at LeChase Hotel. Room 219. 8pm.
I can’t believe what I’ve just read. Wow. Ezinne is really alive and I did not imagine that encounter with her.
I exhale, having held my breath for the entire length of time I was reading the text repeatedly. I go through it one more time to be sure I’m not conjuring the whole thing up.
The bus driver returns, we continue our journey. I store the number and dial her as soon as I’m done.
Her voice is like a bolt of lightning that strikes my heart. I can’t take it. I feel my chest tighten. I end the call immediately, and thus my restless desire to see her again resumes.
I know I promised Honey but I just have to what I have to do. It is the only way I can let go of this longstanding affection that I have for Ezinne which I feel crawling into my heart like a venomous serpent.
Honey, sugar lips, I’m very sorry.
Image Credit: travelgear.liburlibur.com, naijamayor.com