I watch him. He’s sitting on a stool with his head leaned sideways against the wall, arms folded. I look him over; he needs to go to the barber. I need to take him to the barber. I think he feels my eyes on him because he lifts his head and turns towards me. Our eyes meet.
‘’Are you hungry Mummy?’’
He says this giggling because what he really means is ‘I’m hungry Mummy’.
‘’Yes my son, what shall you prepare for Mummy?’’
He squeezes his face as if in deep thought. He’s squeezing real hard, yet there’s not a wrinkle. Well, of course…. Nnamdi’s 10 years old.
‘’I was thinking you had something in mind’’.
This boy is too articulate abeg. It’s all this television he watches.
‘’I’ll fry us some plantain okay?’’
I get up and start towards the kitchen. I love my son. No, you don’t get it. I don’t love him just because I’m his mother and he’s my son. I love him because he’s my life. I love him more than I love myself, not that I love myself a great deal anyways.
I repeat his name in my head. While at it, I remember the meaning of his name. I wince. I stop moving. Nnamdi means ‘My father is alive’. However, Nnamdi’s father is dead. He’s been dead for almost 11 years now.
I’m inside the kitchen now. Thank goodness he wants plantain, the thing is overripe as it is, days from the point where plantain goes ridiculously soggy and oil-soaked when you fry it.
Nnamdi likes his plantain in small cubes. His father liked plantains cut in circles. Me? I don’t fancy plantain that much.
‘Ouch!’. I’ve cut myself. I slide to the kitchen floor sucking my hurt finger. I’m crying now. No, the knife cut doesn’t hurt that much but something else does.
A little over a decade ago, I would have run towards the bedroom and presented this kind of injury to Pa Nnamdi. He would have made a big fuss out of it and I would have said something like ‘It’s not that serious’. I would have played the show of affection down. In my mind though I would be grinning like a teenager.
You would think that by now memories of Amaechi would not have me on the kitchen floor, sobbing, and rocking. You would think that by now my heart would have healed. Time heals all wounds? Rubbish! For me, time has only sharpened the pain I feel when I remember; and I do remember. I remember my husband CLEARLY. Time has done nothing but increase the saturation and enhance the tone of that picture to the point where anguish doesn’t even come close to the sorrow I feel.
I married Amaechi when I was 23 years old. I met him the day I turned 22. He had walked to my table where I was having dinner by myself and sat down. I was the sassy girl who could get rid of a guy and his advances in 30 seconds max. However, on my 22nd birthday I had been partially bummed that I was spending it alone. I had known I’d spend it alone but I hadn’t known I’d spend it feeling lonely. Secondly, I was taken unawares by the guts he had to come sit at my table.
In classic Ifeoma style, I ignored him. I just kept chewing my rice and staring at my glass of champagne. After like two minutes he grunted; a way to get my attention; and for me a way to look at him (and check him out). He looked built, he looked tall, he was wearing a suit, he was smiling. He had a smile that drew you in and made you look at his eyes.
‘’I find a stranger sitting and smiling at my table very disturbing’’. I sounded annoyed but I was far from it.
‘’I find a beautiful woman sitting here alone very disturbing’’. In my head my jaw dropped. That was bold. Last time I was called beautiful? Sexy? Yes. Pretty? Yes. Beautiful? It had been a while.
Anyways I can’t remember what followed. I can’t recall what was said and what was done. I do remember how I felt though, I recall that all too well. I had felt like I had a part of my soul that I didn’t even know was missing, that I didn’t even know I needed. We exchanged numbers that night. Two months later, we exchanged hearts. Seven months after my 22nd birthday he proposed. I said yes.
Looking back it all happened so bloody fast. Back then in the days before the wedding I remember feeling my love for Amaechi overwhelming me. I had a love for that man that was more than love itself.
Two years into our marriage, everything was perfect. I had never been more happy. We didn’t have any kids yet. It bothered him somewhat. It’s not like I didn’t care for motherhood, it’s just that I had learnt as a child that kids were gifts from God and it was up to Him when He’d drop his gift na.
Furthermore, this was the year something went wrong with Amaechi’s health or at least that was when the signs and symptoms started. He was always tired; his back was always hurting; he had a constant headache. One time, he told me his pulse felt funny. Looking back I cannot remember why we never went to the hospital. Oh, actually I can. I had looked at going to the hospital as a confirmation and simultaneous acceptance of a problem and so I had discouraged him from going. ‘’It’s just stress. You’ll be fine’’.
One night I followed him to the bathroom. We had been gisting and then he needed to pee. Whilst he pissed we continued our convo. However, when he was done and he made to flush the toilet, he froze. He had frozen with his hand on the toilet handle, his mouth open in mid-speech and his eyes wide. He had peed blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. I didn’t know the implication of blood in urine but I knew that it must mean something grave. Till this day I remember how instantly, deeply sick I had felt. The tears had come fast and in streams.
Nkem, my darling, my life had cancer. Cancer of the bladder. Hadn’t we seen the signs? That’s what the doctor wanted to know. I had shook my head vehemently. ‘’No!’’ No to his question. No to the situation. No to everything.
He had pressed on (the bastard), quite unempathetically:
I had gone cold inside. In fact bits of me died. Half my heart is still, till now, ice. My husband had been dying of cancer for months and I had been pumping him with ‘’it’ll be fines’s’’ and painkillers.
Amaechi started to talk, very calmly too. I had never seen him scared. He was my invincible man.
‘’So doctor what’s the next step? What can we do?’’
‘……..well, we’ll run some tests and hopefully….’’
Amaechi needed surgery. The doctor told us he was going to perform a cystectomy. He had told us that even though it was an operation new to the Nigerian medical scene, he was fairly confident it would go well.
Amaechi died on th 12th of October 2009 at 6.02pm. At least that’s when I heard. I fainted once the nurse told me. The impact of the fall damaged my watch and stopped whatever it is that makes watches tick at 18:02. I never fixed that watch, it’s in the safe. Everything died with that watch. You see, I was the kind of woman who grew up fascinated with the notion of love and the institution of marriage and so when God sent me Amaechi, Amaechi became the air that I breathed.
My whole life was a man and now he was dead, I too was dead.
‘’Is the food rea….. Mum why are you crying?’’
I look up at my son. He looks exactly like his father, he just might grow to be more handsome though. I found out I was pregnant for him the November after his father passed. For a long time after the news I had been depressed. Saddened that Nnamdi never met Amaechi and that Amaechi never even knew that God had finally dropped His gift.
I had named him Nnamdi, the part of me that was filled with spite and sarcasm and maybe some deliria did that.
Nnamdi, if only your father were really alive…. I miss him.