My plane landed at about noon in Uyo. I thought of calling Bella at the office but decided against it. I would go home, take a shower, and go surprise her at the office. I wanted to see her eyes widen, her jaws drop, that dimple dip, and her loud laughter announce to her entire workplace that her husband was back. How I had missed her!
The cab dropped me off at my house eleven months after I’d left it. Bella and I never hired a gateman so I just let myself in. She had indeed taken very good care of my car, I mused as I circled the Jeep appreciatively. Her car was parked beside mine – Bella hardly ever drove to work. I let myself into the house. I walked through my sitting room; there was a strange feeling of newness to it, like when one moves into a new apartment. Yet I could tell that very little had changed. I took off my shoes so I could feel the hard cold tile of the floors and sink my stockinged toes in the maroon red plush rug dead-center of the living room floor. How I had missed this house!
Our wedding-day picture hung just below the crucifix above the flat-screen. She had been so happy on that day, happy and glorious in that white gown. Slowly, reverently, I ran my fingers over the image…eyes shining, lips widened, rows of immaculate little teeth bared in a grin of sheer joy. I felt so terrible for my impatience with her. How could I have starved her and myself of us these last few months? She is only a wonderful woman with a weakness I understood and should have tolerated. But I can correct it all now, I thought to myself as I walked up the stairs. On any other day, Bella would throw a tantrum over the carelessly discarded shoes in the living room but not on this day. With the activities I had planned for the rest of the day, she’d be too ‘occupied’ to notice the shoes when we got back home. The hands I put on the railing as I trudged up trembled with boyish enthusiasm and I chuckled at myself.
I shrugged off my jacket as I reached our bedroom door. I pulled my key out before I noticed that the door was cracked open. It was so like Bella to forget to lock the bedroom door. I pushed it open, stepped into our room and…there she was! It was as if my thinking about her habit of leaving the bedroom door unlocked had conjured her because my Bella was sitting right there in our bed, sheets hugged to her chest. She had most of her hair piled on top of her head and held there by her right hand; her head rested against the huge headboard, the tiny pink earplugs of her iPod were in her ears and her eyes were closed. From the door, I could see that furrow she always had between her eyes whenever she worried. But she looked so beautiful, ethereal, as if she would evaporate the very next minute.
“Bella”, I whispered not wanting to be loud lest she disappear. My heart beat so loud and fast that I was sure my chest would explode. “Bella”, I called again a bit louder. I saw her eyes flutter open, and then slowly, she turned her head towards me. Seeing her jaw drop and emotion flood her brown eyes upon seeing me was all I could take so I stepped forward with my arms outstretched. But I caught some vibes; something was not right. I stopped. There was surprise in my wife’s eyes but it didn’t look like ‘good’ surprise. She looked scared, no, downright terrified; and she kept throwing furtive glances in the direction of the bathroom door. It was then my senses came home to me and I realized that the shower was running. But it stopped just as soon as I heard it, so soon that I thought I had imagined it. I turned back to my wife meaning to ask what was wrong. Then the bathroom door swung open.
He was a bit taller than me, leaner and lighter-skinned. He stepped out of our bathroom butt-naked and laughing about something. He was rubbing my towel vigorously through his shaggy dreads and walking towards the bed with my wife in it. He caught the sick expression on Bella’s face and stopped. He dropped his arm and following Bella’s eyes, turned to face me where I stood. The guilt and blatant terror in his eyes said all I already knew.
I didn’t spare him a second glance; I had eyes only for my wife but I ‘felt’ him gather his clothes one after the other. Then he slipped past me. I just stared at Isabella. I waited for her to explain, to tell me that he was the plumber come to fix the tap, had gotten his clothes wet in the process and she had helped put them out to dry. Or that he was a long-missing relative who had turned up at our house butt naked and in desperate need of a bath. I needed her to say something, anything. But she just sat, clutching the sheets tighter to her chest and sobbing.
My face felt very hot, like someone held a burning candle just below my chin. The heat was strong, choking. I turned to walk out of the bedroom. As if struck by lightning, Bella bolted up and gathering the sheets around her, scrambled across the bed to me and held on to my shirt. She was incoherent, sobbing and shaking her head, holding on to me as if her life hung on it. I desperately needed air so I slowly but firmly disentangled her fingers, then walked out to the balcony.
I held on to the rails, took in a couple of deep breaths to clear my head but to no avail. I felt the beginnings of a little pain in the left side of my chest; slowly but steadily, the pain built up and soon, my tummy hurt too. It felt like someone had all the muscles in the left side of my torso strung out hard and tight. I stumbled over to one of the upholstered seats and sat down.
My imagination had always been a busy-body, a full-blown cinema of its own conjuring up pictures, images, motions at the slightest provocation. At that point, all it fed me was pictures of Bella and the dada hair stranger in our bed. Clips of her thighs wrapped around him while he moved inside her. And her moans, oh how clearly I could hear them! My moans, my bed, my wife!
My eyes ached. I closed them. My head throbbed. I massaged my temples gently at first, then vigorously trying to rid my mind of the images. I sat that way for a while, my breath coming in heavy short huffs. When I opened my eyes sometime later, Bella was there at my feet. She was babbling. All I could hear was this steadily increasing roaring noise in my head. As if there were electrodes in my head sparking current off of each other. I picked out a few of the words she said though: “…I was so lonely…” (and I wasn’t?). “…you wouldn’t talk to me…” (I was working!). “…it didn’t mean anything…” (it does to me). “…he was just here…” (and I wasn’t. I get it). “…I’m sorry…” (me too). “…I love you…” (me too).
I said nothing, just stared at her. She was naked but for the sheets she clutched to her breasts, her face was suffused with tears, hair tousled all over and around her head. Still, she was beautiful and that made blood rush to my head. Anger bubbled in my heart. I tasted bile in my mouth. I wanted to shake her until that beautiful head of hers bounced right off. I wanted to grab that slim graceful neck and squeeze until those brown eyes I adored popped out. Then I’d throw her body over the balcony for the dogs to feed on. Like Jezebel.
I was not a violent man so these thoughts running through my mind in vivid images scared me. I needed space from her. So I stood up. She made to follow me but the look I gave her stopped her; she slumped back on the floor and went on crying. Briskly, I walked over to the bar, and dropped a dollop of fine whiskey down my throat straight out of the bottle. It tasted horrible but I took some more. If it calmed my insides, it would be well worth it. But it did not. I felt restive, caged. I looked around desperate for any form of distraction, then I saw the keys hanging by the ring on the hook by the bar. Without a second thought, I grabbed those to my car and still in my stockinged feet, hurried out.
The tears have stopped and I feel a little better. I take stock of my immediate environment and realize that I am on the outskirts of town and it is pouring heavy. I do not know how I got here, neither do I know where to go from here. I am confused. I know only one place where I have taken questions and never returned with them unanswered – The church.
Destination decided, I am about to pull into the road when I hear honks from behind. I hit the brakes and curse my distractedness. I turn to apologize to the offended party as the car pulls up alongside me. It’s a Camry and there is a young couple in it – they are really very young, just like Bella and I. They are so engrossed in each other that they do not even mind me. The lady is gesticulating wildly, obviously narrating a story and they are both laughing really hard.
Without knowing why, I follow behind them. There is an intersection up ahead just a few meters beyond the Uyo-Ikot ekpene boundary where I can turn around and head back into town, to church. But until I get to that intersection, I just want to sit here behind this Camry and watch these two. Through the rear windshield, I see the lady lean over and peck the man. They are both still laughing and she places her arm on the headrest of the driver’s seat, just behind his head. They are moving a bit slowly considering we are now on highway but I don’t mind. I just watch them.
They talk and laugh so easily…just like Bella and I do on many of our drives together. We love to drive together and whenever we do, she sits with her body angled towards me and her arm placed on the headrest just behind my head. I bought the jeep because its gear lever is located on the dash-board giving room for Bella to snuggle up. We always have fun in the car, gisting, laughing, sharing kisses, chocolate and soft drinks.
As if on cue, the lady in the Camry holds a bottle out to the man. He nods and still laughing, she holds it to his lips. He angles his head awkwardly so he can see a bit of the road while sipping. She takes the bottle back. I see him point to the right corner of his lips. I cannot hear but I can tell he wants her to kiss him. I have done the same with Bella on countless occasions – making her kiss crumbs of chocolate and drops of drinks that she had fed me off my lips. Back in the Camry, she obliges him. Then she tries to pull away but he takes a hand off the steering wheel and with it, holds her still to lengthen the kiss. I feel a smile tugging up the ends of my mouth. Then they disappear.
One minute, it is there and the next, the Camry is lifted clear off the road and tossed west at the nose of an 18-wheeler Mac in a screaming cacophony of screeching brakes, crashing metal and human cries. I hit my brakes just in time. The Mac finally stops with the Camry folded around its snub nose, the length of it blocking half of the intersection. The door on the driver’s side opens and a man wearing a greasy pair of three-quarter shorts and a fish-net singlet climbs down. He takes shaky steps to the front of his truck. He places his hands on his head, looks around and sees me. We lock eyes for the tiniest of seconds and I open my door to get out. Before my foot even touches the ground, before it even registers in my mind that he could, he runs off.