The sun was setting, not that she could see the huge fiery orange ball in the sky above the tall houses that overshadowed the bungalow where they lived.
No she couldn’t see the sun like she used to as a little girl back in Udomi returning from her mother’s farm with a basket of cassavas, yams and red peppers on her head and trailing behind her mother and brothers because her eyes were fixated on the orange ball as it seemed as though with her every move it receded beneath the hills of Uromi.
At other times, returning home from hawking smoked fish or Moin Moin or from the palm oil press – where her mother and a few other women beat out oil from palm fruits with their feet in slow, precise and long suffering energy-she played with the sun, running after or away from its rays, daring the heat of it to burn her ashy skin while she relished in the contrast its shadow cast on her skin.
It was a month today since they had lost Omo. She remembered every detail of that black Monday which began with the long night filled with dreams of her childhood in Udomi and images of dead relations, including her mother and that of her father which had come so clearly to her when in reality she only had hazy recollections of his image.
She had woken up perplexed and while serving her husband’s breakfast that morning she broke two days of silence and ignoring each other to tell him about the dream, expressing her fears. Anticipating his response before he called her superstitious, she chided herself for telling him and they both promptly resumed their silence.
The piercing sounds of passing sand-carrying tippers occasionally jarred into her thoughts and threatened to split her head open. She lifted a hand against her head and swayed as though she was going to lose her balance.
She held on to the balustrade with a hand and clutched it tightly. The house faced a major road which was always busy because of the continuous increase in commercial activities in the area. More houses were also springing up further inside the area leading to an unprecedented increase in the amount of vehicles plying the road.
It was a nightmare really; the constant sounds from vehicles and factories all around; fumes, dust and smoke. But was she going to run away from this house which she had built with her sweat?
“I am bringing the family together,” her husband Victor’s words came back to her. She wondered what family he was referring to.
“Alice and the children will be moving in here with us next week,” he continued.
She had been shocked because inside of her she had always dealt with Alice as the woman outside and that had been much easier to handle; knowing your husband’s mistress was a distant entity, kept away from the domain of your sight. As long as he kept her away it was easier to accept.
However she didn’t know how to deal with this. All she could muster was,
“After all that I have been through these past few weeks, you spring this on me?”
And without waiting for a response added, “You are a very very wicked man Victor. In fact if wickedness was a person, it would be you.” Then she left him.
She ignored the changes taking place in the house as he gave orders for rooms to be cleared and ancient paraphernalia to be burnt while valuables were stored in the garage. They cleared the girls’ room a fact she was secretly thankful for as she could not bring herself to go through Omo’s remaining possessions, the ones she did not carry along with her when she left to resume the job with the oil company.
He wants me to leave but he cannot say it. He is pushing me out, but he wants me to make the decision for myself if not how do you explain this. No, he wants me to die. I have lost a child and he wants this to destroy me so that I can die and be out of his way because he does not have the nerve to tell me to leave.
There had been many others like Alice. Many who had come and gone. Some she had seen, some she had heard of.
So long as he does not have a child outside.
Until she heard that someone had had a child for him.
So long as he does not marry her.
Not long after, his relatives had come seeking for her understanding and cooperation as their brother prepared to marry the woman outside.
So long as he does not bring her into this house.
News of the accident reached them by phone. She remembered laughing hysterically at the absurdity of it all. Young girl had gone to resume work in Port Harcourt, got into a cab headed for work and died on the spot when the cab got hit by a fuel tanker whose brakes had failed.
She had blanked out, came to still hysterical and had had to be sedated. Ehis came later just as hysterical as her mother had been and talking a whole lot of rubbish as her father had pointed out. Enibokun wondered if she was drunk because of the things she said.
“Are you both happy now? You both pushed that girl to her death,” she had screamed tears pouring down her face. There weren’t too many family members around yet. So there was no one bold enough or old enough to stop her.
“You both messed up this family! All of us are the way we are because of you two! You messed me up! You messed Ufua up, now she doesn’t want anything to do with you both and you messed poor Omo up,” she broke down crying.
It was true Ufua wanted nothing to do with the family; at least her husband did not. She did come down from Abuja, alone and grief-stricken and Enibokun had wondered how she had managed to get away.
However her husband’s shadow hovered because the following day she left saying her husband needed her and promised to have her mother over for a couple of weeks to take her mind off the tragedy.
Victor who was genuinely worried about his wife’s ability to cope later called Ufua to remind her of her promise and the latter came up with a number of excuses adding that the timing was rotten and she, her husband and their two kids were planning a vacation to the UK.
Victor was livid as he left off the phone, and turning to his wife he all but screamed,
“That man our daughter married is worse than a devil!”
“He has completely turned her into a robot. What kind of a man keeps his wife from her family especially at a time like this?!” he shook his head.
“Too bad we never saw this coming,” he continued.
Even if they had, Enibokun wondered if they would have been able to stop it. He had come as the perfect son-in-law; a very wealthy man from a popular family, desiring to marry their very light skinned first daughter who was already itching to leave her father’s house.
He promised Ufua everything and to his credit he had lived up to his words. She was a full time house wife with everything she wanted at her fingertips. But at what price? Estrangement?
No they certainly didn’t see it coming and with that died Enibokun’s dreams of a luxurious life of respite.
She consoled herself in Omo, the closest of them all to her. Not Ehis, but Omo. She was convinced Ehis had hated them all from the womb so no luck there.
The whole sky from Enibokun’s view was burnt into orange. Its reflections dyed the atmosphere everywhere a bright reddish-orange taking her back again to Udomi where she stood behind her mother’s thatched Uwa staring straight at the sun and muttering quietly to herself.
Surely there was a life outside of Udomi, bigger than what she could imagine. Travelers came in with stories of the outside world.
Half-brothers and half-sisters who had gone as far as the great cities of Eko and Calabar came back with tales and proof of pleasurable sojourn; a transistor radio and an umbrella for their Father or bundles of the reigning Hollandis fabric for their mothers.
In fact the story was often told of their Father’s first son who had gone as far as Uwame the land of oyibo people and had died there.
Enibokun talked to the sun about her dreams of a great life beyond Udomi and there was only one way that could happen. So she prayed to be married to a man of eminence; a great man. Then she would come back and take her little brothers and send them to school in Eko or Calabar.
She would also take her mother out of the village to come live with them in the city where she could take care of her grandchildren and not have to labour another day in her life.
After marriage to Victor began to go downhill she started to seek the sun again; at times with her little girls in the back seat on the drive home from school, making entreaties for the future of her daughters that they be married to great men who would take them to live abroad so that she could reap the dividends of the sacrificial, long-suffering mother.
Enibokun rested her jaw on her cupped hands, elbows on the banister. It was 6:30pm and her vision was still glazed with reddish-orange. She blinked and looked in another direction yet all she could see was reddish-orange. She shut her eyes tight for a few seconds and opened and it was reddish-orange.
Victor was moving another woman and her two children into the house whose construction he had manipulated her into taking sole responsibility for from the Esusu money she had been laboriously saving up with her co-workers at the Ministry where she worked.
He neither paid back what he promised nor handed over the papers of the house to her and her attempts at demanding he do so often resulted in long days of defiant silence on his part.
Things had not turned out as she had hoped with Ufua, the light-skinned one and Ehis was living the life of rebellion she was fated to, swearing off marriage and the conventional life.
Perhaps Ehis was right? They had drawn so much from Omo; unconscious expectations demanding that she make up for all their failures.
Fear soon hit her stomach as mutinous thoughts long suppressed began to churn her insides in a slow, sickening manner.
She felt a strong urge to throw up as sweat broke out on her forehead and in her armpits.
She attempted to swat a mosquito that buzzed by her ear and ended up hitting her ear and catching nothing.
Then she straightened, steadied herself as the wave of nausea passed and went inside.
Enibokun began clearing her room that evening even as reddish-orange gave way to pitch black and more mosquitoes.