“Hello dearie,” Chatt’s voice was dry and almost lifeless.
“Hey treasure, why do you sound so cold? Is everything ok?” His face furrowed with a mix of surprise and curiosity.
Chatt was silent. She’d called to confide in her husband, to tell him everything wasn’t Ok, that she’d just received an envelope she was terrified to open. But she couldn’t. Besides the baleful premonition she had about the envelope, she realised she couldn’t confide in him. She remembered her childhood. Who was there for her to confide in? Was it her father who could spend a whole day gambling and drinking? Or Amaka who barely stayed at home? Or her poor mother who worked round the clock for a meagre? The only time she confided in her mum was when she experienced her first menstruation. And despite the excruciating pains that gripped her groins, her mother attended to it as though a regular stomach ache. She didn’t feel the love. It was then she learnt to mend her problems herself. Now what makes this one different? She wouldn’t tell him.
“Hey are you there? Talk to me!”
“Yes…I’m… fine.” She stuttered.
“Oh yeah, sure,” She composed herself. “I just called to… ask what you’ll have for dinner.”
“No you didn’t. Something is wrong with you. So talk to me.” He was concerned and convinced something was unusual about her. Her voice didn’t carry the kind of enthusiasm it had at the hotel this morning.
“Hahahaha. Seriously, I’m fine.” She sounded casual. “I’m just kind of lonely.”
Benjamin mused. He wasn’t cowed by the affability she injected into saying I’m just kind of lonely. He felt something unusual about her. If there was anything that attracted him to Chatt, it was her charisma. One would never experience a dull moment around her. With her it was always life. Spirit. Vigour. Passion. Enthusiasm. So something was strange about her. He wondered if she was unfolding a different side of her and why it had to be on the seventh day of their journey as couples.
“I’m fine. Trust me.”
“Okay then. Irish potato with fried eggs will be fine.”
“Sure. I’ll talk to you later.”
The line went dead.
He replaced the receiver on its cradle, and relaxed into his chair. Benjamin believed himself to be as sensitive as a snail. He paid attention to little details. Perhaps that was why he was successful as an artist. Once he’d told Latifah that since two years she’d started working with him, it was only four times she hadn’t worn her hijab. How then would he not recognise the iciness in his wife’s voice, which was as obvious as daylight? It trickled his heart.
A text message alert tone punctuated his thought. Reluctantly, he leaned forward to check it. It was from Glo. He clicked on it: need to write that magical proposal that’d make you win a contract? Reply CONTRACT for just N50/week.
Though he deleted the message, somehow it redirected his mind to his contract. He stood and paced up and down his office, his hands folded behind him. Nothing in this world mattered more to him than winning this P.T.P project; nothing scared him more than Pastor Dan’s remark. His father, who was the church organist till he died, had told him many incidents about Pastor Dan’s remarks. One was about a young man whom Pastor Daniel advised to get a teaching job but he rejected. He rather went on to something else; from an insurance salesman, to a publisher’s sales representative, to property manager and on and on. After eight years, he finally returned to pastor Dan’s advice and got a teaching job. That was when he bought his first motorcycle and went ahead to be more successful till he built a house. He now owned a school. Pastor Dan’s word could be disastrous if defiled; the more reason it needed to be averted.
Though not a single idea crossed his mind, he enjoyed the solace the rumination afforded him. He felt that as time went by, something would come up that’d help avert Pastor Dan’s remark.
After Chatt had hung up the phone, she held the envelope, staring at it, wondering what its content could be. She remembered the famous bible verse her mother used whenever she scolded Amaka, ‘the righteous will be as bold as lion’. It meant nothing to her then. But now, it meant a lot. It was as though her mother was sounding it into her ears. Loud and clear. She was timid. She wasn’t as bold as a dog let alone a lion. Hence she was unrighteous and she knew it. Now her unrighteousness had turned into a terror.She couldn’t bring herself to open the envelope. It was as though her unrighteousness had returned to haunt her. She flung the envelope in the laundry-box and headed to the kitchen. She’d attend to it later.
In the kitchen, she opened the cabinet drawer,packed out a handful of Irish potatoes and poured them in thewash basin. She picked a knife from the cutlery rack, dropped it in the cabinetdrawer then shut it. She then lit the gas without putting a pot on it, without the intention of putting anything on it. Afterwards, she began searching for the knife she’d dropped in the cabinet. She searched for it in the overhead cabinet before she gave up. She scuttled to the refrigerator, opened it, selected three eggs; shut the fridge before something hunched her that frying the eggs should probably be the last agenda: she was destabilized and restless.
She brooded over what the content of the envelope again could be. She couldn’t tell why she’d subjected her mind into an unnecessary suspense, why she’d decided to torture her soul. She wondered if it was because she was unrighteous as her mother would say or because Ben had asked her where she went on the Bach. Eve’s night. Now flashes of what happened on that night ran through her head; she became agitated. She turned off the gas, and returned where she’d flung the envelope.
She picked the envelope and said to it. “Our adage says that an evil is buried the day we sight it. I will open you today.”
She went to the living room and sat on a settee. She made a catholic cross sign, and breathe a sigh of relief.You’d better be careful Chatt. Under her breathe she prayed for forgiveness for all her sins as she carefully tore off the envelope lid. At first she peered into the envelope before she finally removed its content. It startled her.
She was shocked. A pang of fear shot through her spine and she suddenly developed a cold feet. It was as though thousands of needles were made to pierce through her body. She didn’t know when her hands began to quiver.
She was holding a picture of someone she had known, someone from her recent past. And she needed no prophet to tell her there was trouble around the corner. She became dejected and absolutely bereft of thought. How did he come about this photograph?She wondered.
Her hands became more unsteady and droplets of perspiration quickly settled on her forehead. Despite her quivering hands, she held the picture firmly but dropped the envelope on the floor as if she was shocked by an electric current. A rectangular shaped paper flew out of the envelope and fell on her foot. She leaned over, slowly, picked the paper and studied it. There was a telephone number on it.
Instinctively, she understood what had to be done. She groped into her bag for her phone; it took her a while before she found it. Everywhere was silent except for the loud banging of her heartbeat, the humming sound of the air-conditioner, and the ticking of the wall clock.
She dialled the number. Grinnn, grinnn, grinnn… but the phone rang out.
Who could be behind this? Could it be the mysterious man that gifted me… us N3, 000,000? What was his objective with this photograph? She was tensed and her bladder was filled. She clawed at her cornrows as though she wanted to run mad. Then she re-dialled the number one more time, muttering prayers that someone answered the call. But it rang for a long time. Just as she was beginning to worry if someone would answer the call, a voice said, “Hello.”
This series is published 5pm fridays on www.thenukanniche.com