She says she is leaving you, not coming back ever. But all you can do now is stare at her breasts, or at the blouse that covers them. Breasts you know are encased in a brassiere you bought for her last month. Last month when you gleefully celebrated fifteen years of married life.
That afternoon you called her and said
“Let’s make a baby tonight.”
She said no, she wanted to talk, just talk all night.
“Let’s just talk tonight . . . we haven’t talked in a long time.”
“ Farida darling, we talk—we are talking right now.”
“No baby, not tonight, not tonight please. Let’s just talk.”
So you agreed. You talked into the night until the light of dawn seeped under the curtains into your room. Still you talked; she sat on the floor beside you, wearing only that brassiere you had given her. In those hours, when she talked, cried and laughed with her head on your shoulder, you knew that you loved her, that you would always love her, that you could never love any woman like you loved her.
Now she is telling you that she is leaving. You can’t hear her, you can only see. You can see the packed boxes that litter the floor of your room. The same floor where you kissed endlessly on your wedding anniversary.
“I am not strong enough for this,” she says. You don’t hear the words; you see them emerge from her mouth like tiny flames aimed at you, consuming you.
“I didn’t know it would be like this, please, I didn’t know. I can’t bear it anymore. Please, ma binu.”
You cross over the packed bags and go to her because she is crying. You still can’t stand seeing her cry and you try to hold her. She stops crying immediately your hand touches her and walks out dragging a suitcase behind her.
You are in the hospital within the hour. A nurse tells you that your shirt is dirty and you stare at the black vertical tracks for a long moment.
“It’s her mascara,” you say, “she’s gone but she left her mascara . . .”
The nurse eyes you and walks away briskly.
“I am not crazy.” You scream after her and she breaks into a run.
You hurry on to your son’s ward. He doesn’t greet you when you sit by his bed.
“Where is Mummy?”
You say nothing for a while because you can’t look into his yellow eyeballs and tell a lie. So you clear your throat and stare at the iron bedpost.
“She is tired, she is sleeping.”
You return your gaze to your son, Durosinmi. A name you gave him as a desperate plea, a plea you reiterate every time you call him. Durosinmi, stay and bury me. He glares at you and you know he doesn’t believe your lie. Perhaps that is why you are attached to him, this one who is wiser than his age, this one who looks so much like you that everyone says you spat him out from your mouth. You like it when people say that, especially when they note how flat and wide his nose is, exactly like yours.
“When am I going home?”
“When you are better, Durosinmi.”
You always call his name in full, as a prayer, as a plea.
He is silent. You have nothing to say to each other now that your wife is not here. Your work has not allowed you to spend time with your son. Or maybe you don’t want to spend time with him. You are afraid, not sure that he will listen to your plea and stay. The doctor comes in to check on him. He asks your son questions, the same questions he asked yesterday. You want to stab the doctor and watch his blood soak through his white coat.
You met Farida at a party, at a time when all your friends kept their head full of hair that they struggled to comb every morning, but your head was shaved to the skin, totally bare in the time of afro. Farida thought you felt superior to all the others who kept a full head of hair. She told her friend, who told her boyfriend who was your housemate. You scratched your head and tried to laugh along with your housemate when he relayed the information to you after the party. Your head was not bare because you felt superior; it was bare because you had dandruff.
Farida came with her friend to the room-and-parlour you shared with your friend the next day. Your housemate and her friend went into the bedroom. You tried to chat with Farida when all you could think was what it would feel like to bury your hands into her afro and kiss her. When her friend’s moans filled the parlour, you raised your voice, hoping to block out the sound:
“I don’t feel superior—I have dandruff.”
She smiled and whispered, “Why are you shouting? I can still hear them.”
You got married eight years later. You don’t remember the day much; it passed in a blur. A blur shaded with anger and fear that almost squashed the immense joy of marrying Farida. But you still remember the night, vividly, how could you ever forget the night?
The doctor comes back. You feel guilty because you have been sleeping; anything could have happened while you slept.
“I think he has improved.” The doctor says softly because Durosinmi is asleep. “He might be able to go home in a few days. I would have released him today but with sicklers like him, one can never be sure.” You nod, too tired to be happy or excited, too tired to thank the doctor for his efforts over your son. Too tired to say the same things you said last month or was it two months ago? But you can’t remember how recent your tiredness is.
When your first son died, you didn’t know why until your daughter died two years later, a week before her third birthday. Farida bought so many things for the party. You remember the balloons, pink and white to match the cake she had ordered. You sat beside Farida while she filled all the balloons with air on the day your daughter was buried. You and Farida did not attend the funeral because tradition would not allow it. Instead, you sat together in your bedroom surrounded by pink and white balloons while your daughter was being buried a mile away. You really never cared much for the girl, the one everyone called oyinbo because her skin was fair, just like your twin brother’s.
The hospital ran a genotype test a month before she died.
The doctor invited you to his office to discuss the results privately.
“I will get straight to the point sir. There were some . . . er discrepancies in the results of the genotype test. Your wife is the only AS sir, you are AA. Your child shouldn’t be a sickler. Sir, I am telling you this man to man.”
Your limbs went limp. You felt a sudden desire to urinate. But more than any other thing you felt, you felt fear, sitting in your stomach and gnawing at your insides. You covered your face with your hands. When you uncovered it, it was contorted in anger.
“Doctor, do you mean this? You mean what you are saying? You mean this woman has been cheating on me? Are you serious? Oh my God!” You allowed your voice to rise to its highest pitch.
“Calm down sir, you need to handle this like a mature man. Please calm down.”
You stalked out of the room and took your wife home. You told her everything the doctor had said and held her while she cried.
Durosinmi wakes up.
“Where is Mummy?”
“You told me she was sleeping.”
You have been caught. For a moment, you want to tell the truth. You want to hit your head against a wall, bawl and tell your son that Farida has left you.
“Yes, she was sleeping in the morning, she just travelled this afternoon.” You smile to ease the lie down his throat. He stares at you for a while, suspiciously, you hold your smile in place like a shield.
“When is she coming back? I have things to tell her.”
“Why don’t you tell me?” You spread your cheeks into what you hope is a winning smile. Durosinmi gapes at you as though your head has fallen off from your neck. Your smile slips.
“Your Mummy will be back tomorrow.” He smiles at you for the first time today and you wonder what you will tell him tomorrow. An orderly brings in his lunch. You watch him eat the food slowly before you remember that Farida would have spoon-fed him. So you collect the spoon from him and feed him.
“My legs are aching,” he says after the food.
You call for the doctor. By the time he arrives, your son is twisting and turning on the bed. He screams and moans as the doctor tries to soothe him. He gives your son some pills. The boy drifts off to sleep soon afterwards. You wait until he looks calm enough and decide to go home to rest for a while.
Farida is in the house when you get there. She is in the room with movers who are packing the bags and suitcases she left behind earlier.
“You did not even come to the hospital.”
“I will be there tomorrow; I need to finish the packing.”
“Durosinmi could pass on today and you wouldn’t be there.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be. I’ve seen three of them pass on already, I don’t need to see this one go too.” Her voice is cold, tired.
A mover comes into your room and drags a big suitcase across the floor.
“How dare you allow these men into our room? Even if you are leaving, can you no respect this room? Can you not respect the sanctity of this room?” You kick the door shut after the mover.
“The boxes are too heavy for me!” Farida shouts back, slapping her left hand against a wall.” Besides, what sanctity are you talking about? There is no sanctity in this room and we both know it. It wasn’t shared by just the two of us, abi? Was it?”
You sit on the bed because your feet cannot hold you upright anymore. It is the first time Farida has ever shouted back at you. This Farida who could shout at anyone who stepped on her toes, anyone but you. With you she would hiss, kick, shed angry tears and refuse to be held, but she never shouted, not at you.
“Farida, I did not force you to stay.” Your voice has dropped to a whisper.
“I didn’t know what it would mean then.” She slaps her palms together in tempo with her words, “I didn’t know . . . I was young, I didn’t know.”
“So now you are leaving.”
“Isn’t that obvious already? You will always want another child. My body is tired. I can’t make another baby. Not one more I can’t.” She is slapping her stomach now, her voice rises with every word: “I thought we would make two or three and that would be it. I thought that by now, you wouldn’t be suggesting that Kehinde comes here again.”
Your phone rings. It is the hospital. You race out of the house with Farida at your heels. “ Is it Duro? Answer me!”
“Farida, he’s in a coma.”
You will never understand why Farida agreed to stay married to you. When you asked her she said it was because she loved you. But you always wonder if it was just love, you always wonder if love was enough to make her stay. To stay after your disastrous honeymoon, where you tried to pretend that you were just discovering what you had known since puberty. You were impotent. She was not fooled of course, not Farida, she was smarter than that. Just not smart enough to have realised during your courtship that your restraint had been a result of inability not discipline.
You did not suggest it to her until she had exhausted all her options, even though you had the plan in mind before you got married. But you waited until she had fasted, prayed, read all she could on the subject and tried to find a solution everywhere she knew. You knew before she started her search for a remedy that nothing would come out of it. You had tried it all before, you had tried many things, things you will never reveal to her or anyone. So you waited before making your proposal. It had to be your twin brother, since you had no other brother and couldn’t trust anyone the way you trusted Kehinde. She agreed to make babies with Kehinde.
You sat outside the door to your room the first time and fought the urge to go in and stab your brother whose grunts were the only sounds emanating from the room. You fought that urge with the thought of children, children who would bear your name, whose existence would prevent questions that could push Farida to spill your secret. You slapped Kehinde when he emerged from the room, then you wished you hadn’t because your hot-tempered brother didn’t return the slap. Instead he asked if you were okay and gazed at you with eyes full of pity. You slapped him again.
Farida goes with you to the hospital. Her face is worn, tired. She has been here too many times, waited like this for too many of them to slip away, you haven’t.
When the night falls, Farida stands up.
“I have to go. I can’t watch, not this time.” Her voice breaks and you think that she is not dead after all. “Call me to let me know . . . let me know when . . .”
She leaves the ward without glancing back at you or the child and you die a little. You die many times before dawn. You die when the doctor on night shift shakes her head after checking on Durosinmi. You die again when she asks you to calm down, pray and wait because there is nothing she can do now.
You wait alone and trace Durosinmi’s nose with your thumb. This nose that everyone says looks so much like yours.