I stared at my image in the whorled pool of water that formed from the light rain that had fallen the night before. The black threaded spikes that shot out from my scalp resembled the spikes on the Statue of Liberty. I recalled the odoriferousness of Iyabeji’s girdle as she urged me, “Bring your head closer” and stuck my head in between her thighs while she made the threads tighter, I spat out saliva. Iyabeji was the only one who would make my hair at no cost. She said she hated the way my long hair often fell to the sides of my face and became plastered by sweat each time I was out in the sun.
But I knew that my hair was not the only thing that suffered neglect. The baby in my womb had recently begun to kick more forcefully. I knew I should see Elizabeth, the auxiliary midwife who lived at the beginning of our street. Everyone called her doctor. The twin room she occupied served as a chemist, a maternity and her living home. The smell that permeated from the inner room the last time I went there to buy pain killers had reminded me of my grandmother’s quarters in the village at Nsukka. I knew I should go back there, for the baby’s sake. But I did not visit Elizabeth because I could not afford her services. Chukwuma had said to me, barely a month after I took in, “I do not have money for any form of antenatal care. Don’t step foot out of this house to look for any doctor, okwa inu go, hope you have heard me? “I nodded and said that I had heard. I often nodded to my husband’s instructions. Even the ones I found difficult to understand. Like the day he had introduced me as his cousin to his colleagues. They all wore suits, black or Grey with fitting ties. And they spoke in English; I could barely identify Chukwuma’s voice. I had never heard him speak that much English.
I crossed the small pool of stagnant water and left the compound to search for cheap food condiments. Tomato was too expensive, so when the woman at the first stall in the mini market across the road called out to me to come and buy her “Fresh tomatoes ” i did not even turn to look. I walked straight to Abigail’s stall. She often sold to me nicely and because of that I did not mind the glaring pity that often showed in her eyes each time I came to buy things.
“Customer,” she called out cheerfully even before I reached the front of her table. “How are you today?”
“I’m fine, Aunty” I called her Aunty even though she looked obviously younger than I was. “What do you want to buy?” she asked and hung her head the way people did when they saw someone that seemed helpless. A gesture that suggested that perhaps she already knew that I would not be able to buy whatever I wanted but she still needed to know.
“Errm…” I looked around her stall, pretending to be confused. The tomatoes looked inviting, but I knew I could not afford to buy them. Not with the 1000Naira Chukwuma had dropped on top of the television before he left on Sunday. I had wanted to tell him, for the first time that 1000Naira was too small for a whole week. That tomatoes were very expensive and that there was no rice or garri or beans in the house to start with. Even my mother used to have bags of those, back in Nsukka. But I did not tell him, instead I smiled and waved him goodbye as he left the compound. “I want pepper, just pepper.”
“Just pepper?” She asked. “Why now? What do you want to cook with just pepper ehn?”
I smiled weakly. “Rice, jollof rice.”
“Jollof rice ke? You need tomatoes”
I stared at her; of course I knew I needed tomatoes.
“Don’t worry ehn, I will give you tomatoes. So that your food will be more nutritious, for you and the baby. “I nodded and thanked her severally. She started to tie my pepper and the two balls of tomato in a black polythene bag.
“But wait o, customer… why don’t you always have money? Is he not your brother? The Accountant, the one that counts money?” the way she said “The accountant” reminded me of my mother, whenever she called me from the village. She never called my husband Chukwuma. She would say, “give the phone to the accountant, my in law ” and I would lie that he was either asleep or yet to return from work. Chukwuma had warned me sternly not to tell anyone at Nsukka that we lived separately in different areas of Lagos and that we only saw each other once a week. But right now, I was more concerned about the fact that Abigail thought that I was my husband’s sister. I wanted to tell her that the accountant was my husband and that he didn’t own all the money that he counted. That he was building a house at Nsukka for us, me and our baby so he did not have so much more to spend at the moment. I wanted to give excuses for my husband, but Abigail continued before I could start.
“Your brother is not a good man ni o, to be treating you like this, ahn ahn.” I made a movement with my head that was neither nodding nor shaking it. She had finished tying the pepper but she didn’t hand it to me.
“I have seen his wife. She looks well cared for, even drives a Toyota car…”
I felt my face contract, my legs were feeble. I searched her face to understand what she was saying but she wasn’t looking directly at me.
“Can’t he see that you are pregnant? Or is it because he has no children of his own, he doesn’t understand what it means to…”
That was the last thing I heard before I woke up two days after on a bed in a private hospital. I am yet to understand the full story behind the man I married, my accountant husband.
By Kene Anona from Nigeria