It has been going on for months. Two months you think. That is how long you have been sleeping with the woman next door. Her husband lives in Tunisia. He rarely visits unless during festivities. So you keep her company. Do the duty of a husband. Who cares?
She works with the Insurance. The first thing that attracted you to her was her thin body. Her waist looks as if it will break if you hold her with your two broad hands and squeeze tight. The woman is thin and short. With a smile that is always as wide as a gully. You always wonder why she is so thin. But she is so beautiful. Beautiful and thin. Each time she smiles, her dimples show. And make her look like a model, reclining on a cushion, about to have her snapshots taken. Exquisite.
You have not gotten a job since graduation from the College. So you do nothing than stay at home. And every month, you receive an alert – your brother who is trading at Onitsha always sends money. He says that when his children are grown, you will train them. That is why he took the pains to see you through school. You are sure that when you start working you will take care of him and his family.
The street is a busy one. There are a lot of beer parlours where young men like you gather every morning and evening to argue about Nigeria – why should government remove fuel subsidy? Why didn’t President Goodluck die instead of Yar’adua? What happened to the eight people killed by terrorists in Kano? The argument that is always constant is about the Governor of Enugu who has been abroad for medical treatment for close to four months. Some of your friends say that he has HIV. Others say that he is suffering from cancer. One of them argues that his enemies have cast a spell on him, so he has travelled to India where they have the power to neutralize all kinds of spells.
In the evening, the same thing happens. You all gather to gossip and to argue. Sometimes the arguments get so fierce that someone will rush home to pick a dictionary and come back. You are all educated. It is on one of the days that someone has to rush to his house to bring something to expatiate his points in the arguments. You run to your house to collect a copy of your Qur’an. There is an argument on whether the Qur’an mentions that if someone kills himself or another in the name of Allah, he will inherit Paradise and Allah will bless him with 72 virgins. You argue that there is no mention of that. Even in the Suret Yasin where the reward for Paradise is mentioned in 55 downwards. 72 virgins are not mentioned.
You run to the corridor of the building and about to head to your flat when you bump into the thin beautiful woman. Your head hit her nose and she screams in fright. The corridor is only illuminated by rays of light coming from your flat and hers. She begins to sob. Clutching her face. And then you notice that her nose is bleeding. She kneels on the ground, beating her left hand on the floor. You take her by the hands and support her to her flat. It is the first time you enter her flat.
Her sitting room is the same size as yours but well furnished. She has a Plasma wall television. Her cushions are made of ox-blood leather materials. The floor is tiled and there is a rug at the centre, where a glass table rests. The television is on. A soap opera is showing. It is Super Story. The current popular soap opera on television. You keep on muttering the word ‘sorry’ several times. Your hand towel is on her nose.
She shows you where the water flask is and you pour some hot water into a small bowl and use her handkerchief to dab at her nose. When you are done. You open her refrigerator and collect some cubes of ice, wrap them in the handkerchief and place it on her forehead as she relaxes on the cushion.
‘I am so sorry,’ you say.
‘Why were you in so much haste?’
You tell her about the argument and about your running to collect your Qur’an. She is surprised that you have a copy of the Islamic holy book. And wants to see it. You tell her that you will bring it the next day. You ask about her children and she say that they have retired for the night. She tells you their names.
‘Come and check the towel, please?’ You sit beside her on the cushion and collect the towel. The blood has stopped oozing from her nose. But she still feels some pains. You remove the wrapped ice from her face and she sits up. She tells you a story of her childhood, when she used to have nose bleeding in the middle of the night and keep everyone in the house awake till morning.
‘Do you still have it all the time?’
‘Yes. If I am stressed, I still see it. My work is very stressful, so sometimes at night. I still have it. Sometimes when I am angry or frightened or anxious. The blood will come.’
You touch her neck and it is cold. And smooth. She asks you about your work. And you tell her that you are jobless. She laughs and says that the next day, she will ask around in her office for you since you studied Economics. She asks you why you hadn’t bothered to ask her all the while. You are silent and pray in your heart that it works out.
‘You live alone here. Why?’
‘Because I chose to. I do not want disturbances—’
‘When you are jobless?’ She laughs. ‘How do you pay the rent?’
You tell her about your elder brother. And she smiles. Her dimples appear and she looks so sexy. ‘See kettle calling pot black!’ you say to her. ‘You live alone too.’
‘No. With my kids. So I don’t live alone.’
‘But without your husband. It means you live alone. You are a married woman and you are supposed to live with him—’
‘He is in Tunisia. He works with the United Nations. And very busy. He loves his job, so what can I do?’ Her face is downcast and the dimples are gone.
‘Do you miss him?’
‘Of course I do. But I manage. What of you? I have never seen a girl visit you before?’
‘Yes. I have no girlfriends. I used to have in the university, but here, nobody. How will I take care of her if I get one? So it is better that I am alone.’
She looks at you cunningly and say; ‘Tell me then, how do you quench the urge?’
You laugh aloud. ‘Well, the same way you do.’ She looks at you and is calm for a while. You stand to leave because your friends might be saying that you are a coward and have escaped from the argument. She stands too and walks you to the door. You turn to say goodnight and see tickles of tears in her eyes.
‘What? Why are you crying?’
‘I am not,’ she says. You take her face in your hands to tell her to shush but she grabs the collar of your shirt and brings down your face to hers. She kisses you so deeply and you push her backwards to the cushion. She falls to it. And you are on top of her.
The next day, she returns around 4pm. You are reading James Clavell’s Shogun when she knocks at your door.
‘Come to my flat later. I have good news,’ she informs you after you have greeted her. When you made love to her the day before, you had talked afterwards and you discovered that she had been married for five years. And has two daughters. She is six years older than you.
In her flat, she serves you a plate of hot jollof rice and her children jump and climb your body. They must be missing their father, you imagine. They call you Uncle and tell you what they learnt in school. While you eat, she informs you that she is a manger in the Company and had talked to her superiors. They agree to give you a job on a three-month trial condition. You jump up and hug her. And her children hug the two of you unconsciously. Filled with happiness.
When her children go to their room to watch the Cartoon Network. She comes, and sits close to you. She says; ‘I know how you must be feeling about what happened yesterday. I am sorry.’
‘I am sorry too. It was my fault. You are married. I am the man. I would have resisted you.’ She laughs and throws the bombshell. ‘Listen I am one of the most influential managers in the Insurance Company. So I can make you stay permanently and move up fast in the company.’
‘Wao! That will be cool.’
‘On one condition.’ She looks towards the direction of the children’s room. Her fingers go to your ears. ‘That you make love with me whenever I want. Unless when my husband is around.’ You are so surprised. You sit back and stare at her. She smiles, her dimples show.
‘Yesterday was a mistake….’ You begin to say. She grabs you again. Her mouth covers your mouth and her lips caress your neck and your nose and your ears.
‘The children,’ you say. She releases you.
‘Let us go to your flat.’ You stand and she follows you. She calls on the children and tells them that mummy is coming back soon. They call back from their room. She locks her flat from the outside. And inside your flat when you mount her, she calls her husband’s name several times. ‘Charles!’
For three months you have been seeing her. In two weeks time, your supervisor in the office will submit her report that will show whether you are to be employed permanently or not. Your lover has asked you not to worry. Everything is in her palms. Sometimes you take her children out to Mr. Biggs and to Crunchies. They love ice-cream and pop-corns and you buy loads for them. You buy them gifts at Shoprite. And once when the little girl was sick and her mother had to work, you took permission from your supervisor and stayed back to take care of her. When the thin woman is discussing with you and Charles calls, she places her finger on her lips and says; shush.
You go to the pharmacy to pick some condoms. She had made ora soup for you. And you had just eaten when she said the condoms were finished and could you go pick them, thank you very much. You said no problems. You return and see a new model Toyota Sienna in front of the building. You stop to look at it. It has no plate number. You walk round it. It is your dream car and you know that soon when they upgrade you to a permanent staff and increase your salary, you will buy it. Or something better.
You get to her flat and open the door, without knocking. The packet of condom is in your hand. What you see makes blood rush into your brain. She is standing facing the door, and kissing a tall, broad shouldered man so intimately. Her eyes meet yours and she untangles herself. The man turns and you hurriedly throw the packet in your hand to the back of the cushion opposite you. Her eyes implore you to be calm.
‘Who is this, Efe?’
‘Oh! Darling. He is the guy next door.’ She steps aside. ‘What is it, Tunde?’ she asks.
‘I… I… came to inform you that your cloths are outside on the lines. And it could rain.’ That was what you had told her when you came in to eat the soup she had made for you, before you went out to buy the condom. You are sure that her husband surprised her. She had not known of his plan to return. ‘Sorry for barging in.’
The man is one of the most handsome men you have ever seen in your life.
‘Thanks ehm… Mr. Tunde. Can you call back later? Join us for dinner perhaps. If you don’t mind?’ her husband says. His baritone voice rich and thick.
‘Oh. Thanks. But I have an appointment with my girlfriend, this evening, Sir. Thanks, but no thanks.’ She looks at you sceptically like; what do you mean, girlfriend? So you have another girl at my back? You turn and walk away, closing the door quietly.
She avoids you at the Company and after one week when you summon the courage to walk into her office, she says; ‘Look, I am sorry that I have been avoiding you—’
‘You aren’t sorry anything!’ You bang at her table. She startles. ‘So all these while, I was just a play toy. Feeling in the gap for him. Now he returns and I am nothing to you.’
She rises to her feet. ‘Are you mad, Tunde? How dare you walk into my office and talk to me like this? Did I not hear you tell my husband that you have a girlfriend?’ You laugh aloud at her words. You do not have a girlfriend. And she knows that.
‘Do you not have a husband? So you want me to remain single, servicing you, while you enjoy your family? You are wicked then. I thought you loved me? I thought you had some feelings for me?’ She sits down and says calmly; ‘He is back, my husband. He is back to stay. He won’t be leaving again. His assignment is over in Tunisia.’ You sit reluctantly and gawk at her face. Thin, smooth and chocolate. Her neck, short and beautiful. Her breasts – you imagine them. How tender and succulent they are. Your eyes meet hers and she says; ‘It is over—’
You are silent for a while. Your brain is banging as if a marshal band is playing inside your skull. ‘What of my job? The report from my supervisor is next week.’
‘And what about it? The decision is not mine alone. So I cannot promise anything. Now get out!’
Obinna Udenwe is a prize winning Nigerian writer. His works have appeared in the Kalahari Review, Tribe-write, Flair Magazine, Kadunaboy and in Literary & Travel Magazine. When he is not travelling all over the world, he shares his time between Abakaliki and Enugu.