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Saturday, March 18, 2017

The New Wife (1)

Her  name  was  Nneoma, which means 'Good  Mother',  (in Igbo) but  Obinze  liked  to  call  her  Obim (my heart). She  was,  literally,  his  heart,  he  said.  She  liked  it,  the  way  his  voice  would  soften  whenever  he  called  her  that.  ‘Obim,  this  is  the  best  ukwa  I  have  ever  eaten,’  he  would  say,  and  she  would  smile  and  bat  her  eyelashes at  him. 

 At  night,  when  they  were  in  bed  together,  he  would  touch  her  in  places  that  made  her  giggle,  and  when  he  was  finally  in  her,  he  would  mutter: ‘Obim,  Obim,’  and  afterwards  he  would  ask  if  she  had  liked  it.  

She  would  smile  shyly  and  nod  her  head,  yes,  even  on  those  nights  when  he  got  there  before  she  did,  even  on  those  nights  when  she  pressed  her  legs  together  and  fought  desperately  not  to  touch  herself.

She  liked  to  think  that  she  was  lucky,  having  a  man  like  him.  She  liked  to  think  that  he  was  her  knight  in  shiny  amour,  the  knight  who  had  rescued  her  from  the  monotony  of  village  life,  from  walking  miles  every  morning  to  fetch  water  from  the  muddy  stream. 

 In the city, he had  introduced  her  to  the  world  of    rectangular  televisions,  televisions  so  flat,  she  thought  they  would  break  if  she  touched  them  too  roughly. 

 He  had  introduced  her  to  gas  cookers  and  to  microwaves.  ‘Stop  being  a  village  girl,’  he  had  said  when  she  refused  to  use  the  gas  cooker.  ‘Who  told  you  it  would  explode  and  burn  down  the  house?’  

And  he  had  gone  ahead  to  show  her  how  to  put  it  on  and  off.  She  got  to  like  the  gas  cooker  because  it  did  not  blacken  her  new  pots,  although  she  sometimes  missed  cooking  with  firewood.

There  were  so  many  other  things  that  she  missed about village life,  like  the  noise  of  little  children  playing  and  shouting  insults  at  one  another.  She  missed  also  the  greenery,  that  sense  of  calm  that  came  with  the  bushes  around,  that  infinite  bliss.  

And  she  missed,  especially,  Obinze’s  voice  whenever  he  left  for  work  in  the  morning.  She  would  clean  and  re-clean,  she  would  cook,  she  would  sleep,  she  would  wake  up,  and  she  would  watch  Nollywood movies on TV. 

 But  no  matter  how  much  she  missed,  she  never  told  him  anything.  Their  relationship  was  a  peculiar  one,  one  in  which  he  did  most  of  the  talking,  and  she  did  most  of  the  listening.

  There  were  many  things  she  would  like  to  tell  him,  but  she  was  afraid  of  saying  the  wrong  things.  She  was  afraid  of  spoiling  this  little  miracle  that  had  happened  to  her.  And  so  she  always  remained  quiet  about  those  things,  those  very  important  things,  like  not  getting  there  when  he  did.

*** She  first  began  to  notice  the  changes  in  him  after  he  told  her  to  prepare  for  JAMB.  ‘You’re  going  to  BUK,’  he  said.  ‘You  need  to  be  a  graduate.  You  need  to  upgrade.’  

There  was  a  patronizing  quality  to  his  voice,  a  quality  she  had  heard  before,  but  had  always  ignored.  She  said  yes,  that  she  would  prepare  for  JAMB.  She  did  not  tell  him  that  she  could  not  start  reading  again  after  so  many  years. 

 She  did  not  tell  him  that  their  marriage  was  almost  a  year  old,  and  that  they  should  be  thinking  about  children  that  would  come,  and  not  about  university.  

She  did  not  even  tell  him  about  not  seeing  her  blood,  about  the  warmth  that  had  filled  her  as  she  stripped  in  the  bedroom  and  pressed  her  breasts  to  see  if  they  were  heavy.  Instead  she  smiled,  batted  he  eyelids  and  went  to  the  kitchen  to  cry.

He  continued  to  behave  strangely,  returning  late  at  night,  complaining  of  fatigue,  going  outside  to  pick  his  calls.  

At  first  she  was  afraid,  then  she  became  frightened,  then  it  became  outright  terror.  She  started  to  scroll  through  his  phone  whenever  he  was  in  the  bathroom.  She  would  read  his  text  messages  and  check  his  call  history. 

 No  female  caller.  Somehow  the  neatness  frightened  her,  the  fact  that  there  was  no  female  caller,  the  possibility  that  he  was  being  too  careful,  that  he  was  hiding  something  from  her...

 To be continued...

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