Some nights, when it gets lonely, she misses him; running around the house naked with him, ducking behind the cushions—playing hide and seek—and having him arrest her out of the blue in his strong arms with a loving kiss. If she could she would entertain the idea of having another man in her life, but she’s seen one too many of the same man and, in her mind, “character and desire wise”, their apples fall not too far from a single tree.
Those betrothed years altered how sanctimonious the idea of marriage once seemed to her—that beyond commitment, it is a cage that imprisons most men, coercing them into being bound by vows they aren’t predisposed to, genetically.
The first’s name was Gbenga. They’d met when she was nineteen years old, two years after both her parents passed away. He was twenty-five years old, a pilot: tall, dark and ruggedly handsome. He was well travelled, and being nineteen at the time; she was taken by him: his charisma and articulate parlance.
In the harmattan season of November 1999, six months after having met him, they were married.
They’d been married eleven years with a son. His name—Roland. In the infant months succeeding Roland’s birth, they made passionate love often, and sometimes, in the middle of it, when Victor kissed and sinuously thrust himself into her, she groaned aloud, and Roland squealed in his cot bed. He was a real lover and father, and she adored that about him. Now she was in a dissatisfied place; despite their passing days of happiness, Gbenga had been having an affair. She’d trailed him many times to her house, watched him knock on her door, and watched as she came out and kissed him on the lips. The lady was younger than she was, taller, prettier, and with beautiful caramel skin. If Gbenga had to choose, she worried he would want her.
One night, while Gbenga was fast asleep, she packed her bags, walked over to Roland’s bedroom with her luggage, planted a kiss on his forehead as he slept, and left the house.
When she met Victor Oguche, a business mogul, she was bent on marrying him, not out of love, but to prove a point—to break through that glass ceiling, the one which Gbenga–after the separation–had said was impossible for a woman of her status to reach. She set out to prove to him that those things which he’d said were infinitely beyond her grasp were, in fact, at her fingertips, and she could have them, and more if she wanted to.
Victor Oguche was genuinely diabolical—she wasn’t—and that is how she knew she wasn’t going to stay married to him much longer. Once he’d sponsored her university education, including her master’s program, she would find her bearing.
She called him Sweety, and he called her Honey. He was equally as attractive as her first, wore a medically prescribed pince-nez at all times, and had built himself a comfortable mansion with fleets of cars parked in the lot.
Sometimes, when he made love to her, he began speaking in a strange language. His eyes rolled to the back of his skull, revealing his egg-white sclera; his full chestnut lips quivered with quiet mumbling by her ears; his thin muscles, leaning over her, shivered with an intense desire that it seemed frightening, surreal, and sweet, all at once. Afterwards, she never questioned him about the occurrence, for the fear that this was something she wasn’t supposed to have noticed. Perhaps he imagined her under his juju at these times. She had learned to close her eyes whenever he got into this trance-like state.
Was it worth it, though?–trading her body and soul, under the guise of marriage, to prove a point to Gbenga; that her life wasn’t going to turn out as he’d asserted? Had she put herself in harms’ way by marrying Oguche, a man she knew dabbled in the occultic, all for the Ivy League education his blood money could very well afford?
She was like a gargoyle fixed to the walls of his home, like an ornament beautifying his pretty mansion with the title—wife. Beyond the Mrs., a status many her age—forty and counting—would have killed for; she knew she had nothing to boast of; she nor Oguche, knew love towards one another, even though they called each other Sweety and Honey, with the warmest of regards.
Her marriage, her home, was ramshackle. In her heart, she’d become a person with no sense of belonging. She felt this way because she knew Oguche had only married her to mask his diabolical lifestyle from prying eyes. His coming home late in the middle of many nights, his walking into their matrimonial bedroom using his back on the days he would make love to her, the secret room he’d asked her never to go into, and the incantations he made whenever they had sex. She stayed with him because she enjoyed the attention his affluence brought her whenever she went out to public events. Like wedding ceremonies, Sunday services, meetings, or even to the market in a convoy of exotic vehicles, where people often stopped and stared, bickering: “Isn’t that Mrs Oguche, the wife of Mr Victor Oguche, the business mogul?” The side-chatters increased her sense of self. But whenever she got back home, it was back to the hodgepodge, the battle between good and evil; the mystery which hovered over the mansion, the secret room Oguche never let her into, the fear and the darkness; the vanity of it all.
Roland, her son, was now seventeen years old, and after many years his father let him visit her(not that he had a choice, really. Roland was old enough now). Over the years, she’d begged Gbenga to allow Roland spend the holidays with her, but Gbenga refused. He’d promised never to let her set eyes on their son again, and had come close to keeping to his word that, for years, all she knew about him was the sound of his voice over the telephone. She didn’t know what he’d grown up to look like, and she wasn’t prepared to go to court for it. Society frowned on such women, women who spread their dirty linen in public like that. To her, the court was a public playground, and she had always reminded herself to wait until Roland was old enough to make the decision to find her himself.
Much older now, and in his first year at the University, during the holidays Roland visited her and Oguche in their exquisite home. Oguche was always delighted to see him. Roland was like the child he never had, and often he would jokingly say to her, beneath the quilt, at night: “You know that boy is meant to be my son, abi? If only I had met you first,” and she would turn her head the other away, with guilty eyes, because she knew the reason they couldn’t have kids was that she took birth control pills to stop it from happening.
Oguche spoilt Roland with the best of gifts. When the newest edition of the video game—Playstation—that year, came out, Roland was one of the very first people to have acquired it in his school. The students flocked to his apartment, off campus, to play it after lectures. Oguche also bought him designer accessories, too: Louis Vuitton shoes and clothes, Apple gadgets, and never turned down his seldom requests for fancy things.
Gbenga, on the other hand, was now retired. He no longer made as much money as he once did being a pilot. He now worked as a consultant for an airline company. Whenever Roland went back home with fancy things, after spending the holiday in his mother’s home, Gbenga called her over the phone, accusing her of poisoning their son’s heart towards him by buying his affection with material things.
“I see what you’re trying to do, giving Roland all these material things to make him feel that I don’t provide as much. I will not let our son turn out to be like his mother!”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“You know what it means. With you, it’s all about the money. To this day, I regret ever setting my eyes on you. Who knows, my life may have worked out perfectly fine had you never set foot in it. After all, before I met you I was doing well, things were working out for me until you—”
And just like in past times, when Gbenga would call her to vent his frustration; she would hang up, sobbing on the other end of the line, wondering what had caused the extent of his bitterness.
There once was a time his accusations sounded cute to her ears. It assured her her son was in safe hands being with his jealous and protective father. But after a while she grew wary, the accusations became more and more obsessive, especially in Roland’s fourth year in the university. Oguche had bought him a Hyundai sports car for maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. Gbenga had asked Roland to return it; Roland refused; they got into a big argument, and Roland ran away with the vehicle and for days did not return home. For fear of telling her what had ensued between him and their son, Gbenga didn’t bother calling to tell her Roland had left the house for days. He just assumed Roland had gone back to her house.
Oguche, in a hurry, had travelled to Lagos that day for the sole purpose of liaising with the customs officers who had his containers frozen at the Lagos seaport. He’d left her a note stating so:
“Honey, don’t miss me much. Something has come up. Need to rush to Lagos to remove my goods. Will be back by to-morrow morning.”
On getting back from school, she smiled on seeing the note. She felt guilty knowing what was bound to happen as soon as her M.A. was over. She would file for a divorce.
Oguche was undoubtedly kind to her, but kind is all it ever was. She feared for her life. What was in his secret room that he never let her into it? She feared if she didn’t leave him soon, one day, he would be the widower, and she the deceased wife he had offered up for rituals.
She hadn’t heard from Roland in days. She’d tried his phone number ceaselessly, during the week, but saw that it was out of service. She tried it again, that day, thought it to be as one of those times when he went for days without switching on his phone because he was studying, so she didn’t bother to keep trying.
The next morning, she received a text message from Gbenga:
“How is Roland doing? This one that you haven’t let him come home for a week now. Hmm. Tell him not to bring that car back to my house, when he is coming.” His tone, filled with asperity.
“Roland is not with me. He’s supposed to be with you,” she texted back.
Gbenga did not reply. Then she called him, but he wouldn’t pick. And with a feminine intuition that is hardly ever wrong, seated on her mattress in her bedroom, she felt her heart sink to the pit of her stomach, fearing the worst had happened to Roland.
That night, she did not sleep. She sat in the living room, telephoning all of Gbenga’s relatives and Roland’s friends, asking if they’d seen Roland, to which she received negative replies. She hoped by chance that he would somehow wander in through the door. She went upstairs, to her bedroom, and prayed.
“Dear God,” she began,”I know I haven’t been the most obedient daughter, but please, if you will bring my son back to me, that’d change. I promise you…”
She’d fallen asleep in a praying position— her knees on the floor, beside the bed, her hands sprawled over the coverlet, and her head sleeping on its side. Night had descended, the moon outside her window–a sickle, when she heard a sound, like a rat sifting through leather, from one of the rooms. She stood up with her eyes squint shut in an attempt to ward off the filtering rays of the fluorescent as she walked out of her bedroom. On the corridor, she heard the noise come from the secret room. She walked towards it, put her ear against the door, and her eyes came wide awake. She tried opening the door, but it was locked. Then she hurried to Oguche’s bedroom, went through his drawers hysterically, searching for the key, and found it on the floor beneath his bed. She walked to the secret room, slotted the key into the keyhole, unlocked the door, pushed it open, and screamed.
Roland, seated on the floor, in this secret room, was surrounded by six calabashes, with candles burning inside them. His legs folded into one another, his light-brown eyes burrowed into the air-space with fixity, his jaws were wide open, and bundles of a thousand naira note fell out of his mouth, one after the other, and dropped to the floor. The room, stuffed with money, draped in synthetic red fabric all across the walls and the porcelain floor.
She tread cautiously towards him.
“Roland! Roland! Roland!!” she screamed his name again and again as tears tumbled down her eyelids, but he did not flinch. He sat there robotically, like a shell.
She touched him, but her hand passed through; tried to grab him, but he wasn’t there. He was both present and absent. She fell helplessly into his apparition and, horror-stricken, rolled and wept within the bundles of money he spewed to life on the floor. Oguche had done this. The beast had finally used her son for his money ritual, and she was to blame for it. If she could, she would take this visible ghost, or whatever it was masquerading as her son, with her, run out of his house and never come back: a thing she should have done a long time ago. She reached for her mobile phone inside of her breast pocket, fingers trembling as she wrote Gbenga a text message.
“Roland is in my house; except that it’s not him,” she’d thought to text him, but instead, wrote: “I know where Roland is. Come over let’s talk. It’s critical.” She didn’t want to frighten him into speeding beyond the limit, causing him a motor accident—thereby causing herself double tragedy—so she texted him as though the situation wasn’t too bad, but critical enough for him to make it to her house in one piece.
The moon was an orbicular bullion, a blood-stained silver in the sky watching over her through the lambrequin-styled window of the room. She stood up, swathed her wrapper around her waist as she walked towards the window and wailed with the poignant paroxysm of a miscarried mother:
“Roland, the child of my youth,” she snivelled, articulating between sobs,”wherever you are…, please, come back to us. Your mummy is crying here o. Do you like seeing me this way?”
Her eyes were the colour of an eclipsed sky, soiled in grey clouds that spread all over, teetering on the brink of her eyelids, then melting over and streaming down her cheekbones.
She slid her spine against the plastered wall beside the window, down to the floor where she clutched her knees within her arms, propped her jaw on them, and sobbed like a little child. Shivering, as she watched what looked to be her son—an illusion of some sort—spew money from his mouth, she wailed. If he was dead, she was ready to die along with him. She would wait until morning, when Oguche would arrive from Lagos, so that he would see that she knew what he had used her son for—the boy he claimed to have loved like his own—and ask if he wanted to use her, too. Gladly she would have offered herself up. She had nothing left to live for.
She crawled towards the calabashes, blew the candles out; stood up and went out of the room. She returned with a golf stick she’d taken from Oguche’s golf bag, and, incensed, began smashing everything in her way— breaking the calabashes and tearing up all of the money in the room. She turned her back on Roland, furiously smashing towards the threshold of the door as she cried, and when she turned around, his apparition was no longer there, the lights went out. Total darkness. She heard the doorknob lock, and began screaming, “Help me!! Blood of Jesus. Blood of Jesus. Blood of Jesus….” She threw the golf stick on the pile of money and clutched the doorknob.
As she panicked, struggling with the knob, trying to break free of the room, she heard footsteps come up the stairs and ran towards the lambrequin window, contemplating jumping out. She heard the clanging of keys from the corridor, the knob twisted, and she waited in silence, seated in the dark.
The door opened, and light wandered in, flashing through the shattered pile of money. She tried to keep her breathing down but was too terrified that it was impossible not to gasp for air. Victor heard something, someone, move by the window and turned his flashlight in that direction. Cuddled beneath the windowsill, frightened and dishevelled, was his wife. He reached out to take her hand, but she did not give it up.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said.
“But you’ve already hurt my son,” she replied.
“I did it for us?”
“You mean…, ” she swallowed hard, “you did it for yourself, you ritualist!”
“Get up,” he said calmly. But she shook her face, protesting. “I said stand up, you bitch!” he added, intemperately.
She rose to her feet, no longer recognising him through his pince-nez. Her ebony hair spread over her face. He shone the torch directly in her eyes, she turned her head the other way, stung by the light. He brushed her hair backwards, firmly grabbed her by the nape and pulled her towards him to kiss her lips. She shuffled her face from left to right, grudgingly refusing to touch his face. Then, forcefully, he planted a kiss on her mouth, having already smeared his cheeks with her saliva. She eased her mouth into his lips, letting him enjoy it for a moment, then sank her teeth into his lower lip and bit him.
“Ouch!” He withdrew, releasing her nape.”You bit me,” he said agonisingly, touching his underlip to see the blood that had dotted it.
She spat to the floor. “Where is my son, you bastard?” she asked.
“You’ll see him soon; you bitch—in hell.” He grabbed her by the neck and pushed her out of the room, down the stairs as he touched his wounded lip and she cried. “I thought I told you never to enter that room. Now, you see what you’re making me do?”
When they got downstairs, standing by the threshold of the kitchen door, he pushed her to the ground, and she slid on the ceramic tile to the centre of the kitchen, her head facing the ground. She flipped her hair out of her face, turned around, towards the door where he was standing, and began pleading for dear life as she crawled backwards.
“Oguche, you’ve already taken my Roland; aren’t you satisfied?” she said sobbingly.
He stepped into the kitchen, reached for the knife in the drawer closest to the door, and, as he walked towards her, she noticed a shadow walking behind him. Further into her view, she saw the shadow was Gbenga, gesticulating that she Shh. Oguche rose the knife, saying, “It was good while it lasted, Sweetheart,” and Gbenga plunged the blade into his spinal cord, instantly. He froze, lips wide open in bemusement, as the knife in his hand fell to the floor. He dropped to his knees, fell on his face between her legs, and Gbenga spread his legs above him, knelt down, and sank the blade deeper into his back.
She stood up, terrified. Gbenga stood up, with disbelief as to what he had done. She moved to hug him, but he shuffled back.
“Where is Roland?” he said coldly.
“Gbenga…, it-it’s hard to explain,” she said.
“What do you mean ‘it’s hard to explain’? Where is our son, Ocheineyi?”
Ever since the divorce, he’d never called her by her maiden name.
She walked past him, out of the room, up the staircase, to the electricity vault, and he followed behind. She turned on the electric switch, walked towards the secret room, stood in front of the door and asked him to go in.
The room was a mess, with bundles of money lying everywhere, some notes mangled and ripped to shreds, others brand new, and a golf stick was lying on them.
“Where is he?” he asked.
“I-I…do not know,” she said, clearing the tears that tumbled into her nose with the back of her right hand. “I mean, I came back home from school yesterday, Oguche was not around. He had left a note saying he had to be in Lagos. Then you texted me, this morning, telling me our son was in my house, and I didn’t think that he was, because I hadn’t been home. Later on, this evening, I’m at home, sleeping, when I hear a sound come from this room. I open the door, and he is seated right in the middle of this room, with money coming out of his mouth. I tried to hold him, but he was invisible.” She broke down, crying.
Gbenga took a deep breath, pursed his lips; a tear rolled down his left eye—he exhaled. He explored the room, walked towards the bathroom, opened the door, and there, found Roland, slouched on the toilet seat, his back resting on the cistern, his throat slit, with blood trickling down his neck and soaking his white T-shirt. His eyes, lifeless.