Who Are You? Part 5

Nnedi held onto the railing as she climbed downstairs laboriously, every joint creaking in protest. She was just over six months pregnant and it felt like the baby was getting heavier by the minute. She sighed with relief when she finally made it down the two flights of stairs from her bedroom to the large family room downstairs.

“Good morning, Papa”, Nnedi greeted her father as she waddled into the room in the fashion of the heavily pregnant.

Her father looked up from his newspaper and smiled at her. “Good morning, Nne. How are you feeling today?”

Nnedi didn’t miss the concern that laced his words. She had colluded with her mother and lied to him for months, yet he had forgiven her and offered her his strength and support even though she didn’t deserve it.

“I’m fine, Papa.  I think I’m doing better now that everything is out in the open.” Everyone that counted now knew the truth…everyone except the one person who had the most to lose – or gain – depending on how he took the news. She sat on the couch closest to the window and peered outside through the iron bars. The overcast sky cast a pall on the room and made it seem like it was early evening instead of mid-morning. She had told her father that she was fine, but she really wasn’t. She had confessed to her father and that was hard enough, but the worst part was still ahead of her.

Unknown to her at the time, her father had contacted her husband, Tobenna once news had come that the baby had been born. Since her father assumed the baby was hers, he had immediately called Tobenna with the news. It was the same day that she had come home and finally told her father the truth. If only I had told Papa the truth earlier. I might have bought some more time…maybe the baby would have come early. But was that really what she wanted? To buy time for more lies? Wasn’t it better to have the truth out once and for all? It had been exhausting trying to maintain the lies she had told – hiding Nkasi from her father, pretending to be pregnant, then finding out that she really was pregnant. Maybe Tobe will surprise me and not take it too hard. A picture flashed through her mind, an angry face…fists raised, furious questions pouring out from his raging mouth “Who are you? Who are you?” Would a husband like that listen to her explanation, weak though it was?

After receiving her father’s message, Tobe had called and excitedly told her he would be at the village as soon as possible. Her heart pounded as he talked and she almost blurted out the truth right then and there. But, fear held her tongue. Besides, wouldn’t it better to tell him in person? She had pressed him to tell her exactly when he would arrive, but he kept saying he wasn’t sure of what his schedule would be like.

“Ah, why do you want to know the exact day? Do I need an appointment to see my wife and baby?” he had asked almost angrily.

“No, my husband’, she demurred. “I just want to know so that we can be ready for you.”

Mollified, he had calmed down. “Okay, okay. Well, don’t worry about that. Just expect me in the next one week, okay?”

He would be here any day. Which day? She wished she knew so that she could prepare herself for the coming onslaught.

***

The house was too quiet.  Her father had left for the parsonage earlier to attend to some church business. Her mother had been away for a few days, visiting her elderly parents and Nkasi was supposed to come home the next day so she was home alone. A sense of stillness hung in the air, but she felt something brewing. Almost like the calm before a storm. Restless and uncomfortable in the silence, Nnedi heaved herself up from the couch, walked towards the TV console and browsed through the DVDs of mostly Nollywood movies. Just what I need. The outrageous storylines would definitely take her mind off her own issues. Naked Saint 3…No, she wasn’t in the mood for any saints, naked or otherwise. She picked up another one – Trinity. No…After the Wedding. Yeah, that might work. Maybe I can get some clues about how to deal with this my wahala. She slotted the DVD in and stretched out lazily on the couch. I’ll just watch the movie for a while and go upstairs later, she thought sleepily.

She barely got through what felt like dozens of movie trailers before sleep claimed her. She dozed fitfully until a sharp, persistent sound intruded. Shrill and insistent, the sound continued until she sat up drowsily. It was the doorbell. Maybe Papa is back, she thought. He would usually just let himself in, but maybe he forgot his key at home. Or, maybe it was someone for her mother. She dragged herself up with some effort and opened the door.

She gasped at the sight of a familiar and dreaded face. “Tobe!”

His smile wavered at the sight of her protruding belly and he nervously transferred his suitcase from one hand to the other.

“Where’s the baby?” he asked excitedly.

“I’m fine, Tobenna. Thank you for asking.” He frowned at her and wagged his finger in her face. “I won’t take that your sarcasm, madam”, he said testily and sarcastically himself. “It’s like you’ve been growing wings since you’ve been here without me, but don’t worry. I’m here now, and soon we will all be back in Lagos so everything will be back to normal.”

He pushed her aside and walked into the house.

“Where is the baby?” he asked again as he loosened his tie.

She looked at him, resplendent in his expensive suit and shiny shoes - dressed to the nines, all for a trip to the village to see his wife. His image was important to him and he tried to control everything and everyone around him so that they would reflect positively on him. She studied him in silence as he put his briefcase down on the tiled floor and looked around curiously. He walked towards the adjoining dining room barely pausing at the single step that separated the two and she followed him quietly. He stopped when he realized there was no one there and turned towards her.

“Where is the baby?” By now, his tone was edgy and Nnedi could tell that he was getting irritated. Father, help me.

“She’s at the hospital,” she answered in a careful tone.

He didn’t hide his disappointment at the reminder that the baby was a girl. “I should have known that was all you’re good for,” he muttered derisively. Gone was the jocular man who she had known for a few short weeks, who had treated her kindly and showered her with attention.

He glanced at her in contempt. “So, why are you here if your daughter is in the hospital? Is she not well?”

“She’s doing just fine. She’s with her mother.”

Confused, Tobe looked at her as if to make sure she was being serious. Finally, he laughed. “I see that you’re going crazy. I should have known sending you to the village was a bad idea. What do you mean she is with her mother? Bia, woman, you better start making sense otherwise I’ll bundle you back to Lagos and send you to the madhouse where you belong.”

Nnedi breathed deeply and told her husband the truth, at last. “I remember you asking me a question once. Who are you? you asked. Who was I? You asked the question and you gave the answer. You called me barren and I believed you. I believed you and I lost all hope. I lost my faith and I grabbed at the only chance I saw. A chance to be a mother. I deceived you in the beginning and I’m sorry about that. But, in the end God answered our prayers,” Nnedi explained.

Tobe was filled with rage as he looked at the pregnant woman that stood in front of him. She had deceived him! He should have known better when she kept insisting on coming to the village. He felt stupid as he thought of all the preparations he had made to receive his newborn son. His house maid’s child would have lived there, bearing his name and enjoying his money! And now the witch was pregnant and claiming that God had answered his prayers! What did that mean? He suppressed his rage as he looked around carefully. He wanted to make sure no one else was at home before he unleashed the fury that was even now building inside him. Did this girl think she could foist someone else’s bastard on him to raise? No way! He decided to wring every ounce of truth from her lying lips before showing her a taste – just a taste of his anger. After all, he was in someone else’s house. A house he had built, true, but he had to be careful all the same.

His hands shook with rage as he clenched them at his side. “What do you mean, God answered our prayers?”

Nnedi felt hope stirring within her. He was curious…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. He looked relatively calm and that gave her more hope. Tobe never held his temper when he was angry. If he was really angry, she would have felt it by now.

“Don’t you see? I’m pregnant, Tobe! Over six months along. It must have happened on one of those nights just before Nkasi and I left.”

Tobe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Did she really expect him to buy that? They had been trying for over two years with no luck – then, all of a sudden, she gets pregnant after spending months away from home?

She tried again to reason with him. “My husband – “ a sharp slap caught her on her right cheek and robbed her of words. Stunned, she looked at him as despair found a familiar spot in her heart. I should have known.

“Who are you calling your husband?” he screamed in rage. “You think you can give me your boyfriend’s baby? Do you think I’m a fool, eh?”

“Tobe, please. I swear. It’s your baby. I would never –“

Another sharp crack as his hand landed on her face again. She shielded her child with her hands as her husband’s fury spilled out. She felt herself falling, falling and she tried to break her fall with her hands. In the distance, she heard a door opening and someone yelling. She felt hands pulling her husband away from her. A brief struggle. A thud. A crack. Then, everything went black.

***

Eight months later

Nnedi cooed to her son as she rocked him to sleep. Filled with a joyful love for the little baby in her arms, she gently caressed his baby soft skin. His birth had been a miracle. After her husbands’ assault, she had been rushed to the hospital where she was treated for her injuries. The doctor had stabilized her and kept her in the hospital until the baby was born. She had prayed endlessly every day she had lain in that hospital bed. Father, please bring my child out safely. Please let him, or her be healthy and whole. Don’t let this baby suffer for Tobe’s sins. And God had answered. Her son had been born whole and healthy. Perfect. She gazed at her son adoringly. Who would have thought that this would happen? That after being called barren for so long, she would be here holding her son?

Her son’s head drooped and his breathing deepened. Smiling, she walked into the adjoining nursery and gently placed him in his crib. She walked back to her room and pressed the little button beside her bed and Olachi, the new house maid came in a few minutes later.

“Madam, you ring bell?”

“Yes, Ola. The babies are sleeping and I need you to watch them. I need to go and check on him.”

She had adopted Nkasi’s baby as promised and had given her enough money to set herself up in a small business. The girl was grateful to move on with her life and Nnedi hadn’t seen or heard from her again since then. If the household staff wondered why she had come back with two babies born three months apart, they wisely kept their speculations to themselves. She loved her two children and took equal delight in both of them. God has blessed me, she smiled to herself as she walked down the hallway. She knocked on the last door, paused for a second and entered.

The doctors had advised them to keep him at home because there was nothing more they could do. He had suffered a permanent brain injury when he cracked his head on the tiled floor after her father had tackled him. They had converted an entire wing of the huge mansion to a hospital suite, customized for his special needs. A nurse came every week to check up on him and she made sure that someone always sat with him. He had to be fed and changed regularly because he could no longer do those things on his own.

Nnedi walked to the foot of the bed and gently shook the young man who watched over her husband.

“Duke, you can take a break now. I’ll sit with him for a while.”

The boy scrambled to his feet, embarrassed to have been caught napping. He bobbed his head. “Yes, madam.”

Nnedi waited until the door clicked shut behind him before she started speaking. The doctors said he couldn’t respond to them, but she talked to him anyway. He had been a cruel husband and an evil man, but God had helped her to release all the anger and bitterness from her heart. She looked at Tobe as he lay, helpless, his eyes following her every move, seething with hatred.

“Your son is doing well. He’s almost six months now and everyone says he is your spitting image. His sister is growing so big. That one is going to be a heartbreaker…”

And so she sat, finally free of her violent husband yet tied to him forever through the beautiful child that they shared. She finally knew who she was – a woman of value, a child of God, a joyful mother of children. Yes, she knew who she was.

"Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools" Ecclesiastes 7:9 (King James Version)

Onyih Odunze

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