My brother in-law Emeka sat on the other end of the dinning table. His face had become reddened as he kept sniffing and blowing his nose into a checkered handkerchief, as if his nose had become a broken water pipe.
“Brother, easy o. Take Procold before you give all of us your catarrh,” I teased. A weak smile flashed across his red, bloated face.
From across the table where I sat directly opposite him, I noticed my brother in-law cast a furtive glance at me every now and then. It made me feel uncomfortable, so I moved the groceries from the dinning table to the kitchen.
I whistled joyfully in the kitchen while cutting each okra into halves and smaller pieces. I’d purchased them earlier in the day at the local market in Upper Iweka. Okra soup was a special delicacy loved by my husband, Nkem. This meal would probably be the ‘last’ I’d prepare for him before leaving for the hospital tomorrow, in preparation for the delivery of our baby – our first much awaited bundle of joy.
The doctor said I should be due for delivery by tomorrow or next. And because Nkem was a terrible cook, I couldn’t bear to leave him without any meal while I stayed in hospital.
The chime clock struck 10pm. Nkem wasn’t home yet. Maybe he was held up at the usual Onitsha, Niger bridge traffic. I dialed his line; i almost could hear the sound of his ringtone coming from some corner in the house. Or maybe the sound was all in my head.
I dialed his number again, this time around it was switched off.
Nkem never stayed out this late since I became pregnant.
In his typical over protective manner since the doctor announced the news of my pregnancy, he made sure to be home early enough, at most 7pm.
Coincidentally, just like my brother in-law, Adaku my sister paid an unexpected visit to my place. She arrived two hours ago from Lagos by flight.
Even though I was really happy to see my immediate elder sister after long months, her mission at Upper Iweka wasn’t exactly clear.
“I just decided to pay you and brother Nkem a quick visit, it’s been long,” This was her reply when I asked why she visited during her ongoing law school final exams.
I wondered if visiting upper iweka after her exams wouldn’t have been more appropriate. I shrugged it off.
The moment she showed up on my doorstep, I noticed something seemed off about Adaku I knew. This minute she appeared to be lost in deep, sad thoughts; then like one jolted back to reality, the next minute she was initiating endless random conversations in between forced laughter. At a point, every item in my house became a topic for discussion. It didn’t help that she was trying to be funny too. This I found rather unusual.
Naturally, my sister wasn’t the chitty chatty type. Did Law school change her?
I felt like telling her to slow it down, instead of trying too hard to entertain me. I was fine. Or was it the pregnancy mood swing that was making me over react? Maybe my sister was just being nice and trying to make the house lively.
She had offered to make dinner, I politely declined.
“Ada, I’m pregnant, not incapacitated,” I told her.
Adaku persistently followed me around the house, as if she was trying to shield me from no apparent danger. I didn’t get why.
The doorbell rang. My heart leaped for joy. My Nkem is back!
“Adaku, biko see who’s at the door. Biko checkie osiso. It must be my husband.”
Adaku looked at me, her eyes were telling me something I didn’t know. She was hesitant for a minute before walking towards the door.
I wasn’t certain if it was my husband that arrived, because I didn’t hear his usual car horn honk; I was hopeful. Maybe the problematic volkswagen golf broke down on the way as usual.
I assured myself.
It was past 11pm. My mum arrived Upper Iweka accompanied by my younger brother. “Mummy! You’re here? By this time?…gini mere?”
My mum looked weak, and my brother looking almost just as weak as her.
But I noticed my mum put on a confident demeanour when her face met mine. She quickly rushed to my side and held me closely. She assured me that my pregnancy due date which was close, was her reason for coming. I believed her.
It was past 12am. I’d dialed my husband’s number several times, still switched off. Now I became apprehensive about my husband’s whereabout. I walked up onto the verandah upstairs to get a good view of Agwuncha street. Hoping I could catch sight of anyone that looked like Nkem from a distance.
I found my sister Adaku leaning against the stairway wall, lost in deep thoughts, tears rolled down her cheeks. On sighting me, she quickly wiped off her tears with the back of her hands.
“Is everything alright? You’re crying”
She denied and faked a smile.
Now something wasn’t adding up.
Why did everyone decide to visit and pass the night at my place, the same day? It seems too much of a coincidence.
Moreover, I noticed they’ve all been speaking in whispers among themselves.
Angrily, I made my way back to the living room to confront everyone. I met my mum, brother and brother in-law, looking sad with hands under their chin.
“Tell me what’s wrong…please. I know all isn’t well,” my voice was frail. I felt my eyes sting as tears welled up in my eyes.
They all tried to hold me and get me calm.
It all began to make sense to me. My brother in-law Emeka had no catarrh, he has been crying all the while. Adaku’s visit and those random conversations initiated by her were aimed at keeping me occupied, i guess to keep my stress in check.
My husband’s phone actually rang the 1st time. I know i heard it. Someone in the room had it and switched it off.
My fears were real now. Where is my husband?
What if they had found out already something I didn’t know?
“He’s gone…Nkem is gone,” mum said amidst tears. Adaku and Emeka gripped my hand tight.
I felt my head trying to explode.
Instantly, my water broke.
Labour pain cannot be equated with any other pain. But in my case, I found the pain of losing my other half more excruciating.
The devastating news about my husband’s demise sent me into shock, resulting to an early labour before my due date.
Be-holding my baby had always been my biggest wish; but right now, my biggest wish was like a tragedy to be wished away.
How could my joy be complete without my husband by my side? Nkem wanted to be a dad so bad, he waited for this miracle for so long.
In the months leading up to our baby’s birth, we made huge plans together to secure a bright future for him, we had big dreams and prospects.
Why did Nkem have to leave me so soon, at this critical, yet beautiful moment; more so, knowing that I possibly couldn’t go through life alone? I couldn’t imagine a future without Nkem actively involved in raising our child.
Just 24hrs ago, we playfully argued about where our baby’s looks will come from, he finally gave in. He chuckled, “Okay babe, you win. You win!”
And we both laughed.
The two nurses flanked on both sides of the bed held my legs firmly pressed close to my chest.
I pushed hard for the umpteenth time, I’d been screaming so loud until my voice had become hoarse.
With clenched fists tugging at the bed sheets, breathing heavily, i forcefully tried to expel my baby as instructed, but I felt drained of all my energy. I was completely exhausted.
“Madam, you can do it. Push harder now” The midwife yelled.
I took deep breaths, tried once again, I had no ounce of strength. I was beginning to feel numb.
“Sorry nwa m. God will do it for us like the Hebrew women. O ga eme ihe oji buru chi”
My mum said reassuringly, wiping off beads of sweat from my face and stroking my hair gently. She continued softly, “nne try again, biko you’re almost there.”
“I can’t!” “I’m tired!” “my husband!” “where is my Nkem?”
I wailed in pains, anger and frustration.
The stern-looking midwife drew closer to my mum, saying “Madam, we’ll need to carry out an emergency caesarian section”
“Operation? Ha! God why me? Why me ohhhh. Mbanu! I had none of my kids through operation. So it is not my portion.” My mum said, flailing her arms in the air in despair.
“The sooner the better madam. Due to the high-risk nature of the birth, your daughter’s life and that of the babys’ is at stake. You’ll have to fill the consent form, so that we can arrange for a caesarean section.”
My mum remained adamant that I was not to have the caesarian section, claiming it was against her faith. She didn’t pay mind to whatever the doctor, midwives and nurses had to say.
She got on phone and began making frantic calls, prancing to and fro the theatre.
“Pastor Ebere, please come to St Joseph’s hospital as soon as you can, my daughter is in labour….”
“Tell Evangelist Obisike and our prayer wing to come and lay hands on my daughter…”
I watched my mum as she was getting hysterical in the theatre. If my delivery has to be through cs, I was ready for it.
The shrill cry of a baby rang through the theatre.
There were three other women with me in the big theatre, they were also in labour.
One had just given birth in no time. I caught a glimpse of the blood coated, fragile looking baby quickly placed close to her chest. She carried her baby in her arms, the beaming proud smiles on her face indicated the joy of motherhood.
This induced a surge of strength within me. The strength to bring forth life. I mustered courage and bravery, which I hadn’t before. I fought hard within me. My dilation increased and i pushed. I gave birth to my son in no time.
The arrival of my baby boy was a bittersweet moment for me and everyone who came to sympathize with me in the hospital ward.
I was told my husband was lying in the morgue. He was involved in a ghastly motor accident and died on the spot.
I tried to find a sliver of comfort in my son, a replica of Nkem, but life put a bullet in my heart; a gaping hole that only Nkem, the love of my life could mend.
I wept and wept till the sedation administered to me took effect. In my unconscious state, I saw that all familiar handsome, smiling bearded face. He stood before me with open arms. I’d missed the hell out of him. At that moment nothing else mattered. I ran into the arms of the man I love, to be reunited with him forever.
I died at 9:45am. February 5th, 1995.