“He got his things and left. Just like that!”
I feign a sympathetic smile at what I hope is the end of the series of tales I have been sentenced to in the past hour. If only she knew the places my mind has visited while she spoke, surely she would have stopped talking after her first story. I turn away from my travel companion and towards the window. Perhaps this way, she will understand my unwillingness to chat with her. My forehead touches the glass that separates me from the clear, simple beauty outside – Blue sky that reminds of the sea, intercepted by floating white chunks of fluff.
“Oh that is a beautiful ring,” I hear the woman say in her dramatic voice.
My head barely moves but it gives her a nod in appreciation. My right thumb begins to caress this ring that sits comfortably on my left fourth finger. It is indeed a beautiful ring… he is a beautiful man. Was. Richard was beautiful when he knelt down on the coarse beach sand and slid my finger into the ring. He was beautiful that day at the altar as I walked nervously towards him. Even amidst the pain that engulfed me in the labour ward, he still remained beautiful. Not anymore. A familiar painful image begins to take shape before my mind’s eye.
I force my eyes shut.
He enjoyed placing my hand in his. Even when things were sour between us, he would put his hand above my hand. Milk and cocoa gives perfection, he would say. The thought of my skin as cocoa made my eyes roll to the back of my head but I never asked him to stop. Seeing his wrinkled shaki skin against my taut chocolate skin gave me an air of importance. I welcomed the stares we attracted, each time we walked into a room. It made my inside radiate an enormous amount of pride. His feelings towards me were certain. I could count on them. I would pick quarrels for unjustifiable reasons and Richard would apologise. I would deliberately forget to cook his meals sometimes and he would have us eat out. So when one evening, he held my hand and asked for a mini Richy and Banky, I obliged. He would be a good father, I thought. Our child…
My eyes shut tighter.
I had barely turned 19. He claimed to have noticed my silhouette the moment I stepped into the club. That night, he lingered around me and my body itched to tell him off. Yet, I was glad that my debit card did not have to leave my bag. Days later, I received a phone call from a stranger who claimed to have my student card. The unease his balding head gave me was watered down by his sharp, influential appearance and his humour. What was supposed to be a meeting to retrieve my found card, turned into a date… then two, three and by the end of that week, I had seen Richard multiple times. Weeks turned into a month and I found myself longing to ride in Richard’s car everyday. I did not like his handsome face but every time he showed up at my apartment wielding a fancy gift or the other, I found myself getting lost in his sea-blue eyes. Those eyes never grew old. His wealth never grew old. When I worried about being barren, I found solace in his eyes. When I was too weak to push our daughter out, I found strength in his eyes. They were beautiful… sincere. They lied.
I feel the tears escape the corner of my right eye and journey down my cheek. I should not have checked in my powder compact.
It had been two years and that evening, I was forced to make a phone call to my mother. I had just received my monthly allowance so it was understandable that she sounded confused when I heard her voice after the third ring.
“Ahn Ahn! Banke, this one that you’re calling me today… Se ko si?”
“Can’t I call my mother just because?”
“You Banke? You that abandoned me since you went to obodo oyinbo. If not that you are my splitting image, an outsider would think you and I were strangers. Oya tell me, ki lo de?”
I paused. Surely, I could make this decision on my own. The man didn’t give me butterflies in my stomach, his head irritated me, his kisses made me sick.
“I got a proposal, mummy.”
The excitement in her voice made me smile again. Of course she was tired of funding my upkeep.
“Not yet, mummy.”
“So what proposal?… Ehn! Duro Banke. Marraige?”
I had hardly affirmed to her when she let out a loud scream. Surprisingly, she sounded pleased. I could hear the pride she felt about her daughter bagging a rich oyinbo man.
“But I don’t love him,” I said to her amidst her praise songs.
“Ah! The love will grow,” she replied still sounding chirpy.
That was the approval I needed. I believed her without questioning. I loved his eyes. I loved his money. That was enough.
“Ehen, so how old is my inlaw?”
She must have heard my quiet sigh.
“Ahn ahn. He’s not old enough to birth you is he?,” she asked.
“Well… He turns 40 next month”
She stayed silent for a minute.
“Ehn… Iyen na da. He’ll take better care of you.”
I can taste the liquid from my eyes as it becomes a part of my saliva. My eyes are forced open despite my unwillingness. My mind is tired and I crave sleep. I need to retire to my subconscious. My thoughts, intense though they are, will do nothing to change the course of things.
“So do you have any children?”
For a moment, I forgot about the woman whose aim is to frustrate me throughout this six-hour flight. I turn to her desperate to ask her to back off. I open my mouth to say something, but I am weak.
“No,” I manage to utter.
My eyes begin to fill with tears. If I do not leave this woman’s side immediately, I might be telling my story to the entire business class passengers. I decide to hide in the bathroom. The gum in my mouth has lost its flavour and I spit it out. I close my mouth hastily and my teeth draw blood from my tongue. I flinch as the taste of rust dissolves in my mouth. It tastes like her blood. My body shivers.
She was 10. I loved her more than I did myself. The day she was pulled out from within me and into my arms, I knew I would spend my entire life protecting her. She had his eyes… her father’s eyes. Blue like the sea. I loved hers more. Hers replaced his for me. Hers became my source of life, comfort, happiness. My Katherine. She had all the hair that I lacked. Black, long and curly. I would listen to her posh Brit accent while caressing and running my fingers through her hair. We were best friends. When Richard would spend the night away from home without informing me, I would lie beside Katherine and watch her sleep. When Richard came home drenched in the scent of another woman, I would take Katherine shopping. I did not care about the frequency of Richard’s business trips. All I wanted was for him to come home with presents for my Katherine and I.
She was only 10. Richard was supposed to get her from school that day. Buses were on strike and I was scheduled to see the dentist at that time. On my way home, I had stopped by the corner store to get some ice cream for Katherine. I expected she would be home with Richard. I opened the front door and called into an empty house. I rang Richard’s phone. He was delayed at work, he claimed. I had barely dropped the phone when another call came in. The voice told me my baby was involved in an accident. She was at the hospital. I got there in time to see her bloody body being rolled to the surgery. I was able to touch her face before I was dragged away. I touched my mouth with my hand and my tongue tasted her blood. I turned to find Richard standing at the entrance. He opened his arms for an embrace but my bloody palm hit his cheeks. He pulled me close and then I saw it. The collar of his crisp white shirt was brown and it held a stain from red lipstick. I lifted my eyes to his and there it was. Everything I needed to know swam through them. I did not recognise those eyes anymore. I pulled him towards me by the collar and whispered into his left ear, “If anything happens to my baby…”
I dump my weight on the toilet seat. It feels as though an anvil has been driven into my head. There is a slow, gradual movement that descends from the crown of my head to my spine. I finally allow the dam inside of me to flow freely. I am shaking. I want my baby back!
“Fifteen years, I stayed with Richard and I only felt alive in the last ten years. He killed my baby. He killed me. I only asked him to pick her up. Couldn’t he have waited before going to see his mistress? I never complained about anything… even when I knew. I just wanted my daughter… our daughter home safe. He left her to roam the street in wait. He let her die under a truck. He killed her!”
I dig my nails into my thighs before I pick myself up and run some water on my face. I don’t want that woman asking me questions. I long for the place I once called home… for a life I do not know. A place I am not known. A place that does not remind me of my Katherine. I am going back to my place of birth.
I stand upright and stare at the reflection in the mirror. Sunken eyeballs and protruding collar bones greet me. I stare a while longer and manage a smile. No one harms my baby and goes free. I think of the poisoned bottle of bourbon sitting on Richard’s bedside cabinet. My eyes find my wristwatch. It is almost breakfast time. He will definitely have a drink before he discovers that I am gone. Anytime now, my Katherine’s death will be avenged. All will be well again.
Story by Marilyn Eshikena