It was early that January 2005. Ujunwa would normally frown at the harmattan. She hated the white screen it came with that made everything look so dry and dusty, stiff and ready to crack. Even their leather chairs now squeaked loudly Everytime someone threw any weight on them. What used to be that soft, soundless cushion, with the harmattan came their awful whine as they groaned in pains. The floors upstairs and below were not spared from the cruelty as well. The harmattan left her feeling sorry for them; how quickly water left them. The long trails of mop-prints magnified by the harmattan could only make her think of the tiles as thirsty. She would have told Nene to ensure that surfaces were polished with a little grease to help douse the effect of the harsh weather on them, but that order was not hers to give.
3 January's ago, Christmas lighting's and decorations would still be on the walls, some would have even been left dangling from the ceiling tops. Ujunwa was not sure when she figured it out, but she knew that that tradition had been very new and that Okpataku had only been courageous enough to prepare their home and join in the Christmas festivities because Chief had passed. Although she had many of the times said that she did not celebrate the cause of the Christmas been that they were a seventh day Adventist family but that she simply enjoyed the festivities and how well it brought out the humanity in people. In her defense she would say,
"...O buro maka the Christmas theme ehn, I'd leave all these decorations here permanently. They are too beautiful, O eziokwu!"
(O eziokwu - it is the truth)
Ujunwa had never minded her pretentious reasons, things like that were a good sight for her sore eyes, they helped her manage the harmattan. But now that Okpataku had passed too, the only good thing the harmattan came with was the dry air and open skies that dried her laundry in minutes.
Somehow she missed her mother in-law but only when she gave her a thought. She did not think of them as close but after Nene their maid, Okpataku was who she talked to the most at home or as it was usually the case, the woman talked to her.
However this particular season did not bother her as much. She had been too occupied with other worries. Time was running out and she knew Somadina had his eyes glued on her.
Here she was, trying to grow a smile while serving him. She delicately placed four round piece of boiled yam from the big china ware on the table center on Somadina's plate. She did not know him to eat more than three, but like many other times, she added one more just in case.
"I don't like the shirt you're wearing Uju!" Somadina said with his face buried in his newspaper.
His voice still audibly commanding even though it was very low. She knew he had been watching her despite appearing to be wrapped up in his newspaper business.
"Oh this?" She cleared her throat tugging her big furry shirt at its collar. "I em- I woke up cold. Th-this was just to keep me warm."
Stuttering as she thought was always a strong indicator that she was lying and this evidence she feared had glared too much in her shaky reply.
Somadina said nothing.
She peeped at him from the corners of her eyes. She still wore her shaky smile while trying to discern what his thoughts really were, if he had bought her explanation or if he knew she was lying.
She did not want think that he had earlier seen her examining herself in her room. If he did, she might as well just tell him the truth there; tell him she had added a few pounds or that her bra was not hooked at the back because it was no longer her size. Maybe even tell him about the eggs she trashed out some breakfasts ago when he left to take a call or about the sick feeling his strong scented cologne had given her and how she had thrown up severally yesterday by the thoughts of it. If she told him, it would make things a lot easier. He would simply go upstairs to fetch her the medicine and sit there until he was sure that it had dissolved completely inside her mouth and then he would wait with her in her room, every now and then parting her undies at the middle, checking to see if his fingers would come out a bloody red. And if perhaps, she had not started to spot the long hours he sat there, He'd call Doctor Amadi to drop by and finish the work with a single injection.
The short paunchy man would always say after a gentle tap on her shoulder, "That should do it nne m." And with a smile, he would add, "Rest well and don't hesitate to call me if you have concerns." He normally said so with a kind of familiarity, as if they spoke often on phone or as if she had his number and had been the one who invited him over.
(Nne m - my mother (translation is in word for word but it is used for females in Igbo to mean my dear) )
But today, just like yesterday and the day before, she would conceal it and maybe he would not find out. She did not know how long she could keep her secret safe but she was determined to at least try.
She drew the opposite seat, the only extra seat at the table since after his mother's demise. If only Somadina would let them have children, there would have been more seats at the sides.
She watched his lips move in silent prayers, it was hard to think that he was also a believer, she would rather see it that he did these few things to appear a bit more sane. By the time he opened his eyes, she sank deeper into the chair, wanting it's cushion to open and swallow her whole. If he was not there, she would not have taken some eggs for herself or perhaps would not have come down stairs for breakfast at all. They ate slowly and in silence. Suddenly he stopped eating, his fork clanked against his plate,
"You haven't touched your eggs Uju"
"It's just a bit salty" she said quickly.
"How would you know? You haven't tasted it."
Her lips shook, she did not know what else to say. She felt her own saliva flood her mouth and she swallowed it. It felt very slimy and thick, it was beginning to churn her stomach. "You haven't tasted it" he repeated drawing slowly sips of orange juice from the cup in his hand.
Ujunwa felt nauseous but she sighed with a made up mind. She was not going to raise any more suspicions. She lifted her egg filled fork to her lips. It was the smell of the oil that first got to her, then the way the glossy near white looked with spots of varying shades of red and fading greenish purple, she could not believe she was actually going to eat it. She chewed it only twice and then a quick swallow. Ujunwa hated the taste and did not want to deal with it for too long. She took another fork full and another and another until she saw that Somadina was now back to his eating, no longer paying attention to her. She was not yet relaxed but at least she had not raised any dust.
He cocked his head and was peering at her like an experiment, allowing her sit in her own vomit. Ujunwa mumbled something that sounded like sorry. Her stomach churned again, jolting her beyond control again and again. The short time it let her go, saliva had already began to make long silky trails down her lips. She wiped it off with the back of her hand while blaming Nene in her mind for forgetting to get her the bitter kolas she begged for yesterday.
She was about to excuse herself when she threw up a second time. Her vomit splashed on the table and made a huge mess. She looked at Somadina wide-eyed. It was obvious he already knew. Ujunwa sprang up immediately and tried to run up towards the stairs. She needed to get away from him, the farthest she possibly could until she cooked up a better plan. But Somadina was fast too, maybe even faster than she was.
"Ujunwa come back here!" He shouted grabbing her by her vomit stained wrist.
He did not mind the feel of the slime at all, some even poorly chewed up piece of food in it. He would hold her anywhere even by her own vomit itself if he had to.
He was fuming with rage and was desperately trying to contain the urge of wanting to slap her. He dragged her back to her wet seat and threw her into it like that. He got a napkin quickly, cleaned his hands with it and tossed it on the table. She didn't want to cry, she wanted to talk to him, get him to reason with her but tears kept falling from her eyes. He paced to and fro gently with his hands strapped behind him, then he came a halt in front of her,
"How long gone?" He asked in lowered tone "answer me Ujunwa! How. Long. Gone?" He yelled when she could not reply. His voice made her quiver and she began to sob a little louder.
"Almos-Almost three months"
"Ujunwa three months?!" He banged the table,
"You mean you've missed your flow three months now and you said nothing?"
He finally let his temper loose and landed a slap on her face. Ujunwa nearly screamed. The slap was hard and had left her face with many shallow prickly stings. She was crying.
"You jus, You just. Ahh! Uju you ar..." He mubbled, shaking his head bitterly.
She didn't know if the reason why she still sat there was because he had told her to or if it was because she thought of no where else to go. Her face was hurting, infact she was starting to feel a little headache. Sobbing, she realized her shirt was still soaking up vomit and she could feel the soiled fabric cooling her skin beneath it. Ujunwa reached for the table napkin Somadina had used and began to wipe off as much regurgitate as she could. Suddenly she heard Somadina's footsteps returning down the stairs and again for her. Ujunwa tried to quiet her sobs, she knew he was returning with the medicine.
"Somadina please..." she knelt,