Sixteen years later
Emeka and Ozioma were in their room in their new house getting ready for a wedding. It was a very large house and their bedroom, painted blue – Ozioma’s best colour, with soft plush rug, was especially big, with an intimidating king-size bed at the centre. Hanging on the wall opposite the bed was a romantic picture of Ozioma sitting on Emeka’s lap and he feeding her an apple. It was taken during their picnic at Callabar.
Sitting in front of the dressing mirror, Ozioma looked at herself. A perfectly made-up face gazed back at her. She had the latest Brazilian hair, which cascaded down her back. Despite gaining a little weight over the year, she knew she looked good for a mother of two, and she was determined to look her best for the first official function she would be attending from her new home.
A reflection of her husband caught her eye and she put down the mascara tube she was holding and gazed at him. He was sweating a little despite the air-conditioner, but that wasn’t what interested Ozioma. It was his clothes. His traditional attire.
She planned to wear her new red gown to the wedding, knowing it would fit her perfectly, but that might not happen, going by her husband’s clothes. ‘I don’t know why you insist on wearing these clothes. I told you that they bring out your big tummy. Why don’t you wear your suit since I will be wearing my red gown?’
Ozioma wanted him to look the part of a sophisticated man. She still loved her husband, but sometimes he could be very trying. During those trying times, she often wished she was not married to him. But when she remembered how very sweet and charming he could be, she was always glad she was married to him. They had been married for seventeen years now.
She was very uncomfortable with his weight gain. His belly was now bigger and his face was sagging. Seeing his thick waist made her sad. She had tried to tell him to control his weight, but he had refused. Not that he really refused, it was just that he did not have time. He was working harder than he used to and she knew why. He was trying to pay up the loan he took for buying their house. Ozioma felt guilty for making him buy this house but she could not bring herself to suggest they leave it for a smaller one.
Her daughter Nancy would be thrilled if they were to move. She did not want to live here but Ozioma did not care. Actually, she did care but she could not help it. Not that she did not care what Nancy thought about what Ozioma was doing. She just wanted this for herself, and since Emeka was able to do it for her, she went for it. They now live in GRA and that was where the rich stay in Abuja. The house they lived in Han’s avenue was okay for the middle class but she did not want to be one of them anymore. It could be said that she was selfish in this case.
The truth was that, this was her dream house and she was not about to leave it at all. They had just moved into the upper side of the state and she loved every minute of it. They were invited to the wedding of people they did not even know.
Emeka did not want to go but she really wanted to be there and she was not going without him.
The house was big with five bedrooms, four bathroom and toilet and two kitchens. The backyard was bug with three mangos tress of different sizes. She called professionals to decorate the house and they did a wonderful job. The house was simply fabulous.
While waiting for her husband to reply her, the door burst open and Nancy flew in.
‘Mum, do you think this thing will be good for that birthday thing that we are going?’ The young girl held a long black gown to her body for her mother’s inspection.
Ozioma was proud of her daughter’s figure. Nancy has grown up to be tall and slender with a long neck. When she was ten, Ozioma thought that she would be gawky but she grew up to fill in the right places. Nancy was an epitome of an African beauty. Her nose was pointed and elegant like a black aristocrat. Her mouth was a tad small. She had big black inquisitive eyes. Her hair was the best thing about her. It was thick and long. It mocked hair extensions; she did not need them.
If she put her mind to it, Ozioma thought her daughter could become a very big model. She has the figure but she knew that Nancy was the type that would want to do that kind of thing. She was too serious for a girl of sixteen. She acted like she was thirty something and as if the people around did not know what the world was about. She had long found out that Nancy loved to be left alone but then, it was hard to be alone in a world filled with people especially if you have a little brother that adored you and thought you were very cool.
‘That dress is lovely, sweetie, but don’t you think that the red one I bought for you last week will be better? You look rather ravishing in that one. I think you should wear it.’
‘I don’t like it and I won’t wear it. You just want me to wear it so that I will look attractive to those stupid boys so that you will find more reason for us to stay in this ridiculous place. I won’t give you more reasons. I don’t like this place and I am going to wear this horrible dress to mourn my old house.’ As swiftly as she came, she swung away and left.
Ozioma knew that what she said was very rude but she did not know how to handle it. She did not hurt her more since she had done her worst when she took her out of the place that she knew and dumped in a place that was alien to her.
‘Don’t you think that Nancy is becoming a little too rude to me?’ Ozioma asked her husband who was standing in front of the mirror the whole time that Nancy was ranting. He was trying to arrange his cloth that did not need arranging.
‘Don’t you think I slimmed down just the tiniest bit this week?’ Emeka said, not answering her question.
Ozioma knew that her husband had nothing to say in defence. Neither did she, but she really wanted this place.
‘Answer what I am asking you Emeka. What do you think?’
‘I think you worry your pretty head too much. She will get used to this place and she will stop being grumpy. You wanted this and you know I will give you anything that is within my power, even some things that are not within my power. If she has a problem, let her do fast and get married so that her husband can do anything she wants. And she can also build a bridge and get over it. Now do you really think that my stomach will get flat again if I stop eating fufu at night?’
Emeka loved Ozioma and he would do anything for her to make her happy but sometimes, Ozioma was too hard to please. He did not want her to know some of the things he that he was not proud of. He did it to please her but she did not have to know. He was not proud of it but it was a necessary evil. He did have a choice but much and he did not have any at all if he wanted to get Ozioma the house that she wanted.
‘Your stomach is fine,’ Ozioma said, not wanting to hurt him. She stood up and hugged her husband from behind. How he loved this woman! ‘I love you,’ she whispered to him.
Emeka smiled and turned around to kiss her. She did not know what he did for her and he wanted to keep it that way. ‘And I will do anything for you. Anything, my love.’
‘Yes, anything besides to stop eating fufu in the night,’ he said with a grin. He knew that Ozioma loved his body among other things and he was actually sad that he could not keep his body fit. He really tried. That was mainly why he wanted to atone for the body fit lose by giving her dream house even if it was not within his reach. He made it to be within his reach.
‘Do you think you can finish in the next five minutes so we can start going? Can you do that for me?’ he smiled inwardly. It was actually funny that after seventeen years, Ozioma still got ready for events before him and she managed to do everything that a lady was required to do and still have time to wait for him to get ready.
‘Right away. I am ready. I will even wear the suit if that will make you smile.’
’You can wear anything. I will still smile.
From the gate, Nancy watched in horror as the house that contained her parents collapsed before her very eyes. She could not do anything but stand transfixed as the house they had lived in for the past three months was reduced to nothing. It was not bombed down. She knew that. She had felt something when they came to live in that house. The earth beneath her had not felt normal. For one, it was too soft to be strong. She told her father this, but he just told her that she should calm down. So she did so.
But she was not calm now. She was very much paralyzed with fear. Her eyes were very wide but she could not control it. She knew that her parents were inside there. She could not explain how she knew but she knew, just like she knew that the house was about to collapse.
Going close to the house was suicidal but she was very tempted to do so.
‘Mum,’ Ivan, her younger brother, shouted behind her. He made to run to the house but Nancy, gathering her thoughts, shot out her hand in time to draw him back.
Ivan was just fourteen years. She wondered how he would handle the death of their parents. He was very easy to please and very easy to hurt. He was that gentle. She hoped that the death or better the disappearance of their parents would not break his gentle soul.
‘They are gone, Ivan. They are gone with the house,’ Nancy said dully. She did not even know that her face was wet until she tasted the saltiness of her own tears.
People started gathering. She could see them casting pitying glances at her and her brother. She knew they meant well but she did not really care. She had not wanted to live in this high class part of the town in the first place, where the wives of rich politicians lived, but her mother had wanted it.
Nancy could not blame her mother even if she had wanted to, because she just died, and the dead were not to be blamed.
She became dizzy as the reality of what happened overwhelmed her. She had a feeling she would faint any moment from then. Everything was happening too fast. Her parents were not supposed to die. Who would take care of her and her little brother? Who would pay their school fees? What were they to do now? She had never fainted in her life, but she knew that if she did not get her act together that she would pass out. She had not finished thinking it when swayed on her feet and succumbed to the oblivious, where she would feel nothing but absolute numbness.
‘What is her case, Nurse Ebele?’ the doctor on duty asked.
‘We think she is suffering from a severe shock. She fainted as she watched her family house collapse with her parents inside it, though we do not know if she was sure her parents were inside,’ Ebele answered him.
Doctor Ade was the best doctor in the whole of Abuja especially in Ifedi Specialist clinic where they worked as far as she was concerned and she knew that he would do his best for the poor girl that was lying lifeless on the bed.
‘You have checked her. What did you find out?’
‘She is still in shock and she is not in a hurry to come out. Apart from the fainting, she is as healthy as a horse.’ She bit her lips as soon as she said that.
‘Ebele,’ the doctor rasped as he tapped his pen on the patient’s clipboard, ‘how many times do I have to tell you to stop comparing human being to your horses? It is not good at all.’
Ebele apologised and watched as the doctor attended to the girl.
Ebele was huge in an intimidating way, which often forced the patients into doing whatever she asked them. What they did not know was that the big woman with the occasional mean looks could be very gentle and sweet when she wanted to be. She didn’t make her hair like other women. Hers was barbed like she a widow’s, but she was not one. She had very dark skin and black lips too. Despite her mean looks, her eyes were a big giveaway for her. They were brown and kind. Looking into her eyes, one could tell she did not have the heart to hurt an ant.
Doctor Ade thought the patient was too tall for her age but tall in a good way. He was told that she was sixteen years old. He could see laughter lines on her face. She must be a very happy girl to have acquired such noticeable lines at such a young age. She looked sick and vulnerable. They had run tests and seen that she did not have any sickness. It was just a matter of time and she would be up and about. He would have to remind her aunt that the girl should be spared any shocking news so she would not have a relapse.
He felt sorry for her and her little brother. According to the news, houses have been falling a lot lately. He did not know what caused it but he would not be surprised if it was lack of good building materials. Yes, Nigeria was that corrupt. He had seen so many people injured or dead just by the carelessness and selfishness of the architects. He shook his head. Here was another victim of someone’s greed.
He left after giving an order that he should be called once she was awake and that they should feed the little boy with good food.
Nancy woke up later in the evening. She was disoriented when she came around. Her brother was beside her hospital bed with her aunty. They both looked like they had been there for a very long time. She felt bad as though she had failed her brother. She was supposed to be the strong one but look how fast she fainted. She wondered what her brother had to go through. She looked at her aunt Mariah, her mother’s sister. She did not know what to say to the older woman. Indeed, she did not want to have anything to say to the older woman.
Nancy did not like hospitals and she had never been to one except when her daddy insisted that she needed to check her whole system. She had never been sick and she never wondered why. The room was filled with stainless equipment in every corner. She did not like it at all.
‘How are you feeling, baby?’
She was feeling grumpy but she was not about to tell her aunt that. She decided then that she was not going to make it easy for the woman. ‘Do I look like a baby to you? I am fine.’
The woman was not offended. ‘The doctor said that there is nothing wrong with you. He said that once the shock of the news is over, you will feel much better.’
‘Did he say that? I am so surprised.’ She was sarcastic. ‘How are you, Ivan? I am so sorry I passed out on you.’
‘No problem, sis. I still can’t believe that they are dead. They were there when we went to the birthday party. I thought they said that they had a wedding to attend. What were they doing inside the house?’ He started crying again.
Ivan was only fourteen years old and he did not deserve what just happened. He was very tall and gawky with no extra pound of flesh to show for the much food he ate. He was handsome though he had sleepy eyes which girls called sexy and thick full lips that had smiles on them all the time. He was not smiling now. His eyes were just like hers. It was black like her own but the only difference was that her own was a greenish black. He didn’t talk much, maybe because he didn’t know what to say to a sister. It broke Nancy’s heart now to see him cry.
Mariah went to him and put her hands around him. He cried harder. Nancy wanted to tell her to let go of her brother but she had no strength to console his brother as she wanted. She did not like the idea of her aunty consoling her brother.
‘It is all right, honey. I am here now. Everything will be just fine.’
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Nancy. She sat up from the bed and looked daggers at her aunty. ‘It will never be alright any more. My parents just died and you’re saying that everything will be alright? Forgive me if I do not believe you, Aunty Mariah.’ She scoffed and looked away.
‘That is not what I meant. I meant that the hurt would lessen with time. If you want to twist my words to fit your reasoning, then go ahead. I don’t have to stand here and listen to you. I am going to call the doctor.’ She stormed out of the room.
Nancy felt like shit but it wouldn’t be the first time that it happened. She knew that aunty Mariah was just trying to help but Nancy could not help being antagonistic. Her aunty was her mother’s twin sister. The sisters were not close but they were not enemies either. Mariah was a lot like Ozioma, with brown eyes, nice smile, sweet voice, and a shapely body, even after three kids.
‘Nancy, so you are back with us in the land of the living?’ the doctor said, smiling at her. ‘I am glad. There is nothing wrong with you at all. You just had a shock that should last an average man a lifetime. I am sorry about your parents. They were good people,’ he commiserated.
Nancy liked the doctor but she did not need any one to tell her how dead her parents were right then. She just made a non committal sound to all the doctor just said.
He nodded knowingly. ‘Your mood must be very rotten.’
‘I think having my parents killed before my very own eyes gives just a little bit of right to have a normally rotten mood. Don’t you think so doctor?’
‘I don’t think so, Nancy. I know so. Now, I don’t want you to wallow in that rotten mood of yours for the time being. You will go home tomorrow when I am sure that you are not going to have a mild heart attack. Okay?’
‘Okay,’ she murmured.
‘And try not to be angry with people around you.’
Nancy nodded and watched as the doctor left. Feeling drowsy, she smiled weakly at her brother and slept off.