The woman never looks at Nana. She is always bowing, her hands holding the hem of her black threadbare hijab and removing strands. Nana would ask if she slept well last night if the medication worked, and the woman would start shaking her head frantically. She would stand and pace about the room, muttering, littering the floor with threads. Nana has tried a lot of therapies on her but she won’t just heal from her daughter’s death or from the survival guilt that strangles her.
“While I was powdering my face in front of the mirror that morning, my reflection warned me. Walahi, it warned me not to let Aishat go to school. It showed me everything. But I let her and now she is gone. It warned me. It warned me,” the woman had said the first day they met and after Nana asked her a few more questions, she diagnosed her with Schizophrenia. She sees things that are not there. And she sometimes burst into wild anxiety, throwing things at nothing.
“Hajia, please seat,” Nana says.
The woman whirls and for the first time since her sister brought her in gaze into her eyes. Nana flinches as she didn’t expect this.
“You have the mole too. You have the mole too, on your ear,” she says.
Nana’s eyes blink rapidly in disbelief as the woman has not come close enough to notice the tiny mole on the upper part of her ear. The woman has a mole too, between her eyes and she has claimed it lights up in the dark.
Nana stands. “Please sit and let us talk.” She is in a blue jalamia and she has many bangles on her hena patterned hands.
The woman looks away again. Then she freezes as if she just saw something. She rushes to the leather-covered desk and grabs some books and glares at the Louvre windows. Nana had hung up the curtains earlier to let some sunshine in. Nana waits. Then the woman throws the books at the glasses. Before Nana could stop her, she picks Nana’s husband’s portrait from the desk and throws too. And she is screaming as the Louvre glasses crumbles and fall to the ground. Nana holds her and shakes her lightly,
“It’s alright, Hajia. It’s alright,” Nana says.
The woman calms down and shivers. Two women barge in. One is Hajia’s sister who sighs when she sees the broken glasses. The other goes out and comes back a moment later with a broom and dustpan. She is sweeping the shards now.
“I am so sorry, Nana. Only Allah can repay your efforts,” the sister says.
Nana nods, still quite shaken.
“Madam!” the cleaner says and shows Nana a picture of her husband in his soldier uniform.
Nana asks her to put it on the shelf beside the window.
Nana is washing the dishes in the kitchen and she scrubs them a little too roughly. Her husband is going on an assignment again for weeks so she is angry. Or worried. Her phone rings in the sitting room. She rinses her hands, dabs them on a towel and leaves to pick the call. She meets her husband at the entrance who is already bringing her the phone. She takes the phone from him and heads back for the kitchen without a word.
“Who is this?”
“It’s… It’s… This is crazy.” The voice is throaty like the owner has catarrh.
“Crazy? Who is this?”
“Wait! Don’t let Abdul go…. Plea… don’t… war,” the voice, now breaking, spits out the mouthpiece and then there is silence.
“Who’s that?” Her husband hugs her from behind and kisses her neck.
Nana puts the phone beside the sink and turns to him.
“I think I just received a call warning me that you shouldn’t go.”
“Nanaaaaa, that’s absurd. I think your paranoia is inducing hallucination. I thought psychologists are masters of the mind.”
“Promise me you will call often.” Tears leak out her eyes.
“Come on! I will. In fact, -he glances up at a wall clock- I’ll call this time every evening.” He wipes her tears and fondles her cheeks.
“Cheer up! A soldier’s wife is a soldier too. Tough as brass.”
And Abdul begins reciting the poem he wrote for her again.
“A soldier’s wife is an iron lass.
My Nana stands tall like Babel.
Sweet like freshly plucked Intel.
Nana chuckles and recalls how she had found a soldier who writes poetry attractive the first time they met.
“She will storm through any weather.
She’s the heartbeat of a soldier!”
Nana throws herself at him as he ends his recitation and Abdul squeezes her to himself, whispering, “I’ll always come back to you.”
While Nana is watching the evening news and waiting for Abdul’s call at 7 pm, as usual, her phone vibrates on the glass table. She picks it and holds it eagerly to her cheek. A moment later, her hand drops from her ear slowly and her face distorts into folds of pain. Abdul is dead.
As she cries out her eyes and heart, her phone lights up on the table again. She grabs it with sparks of hope in her watery eyes. Maybe they made a mistake and Abdul is still alive. But when she sees the screen, she is surprised the phone is dialling her own number and it is ringing already. She is even more surprised when someone picks the call.
“Hello,” the voice says and she shudders at the familiarity of it.
“Hello,” Nana speaks in her dragging voice.
“Who is this?” the voice says and Nana freezes on recognition. It is hers. She is talking to herself from a month ago.
“It’s… It’s… This is crazy,” Nana says breathlessly into the mouthpiece with new alertness.
“Crazy? Who is this?” the voice says, now impatient and irritated.
Then she remembers she is to warn herself. But as she tries to, the line starts breaking and then the call is terminated.
She reclines on the sofa and stares at the television screen in shock. She whispers she must be going crazy already. Then the light goes off. And something lights up behind her. She looks back at what it is but there is nothing. She notices the source has shifted to behind her. She turns again and the source shifts again. Then she leans forward and peeps into the glass tabletop. And there, on her upper right ear is a tiny orange glow. Her eyes swell in their sockets and her heart pounds in her chest. Then her husband’s voice breaks into the room, raspy and weepy,
“A soldier’s wife is a soldier too…”
Ishola Abdulwasiu Ayodele writes from Nigeria. He is an alumnus of ANA/Yusuf Ali Creative Writing Workshop. He has been published on Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, African Writer and elsewhere. He thinks the wind is in love with him.
Photo Credit: Photo by Breston Kenya from Pexels