Mixed feelings to her weren’t like curry and talcum but like sugar and salt, each element primarily indistinguishable from the other until—at least, another of the senses was employed. And even then, it would be silly to commence the task of separating each atomic grain of sugar from each atomic grain of salt—best leave things as they were.
Mixed feelings were what Janet Egbejeyi felt for her husband. She looked at him in the mirror, past her own image, as he tried to belt his trousers and hold it up at the same time. He was a large man, looking from the side like a pear, generous folds of fat hanging from the back of his thighs in melting dollops, his abdomen overflowing in layers like mud at a delta. To get up from bed at dawn, he needed to first turn around on his stomach, fold his knees and then prop his elbows into his belly before pushing himself up. The whole procedure took an excruciating ten minutes which she hated to witness. And when he was naked—God!
At night when his hands, dreadfully anticipated, reached across the distance between them and touched her back, she shriveled with a terror which rose to a feverish pitch when he slid across the bed and muttered pleas in her ear, his breath against her neck, acrid and laced with stale memories of dinner.
He’d only been a chubby man in ill-fitting suits when they married. Over the years, he’d grown bigger and bigger filling the room, the house, commanding his own gravitational field. To be fair, he’d tried, in his own way, albeit unsuccessfully to shed the weight: basketball and squash weekends at the country club; and he’d seen a surgeon at Reddington hospital who’d promptly rejected him saying he was too risky to operate. Now she hated him but she knew she couldn’t hate him forever because yesterday she had loved him as she would tomorrow, or in the next minute when he offered to cook for her or when he pulled her into his world of forex trades, explaining stop losses and whatnots as if she could understand them. Then, he would be beautiful and lovable, but she would be exhaustedly unhappy because as she knew now that her hate was short-lived, she would know then that her love, like an unhealthy infant, would fail to thrive.
Mixed feelings—best leave things as they were.
“Ready?” He asked.
“Ma nimi lara,” she snapped and immediately regretted it, then quietly, “Go and warm the car, dear, I’ll join you.”
They had just bought a house in rural Ikorodu, millions of miles from the city; it was where they would spend their retirement which would begin as soon as their last child, Solape, graduated from college. Today, they planned to look over the place, see what needed to be repaired, what needed to be changed.
She patted her crow’s feet with powder, the final rite of her make up ritual, and swept her lips with garish red lipstick. She turned to her side, admiring the beautiful, patterned Ankara skirt-suit he’d ordered for her from Daviva for her 58th birthday. She was proud of her flat stomock—as her socialite friends liked to joke over red wine on Tuesday and Thursday nights—which belied the fact that she’d had two children, now grown. Downstairs, a wave of nausea struck her as she happened upon the sight of him trapped there behind the seatbelt and bursting with intent through the window, occluding it totally as a thrombus, must somewhere in his heart, obliterate an artery. And she knew, with the emotion nestled in her heart like a swarm of black wasps that if she had a knife she would—without thinking of the children—stab him repeatedly in the chest and put him out of his misery. Out of her misery.
God forgive me. She crossed herself and hurried around the car to the passenger’s seat.
“Ready to go!” He said, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose.
“Ready!” She squeaked in feigned delight.
The car squawked to life and in the ensuing lullaby of the engine, she was eerily comforted with the image of his blood splashing upwards through the gash of her imagined knife, splashing upwards over her arms, across her face, upon her blouse.
The house was a shambling duplex: termite eaten sills, broken windows and large climber plants which lived to strangle every pole and pillar. The climbers covered the house in a coat of green and, through cracks, extended into the house to cause more damage.
“Here we are!” He struggled out of the car and the poor machine, rid of its bulky passenger, leapt up on its springs as if in a ludicrous attempt at flight.
“How d’you like it?” He presented, yearning for her approval.
“It’s amazing.” She whispered.
The house was in a valley in one of those virgin forest plots in Ikorodu that was yet to be corrupted by electricity, roads and the trappings of relentless Lagos urbanization. The closest neighbor was a farmhouse far away on the hill, belonging to the half-blind octogenarian whom they had purchased the place from.
“Amazing…” She said again but her mind was traveling back to the filling station they had passed hours ago. There had been a young attendant there; a handsome creature with firm muscles and a cultured tongue. He was about half her age, which made him more appealing and when her husband had gone into the super-mart to get some chips, she’d flirted with him and he’d responded like a pin to a magnet.
“Watch your steps,” he was saying, “The porch isn’t…you know, all that. By the way, do you know that there is a borehole? Also, the plumbing system is working perfectly….” He showed her around the house and she nodded and muttered the necessary monosyllables.
He excused himself after a while and left her alone in one of the rooms. She leaned against the window, supported by the odd comfort of rural silence. She was just beginning to fantasize about sunny isles festooned with handsome fuel station attendants when a loud explosion jolted her back to reality. For a while, she thought she had imagined it, then: “Janet!” It was Seyi, screaming.
“Janet! Janet! Janet—”
“What’s happ—where are you?” She ran in the direction of his voice afraid, hopeful that he wasn’t badly hurt.
“Janet! Janet! Janet!”
He was in the toilet and when she opened the door, a scream welled up in her throat like vomit and burst loose. Her purse fell and its contents spilled out onto the tiles, her lipstick rolling towards the spreading pool of blood.
“Help me!” He gasped. The ceramic toilet bowl had exploded under his weight and he was hanging over the broken pieces like a spider. Janet was frozen. His hands on the walls kept slipping and before she could catch him, he was impaled by tetanus infested shards of porcelain.
“Janet?” He whimpered, acknowledging the expression on her face, terrified by it. “Call someone please!”
She shook her head slowly. His blood touched her shoes and she withdrew to a safe distance from where she watched him for a full minute. Tears welled in her eyes and fell in torrents. He tried to get up but succeeded in hurting himself more—he screamed. She winced and stepped forward instinctively but caught herself.
“Janet please,” he cried. “What have I done? What have I ever done to you?”
“I’m sorry,” she said at last. “O’ Seyi, I’m so sorry … but it must be like this.” And with that she slammed the door and fled down to the stairs, careful over the porch as he had warned.
She paused at the car and looked around the empty valley. There was no one to hear his screams, his death would be slow and painful—perhaps, she should take a brick and brain him then? To spare him a slow gruesome death. She looked into her purse: she had his phone; she always carried his phone. He would be unable to call anyone. She shuddered and jumped into the car, convincing herself that she was doing what was best for the remainder of her life. He had married her when she was eighteen and without this, he would, despite his arteriosclerosis, live till she was eighty: a life sentence of horrifying dreariness. She put the car to gear and floored the gas, burning rubber.
She drove to the filling station and flirted once more with the boy who knew of a particular motel where she could stay the night. At midnight, she heard a knock on her door. It was the boy. She let him in and for the first time in about twenty-five years, she had an orgasm and concluded over a shared cigarette that it was the most fulfilling experience of her adulthood. But when the boy was gone, she was left alone to dwell in her guilt and her mind began to run wild with thoughts of him, the man whom she had once loved, the father of her children and it occurred to her in an epiphany what a horrible thing she had done! What would she tell the children?!
In her mind’s eye, she could see him dying slowly, like a rat spine-broken in a trap. His wounds would be infected, and he would come down with a fever and at night, the things that go bump would claw at his hair and whisper into his ears sending him into planes of paroxysmal insanity. And if a rabid dog got a whiff of the blood, it might go upstairs and paw the door open ….
Janet shook her head, hardening her heart. She lay down, wrapping herself in cheap motel blankets that smelled like too many short times and slept. She stayed at the motel for a week, but at the end of it she was sick of the boy and his puerile conversations—there was, after all, more to life than an imagined feud between Wizkid and Davido—and she longed immeasurably for him, Seyi: the man whom she still loved, who had taught her how to drive, who had brought her roses when she was unwell. A man who had cared for her all her life.
The man she had murdered.
And with a cry, she jumped into the car and sped to the house in the valley as if by some miracle she might still be able to save him. And when she got to it, she saw to her utmost surprise that it had undergone a transformation. The climbers had miraculously fallen off, the windows had been mended, the paint bright and colorful.
“God!” She whispered, afraid, not knowing what to make of it. Her heartbeat wildly against her rib, caged like a trapped animal. She stepped up the porch and into the house. The living room was furnished lavishly; a green rug covered the floor and there were green sofas and a fireplace with dull glowing embers in it. Above the fireplace was a large painting of herself and Seyi and they were so beautiful together that her heart broke.
She climbed up the stairs and tiptoed to the toilet. She pulled the door open and her grief was complete. He was there as she had left him but now he was surely dead. His abdomen was open. As she had feared, a rabid dog had got to him. Loops of his bowels were strewn around him. His fingers were stumps meaning he had tried to fight off the animal. He had been alive when the dog got to him.
“God, Seyi—what have you done to yourself?” She said, snapping out of her reverie, rushing to grab him before he fell to the waiting pieces of ceramic below.
She helped him out. He muttered, “Just sat on it and it blew beneath me.”
“Uh-huh.” She said.
And as they drove home, he said, “You know, for a while there I—this is ridiculous—I thought you were going to leave me there.” And he chuckled but when he glanced at her, there were tears hanging on her lower lids.
“What’s the matter?” He asked, alarmed.
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
“I love you.” She said. “More than anything in the world.”
Adelehin Ijasan is a Nigerian ophthalmologist and writer whose work has appeared in Everyday Fiction, Takahe, On the Premises, The Tiny Globule, Page and Spine, The Naked Convos, Kalahari Review, Canary Press and Pandemic Publications. He has been nominated for the Commonwealth short story ward and can be found at http://www.adeijasan.com.
Photo Credit: Photo by Dazzle Jam from Pexels