(Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget….. Isaiah 49:15)
A lady cleans phlegm from her child’s runny nose. I remember you.
I watch another straddle her child behind her back, walking down the street briskly, flowery umbrella in hand and I remember you. Or in church, when a naughty child begins to wail, not even crying up a tear and its mother hushes it, rushing it out to breastfeed it,at such moments, thoughts of you begin to assail my mind.
It is three years now and I write to say, Thank you. Thank you for turning my life to a joke without a punchline. Thank you for taking off when the air was rife with news of kidnapping. Three years now and not a word from you, not even a whiff of your perfume has trespassed my nostrils. For making me sit for hours, phone in hand, hoping a call would come and a husky voice at the other end of the line would demand a ransom huge as a cathedral. The atmosphere that period was already inundated with fear. Already the landlord, Chief Okeosisi, had his wife in the web of these scoundrels and would you believe it, when they called demanding millions like it were their birthright, the oldster replied them coolly,that the woman in their custody was his wife of twenty-six years, twenty-six years and had birthed him six sons and two daughters; why pay another bride price? Her work on earth was done! And this man didn't budge amidst the many pleas of relatives, (Release the money so that your wife would be released). Had it not been for the financial intervention of family and friends, who would have known the fate of that woman?
In an atmosphere like that where everyone walked in trepidation, fearing those garden variety criminals who were so quick-witted in their task,that was the only time you decided to take off. Had it not been that someone or the other came to me testifying, Yes we saw your wife in Sapele haggling fish, we saw her in Ariaria with shoemakers, my soul never would have found rest, thinking all these while that my wife was being tortured and being done unthinkable things to. Then the testifiers would urge me, Go after her, shame her into returning, you married her with your hard earned money, didn't you? But proceed to retrieve you, I would not. No, I would tell them, you were not a child. A grown woman, that’s who you are;old enough to decide what is best for you. It was you who dragged yourself on this path of foolishness, you could drag yourself back if you so wished.
Itinerant? Who would have thought you were? My faculties were incapable of thinking such ill of you. You, my innocent bride from my little home town. Who put that fly in your head, that hex on your mind? To think that I gave you everything, your whims and caprices, none of them went unfulfilled.
And I say thank you once again for making the world impugn my virility. When I walk past,people regard me as a weak man that could not tether his errant wife, some marauding beast that bartered his wife so senseless , that she ran hard and fast, forgetting to pick her sucking child. But you and I know, God bearing us witness, that I never so much as laid a finger on you, never forced you when you said you felt sour, and never even scolded you for long when you left the rice on fire till it charred while you went gossiping with Caro.
Even when you complained of being idle and pried that little money out of my hands to start a kiosk, I acquiesced; at least I got some sleep afterwards. Now see, the shop lies empty and harangued like an imbecile, a relic, a painful monument of your elopement. Thank you for making me a fine spot for mockery, a man too weak to take charge of his little household.
That night you left, I still remember, I had staggered into the house, looked around but didn’t find you, supposing you had gone over to Caro’s place to watch those Mexican soap operas. Little Bena was in her crib dozing. I ate my food at the table, had a quick shower and headed straight to bed, my head choc-a-block with the figures of the day’s sales. Sales were moving at snail speed; building a business from scratch was taking its toil on me. But a man had to be a man. And it was at midnight that I reached for your side of the bed and found it cold and empty.
And ever since that night I have never ceased to ask myself what I did or did not do. It was not my fault that the shop burnt down. I would have accepted blame had it been I loafed around and did nothing about our predicament. Till this moment, it puzzles me that when I told your parents about your departure, no shock whatsoever registered on their faces.
Three years now and little Bena is growing up without a motherly figure while you recline in clover, not showing a twinge of contrition at your actions.
Suffice it to say that I happen to be the bone of contention, the bad guy, the last straw that broke your hips, but for the child you bore, do you not have an iota of compassion? Many are the women whose knees have been scarred and blackened as they prayed for the fruit of the womb;and here you carry on like an ostrich, laying your eggs in the open, not minding who nibbled at it or how many would survive. The pangs of childbirth you felt, your labor all in vain.
To think of the fact that the child is growing up at a time when beauty is much vaunted: eyelids must flutter like butterfly’s wings, legs must be as long as Nile, bosom must be full as Limpopo; how she needs you! I look at her and see how much your elopement has destabilized her infantile equilibrium and my heart is touched. I just served her a meal of scrambled eggs and yam and soon I shall tuck her in bed. She occupies her time with playing with a doll I bought her, braiding and re-braiding its hair, her carefree laughter faintly resembling yours, she not even knowing you.
Well I write to say soon I shall wed another.
It’s been three years… and I have tried.