1968

By Okwudili Nebeolisa

Her son had gone to play outside with the other children before she began writing:

Dear Obinna,
How are you currently doing? I thought I should tell you…

Then she tore the paper, thinking the beginning was too terse. She took another sheet and started:

My love,
Hope your last night was fine. I couldn’t help telling you that
last night I didn’t experience something that finalised my doubts…

She tore the paper and looked outside to see if her son was in sight, but he wasn’t. Where could he have gone to? The woman who would help her convey the letter to Obinna would soon pass her frontage, on her way to the market, so she wanted to be done with it, quickly. Stubbornly she took another sheet:

Obinna,
I think I have good news. Last night finalised all my doubts
about it. I know I’m pregnant and it is your baby. I’m happy writing
this, carrying your baby. Don’t worry about me, everything will be
fine. I’m well.
Gladys.

She read it over and over again. Then she opened the drawer in front of her and took out an envelope. She folded the letter neatly and tucked it inside the envelope. She thought about writing her name on the envelope, then waived the thought away.

But when the woman came, on her way to the market, and shouted Gladys’ name, Gladys ran out and only greeted the her, as usual. She had decided not to send the letter, fearing that the woman would open it.
So she kept the letter, sandwiched in her notebook which she kept it in a drawer.

***

A month later her husband returned from the war. His wife’s belly had started protruding and when she gladly told him about it, on the day of his return, he pretended to be happy . He had been badly injured and was hospitalised for three weeks before he was allowed to go home, pending when he would declare himself fit for battle. It was miraculous to be back home.

War made him too sullen and withdrawn. He avoided their son and mostly talked to himself, scaring his wife and infecting his son with his lust for silence. Mostly he would lie on the bed, hungry for what to read to keep his mind busy and in touch with reality.

One afternoon, he was looking for the only album of pictures he could take while leaving Nsukka, where he lived before the war. He had particularly taken that album because it was leather-bound and had photos of his mother and his favourite cousin who was now dead.

He checked the wardrobe, the cupboard, the scanty bookshelf, but couldn’t find it. Moreover his wife had changed the position of things, in his absence. He was almost furious. She was washing laundry outside.
Finally he found it in the drawer. The notebook was directly under the album. The brown envelope caught his eyes (its edge was spilling from the notebook’s leaves), so he opened it. Carefully, he read the content of the letter. He was shocked, particularly because she had lied to him about the pregnancy being his. He wished he knew the Obinna his wife was referring to.

He called her in right away, though he knew that it would’ve been better if he waited for the night to come, when people would be asleep. She was wiping her hands on her dress when she came in. Then he went to the door and shut it, the two windows, too. Only a little light flickered in from holes that crickets had drilled inside the windows. Soon they began to chirp, thinking it was night.

They stood for a minute, not saying a word. He showed her the envelope and asked her to read what was inside. She knew what was in it, so she only stared at him, ashamed. She couldn’t even take the letter from him. He picked up the torch and pretended to be searching for something. He hit her on the head and bruised her. She fell on their bed. When she tried to get out from the bed, he struck her again on her temple with the torch. The torch went off. They were left in the half-dark, imagining each other’s silhouette.

She begged, but he didn’t listen. Most of the other women had gone to the market. She considered the chances of calling for help. He slapped her with his strong palms. She whimpered, her lip and nose were bleeding. She tried to get out from the bed but he pushed her back. If she could grab his arm, she would bite it fiercely to the extent that he would bleed. For a moment she thought he wanted to rape her or do something to harm the foetus in her. There was nothing handy to hit him with, she hadn’t expected it would anything like this. Another slap and her head struck the bed’s edge with a dull thump. She went silent, didn’t move. He tugged at her but she was still.

He took his army bag and stuffed it with a few clothes and shoes, for himself and his son. He had money in his pocket. He took the keys to his motorcycle and went out to look for his son. “We’ll be travelling tonight,” he told his son, in Igbo. When the boy asked about his mother, if she wasn’t going to leave with them, he was shouted at to shut up.
Quietly they left for the next village after he draped a bedspread over Gladys.

___

More of Okwudili’s work can be accessed through his profile.

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