The Burden of Silence

By Uzoma Ihejirika

Illustration © Gabriel Mugabi

Illustration © Gabriel Mugabi

The rain fell in a light drizzle. But inside the atmospheric quiet of the cabin, you have not spoken a word to each other. The doctor’s words, You are Pregnant, have wedged themselves between you. Talking is a tad difficult. Mike is driving. In the passenger seat, with your face pressed against the door window, you watch the chaotic world unfold outside; okada riders, with their passengers perched behind them enter the slip stream of trucks and reemerge beside the wheels of all manners of vehicles. As they attempt to dodge potholes, they end up sloshing brown mud and grease about them. You’ve been here, on the road, for the past two hours. But the traffic is still continuing at a slow pace. It’s late in the afternoon and you feel your whole being weighed with exhaustion. You cannot wait to get home and lie down before the evening wanes.

Mike’s phone starts to ring. He picks the call.

Hello? Yeah, he says. The way he lowers his voice, you no longer have any doubt as to who it is at the other end. Mike quickly apologizes for not calling as promised. He blames his tight schedule and says he is in a meeting now —an important meeting with some contractors, so he has to hurry.

—Tell the kids daddy loves them, he says between pauses. Yes I love you too. Bye. He ends the call and heaves a deep sigh. Neither of you exchange a word in the false silence which prevails. You are feeling unnerved, but you don’t have the energy to do anything.

***

When you reach your house, you and Mike have a fight.
—You should end it, he says.
—No. I’m scared for my life. You tell him, even if you understand that a safe abortion never killed anyone.
Mike scoffs and says you should quit being lily-livered and have the damn abortion. You say he should give up trying to intimidate you. His face curls with hisses and a haughty scowl. He says you’re a bitch for treating him like this and tells you to get lost in your own house.
—You can call me whatever…, you say. I’m not having an abortion and that is my final decision. Mike waits for you to change your mind. He is agitated and paces from one end of the room to the other then storms out. He slams the main door behind him, pausing. In that brief moment you notice that you are shaking.
It seems he is waiting for you to change your mind, by this singular act of aggression. But you are resolute.
—You are now on your own, he says between clenched teeth.

***

The next day you call Sade. You want to tell her everything: how you and Mike used to be university sweethearts, how you were struck by jealousy the day you ran into her and Mike at the cinema. How when he introduced Sade as his wife, that flame of your jealousy was fanned by a still alive love for Mike. It did not help that Mike told you he still felt the same way about you, later. You want to tell Sade that you are sorry. For everything.

Sade sounds delighted to hear from you. She goes on and on about how she thought you had forgotten her, she is sure that that day must be a good one, now that you have blessed her with your voice.
—Ore mi, she says, I have something to tell you.
—What…what is it about? You ask.
—It’s about Mike o, she says.
You swallow hard and feel the weight of your rehearsed words drop low into your belly. What about him?, You ask.
—I am tired, ore mi. I have begged him, prayed for him, baited him with sex and even threatened to divorce him. But now it seems all my efforts are in vain. Now he hardly comes home, and when he goes on those his never-ending business trips, he doesn’t bother to call at all. At the very least, to say hello to the kids. My sister, I’m scared.
You do not know what to say. Your throat is feeling clogged.
—Are you still there? Sade says.
—Yes, yes, I am, you manage to say.
—You know, I have been thinking. Why don’t you make time to pay us a visit. At least come and say hi to the kids? And if possible, that is if he is tired from his waka-waka, you could find Mike at home and help me in talking some sense into him. You know he listens to you.
—I…I’ll think about it.
—Think ke? Ore mi, please don’t do this to me. I really need your help.
You know your hands are tied; Sade wouldn’t take your protests to heart. Okay, you say finally.
—Okay?
—Yeah. Okay.
—Okay what?
—I’ll come, I promise.
You hear Sade’s heavy sigh. In the silence that ensues, you know this the perfect time to let out your feelings, but you cannot find the courage to do so.
—Are you still there? Ore mi?
You end the call quickly. A word sticks to your mind, and you are sure that is what you are. Coward.

***

Soon the bulge of your belly starts to push your clothes out. Your colleagues at the bank want to know what the problem is. You assure them that there is nothing wrong with you. One of your colleagues, Janet tells you of a married aunt of hers whose tummy kept getting bigger, and who everyone thought was pregnant, only for her to go for a test and the diagnosis was fibroids. Janet advises you to have a check-up. And the rest of your colleagues agree. You say you will, and thank them for their concern.
One Saturday morning, you are in bed when you hear the doorbell ringing. Lately, you do not feel like seeing anyone, especially your nosy neighbours whom you believe, in their façade of coming to check on you, sniff around, hoping to find something to fuel their gossip with. But the ringing at the door grows persistent. Then you hear Mike’s voice, calling out to you to open the door. It is tempting to ignore him, but on imagining your neighbours hiding behind their windows, parting curtains furtively, you push the heavy comfort of the duvet aside and go to open the door.
—Hi, Mike says.
—What do you want?
—Please, I’m sorry.
—I suppose so.
—Please. I swear I’m really sorry, he says.
—Go away.
—Please…please…he pleads.
You regard him for a while, something like hissing is pooling into your mouth. You return inside the house, leaving the door open.
—Thank you, you hear Mike say behind you. Thank you.

***

You are packing your clothes into a bag when the doorbell rings. There is a lightness in your heavy feet because Mike said he would be here by noon. But it is past 1:00 O’clock already. You run to the door floating in a cloud of exhilaration. Expectation. Then a gasp escapes your lips as you hold the door ajar.
—It’s me, and not a ghost, Sade says. Since the mountain has refused to come to Mohammed, Mohammed has decided to go to the mountain. You’d better comot. What is that look on your face?
—How…How’re you doing?
—Fine. May I come in?
—Yes, yes, please come in. When Sade enters, her eyes dart about the room.
—Ore mi, Sade says, This one that I’m seeing bags and clothes everywhere, are you going on a trip?
—Yes…em…no…Yes, yes. I’m planning on relocating.
—Relocate ke? Oh, so if I hadn’t been lucky in coming minutes before you left, I’d have met an empty house, abi?
Your lips part but no words slide forth. You close your lips again and stare at the floor, just to be sure.
—Ore mi, so this is what you want to do to me, abi? Sade says.
—I’m sorry, Sade. Things happened so fast. But I should have told you.
—Told me? By evading my house? You didn’t even honour my invitation to come and visit the kids, I…Sade’s words trail off. You follow her gaze – it stops at your belly.
—Ore mi, she says in a low voice, suspiciously. What is that I’m seeing?
You are still searching for what to say when her phone starts ringing. She glances at the screen and hisses.
—This husband of mine, she says. I wonder why he is calling me. She puts the phone to her ears: Hello? Yes, what is it? Wait…you’re not Mike? Who are you then? Who? What! My husband? Accident? Jesus! Please, which hospital? Okay. Okay, okay, I’m coming there now. Yes, right now.
—What is it? You say as Sade breaks into a scream. When she has mustered enough calm to talk again, she looks at you. Her gaze is unsettling you.
—Mike…He was in an accident. I have to go now. Sade stops you as you bend to pick up your handbag. Don’t worry, I will keep you posted.
She is out of the house before you can say anything.

***

Later that day, Sade keeps you posted, as promised: Mike is dead.

***

A few days later, resplendent in your black attire, you watch as Mike’s casket is lowered into the waiting grave. You have no tears burning at your eyelids. Guilt won’t let you. Sade stands beside you with her children. Their cries pierce your soul. Yet, when the funeral ends, you intend to leave, so you tell Sade that unlike before, now you will keep your promise; you will surely make out time to visit. She says you should try to do so. She needs you, now that her children, Mike’s children, need an auntie more than ever.

As you board a taxi and watch them wave goodbye to you, you wonder what the future holds for you. For them, it certainly looks bleak already. Then a realisation washes over you hard, just like the moment Mike whispered during the cathartic quiet of lovemaking, that the condom had broken. You certainly do not have a future with Mike now, nor with Sade anymore.

Taking out your phone, you open your contacts, scroll down to Sade’s number and press ‘Delete’.

Things will be better that way, you believe. You lean back into the seat and close your eyes. The sky above rumbles with heavy clouds. You hope to get back to your new home before rain starts falling and the snarls up the traffic.


Uzoma Ihejirika is a writer fom Nigeria. His profile can be viewed here.

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