Source: Parresia Publishers
I woke up coughing, struggling with bed covers that had entangled around my legs sometime during the night. It was only when I scrambled from the bed that I realised my night clothes were soaked through, and my skin was damp. I reached my neck with the back of my hand to feel it for fever. Cold. My breath came in short, quick gasps. Tears stung my eyes.
My ringing phone startled me. The Caller ID read ‘Yamhead.’
“Baby,” a voice breathed on the other end. My heart skipped a beat, then resumed with a vengeance banging against the walls of my chest like it was clawing its way out.
“Today is the day. I am already wearing my cap oh,” he said, sounding like the cat about to lick clean a bowl of cream.
Obiora Odiegwu, the man every young woman in Awka wanted as a husband, whom I had christened Yamhead in my moments of musing and the man who would be my husband in a few short hours. My hands got damp and I wiped one palm clean on my bed sheet, then the other. I started to speak but nothing came out.
And that was when I realised I was struck dumb.
One of my suitors had called me Yellow Pawpaw the first day he showed up at our door. I had christened him Toothpaste Pastor. He was a preacher in a small Pentecostal church I had attended with Adanna when I travelled to Enugu to visit in her husband’s home. After the service, he had collected my phone number and, few weeks later, Adanna had called on the phone that he had been pestering her about visiting our parents to seek their permission to marry me. I had laughed at her. Surely, it was a joke. It however ceased to be a joke when he appeared at our doorstep in an oversized brown jacket, the type I was sure English gentlemen used before the First World War, grey pants, and a handkerchief that had once been white. Tucked beneath his arm had been a large King James Version Bible. Toothpaste Pastor was the one who had introduced the name Yellow Pawpaw after he had dramatised how my beauty would elevate his status among his colleagues; his grin almost blinding me with its confidence. In his vision, he had said, we both got married in the rain.
Obiora had caught me smiling at the thought of Toothpaste Pastor and asked why I had that faraway look on my face.
I had wondered again how Mother had managed to get me to agree to this marriage. I could barely see past the size of his head. Worry lined his face, perhaps wondering if I would ever get over that starry-eyed look he complained to Mother about. He did not understand the worries that kept me awake. I had been sitting at home for almost two years without a meaningful job, listening to suitors describe how well I would complement their lives, and attending the Anglican Youth meetings on Mother’s insistence so that I would catch the eyes of more young men. Mother had given me an ultimatum to choose a suitor before my twenty-sixth birthday or she would go behind me and plead with one of my suitors to take me for free. She said I was getting old and God forbid that I would spend one more year under her roof after my sister had got married about the same age, still in her third year in the university which she did not bother completing. Mother had condoned my insistence on completing my university degree and I was about becoming an old maid under her roof.
“A woman without a husband is a failure,” she had said countless times. She would count all the failures she knew, always ending with her younger sister, Chimuanya, whom she accused of being too flighty to settle down in a man’s house.
“Those days when she was driving her V-boot around town, painting her lips red like an akuna-akuna, wearing short skirts, you see it?” Mother would spread her arms. “No husband and she is fifty. You want to be like her? Won’t you like it if you married now like your sister?”
Chief Momoh was a small man. He was so small that I did not even see him behind his table until he stood up and beckoned me close. His eyes were like little beads darting about the spacious office like they were rats seeking an escape route. And he was old. Older than my father. He looked to be in his early seventies.
“My dear, how are you?” He dismissed the receptionist and settled on a couch. When he patted the space beside him I saw his nails and shrank inside. There were long and dirty. His hands trembled slightly.
“Fine, sir.” I beamed at him, the man who would work miracles in my life and send me back home in a limousine. My smile widened.
“I usually don’t receive my guests in the office but Chi convinced me to. I can see why.” He looked at me thoughtfully, rubbing his chin with his shaky fingers. I looked away from his snake eyes and perched on the seat.
“We used to take trips to Dubai together, you know? Of course, you know,” he said and laughed. His laughter was hurried, like a child’s giggle. “And she knows my type.” He giggled again and moved closer. I moved away from him.
“What do you want, my dear?” he reached out and touched my chin and I jerked away, suddenly uncomfortable. He smiled. “She told me you were fresh too.”
“Sir, I need a job,” I blurted and was greeted by his slow smile.
“A job…” He shook his head and giggled. Behind him, a portrait of his family stared at me from its position on the wall. His wife reminded me of Princess, Aunty’s friend. She tilted her head slightly to the right like she was listening for something only she could hear. The elderly woman, most likely in her mid-sixties was small, the picture of elegance and perfection. Her back was so straight that it seemed a burden on her small frame. Behind her and her husband who was grinning into the camera, four young men stood with the cocky assurance of the wealth they possessed.
“Just a job? That’s all?”
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