FOR BETTER FOR WORSE
“don’t let her out of that gate!”
Evelyn stopped, looked at one of the soldiers manning the gate and turned around to face Jamila who was standing at her veranda. “Tell him to let me go.” She stood under heavy, windy rain, shivering non stop.
“Come back in, Ev. You will catch a cold.”
“I have to take my sister to the po-police,” she shivered. “Please, tell him to open the gate.”
Jamila walked out into the rain when she noticed Evelyn’s resolve weakening. The wind beat against her body and she did her best to stop her kimono from flying open.
“Come in, my dear,” she reached out and touched her. Evelyn shook her head and began crying. She once was a sweet woman, not too long ago, but what Jamila now saw was fear and despair and she felt deeply sorry for her. “Come, let’s go in.”
“I want to…” Evelyn protested weakly but Jamila pulled her back into the house, changed her clothes, offered her a steaming cup of tea and let her alone for a few minutes. Outside, Jamila gave orders to the soldiers to have the corpse inside Evelyn’s car taken to the hospital. When she got back in, the phone was ringing.
“Lieutenant Shehu’s residence,” she pressed the phone receiver to her ear.
“Yes, father,” she straightened up and pinned together the exposed cleavage of her kimono at the sound of Igwe’s voice. Something about him always made her want to behave appropriately even in his absence.
“There’s a family meeting at the villa at 2100 hours. Wherever Samuel is hiding, drag him and bring him here. You understand me?”
“Yes sir,” she swallowed and he ended the call. Leaving the phone receiver hanging, she stared at Evelyn whose tears had now been replaced by a somewhat dazed exterior. Jamila waited patiently for the drug she had slipped into her tea to set in before she dialed Samuel. Surprisingly, she got him at home.
“You better come here. There is trouble.”
There was a long, drawn silence in Igwe’s private sitting room as his close family members waited for him to speak. Usually, he would begin with either a witty remark or a proverb but his twitching left eyebrow and lower lip indicated that he was not in the mood for small talk. He was still in his full military regalia, having just gotten back from an official meeting in Ghana. Jamila guessed he hadn’t rested; his eyes were tired and bags hung beneath them. She longed to sit at his feet to massage them as her mother taught her.
It doesn’t matter whom you marry, your father will always be your first husband. Take good care of him while I’m gone. Boil his morning tea for exactly a minute before you serve him; he will know if you missed even two seconds. Massage his shoulders when he has had a long day and tell him how much he is doing a good job; he loves to hear his women sing his praises. Avoid talking to him early in the morning; he prays in his mind for two hours before he speaks to anyone. Look away from his eyes when he talks to you or he will read you like a book and fish out the thoughts in your head. And lastly, the way to his heart is through a glass of good brandy; two shots, without ice.
“I called you all here so that I can let you in on the decision I have made concerning Samuel and his insalubrious, ghoulish medical procedures that have left this family with a bad name. He is the very thorn that threatens to not only pierce but shred us into pieces. This last act of his, murdering his sister-in-law in cold blood cannot be forgiven. I will see to it that Samuel pays dearly for his crime….” Igwe drifted when he saw his aide walking into the room, unannounced. “I asked not to be disturbed. I am with my family here.”
The aide squatted beside him apologetically and whispered in his ear. Igwe whispered something back and they conversed that way for a while, under low tones. Princess strained her ear to listen but when she could get nothing, concentrated on staring at her red, long fingernails. Luke was reading a newspaper, as usual, his manner indifferent to what was going on. Patricia was restless, dusting off invisible particles off her skirt. Evelyn was obviously still under the influence of the drug Jamila had given her as she stared long and hard at the plain, white wall opposite her. Emem stretched out her thin legs and rested her head on her husband’s shoulder and began to doze off. Finally, Samuel who was the reason everyone was gathered was seated opposite his father, glaring at him with evident hatred. Jamila shivered at the sight and whispered to him to stop but he ignored her.
When Igwe was through, Samuel spoke up, “is that what Evelyn told you? That I killed her sister? Is that what you told them, Eve?”
“Mm?” Evelyn slowly looked at her husband, “what did you say?”
“I thought Iwas called here for something more pressing than this,” He got up, “I’m leaving.”
“Sit down!” Igwe barked.
“Sit down, Sam,” Luke dropped his newspaper. “Sit.”
Samuel took his seat and murmured, “I thought you disowned me.”
“This is not about that.”
“You disowned me and after fifteen years, summon me here like I mean anything to you, only to ask me senseless questions. You want to know what happened to Evelyn’s sister? I will tell you. The stupid girl was having an affair with a certain man and she ran away with him to God knows where and she hasn’t been seen for the past two months! The man is back but she’s still missing. Ask Evelyn. She knows!”
“That is not true!” Evelyn woke up “He killed her! Sam killed my sister!”
“How can I kill someone who has simply vanished from the face of the earth?”
“He killed her!” Evelyn stood up, “he killed… You killed her, Sammy. You…”
“Evelyn, calm down,” Igwe said, “please, sit, my dear.”
“How can you lie like this, Sammy? don’t you fear God?” she looked into Samuel’s eyes and he stared back, unflinching.
“Sit down, Evelyn,” Igwe insisted and she sat, wiping furiously at her eyes. “This story is getting a little bit too complicated for me. Samuel says this, Evelyn says that…”
“Evelyn’s lying,” Princess said casually.
“Explain.” Igwe told his wife.
She stretched out her fingers and admired them before adding, “I know the man in question, the man the sister was sleeping with. He is a gentleman of the cloth.”
“Who is he?”
“Father Bankole. John Bankole.”
“What?” Igwe turned fully to his wife. “Is this a joke or…”
“Your newly appointed villa priest is an adulterer and if I am not being too presumptuous, a murderer.”
“No, no, I don’t believe this. Evelyn, is this true?”
Evelyn bent her head, “she was seeing him, yes but he didn’t kill her, sir. Sam did. She came to me yesterday. She was pregnant and begged Sam to get rid of the baby but instead of doing that, he killed her! There was blood everywhere …” she cried, ” blood on the floor, in my hands. Please,” she begged and sniffed lightly. “Please, you all have to believe me. please.” She looked at them one by one but they all avoided her eyes until she stopped at Jamila. “You saw the blood on my dress and you saw her in the car, in the backseat. You know I’m not lying.”
“Jamila, you saw her body?” Igwe asked and Jamila looked away from his stare.
Look away from his eyes when he talks to you or he will read you like a book and fish out the lies in your head.
She looked at Luke for strength before she responded, “Evelyn came to the house, soaking wet and very drunk. She said Sam killed her sister and her body was in her car, on the way to the police station. She was acting very wild and I had to run after her to bring her back in and calm her.”
“Was there a body in the car?”
Jamila felt her heart pummel so strongly that she was afraid the blood rushing to the veins in her neck were going to kill her. She forced herself to catch her breath and kept it stuck in her throat.
“There was nothing in the car,” she shook her head vigorously and breathed out in one go.
“And the blood on her dress, where was it from?”
“Evelyn had cut herself on her hand. I bandaged it,” Jamila raised her head in Evelyn’s direction but turned away immediately. The distressed woman sat horror-stricken, glaring at her.
“Jami, there was no body in that car?” Igwe searched his daughter’s face but she kept her head low.
“My God, Abraham! She said there was nothing in the car,” Princess groaned. “Can I please go to sleep? This is stretching longer than it is supposed to. Evelyn’s sister slept with your priest who got her pregnant and killed her! End of debate!”
“No!” Evelyn shook her head. “NO!” she stood up again. “You are all LYING! All of you are lying! You planned your story and you’re making me look like a crazy person!”
Patricia laughed tauntingly but Evelyn continued, “this is an evil family! A very evil and cursed family. Samuel, you killed my sister. You killed my only sister,” she sniffed. “God will judge you! I say God will judge you! You will see and Jamila?”
Jamila looked at her but she shook her head silently and marched out.
“When the new wife shows off her new pot to the old wife, the old wife shows off her old pot to the new wife,” Patricia said.
“Oh, shut up?” Samuel told her and stood up to leave.
“I don’t know what is going on here but I will get to the bottom of it.” Igwe rose and walked to Jamila, with slow, steady steps “if I find out you lied to me, I will be very disappointed. Good night everyone.”
They all stood up as he walked out. Jamila slumped back into her chair and released a long held breath. Emem walked to her, stood over her head and she looked up at her.
“What is it?
Emem said nothing; her silence was loud enough for Jamila to hear. She also walked out. Luke took Jamila’s hand and pulled her up.
“Are you afraid of your father?” he asked.
“He knows I lied,” she whispered.
“Lied about what?”
“About what, Jam?”
She thought she saw his lips briefly lift in a smile but she was wrong. There was no indication on his face that he was hiding something.
“Luke, I can’t keep lying.”
“You’re becoming quite irritating. What are you about? What lie?” He smiled vacantly and pinched her cheek. “Look, go home to your husband.”
“What husband? Is Shehu c-c-coming back today?”
“As it is, he is already at home. I called a favor and had him sent home. A soldier needs his wife and she needs him. It must have been hard for you these past months. This is my own way of saying thank you for taking care of the twins.”
Jamila nodded and walked away, ignoring Samuel who was calling her back.
Her ride home was short. She wanted to tell her driver to take a longer route but she refrained and sat silently at the backseat of the car, listening to him hum all the way home. As the car drove towards her house, she searched around for a veil but found none. The driver had stopped humming and he honked at the gate. Jamila pulled her shirt together and pinned its top buttons, then she dragged the helm of her skirt and pushed it down.
No matter what Shehu does to you, he is your husband. You think he is a bad man but that is how all men are. Your father does not beat me but I wish he does because he looks at me like I am not there; the same way he looks at Princess. We are non-existent to them and that is how God made it. I know you disagree but can you fight Shehu? Can you go against him? Even your brothers, you cannot go against them. their words are law. All you can do is endure and let God heal you. A woman’s place is in her bedroom, with her head bowed to God. Anything Shehu does is God’s will for you. It is your lot. Not everyone comes to earth to live a joyful life, so let whatever you are going through be used to submit to God.
Jamila walked into the house and gently shut the door.
“Where are you coming from?” her husband, Shehu asked, his eyes glued to the clock on the wall. The time read a few minutes to twelve. Dressed in his pyjamas he had his back to her, a book before him.
He ignored her greeting and gestured that she come before him. She squeezed her shirt together and walked over. “Is this how you go out now?” he studied her from top to bottom. “Where is your veil, Jamila?”
“I was at the villa.”
Shehu appeared before her with one quick spring and she backed away. “Where is your veil?!”
She went into tears, shaking her head—a pleading gesture.
“Are you deaf? Where is your veil?!”
“I left…” her lips quivered, “I left–”
He stopped her with a resounding slap that made her lose her footing and she fell backwards onto the couch behind her. Fading bright dots from the chandelier above, the last things she she saw before she shut her eyes, danced before her eyelids as the blows came. There was a certain parody as she lay there, helpless. It was as if she enjoyed her pain as much as she dreaded it. It was killing her but death was far from her thoughts. She was a survivor. It was her destiny to carry everyone’s cross, her husband’s inclusive.