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Jimi paced up and down the dark hallway of his house muttering to himself in anger. He had never been so incensed in his life before. The rage boiling in him was a new feeling, strange yet exciting. He knew it was not good for him but he couldn’t stop. The more he thought about Marie and all she had done and the fact that she had the guts to show up at his home, the more he burned. He needed an outlet and she alone could give it to him. He stopped his pacing and hurried down the stairs, hoping she hadn’t gone. Fortunately he saw her almost out the door, wrapped in a blue pashmina veil and holding a bag.
“Come back here!” He shouted above the sound of the rain which had just resumed seconds before.
Marie stopped moving and stood still before the door.
“Chimarya, come back into this house!”
“Jimi, it would be better if I left!” She spoke loud enough for him to hear.
“Are you mad?! I said come back here, my friend! You owe me a lifetime of explanation!”
She was stubborn. That much he knew about the intimate stranger who was standing at his front door.
He waited, counting long seconds and fighting the push to go and drag her in himself. Finally, she turned and slowly shut the door behind her. She was a little wet from the rain and he could see, cold as well. Her teeth involuntarily clattered under the biting weather.
“Get the candle and go upstairs,” Jimi ordered.
She looked into his eyes and he looked away. “Jimi…”
She made no more hesitations as she picked the burning candle from the glass table by the wall beside her, walked towards him and went up the stairs. When they both got to the top floor, Jimi pointed her in the direction of their bedroom. Marie stopped and looked at him with eyes that said she was not ready to go into the room.
“Marie, I’ve been regrettably violent once this night. don’t let me do it again!”
Marie strolled towards their bedroom slowly and opened the door. Jimi came up behind her and pushed the door in.
* * * * * * * *
The rain still raged outside as Jimi listened, without any interruptions, to Marie’s true life story for the first time. The scented candle was dying out but its fragrance was caught in the air mingled with Marie’s signature scent which was a permanent fixture in the bedroom. As she spoke, Marie left nothing out in her confessions. But there were questions Jimi was dying to ask her. He waited until she was done.
“Why?” He cleared his throat and crossed his arms.
“What?” Marie looked at him.
“Why did you come into my life?”
Marie stared down and played with the frills on her shawl. “I fell in love…”
“That’s the truth, Jimi. Like I told you, I came for other reasons but I met you and everything changed. I couldn’t leave. I was stuck. My dad was mad, Ato was worried and even Udoka didn’t like the fact that you had that much control over me. They all knew me. I never let emotions come into play.”
“So wait, this Udoka person was never getting married in Akure?”
“No. It was all part of the plan.”
“While we’re on the subject, I saw you on CNN,” Jimi revealed.
Marie’s eyes widened but her face remained plain.
“You were in Cyprus, with him – Luiz. You were pregnant.”
Marie shifted on the wingchair Jimi had ordered her to sit in. He was standing beside glass doors that shut out a spacious balcony.
“What happened to the pregnancy or was that fake too?”
“No. It was a boy. He died.” Marie scratched her earlobe slowly, the only visible sign she was in turmoil. “He was ours. You and me.”
“I’m not lying, Jimi. I became pregnant after that day I left.”
“The day you faked your death,” Jimi corrected bitterly.
“The baby was in my plans. I wanted something from you. I didn’t want to forget us.”
“Stop lying to me, Marie!”
“So I quit breastfeeding Kiki at four months because I wanted my period back. It worked and I started trying out for another baby. It was what kept me going.” Marie’s eyes rested on her laps where restless fingers entwined around each other. “Jimi, I didn’t want to leave you but I had to. I didn’t know what my dad was capable of. I think he has a vendetta over your family.”
“You’re talking rubbish!” Jimi marched to her. “If you wanted to protect us from him, you could have stayed! That way, he wouldn’t touch us!”
“I was scared. I wasn’t thinking. I loved you. I was confused. Nothing in my head was working well.”
“And yet you had enough time to make another baby and plan your death!” He leaned over her and his hands gripped the armrests of her chair. “The game is up, Chimarya! It’s time to be honest. Just tell me you never loved me!”
She stared up at him. “No. I did. I still do.”
“But you slept with Luiz!”
“It was necessary.”
“GOD!” Jimi shouted, hit the armrests and stomped around the room. He came back to confront her. “How would you feel if I did the same to you?!”
“Didn’t you just do it with the girl that just left?”
“But you’re dead na! No one cheats on a dead woman! My God!”
He had so worked himself into a frenzy that he began to sweat. He went to the balcony and threw its doors wide open.
“Look around this room well, Chimarya. Your clothes and underwear are on the bed! Your shoes litter the floor! Your perfume still hangs in the air because I sprayed it like mad after you died! I mourned you here in this same place I first touched you and we made Kiki! It was also here I went crazy! I cried for you every single day! I begged God to bring you back! Do you have any idea what the loss of someone close can do to a person?!
“Yes.” Marie’s voice came out low. She thought about her dad and remembered the smile of a woman who had disappeared from their lives way too early. “I haven’t seen my dad in twenty years. By the way, I’m thirty-one, not twenty-eight.”
Jimi muttered incoherently.
“My dad left when I was eleven. Jimi, everything I have ever done and all I have become is because of him. But more than that, I was working hard to see my mom. Only he knows where she is and he kept telling me, ‘one more job, Chimarya, and I’ll take you to her. She misses you.’” Marie bit her lower lip, sniffed and shook away tears. “Jimi, what I did to you has nothing to do with money. I took nothing from you, not even the box of jewelries you gave me on our wedding night. They don’t matter; they never did. I just need answers. I want to see my dad face to face and have him tell me why he screwed my life.”
Marie sniffed again, stood up and walked to Jimi.
“This is the truth. I was never meant to come back. The plan was to go away forever but the baby died and I lost my mind…”
“And you called momsie to get money! How heartless are you?! You use the death of your own child to make money!”
“No.” Marie squeezed her veil together at her chest. “I just wanted Kiki again.” Her hands shook hard and she fought to still them. “How is she…? How is Kiki?”
“Since you called Terdoo every morning, you should know she’s fine.”
Marie looked like she was about to speak but her face contorted in pain. She swiveled away from Jimi and with her head in her hands she let out a tormented wail. It was heart-wrenching to hear but Jimi refused to console her. Her knees weakened and she went down to the floor. Anyone standing where Jimi stood, oblivious of what was going on, would think she was in prayer but Marie was having the first real breakdown in her life. Pain, anger and tears of many years, held back and unvisited, came all out in that one never-ending rush. It took the most part of an hour with the candle eventually melted out and the rain gone before she stopped.
“I am sorry,” she said to Jimi, her voice now clear, eyes staring vacantly at the wingchair facing her. “For all I did to you, to your family and to Kiki, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be forgiven. I don’t want to be understood. I just want to be forgotten. If you want to fall in love again, feel free. Choose Terdoo. She has more layers in her than you can see and she’s always loved you. She wouldn’t breastfeed your child if she didn’t.”
“So you knew?”
“What type of mother would I be if I didn’t know someone else was putting her t*ts in my baby’s mouth?”
Jimi laughed in sarcasm. “You’re not a mother. Your womb couldn’t even hold another child because of your wickedness.”
Marie overlooked his words. “Jimi, please, don’t kick me out. On Thursday, six days from now, I’ll be gone. The timing’s important to my plans.”
“It’s all about you, isn’t it? Look, do whatever. The only reason I’m letting you stay is because of Kiki. You’re still her mother and I respect that. But you, I hate you. If I had a gun, I’d kill you and no one would charge me to court because you’re already dead. And just so you know, all you said here was rubbish. The room is yours. Enjoy!”
Jimi stomped out of the bedroom in the dark. Marie hugged herself against the cold as she stood up and shut the balcony doors and collapsed on the bed. She cried out all her tears and finally with blocked nostrils and an open mouth, she gave into sleep. As she slept, a familiar nightmare from her subconscious came knocking. Reality was played out in her head, a cruel twist.
Jimi was lying dead in a coffin and he was not alone. Kiki was with him, held in his arms. Marie stood by, crying inconsolably. Holding her was the man she had lived her life for. He squeezed her hand and smiled while her body quaked in tears.
“At last, you’ve done all I’ve asked for,” he said to her. “Now Rachel, I’ll take you to see your mother. She misses you. Are you happy?”
“Yes Baba,” Marie muttered and stared to scream as the lid of the coffin shut over Jimi and Kiki.
* * * * * * * *
Jimi heard the scream coming from up the stairs. The small electrical room where he was working on a burnt out fuse was tight and haunted by rodents. He found out the little buggers were responsible for the power outage. He had discovered a pair of chewed out wires and fixed them. He was almost done with a crudely constructed fuse to replace the burnt one when he heard Marie’s scream. Time stopped for him. He was transported to the past when on some nights she had woken him in same manner, jerking like one having a seizure.
Jimi hurriedly shut the fuse box, flashed the light from his phone over his work and satisfied, turned on the power. Electricity sparked and the lights in the house came on. He rushed out of the room and ran up the stairs, straight into the bedroom where he had left Marie. He found her as expected, jerking hard on the bed. Two gentle taps from him woke her up. She didn’t recognize the room at first but when her senses came to, she squinted her eyes from the assault of bright lights and stared at Jimi.
He was transfixed. It was like seeing her for the first time. The brightness of the chandelier above was doing its magic. Moments like this when he held her gaze unwaveringly were rare. Marie broke away first and turned her attention to the scattered bed she had lain on.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Is this the real you?” Jimi asked. “I look into your eyes now and I see nothing. Is it the real you because Marie, you were laughter, you were fun, you were confidence. How did you give all that up to become this unfeeling person in front of me?”
Marie drew her legs up and kept her face blank. Jimi shuddered sighed and got off the bed.
“I’ll be going back to Lagos tomorrow. Sallah’s on Tuesday. Besides, I can’t be around you. I’ll be back on Thursday. Make sure you’re gone by then.”
Jimi walked out and Marie slipped back into bed.
* * * * * * * *
The Eid el Kabir was celebrated by the Bahaushes in a big way, as usual. It didn’t matter to them that they were a family of mixed religions; it was the bond that was important. Like many other similar events, they spent a whole lot of money on a loud, lavish party, Yoruba style, at Alhaji’s home. There, Sesan introduced Jimi to an aspiring attractive actress who wanted to feature in Yoruba movies. Hidden behind his sunglasses, Jimi weakly warded her off but her type was his weakness. Attraction and unreserved laughter always caused him great unease and in the past it had been enough reason for him to bolt but with the recent rollercoaster of events, he was taking into practice for the first time, his therapist’s advice to confront his fears.
Watching the girl’s exposed skin from the dark pair of Versace frames he had on, he told himself he was already aroused. He waited a while and enjoyed the presence of his family. When he was done, he collected a couple of condoms and a pack of canned beer from Sesan and took the girl home. On arriving there, he discovered it was an uphill task to fully get himself in the mood. Rather than being stimulated, he was irritated. Confronting his fears didn’t seem to be working and the six cans of beer he had so easily put down his throat didn’t make things easier either. The girl didn’t mind, though. After muttering something about being with worse men, she made herself comfortable in one of his shirts and toured the house. Jimi was uncomfortable and asked to take her home but she revealed that she lived with her aunt and going back home that night was not an option. So Jimi endured as she watched Style Network and TLC on the new plasma TV Sesan had sold to him, and when finally she slept, he found his way to one of the unoccupied guestrooms and slept there.
* * * * * * * *
The light of morning was harsh. Gone were the days he turned around at the wake of the sun to pull Marie to him. The bed was as cold as it was hard. Jimi got off it and left the room. He walked straight through the open door of his bedroom, hoping the girl was gone. But she was there still, lying in the same manner he had left her. Nothing was moved; not even a hair strand was out of place. Jimi shut his door and found his way to the kitchen under the torture of growing nausea that left him walking unsteadily. He aimed for the sink and in one swoop, vomited all over it. His throat burned but another bout came and he also let all that go into the sink. He waited for a third but nothing came. He turned on the tap and watched as clear water washed away elements of what he had consumed the night before.
“Good morning, Uncle Jimi.”
Jimi turned to Terdoo who was standing behind him. He averted his eyes quickly. Since his return, he had stayed away from her, keeping in mind what Marie told him about her feelings.
“Here.” Terdoo handed him sunglasses. An old Gucci pair. He wore them and stared at the thermometer in her hand. Without questioning, he allowed her shove it into his mouth.
“Should I report to Alhaja?”
“You’re drinking again and I think you’re no longer on your diet and that’s why you’re vomiting. I’ll report you.”
Jimi looked at Terdoo properly. He wasn’t so sure of what to make of her strange, new manner towards him. Gone was the politeness in her tone. She sounded almost angry. She turned off the tap, washed the sink with liquid soap and re-rinsed it. After drying her hands she pulled out the thermometer from his mouth and read it.
“You’re sick,” she said curtly. “I’m reporting.”
“Excuse me, Terdoo…are you drunk?”
“No. But you know you’re managing a-a-a-a…”
“Disease?” Jimi helped.
“Okay. Let’s call it sickness because you’re healed in Jesus’ name. But you know you’re supposed to stick to your diet so that you won’t upset your small intestine yet you’re drinking beer! You want to kill yourself so that Kiki will be without a father, abi?”
Jimi was stunned. He studied the dark-complexioned woman puffing in front of him and wondered where her timid nature disappeared to. For the entire time she lived with them, she had been nothing but the reserved girl that would do anything to please Marie. Now she stood before him with skin that glowed like dark chocolate, small lips upturned in a scowl under a small nose and previously withdrawn but also small eyes, displaying a personality he didn’t know existed. It occurred to him that because she had a petite head and similar facial features, he had always seen her as timid. But the body she carried which was slim yet full in the right places presented to him a grown woman.
In the wake of her outburst, the kitchen was invaded by silence. Jimi pulled a kitchen stool and sat. His head ached and a burning fever held him hostage.
“Uncle Jimi, I’m so sorry for the way I just spoke to you,” Terdoo said after a while. She kept her distance and Jimi saw that her former features returned. “I’m just going through a lot at home and the stress is so much. I’m sorry. I was out of place.”
“You want to talk about it?” Jimi asked. She shook her head. “I see a therapist online. I’m sure you already know that since you know so much about me. Well, the simple trick is to talk. When you talk, you feel better.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Yet you scolded me like a child.”
“Alhaja and Marie…they always drummed it in my ears to make sure I stick to your diet when cooking. I feel responsible…”
“Terdoo, it’s not your fault. I’ve lived with celiac disease my whole life, not eating bread or cake or spaghetti and a whole lot of other nice things. It’s a big temptation and I stray once a while because I want to be normal, okay? So, it’s not your fault.”
“Can I ask you something?” she squeaked.
“How long have you been drinking beer?”
Jimi was thrown off by the question. His mind went to his house in Jos where he left Marie. The store was packed full with empty bottles of beer, one of the key things he wasn’t supposed to be taking.
“I’m asking because the other day I saw the rashes on your elbows. They’ve come back. I’m sorry but I Googled all these things. I wanted to know more about the celiac thing.”
“Terdoo, I don’t want to talk about it. Understood? Where’s Kiki?”
Terdoo put away the thermometer in a first aid box and turned her attention to a pot that was on fire. As she lifted the lid, a female voice startled her and she got a good dose of burning steam from the pot. She jerked her hand away on impulse and moaned.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Jimi’s date, who was to blame for the accident walked in, still clad in Jimi’s shirt. “I was just saying good morning. Jimi sweetie, hi?” She had a sunny smile but an unpleasant face. All her makeup was gone. Jimi got off the stool as she was approaching him and was beside Terdoo in an instant. She was running cold water from the tap over her scalded hand.
“How’s your hand, honey?” Jimi said out loud. “Does it hurt?”
Terdoo glared at him with lips upturned and burning eyes.
“Uncle Jimi,” she whispered, “Marie’s still alive. How can you sleep with someone else?”
“Am I interrupting?” The cheer in the girl’s voice was gone as she stood behind them awkwardly.
“Meet my girlfriend,” Jimi said to her over his shoulder, placing his hand on the arch of Terdoo’s waist with forced control as his insides churned in uneasiness. “She’s mad at me. She thinks we did something. Can you please tell her we did not? That it was late for you to go back home, so I allowed you sleep in my room?”
“Yes, Aunty,” the girl apologized with a curtsy. “It’s nothing. We didn’t do anything. I’m Sesan’s friend. I was just waiting for him here.”
Terdoo turned off the tap and did a 180 to face her. “You better leave.”
The girl nodded and rushed out.
“Thank you.” Jimi sighed. “I’m sorry I touched you. It was necessary. I couldn’t just tell her to leave.”
Terdoo went back to the pot on fire. “Uncle Jimi, please go to the guestroom and lie down. Your body’s still hot. I’ll bring your breakfast and drugs.”
Glad to be free from the unease, Jimi walked away. He traced his way back to the room he came. Restless with fever, he rolled around the bed for a while but when he couldn’t handle it anymore, he left the room and entered a bathroom next door where he took off his clothes and sat under a cold shower until his temperature cooled. Afterward, he washed his body and exited the place wrapped in a towel he found hanging off a rack. When he stepped out, he bumped into Terdoo carrying a tray containing his breakfast. The contents almost spilled on contact but he caught the tray and apologized to her. Avoiding his eyes, Terdoo left the tray with him and dashed away, almost running as she went. Jimi stared after her, perplexed, and it was then he decided to contact his travel agent. He had seen enough shades of awkwardness for one day. His breakfast rested on the bed when he picked his phone and called to book a flight back to Jos.
Done with that, he checked his address book for another number he had stored the weekend before. As he picked around his meal of moi-moi and ogi, he struggled with the decision to dial the number. When at last, he settled on making the call, he took his first bite of lukewarm moi-moi and waited.
A sleepy voice invaded his ear and he almost changed his mind.
“Good morning.” He mashed the moi-moi between his tongue and the roof of his mouth.
“Morning, Mr. Bahaushe.”
Jimi was surprised the other person knew it was him.
“Barka da Sallah,” the man said.
“Yeah,” Jimi replied, “same here. Sorry for calling you on a public holiday but this is really important.”
“It’s okay. Do speak.”
“Are you there, Mr. Bahaushe?”
“It’s about my wife.” Jimi exhaled and said to the Interpol agent, his heart thumping. “You were right about her. She’s alive and I…know where she is.”