A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
Ivie pressed her head against the pillow. It was few weeks to the trial, and no good word from the lawyer, or from anybody, not even her mum. All her mum did since her return from Kaduna was offer unhelpful consolation that everything would be all right, that God would come down and do something.
Ivie rose from the bed and staggered to the kitchen. Her mum retied the wrapper round her waist and scurried after her, uttering words of “everything would be all right.”
Ivie opened the refrigerator and brought out a loaf of bread and a can of butter. She carried them to the dining table.
“Eze ró. I prepared rice,” her mum said. “I should set it on the dining for you.” She attempted going for a pot.
“Bread is okay.” Ivie wandered to the dining.
Her mum sat opposite her and continued with her unending talks of how Richard was a big man and had the money to fight the case to the end, even though she was aware he had been fighting it all along. And yet, would soon be facing the judge at trial. “Don’t kill yourself worrying too much,” she would say every minute.
“Mama, you don’t expect me to sit and pretend I’m okay when a man is behind bars because of me.”
“But what can you do, eh? There is nothing you can do.”
“I can worry. Let me worry.”
Mama stood up and adjusted her wrapper that was slackening off her waist. “You know what worry can do to your health. It could worsen it.”
Ivie downed a gulp of the cold tea. “My urges are the last thing I worry about right now. That man is the one who worries about my urges. I cannot afford him sleeping in jail. Mama, abeg help me think of what to do instead of telling me not to worry.”
“I can’t stand seeing you like this,” mama said with a lowered voice.
Ivie tried loosening her face. Her mother deserved a better look to prevent any worries. The woman need not worry for her health sake.
“Mama, odiamenmen. Don’t worry about me. I can’t pretend everything is okay, but I’ll try not to be overwhelmed by the situation.”
“You are. The whole thing has swallowed you. You no more care about your illness. When last did you take your antidepressants? I’ve been in this house with you. Your urges have completely taken over you. You have to lay off some of the load and attend to your health.”
Ivie dropped her bread on the plate. “It’s not the antidepressants or the medicines that kills the urges. It’s not them,” she said. “I don’t want to think about my condition. The more I think about it, the more I fall prey to it. I’m sorry to have you see me like this. My worries affect you, too, and I’m really sorry about it. I wish I could do anything.”
“You can’t do anything but depend on God. Osenebra is whom you should leave the case to.”
If that’s what she could do, then that’s doing nothing. “Thank you,” she said. “I should go return to bed.”
Mama uttered no more words, but loads of them hid between her lips. Ivie rose and made for her room, closed the door and hoped for nothing resembling a knock.
There was no knock, no words of “everything would be all right,” and no lies of “everything would be okay.”
A knock came. With closed eyes, she listened to the door’s squeak, and after its squeak, came footsteps that loomed nearer and ceased at her side. Mama’s touch ran from her shoulder to her spine and back to her shoulder.
“The truth would surface,” she said. “The devil doesn’t always win.”
The woman stood up and made for the door.
Ivie half-opened her eyes and watched the door close. Her lids, she drew together and allowed the darkness in them to be the only thing she saw.
It was not the only thing she saw. She saw Richard in the small witness box, his hairs all spiked out and his cheeks all blackened. She saw the judge reading from a pad, about to declare the verdict. She saw an image of herself in the middle of the courtroom. She opened eyes and rose from the bed, picked up her jacket and strode out of the room.
In the sitting room, mama lay on the sofa with her hands folded across her chest, puffing out the top of her breasts from her oversized body.
“Bu wa ki lu? Where are you going?” The woman rose.
“I’m going to Bakare’s house.” She buttoned her jacket.
“To go do what?”
“To talk to him.”
“He has just been discharged. I’m not sure he would want a talk.”
“He would have to talk.” She picked her purse from the couch’s arm.
“I will drive you there. I will not take time in re-dressing.”
“You should not go out for unnecessary reasons. I thought psychiatrists always say that.”
“This is necessary.” She hurried to her room.
Mama stopped her Volkswagen in front of the white building that matched the description Bakare once gave Ivie. Ivie stepped out and strode to the gate. She peeped through an aperture and scanned for anything that would certify the house belonged to Bakare. His Chevrolet cleared any doubt.
She passed her hand through the aperture and opened the gate. A frightening silence welcomed her. His house was much less than his orchard. Not one cherry tree lived in it, but a fruitless star fruit tree shrivelled at a corner. Red sands dominated the ground, reddening the building’s base. She advanced to the building and pressed the doorbell. Silence answered. It answered again on her second press. She walked to the front window and slid it open, shifted the curtains and gained a half view of his sitting room. She saw him. He was wheeling himself to the door. A wheelchair didn’t fit him, as a gun didn’t fit his hands.
The door crackled and opened. Their gaze hit and she tried a half-smile. It didn’t work. It didn’t add to the length of his lips. He stood at the entrance, fixed to her, as though she was a stranger.
She aimed at his legs. “I’m sorry for your legs.”
He wheeled away from the entrance.
“You have a nice house.” She stepped into the sitting room.
“It belongs to my late grandma.”
The big board painting of him stood at her front, the one she painted. It looked finer on his wall than it was at the gallery. The painting of twins hung above it. Little perfect twins.
“How’s your health?” She sat on an armchair.
“I’m beginning to adapt to the wheels.”
His voice didn’t find a match in her brain. A totally different voice that must have come from the thickest folds of his vocal cords.
“Make yourself comfortable.” He wheeled to the dining and opened the refrigerator.
“I won’t be taking anything.”
“Why? Don’t worry. I can stretch for a drink.” His stretched hand met a bottle of Malta Guinness on the second compartment of the fridge. The bottle opener on the dining table didn’t need stretched arms.
“So you finally decided to come to my place,” he said and wheeled back to the sitting room, holding a bottle and an opener. “It’s painful you met me in this state.” He looked at his toes and set the Malt on a stool beside her. As he pulled off the bottle’s cap, foam bubbled out of the drink, which finally settled into liquid and dripped down the sides of the bottle.
“I’m sorry for your legs.”
“Everybody would be sorry.” He stared at her. “Why are you here?”
“I heard you had been discharged. I thought of paying a visit.”
His lips stretched into something near a smile. “We always see at my orchard. You never come to my house.”
“That’s because events always led to the orchard.”
His overgrown goatee stretched like elastic wires as he fondled it. “What about my proposal?”
She stopped pouring the Malt into the mug, leaving the bottle tilted. “I’ve decided. My answer is yes. I will marry you, Bakare.” She continued pouring and stopped when foam was about to escape from the mug.
A smirk she had never seen in him stretched halfway across his lips, an unreadable smirk. “I love you, Ivie. You should always know that.” A pause happened and his smirk disappeared. “I love the gap in your teeth.”
Her jaw grew heavy, almost falling off her head. “It’s likewise,” she said, happy at herself she could speak.
He rolled himself to the television and turned it on. “So tell me, what are the things you’ve been hearing?”
“I was hoping to hear all from you. What I’ve heard outside doesn’t matter.” Her mug showed her reflection, stretched across its cylindrical body. She lifted the mug and sipped.
“They matter, because they are all true.”
She dropped her mug. Some drops of liquid in it jumped off as it landed on the table. “You actually testified that you were shot by the defendant?”
“I believe the defendant is the Richard found at the orchard with a gun, the manager of that quarry industry.”
“Yes, and he has been in jail for long, partially because of your testimony.”
The TV’s volume increased. It displayed Nollywood actors chattering with loud voices.
“No, not because of my testimony. He’s in jail because he was found with firearms at a crime scene.”
“But your testimony makes him guilty.”
He reversed to her and tapered eyes at her. “What makes you believe he isn’t guilty? You were not at the scene. You don’t know who made me like this.”
“Richard didn’t shoot you.”
“Then who did?”
The painted twins frowned; their faces no more shone as when she first painted them. They frowned at her for painting them, for creating them to live in same home with such a… They deserved better. “I wasn’t at the scene. You were.”
“That’s another way of saying you don’t know who shot me and who didn’t.”
“What were you doing at the orchard?”
“What did your Richard say he saw me doing?”
The foaming liquid in the mug released bubbles that multiplied themselves and died same instant. “He said he believes you were engaging in a crime deal.”
Fixed at the television, he tuned to a channel of some white men playing ice hockey, running around the ice. “His conviction is true.”
The liquid in her throat hardened into a huge lump and hit her stomach with a thud. “You were engaged in a crime deal?”
“Yes.” He reduced the TV’s volume and reversed to her. “I’m a heroin dealer.”
A blow surged up through her. The liquid in her stomach almost found a passage through her mouth. “Bakare. P-Please don’t joke.”
“Most people can’t tell when I’m joking or not.” He wheeled closer to her. “So I just tell them if I am or not.” The black of his eyes morphed into a lump of coal, burning in a river of turpentine. “I’m not joking. But don’t be afraid, I’m a drug dealer, a businessman, not a killer.”
He was not a killer; she could leave unhurt. She tried to speak to the frightening air. “So it’s true. You were engaging in a crime deal at the orchard.”
“All your friend, Richard, told you is true.”
“He told me one more thing—the person who shot you was a woman.”
He wheezed in air and huffed out. “The Richard is right. His wife shot me.”
Ezinne… How possible? Ivie’s lids closed and when they opened, Bakare had wheeled to her direct front.
“You see,” he began, “I’m not the only one who did unexpected things.” He smirked and then coughed.
“Why did you lie to the police Richard shot you?”
“To save myself. If the police find out I was involved in a heroin deal, I would be thrown into jail. Would you like that?”
Yes, she would. Every flesh of his soul should be thrown into jail.
“I know you would.” A new smirk found its way through his lips.
“Why did Ezinne shoot you?” She tried some sombreness if that would wipe his smugness.
He rolled himself back. “I can’t tell you everything. If I do, you probably wouldn’t come here again, and I wouldn’t like that. When next you come, I will tell you.”
She held her mug and poured all the liquid in her mouth. “Come testify in court, Bakare. Come say the truth.”
“Now, you’ve said your reason for coming.”
“Will you come to court and testify?”
“Yes, I will testify. I am witnessing, but the question you should ask is whose side?”
Her organs churned and burned from within, with every liquid in her functioning as fuel. “You are testifying for the State?”
He turned to the television. “The State met me first.”
“But if you testify for them, you won’t be saying the truth.”
“Truth is an abstract phenomenon. It doesn’t exist.”
She bowed her head and fixed at the cerulean rug. “You proposed to me, Bakare, and I said yes. You said we could work. I believed you, held on to that. Is this how—”
“What relationship do you have with this Richard, anyway?”
“He is a friend. I called him to the orchard to help save you.”
He huffed. “Funny. Now you’re calling on me to help save him.” Every act of cheer or smirk in his face turned into solemnity, like when she first met him, the real him. “Why did you agree to my proposal?”
“Because I believed we could work.”
“No. Because you want me to help you save this Richard.”
She folded her arms into each other. “When you received my call at the orchard, my mind was already made up. I wanted to see you and talk.”
“No Ivie. This is a bargain. You came here to bargain with me.”
His words rang in her, rang and dwelt in her. She studied and weighed every of it. “If that’s how it should be.”
“If I keep my end by coming to court and testify the truth, would you keep yours?”
She shut her brains and refused to think. “Yes, Bakare. I would.” Her heavy legs remained stuck to the floor, waiting for him to say something, anything that might do a tiny good. Nothing came from his lips. She dropped the heft of her legs and began for the door.
“You can drive?” His voice rang from behind. “I need a ride to the hospital.”
No, she couldn’t. She strode past the door and closed it.
Something pinched the flesh of her left palm which was folded into a fist. She opened it. The bottle opener was in it. She tightened her fist and threw it over the fence.
She walked to her mum’s car and stepped in.
“How did it go?” the woman asked.
“Nothing below expectation.”
The Volkswagen shuddered and moved.
To Be Continued…