A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
Ivie watched Richard eat. He ate as though the soup was prepared with unwashed bitterleaf, yet mama and she had taken time to wash it properly. It could be he merely did not like the soup, but every man in Lagos was supposed to like garri and bitterleaf soup. Perhaps it was different for those within the walls of a prison; their tongue must have been altered by the prison’s diet. He dunked a moulded garri into the soup and did a swallow, causing him to squint as though pins were strewn in the morsel.
When done with the meal, he did a small cough, which he cured with a gulp of water.
“Thank you. The meal was good.” He cleaned his hands with a towelled handkerchief. “I last ate this in the army days. Then, we were given starch and sordid bitterleaf. We had no choice but to eat it, or starve.”
“Couldn’t you buy your own food?”
“Camp is like jail. Every food you buy tastes the same, tastes like what the jail serves.”
She placed the plates and utensils in a polybag. “Any news from your lawyer?”
“We talked the day before yesterday on how the trial process will be. There was no helpful news. The lawyer said you’d be witnessing. Are you okay with that?”
“I wish I could do more. Believe me when I say that.” She looked straight to him, so he would see the believability in her.
“You just fed me. I wouldn’t ask for anything more.”
“There is a lot more to do. I’m sitting in my house, unable to think of anything that could help, while you are here hurting by the day. I put you behind those bars and I am outside them doing nothi—”
“What can be done? You think if something could be done, I would still be in here? No one can help me better than myself. If you want to help, stop blaming yourself.” He stared into her. “You didn’t cause anything.”
She swallowed the hurt arising from her gorge and fixed on her fingers. “I have an idea as to how you feel. I’ve experienced a scratch of it, and I’m sorry you are passing through it.”
“You’ve experienced jail? For what reason?”
“I was once found with a stolen item. The owner saw it fit to report to the police, and they locked me up for three days.”
“I’m sorry for such,” he said as though she was the one to be pitied.
“It was for only three days. It’s nothing compared to how long you’ve stayed here for a crime you didn’t commit.”
“Then who committed it?”
“You said your wife shot the victim. She committed it.”
“Not just my wife. Everyone in that scene was guilty,” he said. “Including the victim.”
She lowered her eyelids until his voice came up.
“The victim is guilty,” he repeated, as though she did not hear him the first time. “I don’t want you to have any connection with him.”
“He is my partner.”
“Is or was?”
The best thing to do was to remain silent.
His hands moved from the desk into one of her cornrows. “That man is not right for you. He is the worst man for you. I would leave jail, and when I do, I want to be with you.”
Her tongue refused to curve into words. It lay flat and hid between her teeth, and froze as he ran his hands through her detached cornrows. “I want to be with you, Ivie,” he said. “I will be out soon.”
Words struggled to come out from within her, words of how much she wanted him out and would do anything to get him out, how much she felt same way he did, how much she wanted to taste those black lips of his. Before she lost the chance. “My mum sends her greetings,” she said. Those were the only words brave enough to emerge, and they were not useless, because they caused a faint stretch of his lips.
“Your mum, I thought she was in far north.”
“She returned from Kaduna on Monday. I told her of the ordeal. She expressed her sympathy and wanted to come here with me, but I insisted on coming alone.”
“I would love to see her.”
“You would on my next visit.” She wondered if they were any more visits before the trial.
He tunnelled his hand from her cornrows to her neck and rubbed the tiny scar on her neck. “What caused this?” His once soft hands had hardened, hard enough to give her another scar.
“It was from my accident, the car accident.”
“It must have hurt.” He grazed the mark with a thumb.
“Not very well. The nurse did things that reduced the hurt.”
“I never expected that hospital to have good nurses.”
“Maybe I was just lucky.”
He slid his hand off her neck. She touched the neck and felt a new scar, one caused by his hands that no nurse could remove.
“When you get home, send your greetings to your mum. Tell her I would love to see her someday.”
Power went off and the fans reduced speed. The side windows allowed a fair amount of light which casted on the table and on the lower half of his shirt. Little air came in, one that barely brushed her skin.
“How is your health?” he asked.
“I worry a lot lately, and that affects me.”
“You should not—”
“Don’t tell me not to worry because that isn’t possible. If we were to exchange shoes, you wouldn’t lay on your sitting room couch with a worry-free mind.”
“I was never going to say don’t worry. You must worry, ’cause you feel something for me. I was about saying you shouldn’t let the worry engulf you. I would be out soon. When done atoning for my sins, I will be out.” Enough assertion surrounded his words. He was sure she felt something for him. And he wasn’t wrong.
“What sins do you atone for?” She asked. “If God jails everyone that sins against him, the whole world would be behind bars.”
“You ‘re not a Christian. You don’t know about God.”
“I know that God doesn’t jail sinners.” She took her hands to her neck and revealed the rosary round it. “I used to be a Catholic. I stopped being one when I found no reason to be.”
He stared at her. His nose pointed to her like the Caucasians; that wasn’t its shape at the time she painted his portrait, or she had missed painting the right shape. No, she couldn’t have.
“You used to be a Christian,” he said between a question and a statement.
“Why did you quit? Because it did no good to you? no good to your health?”
“It did no good to me. Going to church became a waste of time. Praying became a waste of words.”
“If you have persevered till this day, there might have been changes.”
“My mum has been a Christian, before and after me. She persevered till this day and yet no changes in her life. The devil still controls her fingers.”
“You’re not your mum. You didn’t take the illness from her. I know as much that kleptomaniac is most likely not inherited.” He picked the rosary on the table and stroked a bead. “Why do you still have this round your neck?”
“I could drop it any time.”
“Wear it.” He stretched it to her. “If you want to help me, then pray for me. Pray God forgives me. Pray He lets me out of this cell.”
She held the rosary and circled it round her neck. “What sins do you think led you here?”
“I don’t know. I’ve just not been right with God.”
He sounded like a derailed priest retracing to the right path. She reached for his face and held his chin to make sure he was still that same Richard and not a Catholic priest. Yes, he was still Richard, except his nose had gone sharp and pointed and his once red lips had gone black. Hers needed to be black, too. She lifted toes, drawing herself to him, and joined her lips to his. Now that she had the chance to. He kissed her hard, kissed her as if it was the only good thing the world could offer. He was still that same Richard and not a priest. And he was right; he had sinned. Getting married to Ezinne was a mortal sin.
“I would be out of here,” he muttered. “And when I’m out, I will be with you.”
She prayed God granted her that chance.
Holding her chin, he fondled her cheeks with his other hand. His pimple stared at her, red and blazing. “I like jail for some reasons.”
There was no reason for anyone to like jail. She opened ears and waited for his next words.
“I get to see you twice a week. I get to eat the meals you cook. I get to know more about your life. And I get to kiss you. Freedom never gave me that.”
She lowered head. “I pray you get out of here.”
“I will, and when I do, I will stop living in two worlds. It will be just one world. It will be you, only you.” Seriousness mixed with the sweat that filled every pore of his face. She nodded, and wished she could do more than a nod, give more than a nod.
He picked the ends of her cornrows. “How about the flowers at your lawn, how far have they grown?”
“Most have matured into full grown flowers.”
“I knew they would waste no time in growing. The seeds were very viable.”
The door opened and an officer strode inside, clapping hands and shouting that the time had elapsed. Richard ran a thumb over her neck, round her scar, and gave her a kiss at her lips. He rose and aimed for the door. She watched him go, watched the officer leave with him.
To Be Continued….