A WET DAY, BY BY FESOJAIYE ATANLE
On one rainy September morning, I saw the couple who moved in just across my street for the first time. I could still remember that day very clearly; because it was the day, I became a widower. A call had come in early that morning just as I was about to force myself to sleep. What I wanted was just going in to sleep without anyone or anything interrupting my sleep. But the hospital, as stupid as they are now becoming with their modern rules, decided to call an old man at 1:45am to inform me that my estranged wife had just died. After the call, I sat down slowly on the bed and cried till the first ray of the morning sun came piercing through my window curtains. I can’t remember the last time I cried that hard for that long. The few times I remember was when I lost Taiwo, my twin brother to a needless war in Liberia while trying to remove a heartless dictator from power. He was among the few Nigerian soldiers whose corpses were returned to the country for a hero’s burial. I remember crying from the funeral procession to when he was buried and the drive back home, refusing to be consoled. The other events were when I lost my mother, but I can’t compare this to the loss of my beloved parrot. A green and yellow feathered chatterbox I bought at the price of two hundred naira at the old Bodija market on my way to resume law school at Victoria Island. I can’t compare the loss of my parrot to that of my late mother because I and Taiwo were not close to her that much. She abandoned us, and her husband, while pursuing a career in acting when we were just four years old. She eventually got married to a co-actor and we started seeing her on the television as we grew up. The death of Wilo, my feathery loquacious study partner really took a toll on me.
Being a bird that has been caged for the early part of its life, I subsequently made myself a promise not to return it to the cage. This proved to be disastrous because it went about shitting all over the place and this consequently reduced the scores of female admirers that would love to pay me visit on cold rainy nights.
After flapping its wings one sunny afternoon, it flew out through the window in pursuit of a group of cattle egrets that had settled on the roof of a nearby building. Frightened by its sudden presence, the cattle egrets all took off on a panic flight that knocked it off balance. Wiggling through the ensuing ordeal, it landed awkwardly on the roof and fell head down onto the street. From my window, two stairs up, I watched in shock as it tried to get hold of his outstretched wings. Staggering blindly like a drunken trout, it was crushed to death by a moving meat truck. Its entrails splashed all over the road. I screamed and ran half-naked into the street. There, with tears pouring out unceasingly from my eyes, I got on my knees and picked it up to the horror of onlookers. Its blood was trailing through my fingers. I took it to the back of the hostel and gave it a proper burial to the jeers of fellow students. I wept bitterly for the next five days, eating only once throughout the whole ordeal until Patricia, my girlfriend, threatened to dump me if I didn’t put an end to the whole dead bird affair. I remember telling her to go to hell and then she punched me hard on the face and that was it. I was twenty-five years old when this happened.
Now it was the death of my estranged wife, Abike. I called her “Abby”. The last time I saw her was eight years ago at the wedding reception of our son, Olu. I purposely decided not to attend the church service because I felt so unworthy to be under the same church roof with a family I alienated myself from for many years. This was the same church I often drove them to every Sunday as a family. I also thought about Omolara, our eldest daughter, who for long had threatened (or promised) to kill me if I dare set my eyes on her. She’s now thrice as stubborn and headstrong as her mother.
Seeing Abby after these years felt so nostalgic. She looked so radiant in her mild makeup, though appearing a bit pale and overwhelmed by all the sheer pleasantries that surrounded her. Her smile toiled at the edge of her eyes. They seem forced, as if lost to the travails that her past years have had to endure.
At the spot where I sat, surrounded by friends who had long put up with my frivolous antics, I couldn’t remove my eyes from her. My eyes followed her through every activity and engagement, through every laugh, through every hug she warmly dished out to well-wishers. Looking at her as she went about taking care of little things, I wondered if she missed me. I wondered if she had in any way, in her careless mind, spent a minute to think about me. I doubted if she could still recognise me. Though it’s not like I cared or anything. We’re both getting old now and for long, we got enough of ourselves to last us for another lifetime.
“I think she knew you were watching her,” one of my friends sitting to my left said. He looked at me and then to her direction.
“She is just showing off.” Another retorted half drunkenly.
“No, I won’t. You know I didn’t want to be here in the first place,” I said and poured myself a glass of beer.
“Well, you’re here now. Your son needs you too, you know.” Goke, my cousin said.
“I said I won’t,” I barked at him. Taking the glass to my lip, I saw my newly wedded daughter-in-law pointing to my direction through the crowd, with a childish smile on her face. My wife and son both turned to the direction of her pointed finger. I choked on my beer.
“By Sango, here she comes.” One of my friends whispered frighteningly. As she approached, all my friends except me all stood up to acknowledge her presence. My cousin, Goke, doffed his cap. I thought they were all going to run off like little chickens at the sight of a descending hawk. But then, they all decided to sit back when she effortlessly poured out her ever-charming smile.
“Have you all been given something to eat?” These were the exact words that came out of her mouth, with her gaze fixed solely on me. Some of my friends sheepishly shook their heads while the others nodded theirs like bush lizards.
“I will see right to it,” she said, pretending to leave. She stopped in her stride. “And oh, your son and his wife send their regards,” she added, looking me straight in the eyes with this look I have long forgotten she has. It’s the kind of look that imprints itself in your head long after you have seen it. For that is what it does and hopes to achieve with it, giving to the kind of woman she was.
Anyway, that food never came. Even if it came, I knew that none of my friends would dare lay a finger on it. She really made an impression on us that day. This was the last time my eyes saw her. But it wasn’t the last time I heard from her. We both had ways of secretly keeping tabs on our daily lives. The last time I heard news about her was three months ago. My daughter, Omolara, had called to accuse me of how heartless I have been towards their mother who had been battling with breast cancer for the past two years.
I could only imagine how angry they all must have been, for I knew none of them would ever bother to call me regarding her demise if the hospital had not been left with the burden of calling me in the middle of the night. Leaving me to bear the burden of her death and the weight of a holy matrimony that never was.
Picking up a law journal I was reading the day before, I gathered my liquid breakfast into a tray, headed out to the balcony and there were the new neighbours.
Seeing them for the first time that morning as they drove in quietly as if all was well with the world except me, I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how the end of a blissful beginning usually start. The man jumped down from the driver’s seat, walked quickly to open the boot of the car, brought out an umbrella, unfold it, walked gently to open the door for his wife who stepped out with all smiles and stretched out to plant a soft wet kiss on his lips. The husband gently covered her in his embrace. Umbrella ahead, he slowly led her into the house. The haulage truck drove in just then.
I met my wife Abby some forty years ago at a colleague’s wedding. She was among the bridesmaids who lined up to usher in the bride and then among those who were serving out the food to the seated guests at the reception. I was biding my time, trying as much as I could not to get bored when she walked up to my seat with a tray of food in her hands which she placed on the table in front of me. I thanked her wholeheartedly because I was that famished. Expecting her to leave afterward, but instead I saw her pull a chair closer to the table, sat and began to dish out the food into two other adjoining plates.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought the food was mine,” I said. Embarrassed, I dropped the spoon in my hand back on the table.
“No, it’s for both of us “She said with this ironic smile appearing out of nowhere.
“Oh okay!” I retorted sheepishly.
“You’re a barrister, aren’t you?” she asked and passed my portion of the food across to me.
“Yes,” I answered and quickly asked how she came about that.
“Oh, you are a friend of Bayo the groom, right?”
“Yes, he is a very close friend of mine back at the law school.”
“Well, that’s how I got to know who you are”
“Are you also at the law school?”
“No, he is my cousin and I have seen you in lots of pictures you’ve both taken together, wearing the robe and the wig,” she said with her mouth full.
“Oh, I see.” I said, looking down at my food.
Then like a pack of domino’s I fell in love with her. We got married the following year and I started a practice. We welcomed our first daughter, two and a half years later, a son, and then all hell broke out. You see, Abby and I were like two different peas in a pod that have each other by the neck or whatever that means. During our courtship, she developed this endearing way of making things seem less important, like when she got a job as an editor for an international publishing firm who had just set up a shop in Lagos with a whole lot of money at their disposal. I knew she loved the job just as she did to every other job she had had in the past. But then, just a year into her service, she woke up one morning refusing to go to work and refusing to state why. I wished I could do the same, but hell no, I had to go to work. You see, to her that’s not important, nothing ever was.
Looking at the new couple that morning, and all the sheer theatrics they deployed just to get out of the car, I kept wondering in thought. What do women want? Is it attention? I gave Abby all the attention she wanted, enough to last her for a lifetime or was it care and romance, well, I can’t prove myself of being romantic, but by Sango, we both get down to business whenever we could. Our two children can paint different pictures about the amount of times we both got hot on cold nights. But, I guess she wanted more, whatever it was.
I don’t remember falling asleep on my deck chair that morning on the balcony. The thought of Abby had clogged my entire system and my mind wasn’t what it used to be lately. Waking up, I discovered that the rain had stopped and the sun had begun to spread out its rays from the mist of slow drifting clouds. I sat up right and looked around myself to be sure I hadn’t been transported to another world. I picked up the law journal that must have fallen from my hand when I dozed off from the floor. Since my retirement about a year ago from my practice, it has become my sole intellectual companion about the profession. I hate reading the newspapers. Ninety percent of their content is useless, riddled with childish errors. My wife was an editor, you know.
So, trying to settle back on my reading, I saw the couple again, now walking out of the gate in each other’s arms towards the movers, bringing down their properties out from the truck into the house. As I watched them this time and I noticed something about the woman that I’d missed earlier. Just below her breast was a little protruding stomach. I can’t tell how old it was. It was visible for my old eyes to pick out; and to be sincere I was touched. They would be having their child in a couple of months to come, and then what would now become of their marriage. Would he still be all that romantic? Would he still be jumping out from the driver’s seat just to open the door for her? Something I believe he knew she could do for herself. Would he still be able to find joy in rapping her in his embrace, to always want to be with her and give her his undivided attention?
When Abby was pregnant with our first child, she simply became a queer feminine monster. Don’t get me wrong. I mean this with all husbandly sincerity and a bit of pity. You see, before she got pregnant she had left not less than four well-paid jobs in the space of two and a half years, and discovering that she was pregnant, she simply lost it. She accused me of all sorts of things including being responsible for getting her pregnant in order to prevent her from getting another job. At this time, we had been married for the past four years and there wasn’t a single day that went by within those years where she didn’t make a statement that alluded to having a child. She changed before my very eyes and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the problem was. She would wake up every morning threatening to abort the pregnancy till when it is almost eight months old. I believed she might be thinking she was executing her threat when she was giving birth to our daughter.
After the birth, she wouldn’t let me come close to her or our child. The first time I could carry our daughter in my arms was when she was almost ten months old. I was in the living room watching the news one evening when she walked up in front of me, blocked my view and thrust our daughter into my face. “I guess I have punished you long enough,” she said and placed the child gently on my lap, patted me gently on my head and walked away. That was the end of the whole affair.
Not feeling like reading, and getting angry for the hell of it, I walked into the house, picked up my mobile phone from a stool and dialed my son’s number, hoping he would pick up the call. He is the one who took after me. While growing up, he had always talked about wanting to be a lawyer just like his daddy. This would promptly disapprove of, to his mother’s relief. When I got separated from his mother, he would often drive to my place just to bother me about why I left their mother. He is old enough to understand or so I thought, but nonetheless, he took after me in almost everything, including the law profession, except for being a bad husband and father.
“What are you calling me for?” He questioned in a muffled voice, like he was excusing himself from a meeting or something. But, who cares? I mean who goes to work when they just lost their mother.
“Is that how you’ll talk to your father?” I barked at him.
“What do you want?”
“Are you two going to eventually call me?”
“Why should we, it’s not like you care about her or if it any of your problem.”
“She is still my wife… Legally…”
“Oh, please spare me the bullshit!”
“Hey you watch your language, am your father!”
“Oh really, now tell me, just to prove that fact, how many grandchildren do you have?”
“Let’s not change the subject son I called to let you…” He hung the call. He hung the call on me, his own father.
In the whole of my seventy-one years on earth, I have never felt so humiliated and insulted. I was so enraged that I spent the next four hours in the bathtub thinking about my life and regretting how it has turned out to be. The thought of drowning myself in the bathtub ran into my head. I nurtured the thought for a while just to get back at my children for not liking me anymore. But the thought of not knowing the number of grandchildren that I have pierced through my heart that I almost welcomed the thought of having a stroke. By Sango, I hate myself but not really what I have become though. I was a famous brilliant lawyer before my retirement and still very rich. Only a few at my age in the law profession could boast of that. I don’t like being too proud, I guess I miss my family that much. I don’t want to die all alone in this miserable loneliness. I hung my head in shame and cried. It was a really wet day.
Driving to the hospital late that afternoon felt so strange and awkward. I mean, how can that be possible? Here I was driving to see a dead woman, the woman I estranged from for the past fifteen years. Even though I have to admit some form of guilt, I don’t see how it would amount to anything. Whomever it was that called from the hospital has asked for my presence for whatever reason unknown to me.
At the hospital reception, I gave my purpose of being there and was directed to a certain doctor, at a certain office, in a certain quarter that was in a certain department. So, when I told the passive nurse of how old I was and not too keen on the idea of getting lost in the building that housed my estranged dead wife somewhere and who I haven’t seen in the past eight years, I was promptly given a security guard to guide me to my destination. Getting there, the security guard, whose breath smells of stale alcohol, told me to knock on the door and go in but I refused. I was too scared to. I just stood there, looking at him and pretending to be too old to rise up my hands. He knocked audibly on the door, called out to the doctor and made a gesture with his hand for me to go in.
Walking into the office, I saw a man hurriedly putting on a doctor’s robe and zipping up his trousers. On a resting couch, was a young lady in a nurse uniform pulling up her pants and dragging down her skirt. She stood up, covered her exposed breast with her bra and hurriedly left the room. The room smelt like a rotten fish factory.
“You…you must be the barrister Obafemi that i was expecting, am i right sir? “The doctor asked while extending a sweaty hand at me. I ignored.
“Where is my wife?” I questioned angrily.
“Oh…Erm! She is…she is dead sir. ” He stammered.
“I know that, you moron!” I shouted, clenching up my fist.
“Oh, yes! I…I called earlier.” He said, then brought out a hanky from his pocket and wiped his damped face. “Can you please have your seat, sir.” He added and walked timidly to his desk, where he picked up a stethoscope and placed it around his neck.
Anyway, as angry as I was, I decided to sit down, while sustaining the angry look on my face. He was shaking all over like a catfish out of a mud. Looking across to him as he awkwardly fondles through one file to the other. I had no choice other than to have pity on him. I mean who likes being caught in the middle of having an orgasm— a messed up situation that could mess up your mind, believe me when I say so. I have been in a similar situation. No, it wasn’t with my secretary in my office. Anyway, let me leave that story for another time.
“How long will it take you to find what you are looking for?” I shouted at him and watched him snap violently in fright. “What, what are you, a twelve-year-old? Will you get yourself together, act like a randy bastard that you are, and tell me why I am here? I don’t have all day!” I added, loving the authority I imposed on him. You see, I have that effect on people. You need to see me in a courtroom quizzing a defendant.
“The death certificate is just somewhere here, sir. I just can’t find it now that you are here,” he said pulling out one drawer after the other.
“The death certificate?” I said rhetorically
“Yes sir,” he nodded. I didn’t talk to him anymore. I became suddenly weak to the depths of my soul. I bowed my head and began to cry, the tears cascading unceasingly into my open palm.
It was indeed a wet day.