By seven o’clock the next evening, Yvonne had done the grocery shopping, changed from her work clothes, bathed Nkemjika and had dinner on the cooker. For a day that was celebrating love, work had been a real bitch. She worked in the Public Relations department of a German Textile Company and the demand for her at the job had been unusually high today. But she was good at what she did, and felt proud of herself that she been able to end the day with no work leftovers. She caught herself humming as she diced carrots into a salad bowl, and realized that she was feeling quite content.
The home she shared with her husband was on the ground floor of a three-storey block of flats, and so she heard the car driving in as she set the table. The tyres crunched on the tarred ground of the compound and the headlights swept over the windows. A glance at the wall clock showed half past seven. If it was Obiora, he was early; he wasn’t even supposed to return from his trip to Abeokuta until the next day. Her husband traveled quite a lot in relation to his job as a sales rep for the pharmaceutical company he worked for in Oshodi. The engine of the car was turned off and moments later, the car door slammed. Voices rumbled outside, and Nkemjika, who had been glued to the cartoon network station on the DSTV since his mother had been in the kitchen, looked away from the screen, his head turned towards the sound of the voices. “Daddy is back,” the four-year-old piped up at his mother. Yvonne nodded. “Wanna go say welcome to him as he enters?”
Sponge Bob chose that moment to say something captivating on TV, and a distracted Nkem mumbled something in response and sunk his focus back on the screen. Yvonne smiled indulgently. Kids and their cartoons, she thought with a slight shake of her head. There should be a Federal Ministry of something to warn how cartoon-watching was dangerous to the health of these children. On the other hand, it was safer territory than having to contend with the frenzy for video games. She had taken one look at the realistic gun-toting macho men, skimpily-clad femme fatales and conflagrating war zone action of one of her younger cousin’s Play Station III video game and decided that making a present of that plaything to her son was just something she would never do.
Soon, a key rattled on the keyhole of the front door and moments later, the door swung open with Obiora loudly proclaiming, “Daddy’s home.” Yvonne tossed him a wide smile from the dining room. “Hi, honey, you’re back early.”
“Yes, I missed my family and I said to myself, ‘How can I not spend Valentine’s Day with them?’” He began to advance towards Nkem, who had got to his feet at the entrance of his father. “Hey, little man, aren’t you going to say welcome to daddy?” he growled playfully.
Recognizing the playful tone, Nkem said with an impish laugh, “No.”
Obiora stopped in his tracks, widening his eyes theatrically. Yvonne stopped what she was doing to watch them. Obiora continued, “So you won’t say welcome, even though I may have brought presents for you?”
“No!” Nkem proclaimed again, now laughing, his eyes sparkling with delight.
[pullquote]Yvonne was prepared to say something equally affectionate back to him. Her mouth was already open to utter some innocuously sweet rejoinder, when the image of another man’s face was superimposed in front of her husband’s. The kindness in his eyes melted away to be replaced by a familiar expression of smoky sensuality. Those facial crevices that had started to turn bulky with early onset of male blubber thinned and sharpened into the handsomer planes of a face that had held her arrested for three years. She gasped, blinked and faltered back a few steps.[/pullquote]Obiora suddenly sprinted toward him. The boy squealed in surprise and darted in the opposite direction. Obiora caught him easily and gently tackled him to the ground. He began to tickle him with fast, sure fingers, unmerciful in his attack.
“Stop! Stop – daddy, stop please!” Nkem demanded around peals of laughter and gulps of air.
Obiora grinned and continued the playful torment, finding all the places that made the boy break into fits of giggles. “Will you now say welcome to daddy?”
“Yes!” Nkem shrieked. “Yes – yes – yes! Daddy, welcome!”
Satisfied with his concession, Obiora stood and swept his son up into his arms with the same fluid motion. Then he placed him gently back in front of the television, before walking over to where Yvonne stood. “Hello, beautiful,” he said with a wide smile as he approached.
Yvonne was prepared to say something equally affectionate back to him. Her mouth was already open to utter some innocuously sweet rejoinder, when the image of another man’s face was superimposed in front of her husband’s. The kindness in his eyes melted away to be replaced by a familiar expression of smoky sensuality. Those facial crevices that had started to turn bulky with early onset of male blubber thinned and sharpened into the handsomer planes of a face that had held her arrested for three years. She gasped, blinked and faltered back a few steps.
“Yvonne, are you okay?”
Even the inherent gentleness of Obiora’s voice was gone. In its place was that husky baritone that always managed to make her heart race no matter how many times she heard it in a day. The room was suddenly close. A dizziness swept her head. She closed her eyes against the disturbing whirling of the walls.
“Yvonne…” She felt hands grasp her upper arms and shake her gently.
“Alfie…” The name trembled out of her lips of its own volition.
The hands retreated, and Obiora’s voice finally cut in through her vertigo. “What?” he husked.
Yvonne realized her error a millisecond after her eyes snapped open. Her husband’s face had swum back into focus, and there was a shocked expression etched on it. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean…” She flailed for words, felt intensely contrite.
“I take it to mean you’ve heard,” Obiora cut in woodenly.
“That he’s getting married.”
“You knew?” Even as she uttered the words, she wondered at her disbelief. Of course Obiora would know. He and Alfred were friends; it was a testament to the maturity of both men that their friendship had weathered Obiora’s involvement and subsequent marriage to the woman Alfred had loved. Yvonne knew no female acquaintanceships that would survive the same kind of situation, were the roles reversed.
“Yes, of course, I knew,” Obiora said. “I wasn’t the first person he told, but he told me eventually. He was going to send me an invitation card too, but I told him not to bother. If I could help it, I didn’t want you to know.”
Yvonne gave a short bark of humorless laughter. “Lagos may be a big city, Obiora, but news like this travel fast.”
“I suppose so. I’m guessing CNN told you –”
“Does it matter –” She cut herself off abruptly when she heard the escalating tone of her voice. Nkem had shot them a brief look of childish speculation before returning his gaze to the TV. “Does it matter who told me?” she hissed in a lower tone.
“I guess not. What matters is that you know. And you’re obviously not taking it well.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Even as she asked the question, she was looking away and had started out of the dining room for the kitchen.
Obiora followed. “You know exactly what it means. Just now, you called me his name.”
“That was a mistake, and I’m sorry about it.” Dishes clattered as she set them out on a tray. Filling the serving bowls with dinner from the pot suddenly seemed very important.
“Yes, it was a mistake,” Obiora said persistently, “but I need to know if it’s a mistake I need to worry about.”
Yvonne stopped what she was doing and straightened, her back to her husband. She could feel the weight of his stare on her back, could feel the pinpricks of his questions jabbing at her behind. She took in a deep breath and turned to face him, giving him a level look. “No, Obiora, you have nothing to worry about. You are my husband and I love you. And I love my life with you. Nothing has changed that, not even news that Alfred is getting married.”
Obiora leaned forward and tried to stare her down. She did not look away. His expression was quizzical as he asked, “And you’re okay with that? That he’s getting married?”
In that quick moment, she thought about how often, in the past forty-eight hours since she heard of her ex-fiancé’s impending nuptials, that she’d heard that question. It had been asked in different ways, by different people. Her friends. A family member of two.
Her response, however, had always been the same, and when she opened her mouth to answer Obiora, the response didn’t change.
“I’m fine, honey. Really, I am.”
To be continued in the next issue…