A funny feeling crept up the back of Harry’s neck, the kind of feeling he always got when he was excited about something.
He followed Atimma and stood just behind her. “I love You. It’s just that I am not buoyant enough to marry you now. Give me sometime my darling.” He said huskily, laying his hands on her shoulders.
“What if I decide to give you the money for our wedding? I can afford it.” Atimma said. Her tone was sharp, her manner indignant, and her eyes sparked like a hammer on an anvil as she stared at Harry directly in the eyes.
Harry nodded and sat gently on the bed.
“And after marriage, we are going to survive on my okirika business?” He paused and said in a painful whisper. “Give me time. You won’t like to stay here in a one bedroom after our wedding.”
“I will. We can start from here. I can’t wait any longer!” She said with a contemptuous curl on her lips.
“Are you sure about this?”
She defiantly turned her head and met his gaze.
“Yes I am. I am doing a good job Harry. I can support you without anyone knowing that the money is from me. We’ve dated for four years already, I will be thirty by July, how long should I wait more?” She turned away, looking at the picture frame of her and Harry on the wall.
She sat down and lowered her head.
“What if we plan the wedding for next Year? By then I will be fully settled. I mean I will have a good job by then.”
Atimma shook her head in disgust. “What is wrong with giving you money to come marry me, pride? Will it take away your manhood Harry?
I said I will assist you. I will cope! I am doing a good job. My salary can take care of you, myself and your mom.” She yelled angrily.
Harry moved closer so he could sit beside her. ” You have to understand me.”
Lowering her head, she said softly, “I think you never wanted to marry me. You’ve been using me for four good years Harry?”
He eased back away from her and stood up.
“Okay, Fine! let me prove you wrong, bring the cash, let’s plan our wedding.” Harry said loudly.
She turned her head and gave him a small smile.
“When should we plan on seeing my parents?” She said in a slow delight.
“Next weekend. I will inform uncle Ettete and my mom.”
Atimma nodded in approval and hugged Harry tight to herself. “Finally, we are going to spend the rest of our lives together my love.” She said in soft whispers.
Harry took her into his arms and kissed her softly on the lip.
She gave a short laugh and said in a teasing tone, “Mr and Mrs Harry Edet in few months right?”
He laughed. “Soon baby.”
She knelt beside him and chuckled. “I just can’t wait to get married to you Harry.” He glared at her but said nothing.
She cuddled close to him, closing her eyes until she slept off in his arms.
Harry’s head drifted backward to rest against the cushion chair. His mother came out of the kitchen with a tray of palm oil rice and sardine in a small saucer.
Harry smiled a bit, and then took a spoon from the tray, stared at the food for a while and then spooned the rice into his mouth continuously.“I know you eat good food in the city.” His mother said excitedly.”No food is as delicious as yours, no matter the amount of money used in making it.” Harry said. He took the sachet water from the tray, tore it with his teeth and gulped it down.”I will be getting married soon Mama.” He broke the silence.In confusion, his mother blinked her eyes, disoriented for a moment, and then her eyes widened on Harry. She sat up quickly.”I thought you said your business isn’t moving too well, getting married is expensive.””She will sponsor our Wedding.”
“God forbid!” His mother exclaimed. ” A woman cannot lend you money for her own bride price. Do not ever let what happened to Etubom Idung ette happen to you o.”
“She is a good woman mama. She loves me. I love her too.”
“If she cannot wait for you to make your own cash, and marry her honourably, then yak aka.” She said angrily.
“What different does it make Mama? I mean she sponsoring our wedding, and I giving her the money back in future. I can’t lose her.” His gaze slid down to her shaky legs.
His heart slammed into his gut, and he quickly stood and turned his back to her. His voice was low when he said, “I will be seeing her family by next weekend. I just came to inform you first. I want to leave Ikot Akam before sunrise tomorrow.”
He walked out of the sitting room into the bedroom.
Later, a single lantern lit the dimness of the room. His mother walked slowly towards him. Harry was sleeping soundly when his mother’s hand lightly touched his shoulders.
“Bring her to me for my blessings.” She whispered.
His brow arched, and he gave her a soft look.
“She will be here a day to our introduction. She is always busy at work.”
“What does she do?”
“She works with an oil company. She is hardworking mama.”
She chuckled. “how long have you known her?” she asked softly.
“Then she really loves you. If she has been with you all through these while.”
“She does. A woman like Atimma is rare mama.” Harry whispered.
He swung out of bed and hugged his mother tight.
“You will love her.” He whispered to her ears.
Few days later, Harry visited his mother with Atimma. They were all excited.
Atimma had brought expensive wrappers and clutch purses for Harry’s mom. After sometimes of exchange of hugs and Pleasantries; She knelt down respectively and handed the Gift items to Harry’s mother.
“Oh my dear. You’re the daughter I never had. sosongho!” she said softly.
Harry’s face was filled with joy and excitement as he watched the favorite women in his life prepare him food in the kitchen.
“His father died when he was nine.”
Harry could hear her mother telling Atimma from the sitting room. Then there was a loud laugh afterwards.
He knew that he had made his mother and Atimma happy.
He muttered something under his breathe and laid his head on the couch, waiting for the food to be ready.
They got married at Saint Peters catholic church in Ikot Ntuen. Linda, her best friend had missed the church wedding. She was supposed to be her maid of honor; But Atimma wasn’t angry, she walked down the aisle delightedly in her white, Pearle beaded dress. Atimma felt Harry’s eyes on her as she walked down the aisle. She would have enjoyed the walk along with her father, or even her mother, but they had died many years ago; since when she used to be a teenager. At the moment the priest had joined them in matrimony, and the congregation applauded, Harry stared at the ring on his fingers, as if measuring it’s bigness compared to Atimma’s own. He took her chin and her face to his and kissed her, while the church screamed in excitement. Atimma smiled shyly and hugged Harry tight to herself. After the wedding reception party ended, Harry and Atimma got back home that night with joy in their hearts.****Two weeks after their wedding, Atimma resumed work at the company, while Harry traveled to Lagos to buy fairly used clothes for his shop. And it went on that way…
Linda, Atimma’s best friend visited them for the first time after their wedding.
“Your wedding wasn’t big like I expected.” Linda said shrilly as she took a sip of the coca cola drink she was offered.
“Harry and I wanted it low.” She replied softly.
“Na waooo, and you people still packed into this your small one bedroom flat after wedding, not even a two bedroom in an estate in town.” Linda said with her usual straightforwardness.
“Well, Harry and I will move out when we have enough cash. We spent a lot at the wedding.”
Linda laughed out loud, clapping her hands and throwing them into the air.
“Atim, how much does Harry even have? He doesn’t even have money for common introduction, talk of wedding. You and I know too well that your whole money was used for that wedding, and that Harry’s kobo was not there.”
Atimma frowned and looked away.
“Don’t let that bother you. It’s my money, he is my husband.”
“Okay o. I just want to let you know that Oga Seno isn’t happy that you got married without his consent.” she said earnestly.
“What consent? He is a married man, I am married now. Is that why he stopped replying my greetings at the office? He should go to hell!” Atimma said angrily.
“Is it after you ate his money that you just realized he is married huh?”
“I was single then.”
“But at least Harry was still your bobo.”
“Stay off Linda! Leave me alone.” She yelled and stood to walk away.
“I am not condemning you. It’s just that I am sad that you left wealth to settle in this ghetto with an okirika seller.”
Atimma angrily grabbed Linda by the hand forcefully.
“Get out of my house!” she yelled as he pushed Linda to the floor.
“You’re jealous that I am married and you’re not!”
Linda stood up gently from the floor, she gave a sneering smile as she wiped the back of her denim gown.
“You really think I am jealous of this poverty stricken place? Why do you think I refused to be your chief brides maid Atim? I could not bring myself so low in those cheap Taffeta you had wanted me to wear. Who envies this kind of life you’re living? I will rather remain single, dating rich sugar daddies, than be married to a man who can’t afford my bride price.” She paused and then walked stylishly towards Atimma.” I mean you married yourself!”
Atimma pushed Linda out of the house. Her heart was hammering in her breast like a wild thing, while she felt like it might burst her body any moment.
“Never ever you come here anymore!”
Linda was frightened, it was the first time she saw her best friend in such mood.
Atimma stepped out of the elevator in her leather suit and pant; She was struggling with piles of files on her hands, she held them firmly as she walked gently on a long corridor that led to her office. She heard footsteps walking behind her, she knew who it was. The smell of his perfume was familiar. She wanted to run, but took hurried steps instead. She knew in her heart that he was following her. He was glancing down at her when she was downstairs, her eyes caught with his. Atimma got to her office, she threw the files on her table, breathing heavily.”Happy Married life.” A voice came from behind her.”Thank you sir.” She said in a shaky tone, not looking directly at his face.”Why have you been avoiding me since after your wedding?” He seated himself on the overstuffed chair and propped his long legs on the table, falling off Atimma’s wedding picture frames. She lowered herself and picked them one by one, setting it well on the table.”Handsome man!” He exclaimed, as he carried the picture frame gently and stared at it for a while.”thank you.” Atimma said in broken whispers.”The rains are here, I miss you in my arms.” He said, as he placed the picture frame gently on the table.”Thank you. I am married now Seno.”He chuckled, and then stood up immediately. He started to walk around her path. She raised an angry gaze at him. “I am grateful for all what you did for Me; For this job, for contracts, for promotions and for the car…”
“The car you gave to your husband.”
“It is my car. It is our car, what I own is his too. He comes to pick me after work with it.”
“So you married a man who had nothing. You left me for a man who had nothing!”
“You’re married Seno. You never wanted me to settle too?”
“Not that way Atimma!” He yelled, then paused. His voice softened now. ” I told you to give me time, Susan refused to grant a divorce. I couldn’t do things that way. I invested in you because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“How do you always manage to make up these lies?” She demanded, finally looking into his eyes. “You and your wife are fighting for a divorce, and yet she is Pregnant. And yet you two go on vacations and trips. You think I’m a fool Seno? While Harry was out there, dying for me, showing me true love, I cheated on him with you.”
Seno Casually leaned against the wall, his entire attention focused on her. She felt the heat of his gaze, and looked away.
“So, he is the good guy now?”
“He has always been the good guy.” She retorted.
Seno smiled slowly and nodded painfully.
“Susan and I were almost ending it. Until you left, you changed. I stopped loving her, because you stole my heart.”
“I had given your heart back to you, take it, and go back to your wife. Whatever we had was in the past. I love my husband, I will manage with him, until it gets well.” Her anger died, as he sat down gently on a chair.
“I didn’t realize you were such a good woman. I know you more than he does. you will come back to my arms. But if there is anything he can’t do for you, I am here, always loving you enough to help.”
The telltale sign of her humiliation showed on her flushed cheeks.
Slowly she raised her gaze to his, and she had the feeling that she was drowning in those penetrating eye.
She slid out of bed, pulled on her tattered blue robe and went into the bathroom with a pregnancy test strip.
She was feeling strange and unusual, so she bought a test strip on her way back from work the previous day.
She urinated into the a small bottle, and inserted the strip in it. She was anxious, her heart trembled as she pulled it out and placed it on a pavement.The first red line showed, followed by the a second. She held her tummy and smiled lightly.
She washed her hands and got back to the bedroom.”Are you okay?” Harry asked in a sleepy tone.”We are expecting a baby, I am pregnant!” she exclaimed. Harry sat up on the bed and grabbed her to himself excitedly.
“How did you find out?””I haven’t seen my period for four months now. The signs were there, but I wasn’t sure. I tested a few minutes ago, and it’s positive.” She said shyly.Harry kissed her softly on the forehead and laid his hands gently on her stomach.”I am going to be a daddy. My mom will be so happy.”
He said and fell on the bed weakly.
“Let me sleep with the good news at heart my love. We are now three!” He chuckled. “I need to sleep a little longer, I will be opening the shop late today.”Harry slept off again as soon as his eyes got closed.Atimma couldn’t sleep anymore, she wrestled with the notion of discussing relocating to a bigger house in town. She didn’t want to grow her baby in a ghetto as Linda called it, she wanted a good life for herself, Harry and the unborn baby.She had mentioned sometimes ago that she was uncomfortable cooking in the tight kitchen, and squeezing her body in the bathroom, so that her hands won’t touch the walls.
She drifted off to sleep with the thoughts of getting a new apartment in her mind. Since she wasn’t too buoyant, she was going to tell Harry to assist her with part of the money from his business.
The next morning, Atimma was shivering, she had fever.
She brushed her hair away from her face and sat up on the bed.
She opened her eyes, looking startled when she heard a cry from the sitting room.
She forcefully stood up, and walked gently to the sitting room.
“what happened?” She asked in a trembling tone. There were tears in Harry’s eyes. she had never seen him that way before. She held his head to his chest, his tears dampened his shirt, and she clutched at him, not willing to let him off.
“Tell me, who called you? Is mama okay, did you get a message from the village?” She asked soothingly in broken whispers.
“My shop…My Shop, my goods…” Harry cried out in a faint whisper.
She drew in a shuddering breath.
“What happened? Your rent hasn’t expired yet.”
“Fire! Fire burnt everything. Obinna…the guy that sells Motor parts, told me. His shop is just partly burnt.” Harry cried out.
Atimma became weak. She laid tiredly on the couch. She was dry faced and tensed.
“Everything will be fine. We will find a way.” She said soothingly, holding Harry’s hands.
“Why now? Why now that you’re pregnant? I invested all my money, my savings… into these last set of okirika that I bought. I wanted to make you happy, I wanted to get us that dream apartment you’ve always wanted.” Harry’s voice broke. His eyes and his face where filled with tears.
She shook her head and nestled against him more securely.
Harry gave a gasp of surprise when he first saw Atimma trek from the gate entrance. She was supposed to be driving. Harry walked towards her gently, and gave her a warm hug.
“What happened to the car?” Harry asked.
“I sold it a moment ago.” Atimma replied softly.
“Why Atim? You need a car now that you’re Pregnant. I don’t want you to be stressed. And you never told me you wanted to sell the car.”
“It’s my car Harry. I can decide to do whatever I want with it.” she said rudely.
Harry became quiet for a while, then held her hands. He was ashamed.
Something about the whole thing was not right, but he could not find a flaw.
“I sold the car and got a house in town.” Atimma broke the silence.
“Is this meant to be a surprise?” Harry asked, looking surprised.
“No. I am telling you that we will be packing from here today. I have gotten a better place in town.”
“Why didn’t you let me know first? I am your husband Atimma!”
Without answering, she darted around him and hurried into the room.
Harry sighed and sat down gently on the couch.
A moment later, Atimma came out of the room with her boxes and bags. Harry’s heart trembled as he stood up to his feet immediately.
“Where are you going to?” He asked in broken whispers.
“To the new house.”
He became mute for a while then said, “is there no truck? We need trucks to pack the chairs and the bed, and the kitchen stuffs”
“I can’t go to my new house with these filthy things, I got new stuffs.” She said softly.
Harry looked around the house and sat again on the couch. He thought of why Atimma said ‘my house’ and not ‘ our house. ‘ He was grieved.
“Who are we giving all these things to? these things are valuable to me. These are stuffs I bought with my first savings.”
He finally spoke out after few minutes of keeping mute.
“burn them.” She paused for a moment, allowed her gaze on the sitting room. She walked out with the luggage and banged the door.
Harry stood up immediately and ran after her.
“I understand that you’re pregnant, that’s why you’re acting this way?” Harry said, running after her…
Harry and Atimma got to their new house by taxi. Harry was amazed at the sight of the beautiful edifice. He got the boxes of clothes from the car, while Atimma carried only her handbag.
Atimma led the way into the beautiful apartment.
As they got to the sitting room, Harry became bewildered by the Chandelier, the expensive looking furniture and the curtains. He touched the walls and pressed his hands on the sofa.
“thank you for this new place.” He said softly to Atimma.
Atimma was trying to concentrate at the view from the window, she pretended not to hear what Harry was saying.
Harry hugged her backwardly. “thank you.” He whispered.
When she turned, and raised her gaze to him, she could not move or speak.
She was frozen in place as she stared into Harry’s eyes that seemed to look right into her mind and discover all her secrets.
She was ashamed to tell him that Seno had kissed her that afternoon at the office, but that she didn’t like it.
She held her protruded belly firmly as Harry held her into his arms.
Harry’s phone interrupted the blissful moment. He struggled to get the phone from his trouser pocket. It was his mom’s neighbor Eka Etido who was calling him, Harry’s instincts told him that something might be wrong with mama. His voice trembled as he pressed the answer button.
A wisp of Atimma’s black hair had come loosed from the tight knot secured at her neck.
She stared anxiously at Harry, waiting for him to tell her what Eka Etido said to him over the phone.
Harry sat down on the sofa, shaking his head, his eyes brightened with fear.
“What did she say?” Atimma asked softly.
“Mama is sick again.” Harry replied with a sigh. Tears sparkled in his eyes.
“She shouldn’t be sick now that I don’t have money o.” Atimma said as her eyes widened with anger.
Harry stared at her sternly. He was wondering if his wife of eight months actually said that.
Two months after their wedding, she was such an angel who had vowed to love him for better for worse. She had never talked to him insolently before. Until when she got pregnant six months ago, and suddenly sold her car without his consent. And now, he was in this big edifice that he knew nothing of.
Atimma didn’t feel sorry for the fact that Harry’s mom was sick. She was relaxed and not bothered.
She went into the kitchen and came out with a cup of tea. She stirred the tea for a while and sipped it bit by bit.
Harry’s brow furrowed, he was thinking of his mother when Atimma interrupted.
“What is wrong with Mama?” she asked finally.
Harry stared at her face for a while and then replied, “she has asthma. It’s severe, I heard her breath aloud from the background.”
Atimma closed her eyes. “I don’t have money now. I can’t use the money for my child’s bills for your mom.”
Harry’s heart felt. His lip curled into a snarl, and anger coiled inside him. He wondered what suddenly happened to his wife.
“I didn’t ask you for your money. I will do what I can to save my mother.” He said in a broken voice.
“Don’t forget that you have a wife who is pregnant.” Her voice suddenly became mocking and arrogant.
“My mother needs help, she is sick!”
“Then help her! I need help too Harry. I just paid for this place.”
Her high-handed attitude shoved every sane thought out off his mind, and he was left with only anger.
Harry became genuinely puzzled by her attitude. His former neighbor Nsemeke had told him that Atimma changed because she pays the bills. While his former landlady had told him that pregnancy makes women behave that way.
But Harry took the words of his former lady.
He recalled how his mom had told him of how she packed her things to leave his father when she was pregnant of him.(Harry) According to her, the pregnancy had made him hate her husband. Harry was afraid that the same thing that happened to his mom was happening to his wife. He smiled slowly.
“I will visit mama tomorrow, I will like you to lend me some money please.” He demanded, finally looking into her eyes.
Atimma raised her angry gaze at him, and then suddenly sniffed in exasperation.
“You’re very ungrateful..
I can’t believe you’re asking me for money, despite my condition.” She was mumbling and leaning heavily on the the wall.
Harry was hurt again. His forehead furrowed and more lines appeared on his face.
“I am sorry if I haven’t been man enough my love. But bear with me please. I really need your help now. I can’t even afford ventolin for mama. I can’t.” His voice was fading, but she heard him.
Atimma made a short derisive sound and Harry’s face burned.
Harry closed his eyes, his lashes resting like a fuzzy caterpillars on his scratched cheek. He’d fallen asleep or passed out on the sofa.
He had been on the sofa since the previous night. Atimma had left him to the bedroom.
Harry didn’t deserve her compassion or her empathy anymore. He needed to start looking for jobs so that he can help his mother survive.
Atimma woke up with a slight headache. She turned to the other side of the bed, but didn’t find Harry. She stood and swayed with unexpected dizziness.
She pulled her cell phone and nudged it open with her chin. She pressed a fast-dial button and leaned against the wall.
She heard Harry’s phone ring from the sitting room, and sighed…
She took a shower and prepared herself for work. She had disposed all the cheap perfumes Harry had bought for her from Ariaria market, and took out the Victoria secrets cologne that she had bought the previous day from Nicon supermarket. She wrapped Harry’s perfumes and threw them in a bin bag.
“Why are you putting the ones I bought for you there?” Harry’s voice became professionally crisp from behind her. He walked in unnoticed. His guess roamed over the room and the wardrobe.
“They smell like goat shits. They make me want to puke all the time. Next time, you should get me something like this.” She pointed at the Victoria secret cologne.
“That’s expensive. You know I can’t afford it now.”
“Then don’t bother buying them. Until you can buy these ones.” She said wryly.
Harry stared at her as she pasted a deep red lipstick on her lips.
“Have you thought of what I asked of you yesterday?” Harry asked.
Atimma grinned stiffly and held up her handbag tight. She counted money from it and handed it to him.
“That’s two thousand. I don’t have money. What I have here is for my ante-natal and hospital card. I am suppose to start buying baby’s things.” She said, looking him over.
“Thank you. I know this won’t be enough, but I will try and hustle for more money. I am sorry for the inconvenience my love, always remember that things weren’t this bad, until the shop got burnt….”
“How much came out from that shop daily Harry, how much? You keep talking about the shop as if you were contributing to anything.”
She interrupted in an oddly quiet but compelling voice.
She slowly picked up her wedding ring, and fixed it on her finger. A wave of remembered desire streaked through her, making her legs feel like jelly.
“I am off to work.” She said.
Harry shook his head lightly and winced. He was still counting the two hundred naira notes countless times, until Atimma slammed the door. He shrugged and tried to grin, but a grimace of pain crossed his face. His eyes closed and his legs buckled and slid down the wall.
Atimma got to the office that morning with a broken heart. She had thought of how her salary was going to pay all what she got herself Into; Harry and the baby.
She pushed the thoughts to the back of her mind and concentrated on the computer screen.
There was a knock on her door, and it was the office receptionist.
“ma’am, Miss Iinda is here to see you.” She said shrilly.
“Itoro, don’t let her in here.” The bitterness of her voice surprised the receptionist. She was shocked that Atimma said that about her best friend. She still stood by the door.
“What are you waiting for?” Atimma asked.
“Madam, I want to be sure.”
Atimma giggled and then paused for a while.
“Let her in.” Her eyes lit with amusement.
Moments later, she could hear foot steps of stiletto heels walking towards her office, she knew that Linda was getting close.
She breathed a sigh of relief, ignoring the tiny inner voice that told her to be rude.
Linda looked amazingly fabulous.
She sprayed her hair gold, and had her nails painted lemon…She wore a sky blue color distressed jean and a black Sweater, as she walked zigzaggedly towards Atimma’s office.
A small smile quirked her mouth as she opened the door stylishly.
“Mrs Harry! oh my darling friend, you look beautifully pregnant.” She said softly, her words slurring.
“It’s been a while Linda.” Atimma said, trying hard to impress her with a mild smile.
“I came to visit Muhammed, since the Muhammed has refused to come see the mountain.” She chuckled, and sat on the chair facing Atimma.
“You got me really angry the last time you came to my house. I didn’t like that one bit.”
“I know. That is why I am here to say that I am so sorry for hurting you.” She pushed her hands across the table and held Atimma’s hands tight.
“If not for anything, for the sake of my god child.” She giggled.
Atimma’s face creased in a slow smile.
“It’s okay. I got over that long ago.”
“How is Harry? I hope all is well with you two? I didn’t see your car outside.”
“I sold it. I was very uncomfortable staying in the other house. The environment wasn’t good for me in this condition… The mosquitoes, bad boys, erosion etc. So I sold the car to get a new place in town.”
“That’s nice. Seno called me last night, we spoke at length…” She paused and stared at Atimma’s face for a while then said, “about you.”
“What about me?” Atimma asked shrilly.
“He is still in love with you, he told me.”
“What do you want me to do about him? I am married to someone else now.”
“I know…. But does it really matter bestie? countless women have their eyes opened now. You’re going after what your heart wants. Is it not married men that cheat on their wives and are still happily married?”
“So what you’re saying is that I should go back to Seno?” Atimma asked amazingly, Linda nodded in agreement.
The two women were quiet for a while, then Atimma broke the silence with a sigh.
“I kissed Seno yesterday. I don’t want to talk about what it felt like. It was a coincident.”
“He has been thinking of you.”
“I will make that decision after I put to birth in the next three months. Right now, I have to get over a lot of things.”
Memories of Seno crowded in Atimma’s thoughts. She smiled a bit and then nodded.
“I miss him too.” She whispered. ” But I am married.”
Linda frowned and followed her gaze. “You better grow up.” She muttered.
Atimma nodded without looking at her and stood up.
“Lunch break, I am famished.” She yawned.
“Every pregnant woman is always famished.” Linda retorted. The two ladies walked out of the office with their handbags as they headed to the office canteen.
Harry’s face burned down with pains. It was a sunny day, and he wasn’t bothered about how long the sun heat on him. He was worried about how he was going to reach his village with Ventolin and essential balm.
He was walking on the streets. His face was streaked with sweat and his jeans were brown with dust. He was weak and tired of walking, he didn’t want to use the small money he had to take a taxi home.
An angry insect scratched and marred his cheek and a bruise discolored his face. He leaned tiredly against a wall of an uncompleted building, trying to look insolent and nonchalant, but he was pale as a ghost, and his jaw was clenched tight.
Harry was in hell. He was doing his best to walk down the main road. A young boy selling sachet water walked passed him. He whistled at him, and the boy walked as fast as he could towards him. Harry removed two cold sachets of water from a bucket and handed over ten naira note to the boy. He gulp in the water in a second and breathe in and out noisily. His head cleared slowly, and he regained a little strength.
A car drove passed him, and then reversed backward, horning for his attention. Harry sniffed the air. Without raising his head, he opened his eyes.
“Harrison Bassey?” An husky voice called his name from the car. Harry’s heart trembled, he didn’t remember the last time someone called him by his full name. He lifted up his face slowly and his eyes caught with the man in the car.
“Abia, Abia Umosen?” Harry called out, he was looking amazed.
“It’s me.” Abia said and gave broken loud laughter.
He was driving a big, black, tinted jeep. Harry looked at Abia’s car and his appearance and felt ashamed.
“Oboy, where have you been?” Harry asked excitedly.
“I relocated to New York. I got married now…I am trying to build a structure down the street so that my family will be coming home for holidays.” Abia said.
“That’s great. Congratulations.” Harry shook his head, his eyes dark and cloudy.
“What are you doing here?” Abia asked.
Harry’s voice cracked as he replied Abia. ” I am looking for a job. My wife is pregnant. Since after service, I have been looking for a good job, but no way! My shop just got burnt down some months ago.”
“Oboy! you that graduated with a first class?” Abia exclaimed.
“Work no dey naija o. We dey suffer here.”
“I can help you. You can join the workers to mold blocks for my new house on this street. I will pay.” Abia said.
The laughter on Harry’s face faded from his eyes. His face dulled to a gunmetal grey.
He thought of his sick mom, his wife and how he was going to support them. He stared at Abia right in the eye and said, “I will do it. Thank you so much. Can you take me to the place?”
“I can’t carry you in my car, one of my men just finished washing it. I will give you my contractor’s number, and give you a note to give to him. He pays three thousand daily, he will sign you in when he gets the note.” Abia said in a baritone voice. He spoke with pride and confident.
Grief and pain ripped through Harry like a straight razor and his voice shook with passion and fury. “Thank you.” He said.
Abia handed a note to him and he collected it shyly with both hands.
He was ashamed. Abia was one year below him in the university, Abia graduated with a third class, and yet he was right before him with an expensive car, with a good job and secured job. While Harry was in his tattered clothes, set to raise blocks and bricks for Abia’s mansion.
Abia zoomed off, and Harry trekked back down the street. He was ready to do anything for his beloved mother and wife.
After he met with Abia’s contractor, he resumed work immediately.
He got back home dirty and in torn clothes. His jean became sandy and dirty, his face dark and sweaty.
Atimma opened the door, and stared at him shockingly. She didn’t want to look into his eyes, she didn’t want to see the pain and the sadness deep in those eyes that had once sparked with laughter, but she couldn’t pull her gaze away.
Two hours later, Harry was in the kitchen, opening empty pots. He opened the refrigerator and gave a loud sigh.
“You didn’t cook?” He said aloud from the kitchen.
Atimma took the last gulp of juice from the glass cup and spooned more rice into her mouth, she pretended as if she didn’t hear him. Harry walked into the sitting room with an angry gaze on her.
“You didn’t cook?” He asked again, this time more authoritatively.
“Did you give me money to cook for you? this food I am eating now, it’s Linda who bought it for me from Food affairs.” She said, still munching the food in her mouth.
“And you didn’t think of cooking for me? at least you know that I have not had food since yesterday.”
“And who are you? Can’t you see that I am pregnant already? Harry you’re heartless. I am pregnant, I am the one working and paying bills, I paid for this place. You still want me to cook after working at the office since morning? What have you been doing?” She gave a mock shudder, when she saw that Harry was staring at her sternly.
“I am raising blocks for building. The little money I am being paid daily is for mama’s hospital bill. You know very well that you can assist in providing for you and I for now, while I hustle a little bit longer.” He said weakly.
“You now lay blocks?” Atimma asked again in a funny way. She handed the chicken bone to Harry, he nodded and walked into the kitchen. He got water from the refrigerator and gulped it down till his stomach got filled. Then walked tiredly to the bedroom…
Atimma got to the bathroom. She picked up the soap and began washing her arms and shoulders briskly. The thoughts of Harry being a brick layer haunted her. She was expecting her salary the next day, and she was planning to give him some money for his mother. Her salary was enough to take care of all their needs, but she would ignore her conscience and save up the money for her baby’s needs.
Her soap slipped from her fingers and plopped into the water. She tried to bend and pick it but couldn’t. But she tried harder until she slipped and fell into the bathtub. “Jesus!” She exclaimed aloud.
Harry ran in from the bedroom and held her firmly out of the bathtub. He dived into the large bathtub and took the soft bar soap. Then his words sank in… “Be careful next time. You shouldn’t be doing these things on your own. let me help you. ” He said soothingly as he pasted the soap on the Sponge; He sponged her body softly and slowly. His voice had a hollow ring and his grin was crooked and meager.
She appeared carefree and relaxed.
He lifted her hands up like a child, and sponged her armpit. She began to whimper and laugh out loud. “That tickles!” She said, and stamped the soapy water on his head. His clothes were wet. He removed his clothes and stood naked.
He rubbed his body against hers, savored the softness of her skin against his.
He missed touching her, and he loved touching her.
She was like silk over steel, her skin was so soft.
To him, she was the most perfect human being in the world. He couldn’t wait to have his wife back after the pregnancy gets over.
He was ready to stand by her.
But while he began kissing her, he reached to push her hair away from his cheek, forgetting he had injuries on his face.
“Ouch!” he growled, and cursed.
Atimma stirred, turning toward him. She opened her eyes, and when her gaze met his, it was like old times.
To be continued…………
Writen by Vicky Bon Uzuazor
Fashion Illustrator: @Peniel_Enchill