I had melted like butter touched with a hot knife. Before I could remember my name; Joe, like a ship-captain, had taken over control of me, dictating and directing my affairs.
I started going to his house at Ikoyi, the more I stayed with him, the more I wanted him more than anything else. He was like a virus in my blood. I began to worship and adore him. So, when he came back one day with a marriage proposal, I had no appropriate word to answer him than to sing a favourite tune. “Have your own way Lord, You are the porter and I am the clay, mould me as thy will.” That concluded it.
Needless to bother you with the details of our romance, it was ‘fantastic’. I lack the ability to describe how Joe destroyed permanently my strength, confidence and resistance and replaced it with pride, hope, new life and new world. He gave me heaven on earth. It was as if he had prepared everything for me. Everything I needed was there for the asking. He pampered me, showered me with so much love and affection, practical love was the best word to describe it.
We went to see his parents in far away Ngwa Land in Abia State. Mr. and Mrs. Zebulum were everything that Joe was. The only child of the family and they loved him deeply. Mr. Zebulum was old, at 80 and a retired Second World War Nigerian soldier. At the age, he was still strong and agile and radiated strength and care. Mrs. Zebulum was in her late 60’s and took care of us like babies. She never let me touch anything as if I was made of egg shells that would crack the next minute.
When we finished dinner, Joe introduced me to his parents as his fiancée and offered little inquiries like where I was from, who were my parents and those kinds of questions. Pa Zeb, as he was fondly called, thanked Joe for fulfilling his life’s desire.
“I have waited for a long time for this, Joe. I have waited for years to draw the hands of my grandsons, you know we are but a small family, thank God you have come out of your slumber to see clearly.”
Those words were carefully chosen and uttered with great emotion that hit me straight in my heart. It was there and then I made up my mind to enlarge the family so as to fulfil this old man’s desire.
After our wedding, things did not go as fast as we planned it. The much expected baby did not come. We passed from months to years, from expectation to desperation, yet nothing happened. Five years went by and no show. What a disaster and the old Zeb was marching steadily to his grave. I jostled from one hospital to the other, sauntered from village to hamlets, visiting uncountable number of herbalists. I began to visit churches and prayer houses for prayers and fasting, hoping for a miracle baby, but this equally produced no result. I stopped going to the prayer houses when one day, the prophet of one of them tried to impersonate the Holy Spirit. I had almost given in when I noticed that he had shed his clothing and I pushed him away. It was then I saw the face of the Holy Spirit. I was mad and left, raining abuses on the prophet who was never ashamed of his actions.
One day, Joe returned home to announce that we were travelling to the village for a meeting with the parents. My heart skipped a beat because I knew what the meeting was all about. I was ashamed and scared of going to face old Pa Zeb whom I have failed to give his desired grandchildren for the past 10 years and time was running out fast on him. I felt I was a disappointment to the family. Several laboratory tests had proved him and I normal and healthy. This had kept Joe’s hope alive.
“Don’t worry baby, one day it will come, like the day, you cannot stop them.” He concluded. But I wasn’t listening, the parents were desperate, so I pursued the matter, not waiting for Joe’s consent. So when we got to the village, Pa Zeb was really old and tired, although he received us cheerfully and humorously, in his mind was tension, anxiety and disappointment. I responded pretentiously to his humour and quietly entered into our bedroom and threw myself on the bed and wept bitterly. I was confused. Could somebody be responsible? Could be that some evil machination had been used by someone to seal my womb permanently, why now? My mother had eight children, seven boys and I. The more reason Pa Zeb concluded Joe had made a perfect choice, but now all the hopes, expectations and plans had gone to the wild wind. I cannot understand why!
I dozed off and immediately had a dream. In that dream, I was carrying a bouncing baby boy and Joe was complaining that his income couldn’t sustain the upkeep of another one. I chided him that I preferred poverty to childlessness. He was very angry and came after me with a cane, I hoisted my baby on the shoulder and ran. As I was running, the baby was crying in protest until I stumbled on a stone and began to fall. I screamed and woke up with a start. Pa Zeb was bending over me and shaking his head. I must have looked horrible. Sitting on the chair by the bedside he said, “It’s okay, my daughter, you don’t have to cry, Joe has told me how far you have tried but you see, these things sometimes happen and they remain a mystery. “I was surprised at his words. I had expected him to shout at me, abuse or call me names and throw me out of his house but instead he was sympathetic.
His words gave me the courage to respond and I did so with tears running down my cheeks. I came down from the bed and went down on my knees.
“Forgive me Papa, forgive me, I have failed to fulfil your desire. I have dashed every hope and expectation. It is like fate has chosen me for its devastating blow. We have done everything we can but God has refused to answer our prayer. I sobbed. I wish you find another wife for your son who will give you your offspring.”
Pa Zeb lifted my face gradually and stared into my eyes, “Don’t worry”, he recited some in-audible words and then tore off a tiny thread from his girdle which he handed over to me, “take care of this,” he said, as long as you wear it round your groin, it will be well with you.” He stood up abruptly and left.
When the news was broken in the morning that Pa Zeb passed on peacefully in his sleep, I was shocked to the marrow. I did not know that the man came to bid me farewell nor did I know the meaning of the strange gift he gave to me. Yet, I concealed it from Joe.
We travelled back to Lagos after the burial leaving Joe’s mother behind, with a promise that she would come to join us soon. One day, Joe came back from office to tell me he was travelling to Gabon and would be away for one month.
“So soon,” I asked.
“Yeah, the boss says so, I know it will be lonely for you but take care. I had been used to him travelling for a long time only that this is his first since Pa Zeb died. I was going to be lonely. Fear was crawling up my chest. Joe noticed I was crying and came to me and carried me to the bedroom.
“Baby, don’t cry, I am not going away forever.” I promised him I will be okay…only that I just felt bad….afraid to be left alone so soon.
“Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you, instead you should allow Clara to sleep in the house or send for mama to come.”
Clara was our house help; I was not going to share the house with her. I’ll rather send for mama, I said. Fine, that settled it. We made love throughout that day and Joe left the following day.
My problem started in the night after our house help had returned to the quarters. I locked up the whole house, pulled down the shutters and pulled the window blinds, I was satisfied I was all alone and secured.
I walked into the bathroom and showered, I was always wearing the tiny strange thread Pa Zeb had given me, which Joe failed to notice.
I stepped out of the bathroom, nude and made for the parlour to put out the lights. I was not bothered since I was alone in the house. I came to an abrupt stop. A man was standing at far end of our sitting room, his back turned to me. He stood still very still, he was tall and wore a white flowing gown. Joe couldn’t have come back without calling out for me. Again how did he come in? I’d locked the whole place, doors and windows.
I was transfixed and scared. Confusion took over my reasoning and I did not even try to cover my nudity, run or shout for help. I did none of those things. I just stood there like a Zombie until he turned gradually and floated towards me. He was very handsome, young and was about 35 years old. When he smiled, I recognised him. He was Pa. Zeb. I watched him come, not moving, not scared anymore, just hypnotised until he reached out his hands and I collapsed on him and he carried me into our bedroom. Rose, he whispered to my ears, I have come to fulfil my promise.
…to be continued