Nwoke in the middle.

For her; because sticking to your guns is never easy. (And thanks for the inspiration.)

***

“Emmy, get up and eat now. See the fine-fine peppersoup I made for you, you still want to lie there like that.”

I pressed my phone keys harder and tried to concentrate on my game of Tetris. Emeka made a sound in his throat. I turned up the volume of my game.

“What is he saying?” my mother asked her sister. Aunty Obum shrugged and tugged on Emeka’s sleeve. He allowed his arm to flop towards her.

“She was perfect. She was perfect for me and now she won’t talk to me anymore.” The women made a sound like hens clucking. I pulled the phone closer to my face. 3.15pm. How much longer did we have to be here for? I tried to catch my mother’s eye.

“Does he like the peppersoup?” my other aunt, Eliza asked from the kitchen.

“How will he want peppersoup? I told you it was too spicy for him,” my mother replied. She dipped the spoon into the bowl and sipped a bit of the chicken broth. “There is not enough salt in this.”

“What did you say?” Aunty Eliza’s voice almost took the roof off the house.

“Bring the ugba and come, Eliza. We’ll see if he eats that.” Emeka let his hand fall back over his eyes at this suggestion. His mother, Aunty Obum rubbed the exposed inside of his wrist, tracing the green vein running up his arm with her fingertip. I didn’t have to look up to see that Aunty Eliza had entered the room. She smelled as meaty as she looked; her complexion was the same as the palm oil staining the apron on her waist. Not for the first time, I was stuck by just how much of an outsider I was. Anyone coming in would not think I was related to them in anyway. For one thing, I was as dark as the underside of a buttock. Well, not the buttocks of anyone in this room anyway.

“You know he hasn’t even had a wash today,” Aunty Obum said in a stage whisper. My mother gasped. I tasted teeth and could feel a headache start up from the back of my mouth. I hadn’t realised my teeth were clenched.

“He hasn’t had a bath?” My mother asked. Aunty Obum shook her head. She looked like she was wearing a necklace made of the world’s troubles. Everyone knew Emeka’s position on bathing. He was more than twice my age at twenty-nine but the stories of his cleaning routines were legendary; he even preferred to go to the rubbish secondary school near their house so that he could be a day student, than risk the severe water shortages in boarding school. At least that was how the story went. I thought Aunty Obum might have had something to do with it, somehow. It wasn’t her style to demand it outright, but Emeka was still her only child.

Emeka made another sound in his throat and sat up on the couch. The wrapper he had against his chest pooled at his waist. He rubbed his face. As usual, his hand came away leaving his face better than it had found it. It was as if his eyebrows and beard were embroidered in silk.

“You must stop worrying like this. Do you want to spoil your male beauty?” my mother asked. The clucking sounds were starting up again. I felt my eyes roll of their own volition. I tilted my phone screen. My battery was running out.

“Aunty, you don’t understand,” said Emeka. “I think she was the one. When I was with her, I felt…I felt so much. I just wanted her to be my rib. She was supposed to be my queen, the woman standing side by side with me, driving me on to greater heights…” You could hear a pin drop. The women stared at him. I could see the smile playing on the corner of my mother’s lips. She had the same faraway look in her eyes from the days when she still spoke of my father. It never lasted long. Soon she would remember that my father left her for another woman after she bore him seven girls – much like her mother before her. The look would take on an edge of steel, hardening around her eyes. As I watched, the corners of her mouth sunk like they were pulled down by weights. I cleared my throat. Aunty Eliza shook herself like a dog waking up.

“Emmy, is it not just begging? She wants you to beg her now, that is all. You know a woman likes to be chased. She wants to feel in control and you must indulge her. It is her time, after all. Nobody wants to come to a man that freely. She may feel you will not appreciate her if she gives in now.” Aunty Obum patted his knee. “Stop this nonsense and come and eat. You know you can get her back if you really try.”

“Yes o,” Aunty Eliza added. “All this is part of the game that comes before marriage. She is saying ‘No’ now but it only means she wants you to chase her harder. We women appreciate a man of force. I didn’t find a strong enough man to marry, but you know I was chased well-well…” Aunty Eliza’s voice trailed off. She untied the strings of her apron and re-tied them. “It’s just begging she needs, nna m. Don’t worry. I am sure she is feeling the pressure from her family as well; after all she has finished university. They will want to get her off their hands.”

“But mummy she was so harsh to me. And all over a little misunderstanding…” Aunty Obum waved him away with the back of her hand.

“I’m sure it will all be cleared up when you both get back together. Olijuro afo.

“Yes,” said Aunty Eliza.

“Yes,” said my mother. “For godssake Akwaugo, why do you keep clearing your throat? Go and get something to drink if you’re thirsty.”

I put down my phone and pushed up my glasses. “I think you’re just deceiving yourself.” It was now or never. Anything to get me out of future ‘family meetings’.

“Excuse me?”

“Not you, mummy. Him. Emeka. I think you’re just deceiving yourself. Say the truth and shame the devil. Did you or did you not cheat on her?”

“Akwaugo are you mad? How can you talk to your cousin like that?”

“Well, somebody has to. I’ve been waiting for years for one of you to talk some sense into this akwunakwuna but nobody wants to do it. So, I have to. Did you or did you not cheat on her?” I am aware, as I cross my legs, of every fibre in my denim trousers cutting into my flesh.

Emeka looked behind him and looked back at me. “Is it me she is talking to?” he asked nobody in particular.

“I added her on my Facebook,” I continued. “She’s my Facebook friend so I know everything that you did. Stop lying and be a man about it.”

“Shut up, you child. What do you know about the ways of men and women?” Aunty Obum’s eyes were fire. It couldn’t have been much worse if I had reached over, pulled off her head-tie and threw it to the ground. Either way, I was getting a thrashing if I was not careful.

I swallowed but the saliva stayed in my mouth. “With all due respect Aunty, this one I know. How can you spend months pursuing someone; showing up at their place of work, disturbing their friends for their mobile phone numbers and address….you even drove to her village when you heard she was holidaying there. Then the minute she says ‘Yes’ to dating you, you start seeing other women? She caught you! Not even up to a month afterwards.”

“There are things you don’t understand, Akwaugo. Men and women are different. We have different ways of thinking…our…bodies…they do not behave the same,” said my mother.

“There is no male and female respect, mother. How would you feel if she cheated on you?” I asked Emeka.

“How can…” he began.

“Why? Because you are so beautiful? Because you’re the most handsome man in the world? So, she’s supposed to just chop your beauty and close her eyes to all your nonsense?”

“If you talk to me like that, I will beat you. I am not your mate, remember that.” Even anger worked differently on my cousin. It made him look like a gold statue beaming forth rays.

“OK o. Sorry you are not my mate. You are my cousin, that is why I am going to do you a big favour and tell you something that all those ewu girls that follow you around never can: Not every girl in this world thinks you’re fine.” Emeka sat down. “Not every woman is desperate to get married. And most importantly, not every woman wants to marry you. Chioma certainly doesn’t. She wants nothing to do with you ever again. She even changed her number so that you can’t reach her. Stop trying.”

It seemed as if I had thrown the same water I used to rinse my cousin’s complexion into the women’s faces. They started talking all at once.

Mechie onu, evil child. You are just like your father…”

“If she doesn’t want, she should go…”

“This is why nobody is asking after my wares in the market..” This last statement from my mother.

I slipped my phone into the pocket of my jeans and stood up. “Mum, I have to go. I’ll be late for my lesson teacher.” I knew it was rude but I couldn’t do any more. He deserved the truth before it was too late.

My mother handed over the house keys without a word and joined her sisters around my cousin. My aunt Eliza was on his left, his mother Aunty Obum hadn’t moved from her place on the stool pulled up to the front of the couch and now my mother sat on the couch on his right. The picture was complete. They didn’t need me.

“You should leave a man to be a man. Both of you cannot wear the trousers.” My mother looked lost somehow. Her voice sounded as if it didn’t want to carry the words she was saying. She did not look at me. It was as if I disappointed her.

I took one last look at the three women; widow, divorcee and single woman, holding on to the men they lost in Emeka. He still looked shaken, but I wasn’t worried. They would begin building him up again as soon as I was gone.

“Good bye Aunty Obum. I’ll come next Tuesday, Aunty Eliza.” I picked up my bag and headed for the stairs.

“Don’t mind her. You know she always had a little crush on you,” I heard Aunty Eliza say. I stopped on the stairs, listening. The silence seemed to last an age.

“Let me go and have a bath,” said Emeka.

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12 thoughts on “Nwoke in the middle.

  1. I love your stories! I always want to know what happened after… did Chioma tell him about himself? Did Emeka change his ways … I want more of your stories!

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