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Friday Fiction: Earth and Fire

The rain fell, fast and eager, tapping on the glass window like the fingers of a skilled drummer.  I shivered and thought about how wind and rain made a horribly spectacular combination.  Whistling and rattling, howling and sloshing.  I thought about how Eze and I loved to cuddle by the window, in a chocolate blanket, when the rains came; how we used dream through frosted glass and thundering dark skies.  Memories that were now sour grapes.

A book fell to the ground and my younger sister, Chiugo, picked it up. She placed it on the bed, beside one of my suitcases. In a corner of the bedroom stuffed sacks piled high upon labeled carton boxes. My husband, Eze, had left me and now I was leaving him.

‘You’ve read this book?’ Chiugo asked, about the tatty paperback, The Battle Belongs to the Lord.

‘Maybe,’ I said. I was vulnerable to anything that gave me hope that one day I would have my own child.

Early in our marriage Eze used to humour me, read books aloud to me, pray with me and tell me: it’s just a matter of time. That was before he vanished in a ball of silence and I never could reach him again.

I wished I had said something earlier so that Chiugo hadn’t spoken at all. The awkwardness she felt around me made her want to say anything she thought would make me happy. Like the day she had said that it didn’t matter if one had a child or not, that having children was not a true measure of womanhood. And my elder sister, Ugwum, concurred, saying that a woman’s sense of worth should be intrinsic and not based on her ability to procreate.

Before I walked out of Ugwum’s house, I told her to throw her twin girls and son into the sea then and Chiugo could give up her two sons for adoption. Ugwum never really forgave me. Perhaps she thought Chiugo’s children received a kinder fate.

Chiugo walked up to me and stared out the window, ‘I hope the driver will make it in this rain.’ The van she hired for me would arrive in about an hour. She sighed, looked at me, and back out the window. Then she asked if she could get me some water or something else to drink.

I glared at her and said, ‘could you quit being so insensitive? I don’t need your pity. And did I tell you in any way that I was thirsty?’

‘Ugwum was right,’ Chiugo said, ‘your heart is full of so much bitterness and nothing anybody says will ever make you happy.’

She walked out of the room and slammed the door. I collapsed on my bed. I was used to the sound of slamming doors, smashing tumblers, overturned and crashing drawers. Eze took out his frustrations on things when he was angry, which he became a lot as eight childless years went by. I thought I had made my sweet, gentle husband a monster by not making him a father. After months and months of biting silence and widening gulfs, one day he came home and delivered the news of his fulfillment and my failure: I have a son. I met his mother during one of our routine medicals. I asked him: how old is he? Eze said he was a year old.

…my husband of almost ten years comes home one night and tells me, blankly, that his adulterous liaison has borne fruit and all I ask is how old is he…

No, it wasn’t I who made him a monster.

We were a horribly spectacular combination, Eze and I. Phlegm and Bile, Earth and Fire; two First Class Reservoir Engineers…our children would have ruled the world. I wondered if the mother of his son softly scratched the hollow of his back while singing him to sleep at night or if they talked over supper about how to combat the dangers of drilling into over pressured formations. What was she anyway? A nurse? A mistress? That didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was a mother, what I couldn’t be, and that she had given my husband what mattered. And I hated her. Though, sometimes, I thought she was lucky, to have Eze. And I hated myself also for thinking that way.

I climbed downstairs and saw Chiugo slumped over the sofa. I held the banister for about a minute as tears gathered in my eyes. When I went round to her, her face was wet and her lips quivered.

‘Nobody knows what to do or say to you…’ she said.

I curled on the sofa beside her and began to cry.

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Lulu Oyigah trained as a geologist. She is passionate about nature, writing, arts and crafts, and interior design. She writes, and edits, for connectnigeria.com.

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