At five minutes past five when Kunle opened the glass door at the lobby and allowed Michelle to exit the building before following, he had no idea the evening would end drastically different from his usual evenings. Outside, it was soothingly warm, and the sun was just heading for its resting place. Kunle stood presently on the sidewalk, gazing inside the building, waiting to see if Cole, his African American work partner, would come out on time.
By the time Cole came out, Michelle, a white woman with straight, neatly cut brunette hair which fell just beyond earlobes, had finished the cigarette in her mouth and was now moving towards the duo, walking delicately in her high-heeled maroon shoes which matched her jacket and accentuated the whiteness of her skirt and blouse. The three talked about work and asked how each was spending the weekend. Cole was going to Florida with his fiancée, and Michelle said she would spend the weekend watching Netflix and drinking wine; “that,” she said, “or do something productive if Kunle promises to visit me this weekend.” Kunle gave a faint smile to Michelle’s thousandth invitation, shook hands with Cole and said goodbye to Michelle. As he started to walk towards the building’s parking-lot, he looked back and saw the petite face of Michelle beamed with a seductive smile, and as their eyes did four, she winked and pouted her red painted lips as though kissing the air. Kunle smiled.
Now pulling the car out of the parking lot, Kunle loosened the knot of his yellow tie with his left hand and gripped the steering with the right. He looked at the time above the CD-player system and saw it was thirty eight minutes after five. His phone sounded and his wife’s picture popped on the screen. In the selfie, Muinah’s white teeth met the camera, displaying the gaiety on her face. Her eyelashes were made darker and lusher by her indulgence of mascara thus bringing out the brownness of her eyes. Her face was brown toned, almost almond colored. It was the same almond toned face which caught Kunle’s attention four years ago when he ran into Muinah inside a bookshop in Minna, the capital of Niger state. He was going through the aisle of African fiction when his shoulder bumped into a woman attired in a black overall hijab.”I’m sorry,” he had apologized. “It’s okay,” with a smile, Muniah had responded.
He sighed at the call of his wife and after a moment of thought, decided not to pick up the phone. He plunged the car into the traffic and started driving towards home. But as he kept driving, he realized he was not paying attention to the road. He had almost hit the bumper of the black Mercedes-Benz in front of him at the traffic light before he quickly applied brakes. His phone began to ring again, and this time it was the home phone calling. He knew that was sure to be his mother because she normally called him with the home phone.
Kunle let out another sigh, this time more robust than before. He put a hand on his cheek and mustered the strength to repel the rainfall about to descend on his face; he squinted his eyes, and then rubbed his face with his palms. He was merging into a much larger traffic now; and yellow cabs could be seen slithering about the road on all sides, and there were heavy trucks too; just by the lane closest to the pedestrian sidewalks were signs on the road painted in the shape of bicycles. Kunle hated to be near the cycling lane just as he loathed to have people riding near him. At a red light, after bringing his car to a full halt, he saw a pregnant woman in a maroon ankara dress crossing the road with an old woman also in an ankara wrapper and a blue sweater whose walking was aided by a metallic walker. The sight brought back the memory of his wife and his mother when the latter just arrived in the United States from Nigeria for medical treatment. But the memory was a nostalgia; a longing for the past that had remained stuck in what it was – the past.
Last night when Kunle opened the mahogany door to his living room and offered a loud salaam, no one responded to his greetings. He walked past the cream colored sofa towards the dining area, all the way feeling the stiffness in the air and the tension that stayed afloat like petrol on the rivers of Ogoni people. To his left, on the dining table, there were porcelain plates and cutleries and covered china bowls and another glass bowl containing mixed fruits. He opened one of the covered bowls and found Nigerian jollof rice staring at him. Normally, his mouth would have watered and his walk to the room would have gained pace, but he just put the lids back on and walked to the room with his head thrown down.
Muinah in a black and white polka-dot praying gown sat on the fluffy rug, her legs crossed and her fist on her chin. She cast a lashing glance at Kunle who walked to the closet and started undressing. “Salaam alaykum again, wifey. What’s up?” Kunle looked towards Muinah, grinning.
“Wa alaykum salam,” Muinah replied, almost mumbling. She then walked to the bed and lay on it, her back to the mattress and her head resting on a pillow. Kunle said he was heading for shower and they should go and eat when he comes out. “Oh no, I’m not hungry,” she replied cutting him. “No, in fact, I have eaten. You and your mother can go ahead and eat.”
The words pierced Kunle’s heart as though they were poisonous daggers. He remained silent and took his shower without saying a word. When he finished, he went to the living room and found his mother lying down on the sofa watching TV.
“Ę’kuu’le maami.” He greeted his mother and then drew out a dinning chair and started dipping a spoon into the bowl of jollof rice. Then he looked at her mother and, from that angle, he noticed few greys on her hair. He called his mother to join him on the dinning and his mother responded coldly that the food was for him and his wife only. “I drank gaari,” she concluded, her gaze never leaving the TV. The few left appetite died in Kunle.
Kunle walked to her mother on the sofa, sat opposite to her, and asked, “Maami, what is the matter again?”
Adukę, Kunle’s mother, did not respond as she continued to gaze intently at the TV. Kunle felt anger soar inside him, but Adukę was his mother and he could not lose his temper in front of her. Not wanting to disobey the commands of God in the Qur’an which asked people to lower their wings to their parents, he stood up and began to leave.
“Come back here Kunle!” Adukę shouted, her gaze still on the TV. “You have made a terrible mistake marrying that à’dà ilè ru obinrin you call a wife.”
“What?” Kunle turned sharply, almost dramatically, and looked deep into his mother’s eyes. “Mother, fear Allah, and be careful of what you say about people!”
Kunle couldn’t take it any longer. If his mother had another case against his wife, she should come forth with it. But to call his wife a mistake was simply out of line. Kunle thought if he stayed quiet, he might be guilty of not standing for justice as Qur’an encouraged Muslims to do even if against one’s parents.
“See,” Adukę started, turning her head to meet Kunle, “you’re raising your voice against your own mother because of that woman.” She shook her head. “Now, my own son, my own Kunle, before marrying that girl would never raise his voice at me. Never!”
Kunle began to feel guilty. His shoulders dropped and his eyes became moist. He walked back to his mother on the seat and tried to persuade her to live peacefully with his wife. He was calm. He chose his words carefully, but he made it clear that he would never support Aduke bullying his wife, and that he would talk to Muinah and address her own faults too. He felt good after the lengthy conversation, thinking he had gotten to his mother after all. But as he concluded and headed towards the room, he heard his mother say: “eh..eh.. Omo mi ti ję éfo.” She murmured that her son was under his wife’s enchantment.
In the room, Kunle sat at the foot of the bed, and prodded a discussion with Muinah, but before the conversation got the chance to start, Muinah shut it off. “I’m sorry, I’m listening to a song,” she pointed to the earpiece inserted in her ears. “And I need to rest after cooking for your mother and you all day.”
“Mui Baby, why are you doing like this?” he asked, a soft but frustrated look spread over his face.
“Doing like what? You enter and see that I’m angry. But instead of staying with me in the room, you ran to your mother and you let her feed you with lies, ehn? So now, you come to me to talk ehn?”
Kunle gave a gentle nod. He picked a white jallabiya from the closet and went to mosque for Isha. By the time he returned, Muinah’s snores were already waking up the mice in the house.
Thoughts of the constant bickering and fighting between Muinat and Aduke enveloped Kunle’s mind, and as he drove past a restaurant where he alongside Cole and Michelle had dinned a week before, he realized how the only calmness and happiness he’d been experiencing lately came from the company of his coworkers, especially Michelle. With her jovial, almost flirty nature, Kunle had started feeling at ease whenever she was around him. Also, the fact that she would constantly hit on him and joke of not minding of becoming Kunle’s second wife made her company more pleasing to Kunle. “Come on,” she would tease, “don’t tell me you’re not itching to take that second wife like all you moslems do.”
Kunle, on impulse, pulled over and dialed Michelle’s phone.
“Are you home yet?” he asked.
“Yes, I am. I just got in. You know I live three blocks away. Is everything okay?”
“Everything is fine. I just—I mean. You know.”
“Hey, Kay, slow down. Relax.” Michelle kept quiet for a second. “Now, what’s up?”
Kunle’s face beamed and a soft smile embraced his mouth. The way Michelle said relax was, indeed, relaxing to his mind. This feeling of being relaxed was all he wanted Muinah to help him feel. He wanted Muinah and him to be a team against his mother. He wanted them to placate her all the while staying formidable and understanding each other, but Muinah was too annoyed to see that. He cleared his throat and asked if Michelle could send him her address and that he was, after all her repetitive invitations, coming to visit her that very evening. Michelle jumped up in elation and immediately sent the address just as the call was concluded.
In a matter of fifteen minutes, after perusing inside the slightly hot, stiff weather of the city, Kunle was standing at Michelle’s apartment door, drying sweat off his face with a white handkerchief before knocking the door. Michelle, in a crimson top which left the greater part of her bosom bare, unlatched the door and asked Kunle to come in. She had on a black knicker similar to the one Muinah had bought in a lingerie store a month ago when Kunle took her on a shopping walk. Kunle caught a glimpse of the crucifix on her gold necklace which was buried between her breasts, but with a smile he averted his gaze.
The apartment was neat and well set. Everything seemed to be in order; the burgundy and cream color theme encompassed the living room and kitchen. Kunle sat on a cream colored couch adjacent to the loveseat facing the kitchen and neighboring the flat-screen plasma TV. Before getting a bottle of cider from the refrigerator and placing it beside a glass cup on a burgundy stainless tray, Michelle asked Kunle to excuse her as she went to her room to trade her knickers for a long black skirt, and she put on a long sleeve yellow T-shirt.
“You know you don’t have to do that,” Kunle said after taking his first sip of cider.
“Oh liar.” Michelle laughed, finding her seat beside him. “You know very well you want me to cover up.”
A moment of silence went between them, and in that moment, Michelle marveled at the strangeness of having Kunle, the one who would not even shake hands with female coworkers, now alone with her in her apartment, and furthermore, at her mercy. She smiled. “So, Kunle, now be honest, why have you paid me a surprise visit?”
Kunle sipped more cider with a long sluggishness and glanced at everything in the apartment except Michelle’s face. They began to talk about work, and then slowly but surely, as he felt more and more relaxed and comfortable at Michelle’s ability to listen, he began to tell of how he had brought his mother to the United States for medical reasons and how she had refused to return to Nigeria after her health had improved. She and his wife had started off on a fine note, but after about four months things had taken a sad turn as the wife and mother became cat and mouse. The furious thing however, he said, was that, of recent, Muinah had been making it a fight towards him also, and this was taking a toll on him.
“I’m sorry you’re going through this.” Michelle, on impulse, put her hand on his shoulder and then realizing what she had done, quickly removed her hand. “No, it’s okay,” he said, looking into her eyes. And then he leaned forward towards her and pressed his lips softly on her red painted lips. It seemed Fayyad Ibn Najjah was referring to Kunle when he said two thirds of a man’s intellect go away at erection because Kunle’s mind was now missing. Michelle’s small, tender lips cleaved in a slow-motioned like manner, and as their lips began to gently brush, Michelle felt the tip of Kunle’s tongue making its way into her mouth and she could feel Kunle’s muscular arms pulling her into a much intimate embrace, and at this she drew away from him slowly.
“Kunle,” she said, looking into his eyes, “I don’t want to take advantage of you. And I like you. Even though I yearn for your touch, I don’t want this to be a one night stand. I respect myself too much for that even if I come off brazen at times.”
“Aaa— a—dvantage of me?” he stuttered.
“Yes, I don’t want to take advantage of you. You’re hurt. You’re emotionally vulnerable right now, and you need someone to be there for you, and that’s probably, although you might not be conscious of it, the reason you’re here.” She fell quiet and flattened the wrinkle on her skirt.
“Look, I like—” she paused, blinked twice and furthered. “I would like to have us, but I can’t take advantage of your state now and be just your emotional respite. You should try to smooth things with your wife and tell her what you feel and how you should both handle your mother. And if you’d like my advice, I’d say you kick her back to Africa.” She laughed half-heartedly.
Back in the car, tears streamed down Kunle’s face as he imagined how he would have committed a horrendous sin minutes ago had Michelle not stopped him. His phone rang again. He picked it up and put it on speaker. It was his mother’s voice: “Kunle! Your wife has beat me o! Look, Kunle, I’m leaving your house right now! You are siding a wife over your own mother! Why are you quiet? Won’t you say anything?”
“Maami,” he managed to reply, “please for God’s sake, stay calm, I’m almost home.”
And as he hung up, a text message popped up on his screen, it was from Muinah and it said they needed to speak when he gets home. He shook his head and decided to reply, but as he was about to, his gaze fell on the sticker on his windshield that read: Do Not Text While Driving. It Can Wait. He decided against replying and continued to drive. He missed the turn he normally took and he took the next one. Thinking of what Michelle had told him and planning on how he would solve the issue awaiting him at home, his sight missed a round board painted in red with a sign that said STOP.
Dusk had already covered the city and the next thing he knew, a headlight shone on the driver’s side of his car with a blasting honk. He heard and felt the SUV collide into him and the balance was lost; loud noise of two extremely skidding and somersaulting vehicles covered the intersection. Moments after the accident, Kunle felt a numbness in his legs and hands; he felt as though they were not part of him anymore. Blood dripped from his head in drops on the airbag which pressed him to the seat. Darkness began to cover his sight, and just before he passed out, Muinah and Michelle appeared, smiling, while Kunle wished he never left work for home that evening.
Muinah and Aduke wept their ways to the hospital when the police informed them of the accident. They also wept when the doctors said he was in critical condition. They stopped weeping, however, a day later when the doctors said he was in a deep sleep but not in coma. They began weeping again when a white bald old man with stethoscopes around his neck told them he had now slid into coma. Michelle also wept when he visited him in the hospital and brought flowers. Aduke, however, threw out the flowers after Michelle left, siding with Muinah who had lashed Michelle with her eyes all through her visit. Michelle had been in tears, sniffling, and mopping her damp face with napkins,she had been so sincere that she was unable to decode the eye-lashing language of the Nigerian wife.
But that wasn’t the end. Two months later, Muinah was sitting on a chair close to Kunle when the heart monitor began to beep more often than normal. The doctor came and said they were beginning to lose Kunle. Tears welled up on Muniah’s already sunken eyes, she put her hand on Kunle’s hand and began to plead amid tears:
“Kunle, please don’t do this. Don’t die. We still have dreams yet to be fulfilled. Trips we haven’t gone to, and joys we haven’t experienced. Sweetheart, I know you can hear me. Please don’t leave me now. Your child is in my belly, remember that. He kicked yesterday and I wanted badly for you to feel it. I want us to be happy, please. I love you Kunle. I love you. Olowo Orimi—the payer of my bride price, don’t leave, please.”
The beeping increased and the doctors started procedures to save him, but Kunle wasn’t responding to all they were doing.
Muinah, deep down, knew the end was near for Kunle, but she just wasn’t ready to concede. On impulse, she stood over Kunle, tilted her head and kissed him on the cheek. “Bismillah,” she started, “please wake up, sweetheart.” His eyes opened and he smiled. “You look beautiful sweetheart, and don’t worry, I’m not leaving you.”
The doctors and nurses were amazed. Obviously, it was a miracle.
Tohib Adejumo is the author of Love In Ramadan, a short novel set in New York about American children of Nigerian Immigrant parents (available on Amazon). He is currently pursuing a baccalaureate degree focusing on Sociocultural Psychology and Sociology of Migration at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He resides in Brooklyn, New York.
For events and interviews, contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2016 Tohib Adejumo. All rights reserved