These were the words she whispered urgently to us, ten minutes before we heard the sharp rap on our apartment door on Sunday evening and she disappeared into my children’s closet, her bags pushed quickly under the bed.
Moments later, after an awkward ‘Who is there?’ Felicia opened the door to an obviously upset Janta, and the overwhelming shroud of alcohol that accompanied him through the door.
‘Oga Jay, long time. Come in.’
I approach the door and place my hand on Felicia’s shoulder. ‘The Jay-Jay!’ I attempt the nickname in a voice that sounds not quite as jovial as intended. I look him straight in the eye nonetheless and ask ‘Is everything okay? You don’t look your normal self’
By now he has walked past us into the sitting room, his eyes darting left and right, taking in the furniture, the dining area and settling on the curtain. For a moment it seems he will walk towards them and rattle the curtains in the hope of unearthing his wife beneath the folds of cotton and chiffon.
‘Has she been here?’ He rasps out in a voice which is a fraction more menacing than his bloodshot eyes and flared nose. As if on cue, Felicia and I chorus ‘Who?’ then we exchange supposedly baffled looks and Felicia tries him again ‘Has who been here?
‘My wife; I just got home and discovered all her things gone.’
A small shout escapes Felicia’s lips as she covers the sides of her face with both palms.
‘That’s serious o. did you both have a quarrel or something?’
‘No quarrel. She served me breakfast before I left the house this morning, without any warning, and now this.’
‘So strange, that’s unlike her,’ Felicia seems to have found her tongue
‘Have you checked for her anywhere else?’
Janta shakes his large head and asks ‘Like where?’
‘I don’t know,’ I’m trying to keep the irritation out of my voice ‘Church, her relatives, other close friends?’
At this he fixes his eyes accusingly on us ‘She has no other friends I can think of.’
‘That’s really sad,’ I return his accusation; stare for stare, my hands now folded across my chest.
‘We’ll be sure to let you know if she comes around or calls.’ Felicia says to him, her palm on my arm willing the sinews there to relax
‘Yes, we can do that for you Janta. In the meantime if you need any other help, please let us know.’ I knew I would do no such thing
‘Thank you then’ he keeps looking into the children’s room as he makes his way to the front door.
Ini had tried to leave before; after the gizzard episode. That was what Felicia coined the incident that had Janta chastising Ini for daring to share in the slices of gizzard he had offered Edem her brother; It was a delicacy supposedly reserved for only men. To remind her of her place as a woman he had struck her across the face as she sat next to Edem, whose attempt to block the blows only ensured she got some more to her shoulder and neck. A verbal exchange ensued, after which the younger man had subsequently walked out from their home where he was originally meant to spend the night. I had looked on as Felicia inspected her bruises two days after, unable to fathom how a man could watch another man beat up his younger sister then walk away from the scene without making the man see flashbulbs through his fists or at least resetting his jaw.
It had happened in July, school was out so she took the children for an extended vacation, determined not to succumb to pressure from friends and family urging her to return home. September found her back in their Ikeja apartment though; awaiting the arrival of their third child. Ini seemed designed to suffer and never let the smile desert her pretty face, her small frame retaining its youthful figure even as the years rolled by.
Looking at her now; smooth skin the colour of honey, hair full and falling inches past her shoulders, it is difficult to reconcile her good looks and attractive smile to the abuse she has intimated us of. One thing gives her away though; her eyes. The dark brown irises are a sad cocktail of insecurity, fear and anger. Coming out of the closet minutes after Janta leaves, her eyes become suddenly animated, jumping at every movement and sound, her gaze darting towards the front door; half expecting Janta to materialize there again. Felicia sits with her on the bottom bed of our girls’ double bunk, right hand on the small of her back, left hand on her lap where Ini’s hands wring and flex every few seconds
‘I left,’ she offers as if programmed. ‘I just got my things and left.’
‘They are alright,’
She nods. ‘He must not see me. I need to take the children…’ she jumps up suddenly sensing his presence even before we hear the door creak open
‘Whose children are you planning to take? And to where?’
‘Ja – jan – ta!’ her voice trails off, marooned in the stutter
‘Look, this is not the time to get irrational. Calm down’, not the most sensible thing to say to a man like Janta, but that was the quickest line that spilled from my lips.Lunging for her is probably the most stupid move he has made all day... (to be continued)