A short story by Onis Sampson (Originally published on NoiseMedium here, https://noisemedium.com/2016/10/moments-after-dream/ The link has since become obsolete. I guess this may be traceable to some back-end issues at Noise Medium.)
It rained all through the night with thunder and lightning flustering the macabre aura of the night. The roofs came up with erratic and random noise, pressed their discordances together in a pitchy rhythmic mumble and then dissolved into the façade of lightning rhythm. The rain gathered momentum. As it fell on the roofs, it gradually drizzled down the eaves onto muddy earth thus macerating its silty mould. Perekule Street in the heart of Port Harcourt at midnight became a wet muddy path of chaos.
From the bed, Ezi looked through the half-drawn curtain of the iron studded window. The wind played messy joviality with the mango tree in the front yard. The branches could not withstand the horrific strength of the wind, swaying back and forth with some of its leaves falling down, floating with a chilly and frolicsome movement. Dust and mist seemed to be floating, some leaves retreating in the wind’s dispensing might.
Ezi stepped out of the bed like vapour rising off a steaming kettle. She walked up to the window, her hands clinging to its frame. She moved a palm that gripped the jambliner at its base. Leaving the jambliner, it wrestled momentarily with the silky lining of the curtain. Then she turned to go back to the bed. Her hands were up within her mass of newly made hair, scattering them without a moment’s thought.
The dream about her husband played out again in her head. She saw him cross a road but never reaching the other side. At the moment of the loud impact she had woken up. With suddenness she had sat up on the bed, turned this way and that, her heart panting like someone chased by a mob.
Recollection did not seem to point to understanding. After looking through the window for quite a long time she went back to the bed and tried forcing herself to sleep. She tried using the cover-sheet over her body including her face but that was ineffective. Ezi was becoming more afraid. And yet it struck her that this was pretty ludicrous, if not childish she tried re-assuring herself. She was no longer some little kid, not even a teen. Here was she, a woman in middle adulthood, married with five daughters. Her husband Jude had travelled overseas with two of his sons born to him by his second wife, who had two sons and a daughter.
After a while Ezi felt she was acting stupidly, worried at this time of the night over the safety of her husband and her two step sons. They were to board a flight back home in the morning. It was all strange because her fears did come of their own accord and may inadvertently turn out true to justify an intuitive part of her congenital, foretelling being.
Ezi in the course of the night had managed to sleep. She woke up in the morning feeling weak and dizzy, her mouth foamy with acidic sputum. She quickly came down from the bed, put her legs into her in-house slippers and went into the bathroom to spit out. She came back into the room and looked at the wall clock. It was 7:35am. She had over slept. She had to be at the airport by ten and she needed to go to her office before eight to attend to some customers whom she had booked before then. It occurred to her they must have been waiting for her and she was known for punctuality.
She knelt down to pray. Between babel of words, she swung her hands at different directions as if the very hands did the prayer for her. Not satisfied, the intensity of her swinging hands escalated to an untamed oscillation from her elbow down to her folded palm. Perhaps, clenched fist. This would do. Footsteps walked past the door left ajar but she kept on with her supplication almost to the point of stale torpor.
There was a soft knock on the bedroom door. The door opened slightly, a small face peeped in and retreated. Next the door swung open with full force. Two of her daughters Mimi, seven and Nkem, nine capered in, the latter rushing after the former. They were dressed and ready for school.
“Mummy, good morning,” they chorused.
“Good morning, my girls. Has the driver come?” She asked
“Yes, mummy but the Volvo is bad. I told the driver to take us to school with the jeep, he refused.” That was Nkem, musing.
“Mummy, it’s true. My class girl comes to school in her daddy’s jeep,” Mimi added.
“Mummy you woke up late today. Adaeze could not dress us properly, she was arranging my pinafore carelessly. I told her…,” Nkem tried explaining.
But Mimi curt in, “Mummy did you know you were talking while sleeping today?”
“Yes, Mummy,” Nkem said again.
“That means you entered the room while mummy was asleep?” Ezi teased her little girl.
“No……yes… but I went back again,” Nkem said.
“Hm,” Ezi mumbled, trying to think of what next to say, wondering that she maybe setting a bad example for her children if they got to conclude she was talking while asleep.
“So you kids don’t know that mummy prays? Mimi didn’t you notice I was praying when you saw me talking?”
“Oh! mummy! I forgot you were praying. I didn’t know.”
Little Mimi said having believed her mother’s little lie. Ezi knew the moment her daughters referred to wasn’t the time she was praying but prior to that. Her husband had sometimes complained of her sleep-talking. Perhaps the children had entered the room before she had woken up.
She had to cheer them up, she thought.
“So, hurry up girls. I’ll take you to school in the jeep. How about Onyoma and Nkiru? Are they ready?” Onyoma and Nkiru, her two teenage daughters were in their rooms arranging their books for school.
“Yes mummy!” they chorused, thrilled by the fact that they would be going to school in the jeep.
Her eldest daughter, Adaeze, walked into the room carrying a food flask. She is a 200 level Mass Communication student in the university. She is on a semester long break, so is at home. Adaeze’s presence reminded Ezi of the time she was being wooed by Jude. She was almost at Adaeze’s present age at the time. Jude was a Christian who assumedly wasn’t supposed to be polygamous. It had never crossed her mind she’d be sharing her husband with another woman come some day, she thought. No, it never, she shook her head deep in thought. But it became an option when for the third time she had given birth to a girl child.
The same script she had often watched on Nollywood, the same stories she had often heard, the same she often experienced: one cold morning her mother in-law had stormed the house shouting as usual, calling Ezi the witch to surface. She was used to this sort of embarrassment, she thought. Or was that the word? — She seemed to ask herself as she casually walked out from the bedroom. But there was a bigger surprise before her than she had expected: a young woman, roughly three or four years her junior, skimpily dressed with a travelling bag and two sets of box by her side stood at the door behind the mother in-law who was at the middle of the sitting room. The young woman resembled a thick tree stem, or looked like a well rooted avocado tree. She was not too fat but had sufficient mass of flesh, had a wide fair face and a hard set nose. Sharp eye lashes, the type in vogue then, gave her face an artificial edge. Ezi’s suspicions were beginning to assemble to make a clearer picture for her, one she could understand and form conclusions around.
The mother in-law kept at her ranting. As usual she continued to abuse Ezi for failing to give birth to a male child. A new wife had come to stay for good, she explained in her ranting. And thank Chineke God, the new wife was pregnant with twin baby boys she continued. Ezi looked again at the young woman at the door. She observed there was a little roundness around the woman’s stomach but not conspicuous in a way that showed pregnancy. At that moment Jude appeared from within the house to explain things to her.
As Jude did, the woman walked up to a sit and sat down. Ezi felt like a stranger in her own house. This was a whole conspiracy. So Jude was aware of this all along, she asked herself? No, she wasn’t thinking logically, she felt. And that explained why she hadn’t put the right question to him to make him shut up his mouth and end his unmoving stories only meant for gullible fellows. So he had been cheating on her all these while? And it was now time for him to add some effrontery to it by bringing her home as wife number two!
Ezi’s strangeness grew bit by bit the way slow running water fills up a bucket. But when it tipped, there was an explosion. Her feet were moving round the room like a mad woman’s, her voice was loud like that of women used to quarrelling in a public yard. No atom of plea from Jude could suffice. Nor explanations. Yes, his mother coerced him into having another woman. Yes, the woman is pregnant with twins, and a laboratory test had confirmed their sex to be male. Was it too hard for her to understand his listless explanations? No, she reflected a bit, beginning to calm down from her wild lamentation in the sitting room, the mother in law least affected, watching and mocking her with an indifferent attitude. What could she do, she thought. After all she wasn’t the first woman to experience this. Her childhood friend, Oge had experienced a similar thing. And so had numerous women whom she had heard about.
Feeble, she gradually cocooned her thoughts into a pale silence, merely looking at the young woman with unbelief all over her. Shock, a jolt, a blow, distress, talk about pain—she had it in ample measure.
“Mummy, what are you thinking about?” Nkem asked.
Ezi worked her index finger around her eyelids, scratching them as if that would shut off her recollections. She looked at her children. When she turned, as usual, a picture of her husband hung on the wall stared back at her. Before now, those looks were affectionate but now, ever since the second wife episode they had become a stranger’s gaze, a stranger looking at a stranger with calculated indifference. Only if pictures could talk, she thought.
“Mimi you forgot your food flask” Nkem turned to tell her younger sister as she approached the bed .
“Mummy, Good Morning” Adaeze greeted her mother.
“Morning, Adaeze. How is the driver? Has he fixed the car, the Volvo? Your sisters said it was bad.”
“Yes he has. I came to call them.”
“So girls, off you go to school,” Ezi said.
“But mummy aren’t you coming with us? I mean won’t we use the jeep?”
“Hey hey, let’s go. You girls are late for school. So hurry up.” Adaeze said but they wouldn’t, whining and grumbling and clenching their fist.
She had to persuade and force them before they went outside the room to join their elder sisters Nkiru and Onyoma who were in Secondary School. Adaeze came back into the room, a piece of buttered bread in one hand and a cup of tea on the other. She sat on a high iron stool, her legs resting on the iron support below the seat of the stool. Then she faced the mirror.
“It’s 7:45. Aren’t you going to the office today?”
“I will, Adaeze.”
“I saw one of your customers yesterday at the park. A tall skinned man who bought a 21 inches flat screen last week.”
Ezi did not seem to care who it was her daughter had seen. It only helped her to remember that she ought to be at the shop; so she had to hasten up.
Adaeze kept on nibbling at her bread, meanwhile Ezi rushed to the bathroom, turned on the shower but then called out:
“My cap, Ada. Get me my shower cap.” Adaeze went to the bathroom door and opened the door slightly and handed over the shower cap to her mother.
Ezi washed briskly and scrubbed with hazy feelings over her mind. She came out of the bathroom, drying up her wet body with her towel.
The phone rang. She asked Adaeze to pick up the call.
“Mummy, it’s aunty Agnes. The call is for you.”
She mumbled underneath her breath. She was in a hurry and did not expect calls at this time, not from a relative, precisely.
“Agnes,” she called into the receiver.
“Yes it’s me,” Agnes replied and then paused with a deep heaviness, Ezi herself feeling it.
“Is there any problem, Agi?”
“Yes…….oh no but yes. At the airport, this morning. A crash landing, some sort of…….oh I’m not sure, I mean but I heard it on radio.”
“Wait a minute ! what are you saying? An air crash or whatever…..but…..but, which of the airplanes?”
She stopped talking and let the receiver fall down with a mighty thud on the floor. It swung up a bit, dangling some few inches above the floor.
“Mummy what is it? I heard you talking about air crash. Was there an air crash?” Ezi did not answer.
She ran up to the wardrobe, brought out a silky burgundy gown. She hurriedly dressed up, ran up to the dressing table and picked up her car key rushing out of the room. Adaeze followed her, wondering this sudden change of attitude.
Ezi started the car not minding Adaeze, unkempt, jumping into the front passenger seat. She quickly drove off.
In a short while they got to the airport. It had taken them some thirty minutes drive to the airport. It was 8:35am. They both came down from the jeep, locked it and ran off toward the Airport lounge. They met a uniformed officer whom they asked about any air disaster. He only pointed at a particular direction not saying a word, and turned around to leave. They tried getting more information from him but he just walked out with a perplexed look on his face. They came out of the building at the other end, facing the runaway. A lot of people thronged the place. They had not gone far when they began to see lots of people crying and wailing. Ezi got to know it was the plane her husband had boarded. In effect he was a casualty, she said to herself. She fell to the floor, moaning, and Adaeze tried fighting back her own tears while trying to get her mother up and reassure her that neither her father nor step brothers were part of the casualties.
Having unsuccessfully tried to identify her husband and two step sons amongst the casualties, Ezi and Adaeze left the Airport.
On the morrow they both went to the airport accompanied by Stella, the second wife. This time around the number of sympathizers and people in the airport was reduced. It was not long before Mr Jude and his two sons’ corpse were discovered, much of their faces and parts of their bodies dismembered.
Ezi’s mind went back to the night when she woke up with suddenness. She fell down crying and lamenting, wondering what kind of world it is. It was certain she would be forced out of her husband’s house. What could she do about it, an ordinary woman with an ordinary fate? Time was only a temporary shield for her at the moment. Would she have to go back to her parents? And her girls, what would happen to them? She may never remarry. She may have to remain single for the rest of her life. And come one foreseeable dawn, when her bones would have grown old, her face wrinkled with age, her hair worn out and grey, she would return to the earth where she sprang from as a seed.
Her life would be different from that of her two sisters who are happily married in their husband’s houses without any third party intrusions. In the long run, it would be different, she kept thinking.
Stella, the second wife turned around, shouting and accusing Ezi, calling her a witch. She accused her of having killed her two sons and their husband. Some sympathizers held her in her berserk and agitating mood. Ezi called some of Jude’s brothers who arrived the scene to convey Jude and his sons’ bodies to the mortuary. Some of them could not help seeing her as the mastermind, calling her a witch. The moment she most dreaded was meeting her mother in-law. It would only be couple of hours before she arrived from the village, a journey of about three hours to the city.
Adaeze placed her hand on her mother’s shoulder trying to comfort her. Ezi leaned her face on her daughter’s shoulder, weeping and trying to dry up her tears. They turned around solemnly walking down the runway in uncertain steps.
PHOTO CREDIT: ONIS SAMPSON, 2017
ONIS SAMPSON is a young Nigerian lawyer, award-winning poet, essayist, playwright, scriptwriter, Author, and writer of diverse genres whose oeuvre is quite ineffable. His book of poems, A city is talking inside my head was recently published by Proofnet Publishers.