Prose: Meltdown

by Uche Peter Umez

‘He no longer answers some calls in my presence,’ Ifeoma says, the cell phone slimy against her palm. The seven-year-old home she has nurtured with love is crumbling, and she’s never felt so unsettled.

‘Pretend it’s not happening,’ Chizi suggests.

Chizi’s husband is a skirt-chaser, and she has fought with him several times to no avail. Ifeoma often comforts her, but lately Chizi has begun to ignore her husband, excuse his weakness, saying he’ll outgrow his folly someday.

Ifeoma shivers as she realises it’s now her turn to be comforted. What has she done wrong? She gives Afam all the pleasures he needs, even going as far as doing backbreaking positions her mother would consider an abomination – so why this betrayal?

She sighs as she hangs up.

It’s past seven: Afam has been coming back around nine o’clock lately. The few times she accosted him, he’d said, ‘I have to work harder to keep my job because of the economic meltdown.’

‘I must keep my marriage from melting, even if it means getting a black eye,’ Ifeoma vows to herself.

Ifeoma watches him chewing on beef and remembers the long wavy strands on his shirt-collar she picked out while doing the laundry; and the condom, which she glimpsed when she tried to slip some naira notes out of his wallet while he was bathing. And she clamps a hand over her lips to hold down the sourness rising up her throat.

‘Honey, what’s it?’ Afam asks.

She starts to wash her hands in the water-bowl.

‘You haven’t finished eating. Are you OK, sweetheart?’

Don’t sweetheart me! Ifeoma almost yells, but mumbles, ‘Uh… toilet…’

‘How can you sleep so peacefully?’ Ifeoma murmurs, her body becoming taut in his arms – the same arms he must have wrapped around the girl’s waist.

Although his snores sound soothing, Ifeoma is irritated.

Maybe I should kick his groin, she fumes silently, to let him know that I refuse to share him with another woman!

She decides to confront Afam the next morning as sleep finally weakens her.

Two days go by. Ifeoma can’t bring herself to face him. She doesn’t trust her temper. Her rage would flatten walls, she fears, toppling her home completely. Her two kids would get hurt in the rubble. Her neighbours would surely gossip about it for days.

On the third day however, an impish idea enlivens her.

His hands flutter over the packs of condom laid out in his briefcase, Ifeoma observes, peeping into the bedroom from behind the window curtains. Afam is stumped. He snaps the briefcase shut the instant she shuffles into the room.  He opens his mouth to say something, but quickly turns away.

‘Honey, I should get your breakfast now?’ she asks, noticing the sweat on his neck.

‘Already late,’ Afam stutters, and springs out of the room.

Ifeoma starts to smile, but pauses as she remembers nine o’clock.

*

Ifeoma jumps from the sofa as she hears the sound of her husband’s car. It’s past six – Afam is back?

‘You are home early,’ she mentions, bracing herself for a face-off.

‘Er…’ Afam gulps, scratches his head. His briefcase thumps on the floor.

Ifeoma feels the tension in his breath as he puts his arms around her.

‘I’ve not prepared dinner,’ she says.

‘It’s OK,’ Afam sighs. ‘What about the kids?’

‘In their rooms.

‘It won’t happen again,’ he says.

Holding his gaze, Ifeoma opens her mouth to exact a promise. But something in his eyes reassures her. And she hugs him tightly; content to have won a fight without tearing down walls.

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