Leaving Hakeem by Sam Sabo

Leaving Hakeem by Sam Sabo

 

Today it’s an English boy Hakeem brings home. She sees him walking into the toilet as she comes up the stairs. The black briefs he is wearing are leather with spiky silver studs around the waistband. She is in her room when she hears the toilet’s muted gurgle and the patter of footsteps, which fades when the door is clicked shut. She turns up the TV volume anticipating the noise they’ll make – but not too loud to prompt a text from Hakeem asking her to please keep the noise down. He is at his most genial when his friends come over. She wonders who he tells them she is to him.

 

When they have sex and the noise reaches squeaky heights, she tries to visualise them together but just before she does, she opens her eyes and finds herself shaking her head. The confusion she feels at first is quickly overwhelmed by the certainty that it is actually happening. She looks back at her past in Ewo for any knowledge of liaisons between men, but nothing comes up.

 

She has tried bringing it up with Fatima her neighbour. Fatima responded with some comment about how cold it gets in winter. She asked her again if she knew about Hakeem’s friends and Fatima went on to say that because the part of Thamesmead they live in is by the river, it is bound to be even colder. The silence that followed was beginning to make her uncomfortable when Fatima shrugged and simply said it was none of her business.

 

Hakeem introduced her to Fatima when she first arrived and she remembers the woman glowing with bright smiles and warm hugs, acts she found hard to reciprocate. She’s always thought that such over-enthusiastic friendliness hid a person’s dark side. Fatima invites herself to her house and stays longer than she wishes her to. She seems to know a great deal about every household in Thamesmead; and though it makes her feel lowly to listen her gossip, it is a much quicker way of familiarising herself with her new home. Besides, knowing other people’s imperfections made her less embarrassed about hers.

 

Fatima tells her to be patient with the situation she has found herself in. She tells her that everybody in Thamesmead has a shame they’re hiding. Iya Dipo’s husband, she says, was recently arrested for using a fake identity to work, and is now in an immigration removal center in Portsmouth awaiting deportation. And Dr Abimbola’s son is also in jail for selling drugs, so her problem is not all that different from the others’.

 

She is convinced that Fatima is not as reticent with other people. When she spoke to her mother about Hakeem and his friends, she got a resigned sigh, as though the bad news she had been waiting for about their marriage had been finally delivered. Her mother seemed relieved that it was not another wife. And while shelistened to her mother, she had a feeling the old woman wished she had not been told about it.

 

It was not till she told her mother that Hakeem made his money through credit card fraud, that she heard the old woman perking up from whatever slouched position she was in. I knew it, her mother said, her voice now filling up the earpiece after which she drew her breath and added, but I also heard that it is hard for our people to get work there so that’s the only way they can eat. But what do I know, you’re there and I’m here.

 

If only she could warm up to Fatima sufficiently, she thinks, the woman would fully understand the craziness she has found herself in. But Fatima refuses downright to discuss Hakeem and his friends.

 

Her father’s indiscrete philandering, she remembers, was never discussed among her and her siblings. And when he got a young woman pregnant little was said. After a series of meetings and settlements with the girl’s parents, the woman moved into her father’s compound and was regarded as a sister.

 

How she is to begin addressing Hakeem is lost on her. He demands little of her; mostly eats outside and has his clothes dry-cleaned. Whenever they are to have sex, he gives her a specific time to enter his room and tells her to prepare herself. She usually meets him half-drunk and naked under the duvet. He never bothers to turn off the lights. She does not like enjoying it; does not feel that she’s supposed to. They are never as noisy as he and his friends sometimes are. She knows it is an ordeal he is determined to see through if he must have children.

 

Back in Ewo, she was unable to visualise herself as a wife in London. She now sees her life unspooling in a way she has never done, before marrying Hakeem: the displays of affection they are to put on, the children’s naming ceremony, the wedding anniversary and the Thanksgiving Service in church. She wonders who else knows about Hakeem and his friends, and if the looks she gets from neighbours derive from pity or disbelief that she shares a bed with such a man.

 

She is in the kitchen one morning scraping the pots she has left to soak overnight when she hears the waste removal truck approaching. She hurriedly empties the bin and takes it outside. She sees Fatima dressed in an iro and buba with what appears to be a Bible in her hand as she loads her pair of boys, dressed for school, on to the back seat of her Volkswagen Polo. She waves and greets her, but her voice is drowned in the roar of the truck’s engine. Waving, she walks towards Fatima. From the brief curl on Fatima’s lips, she is sure Fatima hissed before driving off. She must be having a challenging morning, she concludes, walking back into the house.

 

Her thoughts are still on this non-encounter when she finds the English boy in the kitchen by the microwave.

 

Good morning, he says with a bright and brief smile. Hakeem said it’s okay if I make myself some coffee?

 

It’s in the cupboard, she points to the one by the window.

 

Yes I’ve found it but I can’t get this thing to work. Maybe you could show me.

 

He is smiling – a nervous little smile which brings to mind something Fatima told her about the white people she used to work with: all jovial and friendly but quick to ring the Home Office if there’s a discrepancy in one’s papers.

 

The English boy steps back as she places the mug on the plate and sets the timer. She walks to the sink but does not carry on with her washing. The English boy folds his arms and stares at the floor while the microwave hums steadily. It is the closest she has ever come to a white person bar the security at Heathrow. He smells disappointingly ordinary with his just-out-of-bed mustiness. The microwave pings. She watches as he stirs the coffee, takes out the spoon looking for somewhere to put it before deciding to take it upstairs with him.

 

She is not sure how to react. She wishes it is another woman that Hakeem is sleeping with.That way she could draw on her experience and that of other people to formulate a line of action. But rivalling a man is a new frontier. She is convinced that Fatima can tell her what to do. She peers through the window to see if the Polo is back in front of the house.

 

Outside, a mist hangs over the River Thames. The whispering gust of frosty wind is accompanied by heavy splashes of water against the high concrete bank. She boils water on the cooker to make pap while she carries on with the washing. She stops, dries her hands and prepares the pap, leaves it to settle and checks once more for Fatima’s car before finishing the pots. She realises she is yet to sweep. She looks around for the brush and finds it next to the vacuum cleaner by the kitchen door.

 

She recalls when she first tried to use the Dyson. She inspected the thing, wondering if she had got the wrong machine. She didn’t want to bother Hakeem with it and she feared that asking Fatima was an invitation to be ridiculed. So she pushed the tawdry beast back into the storeroom and took out the brush, which to her was a more sensible utility.

 

She turns on the TV and absentmindedly watches a sermon by Pastor Ashimolowo, a truncated recording of a P Square concert in Uganda and re-runs of the Teju Babyface show, which has acquired an added air of importance on a flat screen in the plush living room. When she checks again, Fatima is still not back.

 

She wonders why the woman drives a jalopy, when her husband and Hakeem are said to have been business partners before he moved back to Nigeria. Hakeem rarely drives his Range Rover, often choosing to just warm the engine before taking a bus. There is also the silver Benz, a wedding present from a friend, which still has its factory antimacassars draped over the seats and the dashboard.

 

She falls into a shallow sleep from which she wakes up alert and so horny, a mere tap on her shoulder would be erogenous. Yet she remembers hearing the English boy’s voice, the clap of a door and the revving of a car, all rather faint and peripheral as though in a distant memory. It is late afternoon and Fatima is still not back.

 

She boils more water in a kettle and brings out the sack of semolina from a cupboard. She is not hungry but knows that in an hour or two her belly will start churning.

 

The thick paste heats up. She is stirring it to quell the muffled spurts when she notices the lights come on in Fatima’s living room. She turns off the cooker but leaves the pot on the hot-plate to slow cook.

 

She hurries over to Fatima’s wondering if she should give her more time to settle in, or perhaps leave it till morning. Her first knock is tentative. The second brings Fatima to the door and a face which morphs too quickly from surprise to hostility.

 

What?

 

She looks back to see who the harsh tone is for.

 

What?

 

I just came to greet you Fatima.

 

You just came to greet me?

 

Yes.

 

Okay, come inside and greet me, come.

 

The Bible is on the sofa next to a bunch of keys. The younger of Fatima’s boys takes a timid step down the stairs and peeks. He meets Fatima’s glare and runs back up. Both women sit facing the TV, whose dead screen reflects a contorted image of the aquarium in the corner of the room which has no fish in it.

 

What is wrong Fatima? Did I offend you?

 

No my dear, you didn’t offend me, you just ruined my life.

 

Me! Meke!

 

When you asked me about your husband’s business, what did I say to you?

 

She opens her mouth to speak but is lost for words.

 

Oh, now you can’t talk eh. I told you it has nothing to do with me, didn’t I? So how did he hear that I have been mocking him behind his back? Tell me! If not for your wickedness, why would he choose the day before my husband’s appeal to tell me he is no longer going to support us? Telling me nonsense about how ungrateful I am after all he has done for us. He couldn’t even come to the court to see his own friend before they take him back.

 

Isn’t your husband in Nigeria?

 

Fatima swung around to face her.

 

Listen, this is not a laughing matter. Haven’t I been good to you? Didn’t I take you as my sister?

 

I didn’t say anything to him.

 

Then how did he know? No wonder none of the women speak to you, that way you won’t go and rubbish them in front of your husband while pretending to be friends with them. You didn’t even stop to think that I have children and that what you say will affect them. He can keep his money; we will find a way to survive without it. He has forgotten how much my husband helped him when he first came to London and couldn’t even feed himself. Your husband was a taxi driver you hear me, a fucking taxi driver and even then he couldn’t support himself. He used to come to our house hungry, begging for food.

 

And it was my husband that introduced him to the business, now that he has made it big and my husband is not here he has suddenly forgotten. Even when nobody wanted to be seen with Hakeem because of the things he does with other men, my husband stuck by his side. It’s just bad luck that’s all. If not, my husband would not be in jail right now and Hakeem would not be feeling like a king simply because he pays our mortgage and give us little change here and there. I swear it’s just bad luck. Ask him when he comes back eh, ask him. He knows how much my husband used to make. It’s just because the police took everything and some of his friends that he lent money to refuse to pay him back. If not, does Hakeem think he can treat me the way he has? He has forgotten that it can happen to anyone at any time, even him. And what makes him think I can’t go and tell the police about him. All it takes is one phone call and bam! he will be in jail which will even be better for him because there he can fuck all the men he wants to fuck.

 

And I blame you for all of this, if you had not gone and told him all I’ve been telling you none of this would have happened. And what did I even tell you eh, what? You asked me about the men that he brings to the house and I said it was none of my business, did I not? So why did you go and tell him things I did not even say to you and then come here and act like Mother Theresa? Is this how you were brought up in Ewo? Do women go and tell their husbands what they talk about? And let me tell you now, the only reason why he married you was just because his mother forced him. She heard about the things he does with men so she warned him that if he does not marry and have children she will disown him. And they were even thinking that if he sleeps with a woman enough times and lives around one long enough he would change. What a joke. They don’t know that this thing is in his blood, and if you’re not careful your children will inherit it. You’re going to raise boys that like men – and stop looking at me like I’ve just risen from the dead. You know what I’m saying is true. You must have thought of it; if not there is something wrong with you as well. And let me tell you now, the only reason you’re still sitting in that chair is because of that mortgage, the moment he stops paying is the day you too will stop coming into my house, you hear me?

 

Fatima turns to the TV and would not take her eyes off it.

 

I didn’t tell him anything, I swear.

 

It doesn’t matter anymore, I’m finished, says Fatima.

 

She knows her company is no longer wanted but getting up to leave would come across as insensitive.

 

Do you want me to speak to him?

 

Fatima does not respond.

 

I’m sure he’s not going let you and your children suffer.

 

I will never suffer in this country. Tell him that.

 

It will not come to that.

 

She likes how distraught Fatima is. She would like for her to beg so that she could intercede on her behalf, even if she knows that Hakeem will not listen to her. But Fatima is too proud.

 

I have to put my children to bed, says Fatima in a voice so softened it sounds alien.

 

It takes her a minute to get the hint, and when she does she leaves the house. She stands outside Fatima’s door trying to make sense of her rant. She would have to sit down for this.

 

In her kitchen she finds the semolina burnt golden brown at the base of the pot. She switches off the cooker and puts the pot in the sink.

 

She walks upstairs, passes Hakeem’s room to hers. She is tempted to go in but does not want to see what’s inside. She raises the edge of the carpet at the corner of her room. Spread on the landing is the money for housekeeping from Hakeem which in her mind is compensation for putting up with him.

 

She collects the loose notes into a wad before reshuffling them by denominations. Apart from the amount she sends to her mother she has had no use for money. It amounts to three thousand pounds – seven hundred and fifty thousand naira. She thinks of a car, a house, perhaps a large provision store or a hair salon. Or all of them.

 

Hakeem has her passport but it shouldn’t be that difficult to leave the country anyway. She would get an emergency travel certificate from the Nigeria High Commission.

 

The next morning, she considers whether to leave a note for Hakeem or not, then decides her departure will be enough.

 

She is mapping this out as she lies down on the bed when she feels a growing tiredness seeping through her body. She listens for movements from Hakeem’s room but only the insistent hand of a clock somewhere in the house is beating.

 

She checks in the garage for the Range Rover and is relieved not to find it. She lumbers up the stairs to have a shower before setting out for the High Commission. She leaves the shower to run while she changes out of her bubu. She is about to step into the shower when she hears the door bell ring. She wraps a towel around herself and makes for the door.

 

The person in the peephole is Fatima. Her worried face is distorted by the convex lens. She withdraws from the door wondering what she is here for.

 

She looks through the hole again and notices that Fatima is still in the iro and buba she wore yesterday. Her gele is tilted over her forehead like a beret. She flaps the letter cage repeatedly while leaning on the door bell.

 

She stands staring at the door for a while. She is tempted to open it but remembers Fatima’s insults and the dismissive way she has been treated by the woman. She turns and marches up to her room not caring whether her thuds are being heard. She steps into the warm fog in the bathroom and unties her towel. She notices her nipples have blackened. She turns up both of them in her hands, puzzled and amused. She walks away from the fog into the living room for closer inspection in the full-length mirror on the wall. She reflects on her recent bouts of tiredness.

 

She thinks she’s panicking but believes she’s not. She wonders if this would change anything: should change a thing.

 

She recalls the ire in Fatima’s voice. If you’re not careful your children will inherit it.

 

She returns to the bathroom and steps under the shower till the water starts running cold.

 

 

 

S.A Sabo was born in Nigeria in 1984.

 

He has been living in London since 2005 and has had a series of stories published in The Trumpet newspaper in 2008.

 

In 2009 he was one of ten writers who won a place on the Arts Council of England/The Literature Consultancy mentoring scheme.

 

His short stories have been published in Glasschord, The Write Room and Verdad.

 

Have Mercy on Liverpool Street is his first play.

 

He is currently working on his first novel Wailing for the Fields.

 

 

Leaving Hakeem

 

Today it’s an English boy Hakeem brings home. She sees him walking into the toilet as she comes up the stairs. The black briefs he is wearing areleather with spiky silver studs around the waistband. She is in her room when she hears the toilet’s muted gurgle and the patter of footsteps, which fades when the door is clicked shut. She turns up the TV volume anticipating the noise they’ll make – but not too loud to prompt a text from Hakeem asking her to please keep the noisedown. He is at his most genial when his friends come over. She wonders who he tells them she is to him.

            When they have sex and the noise reaches squeaky heights, she tries to visualise them together but just before she does, she opens her eyes and finds herself shaking her head. The confusion she feels at first is quickly overwhelmed by the certainty that it is actually happening. She looks back at her past in Ewo for any knowledge of liaisons between men, but nothing comes up.

            She has tried bringing it up with Fatima her neighbour. Fatima responded with some comment about how cold it gets in winter. She asked her againif she knew about Hakeem’s friends and Fatima went on to say that because the part of Thamesmead they live in is by the river, it is bound to be even colder. The silence that followed was beginning to make her uncomfortable when Fatima shrugged and simply said it was none of her business.

            Hakeem introduced her to Fatima when she first arrived and she remembers the woman glowing with bright smiles and warm hugs, acts she found hard to reciprocate. She’s always thought that such over-enthusiastic friendliness hid a person’s dark side. Fatima invites herself to her house and stays longer than she wishes her to. She seems to know a great deal about every household in Thamesmead; and though it makes her feel lowly to listen her gossip, it is a much quicker way of familiarising herself with her new home. Besides, knowing other people’s imperfections made her less embarrassed about hers.

            Fatima tells her to be patient with the situation she has found herself in. She tells her that everybody in Thamesmead has a shame they’re hiding. Iya Dipo’s husband, she says, was recently arrested for using a fake identity to work, and is now in an immigration removal center in Portsmouth awaiting deportation. And Dr Abimbola’s son is also in jail for selling drugs, so her problem is not all that different from the others’.

            She is convinced that Fatima is not as reticent with other people. When she spoke to her mother about Hakeem and his friends, she got a resigned sigh, as though the bad news she had been waiting for about their marriage had been finally delivered. Her mother seemed relieved that it was not another wife. And while shelistened to her mother, she had a feeling the old woman wished she had not been told about it.

            It was not till she told her mother that Hakeem made his money through credit card fraud, that she heard the old woman perking up from whatever slouched position she was in. I knew it, her mother said, her voice now filling up the earpiece after which she drew her breath and added, but I also heard that it is hard for our people to get work there so that’s the only way they can eat. But what do I know, you’re there and I’m here.

If only she could warm up to Fatima sufficiently, she thinks, the woman would fully understand the craziness she has found herself in. But Fatima refuses downright to discuss Hakeem and his friends.

            Her father’s indiscrete philandering, she remembers, was never discussed among her and her siblings. And when he got a young woman pregnant little was said. After a series of meetings and settlements with the girl’s parents, the woman moved into her father’s compound and was regarded as a sister.

            How she is to begin addressing Hakeem is lost on her. He demands little of her; mostly eats outside and has his clothes dry-cleaned. Whenever they are to have sex, he gives her a specific time to enter his room and tells her to prepare herself. She usually meets him half-drunk and naked under the duvet. He never bothers to turn off the lights. She does not like enjoying it; does not feel that she’s supposed to. They are never as noisy as he and his friends sometimes are. She knows it is an ordeal he is determined to see through if he must have children.

            Back in Ewo, she was unable to visualise herself as a wife in London. She now sees her life unspooling in a way she has never done, before marrying Hakeem: the displays of affection they are to put on, the children’s naming ceremony, the wedding anniversary and the Thanksgiving Service in church. She wonders who else knows about Hakeem and his friends, and if the looks she gets from neighbours derive from pity or disbelief that she shares a bed with such a man.

            She is in the kitchen one morning scraping the pots she has left to soak overnight when she hears the waste removal truck approaching. She hurriedly empties the bin and takes it outside. She sees Fatima dressed in an iro and buba with what appears to be a Bible in her hand as she loads her pair of boys, dressed for school, on to the back seat of her Volkswagen Polo. She waves and greets her, but her voice is drowned in the roar of the truck’s engine. Waving, she walks towards Fatima. From the brief curl on Fatima’s lips, she is sure Fatima hissed before driving off. She must be having a challenging morning, she concludes, walking back into the house.

            Her thoughts are still on this non-encounter when she finds the English boy in the kitchen by the microwave.

            Good morning, he says with a bright and brief smile. Hakeem said it’s okay if I make myself some coffee?

            It’s in the cupboard, she points to the one by the window.

            Yes I’ve found it but I can’t get this thing to work. Maybe you could show me.

He is smiling – a nervous little smile which brings to mind something Fatima told her about the white people she used to work with: all jovial and friendly but quick to ring the Home Office if there’s a discrepancy in one’s papers.

            The English boy steps back as she places the mug on the plate and sets the timer. She walks to the sink but does not carry on with her washing. The English boy folds his arms and stares at the floor while the microwave hums steadily. It is the closest she has ever come to a white person bar the security at Heathrow. He smells disappointingly ordinary with his just-out-of-bed mustiness. The microwave pings. She watches as he stirs the coffee, takes out the spoon looking for somewhere to put it before deciding to take it upstairs with him.

            She is not sure how to react. She wishes it is another woman that Hakeem is sleeping with.That way she could draw on her experience and that of other people to formulate a line of action. But rivalling a man is a new frontier. She is convinced that Fatima can tell her what to do. She peers through the window to see if the Polo is back in front of the house.

            Outside, a mist hangs over the River Thames. The whispering gust of frosty wind is accompanied by heavy splashes of water against the high concrete bank. She boils water on the cooker to make pap while she carries on with the washing. She stops, dries her hands and prepares the pap, leaves it to settle and checks once more for Fatima’s car before finishing the pots. She realises she is yet to sweep. She looks around for the brush and finds it next to the vacuum cleaner by the kitchen door.

            She recalls when she first tried to use the Dyson. She inspected the thing, wondering if she had got the wrong machine. She didn’t want to bother Hakeem with it and she feared that asking Fatima was an invitation to be ridiculed. So she pushed the tawdry beast back into the storeroom and took out the brush, which to her was a more sensible utility.

            She turns on the TV and absentmindedly watches a sermon by Pastor Ashimolowo, a truncated recording of a P Square concert in Uganda and re-runs of the Teju Babyface show, which has acquired an added air of importance on a flat screen in the plush living room. When she checks again, Fatima is still not back.

She wonders why the woman drives a jalopy, when her husband and Hakeem are said to have been business partners before he moved back to Nigeria. Hakeem rarely drives his Range Rover, often choosing to just warm the engine before taking a bus. There is also the silver Benz, a wedding present from a friend, which still has its factory antimacassars draped over the seats and the dashboard.

            She falls into a shallow sleep from which she wakes up alert and so horny, a mere tap on hershoulder would be erogenous. Yet she remembers hearing the English boy’s voice, the clap of a door and the revving of a car, all rather faint and peripheral as though in a distant memory. It is late afternoon and Fatima is still not back.

She boils more water in a kettle and brings out the sack of semolina from a cupboard. She is not hungry but knows that in an hour or two her belly will start churning.

            The thick paste heats up. She is stirring it to quell the muffled spurts when she notices the lights come on in Fatima’s living room. She turns off the cooker but leaves the pot on the hot-plate to slow cook.

            She hurries over to Fatima’s wondering if she should give her more time to settle in, or perhaps leave it till morning. Her first knock is tentative. The second brings Fatima to the door and a face which morphs too quickly from surprise to hostility.

            What?

She looks back to see who the harsh tone is for.

            What?

            I just came to greet you Fatima.

            You just came to greet me?

            Yes.

            Okay, come inside and greet me, come.

The Bible is on the sofa next to a bunch of keys. The younger of Fatima’s boys takes a timid step down the stairs and peeks. He meets Fatima’s glare and runs back up. Both women sit facing the TV, whose dead screen reflects a contorted image of the aquarium in the corner of the room which has no fish in it.

            What is wrong Fatima? Did I offend you?

            No my dear, you didn’t offend me, you just ruined my life.

            Me! Meke!

            When you asked me about your husband’s business, what did I say to you?

She opens her mouth to speak but is lost for words.

            Oh, now you can’t talk eh. I told you it has nothing to do with me, didn’t I? So how did he hear that I have been mocking him behind his back? Tell me! If not for your wickedness, why would he choose the day before my husband’s appeal to tell me he is no longer going to support us? Telling me nonsense about how ungrateful I am after all he has done for us. He couldn’t even come to the court to see his own friend before they take him back.

            Isn’t your husband in Nigeria?

Fatima swung around to face her.

            Listen, this is not a laughing matter. Haven’t I been good to you? Didn’t I take you as my sister?

            I didn’t say anything to him.

            Then how did he know? No wonder none of the women speak to you, that way you won’t go and rubbish them in front of your husband while pretending to be friends with them. You didn’t even stop to think that I have children and that what you say will affect them. He can keep his money; we will find a way to survive without it. He has forgotten how much my husband helped him when he first came to London and couldn’t even feed himself. Your husband was a taxi driver you hear me, a fucking taxi driver and even then he couldn’t support himself. He used to come to our house hungry, begging for food.

            And it was my husband that introduced him to the business, now that he has made it big and my husband is not here he has suddenly forgotten. Even when nobody wanted to be seen with Hakeem because of the things he does with other men, my husband stuck by his side. It’s just bad luck that’s all. If not, my husband would not be in jail right now and Hakeem wouldnot be feeling like a king simply because he pays our mortgage and give us little change here and there. I swear it’s just bad luck. Ask him when he comes back eh, ask him. He knows how much my husband used to make. It’s just because the police took everything and some of his friends that he lent money to refuse to pay him back. If not, does Hakeem think he can treat me the way he has? He has forgotten that it can happen to anyone at any time, even him. And what makes him think I can’t go and tell the police about him. All it takes is one phone call and bam! he will be in jail which will even be better for him because there he can fuck all the men he wants to fuck.

            And I blame you for all of this, if you had not gone and told him all I’ve been telling you none of this would have happened. And what did I even tell you eh, what? You asked me about the men that he brings to the house and I said it was none of my business, did I not? So why did you go and tell him things I did not even say to you and then come here and act like Mother Theresa? Is this how you were brought up in Ewo? Do women go and tell their husbands what they talk about? And let me tell you now, the only reason why he married you was just because his mother forced him. She heard about the things he does with men so she warned him that if he does not marry and have children she will disown him. And they were even thinking that if he sleeps with a woman enough times and lives around one long enough he would change. What a joke. They don’t know that this thing is in his blood, and if you’re not careful your children will inherit it. You’re going to raise boys that like men – and stop looking at me like I’ve just risen from the dead. You know what I’m saying is true. You must have thought of it; if not there is something wrong with you as well. And let me tell you now, the only reason you’re still sitting in that chair is because of that mortgage, the moment he stops paying is the day you too will stop coming into my house, you hear me?

            Fatima turns to the TV and would not take her eyes off it.

            I didn’t tell him anything, I swear.

            It doesn’t matter anymore, I’m finished, says Fatima.

She knows her company is no longer wanted but getting up to leave would come across as insensitive.

            Do you want me to speak to him?

Fatima does not respond.

            I’m sure he’s not going let you and your children suffer.

            I will never suffer in this country. Tell him that.

            It will not come to that.

She likes how distraught Fatima is. She would like for her to beg so that she could intercede on her behalf, even if she knows that Hakeem will not listen to her. But Fatima is too proud.

I have to put my children to bed, says Fatima in a voice so softened it sounds alien.

            It takes her a minute to get the hint, and when she does she leaves the house. She stands outside Fatima’s door trying to make sense of herrant. She would have to sit down for this.

            In her kitchen she finds the semolina burnt golden brown at the base of the pot. She switches off the cooker and puts the pot in the sink.

            She walks upstairs, passes Hakeem’s room to hers. She is tempted to go in but does not want to see what’s inside. She raises the edge of the carpet at the corner of her room. Spread on the landing is the money for housekeeping from Hakeem which in her mind is compensation for putting up with him.

            She collects the loose notes into a wad before reshuffling them by denominations. Apart from the amount she sends to her mother she has had no use for money. It amounts to three thousand pounds – seven hundred and fifty thousand naira. She thinks of a car, a house, perhaps a large provision store or a hair salon. Or all of them.

            Hakeem has her passport but it shouldn’t be that difficult to leave the country anyway. She would get an emergency travel certificate from the Nigeria High Commission.

            The next morning, she considers whether to leave a note for Hakeem or not, then decides her departure will be enough.

            She is mapping this out as she lies down on the bed when she feels a growing tiredness seeping through her body. She listens for movements from Hakeem’s room but only the insistent hand of a clock somewhere in the house is beating.

            She checks in the garage for the Range Rover and is relieved not to find it. She lumbers up the stairs to have a shower before setting out for the High Commission. She leaves the shower to run while she changes out of her bubu. She is about to step into the shower when she hears the door bell ring.She wraps a towel around herself and makes for the door.

            The person in the peephole is Fatima. Her worried face is distorted by the convex lens. She withdraws from the door wondering what she is here for.

She looks through the hole again and notices that Fatima is still in the iro and buba she wore yesterday. Her gele is tilted over her forehead like a beret. She flaps the letter cage repeatedly while leaning on the door bell.

            She stands staring at the door for a while. She is tempted to open it but remembers Fatima’s insults and the dismissive way she has been treated by the woman. She turns and marches up to her room not caring whether her thuds are being heard. She steps into the warm fog in the bathroom and unties her towel. She notices her nipples have blackened. She turns up both of them in her hands, puzzled and amused. She walks away from the fog into the living room for closer inspection in the full-length mirror on the wall. She reflects on her recent bouts of tiredness.

            She thinks she’s panicking but believes she’s not. She wonders if this would change anything: should change a thing.

            She recalls the ire in Fatima’s voice. If you’re not careful your children will inherit it.

            She returns to the bathroom and steps under the shower till the water starts running cold.

 

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