The night was cold, very cold. It was a night she had wished that her husband would be home, both on the bed after their night shower; she, swallowed by his warm embrace, the breeze escaping his nose flooding her body with goose pimples as it tickled her, facing him and watching his lips moved as he professed his love for her. She would smile; her mouth arced into a half moon shape, the kind of smile that would make him call her, “Ụtụ m.”
She sat on the sofa, alone in the cold night, staring at a picture strapped in between her fingers. She saw the picture of her smiling self being suspended in the air, in the arms of her man. They were both smiling. She wore a white gown and he wore a black suit. It was on their wedding day. She smiled at those dimples punctuating his face. His dimples become well pronounced when he grins. It was this dimples that gave him that kind of innocent aura that tripped Nkemdirim (Nkem for short) the first day they met.
That day, Nkem had decided to go to the market from her work. She had granted her house maid a two days off from duty, and so had to do the cooking. She jostled herself through into the heart of the market; people brushing her roughly as they walked pass. The sky tainted gray while the silvery grayish light shimmered through. There were thick dust particles suspended in the air. She saw sellers, wielding a horse tail with which they used to dust off the brown dust that had coated their goods. She trudged along with the two heavy bags. She looked around wishing that she could catch a sight of Ebere coming towards her. Ebere was her best friend and she owns a big boutique in the market.
Suddenly, she felt a push from behind and when she swung her hand around in her attempt to look back, it happened. Her bags were torn. The contents of the bag littered on the ground. She was run over by a barrow with rough edges.
“Oh! I’m very sorry,” the barrow man said, as he crouched over and started picking the items. She stood mute and stared at the young man who had bent over to pick her things. She bent over too to help him. They were picking those items into the barrow. There was a distinctive odor that wafted across her nose. She naturally would have held her breath to men’s odor, but she never ceased breathing comfortably. She loved the odor. It was very strong and masculine. She thought it a sexy smell. She looked at him; there was a mixed feeling that hung on his face. She saw respect and some degree of humanness in its simplicity in those eyes, sunken easily into his somewhat oval face.
She was going to say, “Be careful next time” but instead she said, “Thank you very much” with that soft voice she only had only used on the phone when speaking with John. John was her ex-boyfriend. They broke up when she caught him with another woman. She was shocked when she stumped inside the room. Both of them naked on the bed, only covered under a strip of bed sheath. She expected him to run after her, she expected him to send text or call her, she expected him to write to her, apologizing or something like that, but he didn’t. He never called, texted or written to her. For days, months and years now, she mourned him as though he was dead. She had wanted him back into her life, but it was obvious he never loved her but was clearly after her money.
“Thank you very much,” she said again to the barrow man.
“No. You don’t have to thank me, it was my bad, and so my responsibility,” he said grinning. The dimples on his face deepened and she saw how handsome those dimples made him look and how it fitted his punk. She knew immediately that he must have had the hair cut fresh. They both walked down to her car; the noises from the revving machines, traders yelling at one another, the chiming bells made by hawkers calling on the attention of the passerby, filled the silence that fell between them. She would, from time to time purposely trail behind the barrow man, imagining both of them on the same bed, exchanging breath, wondering how sweet he would be with those his well-developed muscles on his chest and his biceps, imagining dense hair covering his chest and how she would pluck on them, wondering how she would feel if she snorted her nose under his hand pit and all sort of sexy thoughts.
“Wait!” she said and reached for her hand bag at the back seat, slide into it and rummaged through and came out with a thousand naira note. “Take! And keep the change,” she said, as she stretched forward her hands towards him and he stepped forward and took the money from her.
“Thank you very much,” he said with a good English accent and she wondered what could have pushed a handsome and intelligent man like him into barrow pushing.
“Do you mind if I ask for your phone number?” she drawled and felt shame enveloping her after she let those words escaped her mouth.
“Sure,” he said and went on to call them out for her. She went home fighting the thought of falling in love with a man she just met. Not just a man, but a low class. “But I love him. Love at first sight,” she said and smirked.
That night she told her friend Ebere about the barrow man. They both held their mug, punctuating their discussion with several sips. Doesn’t Nkem realize that all barrow pushers are all play boys? Doesn’t she know that all barrow pushers were all street touts? Ebere bled enough trying to change her decision of marry the barrow man, but all fell on deaf ears.
“Why are you loathing a man you have not met?” Nkem asked.
“Does it make any difference? All paupers are looking for whom to perch on to suck dry and afterwards run away,” she said and clucked.
“You just hate him because he is of low social class?”
“Baby! Shine your eyes. I thought John had taught you a lesson, but I have seen you still want another heart break.”
Several years into their marriage, Ebere would come to their home after work. At the dining table, she would leer at him and he would caught sight of her and pretended as if he didn’t notice anything. He noticed how she stares at him; her recent disposition towards him has changed from loathing to something of deep emotion. It was a kind of affection and love. She smiled even when he made any humorless sentences.
One day, in one of her numerous visits, Nkem wasn’t at home. Ebere had barged into their bedroom when she could not find anyone in the sitting room. He was naked from waist up but with only a towel tied around his waist. She could not resist his sexy body; his thick hairy chest, his propping muscles and the six pack on his stomach. When all her moves to seduce him failed, she angrily went home, determine to punish him for his refusal.
Nkem was still sitting on the sofa, there were tears rolling down her cheeks, as she relived on the past. She didn’t understand why she was crying. She dabbed the tears with a white handkerchief. Her husband is yet to come back from work. She wondered what has started keeping him late at work. Her husband is becoming a stranger to her. She was beginning to miss their closeness. The nights they would shower together, scrubbing each other’s back, having dinner together while they would laugh to the jokes they made, going bed and cuddling themselves. She was beginning to believe what Ebere had told her. How she saw her husband going into a hotel with ladies and not even a lady, how she had seen her husband entered a boutique with a lady, and they came out with a full bag.
In all these, Nkem would only love her husband, keeping her fingers crossed, hoping her friends story to be all lies. She could not confront her husband based on a mere surmise or gossip. She could only love him more, and supported him more in his importing and exporting business more than she had ever done.
Into the cold night, she woke up. He snored heavily while he sleeps. As she made for her Bible, there was a beep. She looked and it was her husband’s cell phone. She reached for it, slide into it. With few punches, she was in his inbox messages. It was a message from Ebere. She was shocked by the conversation that has been going on between her husband and her best friend.
“Ebere! Haa!” she said and snapped her finger.
She thought Ebere was a friend. Ebere is what people regard as, “a green snake in a green grass.” She could not believe her eyes. Ebere trying to lure her husband into adultery made her stomach flutters. Finally, she now knew that all Ebere’s story of her husband’s cheating escapades were all lies, fabricated to break her home, as a way of getting back at her husband fidelity.
Nkem was relieved that she didn’t confront her husband, that she didn’t accuse him falsely. She now believes that all the late nights he was keeping were genuinely called by his work. And she couldn’t love and trust her husband more.