She tore through the bushes, panting as she frantically rounded the spot where he stood moments ago.
“Where is the man?” Nze Obinwa asked, perplexed.
“He was standing here,” Janet threw back, stomping the exact spot where he stood, blinking like Paul on the road to Damascus. Tears were beginning to well up.
“Asị m na ahụ adịghị nwaanyị a,” Anyaibe cut in blithely.
“This is beyond me,” Nze Obinwa offered, leaning on his walking stick as he stared into blank space.
“Madam settle me abeg,” Soji yelled. Their voices dinned and faded into her own thoughts. Her body felt cold like a witch’s tit as her fears grew like moss on the north side of a rock.
“Where had he gone to?” she asked no one in particular, as a voice she hadly believed was hers let out a loud, doleful wail. All three men stared down right where she plopped down; the cry of her children amplifying the cacophony.
“Stand woman, let us go inside. And you too young man,” Nze Obinwa offered, leading the procession. “Nọrọ ala, let me get these children something to eat,” he continued.
“Thank you, sir,” Janet replied, with sheer reluctance, as she sprawled on the floor, unstrapping her bra with careless ease to breastfeed.
“Where did you bring these people from, young man?” Anyaibe asked, looking from mother to sucking child.
“I carry them charter from Lagos reach here,” Soji replied hesitantly.
Just then Nze Obinwa returnd with a bowel of cassava flakes soaked in water in one hand and a tray of peanuts in another, offering Janet the bow. “This is the only food my wife has in the kitchen.” He sunk into a nearby seat staring at the children who had by now circled the bowel, nibbling at the nuts with unusual dispirited vexation, yet newfangled at the unfamiliar faces. Their mother tended to the mouth glued to her tits.
“That boy is a sucker,” Anyaibe teased, breaking the eerie silence. Janet smiled, betraying a gap tooth.”How old is he?” he continued.
“Nine months,” she replied, gazing down at the boy. “He can suck well well. All his brothers stopped sucking at seven months,” she continued looking from each boys’ face to other.
Growing visibly impatient now, Soji chimed in, ”Na who wan pay me, make I comot here nah? Which kind wahala be this?”
“Woman, can you now tell us what happened. Who are you people? and what brought you and these children to this compound?” Nze Obinwa cut in, obviously ignoring Soji, who had angrily stomped out for a smoke.
“We met in Lagos, seven years ago and he promised me that anytime we visit home, he will formally come and see my people; but he has not shown any seriousness to come home since then. Each time I mention the issue he becomes angry, until this year I managed to force him. Although he said if we leave Lagos, we will stay in the village with his people, I agreed. When we got here, he told us to go ahead, that he wanted to urinate. Since then Mbamara my husband is nowhere to be found,” she concluded.
“Who did you say is your husband, woman?” Anyaibe asked crestfallen.
“Mbamara,” she replied between sobs—that borderline between whimpering and wailing.
“Chineke ekwekwala ihe ọjọọ!” Nze Obinwa exclaimed, springing on his feet. “Come with me,” he said, leading the group to a spot near an ube tree. “This is the grave of the man who you claim is your husband. Mbamara my son died in the army twenty years ago,” he concluded with a heart too full for words.
The ground beneath her suddenly shook. She scanned everything around her for some meaning to this nightmare. None was forthcoming. Her sorrow made her take on the gaiety of one intoxicated. In one fell swoop her wrapper gave way to a shiny underpant. It glittered in the hot afternoon sun like a mountain of pirate’s bounty. Its threadbare waistline threatened an imminent exposure. Her expression was now taking that cold metallic sheen so familiar with one possessed. Her sanity gave way. She was gone. Only smiling.