The old man’s laughter rattled the windows of the house – even though he was sitting in the backyard.
“My son, what have I tell you? I mean what do I told you? Dat ya wife is onye na amughi nwa – she cannot carry shuldren! But luff – luff haff bland you; common sense come commot for ya sense!”
Frank leaned back in the cane chair and sighed. He sure wished his mother was home.
“Look papa, just because Igo couldn’t – just because we couldn’t make babies doesn’t mean you should insult my wife.”
Pa Omure cackled loudly and slapped his only son on the shoulder. “Hohohohoho…weeeeee! You no go ki’ mi!” He suddenly pushed his face up against his son’s. “You get wife?”
Frank reared back and almost fell off the chair. “Pa…okay. I don’t have. Not since I did what you asked. Are you happy now?”
The older man touched his chest. “Me? I dey always hapi – always! Your sister jus’ commot wit her husband and shuldrens for hia! Your small sister!”
Frank hung his head. No matter how detached he tried to act, his father’s words stung. “It’s not like we – it’s not as if I didn’t want children, papa. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be for…”
“And dat is why I yam happi you haff use your common sense to commot from dia!” Pa Omure’s voice was reduced to a whisper. “When woman is dey her husband house, she cannot produce pikin, what is the value inside such a…”
“Papa, did you call me here to listen to you insult my wife?”
“You no get wife. You nefa get. Na why I call you hia be dat. You go fit meet Idowu, my neighbor pikin…”
“Franklin! Franklin o, my son!”
Mama Omure’s entry into the backyard was very much like the arrival of a gale. Light-skinned, buxom and tall – she was an easy six feet two – her presence was hard enough to ignore, and then she was lively and energetic – in spite of her sixty-something years.
“How are you my darling? No, don’t answer that. You look horrible.” She bent over and pulled his cheeks as he struggled to rise. “You’ve lost weight! Of course you have, when you sent the only person in this world who cares about you apart from me…”
“Mama, I have missed you so much.” Frank interrupted the lamenting woman, squeezing her against himself and hiding his face in her shoulder so she wouldn’t see the tears. “How is everything? Papa was just telling me that Evelyn came over..”
Mama Omure eased herself away from her son and went over to her husband. “Good evening, Pa Franklin. How’s your body?”
Not waiting for an answer, she handed the old man the black nylon bag she was carrying. “I bought you some cashew nuts. You can chew on that while I make dinner.”
And then, pulling her son by the hand she led the way into the dark interior of the house.
“Are you okay, Franklin? I know I ask all the time but – are you really okay?”
Frank leaned against the kitchen sink and closed his eyes, sighing softly. “What do you expect me to say, mama? How can I be okay?”
He felt rather than saw his mother leave the vegetables she was washing – felt her come stand beside him, worry heavy in her voice. “But darling, you decided to ask Igo for a divorce…though come to think of it, she didn’t exactly protest…”
“Yes mama, I asked for the divorce. When I saw myself almost cheating on my wife of twelve years because somehow, my desire for a child had overcome my desire for her, what was I supposed to do?” He opened his eyes and turned to look his mother right in the face. “I know I asked for the divorce – but that doesn’t make it easy.”
“And we are also not making it any easier for you.” She squeezed his shoulders in a gentle hug. “I apologize for your father and I. What you need is our support, not our criticism.” She left him and walked back to the gas cooker. “How is work?”
“Work…” his voice faded away. “Work? How can I work, Nne? I cannot concentrate, I cannot do anything. I keep thinking about…” He went quiet for a bit – and then continued. “Work is fine.”
His mother chuckled. “Ah, Franklin. I think what you need for now is to rest. Rest, and allow yourself time to heal. Everybody seems to be in such a hurry these days.” She hit the spoon on the edge of the pot before turning to regard Frank patiently. “Understand your father. You’re his only son – the only hope he has of his name going on. Doesn’t mean much to me – but you can understand what that would mean to a traditional Ndigbo man.”
Franklin smiled wryly. “An Ndigbo chief, you mean.”
His mother laughed – and then Frank interrupted. “But Nne, what is this I hear about you getting me a wife?”
She sighed. “There’s this neighbor of ours your father is suddenly best friends with – and he has a daughter who is still unmarried…”
“Did this idea start after my divorce or before I even started – “
A phone started to ring – and Frank looked at his mother. “That’s me,” he said, pulling at the phone. “Let me just see who – “
The caller ID said one word; Igo.
“It would be good if you came early, Frannie – I mean Frank,” his ex-wife breathed into the phone. “The lawyers say it’s just a few small details about the account and businesses…”
“I already said I didn’t want anything from that – “
“I don’t want it either – but we signed papers. We signed papers, which means you cannot just pass them to whoever vocally. There has to be another set of signings or…”
Frank exhaled loudly. “Okay okay. I’ll be there by nine in the morning…nine is okay, abi?”
“Nine is fine, Frank. Good night.”
“Wait.” Frank said desperately. “Igo…are you…how are you?”
A sound that sounded curiously like a sob floated down the line, and then Igo answered harshly, “What do you care?”
Frank stood in the shadows of the corridor in his parents’ house in Bariga, looking at the phone in hand but not really seeing it.
“Frank! Food is done o!”
Snapping out of his reverie, he answered, “Coming ma!” and then dialed another number. The call went through – and was picked on the third ring.
“Hi James. Look, I won’t be coming to work for a while. I have some things to sort out and take care of – so I’m leaving you in charge, you hear? Take care of everything.”
“Oga – I hope no problem o. Shey madam dey – “
“There is no problem. Look, just do as I say. You hear?” Frank impatiently interrupted him.
“Okay. Everything will be as you want it to be oga.”
“Thank you. Good night, James.”
“Good night, oga.”
“You’ve lost weight, Frank.”
He chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s what everyone’s been telling me lately – and yet I hardly miss a meal. Maybe buka food doesn’t exactly agree with me.” He laughed again, emptily; hollowly. “Mama said the same yesterday; and tried to load me with food enough so I wouldn’t be hungry till next year.”
Igo smiled wanly. “And of course, you tried to eat everything. I don’t blame you; mama can cook.” She paused – and then rushed on as though afraid of being silenced. “How is she…and and papa…?”
Her voice shook.
“She misses you, Igo.”
His ex-wife nodded and looked away, brushing her eyes free of something that may have been tears and mumbling something Frank couldn’t hear.
“What?” he asked.
“Our lawyers are ready,” Igo answered, and walked ahead of him into a dark room.
He knew there was a much better way of spending the time he was in that room, sitting across his ex-wife and staring at her like she was someone he did not know – but the going ons in the room didn’t interest him.
He hastily signed every paper he was handed without looking – he trusted that Damilola, his lawyer would have made sure it was safe and well; he found it distracting.
He continued watching Igo, taking in everything she did – every move she made and making something; a memory of it. For all he knew, this was the last time he would see her so he wanted to make it significant.
He watched every unconscious tucking of a stray strand of braided hair; every hesitant smile at her lawyer (who he thought was staring at her a bit too boldly and quite unprofessionally), every unsteady scribble of her pen – every accidental glance his way – and something filled his chest.
Pain. And regret.
When she sighed and straightened, he realized they were done – he realized his lawyer had been talking to him for a bit. Frank coughed, and then turned slightly towards his right hand.
“Sorry I didn’t hear you,” he said.
“Sure.” Damilola grimaced. “Everything is tidy now. You have access to some money from the joint – “ Frank interrupted, rising hurriedly and knocking back his chair as he saw Igo exit the room. “I’m sorry! I’ll be right back!” he yelled over his shoulder as he hurried after her.
“Igo – Igo! Wait!”
Her shoulders hunched as though she expected a blow, and then she turned slowly – but her eyes – her face – remained averted. “Yes, what is it?” she asked in a voice that was tired yet trying to be angry. “What do you want?” she said again, her voice sharper than it was before.
“I don’t want anything…well that’s not true, but what I want…” he trailed off when he saw the baleful look she regarded him with. “I just want to say I’m sorry – I’m so sorry for…”
“You can save your apologies Frank, or repeat them to yourself if it makes you feel better. I don’t want to hear them; I’m not listening to any more of your nonsense. For twelve years – “ Her voice broke; she drew in a sobbing breath and buried her face in her hands.
“Igo…” Frank began, reaching for her hand.
“Don’t touch me!” She whirled on him, tear-streaked eyes blazing with fires that seemed to leap at him. He didn’t immediately realize he had taken a step back.
“Don’t touch me…” her voice faded to a whisper; but the vehemence was still quite obvious. “I gave twelve years of my life to you; to a marriage simply because I believed in it. Do you think you were the only one under pressure?! I have a family too; and the same way your dad told you to leave me is how my parents, friends – siblings…” She wiped her eyes and continued.
“I loved you, Frank. I invested twelve years of my life in you, in us. The years weren’t always rosy – but I gave my all. I realize now; you didn’t deserve my best – and you sure didn’t deserve me.” She turned and started walking away. She was opening the main door to step into outside when she said something – but the door had closed behind her before he realized what she said;
Stay away from me.
“Frank…Frank? I’m sorry – but we need to see to the rest of these – “
“Send them to the shop, will you Damilola? Thank you.”
And Frank walked out into the sunlight outside – though it could be moonlight and thunderstorms for all the notice he took of it.