“How are you doing my dear?”
Ese looked at the elderly woman who sat in her living room as though she owned it. The question did not reflect genuine concern. Ese could detect that easily. She did not care, she was just asking.
“I’m fine thank you ma.”
It was ridiculous, really. She wished they would all leave her alone. She did not want anyone in her home other than her children. The twins were just 4 years old but her mother had insisted they stay with her. Every day she watched people come and go; the ones who pitied her, the ones who blamed her, the ones who came just because. She didn’t want anyone here. Her husband was dead and the circumstances surrounding his death were most embarrassing. She wanted to deal with the grief on her own. She was sure they talked about her when she wasn’t there. She had not shed a single tear since the mourners first started gathering at her place. It was two weeks after his death and their number had reduced but she wanted them all gone.
She wasn’t sure how to react. She wasn’t even sure what to feel. She wasn’t opening up to anyone. She didn’t have any really close friends to pour out her heart to. This was a big mess.
The lady asked if she’d eaten. She replied in the affirmative. She asked after the woman’s family and got a lengthy narrative of brilliant children doing spectacularly well in school. Ese listened only half-heartedly and when the woman was done, she excused herself and went into her room.
10 minutes later, there was a knock on her door. She didn’t respond but the door opened and her sister-in-law, a young girl of 19 walked in.
“There’s a young man here to see you. He said his name is Bobby.”
Ese saw the look of suspicion in her eyes and she smiled a sad smile. The girl was clueless.
“Tell him I’m resting and can’t see anyone now.”
She turned on her side and shut her eyes. Bobby would become a pest soon if he kept this up.
The young lady left the room and did as she was told. Bobby did not leave. He settled into one of the chairs and lost himself in his smart phone.
He was still there two hours later when the men walked in. There were two of them dressed in simple kaftans. They looked like trouble. He watched them settle comfortably and ask for Ese. Ese came out a few minutes later still looking tired. She nodded to him and greeted the men. They spoke in their native language for a while and he only caught snatches of it. They were discussing her husband’s funeral.
Ese soon suspended the conversation and turned to Bobby.
“How are you Bobby?”
“I’m fine thanks. Been here for a while now, I was told you were sleeping.”
“Yeah. I was resting.”
Her eyes told him she wanted him to leave and so he got up.
“I should be on my way now. Please take care of yourself. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
She walked him to the door and once she was certain the men couldn’t hear her, she said.
“Please don’t come here tomorrow. In fact, don’t come here again. I want to be by myself.”
He looked at her like she had gone mad.
“I know I’m not your most favourite person in the world right now, but you can’t stop me from checking up on you. I may not have a right to, but I’m worried about you.”
He paused for a moment and added
I heard you haven’t shed a single tear since his death. Is it true?”
“What has that got to do with anything? And why should it bother you?”
“I think you should see a therapist. How can you grieve this way?”
“A therapist? For what? Who are you to tell me how to grieve for my husband? And since when did a law exist for such a thing as grief?
Bobby, we aren’t even friends. I’m going through a really difficult time and I will appreciate if you stopped bothering me. Goodnight”
Even the little outburst held no serious emotion, not even intense anger. Bobby shook his head and walked away. Something was definitely wrong.
Ese walked back into the living room and joined the men. They talked some more about the burial and fixed it for the following month. That gave her three weeks to prepare. When the men left, she cursed her late husband under her breath.
“Damn you to hell Gabe. I hope you rot there.”
“Dude, I’ve never seen anything like that before. The woman has been too strong.”
Kayode took a swig of his beer and set the bottle down.
“Maybe she killed him.”
“That’s just ridiculous.” Bobby said.
Kayode looked at him and laughed.
“Jakes, you dey hear this guy?”
Jacob replaced his phone in his pocket and picked up his beer.
“Grief looks different on everyone. That she hasn’t cried doesn’t mean she killed him.”
Kayode shook his head.
“I no gree. She be woman. If na man now, e for dey different.”
“How?” Bobby shot at him.
“Men, we’re stronger like that. Women are the weaker ones nau. Any small thing, they’ll fill up a bucket with their tears. The woman’s husband died and she hasn’t shed a single tear in the open?”
It was Jacob’s turn to shake his head
“It still doesn’t mean. You said ‘shed a tear in open,’ she’s probably cried in private.”
“Ogbeni leave that thing! She be woman. When my aunt’s husband died, we were almost certain her wailing would wake the dead man. Women are like that jor-”
Bobby cut in.
“She didn’t kill him. And I agree with Kayode. Grief looks different on everyone. The first day I went to her house, she had this distant look in her eyes. She looked lean but she didn’t look like she had been crying. She was even in her room by herself.
The fact that she’s not crying scares me. It makes me feel like she can wake up one day and harm herself.”
Kayode laughed. It was obvious he was getting drunk.
“She no dey Lagos so she no go fit jump inside Third Mainland Bridge. Besides why do you care so much? She was your colleague’s wife, it’s not like you guys were close. Abi you’re tripping?”
Bobby ignored him and turned to Jacob.
“Jakes, I’m worried about her. And she told me to stop coming to see her.”
“Ahhhhh! I get it! You were shagging her!” Kayode said triumphantly.
Bobby looked at him in disgust
“That is the most stupid thing I have ever heard you say. I hope that’s your last bottle for the night.”
Kayode laughed, not in the least bit perturbed.
“You’re shagging her, that’s why. Haha! And here I was thinking you were gay.”
He continued laughing as Bobby got up to leave.
“Jakes, I’ll talk to you later. Please make sure this idiot gets home safe.”
Jacob smiled and smacked Kayode on his shoulder.
Kayode continued laughing.
“On second thoughts, leave him here. Hopefully he tries to get home by himself and he gets run over by a trailer. One less jerk for the world to worry about.” Bobby said in annoyance.
He bid Jacob a good night and walked out to hail a cab.
Teni pushed a button on the remote control and the gentle whir of the air conditioner stopped. She pulled the covers over herself and turned to continue sleeping. The sound of someone pounding on her door woke her up immediately. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest as she reached for her phone to check the time.
Fear gripped her. Could it be robbers? She had no gun, no means of defending herself whatsoever. The pounding continued and she got out of bed. She was in the kitchen in a flash, grabbing her pestle determined to smash the head of anyone that came through the door. She crept to the door and stood, arms raised, ready and waiting. The pounding continued and then she heard her neighbour’s voice
“Aunty Teni! Aunty Teni! My mummy is in labour!”
She heaved a sigh of relief and dropped the pestle on the chair closest to her. The pounding and yelling went on still.
“Aunty Teni! Please come and help my mummy!”
She managed to pull herself together and speak.
“Wait. I’ve heard you.”
She unlocked the door and undid the bolts to see her neighbour’s 8 year old son staring at her with tears in his eyes.
“Aunty Teni, I think she’s going to die. She’s been shouting since.”
Teni hugged the little boy and pulled him into the house.
“I’ll take her to the hospital dear. Wait let me change and carry my keys.”
She rushed to her room and reappeared seconds later in a maxi dress. The little boy led the way and she followed him to their house. A few minutes later, she was driving off to the National Hospital.
The child sat whimpering in the front seat as she drove and Teni wondered why his father was not home. She didn’t know the man. In fact, she didn’t really know any of her neighbours.
“Austin, where is your daddy?”
“He’s not around.”
He turned in his seat to look at his mother.
“Aunty, is my mummy going to die?”
Teni’s heart stopped. Where on earth was this kid’s dad?! And why did he have to go through this on his own?!
“No darling. She won’t. Sit right. We’ll get to the hospital soon and the doctors will help your mummy.”
She patted him on the head with her right hand and kept her eyes on the road. A little later, she was at the hospital and the woman was wheeled into a delivery room.
She sat with Austin and rubbed his back.
“Thank you aunty Teni, God bless you.”
Teni looked at him and the tears made their way to her eyes but she fought them back.
“Austin, did your daddy travel?”
The little boy shook his head.
“No aunty. Mummy said Daddy has gone to be with Jesus.”