A knock roused Violet from her sleep. “Come in,” she murmured as she lifted her upper body from the table. A wet substance pulled her attention to the hand on which she had rested her head. She quickly reached for a piece of tissue to wipe her mouth. She yawned loudly. The knock sounded again, this time a little louder than before. Violet struggled to put herself in order as she said in a louder voice, “Come in.” She winced when the action brought her attention to the slight pounding in her head. 

The door opened to reveal a sourfaced Enita. “Mrs. Violet, are you sure you are okay? This is the fourth time I am seeing you this way this week, and it is just Wednesday. Are you ill?” She had already walked to the table. She tried to place the back of her hand on Violet’s forehead but Violet slapped her hand away. Enita humphed and sat down opposite Violet.

Violet stood up and went to the wash-hand sink at the corner of the office to wash her face and rinse her mouth. Sudden dizziness hit her as she straightened up after the task. She staggered a little but was quick to catch herself. Not quick enough for Enita not to notice.

Enita stood up again and looked at her worry glimmering in her eyes. “Won’t you go to the hospital? I don’t know why you still insist that there is nothing wrong with you. You almost fainted during the morning assembly and your students say that you keep on making mistakes and losing concentration during class. You can’t say that is normal. Almost everyone in the school has noticed it. And not to add the fact that your face seem extra puffy these days.” The last sentence was said in a low voice.

Violet had already sat down. She looked at the unfinished pack of potato chips on her table. Her hand consciously found her stomach. With a sigh, she picked up her pen and returned to the books she had been marking before she fell asleep. A small wet patch had blotted the ink on the book. She ignored it. 

“What do you want?” she asked in a listless voice.

Enita sighed helplessly and sat down. “My birthday is on Friday and I plan on celebrating it. I’m inviting you.”

Before she finished speaking, Violet was already shaking her head. “I cannot come.” 

“Why?” 

“I have to take care of my family. And besides, it’s not a scene for an old woman like me.” Violet gave her a weak smile.

“Seriously?” Enita was taken aback. “What exactly is wrong with you? Almost a month ago you were telling me that you would be angry with me if I didn’t invite you to my birthday party and now you’re talking like this. What happened?”

Violet closed the book she finished marking and reached for another one. “Nothing. It’s just most of the people that will attend it are young people and look at me. I’m not sure I can keep up.”

Enita was shaking her head slowly. “This is not the Violet I know.” She rapped her fingers rapidly on the table. 

Violet wanted to tell her that she had forgotten to add the Mrs. to her name, that she forgot she was way older than her. But the sound Enita’s fingers were making on the table stopped her. She kept the thought to herself. 

“Did something happen with your husband?” Enita asked cautiously. She peered into Violet’s face hoping to get some clues. 

“My husband and I are good. We have a wonderful marriage. My family is happy.” It was said mechanically, as though she had repeated the same sentence over and over again that it rolled out of her lips smoothly, so smoothly one would think it were true. 

“Really?” Enita scoffed. 

“You’re forgetting your manners.” Violet hated the implied meaning in that one word. Keep lying to yourself.

“For the first time since I know you, you are bothered about manners and respect. But Mrs. Violet,” she stressed the appellation. “If you are not feeling okay, just stay at home and rest. I don’t know what is wrong, but I’ve known you for quite some time now and not once did I ever see you as someone that would be so concerned about if ‘Mrs.’ was added to her name. And I thought you were watching your weight, what is this doing here?” She gestured at the packet of chips and the bottle of Fanta on the table. If she had looked into the dustbin, she would see the wraps of chocolates and biscuits that had almost filled the bin. “Don’t allow yourself to get so stressed that you will fall back to that place you tried so hard to leave. If you are feeling depressed, take a leave from school and go home and rest properly.” 

Enita waited to get a reply from Violet but minutes passed and Violet’s eyes were on the book in front of her, though her hand around the red pen was not moving. With a disgruntled humph in Violet’s direction, Enita left the office.

Home. Home. Home. The word kept resounding in Violet’s head. The sound of the door closing was distant. She dropped her pen. She reached for the packet of chips. It tasted bland, like paper but she still ate it, feeling the crunch of the salty snack in her mouth. What was waiting for her in the house was not home, but torture. 

She wasn’t even sure why she was feeling down and ill. Was it because Oyim had taken her declaration not to care about his extra-marital affairs as the go-ahead to do whatever he wanted, openly. Three times since the conversation in the kitchen, he had missed dinner, coming home at midnight. The last Sunday, he had gone out as soon as they returned from church and she didn’t see his shadow until late in the evening as she and the children were about to have dinner. And in the bedroom? He had refused to touch her. Not even when she had dressed in her sexiest wear or used her hands to try to ignite his passion. He would still push her hand away, saying “not this night”. Bottled frustration was eating her up. Anger was tearing at her insides. Sadness was threatening to swallow her whole. Two times she had blown up at her children, leaving them in startled silence. Even Nma no longer cried out loud for fear of being the target of the sharp-pointed arrows shooting out of her mouth. 

Or was it because of C-Jay? She wondered. The image of him laughing and whispering into the ears of the old student that had visited the school two days after she dropped him off at the bus-stop, Monday, fueled the anger in her chest. At the corner of her mind, a seed of insecurity was brewing. The old student was busty and fleshy, her face brimming with pimples that the make-up she’d worn couldn’t hide. She wasn’t beautiful, Violet assured herself. But she is young, that voice that had taken hold in her head murmured. Yes, she was young like Benny and the other girls that her husband had on his phone. She had one thing Violet could exercise all her life, diet all she could but would never get. It had been a huge blow to her self-esteem. C-Jay had been avoiding her since then. She had no other interest other than being friends with him, but she hadn’t expected that he would move on quickly from whatever he felt for her. 

Was it wrong of her to expect that he would pursue her a little longer? Was it wrong to crave attention aside from that of her husband from the opposite sex? She wasn’t beautiful, but she knew that she had a good-looking face. She had looked at herself too many times in the mirror and fallen in love with her face after taking off her make-up. She was elegant, Enita often said. The students had voted her the most elegant. And her fashion sense, she was certain that while it couldn’t compare to that of many fashionistas, she was not lacking either. She was a good wife. She was a good mother. She was a good companion. She was not lacking in bedroom matters. Then why couldn’t she keep their attention long enough? Why did they leave her to go for the younger ones? 

Her eyes watered. A sour feeling pinched her cheeks. She reached for the bottle of Fanta, gulping it down rapidly, successfully suppressing the urge that was traveling up her neck. She burped loudly.

Maybe, she needed a break. What break could she take? A break from school would have her staying at home, in that bedroom that gave her heartache. She couldn’t travel, leaving her children alone. The holidays were still weeks away.

She looked around the office. Guidance Counselor. She sneered at the title. How could she counsel others when she couldn’t even take care of her mental health. Maybe she could also go for counseling. She shook the thought away immediately. With a sigh, she reached for a packet of chocolate and popped it into her mouth. She would worry about her weight later. But for now, she just needed to concentrate long enough to get her through the rest of the day.