Ijeoma was still reeling in shock, all the while muttering, “Tell me it’s not what I’m thinking.” But Apham now kneeling in front of her was shaking his head.
“Babe, talk to me please,” his voice was shaky. “I’m so sorry.”
Ijeoma wanted to push him away. She was filled with disgust and hurt. The image of a naked Apham with her mother-in-law kept replaying in her head. She tried to shut it down, but it kept coming at her. The two of them rolling on their bed in their home in Lagos.
“Honey, come back to me.” Apham seemed to understand what was going on in her head. He held her face and forced her to look in his eyes. His touch made her recoil in distaste.
“I want to sleep alone this night,” she said pushing his hands away from his face and stood up.
He looked at her, shaking his head. “Babe, please don’t do this to me. Allow me to explain.”
She shook her head, and pointed to the door. “I cannot face you right now. The more I look at you, the more I see the both of you-” She took a deep breath. “Just leave please.” The words came out weakly, as a plea.
Apham looked at her but when he saw the seriousness in her brown eyes, he took a deep breath and sighed. “Give me a chance to explain before you make any rash decisions, okay?”
She ignored him, going to get the night-gown on the handle of the chair. She removed the robe and slipped into the nightgown, totally ignoring him. Apham ran a hand through his hair and left the room with drooping shoulders.
Ijeoma tried to hold herself from breaking down. She calmly removed her shower cap and ran a comb through the weave-on that now seemed like a mountain on her head. The comb went smoothly through the dark-brown, soft hair. When she had brushed it to silky smoothness, she packed with a hairband and put on her sleeping cap.
When she laid down on the bed, she finally gave in to the tears that she had been holding in. As she cried, she tried to make sense of her emotions. If it had been another woman, she wouldn’t have reacted like that. But it was different. This woman was supposed to be her mother-in-law and she was supposed to spend time trying to please her, as required. How could she please a woman that had slept with someone that was her son, regardless of if they had blood ties? She now understood the treatment that she had gotten from Angela, her clinging to Apham as though he was the only source of light in her life. Was this the family that she married into? While Apham’s father, in his sixties, approved of her and liked her, she could tell that he was enamored with his young wife. Their marriage was relatively young, but she had a premonition that something was waiting for her in the near future, something she was reluctant to find out.
She cried for a while, sobbing softly into her pillow. At a point, she heard the door open and kept quiet, slowing her breathing. She heard Apham call out, “Babe, are you still awake?” She remained quiet. But he came inside, closing the door soundlessly. Ijeoma heard him shuffle around the room. She imagined he came to take his nightwear. But she felt him come closer to the bed, and then the bed creaked with his weight as he laid down beside her. His scent and warmth pervaded her senses, and she slowly let out a hiccup.
“Babe,” he whispered tentatively.
She shook her heard into the pillow. “I don’t want to talk to you.” Her voice came out muffled.
Apham sighed, took her in his arms, and turned her until she was lying down on him. Ijeoma didn’t struggle. She just let him hold her and unleashed her tears on his cotton-covered chest. Apham said nothing, patting her back softly as she cried. She kept on muttering, “Why her? Why her?” She cried herself to sleep, snuggling closer into the warmth of her husband. Apham wiped her face softly with his palm, kissing her softly before he switched off the light and settled into sleep. In the dark, he was only aware of the wetness on his shirt, the quivering body of the woman in his arms. He thought of his step-mother prancing around the house with her short, flimsy nightgown, one that barely covered her buttocks and knew that there would be no peace for the both of them in the house. He reached for his phone on the nightstand. The bright light of the phone illuminated in the darkness. He typed a message and sent it to his father. They would be returning to Lagos the next day even if he didn’t return. He couldn’t let his wife be tortured under his own nose.
“Apham,” a voice called out softly. At first, he thought it was Ijeoma, using the brightness of his phone to peer at her face, but she was fast asleep. The voice came again. It was from the door. He was tempted to answer, but knowing who it was, he locked his phone and laid down. She called a few more times, changing her voice to a seductive tone. When she realized that he must be asleep, she gave out a disappointed smile and left, her footsteps loud in the hallway. Apham sighed. She would really be in trouble.
The next morning, Angela woke up to see Apham and Ijeoma packing their bags into the car that would take them to the airport.
“What is going on here?” She held her gown on one hand as she came down the stair, even in a hurry, she was careful to maintain her elegance.
“We are going back to Lagos,” Apham said without pausing in his task.
She looked at him in surprise. “Why? I thought you were going to wait for your father?”
“I told him that I had important matters to attend to at the company’s branch in Lagos. They are also pressing matters.”
Angela shook her head, coming to stand beside him. She looked at the gate-man that was packing the bags into the car. “Musa, leave those things there and go back to your post.”
“Musa,” Apham called out in warning as the man made to leave.
“Luke, you can’t just leave without saying anything to your father. He is already on his way back here. His driver is already at the airport,” Angela explained, her hand found its way to his arm again. He shoved it away.
“Mum,” he stressed the word. “I and my wife have important things to attend to. We have to be on our way now.”
Just as she opened her mouth to say something, a car horned in front of the gate. She beamed. “He just arrived. Don’t tell me you still plan on leaving?”
Beside him, Ijeoma who had been quiet all through the exchange said softly, “Let’s say hello to him before we leave.”
No one else noticed it, but a glint flashed through Angela’s eyes at those words.