The weather that evening was cool. Ijeoma and Apham came out for a walk in the estate. Beautiful storied houses lined up both sides of the road, with the grass trimmed neatly to form a carpet lying around the walls of the houses.
“What do you think the pastor meant when he said that our enemy might be very far from us? I always thought it was…well, Angela,” Ijeoma said, not in the least guilty about it.
“I don’t understand as well. But what if we have always been wrong, that the person out for us isn’t Angela.” Apham stretched his body, twisting it to the sides.
“I have thought about it as well, especially the way she had behaved during supper.” The woman had been so warm, so attentive, adding more water to their cups as soon as they emptied it, even letting them have more soup even though she was always concerned about the usage of soup in the house.
“Let’s not think too much about it.” Apham pulled her to seat on the chair in front of one of the houses.
“You want to run?” She eyed him. He was kicking his knees up and pumping his hands.
“The weather is just so good, nothing like an exercise to spice it up.” He smiled at her, waving his hands high in the air and clapping them together.
“Go ahead.” She laughed softly. “When I get better, we will continue our morning jogs together. I really miss them,” she said wistfully.
He kissed her on the forehead then brought his lips lower to capture hers in a firm kiss. “Done worry, honey. Soon.” He tucked her shawl properly and rubbed her hair before finally jogging away.
Ijeoma stared at him from the distance, as he jogged far off into the distance and then jogging back, each time giving her a wave and a smile when he got to where she sat. She pulled out her phone, sighing when she saw the picture of her, her mother and her elder sister popping up in her phone gallery. She debated calling either of them, going as far as searching for her mother’s number, her hand hovered over the phone unable to touch the green phone icon.
Apham had insisted that she call them, even if she didn’t call her mother, she could call her father. He was more understanding than her mother and sister. Yet, she still couldn’t make the call. If the nurse was saying the truth, her mother had come to visit her in the hospital. Then why didn’t she make any move to call her and ask if she was recovering? She had waited, expecting a call from the day she woke up, she went on WhatsApp, looking at the chain of status that her mother had posted of the shoes and bags that she sold. She looked at every one of them, even though she had little interest in buying the expensive bags.
She could still recall the last day she had been on amicable terms with them, the day she had brought Apham to their home to introduce him to them, to tell them he was the one that she wanted to get married to.
The look on her sister’s face had been priceless. “Luke?” She’d sat up on the sofa where the whole family had gathered to welcome their would-be in-law.
“You know him?” Ijeoma looked to Apham. His expression as he looked at Iyora was clouded.
“Anita,” he drawled.
Anita was her sister’s English name. The only time she used the name was when she went abroad when she didn’t want people to mispronounce her Igbo name, Iyorachukwu. So she presumed that they had met abroad.
“You cannot marry him, not this junkie,” her sister exploded.
“Iyora, what is it? What do you mean?” Her parents said sharply. They were strict disciplinarians and hadn’t taken her outburst lightly especially in front of an important guest.
“Mummy, he was the person I told you about. The one that introduced me to taking drugs when I was abroad.”
Ijeoma felt like air was rushing into her head. Her head swelled. Apham was the man that they had spent weeks cursing, casting, and binding? The one that had made Iyora get expelled from her school and return to Nigeria a former shell of herself. I could still remember the nights I spent against her shivering, cold body when she was asking for more. The worry that had made my mother look so aged in the days that followed her return as we searched for a cure to her addiction problem.
“Jesus, ekwensu ekwe knwanna ihe ojo!” her mother had exclaimed.
“Is he the person? The one that ruined your life like that? Jesus Christ!” Her father sat up, sitting on the edge of the sofa. She feared that he would fall off and hit his buttocks painfully on the tiled floor of their parlor.
“Daddy, I will not lie. His Igbo name is Apham. But everyone there knew him as Luke. He was my boyfriend and…and my…” Iyora broke down in tears. Her mother rushed to her side placing her head to rest on her chest. “Nwam, ozugo.”
“You cannot marry him,” her father declared. His voice boomed with finality.
Everything had happened so fast, even Ijeoma took a long time to process. “Daddy, mummy, is not… Iyora, are you sure he is-”
“Jesus, Ijeoma, are you saying you don’t believe your sister? Have you forgotten what we went through the year she returned? How long it took before we brought her back to normal, eh? Is something wrong with you or have he blinded you with drugs so that you don’t even believe your sister again? Take that trash out of this house,” her mother spat, her slim hand pointing to the door.
“No, Ijeoma. You cannot marry him. We don’t know what he will do to you.” Her father squinted his eyes at her. “Is he giving you drugs? Giving you any medications?”
Ijeoma shook her head furiously. “No, daddy…”
“Then take that man out of my house, when you come back we are going to the hospital to do some tests. I don’t know what he may have done to you.” He gave Apham a look of distrust.
Ijeoma wanted to plead but Apham held her hand. He had remained quiet after calling Iyora that she almost forgot that he was there. He shook his head and led her to the door, saying nothing to her parents who were trying to comfort the weeping Anita.
When they went outside, Ijeoma pulled her hand roughly from his. Her eyes blazed at him. “You never told me you did drugs?” she spat.
Apham had reeled back as though she slapped him. “Are you serious? Do I look like someone that does drugs.”
“Well, obviously not. Guess you had me fooled.” Inside, she was withering, crying but she could not deny the fact that in the six months that they had been together, Apham had talked about the years he spent abroad and he never for once told her about doing drugs.
“I will call you later,” he said when he saw Ijeoma’s father standing at the door of the house.
“I doubt if I will pick it,” she said and then turned to return to the house. The sound of his car driving off filled her with pain, but she forced herself to continue without looking back at the blue Mercedes-Benz.
She had endured a plethora of questions from her family in the next few days. She was forced to go for a drug test to ease her parent’s worries. Her parents kept a watchful eye on her. The only place she could go without having to ask their permission was work. She was suddenly thrown back to her secondary school days where she had to ask her parents permission to even buy something at the shop down the street.
During those days, Apham had tried to call her a number of times but she always rejected the call. She had been angry, scared, and sad. Thinking back to it now, she thought she had been too scared to hear his explanation to hear the words, “That was before. I don’t do those things now.” The inner struggle that would come with his explanation and then having to face her parents. She loved Apham, loved him enough to consider trying to reason with her family even when they were dead-set against having him anywhere near their daughter or their home.
So for the next two weeks after the failed introduction, Ijeoma was plunged into a sea of gloom and sadness, coupled with excessive enthusiasm from her parents to introduce her to new men. She went to and fro home and work with an expression etched in stone that made it impossible for anyone around not to notice that something was wrong, not that they dared to approach her. One look from her would have them, especially her co-workers changing the topic to something more neutral.
She didn’t cry though, she couldn’t bring herself to. If she had done that, it would have put a full stop in their relationship, it would have ended their chapter, their story together. Apham didn’t stop calling. She didn’t block his number, even though her sister advised her to do so. She would reject the call and wait for him to call again. Sometimes she left the phone ringing until it stopped.
And then one night, she couldn’t take it. The pressure from her parents, her sister’s monitoring look, the increasing stress at work. She sneaked out of the room she shared with her sister and went to the backyard, to the storeroom that had always been her hideout when she was much younger. Cartons of books and other things were stacked high up at the end of the room. It was covered in dust since it had been a while since anyone had been there. She placed the wrapper wrapped around her nightie on the lower cartons and proceeded to call Apham. It was late, almost midnight, but he had picked as soon as the phone rang.