Life was the most precious gift, wasn’t it?
It was a precious gift from the Almighty who created all things. It was a gift given freely to everyone. No one paid a price to receive this gift and no one gave a reward to the One who gave it for having been bequeathed such a priceless gift. So then, no one should steal that free gift from another, not when they hadn’t given it and they had their own.
It was what they had done—stolen his life from him. Robbed him of his childhood, just as he started living it. Robbed him of the youth he’d have lived and of the adulthood he’d never now experience. They had done that to him, thrown him into this empty existence where bitterness and rage kept him a prisoner from another existence.
They will pay. They will answer for it. Jamuike rolled to his back and swayed on the bed of feathery cloud, his eyes fiery with the promise of his vengeance.
THEY said that time healed all wounds. But it wasn’t exactly healing that she felt, for that probably wasn’t possible as she still suffered moments of sadness. But those moments were losing their intensity. They were losing their grip over her heart and mind. Their potency had greatly abated. So had their power to overwhelm and bury her in that well of grief and guilt. Memories remained—they would never completely fade away—but they were no longer bitter tastes on her tongue. She thought of him, but she struggled to think of him in happy times.
Time wasn’t entirely a healer but it was an expediter of change. Change came whether she expected it or not, whether she wanted it or not and it took its toll on her. It began with lessons of acceptance. What was gone would never again return. It instructed her on lessons of hope. She might not have him back in this lifetime but she would surely have another—not a replacement, but a solace. And then it instilled into her, lessons on life. She must live. One alive could only do one thing—live.
She welcomed the changes with relief. She could not help it. The burdens were beginning to break her. She accepted the changes and she allowed them sift from inside of her to her relationship with Ifee. She started to welcome him back into her life. She allowed him hold her again, touch her and become one with her again. Even that became another form of solace. Then time rolled from three months after his demise to six and then they swept into eight and became nine months since his death. Yet, she did not conceive. She’d hoped—but she did not.
But other changes happened. Other new things came to be for them, for her and for Ifee. Ifee had grown closer to Onwa with the passage of time, had become inseparable from him really. He worked tirelessly for him in his many business ventures, followed closely his precepts and did whatever he instructed him to do. He was literally Onwa’s boy. And pleased with him, Onwa in turn favoured him.
They started to feed better than they ever did. Their palate changed, and not just where food was concerned. They altered their entire wardrobe. Worn out-dated clothes were tossed out for new and trendier wears. They moved house. The ghetto neighbourhood was no longer suitable. They found a place among the middle class in the upper side of the city. And they made new friends; friends who were other stalwarts of Onwa. She barely knew them, but that did not matter, she always reminded herself.
And so, better circumstances became another solace. Another bedrock for healing.
Chizu stared at the stack of money. She couldn’t believe her eyes. There was so much of it. Much more than she had seen in the last few months, more than she had seen in her entire life. “Where did you get this?” She gasped even when her heart already knew the answer.
“Onwa handed me a whole consignment, some weeks back. I was not to share with the goods with the others. Everything was mine, the entire container. This is the proceeds from part of the sales I’ve made already.” Ifee beamed at her as he spoke.
Chizu saw the pride in his eyes. There was also exhilaration. She swallowed the apprehension that tugged whenever he brought money home. “Proceeds from part sales?” She gingerly touched the currencies at the top of the mini-sized Ghana must go bag. “It must have been a huge consignment, and just for you.” She raised her eyes to him and ventured a smile. “But why did you bring the money home? It must be dangerous to do so. What if someone had trailed you? Possibly those you supplied business to. One can’t be too trusting in these times.”
“No one trailed me. I was careful.” Ifee said confidently, bent and zipped the bag. “I will pay most of it into the bank tomorrow, but I think we should make a donation in church in support of the church school building. Of course, we will have to keep aside our tithe before that.”
“Of course.” Chizu nodded. Her head reeled. “Um, I think we should start considering buying some plots of land. Maybe two or three. We should begin building our own house. It’s always safe to build one’s house when one is able. And maybe I can set up some business for myself. I’ll have to ponder strongly on what business venture would be most profitable at this time though.”
“That is a good idea. Ponder on it and let me know which venture would suit you best.” Ifee rose off the wide cushioned leather sofa to walk to the mini bar. He poured two glasses of Hennessey, tempered the drinks with ice before returning to the sofa. “And about purchasing plots of land, that is a good idea but not so to build the house we will live in. I want us to buy a house. As a matter of fact, I’ve been covertly looking at two houses that are up for sale through an estate agent Kalio introduced to me. I think one of them would suit us. Of course, you will have to decide which.”
“You want us to buy a house?” Chizu grimaced over the sip of brandy. She would never be used to such spirits, she feared. “But is that cost effective?”
“But that is it, Chizu. We don’t have to worry about costs anymore.” Ifee widened his mouth into a smile that showed off his off-white teeth. “The days of worrying about money and where the next income would come from are over, Chizu. And I promise you, they will never again return. We are made and made for life.”
“We are, aren’t we?” It pierced through, worry, pain—other unspeakable things. “I don’t know if I will ever get used to it. It is all so overwhelming. So unreal half of the time.”
“It is real, Chizu. And with time, I’m sure you will get used to it.” Ifee finished his drink and rose again. “I have to see Onwa. He needs my help to sort out some matters at his warehouse. Tomorrow when I’ll be completely free, we will go look at the houses and decide for one.”
“I will see you when you return then.” She waited until he was through the door before she sat down again and stared about the living room with the classy leather sofa set and top-notch electrical appliance units, all standing on the wall-to-wall oriental rug. “I thought here would be home for a while but everything is happening so fast.” She murmured, feeling the constriction of that all too familiar fear in her chest.
Would it always be like this, happy moments tainted with unforgettable pain and sorrows? She hoped not. Maybe it will pass too. Maybe time would bring about its passing and she would know complete joy again. Maybe.
“YOU bought a house?” Nkem stared at her in shock. “But how is that possible?”
“Ifee has been doing so well in business. His serving Onwa and working for him is paying off. Onwa gifted him with a full consignment of goods and it yielded so much profit after sales.” Chizu crossed her left leg over the right one as she leaned back on the solid wood armchair and swung it. “I wanted him to build our own house, you know like most people do. But he said buying one is better as he wanted us to move really soon. So we are moving in next weekend. Nkem, you need to see this place. It’s like a palace. I still can’t believe it’s ours.”
Nkem stared at the smiling, excited face. She wanted to rejoice with her but she was hesitant. “Onwa handed a full consignment of goods to Ifee? But isn’t that too much? What can Ifee have done for Onwa to earn such an enormous bequest?”
Nkem’s hesitation didn’t surprise Chizu. She’d half expected it. “You know that Ifee has been working with Onwa for close to eighteen months now. When he lost his job, Onwa was the only one who agreed to take him on and give him a place in one of his warehouses and Ifee has been loyal to Onwa since then.” She lifted her shoulders. She didn’t want to overthink things that should not be overthought. She only wanted to celebrate. “Onwa is known to rewards those who are loyal to him and so, he’s now rewarding Ifee, I think.”
Nkem was quiet for a while. A part of her wanted to push aside her concerns and just be happy for Chizu. But she was her sister and she could not pretend with her. “Chizu, I am not comfortable with Ifee associating with that man. You know what people say about him.”
“Oh Nkem, people generally have plenty to say about the wealthy.” Chizu scoffed, flicking a hand. “Tell me what rich man you know that they don’t malign his character and his business ventures, eh? Nkem, Onwa is just a successful business man like any other we have in this country. He’s just like Dangote.”
“Is he?” The flippant tone worried Nkem. Chizu had changed. It was as if in trying to let go off the loss of her son, she needed this cloak of complete insouciance. She was so blasé about things that used to matter to her. “They say that he’s a cultist, Chizu.”
“Nonsense!” Chizu dismissed with a hiss. “Riches don’t come alone from Satan, Nkem. God can bless us with wealth too. Onwa is a Christian, an elder in his church even.”
“Not all who sit on the pews of a church know God, Chizu. Surely you must know that?”
“Stop being a pessimist and be happy for me and Ifee, Nkem.” Chizu rebuffed, becoming impatient with her depressing discourse. It wasn’t what she needed. “Or do you not wish us well? Do you not wish Ifee to be successful like his peers?”
“Of course I wish you both well. And you know I have always wanted the best for Ifee.” Nkem breathed and forced a smile. “Forgive me, Chizu. I should have readily congratulated you instead of dampening your joy with my fears.” She rose, walked over and bent to give her a hug. “Congratulations on the new house. We have to wash it. Wait, I will go inside and grab a bottle of wine. I even have some cake in the fridge; I’ll bring that along too.”
“Now you’re talking. Make sure it’s a superior wine oh, because your little sister is now a big girl.” Chizu joked, laughing as Nkem rolled her eyes before walking through to the kitchen.
But the laughter caught in her throat and she found herself blinking and forcing down the heaviness that Nkem’s scepticism had brought on.
“OH my God, Ifee, this house is so overwhelming!” Chizu wandered about the opulent master bedroom, her hands clasped together against her excitedly beating heart. Every furniture inside had been bought ready-made, and they were all breathtakingly beautiful. Ifee hadn’t spared cost in furnishing the entire house. “It’s too much for just you and I. Look at this room!” She whirled around and let out a low shriek. “I swear, I will get lost in here if I am not careful.”
Ifee laughed, strolled over and scooped her up into his arms. Seeing her happy, laughing, carefree again, made him happy. “Who said it will just be the two of us in this house, eh? We will soon be filling every room in this house with a child.”
“Every room?” She felt the stab like a thrust but ignored it. “That will be six children then minus this ginormous bedroom. Who do you think will deliver you six children, eh?”
“Who else but my beautiful capable wife.” He leaned down his head and kissed her lips. “Nothing is stopping us from having as many children as we want now, is there? Not when we can give them all that they will ever need and more.”
“No, nothing is stopping us.” Chizu allowed her head to lie briefly against his chest before she raised her head and looked into his eyes. “But it’s not happening, Ifee. We’ve been trying for months now and I am yet to conceive. What can be wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong. Relax.” He kissed her again and then stepped back, letting his arms drop from her waist. He could sense her melancholy returning and he so hated it for it brought on a burden on him. “Why don’t you continue settling in while I make some calls? I’ll be back soon, I promise.” At the door, he turned and added. “We will go out to dine. I want tomorrow when we are having the housewarming party to be the first official cooking day in this house.” And he swept through the door, leaving it to click behind him.
Alone, Chizu shut her eyes and exhaled. Relax. That was what she should do. Relax and enjoy the blessings of the moment. She opened her eyes and looked around the room again. It was a fully furnished house in itself. It had its own bathroom, a sitting area which comprised of two exquisitely upholstered armchairs and a striped loveseat. Then there was a coffee table between the armchairs and a mini bar and refrigerator right beside the full-length windows. And right opposite their king-sized bed was a wall-mounted Plasma television.
A luxurious bedroom that was all theirs. She had never imagined that that would ever be her lot, to own a house that this magnificent. She should go tour her new kitchen again. Ifee was bound to take time with his calls and even if she wasn’t cooking anything inside it this evening, she’d at least familiarize herself with all the amazing appliances and kitchen equipment that Ifee had had delivered two days ago.
Excitement building again, Chizu walked across the patterned rug that covered half of the room to the door, opened it and slipped out. Humming, she turned and started down the long foyer that separated the bedrooms from other parts of the house and halted after just three steps, her heartbeat skidding involuntarily against her ribs.
He was standing at the opposite end of the foyer, just beside the closed door that connected into the living room and right after the open archway that led into the kitchen. He was dressed in the very same clothes he’d worn that last day. A blue-and-grey checked shorts with a tear just above the hem on the right leg and the polo shirt with one missing button.
“Jam.” Her heart thudded now and rang like disjointed musical notes in her ears.
He raised his head and then he started walking towards her, his eyes fixated on her face. They were hard, his eyes. The look in them was nothing like she’d even seen in them before. There was sorrow and there was fury, and then—there was hate.
“Jamuike.” Chizu gasped. She wanted to turn and bolt back into the bedroom. But she couldn’t move. She was rooted at that spot, and he was coming towards her with eyes that were burning with pure venom pinned on her.
At the middle of the foyer, he stopped, stretched forward his right hand and pointed his forefinger at her. “You. did. this. to me.” His small voice enunciated.
Chizu let out a piercing scream before collapsing to the floor.
Jamuike stared down at her crumpled body. Then he heard the running footsteps and the panicked scream of her name, and slowly, he turned. This was just the beginning.