Belinda was restless.
She wanted to leave; was sorely tempted to walk through the open door where the curtain was billowing back and forward in tune with the cool, evening breeze. But she didn’t, couldn’t.
Stephen was once again in the kitchen. Why he thought that preparing her homemade meals made up for hardly ever taking her out like every good boyfriend did was beyond her imagination. She twisted her lips and hissed under her breath, stingy man.
The frown already creasing her forehead deepened. Well, he wasn’t stingy per se. No, he wasn’t stingy; he was just too poor for her comfort. She was a young woman for heaven’s sake. She adjusted her body on the polyester covered couch and grimaced, everyone had leather-covered sofa sets in their sitting room these days, but Stephen still used these cheap coverings… and it wasn’t even a sofa set, just a miserable couch in his one bedroom apartment.
She hissed again, this time a little louder. What was she doing with this man for heaven’s sake, eh? What girl in her right mind still dated civil servants in this day and age? Has she been bewitched? Or was she stupid?
She pushed up from the sofa and sauntered over to the half-length mirror hanging on the wall beside the bed. She craned her neck from side to side as she surveyed her image. Her fair complexion shone and glowed, clothed in the sleeveless silk top and blue jeans skirt. Her brunette coloured weaves waved down her back forming ringlets at the tips. She’d brushed them back to showcase the oval beauty of her face. She reached up her middle finger and touched it tentatively to her nose, admiring the fact that it was pointed like that of oyibo people and that her cupid-shaped mouth was its usual glossy light brown and temptingly kissable roundness.
Oh yes, she was a beautiful young woman, so what was she doing with a man whose prospects were as depressing as the sun during the dry season, eh?
At the clattering sounds of plates and spoons, she sighed and turned from the mirror, swaying back to the sofa. No doubt, he was done with his cooking.
In a matter of minutes, the curtain was elbowed aside and Stephen strode inside, a rectangular plastic tray in hand with two plates of steaming hot rice and equally steaming hot stew.
“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long, sweetheart.” He said, smiling as he bent over to lay the tray on the only stool in the room.
Belinda eyed his slightly sweating form. He was muscularly built but it wasn’t from frequenting a gym. Oh no, his muscled frame was as a result of his years visiting the farm and to think he still owned one even now. Did the fact that he worked in the Ministry of Agriculture mean he must own a farm?
“Well, you took your precious time preparing a simple rice and stew.” She replied, pouting.
“Oh pardon me, sweets. I actually didn’t think I took that long since I used my two stoves this time.” Stephen leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I bought a new stove yesterday so as to make cooking faster.” He informed her beaming proudly.
Belinda shifted away from his body. “You bought another kerosene stove? Steve, people are buying electric cookers and gas cookers and you are still buying kerosene stove?”
Stephen grinned. “People are buying what they can afford to buy and I bought what I can afford to buy. Come on, sweets, life is not a competition, you know.” He took her hand and held it. “All fingers are not equal and besides, every flower has its own season for blooming.”
She snatched her hand from his hold. “Every flower has its own season for blooming.” She mimicked before letting out a hiss. “That is the proverb of the lazy man, Steve. It is the slogan of a man who sits and watches while his mates are out there working in oil companies and earning millions yearly.”
“I am not a lazy man, Lyn, and you know it.” Stephen said quietly. “I have a job…”
“A civil service job where you are paid a miserable fifty-five thousand Naira monthly?” Belinda hissed again and turned away. “And you call that a job?”
“It is a job, Lyn.” Stephen retorted sharply. “And the salary might seem meagre to you right now but I am surviving on it and with my farming and a little business here and there, I know we can make a headway together.”
She spun around to face him. “We? As in you—and me?” She let out a derisive laugh. “Are you daydreaming, Steve?”
Stephen eyed her with a puzzled expression. “Of course, I’m not daydreaming. I love you and I want to marry you. As a matter of fact, I think I should ask my people to come and see your people, so we can begin preparations for our traditional marriage.”
Truly amused, Belinda threw back her head and laughed heartily. She laughed so hard that a tear slipped from her eyes. “Oh, Steve, you are such a comedian.” She said, holding her sides to stop her mirth. “Your people meet my people on what salary—this your miserable fifty-five thousand naira and one plot farmland?” She hissed and shook her head. “You must be a joker or as I said earlier, a daydreamer. Please allow me to eat jor and stop wishing for the moon.”
She picked a plate of food from the tray and a spoon. “And is it this your scombia fish and kpomo stew that you’ll be feeding me and my children if I marry you, eh?” She laughed again and made a humph before scooping up a spoonful of rice and stew.
Stephen sat shell-shocked watching her. “Belinda, what do you mean that I must be a daydreamer? Are you telling me I am not good enough for you to marry but only for dating?”
She swallowed the food in her mouth and spooned another. The stew tasted so good. That was the nicest thing about Stephen, he was such a great cook. He might not always use beef or even chicken or turkey meat, but his food was always scrumptious.
“Eat your food, Steve. Or else when I’m through with mine, I’ll face your own o.” She said teasingly, giving him a wink. “Relax jor, you take things too seriously.”
“So that was a joke, eh?”
Again she gave him that teasing wink. “Relax your mind, Steve. I’m still here, am I not?”
After eyeing her for a long moment, Stephen stretched forward a hand and picked his own plate of food. And they ate their meal in a friendly note, talking and laughing as all marriage-talk was forgotten.
It was ten minutes before midnight and he still wasn’t back. This wasn’t the first time he was coming home late, neither was it the second nor the third time. Late returns from his office was an every other day affair.
Belinda let go of the curtain and moved away from the window. She trudged over to the L-shaped leather sofa and dropped tiredly into it. They’ve been married five months now and from the very moment they’d returned from their Dubai honeymoon trip, this had become her way of life—waiting all hours for her husband to come home.
But he hadn’t been this way when he courted her. He had been all-attention and so loving then. He had lavished her with gifts and taken her to places she’d only dreamed of ever going. He’d treated her like a queen and spoilt her rotten with anything money can buy.
Reuben was a business man and owned a multimillion naira oil and gas company. He’d asked her to leave her teaching job just before the wedding and she’d gladly done so. What woman needed to work when her husband was a millionaire she’d told her family and friends when they’d counselled her to keep her job. Now, she would give anything to have that meagre paying job—at least it would be a way of leaving this prison she’d once called a mansion.
Belinda stared blankly at the program showing on the cable network television. This was what she’d wanted, wasn’t it? A man who could give her anything and everything. A man who could afford to buy her the latest model of car as he had done when he’d gifted her with the 2014 Range Rover Sports SUV on their wedding day.
She’d felt like a queen then. She’d snubbed her friends who didn’t have such wealthy husbands and boyfriends and had even turned away some of her poorer distant relatives… but that had been at Reuben’s insistence, which she hadn’t minded then.
But oh, what she would give to be surrounded by her family and loved ones. She would give anything to have them visit her anytime they wanted, not quarterly as instructed by Reuben. She was so lonely, always home on her own, with only the gateman and housekeeper as companion.
The blasting sound of his car horn jolted her out of her reverie. She jumped up from the sofa, rushed to the glass-covered centre table, retrieved the open paper and hastened to the door. She had it open even before he rang the doorbell.
“Welcome back, honey.” She’d stopped complaining and reprimanding him for his lateness after he’d strictly warned her never again to do so two months ago. “How was your day? Let me take your briefcase.”
Reuben grunted and handed over the leather briefcase. He never really responded to her greetings, only grunted or made sighing sounds.
“Your food is on the table—fried rice and chicken.” She said, racing after him as he made directly for the bedroom.
“I’m not hungry.” He growled, swinging open the door and marching inside.
She followed him inside, walked to his oak wood desk and set down the briefcase. “Oh. Should I prepare something else for you then? I can make you a quick coleslaw or pepper soup if you prefer.” She stuttered, shifting uncomfortably on her feet.
“I said I’m not hungry.” He bellowed, spinning around to glare at her. “And I’ll prefer to sleep alone tonight.” He tossed out, jerking off the jacket of his dark grey suit.
Her heart sank. This has become the latest trend—sleeping alone in their bedroom while she slept in the guest room. “Erm, okay.” She blinked away the tears that threatened, not willing to argue. “I have something to show you though.” She stretched forward the paper. “I went to the hospital today and…”
“If you are sick or something, see the family doctor about it and stop making mountains out of molehills.” Reuben snappishly cut her off. “Now leave me to catch some sleep, it’s been a long day for me at the office. Not all of us get to idle about at home doing nothing but watch movies and eat.”
The tears stung and spilled. She wanted to scream and remind him that he was the one who’d asked her to leave her job, but when she remembered she’d willingly done so, she swallowed her anger and trudged out of the room.
In the guest room, she lay on the bed, still fully clothed, the pregnancy report in her hand. She’d been so excited when the doctor had told her she was six weeks pregnant and she’d thought… hoped that he would be too. Instead, he hadn’t even cared to listen to her. Hadn’t even cared to know if she was ill or not. Hadn’t even cared to eat the food she’d slaved over the cooker to prepare.
Her mind trailed, as it usually did these days, to the time when men had tumbled over themselves to get her attention. She thought of the hours Stephen always spent in the kitchen preparing delicious meals for her every time she visited him. She remembered how he always pampered her with love and respect and gentle words. He never shouted on her or treated her thoughtlessly. Oh, if only she’d overcome her greed and married him instead of dumping him for Reuben. If only she’d made a better choice—a wiser choice.
“Na my choice.” She mumbled to herself, remembering how her grandmother used to love singing Nico Mbarga’s song of same title.
Oh yes, this was her choice and there was nothing more she could do about it.