It didn’t ever end. The passage of time did not make it any less intense than the pain had been the first day. The sense of loss wouldn’t go away. The heaviness that made the heart feel like a boulder crushing her ribs didn’t diminish. And the guilt—the guilt ate at her like the gnawing bites of carpenter ants.
A mother should protect her child, shield him—save him from all harm. What had she done? Nothing. She had done nothing. She had folded her arms, affirmed herself helpless, done nothing—and now her son was gone. Dead. Chizu bent over, clutched her hands into her sides and rocked forward and backward on the couch.
Ifee entered the living room that lacked even the barest lustre to earn that name, saw her, and his stomach walls clenched like a fist. The temptation to retreat, to let her be, tugged. But he could not continue to let her drown in her grief, and expand this rift between them that had started growing from the day they buried their son.
“Chizu.” He called, walked forward and halted hesitantly beside her. “I—I am just coming from Onwa’s house. He said that very soon something big will come up for me. He gave me this meanwhile.” He slid out the bundle of naira notes. “A hundred thousand.” It wasn’t where he’d wanted to begin. His confusion derailed his thoughts.
Chizu raised her head and her body. Blinked to clear her blurred vision and stared at the money in his hand. “He gave you one hundred thousand.” She flicked up her eyes to hold his. “Good for you. That will at least put food in our stomach for weeks to come and even new clothes on our backs if we are prudent.”
Ifee dropped his hand. Frustration twisted his insides. “What do you want from me, Chizu?”
“Nothing.” She dropped her eyes. Stared blindly at the tattered cover over the arm of the couch. “I want nothing.” What she wanted, she could no longer have.
“You can’t go on like this, Chizu.” Helplessness ticked up the frustration. “You can’t keep crying and tormenting yourself like this. It is not healthy. Not good for you—or us.”
“What will you have me do?” She spun her gaze around, glared at him with heated eyes. “Pretend I didn’t lose my son?”
“Let it go!” Ifee howled, tossed the money down on the peeled off wood table. “It’s been three months! It is time to begin accepting things for what they are now. He is gone, Chizu.”
“Gone.” Tears brimmed to the surface. “He is gone, and never to return. It is hard to accept, Ifee. Very hard.” She hadn’t known it would be this hard. No one ever told you losing your son would be this hard to live with.
“It is hard because you are carrying the burden alone. You won’t let me in. You have pushed me away.” She’s been distant and it was tearing at him. Ifee stooped beside her. “We can comfort each other. We can grieve together; lessen each other’s pain.”
“Nothing can lessen the pain, Ifee. Nothing.”
“It will go away. Time heals all wounds.” He quoted. Hesitated, before he touched her. “I know how you feel, Chizu. I loved him too.”
Ifee stared at her, stricken. His hand went limp and dropped off her. “You would ask me that, Chizutere?”
She turned away from the hurt in his eyes. Maybe her heart was becoming hard. Maybe she was hardening it against him—which wasn’t fair. “I didn’t mean to. Sorry. Its—it’s just that I can’t bear it. The hole—” she struck the place beneath her left breast. “The hole inside here won’t go away. It is like a hollow that cannot be filled.”
“Let me fill it.” He slid his hand over hers; felt the beating of her heart. “Let us try again. Another child would bring us healing. Replace the one we’ve lost.”
“No!” She wrenched free; sprang to her feet. “Nothing can replace him. Nothing and no one.” She bent and grabbed the purse beside the wad of bills.
“Where are you going, Chizu?” Ifee asked, staring helplessly after her as she ran for the door.
“To see Nkem.” And she dashed out the door.
Ifee felt the wetness on his cheeks and blinked. He exhaled, stared down at the money Onwa had assured him would be the very least he’d soon be making and turned away from it after a moment. This was a phase. They will soon overcome it. The future that was coming fast towards them will help them overcome it.
He turned again, picked the money and walked into their bedroom.
THE heavy knock on the door gave Nkem a start. The sight of Chizu as she came in a moment later turned the startle into a tug of guilt. She set down the highball glass in her hand and lurched to her feet.
“Chizu, you are here.” She said unnecessarily, and then brushed her palms against the skirt of her suit; the jacket of which she had discarded earlier. “What—are you all right?”
Chizu lowered into the faux leather chair. “You’re celebrating.” She eyed the bottle of wine and two glasses. One, half-full. “Something happened?”
“Ah…” Nkem took her seat again. “Yes, something’s happened. I was actually celebrating with Ogonna. She only left minutes before you came in.” She smiled, a trifle nervously as she met her sister’s inquiring stare. “I got the appointment. I’m just coming back from the government house. It’s not been announced yet; but it’s a done deal.”
“My goodness, but that is good news!” Chizu rose, hurried to her side and gave her a warm hug. “I am so happy for you, Nkem. So my sister is now a Special Assistant to the Governor? Wow!” She sat down beside her on the sofa. “I can’t believe that it actually happened. We worried about the much bureaucracy that accompanies these things. The lobbying; behind the curtain rigmaroles. We didn’t think you stood a chance—not against the sharks we have as politicians. And now it’s happened. Right out of the blue practically.”
“I—I made a seed offering in church.” Her conscience tugged at the lie. Nkem struggled with it. “I am sorry. I was going to tell you.”
“About the seed?” Chizu laughed and waved off the apology. “That is between you and God. In any case, I am happy that you did. Now you are reaping the fruit of the seed you sowed.”
She was, wasn’t she? But what was really the seed she had sown to make this appointment happen? Was it worth it? Nkem pushed against the prodding thoughts. They haunted her so. Have been haunting her since Jamuike died.
“Anyway, let’s leave that for a moment. How are you, Chizu?” She gently touched her sister’s face. Her cheekbones were beginning to jut out. “You’re looking so lean. Are you still grieving so much?”
The question knocked aside the momentary joy brought on by momentary forgetfulness. “I can’t seem to stop, Nkem. I try so hard to stop thinking about him, but I can’t stop.” Her eyed filled with tears. “How can I forget my son, Nkem? Is it even possible?”
“No, it’s not possible to forget him. But it is possible to stop seeing him as something you lost instead of a gift you were blessed with for a short while.” Nkem wiped off her tears. “Chizu, remember his laughter, his smiles, his high-pitched voice and his little pranks. Remember the beautiful moments you had with him. Remember them as blessings and not as losses. He would want you to be happy. Remember how he always used to say—‘mummy, you’re not smiling oh’? He would want you to smile; to always think of him with a smile on your face.”
Would he? Chizu strongly doubted it. “I can’t smile. Or laugh. When I eat, it is like I am about to choke. And Ifee—” she shook her head. “I can’t bear for him to touch me. We haven’t met since Jam died.”
“Three months? Oh no, Chizu, that is too long for a man to stay without a woman.” Nkem squeezed her hand. “You don’t want him turning to another woman, do you?”
“I don’t care if he does, Nkem. He can go ahead.”
“Don’t talk nonsense!” Nkem rebuffed. “You don’t want to lose your husband along with your son. You don’t, Chizu.” Nkem sighed. “Let him close, Chizu. Allow him back into your arms. Love can be a source of healing for you two. Besides, maybe if you took in again, you will begin to feel the loss of Jam less, and happier once more. A child is always a new beginning.”
Would it ever be for her, for them? “I can have ten children, Nkem, and still not forget Jam.” Chizu said, her smile faint and sad.
Her sister couldn’t understand. How could she? She still had her three children with her. She had never had to lose any of them. Not for any reason.
IN that other universe, one covered by a deep cast of firmament, he mounted the clouds, one stair appearing after the other as he climbed. The ones he was stepping out of disappearing at the punt of his foot.
She watched him at his play with eyes shadowed by worry. “It’s been three months and you have done nothing. You watch them every single day and night; yet you still do nothing. What are you waiting for?
He stopped the kick of his foot and turned. “I am waiting for the manifestation.”
“Manifestation?” She frowned, rolled up a ball of cloud and sat on it, swaying gently, her robe sweeping against white mist. “Of what?”
“Of the thing they did—with my life.” He looked down, into the crevice that formed upon the bank of white clouds, saw the face that had come out of the heavy shadow and his fury ignited. “Time will reveal all things. When it does, I will act.”
“But she is still so overwhelmed by grief.” The sorrow from the woman below continued to touch her. “Maybe she was helpless as she said.”
“She could have saved me! She chose not to.” The words burst out of his mouth like embers of fire and shot into flakes of cloud, shattering them.
The force of anger made her wince involuntarily. “Jamuike.” She called him by the name that he was still bound—and may be bound for all eternity. “Are you certain about this? Maybe you misunderstood. Maybe what you saw—what I too saw from your vision—had a different interpretation. We are not all-knowing. Not all-seeing.”
“I knew even before I saw, and heard.” Suddenly sad, his robed shoulders sagged. “I wish I were wrong. But I am not. And because I am not, they must pay. Tobi, they must pay.”
CHIZU stumbled out of sleep, dripping sweat as she stared into the pitch darkness. The room was cold. Icy cold despite the heat on her body.
“Jamuike!” She whispered and trembled as a tear slid down her cheek.