He was gone no more. He was here, never really gone. He was back in her life; had been back for some time and now she’d accepted it, Chizu knew herself to be content once more.
Her son was back—for her.
She was ready; ready for what will soon be. Ready for, and has accepted, what none of them can put a stop to. Her phone had been buzzing, in its on-vibrate mode, nonstop since she left Nkem. She had instructed Nkiru to tell her that she had not come home, whilst she had the car hidden in the garage.
Nkem was not ready, and who would blame her, for what was about to happen. She would not accept, not now at least, what has been destined for her. She would want to stop it. Only it cannot be stopped. And if it could be, she, Chizu, would not want it so.
Her son was back in her life and she was at last content again. When she had not understood that this was meant to be, she had run from it and had fought against it. Now, when she had let go of every fight and had welcomed instead of rebuked what was to be, that contentment which had eluded her since he left, had returned and she was again at peace.
When Ifee entered their bedroom, he was surprised, pleasantly so, to find her dressed in fine clothes with a table set. His astonished eyes searched her face and found happiness there.
“Welcome home.” Chizu smiled brilliantly at him. “I have been waiting for you.”
“This looks inviting.” Ifee glanced from her radiant smile to the assorted dishes. “Are we celebrating something then?”
“I thought we should dine as a family.” Chizu said. Their son, after all, was here with them.
“That is a nice thought.” Ifee approved with a nod and a beam. “Give me a minute then. This would require something more relaxing.”
He changed from his French suit, replaced it with a simple T-shirt and cotton slacks.
“This is really nice.” He repeated as he joined her on the table. “I am glad you are learning to enjoy the good things life has blessed us with, Chizu.”
“It is life that has blessed us, isn’t it?” Chizu served his food and sat down to plate her own. “Sometimes, I think that we stole the blessings from where we should not have.” She raised her eyes to his and smiled at his sudden wariness. “But maybe I was wrong in my thinking. Today, in any case, I feel blessed. This very evening, everything would be right once more.”
Ifee nodded and briefly stared at her. Now that he looked closely, he could feel that strange aura about her. She was too… relaxed. There was tranquillity in her that had stopped being there since—since Jamuike died.
“So, did something happen today to bring about this?” He asked, hiding his cautiousness behind a smile.
“Yes, something did happen.” He was wary and suspicious now. Chizu noted it and considered it wise of him. Ignorance never paid. “Do you like the chicken? I grilled it myself.”
“It tastes wonderful.” Ifee was no longer conscious of its taste though. His senses had become alert and he could feel him. He was here. And if he was, then Chizu must know of it. “So what special thing happened today?” He eyed her unperturbed expression warily.
“I have him back with me.”
“Him?” Fear trickled. “Who?”
Chizu glanced up. “Jamuike.” She picked her wineglass and drank generously. “He is back with me—with us. Of course, he has been back for many weeks now but it is today that I finally understood it and welcomed him.” She smiled serenely at him. “I am going with him, Ifee.”
“Stop it!” His fork clattered out of his jittery fingers as Ifee snapped the rebuff. “Why do you keep doing this, Chizu? Why are you intent on ruining our happiness?”
“Is it I then who ruined our happiness?” Chizu cocked her head to one side and regarded him thoughtfully. “I think not. It was you, Ifee, you who would not be content and patient and who did not think the price was too high to pay for what our insatiable greed wanted. Even when you still had your job, you complained and decried our poverty. You looked at others and longed for what they had.”
“And was that wrong, to have ambition?” Ifee snapped.
“No, it was not wrong. I too was ambitious. I too wanted what others had, and more. Much more.” She lifted the bottle of wine and refilled her glass.
The serenity with which she did, frustrated Ifee. “What would you have had me do, left us to continue to live in abject poverty, barely capable of eating one good meal a day?”
She drank her wine, set down her glass before she looked at him. He was still not seeing it. He was still not willing to accept it—this evil they had done. “I would rather you… we had patiently worked hard, like all good parents did, for what our inordinate ambition wanted. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? Our ambition was inordinate. It wasn’t just ambition. It was greed. It was covetousness. It was evil.” She paused to catch her breath. “It was evil what we did to our son, Ifee. We killed our own son. I let you take him to Onwa and there,” Chizu shook her head as her eyes filled. “There, you did what you did and he was not the same anymore. Not the same until he died. We, you and I, killed him. We are murderers.”
“Stop it!” Ifee launched to his feet. “We didn’t murder him. We did what we had to do to end our miserable existence. Damn it, Chizu, did you consider the misery we were living in life?”
“At least we lived with our consciences clear and our souls at peace with God.” Chizu stared sorrowfully at him. “Don’t you know that we are now condemned by God, Ifee? Do you not care? You think because our tithe runs in millions and our donations in church double that, that we have bought God’s mercy over? God cannot deceive nor be deceived, Ifee. He knows what we have done and he judges us for it. Condemnation is upon us, Ifeanacho.”
“Nothing is upon us except that you are losing your mind!” Ifee flung at her. “Why can you not be like other wives? Why can you not appreciate the sacrifice I had to make for us?” He kicked the foot of a chair and sent it staggering forward. “You think it was easy for me to take his life? He was my only son, Chizu. He was my only child. It broke my heart to wound a hair on his head. But what other choice did I have?”
“The choice to preserve his life and not use him for money ritual! That was the choice we had.” Chizu cried. “His life should not have been the price for us to get out of poverty. We should have protected him, not killed him.”
“I did the only thing I knew I could do. I made the utmost sacrifice and gave up the one thing that bore my name. He was my son, Chizu. My blood. I just did what I had to do.” Frustrated and tormented by the eerie presence he continued to feel, Ifee grabbed his car key and stormed towards the door. At the threshold, he spun around. “If we are going to continue living together as husband and wife, Chizu, you have to let this grief go and accept what is now our present life. I can’t go on living with a woman who blames me for the sacrifices I made for us.”
Chizu winced at the slam of the door. “He is going to Onwa.” She said and cast a glance behind her.
Jamuike came out of the shadows. He stared at her. There was no anger, no judgment in his eyes anymore. Only sadness.
Chizu saw the well of grief and it broke her heart. She had done this to her son. “I should have protected you from him. From them. That is what a mother does, protect her child. But I was just so tired. Tired of scrimping. Tired of scraping by. Tired of making do. Tired of wanting more and having nothing. Absolutely nothing.” She blinked and her tears coursed down her cheeks. “But you should not have been the price. Your life should not have been stolen from you and sacrificed by us. You deserved to live your life in full and fulfil your destiny. I failed you.”
“I loved you more.” Jamuike said. His small voice was loaded with grief. “Though I was little, even then I knew I loved you more than I did him. More than I loved anyone else. And I felt that you loved me that way too—more than he did. More than all others.”
“I did. You were my priceless jewel, my greatest joy.” Chizu rose, walked to him and lowered to her knees before him. “I loved you so much. I truly did. You made me so happy, so proud. I wanted to give you everything. To give you the world. But I could not. We could not, your father and I. Then I became exhausted; drained from having to hear you ask for something, something as simple as biscuit and I won’t be able to give it to you. When he came… Ifee, when he came to me and started talking about how all of that would come to an end and how it would only cost us very little, I refused to think. In my heart, I knew what he was about to do but I refused to think about it. Then you died and—and a hole grew in my heart and it just refused to be filled. I loved you but my mother’s love was too weak, too negligent and self-centred.”
“I looked to you to save me.” Jamuike dropped down beside her. But he did not touch her. He wouldn’t have been able to even if he had tried. “When I was dying, I wanted you to save me. But it was too late then.”
“I should have saved you before he took you to Onwa. I should have saved you before it was too late.” If only she could hold him. If only she could give him back his life. “I would give my life for you now if I could. I would exchange places with you if that would bring joy again into your eyes. I am sorry.” She opened her hand. Then fisted it and pressed it against her bosom. “I am so sorry, Jamuike. I am sorry I failed you as a mother. Forgive me. Forgive us.”
Jamuike felt it, the release of the shackle that held him bound, even before he said the words. “It’s all right, mummy. It’s all right. I forgive you. I forgive him too… for your sake.”
The burden fell off. Jamuike felt each one lose its fetter and fall away. The grief, the pain, the bitterness—the burden of un-forgiveness; they all slithered away. He was free. There was no burden any longer. There was nothing but—peace and joy.
He glanced up, and seeing it, staggered to his feet. There was no ceiling anymore, just the sheet of white clouds and through the white firmament, the luminous beam of light descended.
“It is time. I am going, mummy.” He looked at his mother and his eyes shone with joy. “I am going to be with the One who dwells in the light.”
Chizu stared at him, awed. He looked resplendent, like a stream of dazzling bright light was raining down on him. And she knew in her heart. “Jamuike!” She whispered.
But his eyes have turned away again and before her eyes, he faded away and was no more.
It was over. He was gone. Gone this time to rest in peace. She had lost him again. Lost him now forevermore. Chizu got up. She raised her eyes to where the new chandelier hung, then sighed as she lowered her gaze again. He had forgiven her; forgiven Ifee too.
She walked to her dresser, pulled open its top drawer and took out the little plastic bottle. She stared at it. She felt so empty. There was no fear anymore. There was no guilt. There was no contentment either. There was only emptiness. Emptiness like when she first lost him. She was like a hollow, an empty and barren lump of clay.
She went back to the table, opened the plastic bottle and emptied all the tablets into her half-full glass of wine. He had forgiven her. But she could never forgive herself. Chizu raised the glass and drank until it was empty. Then she set it down and lowered to the floor, she stretched on her side and closed her eyes. At least, he was now at peace. She would be too—in her own way.
When the last breath gave away, the one clad in black robe, known as the Angel of Judgment and of Death turned and walked away.
He had another to wait on.