My mouth went the sore sort of dry, my heart transmuted into a kick drum, my nerves became the pedal, and my anxiety was the large foot that stomped hard as I watched the policeman stride steadily towards me. Several beads of sweat had broken out on my temples, at my back, under my armpit, making me feel itchy. My lips began to move rapidly in all the languages I knew how to pray in, and it was only when the beefcake of a police officer strode past me, that I felt slightly relieved, my lungs untangling. Those lungs of mine had been holding hands like a newlywed couple in an airplane that was about to crash.
I heaved a deep sigh, and looked over my shoulder at the police officer who kept on moving away from me until he took his left into an alleyway. I pulled in lungfuls of the wet air, and pushed the lump that had formed in my throat down. My heartbeat still had some pace in it, but I ignored it, and began to walk on my weak legs. They seemed too frightened to carry me.
This fright for police officers began six months ago, the time I still had myself, the time I still had Jude, or so I believed. If only things were a little bit different, Jude wouldn’t be so dead now, I would probably be married to him now, I would… I would… but here I am, dying every time I am yards under the same sky as a police officer, or any other officer in uniform.
I was 32 years old when I met Jude. I was 32 years old when my mother’s call always ended with questions about her son-in-law, comments about how I am both son and daughter to her, the only jewel God had given her, and how my father would have hated to find that I was still single at this age if he were still alive. I was 32 years old when I thought I could settle for less. I was 32 years old when I gave Jude a chance.
I hated impromptu travels, but my mother was so insistent that I come back home to Enugu and see her. It was a weekend ablaze with the heat of June, but my mother assured me that if I didn’t make it back at that time to see her, I would as well consider her dead. So, I took the next bus to Enugu from Port-Harcourt where I lived, where I worked with an Insurance Agency, earning my keep, not in the least bothered about my relationship status. I was proudly single and boldly comfortable. But society says: “A woman is no woman without a man.”
When I paid my mother a visit, she began to tell me of all the ladies whom I knew when they were just girls, but were now living in their husbands’ houses, reminded me that I was 32 years old and that it was only a matter of time before I would be useless as a woman. She said that the last son of the head of her kinsmen (who was her next door neighbor) had just come back from Switzerland and that he was single just as I am, flashing me one of those winks that made it all worse. I threatened to go on with the rest of my life hating my mother if she didn’t drop this rather ungainful talk about singleness, but she wouldn’t budge.
That evening, we went over to the bloke for whom my mother had made me demand a sabbatical from my workplace earlier than my stated schedule. But I found that Jude was no ordinary man. There was this air of persuasive manliness that surrounded him. In his voice, you could hear the depth of his intelligence. You could tell how much of chivalry he had in him in the manner he conducted himself, ignoring his father’s and my mother’s cheeky comments about how much of a good match the both of us were. He kept on repeating to them that they were in no position to match-make us, not now, not ever. And I truly appreciated that, and I truly loved that, and I truly loved him.
As we sat over dinner, my mother, Jude’s father (a widower), Jude and myself, you could already tell what a happy family the future was preparing us to become. We had exchanged numbers without letting our parents know, and I went on pretending to my mother that Jude hadn’t actually made an impression on me. However, in reality, I had late-nights I couldn’t sleep, not because I had an burdened heart, but because I was overjoyed, staying wide awake, texting Jude and having him text back. Our love grew in the care of the internet, and it soon became an addiction for me.
Three months later, Imoved in with him in Lagos. We no longer played hide and seek with our parents. We had come out plain, telling both of our parents that we were now sure we wanted to spend our lives together. It was three months of relationship when Jude lifted a hand on me the first time, and it was not to make love to me, but to make me cry. Jude hit me.
When I explained it to my best friend, Obiajuru, she had told me how lucky I was to have a man, how she would be turning 35 years old in the next month and still hadn’t a man who was making plans to make her his yet, and how I should persevere and make my relationship work. She said men weren’t easy to come by these days. So, I held on and began to endure. Perhaps, Jude was testing just how much I could endure, so he hit me more for the most lame of reasons — why I had liked a Facebook post about gender equity, why I had smiled while I read a text message from a male friend whom I had worked with in the insurance firm in Port Harcourt, why I had told my mother that I wasn’t entirely happy. He hit me for these crippled reasons.
Five months into the relationship, I had become a body of burden, bearing all of Jude’s insecurities, but I had read somewhere that women should learn to understand what their men needed. So, I was ready to give Jude a chance. After all, he was always bending his knees after hitting me, and pleading, and swearing by his ancestors that he would change.
But on this wet afternoon, I didn’t wanr to be hit. So, when he went on raging, I began to run out of the room, and he coursed after me. I had had enough, I kept repeating to myself as I fled for dear life. He was coming after me with a belt. That was what he normally used. Sometimes, when he was done with whipping me downstairs, he would drag me upstairs, and give me a whipping there too. But this afternoon, with the rain pelting down like some deity was unjustifiably offended, I didn’t feel like taking even one more of his beating, so I fled, and made for the stairs. I wanted to run out of the house, to run into the rain, and be cleansed, and be free.
But Jude caught up with me just at the top landing of the stairs. I was almost free. Just a couple of steps down and I would have been free, but he pulled me by the hair, and while I struggled—so great a struggle: scratching, biting, shoving—he missed his footing, and fell down the stairs. A soft moan came from him as he breathed his last. Those big, black eyes of his were wide open as he lay in a heap of death. I had killed a man. At once, I fled out of the house, leaving my phone, my clothes, my life, my everything.
I ran into the rain as fast as I could. Where I was running to, I couldn’t tell. I hadn’t heard from my mother or my best friend. I have been in hiding since then, waiting for the news that somehow the police would call it suicide, but I knew better than to show myself. I had my belongings in that house, it would only be a matter of time before they get to me. Since then, the sight of a police man scares the wits out of me. But I would be glad if that is all I have to care about. There is also this restless phantom following me about. The phantom has big black eyes, and holds a belt in his hands. I am neither beauty nor the beast. I am the haunted house.
Johnson Onyedikachi is a teenage Nigerian creative writer who has unpublished manuscripts of poetry and plays. He recently picked interest in crime fiction and in August 2019, enrolled in an online course where he gained proficiency in article/journal writing including the use of referencing formats (MLA and APA style). He wrote in via email@example.com