I drove in from work all fagged out. I had a hard day at work and what was swirling through my mind was the thought of a steaming bath followed by a hot meal. The climax of the day would be for me to stretch my weary bones for a good night’s sleep.
A glance at the timepiece on the dashboard revealed that it was already 6 PM. The last bit of sun was well across the zenith and was hanging low in the western sky. I closed late from work because I had a lot to do at work to meet several datelines.
I parked where I usually park my car in the small but lovely compound. It was a beautiful home, perfectly designed to suit my taste. I lived alone and thoroughly enjoyed my privacy — I didn’t even have a gateman. It was one of the highbrow areas in Jos. A serene environment where you barely know your next-door neigbour and nobody cared about anyone’s business.
I would have gotten a gateman, but I felt there was no need since I was hardly at home. I left home at 7:30 AM and returned at 5:00 PM from Mondays to Fridays. I work as the Internal Auditor of a private electricity distribution company. My company was the only private company that generated and distributed electricity in Nigeria.
I loved my job. My monthly take-home pay was good and could afford me the luxuries of life. I lived in a two-bedroom, tastily furnished, self-contained. Life was good, and I tried as much as possible not to deny myself anything my money could buy.
I picked my bag from the passenger seat where it sat comfortably, like an over-pampered baby, and made way into the house. I flicked on the bulbs from the light switch that was close to the door and made to drop my bag on the dining table. My plan was to pick the rice from the freezer and put it in the microwave for it to warm before I finished bathing.
Just then, something caught my attention. “No, it can’t be,” I muttered to myself when my gaze fell on the bloodstained knife sitting menacingly on the dining table as though daring me. I froze as the blood drained from my face. My jaw went slack as I blinked several times in surprise. I would have screamed then if my throat had not closed over with fear. Nausea born of raw fear racked me, and like a flash of lightning, I bolted out of the door, still holding my bag.
I didn’t know what to do. It felt as if the knife would spring to life and go for my heart. How could such a knife appear on my dining table? I found the door securely locked when I came in from work. Nobody would have dropped the knife without entering through the door. Unless if one of my windows was broken, which I doubted.
In that instant, the piece fell together like a puzzle.
I knew who must have done that. His image darted into my mind’s eyes. My heart wrenched in my chest, wringing out every bit of affection I had ever felt for Boma, my fiancé. He was the prime suspect. He had my spare keys, and I was yet to change the lock since the last time I walked him out of my house and my life.
I couldn’t drive with the way my emotions had gone south; I was so muddled and couldn’t think straight, but I remembered there was a police station two streets away. My paranoia won’t let me think of boarding a taxi to the police station, as every face I saw was Boma holding a knife dripping blood.
Why would Boma do such a thing? I thought as I walk clutching my bag as though my life depended on it. Luckily, I was not wearing my usual 6-inch pumps. I had worn flat-heeled sandals to work that day. As if I had a premonition of what was skulking in the shadows.
What crime did I commit by dating him? Or did I commit any crime by deciding that I would not date an ex-cultist and an ex-convict? I just didn’t feel safe with him that was the reason I ended things before it went too far. Now, look at what I had gotten myself into. He had dropped a bloodstained knife on my dining table, a less-than-subtle message that he was going to kill me. I could not even bring myself to imagine where he got the blood from.
I walked in the direction of the police station. It was all I could do to put a lid on the emotions I was experiencing at that moment. The street was calm, a complete contrast to the raging storm I felt in my heart.
Boma and I met when I went to Onigbinde stores on Ahmadu Bello Way, in Jos the Plateau State capital, one Saturday morning to stock up my depleting groceries. I was standing in the queue to pay for my purchase when I noticed the guy right in front of me. What caught my attention was his diction and good command of the English Language. I felt something warmed my core and bloomed as I watched the exchange between the guy and the cashier.
It was not the usual tall, dark, handsome with a broad chest kind of attraction. He was of average built and there was neither a broad chest nor a wide shoulder. He looked like the regular guy on the street, and there was nothing spectacular about his looks.
He paid and left. I made my payment and left, too. I was in my car and was about to reverse when I noticed someone waving for me to wait. My heart flipped several times when I discovered, by a sheer stroke of serendipity, Mr. English was waving and walking towards my car.
He walked up to the car and introduced himself. “Hi, I am Boma. I noticed you on the aisle when you were getting some spices,” he said as a smile crept to his not too handsome face.
“Oh, I didn’t even notice you,” I said.
“What’s your name and what is a gorgeous princess doing shopping by herself on a Saturday morning?”
I blushed. “I am Patricia. I love shopping. It’s therapeutic for me,”
“Nice. I also love shopping. I stay at Bukuru. Please, can I have your number? I will love to talk to you again.”
I hesitated for a split second — so he won’t know that I had already wished he would ask for my number — and gave him my number.
I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt as I drove home.
He called to know if I had gotten home safely. The more I heard his voice, the more I fell for him. I loved hearing his magical voice on the phone. Boma had the voice that could calm every raging storm in me.
As days peacefully slipping by morphed into weeks and weeks into months, Boma and I grew inseparable. We were like two peas in the same pods. We became each other’s addiction and felt that we were made for each other.
After close to a year of dating, Boma took me to meet his family on a rainy Sunday afternoon. His mother, father, and younger sister, Agnes loved and accepted me immediately. The feeling was mutual. They were ready to meet my family for the marriage rite.
I offered to help his younger sister prepare lunch in the kitchen. While we were at it, she said, “We didn’t believe Boma was going to get a woman that would love him despite his past and all.”
What past? I almost blurted out before I bit my tongue. I knew she would feel bad if she got to know that her brother never told me about any past that would have been a barrier to my acceptance to marry him.
I decided to play my cards well. “That is what love can do,” I said while trying to fake a smile and not betray the fact that she had just dropped a bombshell. One that could shatter the relationship.
“But you know Boma thought I could never love him until I told him that his past was his past and I didn’t care.” I lied smoothly. I hoped my words would make her reveal whatever past she was talking about.
Thankfully, she did. “You must be a brave woman marrying an ex-cultist and ex-convict. It feels good to see Boma turning out to be who he is today.”
I steadied myself so that Agnes won’t see that the words that had reeled out of her mouth had almost knocked me off my feet. “Love is a powerful force. It can conquer regardless of one’s past. What matters is the present. Boma is a changed person now, and he has proven himself for the past several months that we have been together,” I said in a voice I could barely recognise as mine.
“I love you and can’t wait to have you as a sister-in-law.” She hugged me so tight that I thought she was going to suffocate me.
I kept my cool and pretended as though all was well. As soon as Boma drove me home, I exploded. “When were you going to tell me about your scary past, Boma?
If he was taken aback, he didn’t show. “I didn’t want to scare you off so soon. I wanted to be sure you were ready to accept me and my past.”
“Don’t you think it’s something you should have told me earlier?” I was trying hard not to yell at him. I was livid.
He apologised profusely and said he was afraid of losing me that was why he didn’t want to tell me yet. He added he had planned on telling me after I had met his family.
“I can’t believe I am standing here with an ex-cultist and not only that, but an ex-con,” I spat. “Do you really know the gravity of all this?”
“Let me say it for the umpteenth time that I am sorry. I am sorry, Patricia. I love you with my life, and that is what matters. I am not proud of my past and if I have my way, I will obliterate it, but as it is, I don’t have a choice,” he said, near tears.
“What exactly happened and how did you end up in a correctional centre?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I have the time.”
“It was peer pressure. I moved with the wrong friends when I was in 300 level in the University of Jos,” he said.” I was initiated into cultism by my friends. I thought it was the best for me because it made me feel powerful.”
“How did you get locked up?” I asked. His expression changed instantly. I knew that just rehashing the story was too painful for him. He narrated how he and his four friends had gone to a bar to drink on a Friday night. One of them left his drink to use the restroom. Two of them didn’t know when the other guy poisoned the drink of the one who had gone to the restroom. That was how the three of them got convicted for murder. All claims that two of them were innocent fell on deaf ears — no thanks to their reputation as cultists.
“That was the price I paid for moving with the wrong people.” He heaved a sigh. A sigh I knew was filled with so much pain and regret.
“I spent ten years — out of the life sentence — in prison before I got pardoned by the government. Those ten years behind bars changed my life for good.”
He went on to narrate how he got converted during prison fellowship and read a lot of motivational books while in prison. He also learned shoe-making while there, and that was what led to his starting a shoe-making company after he left prison. His company had 20 people on its payroll and was producing some of the best shoes in Nigeria.
I listened raptly, but still couldn’t bring my head to believe that Boma was an ex-con.
I sent him out of my house and told him never to return to my house again or I called the police. He looked like the world had caved in and the weight was on his shoulders when he left. That was five days ago. He tried to talk to me, but I kept blocking him. He sent several messages, begging for another chance.
I couldn’t bring myself to marry such a person. And to think that he hid such crucial information from me was unpardonable.
I was almost at the police station. My phone vibrated in my bag and I saw my younger brother’s name flashed on the caller ID.
“Hey, big sis, I have been expecting your call since. Is it that you didn’t see the chicken in the freezer?” he blurted excitedly.
“What chicken? Where?”
“I was at your place while you were at work. Mummy gave me a cock to bring to you. I figured you might not like it alive. I slaughtered it, dress it, and kept it in your freezer.”
“Wait. Don’t tell me you left a bloodstained knife on my dining table?”
“Gosh! I’m so sorry. I had slaughtered it at the sink and was still holding the knife when my phone trang on the dining table. I guess I dropped the knife, picked my phone, and went back to the kitchen to receive the call. I didn’t remember the knife again.
You won’t believe I mopped the trail of blood, but didn’t remember to pick the knife,” he said. “I am sorry, big sister.”
I recalled that my family had my other spare keys.
My stomach rolled, awash with the wave of relief that had hit me. I was too stiffed by my emotions to convey in words my relief. “I will call you back,” I said weakly as I ended the call. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I resolved I wouldn’t tell anyone what had happened that evening. That would be my little secret. I couldn’t bear the embarrassment if someone got to know how I almost nailed an innocent man because of his past.
I took a taxi back home.
Boma and I now have a foundation where we visit prisons to help those wrongly convicted and have habilitated a lot of young people who had gone to prison and back and had nothing to fall back to. We have also been helping young people shun cultism and other social vices.
My husband might be an ex-con, but marrying him was one of the best decisions I have ever made in life, and will do it over and over again.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org