The Adore was an annual event organized by the CEO, Adore Fashion House. It was a treat strictly for his close friends and associates. At the event, friends and associates had the rare opportunity to select or purchase new designs of diamond jewelries before they were officially launched. It was also an opportunity to show-off spouses. At the event, lips are always red than usual, bodies are contoured with different types of onyx, tuxedos are ironed to form crystals, and wine glasses flying on trays on the shoulders of nicely dressed waiters. The diamond onyx on jewelries, the dappled light, and the attar of all types of perfume form clouds of delight that give a utopic experience only the rich and famous can fathom. The jewelries are arranged according to their value. The most valuable jewelries are kept in show glasses while the complicated ones are hung on mannequins.
I have attended the event for 7 years but something significant caught my attention at the last event. My lazy eyes fell on it the moment he walked out on me in a hall full of valuable items and rich and famous individuals. There were so many mannequins of varying shapes, colors, and sizes. It caught my attention for strange but obvious reasons. It was stationed right under the chandelier. The brightness of the light from the chandelier fell loosely on it giving the jewelries on it the much-desired prominence.
The said mannequin was painted ‘skin’ brown. It had the strange green eyeballs just like mine. The semi-pouted lips were painted with a hot chocolate lipstick, my favorite shade of lipstick. The face was turned to the left, giving it the I’m-here-but still-absent feel. But there was a subtle conflict between glamour and pain written all over the mannequin. Beauty screamed through the pieces of diamond on it yet, there was so much pain buried within the eyes of the near-human figure.
The hair was nicely trimmed to a neck-length level to depict wealth. The right leg was bent slightly to show some youthful exuberance and femaleness. It was clad by a fine body-fitted red dress with the slid high enough to reveal its thighs. It stood there to be admired by many, but no one could interpret its pains. No one believed it was in pains.
I saw myself in the mannequin. Why do we have so much in common?
Pain spread round my body for no obvious reason that fateful morning. I had felt an outlandish numbness in my legs the previous week, but I didn’t pay attention to it. It crawled round my muscles and spread itself graciously until I felt faint. Darkness covered my vision and my ear began to tickle. It was near impossible to feel my heartbeat. I was twice removed from reality because it felt like I was floating in the mist and the moisture that lashed itself on my skin found its way down to my legs. I woke up in the pool of my sweat. How I got there, is still a mystery. I pulled myself up to the bed to enable me catch my breath before putting a call through to the family doctor.
As I stretched my hand to pick my phone a call came through.
‘Hello, Mrs. Osaze,’ her voice screeching through the phone hit my eardrum like a thunder lighting. It was Mrs. Ade. ‘Hi’, I reluctantly answered, hoping that my tone would dissuade her. That didn’t work. She cleared her throat instead and continued with an intensity that was typical of a jobless but rich woman, like her. The intensity with which she dispensed her words was not new to me. I had imagined her spilling tons of saliva while vomiting those words with a speed of light. It was just not strange to hear her accentuate that way; that’s the definition of Mrs. Ade.
‘Your husband is cheating on you. I saw him a while ago caressing and fondling another lady at a hotel lobby’, she said without pausing to breathe in or out. ‘Men will always be men’, she repeated in a pitch typical of an angry parent scolding a naughty child. ‘Hello, are you there?’ she asked to satiate her ego and also to ensure that her damaging and marriage-spraining words found fertile soil in my soul. I hung up impulsively not necessarily because it was the right thing to do, but because I didn’t have the energy to sustain that kind of conversation. ‘Could it be true?’, I asked myself. My mind went back to the many promises Osaze had made to me when we first met. Not until recently, I had reason to doubt his ability to rub his shenanigans on my face.
Ignoring my pains, I poured myself a generous quantity of tea. Nene, the house help left the tea pot on the side stool. I didn’t go for it until my wobbly hands could hold the mug firmly for a sip to wet my throat. The steam from the hot tea left my skin moist, creating dampness that tightened the pores on my skin. The ginger in the tea stiffened my tongue, and the tang from it created a soothing spark in my throat. I took a sip before allowing my head to rest fully on the chair. Unconsciously, I began to shake my leg and chew the side of my lower lip, a demeanor to show my readiness for battle, typical of an over-entitled wife. ‘This explains the crankiness in his behavior. Osaze has a lot to explain’, I convinced myself. As soon as I took the last sip, I leaned backward on the chair, exhaled heavily, which created light cloud-like puff; it was so because I wanted to be sure all my organs were undamaged by the pain sprawling my body and the rumor spreading through my heart like wild fire.
As soon as his car pulled into the parking lot, my heart skipped a beat. I wasn’t sure if it was fear or anxiety. I sprang up impulsively and made may way to the living room. I paused for a moment to catch my breath to avoid being dramatic. His face wore disgust: the I’m -not-in the mood kind of disgust while his sky-blue shirt had a wet patch around the armpit. I couldn’t stop my mind from imagining him in the arms of another woman. He took lazy steps towards me and as I motioned towards him, I felt it again. A rumble in form of a bile-like vapor started welling up from my stomach. It wasn’t nausea. It was gaseous: It was cloud-like and forceful at the same time. As it spread within me, I felt numbness enveloping my organs but when it got to my throat, it clenched my veins tightly, making it impossible for me to breathe.
Everywhere became blank, silent, and empty. My knees buckled almost immediately for no reason; I felt a weakness in my joints, my legs couldn’t carry my weight so, it afforded me the speed to crash effortlessly.
I woke up under the watchful eyes of my mother. ‘You are awake. Ahh! Doctor she is awake’, her excited voice echoed through my sore head. I couldn’t lift my head unaided for a minute because it felt so heavy while my body felt so light and worthless. That didn’t heal my mind of the sting of the thought of the other nameless and faceless woman.
‘Where is Osaze?’, I asked as soon as my tattered soul found the courage to ask.
‘He has gone for the kids’, she replied swiftly, grinning from ear to ear.
She had always thought of my marriage as perfect. Sometimes, I marvel at her gullibility and ignorance. Well, a lot of folks felt the same way about Osaze and I. The broad smiles and the unnecessary public display of affection were just for a show. Perfection, with regards to marriage, never had our names on its list. No one knew about Osaze’s wondering eyes or the house maids he had molested under my watch. I thought I was protecting him from the wagging tongues and judgmental eyes of friends and family. It was easy to conceal because he had been an excellent father, a cheerful breadwinner, and his innocent and charming appearance was the icing on the cake. He provided more than what we needed. He gave me a big name in the congregation of well-heeled women. So, to save face, I sealed the can of worms well. How wrong was I! The worms in the can got rotten, and the stench was perceived even in the market square. It was time to either own it with a smile or spill the bean.
The tall, fair, and handsome doctor showed up in time. He carried an aura that reminded me of all the reasons I fell in love with Osaze. The confidence, equanimity and the charms that lurked around his cheeks each time he smiled formed the reason I fell helplessly in love with him. I was quizzed and was scheduled for series of tests within the hour. ‘We will do our best for you’ the doctor assured me. As I reclined, I wished every possibility of another woman away. Osaze didn’t show up that day and that sent waves of fear to my fragile heart.
Mama gently tapped my shoulders to announce the arrival of the doctor the next morning. Nothing had changed in him except that the file in his hand got thicker. He politely and with a soft smile asked mama to excuse us which she did without any hesitation. ‘Ma’am, we found cancerous cells around your colon; the spread is rapid and of great concern. We need to commence chemotherapy immediately’, he explained. The ‘we’ in his expression made it a bit easy to accept my fate. I didn’t know if I was to cry, scream or laugh until I could feel no emotions. When he left, I knew it was time to conceal yet another bad news. Mama must not know about it. The news would kill her.
I waited patiently for Osaze’s call and when he did, I became eager to talk to the kids. We had waited for five years for them to arrive. When I conceived, Osaze showered so much love on me. He journeyed the nine months with me. Our first, Eve, stole his heart when she arrived. Two years later, Noel arrived. Osaze doused him with so much affection at the detriment of our marriage. It was good that he treated them that way, but it was sad that it drained the slim affection left in our marriage. That was how evil’s horn became obvious in our marriage.
He sounded worried when I told him about the doctor’s report over the phone. I was sure I sensed a pinch of concern in his voice. But I was shocked when he showed up. He acted too normal for someone whose wife had just received disturbing news.
The chasm between us grew deeper during my stay at the hospital. By the time I was discharged, we were just two livid strangers cohabiting. He wore long a face and was distracted whenever he was home. Then the late nights intensified and grew into absenteeism. I didn’t want anyone to mock me, so I kept mute. Days turned to months and my health grew worse. The chemotherapy took half the hair on my head. The more my hair fell, the less attractive I became. I fought so hard to stay attractive, at least for my kids and for the hope of revamping my almost dead marriage. I wore my pains with pride, at least that was the only definition of patience I knew.
My patience lost hope the day we received the mail. The house help was out with the kids. I dragged my feet slowly while breathing without control until I got to the door. The mailman, whose broad smile invalidated the sweat on my face, greeted cheerful. ‘I have a mail for you’, he announced. ‘Do well to sign here’, he added almost immediately while flagging an open register before me and a pen. I picked the envelope and became excited when I saw the logo crested on the white envelope. ‘Adore is here again’, I muttered beneath my breath as I allowed my mind to be flooded with fun memories of glamour, ecstasy, and all the fine things of life that characterized the event.
I threw my fatigued body on the large green chair in the sitting room. Without sparing a thought, I gathered the courage left in me to open the envelope. Unlike the previous years, there were three invitation cards in the envelope. I giggled and made jest of them for wasting an extra card. I felt I should call them to alert them. As I stretched to pick the phone, the white envelope fell off. That was when I noticed the note that came with the invites. It read:
As discussed, find attached an extra invite for your ‘special lady’.
Mrs. Osaze must not trace this to me.
Be a good boy.
At that point everything made sense; the silence, the mood swings, his late nights, all made sense. My heart began to race, my legs and hand started shuddering. Then sweat from only-God-knows-where began to form on my forehead. My ears started picking echoes from distant lands. In no time, I was hallucinating; I was seeing things and hearing strange voices. That night was unbearable for me. I felt like throwing the pillow over his face to end it all, but was deterred by the thought of my kids. I will soon be gone; they would need their father when I am gone.
‘Hello, Mrs. Ade, you were right. Osaze is having an affair. I need your help’, I said over a phone conversation with Mrs. Ade the next morning.
‘We will figure it out. I will get that boy to fish out the dirty girl. I will get back to you soon’, she rebounded like a professional counselling a client.
Three days later Mrs. Ade showed up at my house with an envelope containing the picture and details of the lady in the mix. ‘The lady in the picture is pretty’, I said with a cloud of hatred looming somewhere in my chest. I examined the picture closely, identifying the features I lacked in the lady. I hated myself, I hated Osaze. I hated every other thing in-between. Tears started welling up and soon my throat became heavy.
‘He doesn’t deserve your tears. Oh! He doesn’t. See how your beauty is wasting away’, Mrs. Are said as she threw her fleshy arms around my shoulder, in sheer ignorance of my state of health, an attempt to console me. She collected the picture from my hand and tossed it away.
‘What should we do to the girl?’ She whispered to my ears.
‘Nothing!’, I replied with so much of determination in my voice.
‘You must be kidding’, she added as she pulled herself away.
I stood my ground that nothing should happen to the pretty lady. She left my house in rage.
At the event, I tried to blend in as soon as we got in. Osaze was in character for a while. He brought out the public display of affection from his sleeves. Endearing words suddenly appeared on his tongue. But his playboy handbook came in handy when his mistress, Amara, showed up in a seductive gown, stitched by the devil. She looked stunning. He started drooling like a puppy. He just couldn’t help it. ‘Excuse me’, he said as he made his way to her. Those were his last words to me.
Soon, I was riveted by the mannequin. As I laid my hands on it to feel its lifelessness, I felt a deep connection. It reminded me of my sad marriage and life. I saw my twin in that mannequin: both beautiful, adorned with valuable items, admired by all, but lonely and lifeless. A lifeless dull, I watched him kiss another woman. I watched him humiliate me before our friends. Right there, I was too dead to talk or confront him. I am a stoic, after all.
About the writer
Peace Habila, a resident of Jos, Plateau state is passionate about creative writing. She wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org