“It is over between you and me. I can’t take this no more.”
It is crunch time. Enough is enough. I maintain a steady gaze. My eyes are red. If that is what they mean by fire in the eyes, then what I see in my eyes is fire. As my eyes open wide, the lines on my forehead wave like a raging sea. I want to look very serious as I am about to discuss a serious matter. I am convinced. I have mastered how to wear a serious look. I walk away from the mirror.
“Yes Abdul, why are you shouting my name like a bush man.” Mabel is waiting in the wings, prepared for the unexpected.
She is my wife. I love her, and I will always love her. Every morning, I read the same poem for her.
“Your smile is like the crescent moon,
It lightens my darkest night
Your eyes are glowing embers
The fires that keep my heart burning
Your lips are bracts of Psychotria elata
The gateway to lofty bliss”
It took me two and a quarter years before I could tell her how I felt. But now, there is something between us, something that shares from the happiness that glows like light on a candle. There is this force that I have to battle with. It is a clog that pleasures my thirst. I call her my other love. I knew my other love even before I knew my wife.
Here I am, caught between a rock and a hard place. I have to choose between my other love and my wife.
“I am sorry dear. I think it is over between us.” My head is suspended and at the mercy of my neck. I stare at the tiles on the floor. They glisten to the illumination of the chandelier. I am not strong enough to face my demon, but I can feel it. My demon is there, starring back at me, waiting for me to go back on my words, waiting for me to say I am sorry, I didn’t mean what I just said. There is this silence. It is as long as the night of winter solstice in North.
“Mr Abdul the great son of Aliyu, are you talking to me?” I cannot tell whose voice I heard. If it is from my wife, my other love, or even a voice that does not exist.
“Did you just say something?” I turn towards my wife.
“Yes, I just said something.” She sinks into the comfy of the hand-dyed leather chair. Her body touches mine. I can now feel her warmth. It is different. It burns like in days the sun wasn’t smiling down on the earth, but I love the warmth it brings. “Mr Abdul, are you talking to me?” she mutters with a voice that almost beat me into tears. Her beatific face is betrayed by the pounding of her heart beat. I can feel her fear.
I have to face my demon. Yes, I have to look into the eyes of my demon. I need to stop this madness once and for all. How can this hold me down for so long? What is wrong with me?
I pick up all that remained of my feeble self. I wear the serious face I practised in front of the mirror.
“It is over between us. Yes, and this time I mean every word.” I look away immediately. I wont allow the sweet smell or the grandeur of her look to charm me yet again.
Mabel rubs my back softly. She has stopped panting. Her heart beat has returned to normal. I can feel it as it synchronises with mine.
“Thank you dear. Thank you for doing this for us.”
“How many do you have here?” Her eyes stalk me.
“Good” She clears the table and walks away.
I am at the verge of crying, but a man will always be a man. My love is walking away, right before my eyes. Wretched me. I cannot do anything about it.
I close my eyes. I see my other love, brown like the pounded Iganran clay, and round like the chinese rice bowl. The corona size that used to grace my lips; she will be no more. The feeling of the seventh heaven, when the aromatic flavour savoured my throat; that would be no more. The energy that surged when my brain sensed nico, gone. The feeling of fulfilment when I puff to the heavens, I’m missing the smoke rings already.
“Shit! This is not happening.” I rub my face. “No, this can’t be.” something is speaking to me. It’s the voice of the devil, I know one when I hear one.
My wife is taking her away, with the ash tray. The humidor is not spared; the son of Anarchy case dances away through the shadow of mist. I watch Mabel wiggle right and left, taunting me with the case.
This is not the first time this ritual will happen. But Mabel believes this is going to be the last.
The ritual was last repeated on 31st December. I made a stern resolution to stop kissing my other love. I do not like to call it puffing; that is not sensual enough. The resolution only lasted for approximately eighteen thousand seconds. Well, five hours without kissing my other love; that was strange. While Mabel was away, the urge came rushing by. I was thirsty, not for water or juice. I was thirsty for a taste. My mouth was dry. Sputum had built up a barricade on my throat. I could cease breathing at any time. I needed something to clear my throat very urgently. I needed to kiss my other love.
I searched the house. I had seen Mabel walk away with her from the sitting room like she’s doing now. Obviously, it wasn’t in the sitting room. I started from the bedroom. I searched halfway. Then I remembered she disliked the smell of tobacco. She wouldn’t have kept it in the bedroom. I went to the kitchen, opened every cabinet and every cupboard, my other love was nowhere on sight. Something told me to check the waste basket at the backyard. It’s the voice of the devil. In the piles of debris lay the humidor that housed my other love. A valiant musketeer conquered, lying in the midst of ruins. Tears of joy rolled down my cheek. I picked it up and cleaned it. Carefully, I brought my other love out. She still shorn, unaffected by the dirt that once surrounded her. As the guillotine beheaded the edge, the flavour of love filled me up. My hands quivered. I frisked my trousers for a lighter. Crack! The lighter glowed with blue flame. I drew the smoke in, puffed out and watched it ascend. I was back again with the kiss of love. Like a prodigal child, I told her I was sorry. No I wasn’t referring to Mabel. I told my other love I was sorry, for the unbearable pains I made her go through, for allowing her to be cast into the dreary night without a companion.
Now, I want to stop Mabel but I can’t find words on my lips. My lips are moving but no word is strong enough to come out. I know she is going to be more careful this time. She won’t leave her in the waste basket. I am in deep shit. I follow Mabel.
“At least, I will like to give my cigar a befitting burial.” I did not think of the folly that laces the thought running through my mind. It has escaped from my lips before I give it a second thought.
“Baby” Mabel halts. I catch up with her at the corridor. She stares at me quizzical.
“My cigar, let’s give her a befitting burial”
“Hmmmm! And where will that be sir?”
“Somewhere in the garden.”
“Our garden of course. Whose garden would it have been?”
“Ok, when was the last time you were at the garden?”
“Oh! Oh! Just yesterday.” I rack my brain for a precise answer “Yes, I was there yesterday”
“Doing what?” her face is straight. The crescent moons have disappeared. She is not joking. I can read that from her eyes.
“And?” she presses further
“Drinking juice again”
“And what else were you doing?” darkness envelops her stern face.
“Ehn, ehn, fine, I was also smoking. But it was just for 30 minutes”
“So you want us to bury the humidor in the garden, right?”
“Yes” my chin stretches, it seems to have conspired to announce my folly.
“Ok we’ll bury it there. So that Abdul, my loving but addicted husband will tell me in few hours time that he is hot inside, he needs to cool his brain off in the garden. Then he will carry a book and other necessary instruments.”
“That’s not what I…”
“Then he will dig up his precious cigar. And like a pig, he will wallow again in mire. Isn’t that what you want to do?” Her eyes burn with flame. They flash like the full moon. Her nostril expands as air forces itself out.
I don’t know what to say again. My words may drive her up the wall.
“Talk, isn’t that what you want?
“Why are you so selfish? Why is everything about you and what makes you happy?”
She wants to get a rise out of me. Well I know what is best for me, keep quiet and walk away.
It’s an hour since my other love was thrown out of my house. Things are falling apart. I can’t pick them together. I crawl into my couch. Maybe I should find some sleep. Maybe when I am awake, her memory would have waned. I close my eyes. It’s my other love I see. I open my eyes. It’s my wife I see. My wife looks happy, the crescent moons are back. She comes closer, raises my legs and sits underneath. She rubs her finger on my feet. I close my eyes yet again. My other love stares at me. I can see her standing alone in the cold with no clothes on. I cannot stand the condemning look she gives me. Her trust has been betrayed.
“Where did you keep her this time?” I asked.
“Somewhere you don’t need to know.” she keeps rubbing. “You’ll be fine dear. You’ll be fine sugar pie.”
I remember when it all started. I was eighteen. Kunle’s dad just came from America. He invited family friends for a welcome home party. Everybody had something to lick or chew. The older men grunted to the sharp pang of whisky. For them, cigar was a dime a dozen. The older women grinned over red wine. I was about to pick up a bottle of beer when I saw my mother’s condemning stare. Well, I was eighteen but her look told me I was still wet behind my ears. I went for the low sugar malt. Kunle invited me over to his room. I thought the house was going to burn down. It was Kunle Americana brother who had set the room in smoke. His hair locked in several places, like someone who just came back from kirikiri. He struggled, pulling his trousers back to his waist each time they fell. I wondered if the belt on his trousers was meant for decoration.
“This is your opportunity to experiment” Kunle said. He brought out two tiny pieces of cigar.
“No. Mum must not catch me smoking” my eyes flared with objection.
“Mama’s boy, have you forgotten you are eighteen?” Kunle lit the cigar and gave it to me. It tasted good. The flavour filled my head. It warmed the cockles of my heart.
“Kunle, How long have you been smoking?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. Kunle puffed with a knack.
“I started last year. I do it in the generator’s room so no one catches me.”
While we were busy making a chimney out of Kunle’s room, someone knocked on the door.
I heard the voice, but it was coming from another realm. It sounded familiar, like a voice I heard almost every day. It was far from me and si close to me at the same time. I still had the stick in my mouth. I still blew the smoke out. A slap landed on my cheek. The cigar flew like a bird without its wings. My brain was reset to its last backup. My mother dragged me home shouting I have killed her.
The craving continued. I started from doing it alone in our own generator’ room. Kunle was my supplier.
“A stick a day keeps boredom away” we used to tell each other. When I entered the university, a new form of freedom welcomed me. Kunle was my roommate. We knew our books no doubt about that. But we hardly read without a stick. That was how we burnt our own midnight oil. A stick a day turned to two, three and four. I have never gone beyond five.
Kunle died two years ago. They found cancer in his lung. Well, death is inevitable; we’ll die someday.
“You are killing her. You are killing yourself. It is true that you are selfish.” I hear a whisper, loud enough to fill up my head.
But is it my fault that the window to my soul cannot get off the brown beauty? Is it my fault that her redolence entraps me to her caprices? I have tried a lot of therapy. I have worked my socks off and still can’t get over her. Her perfume trails me round and round.
My wife had threatened me today to make a choice between my other love and her. If I chose my other love, my wife will file for divorce. But I love my wife. I want her to stay with me.
Mabel wants reassurance.
“I’m sorry, Mabel. I wish I can do without it but…”
“Yes, you can” she is optimistic.
“If you walk a mile in my shoes, you will understand.” Clouds of tears gather in my eyes. I stopped it from raining down.
“I understand dear. That is why I am still here with you”
The clock is ticking on. My lips are shaking. My throat is drying out.
I remembered what the doctor told me. That is why I hate taking instructions from doctors. Their bark is worse than their bite. They like to threaten people with death. He told me if I continued smoking I would die very soon of lung cancer. Well, I knew I was going to die someday; something would be responsible for my death. If I did not die of cancer, I would die of something else. But now I have a reason to stay alive. Mabel will not want me to leave her so soon.
Now it is all twisted. We came back today from the hospital with good news. Mabel is carrying our first child. Now we need a clean environment for mother and child to breathe. I have to sacrifice my allegiance to my other love.
Mabel continues to rub my feet. I sleep off peacefully.
The clock ticks fast. It’s been seven hours already without cigar.
I am now wide awake. The first thing I feel is my throat. It has dried out like a northerner’s well. I feel like I am choking. I do not know if I should wind a watch or bark at the moon.
“Mabel, I can’t breathe” It is quiet everywhere.
“Mabel, where are you? I can’t breathe.” My beauty queen, she’s on the rug sleeping peacefully. She glows like a teen, a light I cannot see the source shines down on her.
I know my problem. I know why I am choking. I need to puff. My demon is at work again.
A book in my arm, I tiptoe out of the sitting room. The corridor is rid of all illumination. I grope for the kitchen door. The hand trowel lies in the sink. It is wet with sand. A voice tells me to go to the garden; I will find my other love buried there. It’s the voice of the devil; I know one when I hear one.
I pick up the hand trowel and a bottle of water. As for guillotine and lighter, they are always in my pocket. Ready am I to go back again on my words. Each step gives me a relief. I am getting close to the garden.
“What about your wife?
“What about your child?
“Do you think this is not worth giving up for them?” Someone whispers to me.
The voice is inaudible but the message is crystal clear. If I continue this way, Mabel will leave me. Cancer will not kill me so fast, but the sorrow of losing Mabel will.
It is not worth it. Before I choke to death, I drink some water. It runs through my throat with a suiting relief. I feel alright yet again.
I sit to read, trying hard to forget my other love. I smell her around me, yes, my other love and the flavour that trails her like the musky smell of a billy goat. It’s there, on the stool beside me. I rub my face. I need to know if I am seeing right. The humidor stares at me in black and gold. I open it up. Five pieces of brown rolls grin at me. I left four inside the humidor. I can make do with one and it will be like I haven’t done anything. Mabel is still sleeping. The smell will die away before she wakes.
“Take it, take it” a voice speaks to me, it’s the voice of the devil. I know one when I hear one. The brown glows like raw gold. My heart is panting. My throat yearns for the flavour. My right hand is reaching for the humidor, the left is groping for the guillotine and lighter in my pocket. It is all involuntary; I cannot control the urge.
Mabel is going to have our child; I remember that.
“Enough” I shout to the voice in my head. My hands halt. My heart skips. The demon runs.
I take some water. I am fine again. Book in my hands, I gaze at the letters.
“Hi, honey” Mabel cozies me up with her warmth. She opens the humidor and counts.
“You didn’t fall for it?”
I think I have made a wise decision, to keep my wife and let go of my other love.
Let the chips fall where they may, my other lover is not coming back to this house.