The Moon At Noon by Oluwafunminiyi
6pm. Thunder crashes loudly in the distance.
“Temi, have I ever told you how beautiful you are?”
They sit together on a sofa in the living room. There is a respectable distance between them. Ron Kenoly is on tv doing “Let it rain”. It rains heavily.
“I think I have, you just weren’t listening…”
“Hmmm…the ears never forget Tade…”
“Oh, but they do…”
“No they don’t; the just choose what to listen to…”
“That can be a disservice…”
“Even if its done in its masters defence?”
“I never say anything hurtful to you…”
“What you do say is not healthy for a mourning woman…”
“That I adore you still…that is unhealthy?”
“How is it that you adore me still?”
“You know how…maybe it is this your beauty… It is stark naked…”
“There you go again, making me all woozy headed”, she throws her head backwards and laughs, a deep throaty sound. Her teeth are small, and even, and white. “How can beauty, anyone’s beauty, be stark naked?Or is it just memories of me, nude?” That was a long time ago.
“There is that… And there is your ebony majesty… And your beautiful honey color eyes and that laughter… Like waves splashing on a rock…”
“Leave my braids alone… besides you know you are sunshine yourself Tade…”
“Sunshine, yet you keep me locked outside the gates…”
“The gates restrain a flood…”
“Drown me Temi…”
She laughs mildly. He laughs too…that boyish, unserious chuckle.
She quietens first, sniffing and wiping her nose with the flat of her palm. She gets up and walks to the dining table to get a glass of water. There, she pauses to watch a sugar ant descend the heights of the Dana powder milk tin. It ascends the briefer blue hill of the St.Louis sugar box, nodding and weaving, and scurrying over the plains only to descend on the other side, dropping out of sight. She returns to the sofa.
Her coming of age had been poetic. A joyous, melodious psalm. One minute, she and her elder sister, Yewande, had been giggling, running about the house, hunting and trapping grasshoppers. The next minute…
There have only been two men in her life.
She had met Tade in her first year in the university. He was in his second year, a handsome ambitious fast talking hustler who grew up in the slums of Agege. She liked him because he never treated her with any of the cloying deference people usually treated her with when they learned that she was a serving minister’s daughter.
“What’s ajebo doing here?” He had responded cynically to her richly accented ‘excuse me please…’ when she feebly pushed past him in the crowded SUB building during her faculty registrations. He had said other unflattering things when he found that she was accompanied by an aide of some sort. “Bloody bourgeois”, he concluded. Thats the closest she got to deference from him.
Somehow, they had struck up a friendship. He was one of those students who knew their way through anything, the admin and registration offices included. Ordinarily, it took several frustrating weeks of unending hassling from short tempered admin staff who worked in hot, insipid offices and hadn’t been paid salary for any number of months to complete the fresher’s registration. Armed with Tade, her registration had taken a maximum of three days. She had spent the rest of her university days garnering A grades, and having mad, reckless sex with Tade, her only claim to irresponsibility. The years had seemed to zoom past at the speed of light. Then she had graduated, and gotten married to Femi.
Femi’s family and hers shared a fence. Fruits from the mango tree in Femi’s compound often fell into hers. They were that close. She and Yewande picked and ate the good ones. Sweet, succulent greenish yellow mangoes. Huge flies with swollen bottoms buzzed around the spoilt ones left by the girls to rot on the grounds. Femi’s father, a garrulous Egba chief often joked that the free mangoes were an advance of the bride price he would pay for Temi to marry his son, Femi.
“You are going to Egba with us…” He would shriek with laughter and rub his obese tummy.
“I don’t even like Femi ..” Temi once told her dad.
“Lie, lie…” he joked.
She put her finger to the earth, touched it to her tongue and pointed it to the skies. He had shrieked with laughter too.
No one was to know that Femi was her ‘secret’ boyfriend; that they had found love during grasshopper and bee hunting expeditions. Both families naturally accepted it when Femi began to visit Nigeria twice every year during his studies in the US.
They got married in style. Tade had heard about the wedding and sent her an icy congratulatory message from Iceland where he was doing his masters. He had also mumbled something about ‘un-loading her from his dream via a phone call’.
If her life with Femi was any colour, it was bright yellow.They spent holidays in Europe and had plenty to laugh about. Femi was spontaneous, full of life and the vigour of youth. He was a Structural engineer, and he said that life was nothing but structural jigsaws we struggle to piece together. He was always in a hurry and rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle too fast.
“You won’t kill me Femi,” Temi once chided, fearfully, holding the base of her tummy and wincing slightly as the baby in there kicked. He had laughed, and held her and and reminded her he was the one on the bike and not her. As if she didn’t know.
When they had told him about the arrival of Toju, their son, he had leaped over the rails from the first storey of a consturction job he was handling and ordered his driver to ‘get the car, get the car… I have a son…’ His workers had watched the car screech off, mouth agape…
Then, one afternoon in early June, the phone had rung. The speech of the female caller had been mutilated by the splatter of rainfall on roofs. Thunder roared, and there was static in the cellular network. But, the message had been passed across nonetheless. The words turned Temi’s yellow world an ominous dark blue, the color water turned to when the powdery contents of a Robin Blue carton (the fabric whitener) was emptied into it; she had seen the floor draw closer and felt herself drop into, and trapped in the cold dark blue water world, a world that pricked her entire body with sharp needles. She had felt her breath catch in her chest, and suck, the way pressure from a vacum hose sucked dirt. She had blocked her ears with both palms as she sank to the floor, the telephone receiver falling from her hand. She had felt her mouth open wide, of its own accord, a thick strand of saliva springing from her tongue, yet hanging from the roof of her mouth. She tried to scream but couldn’t. Yet, shrill piercing screams infiltrated her ears and crippled her mind. Habiba the house maid later said madame’s screaming had brought her scurrying from her room. In those few seconds, joy and laughter had checked out of her life in exchange for the rains.
6.30pm. The rain subsides. All that is left is a metallic silence, aftermath of the heavy thunderstorm. Electric power had gone out as soon as the winds got strong. Traffic had been ground to a halt due to a small flood that had built up in the street. They listen to the guttural sounds of water passing through a nearby drainage pipe, and the distant rumble of thunder. She still feels numb and hollow, overwhelmed by a sense of remembrance and foreboding. She still feels like one who had lived in a land of sea breezes and underwater currents, and was now condemned to a dark life of eerie insect chirps, and perpetual night sounds.
“No Tade. I don’t want to drown you… I want to drown in my grief…”, she says, suddenly.
It is fresh everyday. Raw, like a shot of adrenalin. “Don’t … Don’t do that…”
“Don’t do what?”
“You know what not to do… ”
Sigh. He retrieves his hand. He suddenly feels tired. “You have tried Temi…”
“It is hard for me…Our son is barely two years old…” They both turn to look at the boy. He had fallen asleep on the rug, his small lips slightly open, forming a cute ‘o’. Minutes ago, he had seemed content sitting by himself and clapping with glee at his own baby babble and chasing his yellow rubber duck. He had had no wells of experience from which to draw an understanding of the tension that engulfed the room. He had no -needed no- thermometer with which to gauge the sad heat radiating in the atmosphere. He did not yet know, but he will grow up to hear the stories. That he was a child without a father. Fatherless since he was two. He was a child whom life had visited, while he was too young to understand, or defend himself, and his mother, and his unborn sister. Life had snatched from him a father who had adored him so shamelessly, who took him everywhere he went, dangling around his neck like a medallion of victory. A father who would have taught him to ride a bicycle and play ping pong. A father who would have taught him the proper way to be a man and to chase a girl. The only man who threw him up in the air, and he felt no fear.
Tade glances outside the window. The sun still peeps. It looks pale. The storm has doused its fiery blaze. It is now a shy orange ball, sitting in the middle of the greying skies. It looks out of place, yet beautiful, like the painting of an autistic child. Dust motes dance and swirl slowly in the slight strands of rays that streak in in slices through open, horizontal window panes. They disappear again, settling into nothingness. A cool evening breeze begins to blow. Tade watches the curtains sway and shiver. It looks like it might rain again. He drags his attention from all these, and glances at the woman he realises now that he still loves. The one woman he truly ever felt anything for. Temi sits with her head bowed, her arms folded across her breasts. Perhaps, it was a wrong time, but he couldn’t change the way he felt. He couldn’t mask it. He had been stupid enough to let her go once. But life had generously lent him another ladle to scoop with. He wasn’t throwing it away this time.
“I love you Temi…”
She looks sharply at him. He had never said that before. Not even when… “Tade, I am still mourning my husband…”
“He would want you to move ahead with your life… How old are you? Twenty two… you are still a child yourself…”
“I cannot move on with my life… How do I do that? Where do I move on to?” she asks, looking at him as if he holds the answers. “Where is my destination? Femi took my life away with him. He left me all alone, with a child, and an unborn. Why? Why, Femi? Take a look at me…” she spreads her arms apart and raises her head upwards, a desolate figure. Her eyes come to rest on the only picture hanging on the wall. It is her wedding picture. Tade follows her eyes. In the picture stands she and Femi, smiling brightly, he holding her from behind. Tucked in a lower corner of the picture frame is another picture of them, together on horseback, taken during their courtship. The horse was brown, with a white stripe that ran from between its ears to the tip of its nose. The picture is dogeared, threatening to topple down.Tears stream down her eyes as she stares, mournfully.
They had wanted to lower that frame like they did the others. Her mother said the less she saw of his pictures, the better she would feel. But she had refused. She had screamed at them to “leave us alone…” , and wrestled the frame from their hands. She had fought and scratched and kicked… Even when they had left the frame for her, she had clutched it to her breast protectively, and continued screaming and biting the hands that restrained her.They had eventually had to sedate her- again. She wore a sad hair in those days, and a sad smile. People moved in surreal motions, and spoke mechanically like they did in that British cartoon, Joe 90. The visitors stayed longer than they should. They came and they said nothing that made any iota of sense to her. When she didn’t respond to their babble, they just sat there and stared into space, the corners of their mouths turned downwards, their chins resting in their palms. Why did they come? To mock her, and see how she was carrying on? Some brought food which her mother secretly poured away, and sprinkled holy water around the house. Except for Mama Folarin’s food. She was the oldest and closest friend of the family. Food made her nauseous in those days, as it had when she carried Toju within her. A strange huge black fog hung around the house. It choked her. Excepting that, and the wierd looking shadows that swam in the pool at noon and danced in the ceiling at night before coming to sit and rest beside her, everything had been fine. She had been fine… really.
Tade rights the black buba she is wearing. It is loose about her neck, dipping on the right and revealing flesh, the swellings that culminate in a voluptuous breast. The buba dips between the two bulbs of breasts which shake from side to side everytime she moves. She is not wearing a bra. Her hair needs retouching. Her finger nails are uneven, chewed up. Her face remains beautiful, though her neck has grown longer and her clavicle sticks out prominently. Her eyes are hollow, empty. She mumbles to herself as Tade holds her. She is mumbling to herself as she does at night, her face buried in his chest.
“I still wait for the sound of your car Femi. I still wait to hear you call out to me that you are back. When my phone rings, I pray its you, Femi. I still prepare efo the way you like it… I microwave your food before I go to bed. In case you come around. And in the morning, it’s still there, untouched, the way I left it. Every thing has changed. The dogs look at me accusingly, and pass by without a sound. They think I am responsible, like I have hidden their master. I know they know the truth about where you are. Their eyes ask me why I am still here if you are gone, Femi. Your son asks of you too… His eyes ask for his father. You do not come to sponge him down anymore when he has a fever. What do I say to him? That you… died? That you died, trapped like an animal, roasting in the belly of an aeroplane? That you were coming back home, to us…to celebrate the news of the conception of our daughter, and you never got here? Ah, oko mi, ife mi… My husband died in agony, knowing there was no way out but death… I am sorry… I am so sorry Femi…” she sobs, moving away from Tade’s embrace, wiping her eyes, and blowing her nose with the edge of her wrapper. He wipes tears from his eyes too.
“I will keep our daughter. We prayed for a girl. She will be my companion.”
8pm. He watches and listens as she snores softly on the sofa. She had wept quietly for a while before sleep had come to take her away. He had left her alone, watching her shuddering shoulders as she mourned, and afterwards, heaved like a child. The crying had done her some good, sedated her. She had laid her head on the arm rest, and slept. He wonders what she dreams about. She was too young for this burden. What had been life’s plan? What was life’s explanation to this? Life had taken her on a jolly ride, and marooned her in a distant land, the middle of no where. Life hadn’t bothered to ring a bell before doing that. No warning. Life had simply struck. Life had orchestrated a treacherous opera in Iju-Ishaga, and exited again, like a thief in the night. No hello. No goodbye. In a malicious few minutes, life had raped us all, and turned our face backwards. Now we are looking at the moon at noon. And the moon held a sad sneer, glaring back at us, like we had no right to be here. ‘Hello moon, it is noon. You have no right to be here! You belong in the twilight…’ , we yell. The moon simply ignores us.The stench of life’s unfairness rises to the high heavens. The carelessness and injustice of life’s minions beat a cacophonous sound in the eardrum. And as we, the victims, dance, unwittingly, life’s agents smile to themselves in their airconditioned offices as their caskets soar, with us trapped in its belly. They feed fat, growing rich on blood money. Our blood. It is war. What else takes mother from child and fathers from sons? What else tears families asunder and rewrites destinies with such brutish panache? They are waging a war against us.
Tade gets up quietly and goes home. Tomorrow, he will come again. He is all she has now, and he knows it’s true.
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