Because of my Wife
By Kenechukwu Obi (Nigeria)
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I was just seated, without even the faintest knowledge of what makes a screenplay. And the day to deliver my work to Toby was fast approaching. I got my room littered with papers, which I ripped off and screwed up out of frustration. My wife walked in smiling, with a cup of coffee she had made for me. She placed it beside my notebook and glanced around.
“What a mess you have turned your room into,” she said.
“Does it matter?” I responded with as much calm as I could muster, not wanting to give my frustration away. But I really felt like springing up and throwing the coffee into her face, for her role.
“Yes, Charlie. Even pigs are proving to love neat surroundings. What is happening to you?” She responded and walked out of the room on her way to work. Rage almost succeeded in getting me to pull her back and smash her head against the wall. That was the stuff Susan my wife, was made of. She was a woman whose utterances could drive a man into big trouble.
If there was anything to forget in my life, it would never be the day I met Susan at the Soho theatre. I believe I inherited my love for the theatre from my parents who were both stage actors. Though, Daddy later veered to the big screen, where he made two uncelebrated appearances. Daddy and Mummy used to take me to work, and that was how I came to develop an interest in seeing stage productions. Fate ensured that Susan and I sat beside each other on that day. And with the hilarious comedy on, we laughed and talked, which continued as we walked out of the theatre, into and along Dean Street. She made my day and I did not need meeting her a second time to be convinced that I was interested in her. I was twenty two then, and she, twenty five. That evening, in which there was gentle breeze, which kept leaves rustling, as I walked back home, was something else. I had fallen in love with Susan and soon we began dating, in which was great sex. My job as a supermarket sales person that paid thirty pence an hour did not bother Susan. She was from a rich background and ran a modelling agency. My poor background did not harm the love she developed for me. We got married as soon as the next spring came.
“Are you sure of this thing you just walked into?” Daddy and Mummy asked me together one day, hiding their apprehension. Though, they did a good job of doing it, but it was not perfectly done. I saw it.
“Susan is my soul mate,” I assured them, as I felt like a man who had won a million pounds lottery for having Susan fall in love with me. Life couldn’t be sweeter. My marriage was great. It had all the trappings of joy, charm, romance and fulfillment any married couple could need, until I lost my job to a nasty staff downsizing exercise. And what I lost most was the pride I took from being able to contribute to paying the bills, out of my meagre earnings. It never crossed my mind one day to leave the bills to Susan alone, since she made much more money. My pride got wounded. Getting another job was hard, and before I knew it, all walls and furniture at home became my constant companions. My efforts to get another position, only succeeded in mounting my frustration, as hopelessness encased me completely and brought me other companions, which were bottles of whisky. So I started to drink, thinking I could down my sorrows. But alas!
Susan soon became something else. She was now the boss and the bully of the house, I, the gazelle always at the mercy of the cheetah. She railed at me and called me names. Our marital sex became history. Irritating lazy man was by now, the phrase that had taken over my name. I had to answer her each time she called me that. I had no choice. It was winter, and I feared she could throw me out into its chilling hands if I did not.
“You lack the brains to get back on track. Real men are endowed with brains,” Susan told me one day. And that was it. I had had enough, and became totally bent on proving to her that I had brains after all. But first of all, I needed to leave London, away from all pressures, to allow fresh ideas to stream into me. My mind became a store house of different thoughts. Thoughts which struggled to work out a perfect destination. Thoughts took me to Brazil, the land of Samba dance, a cultural heritage I had only seen on television. I thought it was nice to see cities in there, especially Rio, with the statue of Christ. My thoughts went to Mexico, the land of Soap Operas, with a nice coastline I had also seen on television. The Middle East came up in my thoughts as well. I quickly eliminated every possibility of my going there. The threat I didn’t want was terrorism. The London train tunnel bombings made me sick. Africa later arrived in my mind. A nice spot, I thought. And because I had not been to Africa before, curiosity finally made it my choice destination. I had heard Nigeria to be a land of rich cultural heritage and nice relaxation spots. But it had to compete with South Africa, and Kenya to emerge as my destination. Also at the back of my mind stood the bitter fact that Susan was my only gateway into Africa.
To my greatest surprise, Susan did not raise her voice in disagreement when I begged her to fund my trip to the Kenyan Safari in Africa. Though her facial expression said something which was nothing more than, ‘taking your laziness to Africa?’ I got more money than I requested anyway.
I arrived in Kenya feeling good and free to think, while savouring all awesome views associated with the wild. Then came a day I was drawn to a shack in which a little girl sold well threaded shell beads. She had shells that came in a wide array of beautiful colours, and couldn’t be more than ten years old. I was attracted instantly to make a purchase. I bought three of the magnificent beads and paid fifty pence. That was not all.
“Where did you get all these shells from?” I asked the girl whose name I later learned was Naliaka.
“From Mombasa,” She said. I immediately remembered the port city. The urge to savour a view of its stretch of beach made it a destination in my itinerary.
“Who made these?” I asked, driven by my growing admiration for the beads.
“My mother,” said Naliaka. “You want to meet her?”
“Yes,” I replied.
Meeting Naliaka’s mother brought me what I never bargained for. I expected to see a vibrant woman whom I wanted to praise for her artistry. And to my shock, I met a woman that made me see that she was dying of AIDS. Naliaka had to sell beads to tourists to provide for her till the very day the cold hands of death would take her away. Pity brought tears to my eyes, I fell to my knees beside Naliaka’s mother, who was frail. I took her gaunt left hand with my right hand and asked her to mention a favour she needed from me after she managed to speak of her past ordeals. She then whispered something not audible to Naliaka, who ran off and returned with a dusty manuscript. “Take this to your country,” she said faintly and motioned Naliaka to hand over the manuscript to me. It was not what I expected at all from a woman in her condition. I flipped through the manuscript and saw that it was a play. Naliaka’s mother wanted me to take the play to England and try to find a producing theatre for it. It was a play she had written when she was twenty-two and titled it NEVER FORGET MY DAUGHTER.. Ngugi was the name of Naliaka’s mother. Her dream, which certainly was botched by now, was to be an internationally renowned playwright. NEVER FORGET MY DAUGHTER was her first and only attempt, being always enthralled by the ways well weaved dialogue brings playwrights’ ideas to life, and arresting attention of audiences.
Nothing fascinated her more than the craft of delivering captivating plots, driven by excellent characterizations that kept audiences glued to their seats till a play’s final curtains were drawn. Ngugi was full of life and eager to always give her best shot towards achieving her dreams not knowing fate had other plans.
“I did not know Samson had those kind of friends,” Ngugi had first said to me. The words were quite slow in coming out of her. They got me curious at once. There was nothing else I wanted to know so much than what she meant.
“Who is Samson?” I quickly quizzed. It was my question that immediately blew the lid off Ngugi’s story. Though her breathing was a bit laboured and her utterances slow, she still pulled it off.
I learnt Samson was Ngugi’s first ever boyfriend whom she meet when she was twenty three. They easily got along. Samson was a young man she liked and trusted so much. She would not have accompanied Samson to see some friends of his, if she had had a way of knowing what awaited her. The atmosphere inside the room didn’t show any sign of yielding the unpalatable when Ngugi stepped in with Samson. Only two of Samson’s friends, Niba and Levis were in the scantily furnished room that had no bed. A rug was on the floor and the two windows in the room were well covered with colourful curtains. A compact disc player was also in the room, yielding a romantic song at moderate volume that allowed everyone to hear each other with ease. No sooner than Samson had introduced Ngugi as his girlfriend that Niba bolted the door that led out of the room. The friendly atmosphere that initially welcomed Ngugi and Samson became history at once, as another atmosphere, one that gradually peddled unfriendliness and was capable of breeding violence slowly took over. Ngugi couldn’t understand why Niba had to bolt the door. She began to sense danger, got rattled, but managed to check her fears, wishing what had stumbled into her mind and became her thought was never going to happen.
“It is your turn, Samson. Your turn to donate,” said Levis, who obviously ran the affairs of the room.
“But not her. Please spare her,” Samson’s voice went off in disagreement. “I will get you another.”
“Shut up your mouth!” Levis thundered, compelling Samson to find solace in silence. Ngugi was by now overtaken by fear. She trembled in fact when what awaited her was confirmed. It was clear that Samson had long been a partaker in the girls others brought to the room. Levis and Niba were therefore not ready to entertain any reason why he would not get the room a prey. Samson regretted why he brought Ngugi along.
“Please, Ngugi I am sorry,” he pleaded. “I forgot this is a slaughter room.” Levis dashed to the compact disc player and raised its volume to a deafening decibel.
“Take your hands off me! Get out! You wouldn’t dare!” Ngugi screamed as she put up a fight against Levis who was bent on having his way, come sunshine, come rain. She had to stop warding off Levis’s advances anyway. That meant she lost her virginity to him. Niba took his turn as well. Samson had to take his own turn too, this being the rule in his gang. He did, very reluctantly, when Levis and Niba threatened his life by pointing their short guns to his head.
Ngugi had no choice but to give in when Levis left her with two options. Levis took her to the door and opened it. Ngugi was shocked to see ten other young men, who obviously were members of the gang as they waited for their turn. They must have seen her arrive with Samson. Ngugi did not need to be told that it was better to willingly let only three have their way than allowing things to get really ugly, thereby generating a situation where all thirteen young men would have her. Levis had the power to bar the men outside from partaking, which he exercised in the end. He led Ngugi out of the room and away, to the chargrin of the men outside. And none of them could find the boldness to ask Levis why he was taking Ngugi away without their having their turn. Levis was the boss and bully in the gang, and his decision was final.
Ngugi told me she became pregnant afterwards. Her mother who lost her husband just after two months into her marriage would not take that. Ngugi had brought her disgrace of unimaginable proportion. Ngugi had blighted her life, hope and future. Her disappointment in Ngugi was so profound that her heart became that of stone. Ngugi’s lot then became one of a pregnant young women thrown into the streets. A woman who had to resort to begging in order to meet the demands of pregnancy that eventually resulted in Naliaka. Ngugi later realized the bitter reality that meagre sums of money, which she got through charitable deeds of others was never going to be enough for her and the additional mouth she had to feed. Enough temptation then began to come on her to sell off baby Naliaka to ritual killers who would take her for blood money. She stood a good chance of making up to one hundred thousand Kenyan Shillings by doing that. The money was enough to get her off the streets, and on course to earning her livelihood by trading. Ngugi considered her options very carefully. Selling Naliaka was very attractive but she found it extremely hard to sever the mother-to-daughter bond between she and her Naliaka, which got even stronger as resources they had to live on, got thinner. Strong temptation for Ngugi to drift into prostitution then came round, got stronger as each day dawned. Her will to resist, getting increasingly thinner and thinner than a thread everyday.
Something about the way I was handed the play told me that Naliaka’s future rested on it. Now I didn’t need to ask if she needed any money from the play should it get produced. I must say the hardest decision I had ever taken in my entire life was the one I took in leaving Naliaka and her mother in their condition. I really wanted to stay with them, get a job, no matter how menial it was; just anything I could do to help alleviate their condition in any way. But I had to take NEVER FORGET MY DAUGHTER to England. I was hell bent on fulfilling Ngugi’s wish.
The morning I had to leave got me weeping like a child, as I threw one more glance at Ngugi and Naliaka. “Goodbye,” I finally said out of my pity laden heart. Then I took one long look at the manuscript, tears drifting from my eyes and landing on it. “You are wetting it all up,” mumbled Naliaka as her protective attitude towards the manuscript surfaced. That quickly arrested my tears and got my right fingers fumbling into my breast pocket in search of my handkerchief. I pulled it out and wiped off tears from the manuscript. Then I began to leave. Three steps away were all I had taken before a force stronger than the will I had mustered to leave, compelled me to turn back at Naliaka and her mother again. There was instant turmoil inside my mind because so many different words were being coined and arranged at the same time in there. There was this huge jostle amongst them for supremacy. They fed me with confusion. I couldn’t come up with words to utter. Naliaka and her mother were by now drenched in their bid to know why I had turned back. The height of confusion in my mind got me scratching my head, dawning a little chuckle on my face. I even had to blow my nostrils a couple of times, with my handkerchief again, coming in handy to do its clearing job. I didn’t know if it was the blowing of my nostrils that did the magic at last. I noticed that my mind got its house back in order after that, and I was ready with my last words to Ngugi and Naliaka. The words left my mouth, backed with a steely determination to actualize them, which I had not had before in my life.
“I will strive with my life to bring your play to light. And I swear to be honest in my dealings with it.” That was all I said. The response I got from Naliaka was a quick nod that said fine, and a cold stare that I read so well. It simply was a reminder to me that honesty was the best policy in all situations. Ngugi’s face just took on a faint smile that vanished like vapour. I didn’t expect much from her anyway. But she did manage to put across a very faint ‘thank you’ in the end and closed her eyes.
Doubts began playing games with me, within the confines of my mind, as I walked away to reach the next destination of my tour. ‘Honesty is the best policy in all situations. Can you implement that? Can you?’ My mind kept voicing these words and questions to my head in a staggering and disturbing barrage. It then got to an extent that I became annoyed because of the betraying feeling that my mind couldn’t trust me.
“Shut up!” I screamed at my mind. “Have I ever been known to be dishonest?”
‘Honest intentions are like a chameleon. They can change their true colours and shades.’ Voices in my head rattled.
“Shut up!” I lashed out. “You must endeavour to trust me at all times. Now shut up!” Anger got my eyeballs to dilate in a cannibalistic manner, revealing how much I wanted to strangle my mind if it were possible.
I saw other tourists running about and having fun. Bikinis of different colours strapped to bodies with adorable curves and contours were in abundance. The sun was out and above, doing a marvelous job of warming things up. The waves constantly roared in varying cadence, yielding breeze that continued to give my face a gentle slap. The coastline in Mombasa offered nothing but a splendid ambience for total relaxation. It was however, relaxation that eluded me in Mombasa. I just couldn’t get myself to savour all the abundance nature offered. Mombasa and its magnificent natural abundance that offered true delight to tourists was a boring place for me. The wish of a dying African woman continued to tug at me to match my words with action. England was pulling me back, and my remaining days as a tourist had no choice but to get abandonment from me. I Just couldn’t help it.
I shopped the play around when I got back to London. Initial responses were that of fierce rejection. I was beginning to believe that the play had no future life until I read it myself. I thought it was fantastic, and by now other ideas were originating in my mind. I discovered I had in my hands what I could use to prove to Susan that I had brains after all. My conscience did not prick me regarding what I was set to do. In fact, I felt good about it. The title of the play then became because of my wife, and was now mine. I quickly shopped it around a few literary agencies I knew, got a response from Toby. His enthusiasm for my play was hitting the sky when we sat down to get the necessary paper works done. I was glad I had an agent. An astute businessman. A competent contract negotiator at that, whose list of clients was an eclectic mix of the finest of playwrights and other sound minds. I needed not to be told that any creative person in the stable of Toby and his agency was in for real lucrative deals. The handwriting was all over the wall. What else did I need to make a bold statement to Susan that would get her to respect me and shut her mouth?
Because of my wife premiered at the Soho theatre and instantly scored with audiences, posting sell-out runs. Soon other theatres in the United Kingdom queued up for a piece of my play, which also began an international tour. Fantastic reviews trailed it. It was like the wind was peddling my name all around. Did I need to say that my fortunes changed? To put it simply, my royalty cheques swelled in number. I felt I was the William Shakespeare of my generation. But somewhere deep down in my conscience, Naliaka was probing. Her voice was quite loud. She was fighting, she was yelling, she was claiming my play, rattling in my head, pricking my conscience. I managed to douse it all and carried on with relishing my found celebrity status.
Naliaka came again with her attack to my mind one day when I was having discussions with my agent.
“I don’t know you! The play is mine!” I had screamed unconsciously.
“Who are you screaming at, Mr. Charlie?” Toby asked in amazement. I had to lie that my mind was all clogged up with little family worries. Whether Toby finally believed me or not, was not for me to bother about. He simply threw glances that carried questions, which still needed answers at me, before our discussions got back on track. Life was good in the home front. I was glad I had finally earned some respect from Susan who never asked when I began to write plays. It all got back to how it was when we got married. Susan was all romantic again; flowers, candies and candle-light dinners followed. And with my bank account looking fat, sex became great again for us, so much so that Susan became pregnant. It all looked good till the day Naliaka came fighting again. I had Susan’s head rested on my chest in bed, stroking it gently.
“Leave me alone, Naliaka! This money belongs to me!” I screamed.
“ Your girl friend?” Susan asked, driven by suspicion. I had to begin to defend myself. “One of those prostitutes you call fans?” She added and sprang up, glowering at me.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Susan. She is just a girl I met in Kenya. She was my guide.”
“You had a problem with her over money?”
“Yes, she turned round and accused me of not paying her after taking me around. Don’t worry, Susan. I had that all sorted out.”
“I’m sorry, Charlie. You understand no woman wants her man snatched away. Don’t you?”
“I do understand,” I replied, feeling thrilled I handled Susan’s suspicions intelligently. But the worst was coming.
Toby called me the next day to say he had delivered a deal from Hollywood. A movie executive wanted my play in pictures. I was glad. I was going to be richer, and sinking into a mess. I couldn’t say no to the deal and risk exposing myself. So a contract was sealed that I would do the screenplay. Hollywood wanted my play. Toby was not the kind of man that would entertain talks of cancelling a deal he had worked so hard to deliver. In my mind was Naliaka again, laughing at me, as I realised what a fool I had made myself after all, because of my wife.