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Every Woman Is Guilty

By Nonso Uzozie (Nigeria)

Your husband returned home late and drunk again. He was like a shadow of himself. He stared into your face and sighed into your nostrils. It was the third time this had happened; the third time he returned home late dead drunk, and sighed into your nostrils. Now he pushed you aside and went into the bedroom to vomit as usual.

Later on, in the bedroom you knelt beside the bed where he was snoring to clean up his vomit. Your eyes kept surveying his shirt for stains of lipstick that would mark him unfaithful again.

They were many.

He smelt of the sweat of a woman. He smelt of the same pleasant feminine perfume you had noticed the first day. His sweat seemed to be mingled with a heavy feminine sweat, which must have resulted from a long time of severe body contact to permeate into his body and became almost undying in his body – perhaps, into his blood so that it wafted out with any little stir he made on the bed. This was a man you loved with everything you had. You walked the length and breadth of the bedroom, wondering dreamily. Everything seemed to be long ago. But it was only few days ago, only three days. The feeling you bore right there in the room was so weird, so obnoxious, but you subdued it with a prolonged, forced smile, a kind of painted smile which you thought would made him ask, 'What's wrong with you, honey?' if he was not drunk, if his heart was not left somewhere else. You wished he was seeing your face right now.

After you mopped the floor and cleaned him up, you put his head on your lap and watched him sleep. His snoring was irritating but you endured it. You had been bearing it for three days now and wished this night would be the last; the last for everything, the last for this his sudden change which you feared was not ordinary. A man could not just suddenly become unfaithful and a drunk. It was appalling. It was surprising. It was heartbreaking. This was the greatest disappointment you had seen in your life. A man who kissed you tenderly three days ago when he was ready for work, called you on phone in the afternoon to say 'Honey, please I will return late today. I'm going for an emergency board meeting at Ikoyi.'

Ikoyi was few miles away from Ikeja, where his new office was located. You never doubted he was not going for any emergency board meeting because he had hardly ever lied to you. Yes, you never doubted him. Even a night before he left for work, he had received a long whispered-call from a lady who he said was an old client who had returned from overseas, you still didn't suspect him. And so, that evening you had prepared his favourite meal of cocoa nut rice and fried plantain, and waited for him until it was past dinner time. He left your many phone calls unanswered. You paced around the house, looking out through the windows, glancing at the clock and the door. When he came back at midnight; he staggered in, humming and sweating, his suit swinging in his hand. He stood face-to-face with you to sigh into your nostrils. From his terrible breath you knew he was drunk. You could not believe it. You could not also believe the lipstick stains on his shirt. It was how it all started. It was how this handwriting began to go beyond the wall.

Tonight there was nothing else you could do but to believe and accept that you were sharing him with another woman, perhaps, the so-called overseas returnee who made him speak on phone in whispers.

You could not sleep.

In the morning you sat with him in the dinning room. He could not look at your face. He was impatiently guzzling the pap you left on the table last night, scooping it with some pieces of biscuit.

'What is going on, honey?' you asked.

'Chinwe, I don't understand,' he said.

'You come home late these days, and each time you are drunk.'

He said nothing.

'I saw some stains on your shirt last night. Some lipstick stains,' you said.

He did not speak. He was now licking his fingers.

'Are you seeing another woman, honey?' you asked and quickly thought you should have called his name, Ruky, instead of honey. Calling his name would have made you sound so seriously, and would make him tell you the truth. You wanted to hear the truth; the truth that would hurt you, anyway.

He looked at your face and quickly averted his eyes.

'I'm talking to you, Ruky. Are you seeing another woman?'

'What do you want to hear?' he asked you.

'I want to hear the truth. Just tell me the truth.'

He sighed. 'You are old enough to know. You have eyes to see.'

'So that is your yes, right?'

He said nothing. You were upset.

'What is wrong with me? Am I not a woman anymore? What's wrong with me that I cannot turn you on anymore? Am I not good enough for you? What has she got that I don't have?'

He was now silent. His silence annoyed you. You were so quick to smash the glass cup on the wall. Your anger was very difficult to control that you smashed a second glass cup on the floor. And when you saw him walking away you knew you had given him a chance to feel malice, a chance to enjoy his newfound love. You hid your pride and ran after him. In the bedroom you knelt down to apologize, although you thought you were not supposed to. From his stern face you knew he would not forgive you. So when he dressed up and left you concluded that the devil was at work. A sudden dizziness and fever pulled you down.

He did not return home that day. So you concluded he had gone for a better life. He had gone to leave with a woman who was more beautiful and even richer than you were. You had had this strong feeling that he would jilt you one day because you were not beautiful.

This sentiment had started the day he jokingly told you how ugly you were. You did not expect it that day, although you knew truly that you were not too beautiful. It was with the help of expensive make-ups that you were a bit good looking. You had thought he really admired and took you the way you were until that day. You nearly cried out your eyes, and he did not care, even when he came to tell you he was only joking. To you it was beyond joking. It was the real truth about you bared carelessly at the wrong time, at the time you least expected it. But you could not change your face. There were things you certainly could not change in your body; your face was one of them.

You searched for Ruky for three days before his secretary gave the house address of the overseas returnee who she said had been 'occupying' him.

The new house was big and beautiful. There was a strong force surrounding the house that you left you absolutely vulnerable. You hesitated to go in. You took your time to look at the new house and the new cars parked at the corner. Ruky's jeep was parked at the open where it could be easily seen. There was now no doubt that he was inside, there was no doubt that that he had been with his new lover, the overseas returnee, all these days, being occupied. Your heartbeat quickened, you were almost unable to find your breath. You could not imagine what they were doing inside, what he was doing with another woman inside her house, possibly, in her bedroom, very possibly, on her bed. Then you imagined them on the bed, you imagined Ruky on another woman's bed, snuggling and doing what you did not want them to do, what they were not supposed to do. Your stomach became tight with this thought, a rattling sound came on your head, and you began to cry. You began to bang on the gate.

'Open this gate!' you knew you were behaving stupidly, but you could not stop.' Things like that happened every day in streets of Lagos. So you thought yours would not be a surprise to passersby. You were ready to bang on the gate forever!

'Ruky, I know you are in there! I am not leaving here today until you come out here to meet me! ' You were shouting.

An old gate man came up and asked, 'Madam, what is wrong with your head?'

'I am here to see my husband,' you replied.

'Is that why you are shouting like a mad woman?'

'I'm sorry. Please I want to see him.'

'Your husband is not here.'

'But that's his car over there.' You pointed at his Murano Jeep.

'Your husband is not here, madam! Go away! My madam will not be happy to see you shouting here. You are behaving like a mad woman.'

You looked at his over-sized blue and white uniform and smirked. Maybe he was right; you were really mad right now. Who would not be mad if she was in your shoes?

'But you can stay and make noise if you like trouble!' the old gate man said and went back to his post.

You stood there, bewildered. Your legs could not carry you. You leaned on the wall to cry. You did not mind how the passersby looked at you. You were crying for your right; for your man, for your husband. Who said it was stupid to do so?

'Madam, stop troubling yourself,' the old man came back to say in a kinder tone. 'Go home. Your husband is not the only man that comes here. Plenty of them come here all the time. Please, go home. When she is through with him he will come home to you.'

The old man had pity and assurance in his eyes. It was as if he had a lot to tell you. You wished he knew how you felt. You wished he knew your heart was breaking. You wished he could just reach out and touch your heart to know it was really falling apart and to say sorry to you.

'How long before she would be through with him?'

The old man shook his head. You stared at him for a moment before you waved at him and shuffled forlornly down the street. His words were ringing in your head, following you as you walked. "When she is through with him he will come home to you." It sounded like the eerie voice in the dream, and somewhat like a howl from the trough, which nothing could crack –"When she is through with your husband he will come home to you." You chuckled because something was now suddenly wrong with your head, something abnormal. It was as if something alien and heavy had its hands you on your neck. You screamed, and it was as if no one could hear your voice. You began to walk very fast, taking any road that unveiled itself before you. You wanted to walk to end of the world and see your own end. You hungered for the end of the world, where there would be no Ruky, where you could not hear "When she is through with him he will come home to you" sounding like a popular Bible verse in your head.

The next minutes you were running along the road, feeling as if you were floating, , feeling that your vulnerability was giving room for heartbreak, for a horrible transition. You did not wish to go home. Going home meant missing Ruky and crying for him while he enjoyed his new mistress. You still loved him, no matter what he was doing with his mistress in her bedroom. What feeling could be as strong as that? It was true love. It was true love in its trueness.

At a juncture a driver cursed you for crossing the road without looking. 'Witch! You are looking for blood to suck,' he cursed. 'My God pass you!'

You did not apologize. You didn't look around, even when the people around called you a mad woman. You kept walking. You would get to somewhere, you told yourself. You would get to anywhere. Soon you realized you were actually going home.

You turned and ran back!

The old gate man was sleeping when you got there. You are banging on the gate again. The gate man opened the gate to warn you again to go home, but you were too swift and ran past him towards the house, into the house. A beautiful woman was in the sitting room when you came in. She stood up and smiled at you, a welcoming smile. She had a glass of wine in her hand.

'You are here,' she said.

'Where is my husband?' you asked her. 'Are you not tired of him? Please I want him back.'

'Happy birthday,' the woman said, still smiling.

You remembered it was your birthday. And how did she know? You did not care. You wanted your husband.

'I want my husband, I beg of you,' you pleaded.

Now a man came into the sitting room and kissed the woman and said, 'Honey, where is Ruky? I know he likes this place.'

'Sure, he does,' the woman replied.

Ruky appeared through the dinning with a bunch of flowers. 'Happy birthday, sweetheart,' he said, smiling as he walked up to you. He took your hand. Before you could speak they were singing a birthday song for you. You stare in anger and awe.

'The house is our new house, honey' Ruky said.'

You were dreaming.

'You are kidding, aren't you?' you said.

'I'm not, sweetheart. This is our house.'

'All this while…' you gasped, 'you have been pulling my legs? You mean all these days of drinking and vomiting and lipsticks stains were all feigned?'

'I'm sorry for pulling so hard, honey. This is Engineer Bola and his wife, Nora. They designed the house. It's beautiful, isn't it?'

'It is.' You sighed, a sigh of relief. And a certain burden suddenly left your heart.

Engineer Bola and Nora moved closer and had handshakes with you.

'I'm sorry,' you said and quickly hugged Ruky, 'I was jealous.'

'Every woman is guilty of jealousy,' Nora said.

You laughed. 'Maybe...'

'Enjoy your new home, madam,' Bola said.

'Let's go to the dining room for lunch,' Ruky said. 'It's my wife's birthday.'

You walk hand-in-hand with Ruky to your new dinning room, smiling to the whole drama and to the beauty of your new home. Surely, you were guilty of jealousy.

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