The Night Before Life Goes On
When Ikemefuna Okafor found himself in the desperate kingdom of love with his wife and expecting mother Paulina Ikemefuna-Okafore, nothing could possibly go wrong.
When the lights went on and all I could see were the glaring faces of monsters and their embellished teeth, I knew that the devil had taken form in my lover’s body. I had too much to loose by screaming, so I was waiting, watching, trying to remember what was and what wasn’t.
It was the 12th of February 1974, it had rained heavily in the morning, leaving termites to fly all around the compound, when Ikemefuna came home, smelling like a stranger. He didn't go out with his Celica ,it had a little problem with the gear box. I had stayed awake after watching my favourite TV Show with my neighbour waiting for him so I wanted to be certain that if he was sleeping around he would have the decency to do it with a girl who could afford a Vera Wang wedding dress. Not like i bought mine with my money, but my elder sister's friend niece, used it during her wedding, 5 years ago. He smelled of a new soap; it was cheap. It wasn’t the Aloe Vera we used at home. So I let him enter the house as I made my way to the kitchen. That night I didn’t meet him, the devil smelled all over him so instead, I added too much salt to his meal, and he ate, while I faced the other side of the bed.
The next morning was a Saturday. As I made akara in the kitchen, ‘Funa scrubbed the living room and cleaned up his car. i didn't see the need of cleaning a car that he hasnt used for 4months, because before the end of the day, mama Ikenna's last son will inscribe 'IN NEED OF SERIOUS WATER; PLEASE WASH ME' .We hadn’t spoken since he came home last night. When all was done, I couldn’t bottle up my emotions. I was mad and it had to be now.
“You good for nothing pig” you come home at midnight, smelling like a whore you picked at the market bus-stop and you have not a word to utter from the same mouth you used to kiss her. Tell me. How was her makeup? Did she wear a red lipstick? Was it pink? Or nude? Or she couldn’t afford any. Tell me now Ikemefuna Okafor before the neighbors come out to separate us.”
“What in the name of the devil are you talking about?” He replied with a raised eyebrow. I already had my hand on his collar as he tried to calm me down. He went further to explain how he walked all day and on his way back, he stopped at the chemist at Okigwe Road to get me a valentine gift. He said he had been out picking a fragrance for me and that was why he smelled the way he did. He wanted to surprise me. He bought it for 4Naira. I was wowed. I knew better not to believe a man who came home late at night with a different smell, but ‘Funa had saved his money to get me this fragrance. He had to walk back home on foot. It was perfect. It was the most romantic thing he has ever done since he un-hooked my bra on our wedding night.
It was the morning. The sweetest aroma embraced the air; the birds chiming, syncing, and rhyming. The radio stations couldn’t stop saying it. The young boys on our streets already washed their clothes a day before, the bachelors cleaned up their cars and married woman smiled as they went to the market. The bucket I left outside caught lots of termite. I paid little attention to it for I thought about the day ahead. ‘Funa did nothing; he played slow sweet music of the legendary Michael Bolton. He kissed me as I woke up, his eyes piercing, discovering the loneliness in my eyes. It was the first time he has kissed me before I had brushed my teeth. I kissed him also, but it was quick, as I had to line up to fetch water from the public bore-hole. It was Valentine’s day. The 14th of February 1974. The last morning I saw ‘Funa. The last morning I kissed him. And it was a goodbye kiss on Valentine’s day. The morning before life goes on.
“He said : ""Remember tonight, for it is the beginning of always. A promise, like a reward for persisting through life so long alone. Belief in each other and the possibility of eternal love. A decision to ignore simply rise above the pain in the past. A covenant, which at once binds two souls and yet severs prior ties. The celebration of the chance taken and the challenge that lies ahead. For two will always be stronger than one. Like a team braced against the tempest of the world. And love will always be the guiding forces in our lives. For tonight is mere formality. Only an announcement to the world of feelings long held. Promises made long ago in the sacred spaces in our hearts”
The road leading to town was busy. Buses parking in the middle of the road to pick customers, traders selling heart shaped teddy bears on the sidewalks.One could hear the sound of flies buzzing from the meat market as people bargained to get fare prices. It was the day I wore the red dress. It was his favorite dress; I had worn it the day we met. I wore it for him one more time to spark the magic. I knew I looked fantastic, no lipstick, just as he liked it, and his mother’s ring. Pretending we were Romeo and Juliet. But the one thing I wouldn’t be able to pretend about is our final fight. His fears of letting me go; the people can barely see the marks his fingers left on my neck; holding me, loving me.
""I feel like.......I'm moving in slow motion. Like I'm moving in slow motion and everything around me is moving so fast and I just want to go back....to when things were normal. When I wasn't the poor widow who murdered her husband. But I am; so I can't. And I'm Just stuck. And there's all this pressure cause everyone is hovering around me, waiting for me to do something or say something or flip out or yell or cry some more.....but i don't know how to do this. I don't know how to be this person. I don't know who this person is.""
“I will like to take your orders, Oga”
The waiter at the Imo Concorde Hotel said. He wore a red bow tie. I wandered if he had a valentine. Or if he was cursing the stones because he had to work on such a lovely day. I also noticed that he had funa's check bones. Strong and proud.
“Oh yes, I will have rice & salad” I replied, as my jaw almost dropped while ‘Funa squeezed my hand. His touch warm, but like ice; sending shivers up my arm. I couldn’t believe I could be on earth, but have an angel sit across me.
Funa didn’t place an order. He said he’d watch me eat.
But knowing funa and his appetite, I figured that he couldn’t afford lunch for two at this exquisite hotel, so he wanted only me to eat. I looked over to the table by our right and i saw this very pretty young ladies, in her 20's accept to an old eye-burgling man's proposal. He was too old he couldn't stand up to kiss her hand, as funa did. Then Ikemefuna kissed my left hand,as if to draw my attention to his beautiful gaze. It was beautiful.
""“Help! Help! We need help here. My wife is still breathing.” Help! Smoke filled the whole room, children and mothers lay burnt like waste products at Uratta housing estate. It was the last thing I remember, the lights going out and noises rising from different sections of the hotel. I couldn’t see red. I saw black burnt bodies in blur vision. ‘Funa was holding my neck, for some reason, trying to get people to come to my aid. His strong palms gave me a scar.”""
The fire started from the kitchen, it spread right through the lounge and into the restaurant I saw the old eye-bulging man leave his lover to run for his dear life. A mother tripped as she tried to make way for her 5kids to flee from their table. I couldn’t see the fire on time, but I saw blood. Noise was everywhere. I was caught up in the conversation with funa. He told me sweet little stories of mermaids and cartoons. He told me about playing hide and seek in his village while growing up. Then the fire reached the table close to us. It was spreading. I became hot.
The Imo Concorde hotel was set ablaze by unknown people. It claimed the lives of 267people, with only 3 survivors. The fire lasted for about 45minutes before it was put out, one lady who survived was found under her husband’s body. Rumor has it that the man lay on top of her to shield her from the fire. Nothing has been said about compensating the victims. Barrister Emeka Chidubem survived as well as Mrs Igwe and the lady saved by love…Mrs Paulina Ikemefuna-…….”""
The radio stations couldn’t stop saying it, the women on the streets couldn’t stop gossiping, and the lovers in my town couldn’t stop whispering. It was the most tragic thing in the history of love in my town.
I couldn’t stand hearing the presenter complete the name. My husband is dead. He died before he could watch the sunset with me. Before he could teach our un-born baby how to hunt and wrestle. I was finally at home, staring at the bottle of fragrance ‘Funa bought for me, it has only been 24 hours and I’ve walked through the hottest part of hell and back, I made my way through the door, and headed out. I walked 3hrs, 279kl. It was cold. The rain poured heavily, as if to mean that ‘Funa has been received by the Angels. The Angels of love. When I got to the supermarket, I handed the perfume over to the shop assistant. She spoke under her breath, something in Igbo. She was from Anambra so I couldn’t pick so much out of what she said, but I was sure she was talking about me. Suddenly, I had become more famous than Zik within a period of a woman's child labour. I didn’t give her a second look. She was smiling like a baby born at the General Hospital where only the rich go to; wearing a red dress with a black hat. I wandered if her boyfriend took her out. I was jealous. Jealous of the smile across her face, Jealous of the fact that Funa paid too much concentration on this day. Jealous that her red dress had more glitters than mine. It wasn’t all so much in the end. I returned the un-used perfume ‘Funa gave me and stormed out. I spent the night before life goes on, walking home in the rain to an empty room, an empty bed, trying to remember our last kiss; while singing the sweet songs of the legendary Michael Bolton.
I believe in true love. I believe in love at first sight. I believe love conquers all. and that doesn't mean there's not gonna be hard days or difficult things to deal with, because there will be. but finding that person who does it for you and knowing that person loves you back; it just makes everything so much easier. Love can be strong; we are forced to feel every emotion; both good & bad. Love. The day you start thinking that love is overrated is the day you're wrong. The only thing wrong with love and faith and belief is not having them.
1 Claim: Originally written by Nigerian Fiction member 240 - Edithsmiles (Kecy Francis-Anosike)
2 Nigerian Fiction Title 103