AN EARLY MORNING ROMANCE

…for Chibueze Devicky

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It was a bad day at work and you cross your threshold at home feeling the weight of the devil’s cloud over your head. You kick your shoes into a corner, grab a chilled bottle of water and plop down on the sofa. It’s late, too late for the kids or anyone to be awake so you’re startled by the noise to the right. But you lean back just as soon because it’s the wife. She stands there, reproach in her eyes and one recently discarded shoe in her hand – she hates to see them strewn all over the place. You hadn’t littered the shoes with the intention to irk her but seeing her so pissed gladdens the devil in you. You wait for her to yell – you count the seconds – so you can unleash it all on her. But she doesn’t.

Instead, she walks over to you and in an exasperatingly loving voice asks, “Tough day?”

Why couldn’t she just have yelled? you fume. She just had to deprive you of the satisfaction of a midnight shouting match! You sulk, ignoring her. You focus on the blank tv screen – hell, you should’ve turned it on – sipping your water every other second, still ignoring her.

She bends towards you resting one hand on your bent knee for support – sending shocking thrills up your thigh – and feels your forehead. She runs her fingers down the left side of your face and cups your jaw. You feel your muscles relax, your frustrations ebb; you can’t help it so you raise your eyes to her. Her eyes whisper comprehension of your inner turmoil and she moves her feathery touch to your neck…

The devil in you jerks those chains again; you in turn, jerk away from her touch.

“Baby…” she entreats, raising her hand again towards you. But you shove it away. Hot, you down the rest of the water and escape, taking the stairs three at a time muttering something incoherent about needing a bath.

You take long in the bath because you want her to go to bed – you just want to sulk and feel miserable. Alone. Wearing just your bathrobe, you tiptoe past your bedroom door and head for the stairs. Nothing suits misery better than chilled beer and nighttime television.

The aroma hits you first; it stops you mid-leap down the stairs. Your neck snaps around to the dining table and there’s a bowl on it that hadn’t been there earlier. Like a thief, you near the bowl, shooting glances everywhere and nowhere in particular. Closer…you reach out with one hand, the other unconsciously shields your face – what? It could be a food bomb!

You unscrew the lid on the thermos bowl…okpanaede! Glorious, hot and orange like raving fire, with green and red bits of heavenly vegetable and whatever else it was made of, the local delicacy stared up at you, tantalizing, like a naked lover cross at having been kept waiting.

Face to face with the phenomenal aroma, the impact is too strong for your mouth to even comprehend the process of watering, so it dries up. You notice the plate beside it, turned over, cutleries and a bowl of water. Forget those, you reach out with a finger…

The noise stops you. It’s from the kitchen – clinking and rattling of utensils. Didn’t she go to bed already?

You gingerly near the door; the wife is standing with her back to you and while you watch, she scoops the last of the okpanaede into a plastic bowl. She turns then, halts for the tiniest of seconds on sighting you by the doorway, and then walks on straight by you to dump the bowl in the fridge. Then she walks right back, this time nearly through you knocking you off-balance.

You can’t help the shame that washes over you – 35-year old idiot! For the first time this night, you see her. Her hair done up shows off the best of her neck, the graceful line of spine snaking into the top of her collar. You caress – with your eyes – the white blouse that hugs her back from behind, molding along the little folds of post-baby flesh here and there. The grey skirt looks like dinner; it clings onto her hips like skin and slides down along the thighs with the bliss of a child on a rubber-slide.

Her calves are rounded, smooth and long, helped by the wrap-around straps of her black sandals. They are also spotted with something brown, caked. It dawns on you that she is still in her work clothes; if those spots on her calf were what they looked to be, she hadn’t even had the time for a bath. It is well past midnight – early morning already, yet she had cooked you a real meal, and stayed up to watch you eat it.

35-year old idiot!

She brushes by you again, dropping another bowl into the fridge and you try to catch her eyes but she studiously keeps them diverted. Her scent fills your nostrils and unbidden, your loins quiver up. She barrages by you again, into the kitchen – ‘who is there?’ the dragon roars.

Now you are the only thing worse than a 35-year old idiot – an aroused 35-year old idiot.

She is doing the dishes. You sneak up on her from behind and quickly – to avoid a head-bump – encircle her waist with your arms. You draw your arms upwards so that they cage her arms which in turn, cage her breasts. Then you squeeze.  The vision that greets you from where you stand over her shoulder ignites fireworks in your head. You hear yourself sigh. Or was it her?

You nuzzle her neck, breathing in the musky cocktail of sweat, dust, spent lotion…and woman. You feather kisses on her neck, up her cheeks and nearer her mouth, when you feel the wetness.

You are alarmed to find that she is crying. You can see a mute tear roll down her cheek, only stopping to dip into a dimple before continuing downwards to meld into the dirt-streaked collar of her white lawyerly blouse. You feel the pain in all the different rooms of your heart.

“Honey, I’m sorry!” you whisper, “I had such a rotten day”

“Oh you did?” she spat – Oh boy! – “and mine was great? I finished late, spent two rotten hours in traffic and got home to discover that the rotten sitter hadn’t come today. Again! The children hadn’t done any homework, they were dirty – ”

“Shhhh,” you coo. Who are you kidding? She can’t be stopped now.

“ – it was a rotten task getting them organized, cleaned and in bed. Still I wanted to make you something special for your promotion. But no, you had to go and be a rotten jerk. Tonight of all rotten nights! Did you have to treat me like that?!”

Now you regret ever using the word ‘rotten’. Through the entire tirade, she doesn’t even try to look back at you. You are sure that but for the arms you had around her, she might have taken a pan to your head.

Spent, she stands taut and unyielding against you. “Why?” she sobs.

You say nothing, you know better. Slowly, you move your hands up to cup her breasts. And you squeeze. You feel the knots relax one at a time; the nipples tighten and shoot into your palms, pebbly and warm. You squeeze again.

“Why?” she moans.

Slowly still, you turn her around to face you. Holding her hands loosely, you bring them up to your face and kiss them. First in the palms, then you fold them into fists and kiss the knuckles, then the short unevenly coated nails and the wrists. You feel her pulse quicken and you look into her eyes, for the second time that evening. They are teary still and glazed over, hurt and staring into yours. Gently, you pull the hands up till they rest one on either of your shoulders. Then you hold her waist and pull her closer.

Her hairline is sturdy; a few errant curls have escaped the elastic band and you can see that  a few of them are greying at the roots. You kiss them. She shuts her eyes and the lids quiver like butterfly wings. You kiss them too. The last of the tears roll down and inch by inch, you kiss them off. You trail your lips along their wet path stopping only to kiss each dimple before continuing down her neck.

Her breath quickens, and her nostrils flare up ever so slightly. You kiss them. Then you trace the lines of her upper lip, left to right, first with wet kisses. Then with your tongue. She breathes even faster, her lips parting very slightly to help inhale oxygen. And you kiss them.

The kiss is slow, very slow. Almost lazy. You apologize, you thank her and you love her – all in that one kiss. Like a spring bed dressed in wool mattresses, she soaks it up, all of it.

You break it off, trailing your mouth down, past her jaw and down still. Your knees yield till you are down on them before her. Her eyes staring down into yours speak volumes of hurt, of love, and of lust.

One little button by little button, you undo her blouse. Next, the bra comes off. Three children haven’t done any damage; her breasts are as you remember from the very first time – fair, bouncy and staring proudly ahead through dark-chocolate brown nipples. They call to you but no, you kiss them feathery adieus…see you soon.

You spread kisses on her tummy, warm and rounded. You kiss the scar from when she had gone under the knife for your second baby, plant light kisses around her navel, blow into it and suck the skin around it between your teeth. It is a faint sound from outside the roaring in your head but you hear her moan.

I hear you, baby.

You undo the hook and slowly, slip off her skirt. And panties…

It rains down on you, a torrent of water. Your first thought is hot water and panicked, you jump up. And land very roughly on the concrete floor. You jump back up, sputtering with your eyes shut against the unceasing flow; your head connects with something metallic and blunt on the way up.

“Gerrup, my friend!…hanlele!”

Your finally have your eyes open to behold the combat colors of the soldier in front of you. Whip in hand, he walks out of your line of sight. What? How?!

You pick yourself up and take in the rest of your immediate environment, your confusion mounting by the second – bunk beds with boxers, singlets and other articles of clothing hanging off of them; the grimy louvers and dust-breeding nets, torn in more places than weren’t; boys in different stages of undress, running to and fro; the uneven concrete floor now sporting random pools of water, and the dull glint of the premature sun’s rays on them.

The soldier spots you still standing; he comes towards you, raises the beagle and blows it into your face: tutururu…tuntururu…tuntuntuntunturururu.

“You this animaaal, muff it now or ah wee muff you, walahi!”

You stand, staring into his red-rimmed eyes, seeking some explanation. He sweeps his eyes over you, from head to toe then he returns them to your face, an amused expression on his.

“Bloody otondo” He spits and moves on.

You stare down at your drenched boxers-clad self and see the reason for his amusement. But you are not amused; the visible bulge of your semi-erect phallus only reminds you, painfully, of the beautiful wife you just lost, and the dream along with her.

You drag your full bucket of water out from under the bed; your sponge floating around in it looks like a bloated frog, a blue bloated frog. You completely ignore the ruckus around you – let them do their worst – as you grab your soap pouch and towel off the bunk bars. You head for the bath stalls cursing the National Youth Service Corps and all the gods of khaki.

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P.S: Like I wrote earlier, for Chibueze Devicky; for him and all other fresh otondos who will never get to see the life of NYSC camp. I am happy for you, bro…just wish I could be happier 😉

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter

 

The Medallion – III

…continued from The Medallion – II

After they found it, one of his contingency plans would roll into action; none of them held a good end for good ol’ Simon of Cyrene…

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“Oho!” Simon exclaimed. He had been studying the clue for a while; they put their heads very close together to hear each other above the noise of the teeming crowd.

“The Place of Skulls, you see that?” he pointed at the line, “that is Golgotha. It is on the outskirts, well beyond the city’s gates. But it is uphill and the road is very rocky so it might take a while to get there.”

“Hmm…” was all Rufus said while contemplating the best tactic to make Simon lead him to Golgotha.

But before he could think a nickel’s worth, the man offered to do so himself.

“I can take you if you want” he said, like an answer to a prayer. Rufus nodded enthusiastically, afraid to say a word lest he jinx his good fortune.

“This way,” Simon led the way, shepherding Alexander along while little Rufus stayed glued to his chest. “We must pass by the Praetorium,” Simon talked as he walked, apparently relishing his tour-guide role, “there is only one major road leading out of Jerusalem this time of the year but once we cross the city’s gates, we can choose from a number of bye-ways”

In the Praetorium, the crowd was swallowed up in its own uproar. In the center, Rufus saw the condemned man – Jesus – sprawled on the ground surrounded by a horde of soldiers. Sprawled on the floor like that clad only in his undergarment, he looked every inch a child, a badly whipped son. He was coiled into himself in a fetal roll with his back in the direction of the courtyard from which Rufus emerged with his companions. One look at Jesus’ back and Rufus knew.

The first lesson every youngster learnt growing up in the thief’s colony out in the outskirts of Capernaum was that a man who squealed on his fellow thieves was a beast and therefore wont to be treated like one. The punishment for such a betrayal was whipping. Now there were whips and there was the whip. When it came to a traitor, the whip was used; it was called the Hushrat, also known as ‘the screamer’.

A long winding work of metal from handle to flailing tip, the average Hushrat was two-branched, each branch firmly fitted with little curved hooks all along its length. While being whirled in the air, it gave off sounds akin to those of screaming babies; when it landed on the bare back of its victim, the hooks lodged themselves firmly in the tissue of the back so that when the whip was hurled back, each hook came away with its own ‘pound of flesh’ leaving a gushing mess of tissue behind and a screaming victim – ‘the screamer’! The handling of the Hushrat was a skill mastered by a lineage of men in the colony at the time and many a generation lived and passed on without showing off the skill on a man; the punishment was very rarely employed, reserved only for the worst breach of the colony’s codes of conduct.

The marks on the back of the condemned man, Rufus saw, were courtesy of a Hushrat but this wasn’t just any Hushrat, the gullies of red tissue and blood criss-crossing his back were like none Rufus had ever seen. As if to confirm his fears, one of the soldiers unceremoniously dropped the whip splattering blood and tissue on the stone floor. One look at the Hushrat and Rufus felt a chill shake him down to the knees. This Hushrat was four-branched! And each of the four branches split into two branches at the tip, little razor-sharp hooks glistened red along the lengths to the very tip of all the branches. Rufus did not need to see Jesus’ face to know the anguish he was feeling but he looked as the prisoner turned up on his back. His eyes were tightly shut, so tight that his entire head quivered with the effort and his hands clenched by the side vibrated with raw agony. His mouth was open in a soundless cry as blood and spittle dribbled out into his brown beard.

He could barely stand but the soldiers forced him up. Rufus watched as a soldier threw a purple scraggly robe on the floor, extricated his phallus without the least care for modesty in a crowd of women and children, and pissed on the cloth. Laughing maniacally, he picked up the foul garment and threw it over the condemned man, mauled back and all.

Rufus felt his teeth clench involuntarily in empathy for the poor man who now stood in a hunched position, his clenched hands quivering in an evident struggle to keep a hold of his sanity. Another soldier walked up and slammed what turned out to be a crown on his head. Rufus thought it was a mere wooden crown but upon impact with his head, Jesus’ knees buckled and his eyes sprang open in pained shock. His mouth snapped shut and immediately sprang open again in another cry that should have been a full-throated scream but only came out as a gurgled whine. Lines of blood-mixed saliva crisscrossed the distance between his gaping lips and his quivering hands sprang to his head in reflex but were quickly beat away with sticks. The crown, Rufus saw, was woven out of branches of the Burbar tree whose branches sported thorns sometimes as long as a man’s little finger. The brutality of it was almost incredible but the crowd did not mind. They jeered and jubilated the entire time.

Disgusted, Rufus turned away from the sight. Dragging Eleazer along a tad roughly, he turned to Simon. “Let us go”.

Simon was already pale in the face – his boys were not faring any better – but he turned up his hands in a gesture of helplessness, “This is the only way out to the city gates”. Rufus grunted, exasperated.

“Make way!”

He made it out of the way just in time to avoid getting cudgeled by an enormous wooden cross being dragged in by two burly soldiers, huffing and puffing with the effort. As much as he hated to watch, Rufus felt his eyes drawn to this Jesus-man where he knelt on the floor; the purple robe was already soaked through, dripping blood off of its ragged edges and blood ran down his face in rivulets from where the Burbar thorns had pierced his head.

Jesus was dragged up again and the massive cross was thrust upon him. He struggled to adjust to the massive weight and in the process staggered towards a section of the crowd; the man towards whom he had blindly staggered let out a ripping slap on his face punctuated by a kick to the behind. Jesus fell and the cross landed on him with a sickening thud. People spat on him from every side; one woman who had spat twice and missed him moved closer, ignoring the teeming soldiers, and aimed a hoarse glob of mucus at the fallen man’s face. Only when it landed on his face did she turn around and skitter back into the crowd, her accomplishment earning her a few pats on the back. Rufus couldn’t help but wonder how one man could have so acutely offended so many people in one lifetime.

The soldiers had by then blocked the wide exit from the Praetorium into the city so that no one else could go through before Jesus with his cross. So Rufus stood to the side holding on to Eleazer with no choice but to watch the scene unfolding before him.

He watched as another woman disregarded the whips and menacing armory of the soldiers and ran to the place where Jesus had stayed fallen. This one did not spit on him however. Entranced, Rufus watched her say a few soft words into his ear and with visible pained effort, Jesus raised his head; unfolding a white piece of cloth which looked to have been dipped in water, she wiped his face. Even though Rufus didn’t see how wiping the face of a man in such predicaments could help any matters, the nerve of the woman and the affection with which she had executed the task had him blinking furiously, forcing back unmanly tears!

The soldiers pushed her away and she scurried back towards a horde of women huddled together a few feet away but within sight of the suffering man. She handed the blood-soaked cloth to a petite woman who stood hunched over in the center of the weeping horde. wearing a simple white robe with a blue cloak thrown over her hair and torso. All the women were weeping loudly, some rolled and trashed about on the floor but took care to stay a safe distance away from the soldiers while some others pulled at their hair and hugged their children hard to their bosoms. But this woman who stood in the center wept silently. She was dressed in a simple white robe which was now stained brown by dust in many places, and the edges of a blue woolen cloak half-perching on her hair and shoulders trailed in the dust, forgotten. Quiet tears slid down her cheeks while her eyes screamed anguish; Rufus felt the intensity of her agony, the helpless fury of it more than he saw it. With shaking hands, the woman raised the blood-soaked cloth to her face; it wasn’t clear if she was sobbing into it or just hiding her face from the havoc being wrecked on Jesus a few feet away. With every stroke of the Hushrat, every blow, every slap the condemned man was dealt, she cringed visibly.

Rufus looked over at Simon whose distressed face now trailed a line of tears.

“His mother, Mary” he answered.