It had rained that afternoon - the kind of heavy rain that scuttled the movement plans of many a resident of Lagos. A cool breeze wafted through the open window into the room. The clouds outside seemed to suggest another onslaught from the heavens before the day was over. For now, however, all was quiet. Her heart was beating fast. She could hear it, and so everywhere didn’t seem so quiet after all. Charles was in the room. She had told him to come at that particular time, when no one else would be around. The rains further ensured that no one would be back any time soon. When he had entered the room and they had embraced, she had felt more strongly than ever that what they were doing was wrong, so she had slinked away from his arms and stood by the window.
Sensing that there was something amiss, he sat on the sole bed in the room, his eyes questioning. After a pause, he broke the silence.
“What is the problem Nkechi? You said you had something to tell me, now you are so quiet.”
“I don’t know how to say it,” she replied slowly, her voice seeming so far away.
“Well, say it any how you want to say it, I am listening.”
Then, as if she had suddenly come to a decision, she walked towards the bed and sat next to him, countenance resolute.
“I’ve missed my period for two months now, so...” Her voice trailed off.
“You’re pregnant? What? Are you joking?”
“But at times nature can play tricks on you. Your period can come late or something,” he added.
“Yes it can come late but I’ve seen nothing for two consecutive months and I am not an old woman. I am pregnant, Charles. And you are the father.”
Kenneth put his hand on his brow and exhaled deeply.
“My uncle will kill me!” he said suddenly, standing up and moving towards the window to ease the tension. He needed to think. This was a serious situation. He was supposed to be preparing for the admission exams to the university. Now he had not only gotten himself involved with Nkechi, but he had also impregnated her. His aunt had suggested that he get himself a part-time job, but he had managed to convince his uncle that he needed all the time to prepare for the exams. Now this! They would certainly kill him.
“Just give me a day or two, I’ll come up with something,” he said as he suddenly returned from the window. “Trust me.”
She nodded and he quickly found the door. This was the first time he’d leave the room without them embracing. It started raining again as soon as he left.
He apparently avoided her for the next two weeks. She came to his house under the pretext of an errand and told him, with a threatening look on her face, that she wanted to see him. She was soft by nature and easily swayed. So when she went to see him, it took him by surprise. Funnily, no one seemed to have noticed that he was not frequenting her house as before. When he came, it was clear he was afraid to face her. All the promises he had made to her when they were alone together were clearly fantasies now. He opted for what he felt to be a very pragmatic solution to the problem.
“Well, I think the best thing to do is to abort the pregnancy,” he stuttered. “I have a friend who knows a doctor that will do it for a fair sum but I still have to look for the money for it.”
“What? Over my dead body! Do you think I want to abort this child? I don’t want any doctor like that to touch my body. I thought you said you’d marry me. Though the child is not in you, you are still the father. How can you think of killing your own child? I thought you loved me...”
“Nkechi, calm down. I sensed that you would not respond well, that is why I didn’t come all this while. You know I love you, but this is a bit complex and we have to handle things maturely. I can’t afford to have a family now. So let us do the sensible thing and save our future.”
His voice was slightly raised now and he hated himself for that. However, he felt that was the only way he could compel her to do his bidding.
“I would rather go back to my village and tell my mother all that has happened, and be a village girl again, than abort this child. I hear there’s a curse on that kind of thing. Someone may never have children again. You know that I am the only living child of my poor mother. I am not going to put my life at any risk by doing any crazy thing with a doctor.”
“So what do you intend to do then? Tell your uncle? Your aunt? Mine are more lenient but I know that they won’t stand this. Nkechi, the sooner the better. Think about it! We have to do it before people find out your condition. Then, it will be complicated.”
She turned her back to him, sobbing. She didn’t notice when he slid out of the room.
A few days later, on her way back from the market, Nkechi decided to disclose her condition to her best friend. Ifeaoma lived next door and she was one of the few people in Lagos that Nkechi shared confidences with. The last child in a family of six, she was in the first year of university, studying Microbiology. She was the only one in the house since the university had just closed down due to students’ unrest.
“So why don’t you take his advice,” Ifeoma asked, in a low tone.
“I don’t like this abortion business. You are asking me to kill my own child. He is asking me to kill his child.”
“Even though I don’t like the guy one bit, I think what he is saying makes perfect sense for you at this stage of your life. Look at me. I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes now, but if I were, I would do what he is suggesting. It is easier to do this thing with no hassles in the first three months. You are entering the fourth month so it is getting late. Besides, you are young and you don’t know what kind of complications one may have giving birth to a child at such an age.”
“Sometimes, I really wish that I would wake up and find that all this was just a dream,” Nkechi whispered to herself.
She was weak and she knew it. She wanted to stand for what she felt in her inmost heart was the right thing, but she also felt that she would crumble under all the pressure: her uncle and aunt, the neighbors, her best friend. Even her lover. She needed to escape from it all. Where to run? There seemed to be only one place.
“What do you intend to do then? This isn’t a dream.” Ifeoma broke into her thoughts.
“I will run back home.” Nkechi clenched her fists, her face resolute.
“My mother will help me deliver my child, her grandchild.”
“But he is a …..” She stopped herself from saying the word, knowing it would really hurt. Even unsaid, it still hurt. “What will your mother say? What will your other relations say?”
“I don’t know but I don’t care. The sooner I go the better.”
With this, she headed back home. The sense of purpose seemed to lift her spirits up, albeit slightly.
It was a Monday night and Mr. Okafor had just finished dinner, accompanied by his wife Bernadette, who recounted the day’s experiences while she watched her husband eat. Junior, the second son, who was eight years old, had just cleared the dining table. Ada was in a corner of the sitting room, with one eye on the television and the other eye in a school assignment that was due the next day. Peter, the first son, flopped in a corner, reading a comic book. Charles was alone in his room, flipping the pages of a book. Mr. Okafor was just about to turn his attention on the television when there was a knock on the door. Peter went for it. It was Mr. Nwosu. He came with his wife.
“Hello Peter,” he said as he stood in the door way. “Is your father at home?” he asked, cheerfully.
“Yes sir.” And the Nwosus were ushered in.
“Good evening, Mr. Okafor, how is everything?”
“Well, we are managing. They are really stressing us at the bank these days but we are coping as best we can.”
Their wives also exchanged greetings. Then Mr. Nwosu suddenly turned solemn.
“It is already quite late and what I came to discuss is very important. Not something for the children to listen too.”
Peter and Ada raised their eyebrows. Peter looked at Ada and Junior. Obviously, these ones had to go since they were still children. At fifteen, his dad had often referred to him as a man. Now, he thought, this was a good time to engage in adult discussions.
“Junior, Ada and Peter, go to your room now,” their mother barked. Their father’s sudden stern face ratified the command. They all dragged their feet until they got to their room . Peter entering last.
As soon as Peter got behind the door, he put his eye to the keyhole, his ears, tilted slightly so that he could hear what was being discussed. Everyone was seated. Then his mother got up and dashed towards the door, opening it so quickly that he couldn’t scamper away fast enough.
“If any of you, peeps through this keyhole or puts his ear to the door…”
She didn’t say what she would do, but the threat was still as potent. Then she turned and closed the door behind her.
In the sitting room, Mr. Nwosu cleared his throat and began. “Mr. Okafor, I will come straight to the point. You know Nkechi, my wife’s niece who stays with us. She is about three months pregnant. We confirmed that with a test yesterday. And she says that the father of the child is Charles, your nephew...”
“Ehn!” Mrs. Okafor exclaimed.
“We do not want a scandal, so we came to see what can be done about it.”
“Are you sure there is no mistake about who the father is?” Mr. Okafor asked soberly.
“I know when Nkechi is lying and she swears to God who made her that it is Charles, or do you want us to call her to confront Charles?” Mrs. Nwosu interjected in a combative tone.
“Don’t take it like that,” Mrs. Okafor said. “He is just surprised.”
“We want this case buried quickly, I have spoken with a gynecologist who assures us that he can dispose of the baby quickly, but you have to pay the bill. After all, your nephew is responsible for it, so it is only fair that you do so.”
“We have heard what you have to say. But please, I would like to discuss the matter with my wife and talk to Charles. I will get back to you by tomorrow,” Mr. Okafor said.
“I thought this was a very straightforward case but if you have to discuss till tomorrow, it is okay by me,” Mr. Nwosu said finally, exhaling.
The Nwosus made for the door.
“Thank you and goodnight,” Mrs. Nwosu said as they were seen off.
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