HELL WORE FROST.

Seeing the pictures made me numb, initially. Then, it sort of energized me, I left for home almost immediately. I cleaned the house even though it was far from dirty, it was a Tuesday and I had cleaned the house on Saturday. When I was done cleaning, I proceeded to make dinner. There was soup in the freezer, but I neglected it and made fresh banga soup. I had already milled the palm fruits though. It didn’t matter that it was just my husband and I; I prepared the food in great quantity. When I was done, I set the dinner table and cleared up the kitchen. It was 7:47pm when I checked the time. Roughly four hours of labour paid off.

Now, all I needed to do was take a clean bath and wait for my husband, Spencer, to return back from work. I filled the tub with hot water, diluting it just a little, stripped off all my clothing and stepped into the tub. If I dropped a baby in this tub, he would die of first degree burns, or probably cook to death. I smiled as I thought of it. Psycho, that is what my husband would have called me if I told him what I had just thought of. He’d probably kiss me too and tell me, he loves me that way. I smiled again and began to wash myself. Even when I was clean, I remained in the water thinking of my family.

I thought of my beautiful children, Thelma and Theodora. Both of them probably reading in some room; prep room or common room, or whatever room they read or watched TV. I tried hard to remember what day they had told me they watched TV. Was it Tuesday or Thursday? Thelma would have scolded me, for certain. “Mummy”, she would have called in her shrill voice, “one day you would forget where we school.” Not that I was that forgetful, it’s just that some things were just never that important to be committed to memory.

Thelma was the oldest. I closed my eyes and concentrated on her. She looked so much like her father in everything except attitude. That much she took from me, at least so far she exhibited my character and traits. Knowing that, however, didn’t sit well with me. Any other woman in my shoes wouldn’t be in a bathtub, enjoying the burning water and thinking about her children and husband. Nothing provoked Thelma that easily. No matter how much Theodora angered her, she’d probably just smile or ignore her like Theodora didn’t even exist. And that was Theodora’s weak point, she hated being ignored. Hit her, smack her or even shout at her but never ignore her. Ignoring her had caused more wars than any other thing in the house.

My eager memory served me the last fight they had gotten into when they came home for the midterm break. Thelma had cleaned her room when Dora poured juice on the floor. Thel, as usual, just looked at her, according to the report, and went to clean it up. “I apologized,” Dora said, “not once, not twice. But she just ignored me. Mum, tell your daughter it’s too early to start a cold war”, she finished in her usual tone. Even though she looked like me, Theodora was the volcano in the house much like her father. Ever bubbling, ever happy. Easily angered, but also quick to forgive and apologize, if she was sure she was wrong, emphasis on the if. With Thel being eleven and one year older than her sister, I ensured there was the much needed respect. God knows, I tried to be a good mother. No matter their flaws though I would never ask for a replacement from heaven, those two were my life. Their father too.

Sometime during my thinking, my water had run cold. I came out of the tub and dried myself. I paraded into the bedroom in my birthday suit. I must have been thinking still, because I didn’t realize my husband had come in till he was right behind me, hugging me from behind. He breathed me in, “You smell amazing.”

“Welcome home, big guy.” I tried to sound as cheery as I normally would, but it must have come out in a different manner, because he turned me around in his arms so he could look in my eyes. I saw his eyes, his face, his shirt; he had already gotten rid of the tie and opened his buttons halfway. The photographs flashed in my brain, I shuddered. “What happened?” he asked lovingly. He knew me. He saw that I had cleaned the house. He had already probably entered the kitchen, so he knew what I had made for dinner. Above all he knew it wasn’t well, and he wanted me to tell him. “Just cold. I made banga soup and eba,” I announced as cheerily as I could manage. “I saw,” he replied, tracing his fingers on my body, kneading flesh as softly as he had mastered. I knew where this would end and that end was far from the end I had planned for the night. “After dinner,” I moaned softly and pushed away. I grabbed a robe and pulled my pouting husband to the dining room.

“What’s the matter, Bren?” he asked again when we got to the dining room. “Nothing really.” I started to serve him and all the while he simply watched me like I was some ticking time bomb he expected to explode. “How was work?” I asked. Somehow, we managed to talk about everything except why I was in my mood till we finished eating. Then I cleared the table, I proceeded to convince him to get in the shower while I did the dishes, when in fact I was getting myself ready for the rest of the night. After the dishes, I went back to our bedroom saw his clothes in a pile on the bed, took them to the laundry room. I had just returned when he came out of the bathroom. I watched the man I had fallen in love with, the man I had married, the father of my children, still glistening in all his glory, as he made his way towards me. I pulled his night trousers from the hanger and shoved it in his arms. “We need to talk”, I said, stepping back some paces, while he slipped in his trousers and I tried not to get distracted by the view.

“I knew there was a problem.” He sat down by the edge of the bed and stared at me, like the conversation was the last thing he wanted to have.

“Who’s Diana?” I asked softly. Under his breath he cursed and stood up. His excitement was long gone. I smiled, there’s more where that came from baby, just hold on, I thought to myself.

About four months ago, a beautiful woman had showed up in my pharmacy. She was dark skinned and tall. Even though she was not smiling then, you knew she smiled often because of the smile-crinkles by the sides of her eyes. She said a very weak hello and gave Dele the prescription and leaned on the counter with her head in her hands. After receiving the drugs, she put her phone on the counter and dug into her purse for cash. It was only when she had left that I noticed she hadn’t picked up her phone. I tried going out after her, but she was long gone. I put it aside and waited till the end of the day hoping she’d return. She never did.

A few weeks later, while I was picking up a few things at the mall, I noticed the same woman entering the mall. I hurried up to her and introduced myself, offered to drive her to the pharmacy to get the phone. I found out she was a secretary at one of the construction firms in the area and that the day she came to the pharmacy, she had been sick and not in a good state of mind. The latter part had been pretty obvious.

She carried herself with grace. There was something about her that I envied, even though I could not place a finger on it directly. After the mall encounter, we exchanged contacts and kept in touch. We became friends. Not the best friends forever kind of friends, but the kind you just meet and fall so deep in love with their personality that you cannot let go. She visited my pharmacy often. We would talk about anything, from work to school days to soap operas. I told her about my children and she told me about her boyfriend who she claimed was just as crazy in love with her as she was with him. Our newfound friendship was blossoming.

After a little persuasion, I visited her house for the first time. Her house was dainty and clean, just like her. In her living room hung two pictures of her and her boyfriend, the much talked about boyfriend. In one, she was wearing a blue shirt with a deep v-cut neck, smiling at the camera. Boyfriend had his hands around her. His smile made you think he was personally pleased with you. In the second, they stood back to back. She was in full blown laughter, her eyes so crinkled, they were closed. He, on the other hand, had crossed his hands but put one hand on his face in a position Dora called, palm greet face position. He looked amused but embarrassed as if he couldn’t believe what he had heard.

“Is there a problem?” she asked when I remained transfixed in front of the photograph.

“Not at all”, I lied, “you both look so adorable.” I replied with the fakest smile all my facial muscles could create.

“I know right.” She said, completely lost in the photograph. “I believe he’s going to propose soon.” At that very point, I snickered. I could not help myself.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Nothing really. I just think you shouldn’t be in such a hurry. Married life isn’t all bliss and candy when you’re living it. It is loaded with surprises that shake your core.” I meant the last sentence with every tremor my core was undergoing at that moment.

“I guess it isn’t. And yes, it is full of surprises, but with the right person, it can be beautiful.” I laughed again. She was killing me.

“Isn’t marriage beautiful? I mean, you always talk about your family and it sounds really happy.” I smiled. She shrugged in an ‘I told you so manner’ before inviting me to the kitchen to prepare something for us to eat. All through our conversation that afternoon, I kept trying to remember if I had overlooked any sign my husband might have shown that probably screamed that he was cheating.

“Does he always spend time with you?” I asked out of curiosity.

“Nah. I told you before he’s always busy.” She actually had. During one of our previous conversations, she told me he wasn’t always available but the times they were together he treated her with enough attention to make her feel like a princess. Her words, not mine. And it worked for her because she didn’t exactly like her men clingy. I smiled again. She had put a pot of water on the gas and it was starting to boil. As she poured rice into the water, my mind envisioned me putting her or my husband in the water. I also tried to think if I had probably forgotten any of his siblings. I ran their names through my head in the order of birth. When I had done that for a good number of times, I agreed with what I already knew. My husband had no brother I was unaware of and most definitely no twin.

“What does he do?” I asked. She was cutting vegetables and paused on my question, and laughed, “Brenda, I told you before. He’s an architect.” Check! That was my husband’s job.

“Have you met any of his friends?”

“Yes, especially one of them called Niyi.” She smiled and added, “Niyi was the one who introduced us, you know.” Oh, did he now? How delightful! I laughed again and mentally researched How to kill two unsuspecting men in as many torturous ways as possible. “What’s funny?” She asked again as she opened the pot to check on the rice. Mentally, I added Niyi, my husband’s colleague and friend; and Diana’s wonder introducer to the pot. “Nothing, my brother used to say Niyis were nothing but trouble.” He had never said that. She laughed and then said, “I don’t know why your brother said that but this Niyi is more like a wonder to me.” Niyi always came to the house every Friday. He was single, he was a playboy and he always ate my food. He always ate my food. He would come into my house, sit in my living room or dining room, eat my food, sometimes slept in my guest room and by the side, slip my husband babes. As I watched her cook, I got my brain to understand one sentence I never thought I would have to say to myself: My husband was Diana’s boyfriend and the poor woman had no idea, or so I thought.

“She thinks you’re going to propose soon.” He looked like I had stabbed him. Somehow I was still able to maintain my cool. My heartbeat was still normal and my voice still controlled. On my drive home, I had thought about how to ask him and in my brain it always ended in my crying hysterically and asking, how could you do this to me? Over and over. Cleaning probably took out my anxiety.

“Baby, I am sorry.” He hadn’t answered my first question. But I guess I had enjoyed watching his expression go from aroused, to apprehensive, to wanting the earth to swallow him. I moved to sit by my dresser. I pulled out the chair to face him as he remained sitting on the bed, with his face in his palms. I laughed. I had thought he would come up with an excuse. No matter how lame, I had expected an excuse.

“I wanted to invite her for dinner today. I just didn’t know if you were going to come here straight from work or go to hers first. She made rice and vegetables and she is a terrific cook. She actually offered me some.” My voice was still calm. He looked like I had stabbed him and twisted the knife. I laughed again and got up. I moved to the little refrigerator by the door. Initially, I had kicked against having a refrigerator in the bedroom, but Spencer had insisted. He liked cold water and didn’t want to have to walk down to the kitchen in the night just for a glass of water. Gradually, we added wine to water to create our little cold bar.

“Thank you for convincing me to keep this here.” I pulled out one of his expensive wine bottles and poured two glasses. I handed him one. He looked at me like I was mad. I laughed again and drank from both. I downed what would have been his, set the glass down, sat back on my chair and tried to look sexy with a wine glass in my hand.

“Baby,” he knelt before me placed his hands on my knees, “I am sorry. I am so sorry.”

“Are you sorry for cheating or for getting caught?” I drank from my glass again.

“For everything, baby.” I laughed.

I downed my glass, “I thought about boiling you and Niyi while I watched Diana cook. You know what changed my mind?” He drooped even more. “Do you know what changed my mind?” he remained quiet. “Do you? Do you, baby?” he didn’t look at me, but he shook his head. I laughed again. I was laughing too much tonight! This is exactly how Thelma looked when she apologized. He rubbed my knee. “Thelma and Theodora. Your daughters. I figured I could live without a husband, but I wouldn’t want them to not have a father. I have another question, baby. Did you think about your daughters before you started dating another woman? How did you plan to tell them about the divorce and marrying another woman?”

Maybe it would be better if I cried and wailed and threw things. Then the both of us would know how to act. I had just found out my husband was cheating on me and I was calm. I felt cut off from what to feel. I had just confronted my husband and we were quiet. I was drinking, he was as sad as I had ever known him. Nothing was being said.

“I want to ask why you did it, but no answer you give would ease the pain I feel right now. Because of sex? Because she was available? Because Niyi made you? Because you could?” I paused and thought over all I had I just said, drank from my glass, “None of those things I just said makes me feel even better.” My eyes were glistening, my heartbeat fastened. Finally, I felt something. My emotions were unlocked. He remained kneeling, head drooped, hands on my knees. I took his head in my hands, so I could look in his eyes. My tears dropped. He put his hand on my cheek and said, “Baby, I’m so sorry.”

“I did everything I could. I did everything I thought I needed to do. I tried my absolute best to ensure I stayed within the borders of reasonable. When Francesca’s husband cheated, everyone claimed it was because she nagged a lot.” I stood up, put my glass on the dresser and started to hyperventilate. It was finally hitting me. “Do I nag?” He remained kneeling, looking at the floor. I was disgusted. His silence, his faux sadness at being caught, it all disgusted me. “Spencer, do I nag?” my voice had gone up a notch. He winced. “Give me an answer or I swear to God…”

“You don’t nag.” He cut me short, stood up and tried to come closer. I pushed him and walked to the other end of the room, “Stay away from me. Do you know how I felt when I saw those pictures in Diana’s living room? I felt like sinking into the earth. My husband, the person I sleep with, the person I have children with, the person I claim to be my best friend. My husband! My husband was making some other woman so happy, she was elated. She was so happy. My own husband. She doesn’t even know you’re married. I had dinner with my husband’s mistress. I considered my husband’s mistress my friend. Fuck! I was a fool! I am a fool!” My crying was full blown now. I never sobbed loudly. My body just became confused and tried to force more air into my lungs, so my words came out in gasps. It was one of the reasons why I didn’t talk when I cried. My words never came out right. But right now, I couldn’t stop. Nothing was funny anymore, but I was laughing now. Laughing and crying.

“Is it because we don’t have a son?” He started shaking his head, but I shook my hands at him. I wasn’t going to give him a chance to talk. “I know your mother has been on my case but you,” I laughed, “you told me there was no problem. You told me you loved your daughters. You told me we’ll have our son if God wanted it. And me,” I pointed at myself and laughed, “I believed the words that came from your mouth. Your adulterous mouth.”

“Baby, let me explain please.” I looked at him. I didn’t have anything else to say. So I sat down on the bed and waved him on, “I’m listening.”

“I made a mistake. It started as a drunken mistake. I tried to correct it but…” He paused, “I am so sorry. I’ll end it with her. I promise. I love you. I swear. It’s not your fault. It’s not anything you did or didn’t do. And it definitely isn’t about a son. I still hold fast to what I said. We will have a son if God wants. I just… Baby, please.” He came again to kneel by me, and he was crying.

I started to laugh. I had only seen him cry twice. The first time was when we were dating and I had had a life threatening accident. He had seen me all bandaged and burst into tears. The second time was when Thelma was born. The doctors told him it was going to be either the baby or me; but when the nurses gave Thelma to him, he looked at our baby and then at me and said, “I have you both. I have you. You’re not going anywhere.”

“You know, you only cry when my life is in danger. When I’m so certain, I’ll never survive something but I do, you start to cry. I never thought the day would come when you’ll be the reason why I go through something I do not know how I’ll come out from.” I stood up again and went for the bottle again. I ignored the glass and took a swig. “Do you love her?” The words had barely left my mouth when he said, “No, I don’t.” Poor Diana. “Do you want me to tell the children about this?” Another sharp no. “You do not want them to know what their father has done?”

“Baby…” he started. I pointed the bottle in his direction, “You’re sorry, I know. I am really tired of your apologies.” I drank from the bottle again, this time for a longer time. The alcohol was setting in. Suddenly, even though I wasn’t hungry, I became aware I had eaten only once throughout the day. My eyes were heavy and hot from crying and my body really thought it would be a good time to crave some action. The stupid thing. I needed to sleep. “I do not think I will ever forgive you for this. But then, I love my girls and even though I so badly want to tell them what their father has been up to, I won’t. Because they deserve so much more than this heartbreak. So I am going to put in a lot of effort into forgiving you. A whole lot.” I dropped the bottle near the glasses on the dresser and climbed into bed. “I do have a few conditions” I didn’t even bother looking at him. I closed my eyes and thought of Diana. Ever smiling Diana. “One, you will have to end whatever nonsense you have with her. I do not care how you do it and if she decides to poison you or pour something hot on you as payback, that’s fine by me.” I paused, “Two, if I ever see Niyi anywhere near you, I am going to kill you. Then kill him. And believe me, I will do it and enjoy doing it. Goodnight, Spencer.”

I knew he had heard me, because I believed he muttered something like okay and thank you. I thought I would have problems falling asleep, but I didn’t. Probably because of the alcohol. That night, I dreamt I got to boil Spencer and Niyi in Diana’s pot, while Diana and I drank wine and clinked glasses.

Reality is limited imagination.