Obum stood at the balcony and watched the wind gather dirt in a whirl. The red earth, crumpled papers and cellophane flew up, helplessly in the sky in a feat of magic. When he was younger, they would say that “ndi mmuowere going to market”. They would rush into the whirling wind of dust and the dirt particles that it effortlessly takes under its whims as if in a bid to transit to the world of the spirits; to know what that world was like. It has been years now. He has forgotten what it felt like. Or if it felt like anything at all. The only thing he remembered was that they would usually emerge, at the end of it all, dusty and coughing. Sometimes, clutching their chests. His mother had chided him and his friends on one of such occasions, “Bia umuazi a, are your heads correct at all?” as they scampered.
He touched the clothes on the line to know which one was dry. All of them were. Dry and rustling from the starch he added while rinsing. He loved this most about harmattan. The less time it took for clothes to dry. The feeling of not being perturbed by the thought that one would not don desired clothing when one wanted because of unrelenting rainfall. He loved the smell of nzuthat filled the air. He would always inhale the air deeply, taking a lung-full every time. He would often watch the graceful hovering of the proud egbewhom had boasted that the rain will never touch it. He wondered where it goes to and what it ate during the period of its yearly exile. He had always detested the scratchy dryness of the skin that usually leaves a crease on the body. The wont of the skin to accommodate whitened patches when fluids touch the body. There was a speedy and sweeping rush of the wind with a howling sound; kicking empty tins, sweeping dirt.
A door banged furiously nearby, almost startling him. It was from the adjacent compound. It was Obiageli. She flew down the stairs in a feat of anxiety as if she had awoken from a nightmare. She held some clothes, a white slip-on, a gallon of kerosene and a box of matches. It was surprising, the vivacity with which she descended the stairs as opposed to the languid look on her face in recent years. She was a beauty, his boyhood crush. He would fantasize about here while stroking the fleshy lump amidst his thighstill it ached, almost bruised. He didn’t quite understand the intense crush he laboured under as he grew older and wanted her even more that the first time he kissed Chika- his first kiss- he wished it was Obiageli. The softness of Chika’s pink lips and the soft, mumbled moans didn’t help it as their lips were clasped together in firm, steamy passion. She had removed her blouse and unstrapped her bra hurriedly, guiding his head to the fleshy mounds of flesh that stood on her chest, in clear unobstructed view. “That’s some succulents kegs”, he thought to himself, as he encircled one of the ‘black-eyed peas’ in his mouth in a calm, titillating suckle while his phallus thumped in her moist palm. “Ob…” he mouthed in a stifled groan as he realized she was not her crush!
It pained him the more that such a beauty, with all her education was married to a low-life, degenerate drunk and tout- a tanker driver! Odogwukept late nights, only to come back disturbing the neighborhood with the loud music that streamed from his tanker, thereafter the drunken pounding on the door for Oby to open the door. It surprised him that he never hit her. He thought Odogwu was going to hit her one night. It was during thestudious nights of his junior WAEC preparation. Odogwu had knocked longer than usual. Oby had been perculiar too. She has shredded her cloak of calmness and hauled insults at him as he banged intermittently at the door. The neighbours were woken as switches flicked and bulbs came to life.
“Oby mmehee this door!” he yelled.
“Go back to your whores!” she threw back in a shriek.
More bangs. More vituperation.
Her voice tearful yet firm.
After the fierce exchange of fury, she opened the door.
“Anu ofia” was the last word he uttered.
He later deserted her. No one heard anything credible about his whereabouts; just rumours. When the subject of discussion in the neighbourhood was her plight, some people usually shook their heads mournfully in empathy. A woman one day mused, “If Agbala goes to jail, ifyou ask her, she will say she got married”. Others snapped their fingers in scorn.
After Odogwu’s desertion she kept lovers. One even bore her a child. A lot of people in exercise of crass, sanctimonious hypocrisy thought she should not have engaged in those affairs as if her youth was meaningless, her human cravings and needs unimportant. Like what she was passing through mattered less and can be glossed over.
Yet, she was a strong, ‘faithful’ woman; inordinately faithful. So much so that when the news that Odogwu had passed got to her, she mourned. She wore akwa uju and performed the dust to dust rite.
“At least, that was the last duty I owed him…as my husband”, she said.
The word ‘husband’ had slimy slipped out of her mouth that she had to looked around to see if someone else had said it. She had no intention of saying it.
So he watched her from the balcony as she emptied the content of the blue gallon on the clothes and white slip-on and lit a match. Fire engulfed them in a roar; a yellowish blaze. Her lips were moving. She was muttering something to herself. She watched them burn, gazing fixatedly into the fire as if something known only to her was being revealed, her hands clutched over her breasts. She moved back quickly as the ashes emerged and the wind blew the smoke to her direction as if an intake of the smoke will fill her with particles of what wants to let go of.
She watched her love burnt and doused. Forever.