“Let us go and see my daughter”, cried Oriaku in excitement
“You are not going anywhere”, butted in Okeke
“Didn’t you hear when Okoye said he was watching our every move? You want to lead those wolves back to her?”
Oriaku’s face fell in disappointment. She looked at her father-in-law who was nodding in agreement to what her husband had just said. She knew she had lost the battle.
“My son”, Okeke said, turning his attention to Ik.
“Thank you for bringing this good news to us and for giving our daughter a safe place to lay her head. Only God in heaven can reward you”
“Amen”, they all chorused
Before he left, Oriaku offered him food but he declined. He bade them goodbye and got into his lorry. When he got home, he told Nnedi how the visit to her parents went. She clapped her hands in delight and jumped up and down like a child with a new toy and when he returned from the bathroom, he found her standing at the foot of the bed in all her naked glory. This time no words were said as her silent invitation was all that Ik needed to slake his thirst for her velvety sweetness.
Finally resting in each other’s arms, Nnedi whispered a thank you in his ears and he felt as if he had grown a couple of inches taller. He hugged her tighter.
Ihenacho’s burial was held amidst weeping and mourning. Since he was the head of the traders’ association in Umuaku, all the traders locked their shops and converged at his compound to pay their last respects.
As is the custom, Ihenacho was buried with his Dane gun to protect himself in the after-life. A cow and a couple of goats were slaughtered for the funeral and there was a lot to eat and drink. His wives were still confined to their private quarters and visitors trooped in to commiserate with them.
Ihenacho’s in-laws were invited into the living room but the Okeke’s were shunned by Ihenacho’s family. Okeke and his wife sat in one corner of the compound unacknowledged by any one. Once the corpse had been interred, they slunk away in the crowd unnoticed.
The next day Okeke and his wife set out for the hospital with their ailing son. As the doctors had earlier explained to them, Chidi required a surgical procedure called Pleurodesis. They had also been told that the procedure was not a curative treatment, but a therapeutic solution to Chidi’s chest pain and shortness of breath brought about by pleural effusion.
On the day of the surgery, Oriaku burst into tears as the nurses wheeled Chidi out of the ward. She ran after the nurses until the theater doors banged shut in her face. Not far from the theater doors, Okeke paced back and forth with his fists clenched. After three hours of surgery the Okeke’s were allowed to see their son. The surgeon told them that the surgery had gone well and that Chidi would need to spend a week in the hospital before he could be discharged.
Exactly one week after being discharged from the hospital, Chidi was able to sit up by himself. Soon he was able to move around the house without assistance allowing Oriaku to go back to her shop in the market which had been locked since Nnedi’s disappearance.
Life for the Okeke’s had returned to normal. Chidi was getting stronger by the day and usually engaged in pranks becoming of his thirteen years of age. Oriaku was happy to see their son who was on the brink of death, grow and flourish. But in bringing one child back from the dead, they had lost another she thought, mournfully. Ik still came by to drop messages from Nnedi but Okeke forbade her from travelling to see Nnedi. He felt it was still too risky three months after Ihenacho’s burial. Okeke knew that Ihenacho’s brother Okoye loathed him; he saw the look of undiluted bitterness on Okoye’s face any time they passed each other in the town. He would rather be patient than risk leading the enemy to his beloved daughter. As long as Ik continued to deliver messages to them regularly, he knew she was safe.
Nnedi had settled into life in Onitsha. She found a job as a salesgirl in a big shop, one very much like Ihenacho’s own back in Umuaku she thought, wistfully. Ihenacho’s shop had been closed down not long after his death. She knew this thanks to her mother who made it a point of duty to update her through Ik.
Nnedi sat on one of the stools in the shop and rested her hand on her tummy. She knew her secret would soon be out. Her blouses were starting to feel a little bit too tight and just the other day her fellow sales girl had mentioned how swollen her midsection looked to which she replied that she had had too much to eat. She had told no one that she was pregnant, not even Ik. She wanted to tell him quite alright, but the right time never came up.
“What are you sitting down for, you lazy cat?” shouted the owner of the shop, a buxom lady in her fifties.
“Customers are all over the place and you are relaxing. Is that what I pay you for?”
Nnedi jumped up from her reverie and rushed to attend to the waiting customers. These days she felt very tired and sleepy most of the time. It didn’t help that it was raining and the weather was cool. Just as she was finishing with the last customer she heard the madam say calling her from the back of the shop.
“Nnedi come here”
“I am coming ma”
“I have been noticing you”, the madam whispered conspiratorially when Nnedi stood before her
“I know you are pregnant”, she said feeling Nnedi’s stomach through her blouse
Nnedi stepped back in horror
“Come back here you prostitute”, shouted the madam
“I have been noticing the way you sneak to the back of the shop to sleep like an earthworm suffering from indigestion. Very soon your stomach will be rolling from side to side and you will be useless to me and business. I won’t wait for that to happen”
“Here, take your monthly salary and vamoose from my shop”, she continued, flinging currency notes at Nnedi and gesturing at the door. Nnedi walked out of the shop into the rain. By the time she got home she was soaked to her skin.
The following morning as Ik prepared to go to work, he noticed she was curled up in bed.
“Are you not going to work today?” he quizzed
“I don’t feel well”, she replied feebly
He knelt down on the bed and felt her forehead with the back of his palm as he had seen his mother do back at home. She didn’t seem to be running a temperature. He went out to buy some hot pap and akara for her before he set off for the park.
When he returned that evening, Nnedi was still curled up in bed. It was as if she had not moved all day. He told her to get up that they were going to the chemist shop down the road.
“Oga, she has malaria”, pronounced the owner of the shop after he examined Nnedi and asked her what her symptoms were.
“Ok, give us something to cure malaria”, replied Ik
He returned with a parcel of drugs and Ik paid him before helping Nnedi to her feet from the bench on which she had been sitting. When they got home she took the drugs as prescribed by the man from the chemist shop and he helped her into bed
Her cry woke him up. She was clutching her stomach and howling in pain. He reached for his battery operated torch light and quickly illuminated the room only to be greeted by the awful sight of Nnedi’s wrapper stained in blood. He stood still, temporarily immobilized by shock.
When he finally found his voice he blurted, “Nnedi you are bleeding!”
“I’m having a miscarriage”, she winced
“You’re having a what?” he replied in confusion
He rushed to the bed, gathered her in his arms and stumbled out of the door unto the street running as fast as he could to the chemist shop.
When he got to the chemist shop, he set Nnedi on her feet and banged on the door with all his might hoping that the shop owner was one of those stingy men who slept in their shops to avoid the added cost of renting an apartment.
“Who is that person that wants to tear down my door at this ungodly hour? We have closed”, came the shop owner’s reply.
Ik heaved a sigh of relief at the sound of the voice from within grateful that the shop owner was indeed a stingy man.
“Sir, you need to help us”, he begged
He could hear shuffling from within until he finally heard the doors opening.
“Sir, you sold us some drugs this evening”
“Yes, I remember you”, the shop owner replied clearly irritated by the nocturnal disturbance
“She took the drugs…….Now she is miscarrying”, Ik stammered.
“How do you know she’s miscarrying? Is she pregnant?” queried the shop owner
“I don’t know but she said she is miscarrying”, replied Ik
The shop owner beamed his torch light on Nnedi and with it his full anger. “Why didn’t you tell your husband you are pregnant?” he thundered
“He is not my husband”, she replied weakly
It was the shop owner’s turn to stare at both of them in confusion.
“Sir, just help us”, Ik pleaded
“Bring her into the shop”, he said gruffly
The shop owner left them to go to the back of the shop and they could hear him talking to himself.
“What kind of nonsense is this? This is how this small girl wants to put me into trouble. If people hear this now, they will say I’m a quack.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you are pregnant”, asked the shop owner again when he returned.
“You would have just killed yourself for nothing”, he spat at them
“Those drugs I gave you are what caused you to have an abortion. If you had told me you were pregnant I wouldn’t have given you those drugs”
Nnedi and Ik said nothing.
“Let her take these drugs to stop the bleeding”, he said shoving another parcel in Ik’s hands.
“Thank you, sir”, said Ik
“Now take this witch out of my shop and don’t you ever return, else I will send my boys to beat both of you up”, the shop owner hissed.
When they got home, Ik helped her to take the drugs after which she fell asleep. He sat on the floor watching her as she slept on the bed. When morning came, he felt reluctant to leave her alone in the house so he decided not to go to work. Little did he know that his life was about to be turned upside down in a few days.