NEW 9JA STORY: AICHA || written by Nneka Ezealor Oladimeji.

I stood in the bath and watched the steam rise from the hot water in the orange bucket in front of me. I wondered why I had heated water to bath instead of using the cold one from the shower. I turned the shower knob a notch and a few drops of water escaped and landed on my naked body. They were so cold I shuddered. I stood watching the drops race themselves down my shoulder and down until they disappeared under my left breast. I ran my palm over my wet body, my Fulani ancestry was evident in my really light brown skin.

A harsh knock on the bathroom door startled me and I jumped, nearly slipping.

“Aicha, ki yi sauri mana. Please hurry up.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m almost done. Ka yi hakuri.”

I quickly poured cold water from the blue bucket into the orange one and took my bath as hurriedly as possible.

I didn’t towel dry my body till I got into the room I shared with my husband of three years Aboubakar. I stood beside the pile of my neatly laid out clothes on the bed and made a big deal of towel drying every inch of my body and then rubbing the shea butter I had premixed with fragrant oils all over my skin.

Bouba didn’t raise his head to look in my direction as I carried out my toilette. He was trying to hide a smile as he started at his phone screen, his fingers flying all over the keypad as he responded to some chat. He always had the look on his face whenever he was chatting with his “business” contacts. I was sure the person at the other end of the chat was female.

I hurriedly put on my abaya and left the room to go pack the meal he would be taking to the office. As I mixed the salad, I tried to figure out how exactly it had gotten to this.

A little over four years ago, Bouba had been a breath of fresh air after that horrid Danladi had broken my heart so badly I had sworn never to date another man again. Bouba wasn’t particularly good looking, but he had one quality I loved. He listened. I was a dreamer, a storyteller. We could sit for hours and he’ll just hold my hand and smile while listening to my dreams and stories. And I thought that was sweet.

One evening, I was in the middle of one of such stories when he excused himself to get a drink. I started talking again immediately he came back into the room. In one swift motion, he sat down beside me on the Persian rug as he silenced me with his lips on mine. That was the day I fell in love.

Well, not quite.

I liked him, yes. That would do, wouldn’t it?

“Marry me”, he said.

“Okay”, I said.

“Do you love him?” My heart questioned.

“Love is something that comes after marriage”, I answered.

Six months later, I sat in his car, smiling with happy tears glistening below my long lashes as my over excited friends milled around, saying their goodbyes and wishing me well.

The wedding fatiha had taken place at noon and we were off on our honeymoon.

His “secret honeymoon” was not in some picturesque little town with dainty little inns like I had hoped. He simply drove to a quiet hotel on the outskirts of town.

“We have peace, quiet and each other. That’s what’s important.” Bouba said, his lopsided smile revealing his missing premolar.

“Well”, I said to myself. “It is a honeymoon, the location doesn’t really matter.”

He ordered our dinner to be brought into the room and he sat in his usual manner listening as I excitedly recounted the day’s events. After dinner, I excused myself and went to have a bath. The fragrant oils Aunty Saliha had bought for me from Dubai smelled heavenly as I slipped the pale blue satin nightgown over my head and smoothed it around my hips. I rubbed some more of the oil on my henna painted hands and forearms before I turned towards the door, satisfied.

I had practiced this in my head a thousand times. I walked out slowly and leaned against the door jamb, placing both hands on my hips, feet slightly apart while pushing my ample bosom forward.

“Aren’t you going to take a bath, maigida na?”

He drank in my appearance, closing his eyes for a few seconds as the fragrances teased his senses.

“Oh, yes. Zan yi wanka. I will take a bath now. By the way, you look beautiful.”

He brushed his fingers lightly over my lips as he went past me into the bathroom. He was in the bathroom for a really long time. I almost got tired of waiting. He came out fully dressed in his pajamas. I beckoned him to the bed. We kissed for a few minutes and he placed his head in between my breasts. I nearly screamed “make love to me, please” but, the soft snore I heard a few seconds later told me that my new husband had fallen fast asleep.

In the six days that followed, we had sex only twice, and I had the feeling he was only doing it out of a sense of duty. Most times, I sat alone in the hotel room, while he went out and played basketball, squash or swam in the pool. But then he would come back and we’d have great conversations and I’d forget that I was supposed to be mad at him.

When we got back to home after the honeymoon, he was always at work, or at one function or the other. He came home only when necessary. He would often go into the room or onto the balcony to receive certain phone calls. So as not to disturb me, he said. My curiosity made me go through his text messages once. I saw so many flowery text messages from other women. They were so many it was hard to figure out who the main side chick was. I confronted him about it and he put a password on his phones after that.

These days, Bouba stays away from home even more. It hurts. Bad.

I don’t complain to Mama about it anymore because she would just remind me to be patient. “A woman must never complain about such things. That is how the Almighty wants it. He is allowed four wives, remember? Just be happy that you’re the uwargida.”, would be her matronly reply to my tears.

It is not like I now look less attractive than I did. I have added some flesh on my bones, and I’m curvy where I should be. Yet, even the sight of my full breasts beneath my see-through sleep wear doesn’t get as much as a nod from Bouba.

There was this bar I went past on my way home from work each day. I always thought the exterior décor was beautiful. I wondered what it would look like inside.

“Ahn ahn! Aicha! Don’t even think about it. Your drinking days are over.“ A voice inside my head warned me.

I silenced that voice two weeks later when I was headed home after going to see cousin Fati and her new baby. Bouba was out of town for a wedding, so I could afford to be out for a couple more hours. I parked the car on the curb and got out quickly before I changed my mind. Luckily, I was wearing a pair of black jeans and a chiffon blouse. I took the scarf off my head and rearranged my hair under a baseball cap from one of the recent advertising campaigns I had handled. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror. It would be easy to blend in.

I was halfway through my chapman watching the other patrons of the bar as they mingled when a voice spoke at my elbow.

“I didn’t know you came to The Cave.”

I squinted in the dim lighting. My eyes widened as I recognized one of the IT guys from work.

“Hey! Afam…’

“What are you drinking?” He pointed to my chapman. “No alcohol?”

“I’m not supposed to drink and drive, am I?”

“Rules were made to be broken, Aicha. Relax. It’s Friday. .”

He signaled the barman and ordered two pina coladas on the rocks, with two shots of gin in each. And I didn’t refuse.

Three hours and three more drinks later, Afam placed a hand on my knee and pointed to the exit as the sky had turned a midnight blue and the city had become a sea of blinking lights.

“It’s getting pretty late. I suggest you get a taxi. Especially after these… ” He pointed at the empty glasses in front of us. He probably thought I was new to alcohol.

“I’m fine, I can drive.” I smiled.

How far away do you live?” he asked.

“Not very far actually

My blouse ruffled in the cool breeze outside as Afam walked me to my car. He held my hand as we crossed the street and didn’t let go as we stood beside the car. I can’t remember if I put my arms around his neck first, or if it was him who grabbed my waist and pulled me to himself.

That kiss… was… everything a kiss should be.

“Please, come with me, Afam.”

He sat silently, his fingers in my hair, as I drove to a small quiet park within the G.R.A.

Minutes later, the back of my head kept bumping against the back seat as Ezeh’s thrusts drove deeper and deeper, driving all thoughts of Bouba farther and farther away from my mind.

It’s been two months and I’m here standing in the bathroom again.

This time I’m standing under the cold shower stream. The water mingles with the tears pouring down my face. The purplish stain stood out on the light skin of my upper arm. I winced in pain.

I hate Bouba. I hate what he has made me become. I hate him for what he is doing to me.

But, I think I’m in love. No, I know I am in love. With Afam. And no, it isn’t just about the sex. It is about who I become when I’m with him.

Back in the room, as I slid the long sleeve of the floral print chiffon dress over the bruise, I tell myself…. I am going to leave Bouba.

I don’t care what Mama or her sisters would say.

I just needed to figure out how.

THE END

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