They were both on the balcony. There was no power and since Esosa wasn’t in the mood to bear the noise of the generating set, he’d chosen instead to join her on the balcony for some fresh air.
The night air was cool though not breezy but they were both grateful for the freshness it presented whilst enjoying the oranges Prisca was peeling.
“So, you finally saw the wife?” Esosa mused, turning the orange in his hand inside-out, so he could eat the carpels.
“I was almost astounded seeing her out there in their yard.” Prisca chattered, still very pleased with her encounter with Priscilla Williams. “She was making her way back to their backyard when I saw her. When I called out to her and she turned, she looked positively shocked. Like she was taken aback with my appearance. It was as if my presence made her apprehensive.”
“Maybe she was just startled.” Esosa suggested.
Prisca pursed her lips thoughtfully. That was possible, though she’d perceived a certain nerviness in the young lady. “Maybe. I guess she might have been startled.” She conceded. “She’s quite a pretty too… in fact, beautiful. Possibly in her mid-twenties. She’s a little too slim though—well, not according to their stick-slim size-zero generation, I’m sure. But too slim for my liking apart, she is indeed beautiful. Had this oval, miniature angelic face with a perfectly spotless caramel complexion. There was a tint on her cheeks.”
Her forehead creased as she remembered. “It looked something like an old bruise. Or maybe too much use of blusher. Though she didn’t quite look like the too much makeup type. And she’d had a plaster on her chin.” She’d wanted to ask her how she’d gotten the wound but had restrained herself, so as not to appear too inquisitive.
“Hmm, at least you’ve satisfied your curiosity.” Esosa picked another orange from the tray on the stool between their chairs. “Did you get your bowl back?”
“No, I didn’t.” She’d remembered but had chosen not to mention it. The young lady hadn’t either. Which was curious since she’d thanked her for the fruits. “I guess they’ll return it when they’re good and ready.” If they didn’t, it will provide her another reason to stop over at the house. “There was something about her though. A look in her eyes.” She stopped the fluid movement of her hands and frowned. “Not just in her eyes but this feeling about her. Like she was… ill at ease chatting with me.”
“Are you going to start with all that again?” Esosa asked sounding exasperated. “First it was her husband who had this vacant look in his eyes and now his wife looked like she was ill at ease talking with you… Prisca, maybe you should tone down this sensitivity of yours.” He spat out orange seeds into his palm and tossed them in a bowl at his feet. “I think you are beginning to read too much meaning into harmless behaviours.”
“I don’t think I’m reading too much into what I’m sensing about these people, Sosa.” She disagreed, setting a peeled orange on the tray and taking another. “My perceptions might not always be hundred per cent accurate but more often than not, they are never wrong. She acted like she was edgy. Even if she’d been startled by my sudden appearance, she shouldn’t have continued to act nervous after we started chatting. But she kept throwing glances over my shoulder like she was looking out for someone. And then, she even lied just to get back inside.”
“Yes, she said she had something cooking on the fire and so needed to go in. But I could perceive nothing and we were standing close enough to the kitchen backdoor.”
“Gracious goodness, Prisca, just because you didn’t perceive whatever she had on her kitchen stove doesn’t mean she was lying when she said she was cooking.” Esosa sounded more than just exasperated now. “It might have been water she was boiling or maybe an egg. How do you perceive that, eh?”
Prisca sighed. He had a point. But it was just that she’d felt like Priscilla had lied with that excuse. “Maybe. But she had really been in a hurry to get back inside and her glances at the street had definitely looked apprehensive.”
“Maybe they were pointed can-you-take-your-leave-now signs you clearly missed because you were focused on reading other signs.” Esosa grunted.
“They were not!” Prisca refuted. “Anyway, it doesn’t even matter. I’ve met her and I am glad I did. Hopefully, we’ll start relating now. I plan to become friendly with her. Something about her calls out to me.”
Esosa snorted loudly.
She ignored the derisive sound. “We even have similar names. Do you know that Priscilla kind of originated from Prisca?” When he only grunted, she continued cheerfully. “They were even used interchangeably in the Bible. So, you see, we have some kind of connection already.”
“You’ll find a connection even if there’s none.” Esosa muttered.
“Well, there is and I am glad for it. She’s my name-sake and I think she’s in need of a friend. It must be lonely having to stay at home all day.” She stared at the house opposite. As usual, the windows were locked and there was no sound or sign of life. How odd. “Anyway, I gave her my number.”
“And now you have hers, so you’ll be calling her at will.”
She turned sideways to glance at her husband. “No, she didn’t give me her number. She said she’d give me a call so I can have it after I gave her mine. Actually, I called out my number. And she said she’d memorised it.”
“Ah!” Esosa let out another derisive snort. “You can be sure she just used that tactic to get rid of you. Memorise indeed!” He snorted again.
“No, I think she really memorised the number. Some people are really good at cramming stuff, you know.”
“Mmm hmm. So, has she given you that call yet?”
She paused before responding. “Well, no. But I’m sure she will. It doesn’t have to be today.”
Esosa only gave a chuckle.
Prisca pursed her lips. She wasn’t sure why she felt certain that Priscilla hadn’t been lying when she said she’d memorised the number, but she was and she never doubted her certainty. Which is why she didn’t doubt the fact that she needed to get close to that young woman. Her eyes hadn’t only looked anxious as they’d perused the street repeatedly but they’d also looked like they were entreating for help.
There had been an almost veiled helplessness in them. She needed to see her again… to talk with her.
She heard the knock on the door and bolted up from the bed. Her eyes flew to the window even though the knock wasn’t coming from there. She’d been lying down for her siesta but she hadn’t been able to sleep.
The knock came again. Somehow she knew it was the woman from the house opposite—Mummy P. She wondered why she’d come. Had she come for her bowl? Abel still hadn’t returned it. After yesterday’s evening correction none of them had mentioned it again.
And this morning he’d left without taking the bowl to return it even though she’d placed it on the kitchen table where he could clearly see it. It was still there now.
She waited for another knock but none came. She sighed, she’d probably decided no one was home and had left. The sudden sadness she felt at the thought surprised her. She’d learned not to think about her isolation and loneliness over the years, so why did it sadden her now?
The brief conversation with another human other than Abel must have ignited it, she realised.
She almost jumped out of her skin when a double tap came at the window. She stared at it. Mummy P obviously hadn’t left, she’d walked around to their bedroom window and was now knocking there.
She angled her hand and checked her wristwatch—it was precisely one-twenty. Abel wouldn’t be back for another couple of hours… unless of course, he was in the mood for one of his unexpected returns.
“Good afternoon, Priscilla. It’s Mummy P.”
She shifted her eyes back to the window at the greeting and held her breath. There was a long pause, then the knock came again. “Priscilla, I know you are in there. I just came around to say hello.”
Something in the voice made her eyes fill. It wasn’t just concerned, it carried an inflection of genuine worry too. No one, except her sickly mother, had worried about her in a long, long while. She pressed a hand to her chest and held it there against her fasting beating heart.
“Priscilla?” Another double tap. “Priscilla, if you can hear me, please respond.”
She shouldn’t respond. She shouldn’t speak to her. Priscilla knew that but something she couldn’t explain made her defy that rule. “Good afternoon, ma.” Her voice sounded croaky even in her own ears, so she cleared it and repeated. “Good afternoon, Mummy P.”
It felt so good addressing her familiarly. It made her feel human, not abandoned and ostracized. Revelling in that comfort, she found herself pushing down her legs from the bed and moving towards the window.
“How are you, Priscilla?”
“I’m fine.” She felt fine. At that very moment, she felt fine, even good. She nudged aside the curtain but didn’t open the window. Somehow, she lacked the courage for that. “And you, Mummy P, how are you?” It’d been so long she asked that simple question of courtesy, of care. Again, it made her feel good that she can.
“I am fine.” Prisca’s somewhat perplexed voice came through the shut window. “I am on my way to my store but I thought I’d stop to say hello before leaving.”
“Thank you, ma. That’s very kind of you.” She smiled brightly. A real, genuine smile.
She could make out Prisca’s plump frame from the window. She couldn’t discern what she was wearing but she could see she had a head gear on. It reminded her off her mother who always wore a head scarf, even at home.
“I hope you have a succe…” she broke off and switched the adjective, “… a nice day at the store, ma.” But the near use of Abel’s preferred adjective reminded her that being the devil that he was he could choose that very moment to return home and she was still too sore to endure another beating. “I’m sorry I can’t open the door. It’s just that I was actually having my siesta and I am… well, I am really very tired and can’t talk much…” she swallowed and bit her lip at the lie. “Sorry, ma.”
There was a pause. Then Prisca’s voice came again. The concern was back and much stronger than before. “Priscilla, are you all right? Is that man… the man you live with truly your husband?”
Yes. My maniacal, inhuman husband. “Yes, he is, ma.” Her mouth only said aloud.
There was another pause. “Okay. Why don’t you open the windows? It must be stuffy inside. There’s no light now.”
It wasn’t really stuffy, not with the rechargeable fan that was blowing by the bed. But she would have dearly loved to have the window… all the windows open. “Abel doesn’t… we prefer to leave the windows closed. I usually catch cold easily.” Another lie and it saddened her even more.
“Oh.” There was something in that single response that indicated a clear disbelief. “Well, I have to be going. Do you still have my number? Because you didn’t call me as you promised yesterday.”
“I still have it. And I’ll give you that beep later.”
“You can do it now, that way, I’ll be certain you haven’t forgotten my number.”
Her tone was jocular but Priscilla deduced she really wanted to be sure if she truly memorised her number. So, she called it out. “I don’t easily forget people’s numbers.” She added quietly. “And don’t worry, I’ll call you.” It was a promise she wished she could keep, if only to prove she wasn’t a total liar.
“Okay, I’ll be expecting your call, Priscilla.” There was a brief hesitation before Prisca asked again. “Are you sure you’re all right, Priscilla? Because if you are not, I can help you.”
She remembered Uche Okonji and quickly blinked away the tear that threatened to fall. “No, I’m…” she stopped herself. What was she doing? She couldn’t help her. No one could. “Yes, yes, I am all right. I’m just tired now and need to rest. Thank you, ma, for stopping by.” She touched a hand to the window-sill, wished it was a human contact. “God bless you, ma.”
“God bless you too, Priscilla.” Prisca responded after another brief pause. “I’ll stop by another day when you’re not so tired.”
“No, no, you don’t have to stop by. Please don’t bother.” She drew in breath to stop her instant panic. “I mean, I might not always be at home, so there’s no need to stress yourself, ma. If I need anything, I will call or text as you suggested or I might even come visit you.”
She couldn’t quite get the desperation completely out of her voice and she knew that Mummy P must have sensed it because the pause was longer this time. And when she finally spoke, her tone was extremely worried. “That’s all right, Priscilla. I’ll just go now. Please remember my number and use it if you need anything, okay?”
“Okay, ma. Thank you.”
She stayed at the window until she couldn’t hear the receding footsteps anymore, then she turned and walked back to the bed, she slid into it but didn’t lie down.
She had almost confessed, for the first time, that she wasn’t all right. That she hasn’t been all right since she married Abel Williams and left her mother and her home to come live with him.
Five years of marriage. Five years of abuse and torture.
An abuse that had started exactly a week after their wedding. They’d gone out with some friends of his—married friends who’d come with their wives too. There’d been a debate, not a violent one, but disputative enough so everyone had a different opinion. She’d voiced her own opinion, contrary to his, and had held on to her opinion until the three other couples had conceded and agreed she probably had the most point.
The conversation had shifted to less argumentative subjects and the night had ended on a pleasant note. At least, that was what she’d thought until they’d gotten home and he’d locked the doors and without warning landed her a slap that had sent her sprawling backward across their living room.
It was the first time he’d hit her, the first time anyone had so violently hit, so she’d been all at once shocked and furious. Her instant fury had made her yell at him and strike back when she’d stumbled back on her feet.
But that had been a mistake. A costly mistake because he had struck her again, consecutively across her cheek and when she’d laid sprawled and crying on the floor, he’d tied his handkerchief over her mouth and then dragging off his belt, he’d thrashed her mercilessly.
She been badly bruised but most of the welts had been on her back and so when weeks later, she’d emerged from the house, none of their neighbours had been the wiser and since he’d spent those two weeks teaching her that marriage was just a union between two people and no other, she hadn’t told anyone.
And as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months and the months to years of abuse, repeated beatings and malevolent threats, she’d soon learned to bear her pains and anguish alone.
But she was tired now, she was exhausted. She lifted her index finger to her still painful lip and traced the middle one-line slit. She had once considered running away.
It had been more than once actually that she’d considered running away but it had been only once that she’d tried to do so.
It had been about ten months after their wedding and those days he didn’t used to lock her in. At least, not unless he beat her and her injuries were such that required hiding from the prying eyes of their neighbours. That morning after he’d left for work, she had hastily packed a suitcase and had also left the house. She’d gone to the Delta Line Park and had taken the next bus back to Delta state.
She’d arrived home at Ubulu-Uku and had met her mother quite ill. Her blood pressure was up and she had a severe case of diarrhoea and was also vomiting repeatedly. It had seemed like God-sent that she’d chosen that day to run away from home.
Quickly, with the help of a cousin that lived close by, they’d spirited her mother off to the General hospital, Ogwashi-Uku and put her on admission. She didn’t have enough money on her, just a couple of thousands that remained from house-keeping allowance.
From the very onset after their wedding, he’d never allowed her to keep an account. Though she had one—well, two actually—but he’d preferred to give her cash when she needed it.
And so she’d had no money of her own. So, she’d called him and he’d calmly told her he’d be travelling down the next day. He arrived the following afternoon, cleared the bill from the General hospital, had her mother discharged and then taken to a private hospital at Asaba.
Then he’d booked them into a hotel and that night, where with his hands chokingly gripped around her neck, he’d warned her that if she dared ever make the mistake of leaving him again he’d strangle her. Thereafter he’d strangle her mother who’d be unfortunate to welcome her back home.
There had been such deathly calmness in his eyes and voice that she’d believed him. And when they’d returned to Lagos a few days later, he’d made sure to warn her again with a thorough beating.
Each time, after that incident, when she contemplated leaving him, her fears kept her from making a move. Besides, he never again allowed her to handle cash, even housekeeping allowance. He started taking her shopping or buying whatever he considered suitable and when they went to church he slipped her offering into the envelope before passing it to her just be the offertory.
Five years of physical abuse, emotional torture and mental cruelty and she was tired. She wanted to leave. She craved to escape, even if it was through death. She didn’t have to wait for him to kill her, she could kill herself. She could stab herself to death and be finally and eternally free of him.
But what would happen to her mother? Priscilla thought as anguished tears glided down her cheeks. If Abel didn’t kill her, sorrow and grief surely will at the death of her only child. Could she do that to her mother?
Feeling again the helplessness of her situation, she let her body drop to the bed and curling to her side, she cried aloud like she hasn’t done in a long, long while.
Prisca walked out of their yard and cast a quick glance at the opposite yard. The Hyundai SUV was still parked in front of the house which meant the scary man of the house hadn’t yet left.
Ivie had called earlier to say she was feeling ill and wouldn’t be able to make it to the store that day, so it was up to her to open the store that morning. Esosa had gone for Morning Mass and wasn’t back else he’d have dropped her off at the store, not that she minded the not-so-long walk to the Estate junction. It always provided her alone thinking time. She started to move away from their open entrance when she heard Janet call out to her.
“Mummy P! Mummy P! Please wait for me!”
There goes her thinking time, Prisca sighed as she turned and watched the not-exactly-slim three-quarters shorts and Polo shirt clad figure jog towards her.
“I’m actually going to your store to pick up some Mimi noodles, Lance refuses to eat the Indomie noodles we have at home.” She chatted in a breathy tone as she stopped by her side. “I don’t know what’s with that boy, all of a sudden he prefers Mimi to Indomie and all because they had it at their aunt’s during a visit two weekends ago.” She hissed and drew in a long breath. “Kids!”
Prisca chuckled as they started forward. “That is children for you, they like one thing until they try another. By the way, didn’t they go to school today?”
“No, Eno is sick. She has a bit of malaria.” Janet replied. “Her daddy and I took her to the doctor yesterday evening and though she’s feeling less feverish and no longer vomiting, we’re keeping her home until we’re sure she’s totally fine. Since she wasn’t going to school, Oga Lance stated that he wasn’t going either.” She rolled her eyes.
Prisca laughed. She could just imagine Lance giving them that order. Though he was just five year old and a kindergarten three pupil, he was as witty and smart as they come. “I trust my Lance. Poor Eno though. I’ll stop over to see her when I get back in the evening. Ivie is not feeling well herself, so I’ve…”
“Good morning, madam!”
They both turned at the abrupt loud greeting. Prisca was surprised to see her brawny looking unfriendly neighbour marching towards them with long, defined strides and her bowl in his hand. Like the first time she’d met him, he was dressed in a suit.
At last he’s returning her bowl, she mused, and on the road too. What a man!
“Good morning.” She responded with a mild smile.
He halted beside her, gave Janet a swift indifferent glance and focused on her. “I’m sorry to stop you like this but I wanted to return your bowl. I apologise that I’ve not done so since but I’ve been quite busy.”
“That’s all right, Mr Williams.” She took the bowl he offered. “I actually expected your wife to do the returning.” She let out a soft laugh. “These things are somehow a woman’s thing… you get my meaning?”
He did not laugh along. Neither did his blank expression change. “My wife is also a busy person, madam. Busy and very private.”
Prisca noted the emphasis on the last word and merely arched a brow. He was warning her off his wife… what a man! “Really? Hmm. Well, I had the pleasure of meeting her two days ago and I must say she’s a beautiful woman.”
“I know—she’s my wife.” His eyes flickered as if with a possessive glint but they switched back to their blankness so quick she wasn’t sure. “If you’ll excuse me, I am running late for work. Goodbye, madam.”
Goodbye? “Have a good day, Mr Williams.” Her eyes were challenging as they held his.
He stared for a second, then gave a curt nod and turned, marching back to his yard with the same long, purposeful gait. He got into his SUV, kicked it to life and then with one swift launch, pulled out of the yard and zoomed past them.
“Jesus Christ! Can you imagine that?” Janet exclaimed as they both stared after the fast disappearing vehicle. “He didn’t even bother to offer us a ride? What am I saying, he didn’t even bother to greet me! “And he even gave you back your bowl on the road, not come to your house to politely return it. What kind of a human being does that?” She turned to her with bewildered eyes.
The kind that didn’t want anyone getting close to him and to his family, Prisca answered silently. Aloud she simply said. “I don’t know. And I prefer that he didn’t offer us a ride. Standing with him for just two minutes was uncomfortable enough without having to endure a ride in his car.”
“Abi?” Janet agreed, though she still sounded a little peeved. “Abeg let him go with his car jor, we’re better of walking anyway.”
“Mmm hmm.” Prisca responded absently turning her gaze to the red-sand painted house. Something shifted in her and she realised it was her quiet peace. It was replaced now with a humming disquiet. What was going on in the house? she wondered for the umpteenth time.
“Do you think we should go over and say hello to the wife?” Janet asked in a lowered tone. “I haven’t seen her yet and I am really curious to meet her.”
For a brief second she considered Janet’s suggestion. Then she recalled Priscilla’s odd entreaty and shook her head. “No, let’s go. I have to open the store and you have to get the noodles for Lance.” She nudged her forward by the arm. “You don’t want to hear how the big worms nearly ate his tummy, do you?” She should go drop the bowl at home, but that would just be extra trouble going inside and coming out again.
Janet chuckled at her son’s usual I-want-to-eat-now excuses. “Don’t mind that naughty boy.” But her mind was obviously still on the new neighbours because she quickly added in her still low tone. “What did she look like, Mummy P? You said she was beautiful. Was she like Agbani-Darego beautiful or Omotola-Jalade sexy, curvy beautiful?”
She would go with Agbani-Darego beautiful given the shared slim build but Priscilla not as tall as the erstwhile Miss World. But she wasn’t going to tell Janet that and she wasn’t going to discuss the lady whose soft, kind off shy tone and manner appealed to her for inexplicable reasons.
No, she didn’t want to discuss her… not with Janet. Not just to fill up a gossip conversation.
“I don’t know which one is Agbani-Darego beautiful or Omotola beautiful, Janet. Where do you young people get these expressions from sef?” She chuckled in a dismissive way. “Anyway, tell me about Mrs Osagie’s daughter’s upcoming wedding. I heard that her husband-to-be’s family is fighting that the wedding must hold in their own church and not in the Osagies’.”
She successfully diverted Janet’s attention as she intended because Janet quickly switched to the wedding brouhaha that has been the latest gist on the Estate. Prisca only listened half-heartedly as her thoughts continued to twirl around Priscilla Williams and her very peculiar husband.
*Am I noticing a decline in our feedback count or what? *side eyes @ all the naughty peeps* Let us hear it today!*