THE CRACK

It was a complete standstill for over ten minutes before there was any sign of movement. Horns blared angrily as impatient drivers struggled to maneuver their way out of the logjam. 

Suddenly, someone bumped into her from behind. Hissing like a disturbed viper, Ajoke slammed the gear into ‘park’ and threw open her door. 

The other driver didn’t even care to come down from the offending vehicle and her temper was boiling as she marched over for a confrontation.

Swearing silently, she rapped on the tinted window. 

No response. 

Another long and angry rap followed, and still, nothing happened. It was only then she stopped and bent to peer into the car’s interior. The driver, a woman, was slumped over the steering wheel. Instantly the anger drained out of her. Quickly she tried the door, and it was locked as expected. 

“Help! Help,” she screamed at passing cars. “Can someone help me open this door, please? The driver has fainted!” 

A couple of cars came to a stop and their drivers came out to join her. Within a few minutes, the car door was forced open and the unconscious woman was lifted out, her beige color trouser stained with blood. An elderly man who claimed to be a medical doctor stepped forward and spent the next few minutes resuscitating the woman until she stirred, and her eyelids fluttered open.

“I think she just had a miscarriage,” the doctor said to the anxious faces gathered around when she became conscious again. “Can we reach her husband or her family? Anyone?”

“Here’s her handbag,” someone said, opening the rear door and retrieving the accessory from the back seat. He gingerly handed the brown leather bag to Ajoke who unzipped it. The lady’s phone was inside. Luckily it wasn’t locked, so she quickly went through the phone book hoping to find a number to call. One of them was saved as ‘mine’, so she punched the call button, hoping it was who she thought it was.

It rang a couple of times before someone picked.

“Yes?” a man barked. “Why are you calling me?” The aggression momentarily silenced Ajoke. “You can’t talk?” he continued rudely. “I will put an end to this call if you have nothing to say.” 

That snapped Ajoke out of her inaction.

“This is not your wife, Oga,” she spat back.

Her facial expression must have hinted at the hostile reception she got because the doctor placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned close. “Take it easy,” he whispered reassuringly. “Her name is Sandra, and her husband’s name is Uche Aniakor.”  

Ajoke nodded, swallowed her anger , and tried again.

 “Am I speaking to Mr. ‘Uche Aniakor?” 

“Yes,” he responded impatiently. “Who are you and why are you calling with my wife’s number?” 

“My name is Ajoke and I’m calling on your wife’s behalf.” The man’s manner annoyed her, but she kept a lid on her feelings. “Your wife fainted in her car in traffic, but she has been revived. She is however bleeding and needs urgent medical attention. A doctor here thinks she’s just had a miscarriage.” 

“I see,” he said after a few moments of silence. “Unfortunately I’m in the middle of an important meeting right now, so I won’t be able to help. I will send you our housemaid’s number via SMS once I drop this call. Talk to her. She will come to you and take her to the family hospital. Thank you for calling.” 

The line went dead. 

Ajoke stared at the now silent phone in disbelief, trying to process what she just heard. The brute hadn’t even asked for their location.

“He won’t come,” the woman called out weakly from where she lay on the ground. “Please call my housemaid. Her number is saved as Amina. My house is not far from here.” 

The sadness and resignation in her voice tore at Ajoke’s heart as she dialed the housemaid’s number.

Barely ten minutes later, a tall, slim Fulani girl, clad in a brown kaftan with a blue veil wrapped around her head arrived on a bike. She was crying as she paid off the bike rider and ran over. By that time traffic had cleared somewhat and the woman was lying on the back seat of her car which had been moved to the shoulder. Ajoke was in the front with the doctor.

“Madam, I say make u no go work today. See now?” 

The girl was the picture of worry and concern as she entered the car, running her hand over her madam’s arms and face.

“I’m fine now Amina. It’s alright.” 

Tears filled Sandra’s eyes but she rubbed them away with the back of her hand.

“Amina,” Ajoke called, interrupting both of them, “your madam needs to go to the hospital. She just lost her baby.”

“Ha,” Amina shrieked. “Madam, u don lose the baby again?” Sandra could only nod.

Ajoke addressed the doctor who had elected to wait with them till the maid came.

“Thank you very much, Doctor. You can go now. I’ll drive them to the hospital now.” 

“That’s fine, but I’m not in any hurry so I’ll drive behind you to the hospital” he responded, opening the door and stepping out of the car. 

A few of the other well-wishers who had stayed behind to see the conclusion of the episode also murmured greetings as they dispersed and moved off. 

Sandra was wheeled into the theater immediately they got to the hospital. Amina sat in the waiting room, crying inconsolably while Ajoke held and comforted her. The elderly doctor sat on the other side of the room.  

Sandra and Uche had argued that morning which degenerated into him beating her silly. They’d been married for three years but didn’t yet have any kids and this was the third time Sandra would suffer a miscarriage. It wasn’t a coincidence that it usually happened just after her husband beat her up. 

“Ah! Oga wicked o,” Amina said through her tears. Her eyes were red from crying. “E go beat madam so tey she go faint, even as he knows say madam dey carry belle. Aunty, u think say madam go dey alright? Shey she no go die?” The poor girl asked for the umpteenth time.

“By God’s grace, she won’t die.” Ajoke replied with a smile as she held her hand. ‘The bastard needs to be thought a lesson,’ she thought to herself. The smile was just a cover.

The doctor came out two hours later wearing a sober look. 

“We lost the baby but the mother is fine. We will need to talk to her husband though because there are lots of complications.  She may not be so lucky next time.” 

Ajoke heaved a heavy sigh of relief, while Amina sat down with gratitude. At least, her madam is alive!

*****

“How are you feeling now, Madam?” He was by her bedside as usual when she opened her eyes. She sat up in bed as she studied him as if she was seeing him for the first time. He was smartly dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, looking much younger than his 50 plus years. His face was lined with laughter lines and his afro was almost entirely white. His white neatly trimmed beard made her smile.

“Damn it, Sandra, you’re a married woman,” she chastised herself. “Well,” she thought further, “being married doesn’t make you blind to an attractive man, no matter how elderly and it sure as hell doesn’t stop you from admiring one either.”

“What is going on in your head?” His voice was tinged with curiosity as his eyes twinkled at her.

“It’s nothing important,” she answered casually, hoping she wasn’t flushed with embarrassment as she dropped her gaze. “Thanks for being there every time. I appreciate your checking up on me.” 

“You’re welcome, madam. I brought some fruits and provisions for you.” He dropped the heavy plastic bag on the bedside table and pushed his hands into his pockets.

“Please call me Sandra,” she smiled, “and thank you very much for your kindness. Please have your seat sir.” she finished, gesturing to the plastic chair beside the bed. He sat.

“Then you can call me Teslim.” His voice sounded so cool to her ears. “Hope your husband has come to check on you?” 

“Yes,” she lied smoothly, unconsciously averting her eyes. She always did that whenever she lied about anything, so she willed herself to look up at him again. “He came while I was asleep, but he left a message with Amina, my maid.”

Her husband hadn’t bothered, and she’d refused to get any member of her family involved in her situation this time around because she was tired of being ridiculed. 

“I’m glad to hear that. Work has been particularly grueling today and I need to go home and relax. I’m practically sleeping on my feet.” 

He stifled a yawn behind his palm.

“I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m sure madam will be waiting for you at home with food and warmth,” she teased.

 He was silent for a while.

“I’m a widow,” he responded in barely more than a whisper after the pause. “My wife died five years ago.”  Then he got to his feet, his eyes suddenly sad.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t know. Please accept my condolences.” 

“It is okay, but I’m a bachelor now. My only child, male, is in College in the United States. Except for my cleaner and gateman, I live alone.” 

The door opened abruptly and Uche walked in. He looked from one face to the other and his lips tightened with displeasure. 

“Hi Love,” she stuttered. “Please meet Doctor Teslim. He was the one who revived me the day I fainted on the road.” Turning sideways she introduced her husband. “Doctor Teslim, this is my husband, Uche.” Her voice sounded too loud to her ears but she couldn’t control it. 

“Good evening Doctor Teslim,” Uche greeted in a huff. 

“Good evening to you Mr. Uche,” the elderly doctor responded quietly, studying the young man in front of him with an expressionless face. Neither of them offered to shake hands.

“Thank you for your kind assistance,” Uche grunted for want of something to say. “It is highly appreciated.” 

“Don’t mention it, sir,” Doctor Teslim replied. Sandra thought she picked up an emphasis on the ‘sir’ but she couldn’t be sure. The tension in the room was thick enough to be visible to the naked eye. 

“I have to go now, madam. Take good care of yourself and extend my regards to Amina.” With a half-smile and slight nod at them both, he sauntered out through the door. 

“And your rescuer even brought you gifts. Na wa…”

 Sandra knew what was coming so she cut in. 

“Have you seen the Doctor, Uche? She wanted to see you.” 

“I will see her on my way out, and don’t you dare interrupt me again,” he retorted. “When exactly will you be discharged? You should be okay by now, so there’s no need to keep wasting money for you to receive visitors here.” 

Sandra closed her eyes and shrugged resignedly. He was still as mean as ever. 

“Has Amina brought you dinner?” he asked. 

She opened her eyes and nodded.

 “Then I will see the doctor now,” he flung at her as he stalked out of the hospital ward.

 With a heavy sigh, she adjusted her pillow and lay back, staring morosely at the ceiling.

*****

“Why are you so moody?” Victoria asked. 

They were lying in her bed, naked and sweaty from the wild sex they just had. He had been rough but she had loved every moment of it. Now they were catching their breaths and she sensed something was on his mind.

“She lost the baby again,” he said, gazing at the ceiling. 

“So? What do you expect when you use her as a punching bag?” There was amusement in her voice.  

“So?” Uche exploded, eyes flashing as he sat up abruptly. “So? It was you who made me hit her. I was taking my frustration with you out on her.” 

Victoria laughed heartily.

“Listen, young man,” she sneered. “Don’t think I give a shit about your marital problems because I don’t. I want that woman you call your wife to suffer for stealing you away from me in the first place. When she’s had enough, she’ll walk out on her own.” 

“And when are you walking away, Vicky?” he asked.

“How about never, hmmm? You’re stuck with me, mister. Forget that your dream of having kids. I can’t, ever, thanks to all the abortions you made me go through for you, so you can’t too. Don’t forget that I can destroy you whenever I feel like it. Don’t underestimate me. I know about every one of your sordid business transactions. If you upset me or try to walk away from this relationship for whatever reason, I will make sure your life is completely ruined. It will only take a phone call.” 

She held his gaze as he stared back with barely concealed hostility.

“Have I told you how much I hate you recently?” he asked through gritted teeth. 

She threw back her head and laughed heartily.

“The feeling is mutual, boo.” 

Victoria slid out of the bed, nude and comfortable in her skin and in her power over men. She knew they adored her tall, curvy body. Her skin gleamed with sweat and her firm rounded boobs jiggled as she strolled into the bathroom. He followed her with his eyes, an involuntary ache that could only be assuaged by her body in his loins. She was a pain in his ass and a narcotic in his blood at the same time. Frustrated by his dilemma he swore fiercely. 

Mocking laughter rang out from the bathroom. 

“Come and rub my back, darling,” she called out huskily. 

He got off the bed and started putting on his clothes. 

*****

“Teslim, I can’t believe this. I am pregnant again. I don’t know how it happened, because the doctor told me the last time that I probably wouldn’t be able to conceive again.” 

They were in his sitting-room, in a relaxed mood. She could still remember the day she was discharged from the hospital. Uche hadn’t turned up, but Teslim had remembered. He had driven her home from the hospital.

“You’re such an Angel,” she’d told him, her eyes filling with tears. “Your wife was one lucky woman.”

He’d smiled sadly.

“But I wasn’t always a good husband to her. I took her for granted most of the time. I was never there, for both her and my son. Maybe if I cared a little bit more we’d have had other children. By the time I came back to my senses, it was already too late.”

‘I love him so much,” she heard herself say. “I thought he loved me because at the beginning it was so perfect, but now….” 

Her voice trailed off.

“Maybe he does, but you need to take charge of your life. You’re a beautiful woman and an intelligent adult. Stop allowing him to walk all over you.” 

“But I don’t know what to do,’ she wailed. “Honest to God I don’t.” 

His right hand had left the steering wheel to hold one of hers.

“Whatever you decide to do, I’ll be rooting for you.”

He’d dropped her off at home. After that day, he made it a habit to take her to lunch or dinner at every opportunity she could manage. 

“When…how did it happen?” Teslim asked. 

What he wanted to know was if the baby was his.

“It must have been that night I left home. Remember that night when I came back here after he got home and went berserk because I wasn’t waiting for him to return?” 

Uche had been raving mad that night and she’d just turned around and walked out, much to his amazement.

“So the baby… is it mine?” His voice shook slightly as he asked. 

“Yes,” she breathed. “and it’s going to bring trouble.”

“Sandra, I know you are considering all the reasons we can’t be together right now. You’re still married, our tribes differ just like our religions, and I’m fifteen years older than you are. I can assure you that none of those things matter to me.  I will give you one month to make up your mind about everything but in the meantime don’t let anything happen to the baby, I beg you in the name of Allah.”

His plea was touching.

“I need to start seeing my gynecologist as soon as possible because of the complications I had during the last one.” 

“Don’t worry,” he assured her, “you will have the best care as far as this baby is concerned.” 

*****

“She’s gone dammit! She’s gone from my life and it’s your fault.” 

Uche was in the center of the room waving a sheet of paper wildly.

 “Is that why you kicked my door open like that? Are you insane or something?” Victoria fumed, jerking upright. Her breasts almost flew out of the halter neck she wore.

“Your door? What stupid door? Don’t I pay the rent? I’m talking about something important and you dare complain about a door!”

“Snap out of it and spare me the drama Uche,” she countered. “Is she the only woman in the world? Stop behaving like a teenager and act like a man for crying out loud. It’s good riddance to bad rubbish if you ask me.” 

Something snapped in Uche’s mind and he advanced.

“How dare you? You wicked whore.” 

She tried to get up off the couch when she saw the look in his eyes.

“Wait, Uche, I didn’t mean that. Don’t do anything foolish, please…” 

He pounced on her and didn’t let her finish. 

“Go to hell, bitch” he grunted, gritting his teeth as his hands closed around her neck in a viselike grip. She opened her mouth like a fish out of water in an attempt to scream but no words came out as he slowly squeezed the life out of her, her struggles gradually reducing in intensity until she went limp. 

When he was sure she was no longer breathing, he let her body drop back onto the couch, sat down on the floor, and burst into tears with the divorce papers clutched to his chest.

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