carry yourself to the ocean
the ground has become too hard
drown your yesterdays,
baptize their sins
– Ijeoma Umebinyuo
This morning Ugo fucked me on the kitchen counter right before we drove to the teaching hospital. He grunted “Mommy” right before he came. The sex was quick, dry and painful, not how it always was, but maybe that was because things between us had in fact, changed. We were going to be parents. As I smoothened my skirt he held on to me a little longer than usual and apologized for being rough. My pregnancy glow was a huge turn on, he said. I faked a smile, eyes on our clean white tiles refusing to let this man whom I adored know that the sex we just had took me 13 years back when I was raped. It was my half brother first, and then four months after, in that self-contain apartment infested with mosquitoes, Dr. E Fit Do Everytin. I had met him to terminate Feyi’s child, the small baby bump, an evidence of the abomination my half brother had committed. Sometimes, I remember the pain as Dr. E Fit Do Everytin inserted a hanger in me. Most times, I remember the feeling of relief that enveloped me as he pulled out bloody lumps from my body, dropping it messily in a cracked ceramic plate with oil stains. But I never forget the shame. The self-loathing and disgust, stinging and searing as he put his fingers into me, then his thick penis. I vomited then, just as I vomited now. Ugo chuckled, “Morning sickness already?”
I looked out the window of the orange corolla, letting the breeze hit my bare face. The sky was bluer today, the air cooler, the smile on my husband’s face fuller, just like my breasts. I first noticed the change three weeks ago while looking intently at my chest in front of a mirror, trying to understand the reason for the dull ache at the side of my left breast. This dull ache developed into a constant stabbing pain that could not go unchecked. I made the much dreaded visit to the hospital, and ran some tests. The next week when I was to pick up my results, I missed my period. That had happened only once in my life. Anxiety coursed through me as digested all the content google presented to me when I searched “Is breast pain a sign of pregnancy”, “ I missed my period and my breasts feel fuller”, “how do I know if I am pregnant”, “apart from pregnancy what else causes a missed period”… with each click, a piece of my sanity left. To remedy the situation, I did what virtually all the blogs and websites advised me to do : a pregnancy test. Whatever was left of the sanity I had, vanished once I saw 2 lines on the pregnancy test strip. I sat down on the toilet seat wondering how the birth control I had been religiously taking without the knowledge of Ugo had failed me. This child invariably meant a division of Ugo’s love. My chest tightened as I thought of him loving someone else. Preferring them. Like he did Ese.
“I actually refused to believe when the receptionist said he first lodged the girl in, and then 2 days after, lodged himself in the room beside her’s. Men, they think they are smart.” Oge said with a sly smile on her face.
I was crucially silent, breaking the shell of groundnut with my teeth and throwing the insides in my mouth.
“They said her name is Ese”. Silence.
“It is paining me as I am telling you this D,” although the glint in her eyes suggested otherwise, “you should confront Ugo sha, he can’t be disgracing you up and down Abuja”. Silence.
“ I saw her once o, with my 2 korokoro eyes in Ugo’s official car. I thought it was Ugo oh, so I went to say hello. Guess who winds down the window?…” when she saw that I had no interest replying, she continued, “…Ese. With that her bald head. Someone that is young enough to be his daughter. So embarrassing. Diane I almost beat her on your behalf.”
I look up from the groundnut I had since finished unshelling. “You said she’s young enough to be his daughter” I finally said. Oge nods her head excitedly, glad that she is getting a reaction from me. Before I could stop myself, I began to use my voice to defend a man who chose to betray me.
“Ugo and I have been married for 7 years. If we had a child or children even, the oldest will at most be 7 years. Is Ese 7?”
Oge’s over caked face scrunched up in unveiled disgust. This was not the reaction she hoped for. “Ugo might not be a pedophile, but he certainly is a cheat.” Silence.
That was the first day I was glad Ugo ‘had some things to attend too’ and couldn’t come home till the next day. I wouldn’t have known how to explain how those disgruntled brute cries that shook my body violently, reddened my eyes, and then mercifully put me to sleep, came out of my small frame.
Stepping into the hospital building, I was annoyed. It smelt like too much Izal, and just enough deaths. Walking slowly to the consultancy ward, Ugo held me a delicately, his arm wrapped round my waist, his fingers gripping firmly but pressing softly. He held me like he was aware that I was going to fall apart any minute. I looked up to see his clay colored face, wondering if in fact he knew, or had always known. The toothy grin on his face, almost comical, gave me my answer. My eyes scanned my environment. I saw people on wheelchairs, a woman so thin I felt I should warn her that the small cool breeze outside might lift her up and take her away. I mind my business, thinking that maybe, just maybe, she wanted to be taken away. The wails of a baby irritate me. I stopped for a moment wondering what could be done to appease this crying child held firmly to his mother’s back with an Ankara wrapper. Mindlessly moving to pat the baby, ignoring Ugo’s soft ‘Didi, what are you doing?, I see it. A tumor the size of a tennis ball on his left eye. His mother turned to me with a fierce hostility and our eyes met. I smiled at her and she at me as we shared a moment that was cut short by Ugo who tugged on my arm. As I departed from her, I wondered if she too wanted to ask “what broke you?”.
I hate hospitals. It was the first thing I said as soon as we entered into Dr. Biodun’s small white office. This place where this Doctor who had been helping us with our fertility treatments and always had a fake smile plastered on his face delivered more bad news than good. I tried to think of when last I had some good news in my life to share, my mind goes back to when Ugo asked me to marry him, nothing before that, nothing after. I remembered that I was to have a baby soon…was that good news?
Ugo noticed that I was distant. I was there but I was not really there. He discussed with Dr. Biodun about the possibility of limiting my visit to the hospital in the coming months. There is space at home for her to have personal prenatal classes. He also said something about a home delivery, and his readiness to pay more. Dr. Biodun smiled at the last statement, this time genuinely. My husband took my right palm and cupped it with his two hands, smiling at me kindly, like I am the sun that revolves round his galaxy . I want to tell him to be careful, that I burn. I choose to smile instead because some things are best left unsaid. He knows I am irrevocably in love with him, and that I hate hospitals because sixteen years ago I spent so much of my time in them watching my mother and only sister battle tuberculosis. What he didn’t need to know is that I had initially contracted the disease when I went to visit a friend’s father who I had been secretly dating and was ill with TB. What he didn’t need to know is that I got infected and somehow got my mom and sister sick with the disease. He also certainly didn’t need to know that after being transferred from hospital to hospital, my mother died 11 months later. He didn’t need to know that my sister could not come out from the abyss I pushed her into by killing my mother, so, she killed herself. Ugo did not need to know that every morning he kissed me on the lips and caressed my cheeks,I secretly wished that that sixteen years ago my body had died along with my soul.
A nurse interrupted the conversation going on between my husband and the doctor. Without apologizing for barging in, she glanced shyly at Dr. Biodun before dropping a white envelope on his table. I recognized that look. It was that same glance Ese and my husband exchanged at his office’s Christmas party. Dr. Biodun handed over a clearblue pregnancy test kit to me. He wanted me to pee on the stick so that he, Ugo and I could take a picture together with the results for his fertility album. The proud smile on Ugo’s face caused an unfamiliar feeling bubble inside of me. I wondered if that what was joy felt like. I peed directly on the stick, not making use of the cup I was given. After about 2 mins the results read not pregnant. My first thought was to panic but I managed to stay calm. Maybe a small part of me actually wanted the child. I walked out of the toilet to ask for another test kit. I was going to use the cup this time around and get the positive result I deserved.
Why were they looking at me like they had seen a ghost? I stand still, scanning the room with guilty eyes. The envelope the nurse had brought in was unsealed, the contents spilled carelessly on the table. My husband stood up hastily. Dr. Biodun told him to please take back his seat. Bile rose to my throat. I did not know what the problem was, but I wanted to tell Ugo that whatever it was, it didn’t matter. That I was about to have his beautiful baby and we were about to make a beautiful family and that I was willing to give life a second chance.
“Diane” The voice of man that I married, who is larger than life itself, came out small, unrecognizable.
“Ugo..” Dr. Biodun warned
“Diane, you are not pregnant.”
“Excuse me?” My feet was planted firmly to the ground “I didn’t use the kit as instructed, give me another one. I am pregnant.”
“No baby, I know about the pills you take every morning”
Flight or Fight?
“What pills?” I was surprised at the strength of my voice.
“Its okay baby, I’m not mad at you, I promise. But when you told me you were pregnant, I found it hard to believe because I know you never miss your pills but I believed it must have been some miracle and..” He was rambling
“Ugo let me…” Dr. Biodun was on his feet now trying to get my husband to sit down.
“Deedee you have stage 4 breast cancer’
‘You do not know what you’re saying’ my voice trembled ,‘We came here because I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant”.
Ugo stared at me pathetically. I saw tears stream down his face and immediately I hated him. I hated that he would be Inside Ese all night, and then meet me In the morning claiming to be exhausted from work, expecting me to feel sorry for him, to love him more. I hated that he had known all this while that I was on birth control and he was okay with It. I hated he was almost always blind to my pain, and whenever he managed to see it, tried to take it away and make It about him. Like he had done right after sex that morning and like he was doing now.I hated him because he failed to notice that I needed saving.
“Diane you’re so strong…”. I did not hear the rest of what he said because I could not stand to look at him a second longer.I turn to Dr. Biodun Instead.
“Doc, the pregnancy test I took was positive”.
“The one you took now?”.
I was awfully silent.
“ False positives are rare but they happen. Some cancers can disrupt your hormones and can trick the test Into thinking you’re pregnant”
“But what are the chances?” I asked because I was ready to start grasping at straws.
“Very low Mrs Ofodile, but a low chance is still a chance.”
I wanted to say “this Is unbelievable”, because it seemed to be the best words for this scenario, the words Dr. Biodun would expect from a woman whose seemingly perfect life has been destroyed. But the words failed to come out of my mouth, maybe because I didn’t believe In them. What truly would have been unbelievable was If I was actually pregnant and healthy, and happy.
My husband, cheeks stained with tears, was talking fast trying to reassure me that it was okay. Dr Biodun was trying to get Ugo to shut up and sit down, at the same time trying to comfort me.
I looked at Dr. Biodun’s desk and recognized that the papers littered on the table where the tests I took 3 weeks ago and never followed up on.
The voices in my head mocked me : why exactly would you think that your breast pain and fullness was an indication of soon to be motherhood? what makes you think you are deserving of such goodness?
And suddenly, amidst all the chaos, I felt at home. I surprised myself as the sound that came out of my mouth was laughter. I began to laugh, and my laughter silenced the room. I laughed as I thought of how some minutes ago I actually believed that some good luck was finally coming to me . My body shook and I laughed and realized how much easier laughter was than to hold so much bitterness because of what Feyi, Dr. E fit Do Everytin, Ugo and Ese had done, because of what I had done to my sister and my mother. As I laughed, my body was betraying me, replicating cells at an abnormal speed, so, I laughed some more, until I started gasping for breath, at the irony of the whole situation.When my laughter died down, all that was left was aa lingering sense of peace.
“How long do I have to live ?” I finally say taking a seat, not really caring for an answer that would not matter to me. Ugo and Dr. Biodun stared at me stunned, probably wondering If I had run mad, and for a fleeting moment I thought maybe I had. But I decide that I hadn’t . A mad person would not have been thinking of the quantity of insomnia pills she had in her kitchen cabinet back at home and the potency of the pills: how fast and painless her death will be when she swallows more than enough.I was sane and for once, In control of how things will turn out.