She was lying on the sofa.
She’d been lying there since she’d grabbed her handbag from the office and without a word to Kike, stormed out, got into a taxi and stomped into her apartment boiling with fury.
Her handbag was lying now on the bean bag, her shoes, kicked off and lying face down on the Persian rug.
She still hadn’t taken off her work clothes. She hadn’t drawn aside the curtains or switched on the lights, and turning on the TV was the last thing on her mind.
She just laid there on the sofa, seething with justified anger. Anger and grief.
A grief that had both surprised and overwhelmed her. A grief that had not only squeezed her heart but had also flowed through her eyes. She’d spent the better part of the first hour, sobbing into the sofa.
Her tortured heart awash with images of her parents and brother. Of Uncle Emeka and his family’s constant presence in their Port Harcourt home. Thoughts of fun-filled Christmas holidays at Asaba and other visits home had flashed before her eyes.
And remembering that Uncle Emeka had been her father’s only brother, her sorrow had deepened and her tears had flowed even more.
With her tears spent and her wracking sobs quietened, grief had been replaced again by anger. Distorted, raging anger that seemed to flow from the very depth of her soul. Boiling anger that engulfed her and burned away every good memory and left only memories of rejection, maltreatment, pain and hurt.
So death was a visitor in every home not just in hers alone, she mused, hands folded across a slow heaving chest. So sorrow and pain can visit Aunty Buchi and maybe chastise her?
Would she be accused of killing her husband? It was the way of her people – no one ever died naturally, someone had to kill them. She shook her head in disgust.
But wasn’t it even poetic justice, if she got accused and was made to swear? Hadn’t she literally done the same to an anguished ten year old child?
And if this was finally justice, were then was the pleasure that should accompany it? Why wasn’t her heart soaring in joy and satisfaction? Why were her eyes still stinging with tears?
She twisted her head sharply toward the door, at the sound of her doorbell. She stared at it angrily for a minute, having no doubt whatsoever that it would be Kike on the other side of the door.
Why couldn’t people just leave her alone when she desperately needed them to? She thought furiously. Heaving to her feet, she stalked to the door, switched on the lights as she turned the key.
Valerie flung open the door, set to brush Kike off and send her away. But whatever she’d been prepared to say stuck in her throat at the sight of Nathan standing at her door, grinning like he’d just won a lottery.
Irritated she placed her hand her waist, her head cocked to the side. “I wasn’t expecting you. I don’t recall you informing me of your visit.”
Nathan gave a flourish bow. “Forgive me for forgetting to call and book an appointment with your PA, an oversight on my part.” His tone was jocular.
Valerie ignored the joke. “Unfortunately I’m really busy, so you can’t stay long I’m afraid.” She said curtly, stepping back into the living room.
Nathan followed her inside. Kike had been right, her aunt’s visit had affected her badly. But it wasn’t a shocked and grieving lady that was standing in front of him, hands across the chest, eyes cool and indifferent, it was a woman boiling with barely restrained anger.
Deciding that the cooing and calming he’d planned would not only be scorned but also tossed back in his face. Tough love was needed here. The kind that was splashed on you, unsolicited and unexpected, like a bucket of cold water.
So ready for war, he said in a no-need-to-beat-about-the-bush voice. “Kike told me your Aunt Maryanne was over at the restaurant this afternoon to see you.”
The quick flash of surprise that sprang into her eyes, was instantly squelched. Of course Kike would have called him. No doubt she’d thought she needed a big strong shoulder to cry on. Well, she was wrong.
“Yes, she was. We chatted for some time. Remembered the jolly good happy times and then parted company.” Her I-can-take-care-of-myself tone was doused in sarcasm.
“A regular family reunion, huh?” He noted the impatience lurking beneath the cool gaze. She wanted him out, well she was in for some surprise. “I hear also that your Uncle Emeka has passed on and the funeral is billed for this weekend.”
She silently cursed the nosey Kike. “I see you’ve been given a detailed account of today’s events.” Her lips thinned in a tight smile. “Good. Right now though, I’m a little tired and have some things to get done before I head to bed.”
“So when are you leaving?”
“Leaving?” A baffled surprise had her dropping her hands. “Leaving for where?”
“Asaba I believe. That is where your Uncle would be buried I suppose.”
She stared at him, astounded.
He looked back at her, nonchalant.
“You expect me to go for Uncle Emeka’s burial? At Asaba?”
Ah, she wasn’t looking so cool and distant now. “Mmm hmm. I believe that is why your aunt visited, so you’d be informed and then you can travel home to sympathize with your aunt and cousins.”
She stared at him like he suddenly had horns sprouting out of his head. She was speechless.
“I suppose you’ll be leaving on Thursday since the wake keep is on Friday.” Nathan continued in the same conversational tone. “Unless of course you’d like to leave tomorrow? Though I do think …”
Shaking off whatever seemed to have seized her tongue, Valerie ground out through clenched teeth. “I don’t care what you think. Or what anyone else thinks for that matter.” Her eyes were starting to blaze. “I am not going for that burial – not tomorrow, not Thursday, not ever.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s one of those once in a lifetime kind of thing. So if you are not there by tomorrow or next, there’d be no need for not ever, as he won’t be buried ever again.”
His logical tone riled her and set off the rage she’d been holding back. “You think this is some kind of joke?”
“Nope. I think it’s really serious and I think you should seriously consider going.”
Valerie could bear it no more. Everyone seemed to have an opinion what she should be doing all of a sudden.
First it was Mama Bee thinking it would do her good to see her aunt. Then Aunt Maryanne thinking it was a good time for apologies and tears.
Now Nathan was here thinking she should seriously consider going for the burial ceremony of a man who had turned his back on her and sympathize with a woman who had made her very existence unbearable.
“How dare you?” She gasped in a voice that trembled with rage and fury. “How dare you come on here and tell me what I should do or not do? You think a few pecks and kisses give you the right to make such decisions for me?”
“No. I think my love for you gives me the right to request you consider making that decision yourself.” Nathan replied calmly.
“Nothing gives you the right to request or suggest or have a thought on this matter.” Valerie flung at him.
Nathan watched as she stalked to the sofa picked up the coffee-brown sofa pillow and flung it aside. Her entire body quivering visibly with rage. Deciding that this might take longer than he’d anticipated, he strode to the kitchen to find something to eat, he was hungry anyway.
“You think I should travel home to console my aunt for losing her husband when she never once said sorry to me for losing my father, mother and brother all in one evening?” Valerie raged, spurred on by the pain and anger that had been lurking within her heart.
Pain and anger that had sought restitution, that had sought justice, that had sought vengeance for more than two decades now.
“Does it even occur to you that these people might not want me there?” She demanded. “He’s been dead three weeks and no one bothered to contact me, to tell me.” Her voice cracked as she thought of that.
It wasn’t Aunty Buchi who’d contacted her or any of her cousins, but Aunty Maryanne spurred on by whatever guilt that was bedevilling her.
“And has it even occurred to you that maybe they didn’t know how to reach you or were maybe too ashamed to do so?” Nathan reasoned, raising his head from the inside of the creamy-white medium-sized refrigerator.
Valerie could not believe her ears. He was finding excuses for them? “No it hadn’t occurred to me. And quite frankly I’m shocked it has occurred to you.” She matched forward to stand at the kitchen door, looking at him through blazing eyes as he munched the fried turkey meat he’d found in her refrigerator.
“You think everything is about being a good Christian boy, a gospel singer… so you have to be always so good, so accommodating, so forgiving.” Her tone was derisive and insulting.
Nathan’s eyes narrowed as he watched her mouth turn up in disdain. “No I don’t. And I’m not – good, accommodating or forgiving.”
His tone was calm in spite of the hair rising behind his neck. And in spite of the tension creeping into his body, he took another bite of the fried meat in his hand. It didn’t surprise him, that it didn’t quite taste the same.
“This is not about being a good Christian boy.” He growled. “This is about you getting out of your self-appointed corner in the I-am-the-victim world you live in and getting off that self-pity horse you are riding on and really open your eyes to see that you are still a victim only because you want to be and that, it is not just you who is getting hurt here but also the people who truly love and care about you.”
Valerie’s eyes burned as his words slammed into her like a blast of hot air. “I am the victim. I was the one that lost not just her immediate family in one fell swoop but also lost my entire family. I was the one who was maltreated, rejected, abandoned, and forgotten.”
She watched as he nonchalantly chewed the fried meat and sudden fury engulfed her. She snatched the turkey platter from his hand. “And I am not riding on any self-pity horse. But even if I were, it wouldn’t be your business or anyone else’s for that matter.”
Slamming the platter on top the refrigerator, she stormed back into the living room.
Nathan bent and picked up the meat that fallen on the tiled floor. Dusting it off, he bit into it viciously, marching after her into the living room.
“And I never asked for your love or begged you to care for me.” Valerie threw over her shoulder. “You pushed your way into my life. So if you have a problem being in it, on my own terms, you just turn right back and get out through that door. I am sick of your sanctimonious bullshits. I don’t need you and I don’t need your love.”
Nathan grabbed her by the hand and twisted her around. “Don’t you dare take my gentleness for weakness or my love for granted.”
“And what will you do?” She goaded. “Punish me?”
Nathan swore roughly, then dragged her to him and slapped his lips on her own.
The kiss was thrusting, brutal and short.
“Don’t ever throw my love back in my face again.” His voice deathly quiet, his eyes frosty. “I don’t love you because you asked for it or you earned it.” He ground out. “You want to go for your Uncle’s burial ceremony, suit yourself. You want to sit here and languish in cries of woe and self-pity for the rest of your life, knock yourself out.”
Grabbing her hand he slapped the unfinished meat into her palm. “You call me when you decide.” He turned and stomped out of the apartment.
Valerie stared as the slammed shut after him, momentarily stupefied.
Then looking down on her opened palm, she howled wildly and flung the bony meat at the door.
Damn him! Goddamn everybody.
She stomped over to the sofa, flung her body into it and cursed violently when her head struck hard against the wooden arm of the seat.
“Damn it, where is that damn pillow?” She muttered viciously, her breath hitching as tears threatened once again.
To be continued…