Mouse Trap Series - Episode 1



The nurse behind the desk called out my name and I wanted to run, out into the streets. My heart drummed in my ears and I was sure I would topple over. She called out again, in that heavy Ibo accent, irritation creeping into it. I prayed for her to move on to the next name but she persisted, this time not reading out from the folder, but scanned us, patients, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the hard wooden benches, as though she could identify who it was just by looking.
Some of the patients shifted impatiently and I was sure, like me, they prayed the nurse would waste no more time and move on to the next name. The nurse's eyes fell on me and I stood in reflex, legs shaking. The other patients looked at me accusingly as I made my way to the desk. The caller glared at me from behind her thick glasses, her eyes unnaturally puffy and handed me a file. She pointed down the corridor, third door to your right, the counselor would give the test result to you, she said, and called out the next name.

The file tucked under my arm, I made my way down the freshly painted corridor, breathing in the smell of fresh paint. The same smell that now filled my home. Ben was coming home in three days and I had thought it best to renovate. I wanted him to see the house the way it had been when he left.
The counselor’s door was white and had a sticker to the eye level that said 'Aids no dey show for face'. Just the previous night, I had examined my skin in front of the mirror for boils like they said AIDS patients got, I had found none, but the sticker now mocked that home test. I shrunk in disappointment and considered turning around, but I looked back and saw the caller-nurse looking at me with an ugly and determined scowl, she'd probably run after me if I took to flight. I took a deep breath and tried to put a blanket over my fear as I pushed open the counselor’s white door.

**********

Ben walked towards me with a smile that could light up a funeral. He let his hand luggage land with a thud and spread his hands in an invitation for a hug. I watched him listlessly, wondering why I had come to the airport to pick him up after all. I should have said I was ill and sent the driver. I didn't walk into his arms, I didn't want him to touch me, he should have remained in New York, I stood still and he walked over and wrapped me in his arms. He squeezed so hard I was sure I would burst open, his perfume crawled up my nose and I sneezed. He laughed. My allergic baby, he cooed, I forgot, I shouldn't have worn my perfume. He laughed again, as though he had just said the funniest joke. His lips touched mine, they felt cold and dry. I pulled away and swallowed, pushing the barf in my throat back down. In escape, I walked to his abandoned suitcase and picked it up.
Ben talked all the way home, about the passengers on the plane; those who said what they said and those who did what they did. He talked about the air hostesses and their sleekness, the airport attendants and their beggary, even the pilot's slur over the speaker. He talked about a lady who had too many bags it took hours to check her in and the man who farted and his seat neighbor insisted he changed seats.
Ben didn't even notice that I hadn't said a word since the airport. I wondered how I had never noticed that he was a talkative. Actually, the only things I had noticed before he left the country two years ago, after our wedding, were his looks. When Monica, my best friend, had asked before the wedding, in that 'shrink' manner, why I wanted to marry him, I had responded without a second thought, he's rich and handsome... and generous. I couldn't, despite Monica's prodding, think of any other side of his personality I was knowledgeable with.
Ben and I had met at an art exhibition in Lagos. It was a lazy Saturday evening and Monica had dragged me to the event. I walked into the exhibition sure my coming was a mistake. The room was packed with men and woman who were dressed a little too formal for an evening outing. My short clingy yellow gown stood out in the bland colors they wore and my stiletto heels clicked on the tiled floor drawing looks of disapproval from the geeky crowd.
As soon as we arrived, Monica was stolen away by her friend, the owner of the exhibition, while I was left by myself to look at the ridiculous paintings that lined the wall. I went from one art piece to the other wondering why I had allowed Monica to convince me into such craziness. Monica was the world's most passionate art lover. She looked at a framed scrawl and saw a beauty I never understood. She had preached and sang of how fun the event was going to be before I agreed to attend. Besides, if I had said no, Monica would have severed our friendship. It was the umpteenth time she was asking and her patience was thinning out, but, right there in the room filled with eccentrics, I thought perhaps Monica's friendship wasn't worth this much. I watched them, the eccentrics, oohing and aahing at the art pieces as though the canvasses with ink splattered all of them were beauty models and not a colorful mess. A white lady had tears in her eyes as she stared at one of the paintings, I stood over her shoulder, looking and searching for the 'wow' she saw in the image of a mother breastfeeding her child.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Someone standing beside me said
I followed the voice and my eyes fell on the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He smiled and the butterflies in my stomach quivered. He was light skinned and had brown eyes that danced as he looked at me. My voice was caught in my throat; all I could manage was a smile. I looked back at the painting, the wildest smile stuck on my face as I agreed that it was the most beautiful painting at the exhibition. Well it was, as long as the beautiful man thought it was. Together we picked out ten art pieces for his purchase; him searching out the art pieces, me saying 'yes' and 'no' as randomly as I could manage.
Ben was talking about New York as we drew to a stop at the traffic light; he was complaining about the fast pace of the city, the heavy traffic, his noisy neighbors, tedious work, the cold weather... I ran my hand through my hair in irritation; I had had enough of his chatter.
For three days since my visit to the hospital, I had tried to convince myself that I was dreaming and that the result did not say what it said. But every morning since then, I looked at it and still saw the scribble 'positive +' bright and clear on the yellow paper. I had never thought much of God, but now I hoped he'd prove he was what those bible carrying, gibberish yapping Christian fanatics cracked him up to be and have me free of this turmoil. In one swirl turn my life had gone from creamy sugar to watery bitter. Here was Ben blabbing on and on with no idea of what was about to hit him. I wished I had gone for the test two months earlier when I first started feeling ill. I would have gained enough time to think this out before Ben's return. Or perhaps, I shouldn't have done the test at all, Ignorance would have been the perfect way to deal with this, but Doctor Kene had only advised that I did the test, after I had been ill consistently for two months, just to rule it out, but here I was and there was no ruling it out. Tears stung my eyes and I blinked it back quickly, no need getting Ben all riled up... yet.
"Monica's having her birthday party tonight" I said, my throat dry and croaky. The traffic light went green and I sped past it amidst other cars.
"Yes, Ekuma mentioned it when I called him this morning" Ben said
Ekuma was Monica's husband and Ben's best friend. A spontaneous unplanned double date two years ago had brought Monica and Ekuma together.
"You don't have to go; I know you would want to take a rest." I was hoping he wouldn't go to the party, I needed to talk to Monica and I didn't need Ben on my tail.
"Take a rest? There's no resting my love. We have to get to work and make plenty babies."
I took a sharp turn and he hit his head on the passenger's window. The Nigerian roads... he began and I sucked in air, relieved he dropped the topic.
At home, his brother, Chidi, was waiting with his mother. They eyed his suitcases in the trunk of the SUV in anticipation for the gifts he brought home and laughed a little too loudly as they hugged him awkwardly. His mother waved distractedly when I offered my greeting and his brother wouldn't look at me. I went upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. My hands shook and agitation poked my sanity. I sat on the tiled floor allowing the cold to strike me.
My whole body began to shake as the counselor’s words came back to me
"Only very little will change in your life. You will continue your life as though nothing happened."
Lies, all lies. Nothing was ever going to be the same. I curled up on the floor as groans escaped my lips.

**********

My hands were locked with Ben's as we walked into Monica's party. I noticed the music first; it was Taylor Swift, my favorite rock singer. It played in the background, beneath the chit chat and laughter of the guests. Ben spotted Ekuma, from across the room and they walked into an embrace. I excused myself and went in search of Monica. she was in the kitchen surrounded by her wanton friends; their husbands were a clique and the women liked to hold meetings with no agenda. They stopped talking as I walked in. They declared me an enemy since I told them, quite dramatically in one of those meetings, to find better jobs than sitting around and discussing their husbands.
I told Monica I wished to speak with her and we went into her matrimonial bedroom.
"You could have at least said hi" Monica said as soon as she shut the door.
I fell into the bed shaking in sobs. She was by my side in a flash
"What's wrong? What's going on?"
She held me in her arms, stroking my hair. My chest felt like there were shards of glass lodged into it making breathing difficult. I broke free from Monica, wheezing, gasping for air. I started to shiver and Monica held me again, fear clouding her eyes.
"What's wrong? Is it Ben? Did he hit you?"
I clung to Monica, tugging her clothes as I struggled to cope with the pain. Monica rubbed my back until I stopped shaking. I tried to tell her but the sob filled my throat spilling out like a can of worms. I dug for the test result in my purse and handed it to her. She unfolded the test result swiftly and I sprang to my feet, ashamed of myself, scared of Monica's reaction. My bowels were suddenly filled and felt like I needed to go, my chest beat like a marching band and I danced around the room.
"Chineke meh!" Monica shouted and I sobbed louder
"What is this?" She asked, holding the paper away from her like it was contagious.
She let the paper glide to the rugged floor her eyes fixed on the wall opposite where she sat. She put her head in her hands and then she raised her head swiftly and looked at me.
"How can it be?" She asked tears filling her eyes. "How could this happen" She didn't look like she was expecting an answer.
Monica stood to her feet and began to pace the room. I sat back on the bed and sobbed into my palms. I felt Monica's hands across my shoulder and leaned into her. I felt her tears drop on my arm and I was guilt ridden.
"I'm sorry I ruined your party" I said in-between sobs and she shushed me like I was a baby.
"How couldn't Ben have told you he was sick?" Monica asked
My sobs came to a halt and I broke free from her grip. I looked at her in utter disbelief, how clueless could she be.
"Ben?" I asked
Monica looked at me, surprise all over her face
"Was it not Ben that gave it to you?" Monica asked in a whisper, afraid, even though her eyes said she knew already, of what the answer will be.
I started sobbing again and Monica, having gotten the answer, slowly rose to her feet, shocked.
"He has been away for two years!" I cried
Monica looked at me as though I was a lunatic "He is your husband!" She shouted
"You have no idea what it's like to be alone for that long" I retorted
"I have no idea? Have you forgotten how long I was single before you introduced Ekuma to me?"
"It is not the same thing, you were single. I am married. The conditions of our minds were not the same"
"The condition of our minds?" Monica laughed sarcastically "Well, I'm sure the condition of your mind suits you well enough now that you've slept around and contracted HIV"
There was a gasp at the other side of the bedroom door. Monica and I stared at the door, mouths agape in shock. We heard the retreating clicking of shoes on the floor and Monica sprang to the door and pulled it ajar but the person was gone. She stuck her head out and looked down the passage. She shut the door and shook her head at me. I was still sitting on the bed and couldn't feel my fingers; they vibrated so hard I clutched them together to hold them still.
"What if it was Ben?" My voice was shaky and I felt a heavy wetness in-between my legs. Sweat? Urine?
"No, it was a lady. The shoes... you heard them, they belonged to a lady"
I felt worse.
  





Story written by +Jane Kalu  

Jane Nnedinma Kalu is a devoted writer whose heart is set on telling the stories of people who can't. She is also a book-aholic and if by chance was stuck on an island, the first and most important thing she would want to have is a book.

Kanayo Aniegboka

Kani is a Nigerian born and based minister, public speaker, entrepreneur and life coach. His keen and unique perspective to life issues makes him a refreshing voice to listen to. He currently serves as the Executive Coordinator of House on the Rock - Word House and sits on the board of a number of companies.

8 comments:

  1. Nice story and suspense. Looking forward to the next episode

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  2. You're a good story teller. The ending was so real I read it with tears in my eyes.

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  3. Good lord! What a picturesque scenery. So 3D for words.
    Such level of cognition is at it's threshold to creating palpabilities.
    I'm wowed to the agape...

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  4. Can't wait for this story to finish. Nice one bro.

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  5. intriguingly picturesque! great opening, fantastic build-up and a "rather bland" closing...(having nothing to do with your writing skills, far from it, but for the "victims" excuse - in my opinion) and such "fabulousness" quite rare...both riveting and blood chilling. Almost couldn't wait to get to the end of the story. Overall? A little above average.(winks). A couple of slips in punctuations, and all, here and there though...at some point I thought you were telling me your story(lol), hope you don't wring my neck?

    Great piece nne...walahi. kamgwagi

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  6. A beautiful story ! pls may it not tarry as long as the anunti piece.pls i am looking forward to the next episode

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