Mouse Trap Series - Episode 3

I watched enviously as Monica waved her left hand flashing her gold wedding band and telling her overdressed bimbo friend that her husband Ekuma was indeed taking good care of her. As though a switch had been turned on, Monica rattled on about Ekuma’s awesomeness. Her friend shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other but Monica was oblivious.  She loved to talk about her husband; at church over the priest’s sermon, she whispered about the gifts Ekuma bought her, at a funeral over the grave, she laughed and announced how good life with Ekuma was. I wasn’t jealous of Monica, Ekuma wasn’t my type, his head was too big and he lacked the swagger of a confident man. I just wished I had a husband who was always there like Ekuma was for Monica and not faraway across the continent minding his business.

At first I had bragged about Ben, he lived in New York and held the promise of my future as an Americanah plus was so rich he bought me a car every six months. I was the envy of every woman around me, I had enough brag points. I went everywhere accompanied by an aura of superiority until the days stretched and the visa to make me an Americanah never arrived, then my nights got colder and colder cause there was no husband to keep me warm. I became a deflated balloon, lowering my eyes at gatherings to avoid the mockery in people's stare. The last straw was drawn when I called his New York apartment and a lady with a voice like those newscasters on CNN picked up the phone and introduced herself as Winnie. She greeted me and was excited that she was speaking to somebody from Ben’s ‘country’. There was a sweet tone to which she said Ben’s name; I could almost see the honey oozing out of her lips and sullying the American phone. That woman was happy, she mocked the sadness in my heart and the shrill of her pleasant laughter stayed with me long after I pressed the end call button on my phone. I wanted to ask her who she was, but the words got stuck in my throat like a fish bone threatening to choke me. I didn't ask Ben, I knew he’d lie and say she was nobody, Monica would have found a similar excuse for Ben, so I kept it to myself and nursed the pain that came with it. There was something about the lady, the manner with which she answered the phone like one who was used to picking up his phone and saying “Hello this is Ben's residence”. I knew there was more. I grew into a depressed housewife and ran to her fluffy uncultured brother in-law to fill the hollow my husband's betrayal brought me. There was nothing left to brag about but my ability to stay sane through the bitter medicine life had fed me.

Monica’s friend finally smiled a goodbye at me and walked away. I counted five seconds before Monica leaned in to gossip about her. We watched as she trot horrendously down the aisle, her chiffon blouse trailing behind her like superman's cape. I made an attempt at a smile but failed when Monica told me that she was a wannabe fashionista who once wore a night dress to a dinner party with her husband. I leaned away and tried to distract myself by staring at a discounted body lotion on the shelf, hoping that Monica would drop it and let us shop in quietness. I should have turned her down when she called and asked that I accompanied her to the mall. How could I have thought I could pull this off?

“Are you alright?” Monica asked

I stopped, shocked and threw daggers at her. Am I alright? Few weeks ago we had sat on her bed and stared at my HIV test result and she had almost ripped a nerve when I told her I didn’t contract it from Ben, now she stood there like a moppet doll asking if I was alright. I knew Monica liked to shove things under the rug and wait till it erupted before dealing with it, but this was different. I was HIV positive and I was dying bit by bit already, if she shoved it under the rug, when will she deal with it? At my funeral? She’d been acting as though everything was alright, failing to ask about my health, about Ben, how things were, as though that day in her room with my test result in her trembling hand had been a scene borrowed from a night dream. I tucked my pause tightly under my arm and walked down the aisle tracing the steps of her friend. I got to the end of the aisle surprised that Monica hadn’t called me back. I was tempted to look back and see the look on her face but I didn’t want to lose my dignity. I kept walking.

I drove around town with no destination in mind. I couldn’t drive home, not with my red puffy eyes. What answers would I give Ben if he asked why I’d been crying? I’d only raise more suspicion and add to the dose I fed them a few days ago when Ben walked in on me asking Chidi if he was HIV positive. Chidi had insisted he wasn’t and they had both asked me why I had thought he was.

“I saw a HIV test result but there was no name on it” I had lied

“And so you thought it was me?” Chidi had asked 

“Who else lives here? Of course it’s not my husband, I would know.” I retorted

“Where’s the test result?” Chidi asked

I shrugged as casually as I could manage. “I threw it away”

Chidi had been furious and insisted there was more to the question than just finding a test result. Ben had shut him down and said that my explanation was good enough. He fired the gateman, insisting that it could only have been him who had the test result. I tried to convince Ben that it might not have been the gateman but when I couldn’t give a better explanation, he was fired. I had been somewhat relieved of course but when Ben did not reach across the bed for me that night I knew that something was wrong. He stopped asking to have sex with me and treated me as cordially as one would a houseguest. “pass me the salt honey” he would say, his eyes fixed on the food. It wasn’t that he avoided my eyes that worried ne, no, it was the effortlessness of his disconnection that scared the crap out of me. If indeed I wore a sombrero to the dining table he would not have noticed. I should have been relieved that he was out of my hair, but I was even more worried.

I blared my horn at a rickshaw parked right in the middle of the road picking up a passenger.  I swerved to go around it and took the familiar turn into Akpabio’s street. I hadn’t seen Akpobia since I turned down his marriage proposal a year ago. I parked in front of his house and watched his bedroom window as old memories flooded through my mind.  The window had a good view to the busy street and from there we had watched passers and taken the pictures of interesting people. Some were lovers who clung unto each other as they walked, others a  group of friends who giggled loudly as they walked down the street, some even couples who didn’t hold hands but had so much tension between them we could feel it up there in Akpabio’s room, others were lonesome folk who walked absentmindedly down the road. Later we would lie on his creaky bed and tell their stories as we went through the pictures in his canon camera, the only valuable thing he owned. We would argue over the story endings as always, him insisting on happily ever after, me pointing out the possibilities of a bad ending. Then I'd kiss him and we'd cuddle while the night crawled in through the window. My heart would skip when his lips grazed my temple as he kissed me goodbye and I would smile from the corners of my mouth as I drove home. I would lie on my matrimonial bed after a soak in the bath and go through the day while willing for the morning to come quick enough so I could spend another day with Akpabio. That was our routine, well and rosy, until he ruined everything and asked me to marry him. He wanted me to leave Ben, my meal ticket, and go bed with him and his non-profiting photography hobby cum profession. He was ready to fight his catholic family who would be against him marrying a divorced wife if I left Ben. He loved me and that was all that mattered to him. He wasn’t rich but he was confident his photography would fetch us money someday. I had cried for nobody had ever loved me that much but I had turned him down. He was the love of my life and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him but I couldn’t give my luxury in exchange.  He had been heartbroken and blocked me out of his life completely.

I put off the ignition and opened the door. What was I doing? I shut the door and took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. No good would come out of seeing him again. Besides, there was a chance he no longer lived there. I started the ignition and was startled by a knock on my window. It was Akpabio’s busy body neighbour. She had lived below Akpabio’s apartment with her two children and no known husband. She would usually come knocking on Akpabio’s door asking if the thud she had heard above her was somebody falling. Akpabio would bang the door in her face and would whine about it while cooking noodles on the stove and I would sit on the kitchen stool and smile up at his stern face.

The woman exposed her uneven milk coloured teeth as she smiled at me while she waved frantically for me to bring down the window. I did knowing it was a bad idea.

“Madam how now? Nobody dey see you again o” she said as one would an old lost friend.

I smiled.

“Even when that thing happen we tink say you go come sef.”

My head grew bigger than my body. “What happened?” I asked waiting to hear that Akpabio had gotten married.

“Ah! You no hear sef” she said somewhat pleased she was the first to break whatever news it was to me.

I shook my head vigorously.

“Hmm… Akpabio don die o” she said looking away guiltily.

I didn’t realise I was shaking until I heard the clack clack sound of the gold Rolex watch Ben had bought me at Paris hitting against the half wound window. I gripped the steering so tightly with my right hand as though it would take away the tightness in my chest.

“What happened?” I asked, my voice husky and shaky

“They say na AIDS o, me I no know. All I know na sickness kill am. Since wey my mama born me I no dey like gossip, I no dey like believe anything wey…”

I stepped on the throttle and sped down the street. I was blinded by my tears but I didn’t care about ramming into another vehicle. I drove to the Brick’s hotel, parked in the car pack and wept until the security came asking if I was alright. I checked into a room and wept my heart out, stabbing my nails on the tiled floor until I drew blood. How could Akpabio have had HIV and not told me? It wasn’t like him. He would never have betrayed me like that. Or could he have gotten it from me? The counsellor had said that one could get it and die six months right after without treatment while others could stay longer.  It all depended on one’s body system. So that he died first didn’t mean he had it first. But if he had gotten it from me, who then did I get it from? Chidi had denied it, hadn’t he? I couldn’t live with myself if I had killed Akpabio. He was the one person that loved me with no speckle. Not marrying him was a regret that used to tap me awake in the middle of the night and keep my eyes open staring into the still night, agonising over memories of him. Now I had lost him, there will never be another chance with him, he was gone and gone forever. I stamped my foot on the hotel room bed hoping that the pain I inflicted will reduce the one I felt inside.

I drove home idly at 11pm with a realisation that I had hit rock bottom. It was over. Done. Finished. I had succeeded in ruining my life. I sighed as the gate of my faux home came into sight. The new gateman opened the gate before I pressed the car horn. He was still doing initial gra gra; he dashed from one gate to the other like a mouse searching for cheese and bowed in greeting as I drove past the gate. One more week and he’ll start waddling to the gate like a mouse who found the cheese but ate too much of it. I packed the car and switched on my phone which had been off since leaving Monica at the mall. The phone chimed as a text message came in.

I’m sorry I was insensitive. It is my best way of dealing with things but you didn’t have to walk away like that. Been trying to call, your phone is switched off. Call me. – Monica.

I sighed. It was true that Monica had been my friend since as far back as I could remember but our relationship was shallower than the banks of a stream. We avoided discussing the serious happenings in our lives and talked about the mundane things instead. At least until the serious matters stared us right in the face. It’s the same thing she was doing now; even her text message indicated she was still not ready to talk about it. I shook my head and was about to type a reply when my phone beeped and another text came in.

I NEED TO SEE YOU. I’m at the hospital and they just confirmed I have HIV. – Chidi.

I cupped my face with my hands and exhaled. I leaned into the car seat and willed the night to swallow me. I had gotten to the end of the tunnel and there was no light. I either had to turn back or wait for a train to come crush me. I raised my head and saw the gate man observing me intently from his post. I slipped out of the car. I had to end this; enough was enough. Chidi was coming for me and I couldn’t hide it from Ben anymore. I would confess to him and end it all. Akpabio was gone and there was nothing left to live for.  I walked into the house and leaned on the pillar that separated the sitting room and the dining room. I was so exhausted, the doctor had warned that I ate every meal but I hadn’t eaten the whole day. I looked around the house, that night might be my last in that house, Ben would definitely throw me out after I confessed. I dragged my feet to the bottom of the stairs and I heard Ben talking in the guest room.  I walked to the door and placed my hand on the doorknob hesitantly trying to gather enough courage to go in. 

“Winnie listen to me, you know you’re my real wife. She’s just a woman I married to give my kinsmen the Nigerian wife they wanted. She’s nothing more than that to me. It’s you I love baby” 

Like a sharp arrow meeting its mark, his words hit me through the door. Winnie was the American lady with the CNN Newscaster voice. The one I had once talked to on the phone. I placed my ear to the door and his voice grew clearer.

 “I know, I know. I miss you too but I have to finish with the business. The chairman might sign the contract in two months then I can come home.”

He paused

“Come on baby, I’ve had HIV for ten years, I know how to take care of myself.  I’m taking my medicine as I should and I’m eating my vegetables. I will be fine, besides, they’re hospitals here that treat HIV patients and I could always go there if need be. Don’t worry ok.”

I wasn’t sure how I got into the room, but the next thing I knew I was hovering over Ben lying on the bed with plain white bed sheets, his boxer shorts clinging to his thighs as he sat up to gawk at me in alarm. I grabbed a knife lying beside a plate of apples and pointed it at him, his NYC t-shirt coming into focus. I opened my mouth to speak but I was shivering and my mouth was filled with saliva. Tears poured from my eyes and intercepted with rheum from my nose, together forming a slimy salty mix in my open mouth. Inhuman sounds escaped from me as I waved the knife at Ben. He tried to get off the bed and I got closer pointy the knife at the ‘Y’ of the NYC written on his shirt.

“You killed Akpobia” I finally managed to groan out.

I saw the confusion spread all over his face and I poked the knife on the shirt, fear creeping into his eyes as he stared up at me.

 “You are the one that gave me HIV and now Akpabio is dead”

His lips started to tremble

“You gave me HIV, you bastard” I yelled “you killed Akpabio”

Saliva drooled from my mouth.

I heard muffled voices of his American wife from the phone lying beside him where he had dropped it in shock and a new found anger gripped me.

“And you are even married to another woman?”

“I can explain” He stammered, his chest rising and falling depicting the fear he felt inside.

 I raised the knife with fire blazing through my eyes and brought it down with a force that nothing could stop.


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.

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