Smoke and Sound
She sat smoking the Marlboro he had bought just the other day, her husband. Her legs were crossed as they always were when she was seated. She knew the issues with lying were;
- It never ended; you had to tell lies, often bigger ones to hide little lies.
- It was often (in 98% of cases) unnecessary and harder.
- You’d always worry about slipping up and getting caught.
Still, Ejoke had lied. And of course, it’d been more than one lie. It was a legion of lies constantly threatening to upset her already precarious balance. It started when Tomi’s friend, Idris visited four years ago. Ejoke loved Tomi, she always had since their days as friends in secondary school. Tomi was her confidante; she told him everything. With him, she was a version of herself that she adored; gone was the timid girl who wrote poetry in class while she fondled her afro. With Tomi, she was fearless, she talked up a storm, still fondled her afro, addicted to the way it felt like soft-leaved shrubs as she dug her slender fingers in. He read her poetry, devoured everything written in her red ink- she wrote in red ink because she believed that people should receive some kind of warning before they read the thoughts her soul divulged- told her the things her words made him feel and then they’d sit in silence. Tomi always said the best kind of silence was that which let you feel and bask in the warmth of the other person’s presence even if they were asleep.
The only problem with Tomi had always been his capacity to stay angry for long periods. Joke never understood it. How could a person give another the silent treatment for a week because they said unintentionally something hurtful and still claim to love them? She believed in working things out, was raised to work it out. Her mother’s favorite phrase when she had a squabble with her sisters was “you three work it out”. Tomi simmered on his own until he almost drowned in his own fog while she placated until she forgot what she was apologizing for. He stayed mad for a week while they were dating but when they got married, it became a thing of months. He climbed out of the fog slowly. If he had a good day at work or he wanted to have sex, he’d seem happier and then the next morning, foggy Tomi would be back. When he was happy, it was delightful and Ejoke reminded herself of this and the fact that he hardly got that upset.
When Idris visited them, Tomi was in one of his foggy spells and while that wasn’t an excuse, she couldn’t resist the allure of a man who almost never seemed upset; not when a cab driver in Oshodi destroyed his car bumper or when his boss gave him hell. He stayed with them for three months and complimented Ejoke’s cooking and smiled at her at times when all she needed Tomi to do was nod in her direction. So, she didn’t resist wholeheartedly when he had drunken sex with her. It felt good that she’d be hurting Tomi. Her euphoria only began to wane after she’d missed her period two months in a row. It completely disappeared when she discovered she was pregnant.
Maybe he didn’t want to believe that Adunni wasn’t his or maybe he just did not remember the last time he had slept with his wife or maybe the idea of Ejoke being anything but pleading, needy Ejoke was incomprehensible to him, but Tomi was delighted to have a baby girl. He came out of his fog, completely. He was almost never upset anymore and things returned to normal, whatever that was. Adunni was stunning but she looked like neither of her parents. It was like life wanted to shame Ejoke. Every day, she became darker, her skin was smooth. Her hair wasn’t kinky like her mother’s, it was of the Fula people. Idris was Fulani. Although Tomi never seemed to notice that his child was not his, his mother was not convinced and she always said “this child looks like the nomads” when Adunni was out of earshot. Ejoke would smile tightly and say nothing. And then, Idris returned.
Ejoke doesn’t know what happened or how Idris knew. Ah well, he isn’t as blind as his friend. But after a heated conversation between them with the words ‘betrayed’, ‘wife’, ‘mine’, ‘daughter’ echoing from the sitting room, Tomi slips into his deepest fog ever and at this point, she’s had it. She doesn’t beg, doesn’t even ask what’s happened. She knows she did wrong, but she refuses to constantly reduce herself to a pleading puppy for a man who will not even say what he feels. She isn’t completely surprised when he starts smoking and now, once Adunni is off to school, she lounges as today, treats herself to one of his Malboros, after all even if he sees one is missing he’ll never say a word. He wants her to see all his smoke signals but he refuses to treat her like a person. So, she’ll pretend he doesn’t exist, she doesn’t exist, they don’t exist. Let them all be smoke and let Adunni be all that’s real, after all she’s the only person they both smile at.
Ejoke cannot hide her surprise when Tomi walks into their bedroom after three months of silence and starts to cry. Maybe healing has begun. With sound.