Dead Man Breathing
Growing up, I heard a lot of stories. That was how lessons were taught where I was from. Everyone heard the same tales no matter what part of the country you were situated in. It was one of those things. Sometimes, the stories were not told to teach a lesson, they were told to incite fear. And rarely would you find a story that was the same regardless of what part of the country you were from. A few of the tales I knew, with the determination to tell whatever kid I had, were the ones where the banana given to this kid was turned into a finger in his pocket. The moral was supposed to be ‘it’s not good to accept food from strangers.’
Kids, I always thought I was going to have those. The room was small because my husband and I didn’t have much to our name. The room was smaller because of all the people that were in it. People that didn’t include my husband. My mother was there, letting out an occasional ‘oh chi m’ before trying and failing to throw herself to the floor. The failure, it wasn’t from lack of trying, it was because my brother was at her side, trying to get her to calm down, but my mother had always been a drama queen. In this situation, I didn’t blame her. I could see why the drama was needed and if I wasn’t numb, I’d have been trying to take the attention off of her. I looked around the room, and noticed more people, half of which were here for the gossip. My brother was going to attend to them as soon as he was done with my mother. My husband could help but he wasn’t here. The thought of my husband set a storm in my stomach and sent a stab to my heart. The pain was almost physical. On the walls, there were no photographs of my husband and me. We’ve been married for three years.
You could see the pity on the faces of some of the people in the room with me. Their whispers painted me as pitiful; I felt embarrassed. There was another woman in the room with a toddler. She showed up with two men. The way she came, you could tell she didn’t come bearing good news. Now that I was pretending to ruminate over it, I told myself that screaming was my first mistake. It was amazing how coincidences worked. She happened to show up right at the moment my brother showed up with my mother. The woman was the one with a picture of her and my husband. Her in a wedding gown, him in a black suit. Both of them looking impossibly thrilled with the situation and too pleased with themselves.
She looked satisfied with the situation, the woman. Was satisfied the right word? What I mean is she was glad I knew the truth. I wondered the tears streaming down from her eyes, were they for me or for her. She told me she was sorry, she always heard of things like this and she thought she knew her husband but she would never guess he’d do something like this. The toddler sucked on his thumb and I thought if I had a child, he’d never be a sucker. Tongue, thumb, or whatever. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. If thoughts could be heard out loud, if our imagination could be projected to the eyes of the public, everyone in this room would see me running around our small community screaming out my husband’s name.
“Maybe they just looked alike. They couldn’t be the same man,” I had said when I still had the energy to contend the claim. If it was true, it would mean that God had a sense of humour; he didn’t. I said that when I still thought my husband would walk through the doors and debunk the myths. Debunk was a word I didn’t get to use often. Sometimes, my vocabulary surprised me. I had no pictures with my husband, the woman sitting across from me had one, maybe a million more, but she came with the one from her wedding. And she also brought a son. Those were the two things I always wished I shared with my husband.
I took and deep breath and sighed out loud. My brother looked at me with a soft expression. “Ezinne,” his voice was soft it made the hurt blinding. It brought tears to my eyes. I looked up at him and scrunched up my nose the way someone would do if they were perceiving something unpleasant. It made me look funny, my brother always said, and that was why he made fun of me nonstop. I was always a cry baby. “It’s not true,” I said and tried to sniff back the tears. My brother was hugging me and the tears were pouring out. My mother wasn’t competing with me for the attention. My heart felt like it had been trampled on. I wanted to snap the toddler’s thumb off.
One of the stories I heard growing up, the ones I always found most likely to be a huge fallacy, was the one of husbands who went out of their way to start a family with some woman far away from their known family. Far away from people who knew them. Far away from where they were known to be dead.