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A magpie came to perch next to the bra soothingly and I got a better explanation of the bra. A bird had picked it from the cloth line where the unfortunate owner had left it to dry and had flown away with it, only to leave it on the power line for us to see. Yes. Perfect.
Next door of my two room apartment, I began to hear a noise I had become too used to. It was Bukky's cry/scream/curse/wail, what it's called depends on who's listening.
Nearly every morning, at the time I will be rushing to prepare for work, she begins. She is her husband's favorite kick-boxing training material. She had a sharp tongue and a chubby face to take each and every punch her tongue provoked.
Because I was always in a hurry to go to the office each of those mornings to listen to their fight, I never really got to learn why they would be fighting every morning after sleeping as opposed to at night before sleeping like every other couple I know. This time was different.
I was at home and not hurrying to anywhere. I left my window side to the corner of my bedroom closest to their apartment where I can hear them clearly.
En-route to this spot, I stopped by my refrigerator to grab a can of beer. The chance to sip beer from a can while listening to this husband and wife fight could turn out to be a perfect morning blessing. The beer was cold, the fight was hot...I am a blessed man. I leaned on the wall my bedroom shared with their sitting room.
"Yes, your father sold you to me. I own you. I own you and I must do with you as I wish," I heard the man saying.
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"Well, go back and tell him I refuse to be enslaved by a smelly and irresponsible man..." she yelled.
As I expected, that attracted a series of pounding that forced back the rest of that sentence into her throat. She is a strong woman. I could hear thuds of his. .h.i.tting her and she was still able to open her mouth.
"Foolish man. Foolish man."
"Your father sold you to this smelly and irresponsible man, now who is the foolish man?"
"You were not this rotten that time..." She said and more beating followed immediately.
While the beating was raining on her, she was forcing her words of curses out and he won't stop beating if she won't stop cursing. I was feeling sorry for her but she did not seem to share half of such sympathy for herself.
"Is this when your fellow men ask to sleep with their wives? In the morning when you should be going to work."
Oh. He was jobless. Now it made sense to me why he would have the time to have a fight with his wife in the morning when I am hurrying to work. He also was never at home in the late evenings when I usually return from work.
On some nights I have noticed a group of his friends bring him home as wasted as the mad man of Gadara. The man goes out in the evenings to drink with his friends and returns late into the night too drunk to locate his bed, let alone his wife. Then at daybreak, when the poor woman would be getting prepared to go open her foodstuffs shop for the day, he would be demanding for his groom's privilege on the bed. This notwithstanding that the odors of beer and stale puke would be competing for which would be strongest from his mouth. He would insist on what he had countless times in that fight called his right as the husband and she would rather he killed her than let herself be bedded by a smelly, irresponsible, foolish and now rotten man.
Her choice was tough but she took it anyway.
"Shameless man. You have failed in life. Your wife pays your rent, your wife feeds you and you are not ashamed."
"And if you do not let your husband sleep with you, you have failed as a wife too."
I sipped my beer quickly to digest that one. She began to laugh mockingly. He did not beat her this time. He seemed to be pleased with his point. I could swear he was still drunk from the binge of last night. He had never been able to make any sense all morning.
The poor woman now in her young marriage had to choose every morning of her life between being kissed and humped by a man who is half drunk and reeks of beer and decaying vomit and being beaten by a man who is angry, half drunk and reeking of beer and decaying vomit.
She chose the latter. Is that the wise choice?
I found myself reevaluating the wisdom of her decision on her behalf. She has h.e.l.l for a life. I know not everyone would have a blissful marriage where the he is always smiling and the she is always blushing, at the same time, not everyone must be married.
Can't she just be unmarried and let some cursed woman marry the devil? Maybe she is the most cursed of women. Maybe.
I was not decided yet on whether I should be sorry for her. One reason for that was that I reckoned I did not know the whole story of their marriage. I might not even know half the story.
"I do not blame you," she said, now she was about to enter weeping mode as I could tell from the faltering voice, "I blame myself. Everyone warned me. All my friends and brothers warned me not to marry you but I did not listen to them." Then she began to cry.
Now I was decided. I do not feel sorry for her at all. She was warned by her family. She was warned by those who you would believe loved her most. They warned her not to marry the smelly, irresponsible, foolish and rotten man but she insisted stubbornly because she was in love with and loved by the smelly, irresponsible, foolish and rotten man. Let her live with the consequences of her choice.
I listened to her cry and sipped my cold beer quietly.
It was his turn to curse. Now he was calling her foolish and irresponsible because she was failing to perform her bed responsibilities as a wife. His reasoning made sense to him. He was loud about it. Listening to him made me ashamed to be called a man for a while. She wept hard, he cursed harder and I sipped my beer solemnly.
I looked around my room. It was in a mess and I could remember that the night before I promised myself to soon begin to find a wife who would at least help with putting the house in order. I sucked at domestic cleaning, so if I had a wife who does that and that alone for me I would buy her gifts every weekend. But before that professional house ch.o.r.e wife is scouted and hired, I would have to tidy up my apartment by myself. Once I am sure the husby and wify fight is ended, I would drain out the rest of my brew from the blue can and begin to negotiate how to touch my floor with a broom for the first time in two months.
Just when I thought it was ended, I heard the sound of metal clanging hard from some distance. I reckoned they, or one of them had left the sitting room to the kitchen.
I could remember having a rush of excitement at the thought of her reaching for a knife and stabbing him like thirty-three times on the chest. I had volunteered in my mind to a.s.sist her in hiding the body if she can achieve that feat.
I could hear something breaking. It sounded like china wares. Both of them for sure were now in the kitchen. Their voices were far away for me to hear clearly but I was sure she was screaming in her tiny voice and he was barking his curses.
I thought it would be a real shame if he turned out to be the one who stabbed her multiple times. I can't help him hide her body. It was his body I was excited about hiding. I could not hear clearly enough but from what I could sense, he seemed to be winning the fight. She was disappointing me. How hard could it be to grab a knife from her own kitchen and stab a hung-over man who I'm sure barely knew his way around the kitchen?
She was really disappointing me.
In my disappointment, I tried to ignore the fight and concentrate on my little world. I began to read the label of my beer can. I was reading the ingredients. Water, sorghum, wheat, malt, barley, hops, flavor and roasted wheat. Consumption instruction said it must be served cold. I never break that rule. The brand's tagline read, "For the love of beer". For the love of beer: hmm, maybe she loves him. Maybe even in the thick of his pounding away of her body, soul and spirit she still loves him too much to pick up the G.o.dd.a.m.ned kitchen knife and stab his chest and then call me to handle the body. Yes. She still loves him and I hate her now.
I can remember one incidence I had with her. It was one of the three times I ever spoke with her in the two years we have been neighbors.
That morning I had heard them fighting but was too in a haste to care. I came back from work in the evening and saw her with a bandage round her head. I was moved that I couldn't walk past her and pretend not to notice her condition. So I had to register my concern.
"Good evening, madam," I greeted with my eyes on her forehead. "Good evening, oga," she said and increased her pace so as to
quickly evade my attention.
"What happened to your forehead, madam?"
She looked back and touched a finger on the bandage, "An accident."
"An accident? After the fight this morning?" I had walked up to her and she couldn't keep running from me.
"Yes, an accident." "He did this to you?"
"I said it was an accident."
"I'm sorry. I should have minded my business. Sorry I asked."
"I tripped in the kitchen and hit my head on the basin. My husband had to take me to the clinic for treatment."
"You tripped in the kitchen and hit your forehead on the basin then you broke a tooth and got a bruise on your left temple and on your right cheek. Sorry about the accident but I would advise you stop having such freakish accidents so as not to scare our younger girls from this sacred inst.i.tution called marriage," while I was saying this she was walking away and I suspected she was going inside to cry.
She loves him; that was why she lied to defend him. She loves the smelly, irresponsible, foolish and rotten man. Does that make her special or stupid? Maybe it makes her specially stupid. Maybe it's not my business. Maybe I should just mind my business. But then I began to hear her whimpering like a dog whose neck was in a tight noose.
He was shouting, "I will kill you and be free from your frustration once and for all."
No. I cannot let him win. I cannot let him kill her while I'm listening. How can I live with myself the rest of my life if I sit here a silent listener and he kills her in his moment of peak insanity?
Someone has to stop him before he kills her. The only person who could do that now is me. We have two other neighbors who live downstairs but just like me they have become too used to the fights that it stopped bothering them. Plus the fact that they had work places to report to at that time of the day and they had schools to take their kids to on a week day morning.
If I sit down here and listen to this mad man strangle his wife to death, I am the one whom both the law and my conscience would blame. I stood to hurry to her rescue. Before that, I drained the rest of my beer and threw the can into the kitchen which had its door quarter way open.
I got to their door and began to bang it hard, "Somebody open this door right now."
They were obviously not in the mood to entertain any visitors. I was not hearing any sound from her anymore but he was in an angry voice explaining to her why he had to kill her.
I kept knocking hard on the door and threatening to knock down the door at the count of...I tried the door handle.
Yeah. Stupid me.
The door was not locked.
All the precious time I spent knocking on a door that wasn't locked was enough to strangle a woman to death.
When I rushed in, she was sprawled on the floor beside her kitchen door and he straddled her in the waist. His hands were tightly on her neck, pinning it to the ground. Her eyes were shut. He did not care that someone had joined them or did not notice.
I rushed to him and with one easy pull from my right hand; I picked him off her and threw him on the couch.
Without bothering to say a word, I helped her stand, relieved that she was yet alive. She would however not stand unaided, so I leaned her on the door frame of her kitchen.
She held her neck, gasping like one of them Gitmo detainees being water boarded. She was also coughing intermittently. I leaned over her, watching her closely.
"Oh. I see. You are her lover. You are the reason she is refusing to sleep with me."
I looked around, the smelly, irresponsible, foolish and rotten man was, was...well, exactly what he was. His black singlet was bogus for being stretched beyond its elastic limits or for being worn by a man whose ribs were visible enough to be counted accurately.
He was approaching us with gradual steps that were barely steady. With each step he took towards us, the smell of him grew stronger. It was the smell of rotten beans plus fermented ca.s.sava plus plenty ethanol.
He picked up a kitchen knife by his foot, just behind me, Bukky had picked up a wooden pestle the length of my forearm which was laying on the floor. Great, the deadly weapons had been out a long time ago. I began to think that I too might need a weapon to hold.
He was getting closer with the knife pointing at me. His eyes were sunken and his nose seemed longer than normal. He looked like he was doing a remake of them ghosts in that Thriller music video. He walked like them. He looked just as scary as them and he was more dangerous because he had a weapon.
I was wondering how in the world such a scrawny ghost would be beating up Bukky everyday to the point of injuring her and even nearly strangling her to death. I did not feel much threatened by his advancing but I thought I might need something like a long object to knock the knife off his hand. I recognize the fact that he was way more experienced in street fights where knives and broken bottles are the predominant weapon of choice. He grew up in a motor park and those crude fights were a part of the life.
In one quick hand thrust, he charged at me to reach his knife for my throat and I s.n.a.t.c.hed the pestle from Bukky with my left hand.
I swear it was the hand which held the knife that was my target. But he was too quick or I was too slow. He had launched forward than I antic.i.p.ated and the pestle I swung landed on his left temple. I did not judge it to be a hard swing, hard enough to stop a man but to my surprise, it sent him scrambling for the wall.
He found the wall and placed his hands on it for support but he still could not steady himself. He stiffened his neck and began a 360 degrees turn of his full body.
I and Bukky stood startled as we watched his display of comic anticlimax. After his full body turn, he did a half turn then his back found the wall to rest on it. His neck was turned so that he was staring at us. But then I realized he was actually not staring at us. He was most probably seeing his ancestors. I noticed his eyes that were fixed on us had no black in it. His feet gave up and began to fold. His back simultaneously began to slide down the wall. I rushed to hold him.
"Is he okay?" Bukky asked, she was standing behind me.
I shook the man's torso, "Akim. Akim." He ignored me and slumped entirely to the floor. I exerted some force to pull him up to his feet but he could not stand. He went down in limp lifelessness.
"Akim. Akim." His wife began to call and was now knelt over him, shaking his body, "Akim, can you hear me?"
I checked his pulse. He had only as much pulse as the wall of brick. "He is dead," I said slowly.
She turned to me, "You killed my husband."
Is she crazy? How could she say that? "Did you not see how we went? I did not kill your husband."
"But he is dead."
"I was defending you and I did not mean to kill him."
She squeezed his black singlet and shook his body again. Then she began to sob. I stood away from the man, taking two steps backwards.
"What should we do now?" She cried, turning to me, "we should take him to the hospital."
"He is dead already."
"Should we go and report to the police?" "And what should we tell them?"
She turned back to the man on the floor without a word.
"I think I have an idea," I bent to pull her from the ground. She was reluctant to rise but after a little more insistence she responded to my pull. "You both were fighting as usual. At least the other neighbors heard you this morning. Then in the middle of it, he held his chest and began to scream of chest pain. You did not know what to do then you ran out to call me from my apartment. By the time I got here, he was dead."
She was already shaking her head before I finished speaking.
"This is the only way you and me will be free from any trouble. We did not hurt him, did we?"
She shook her head, "No one will believe us."
"Of course, they will. As a matter of fact, no one will suspect you killed him. He beats you and injures you every day. There is no way you would have grown powers today to as much as out-muscle him, let alone kill him. And take a look at him," I went to the body and bent, "he has no wound or even a scratch on him to suspect he was hurt." I checked his temple where the pestle hit. There was no visible sign on it. "Look at him. He definitely did not die from the hit on his head. It has to be something from inside him. Like a heart attack. His excessive alcohol drinking has resulted in this."
"What if they decide to do an autopsy?"
"Let's be serious. Who in this country's law enforcement is going to waste time and money conducting an autopsy on a low life who..."
"Sorry. I think you need to take a few minutes to relax before we revisit this matter and fine tune our plan. Come with me to my apartment. I will make you a chocolate drink and after ten minutes or so we would return to take care of your husband." All I wanted was to get her in a better mind frame where she can reason more pragmatically.
She followed me to my apartment and I asked her to sit while I fix the beverage.
"I would prefer to lie down on the floor, my eyes are turning," she said.
"In that case, come and lay on my bed."
I entered my bedroom and she followed. At my window, I saw a magpie just flew away. I came closer to the window and saw on the ledge, a bra. Dark blue straps, cups of Navy blue with white spots…that same bra that hung on the electric wire.
"What is my bra doing in your window?"
I looked around at Bukky. She was wearing disgust all over her face, blended with a little horror.
My lips were trembling, trying to find any sensible word to use to begin to explain my innocence.
"I have been looking for that bra for months now. Why do you have it in your room, you pervert?"
"Wha...what, are you, you...listen," I reached to hold her because she was already moving away from me with backward steps.
"Do not touch me. Is that why you came to kill my husband?" She ran out of my room. I took a second look at the stupid bra before I went after her.
I now blame myself for not running after her more quickly. When I reached my sitting room, what I saw nearly made me faint. Her husband -or his ghost- had her pressed to the wall near my apartment's entrance door. When he saw me come out of the bedroom, he quickly withdrew a bleeding kitchen knife from her chest and let her fall freely, leaking blood from between her b.r.e.a.s.t.s and her mouth. I was shivering and could not move my feet.
I thought he was going to come for me and I was afraid of him for the first time, thinking there was something mystical about him.
He did not come for me, neither was he quick about what he did next.
He drove the same knife he took from his wife's kitchen into his own chest before he sank to his feet, flashing a blood red dent.i.tion at me.
I became feverish instantly.
How can I begin to explain to the world what the two bodies of my next door neighbors are doing inside my sitting room? This is the truth as it really happened, but who would believe it? Do you even believe it? Because even I the primary eye witness still find it hard to believe.
I went back into my bedroom. Again, I saw the magpie fly off my window ledge. This time it took the bra with it. I picked a few cloths into my backpack. Two T-shirts and a pair of denim pants. I also wore a T-shirt and another denim pants and left the house, but not without my bank debit cards and mobile phones.
I locked the door behind the warm and bleeding bodies of the world's craziest couple and ran away from Lagos.
The End (oku agu)