KNIVES, BLOOD & ROPES
You were a woman who knew how to lower your head. Even when Death itself stared you in the face. You held the door open for him and he strode past you as usual. He had used his key, which was the only key in the house that the lock on the door knew. He spared you no glance, fetched you no hug, landed you no kiss. Your aunties’ words came to you, again and again, as they had been coming over the years. *Don’t marry him. Look at his face, watch how he smiles. He is an nwoke onye-ocho-nga-n’oko!* But you had gone ahead and married him anyway. You hadn’t been able to imagine your life without him in it. All your future had been arranged around him. The moment you met him on the Nsukka field trip, sitting next to him on the bus filled with bright-eyed, loudly talking students, and he looked in your eyes and said, “Hey, I see my future with you,” you knew—just by smiling and lowering your head and wanting his eyes to remain on you—that you saw your future with him also. That your life would gain heft with him in it. Now, you didn’t even know where your life had gone. You wanted to find your aunties and tell them that he didn’t smile his gold-digger smile anymore, that he had closed his face totally. But he had killed them. One by one. A knife driven into their necks. Dead bodies welcoming you at their houses, ropes tightly twined around their throats, strangled. Of course, you had no proof he was the one. But you knew. Knew he was the one. Because he now held you arrested in the house, and brought home new knifes and ropes every night. It had to be an obsession, an acute mental disease, for someone to be this dedicated and clinical about murder.
“You’re welcome,” you stammered out. He gave you a shocked look. He hadn’t expected you to speak, and you yourself hadn’t expected you to speak. He walked into his room and came out stark naked. You watched his penis dangle flaccidly. And your body tensed.
“How many calls did you receive today?”
It was a lie—after your shop attendant called, somebody else called and you spoke at length—but you dared not tell your husband the truth. He had collected your iPhone X from you sometime ago and given you a small Nokia, and his words had been deliberate: “Calls can only be received, none made. I have deleted all your contacts except that of your shop girl, and there is no credit on your SIM”—so you dared not tell him the truth.
The truth that you had asked Kemi to give your number to her uncle, who was a police officer.
The house was big, the biggest your parents had left in the will for you. The other house they left was smaller, and your husband had sold it and used the money to pay off his debts. He had many debts, too many, because he was always investing in holes, in baskets. It was top of the issues you always argued about in your courtship days, how he would spend his pocket money and project money on prospects that were not prospects but baskets. Baskets don’t fill, you would tell him. And he would reply, with what your aunties called “the gold-digger smile”, “I have the power to make them fill.” What he did not tell you was that the power was your inheritance from your late parents.
You were an only child, sheltered by too many privileges, going to school with exotically packed lunch boxes and having drivers called “the children’s driver”. You were also sheltered from boys. Your mother, especially, had a way of telling you how dangerous they were, how they never talked about the future when they were with you but were only concerned about the present and how they could freeze you in that present. So when your husband said, “I see my future with you”, you had fallen into his eyes with a tumbling surprise and an unthinking gratitude.
You watched him now. He walked to all the doors, heavy doors built of mahogany, and checked their locks. It was his routine. He always checked their locks before he left and after he came back, as if you could possibly have maneuvered your way through, as if he did not change them every week. You hardly knew where he went these days, especially since the day he decided to place you on house arrest. Perhaps he went to his small old office along Ninth Mile. Perhaps he went to his pastor. He had no friends that you knew—your wedding day had been exclusively unilateral in term of family attendance, with a neighbour hired as the best man and most of those in church being your relatives. But every morning, even on Sundays, he drove out of the sprawling compound and came back in the dead of night. He never arrived drunk, nor with the faintest odor of alcohol on him, and he had no girlfriend—you knew he wasn’t cheating on you—yet you couldn’t help wishing he at least drank, or had a girlfriend, so he would arrive either too drunk or too tired and you could sneak your hand into his trousers (the key must be inside his trousers) while he was being insensible, and let yourself out under the cover of night.
“I prepared Ofe Nsala,” you started to say, walking toward the dining room, where intricately patterned bowls held intricately prepared delicacies.
“Shut up and do what you are supposed to do.” He walked to the curtains and pulled them tighter over the windows. His buttocks looked bigger, thicker. When last had you grasped them in the throes of true orgasm?
You turned and went into the bathroom. You pulled your little black dress over your head and carefully hung it on the dryer. You stepped into the glass bath and ran the tub, first with cold water, then you changed your mind and twisted the hot-water tap open. Enough of being cold for him. Tonight, you would be warm.
You sat in the tub and scrubbed slowly. You scrubbed your shoulders, your breasts, their undersides; you spent a great deal of time between your thighs, running your gloved hand down every crevice. You had shaved that morning, because the last time he was on you, he had complained that your forest was catching his gun and making him misfire.
You smiled when you remembered when it all began. Two weeks after your wedding, the reality of your marriage stepped out. He stopped kissing you. He stopped hugging you. He stopped looking into your face. The things you used to do together, you started doing alone. He would leave in the morning bright-eyed and come back home puffy-faced. When he allowed you to take off his jacket and present him a cup of cold water, you would ask him what was happening at work, and he would reply, vaguely, “I’m leaving that place. Their vision is not in alignment with my own.” Or “One of our colleagues has a sister who trades in rice smuggled from the border, she’s looking for a manager, but you know my faith doesn’t approve that kind of shady business.” He would ask for overdraft from your joint account, frequently, until the day you refused him, pointing out that the account ran a great risk of going red. But it was his puffy eyes that turned red and he started crying. “Is it because I have all dreams but no money? Is it because I was his born without a silver spoon?” He wept about his grandmother drying up in the village every day because he had no personal money to take care of her as much as he would like to. He wept about his mother dumping him with his grandmother when he was barely speaking, just because — as the sordid story ran — he was the product of a one-night stand and his mother was still very much in the streets. He wept so much that your resolve was dissolved; you wrapped your arms around his head and wiped his tears and assured him you would put your signature on the overdraft letter. Things went down and the bank manager became worried for them. You let him know he needed to take things easy. He frowned. He started his new business — a small plumbing outfit — but it crumpled when he couldn’t get enough capital to keep it up. That was when things escalated. He started incurring debts. He started hitting you. You need not provoke him, just being present and pliant and prayerful around him was enough irritation. Strangely, he did not lapse into drinking and cussing as the usual frustrated husband would do. He read his Bible instead, got closer to God. He prayed relentlessly. And left his meals unattended to. You understood that he was fasting, you were just bothered that he was praying towards ulcer. But when his pastor called him over on the twenty-first day for a vigil to mark the end of his fasting spree and he came back and still didn’t touch your food, you realized that he simply did not want to eat in the house anymore. He was not much of an eater anyway. You should rest assured, since it was not about another woman, but you just couldn’t shrug off that niggling feeling between your shoulders. The marriage was now two years old. The last time he touched you was during your honeymoon. For about six weeks now, he had started asking you to go into the bath and scrub yourself. And when you walked into the bedroom, he would give you some pills to swallow and ask you to lie still on the bed and he would lower himself between your thighs and, without any foreplay, hump away. When you tried to move, to guide him down to a rhythm both of you would enjoy, he would reach across and slap you hard, until you quieted and fell into a trance, gazing at the vaulted ceiling, feeling your entire body on an unwanted fire, muffling your tears. That was how your nights of horror began.
Read also NECESSARY EVIL
Before it spread to your aunties.
One day, he asked for another overdraft.
You were aghast!
You called one aunty about it. That one told the other aunties. You had not called them since all the colours started showing, but now you told them how he beat you often, sometimes dragging you down the curvy staircase by your hair until all your scalp was on fire. They were enraged, they were also vindictive: Oh-ho, have you seen your life? Lover girl! * ‘O na-eji m ka akwa, o na-eji m ka akwa.’ He carries you like an egg indeed! We told you oh, we told you!
They told you all the pills he gave you to chew were either poison to slowly take your life or birth control. How could you be so stupid. They came to your place one day and waited until evening, when he came back from work, and they shouted on him. They called him “child from the gutters”, “Eyes Kongba!”, “onye ochi”. He was silent through. He crossed his arms, bent his head, and let them rail. He said nothing, only mumbled a sorry. It should have stopped there. It should have ended there. But one of them, Aunty Chiaku, the most loudmouthed among them, went on and said to you, “Adaora, I heard you have a joint account with him. Ha! Don’t be an *atulu o! He will just eat you down to nothing. Let him go *osiso. He has nothing to offer you except pain and fake promises. Let him go! You, a beautiful one. *Nwanyi oma! *Asa! See what he has reduced you to! Let him go or we will go to the police ourselves and let them know about all the things he has done to you!”
That was when his head snapped up and he gave you a look that you did not understand at the time but would later come to understand.
The morning after, he walked into the room from the bathroom and, while towelling his hair, said, “So you went to report me to your family, gbo? Just because I asked for a loan.”
You were starting to speak when he raised a hand and walked towards his wardrobe, shaking his head as he selected shirts. That day, he collected your phone from you, and gave you the disembowelled Nokia.
That night, he practically smacked the pills down your throat. And when he crashed into your body, you knew fire by its very name.
On the night you planned to kill him, you failed. Not because you hadn’t planned it well. You had the knife all ready under the pillow; all you had to do was reach under it while he ravaged you above, and dip it into his eye. But your hand failed you. Perhaps not. Perhaps it was you that failed yourself. But something failed you. The knife slid to the thickly carpeted floor and you knew it was all over. All he had to do was pick it and slash you with it. Or beat you mercilessly.
But he did nothing of the sort. He finished what he was doing, leaned up with a grunt, picked the knife and walked out of the room. You dissolved in sobs, your body torn apart, your whole life unrecognizable.
It was the next morning he began your house arrest.
He started killing your aunties. He drove you to their houses to see what he had done. Of course, he did not say it was he who had done it. He only said, “I got some news that your family mansion in Awka was invaded by armed robbers. Your auntie there, Nneoma, was killed.” It did not ring true. The sight of the corpse did not look like what an armed robber would do. It was a cold and calculated murder. Knife marks in your auntie’s throat as she lay in her bed. The thick rope wound round that throat. No signs of a scuffle. Nothing stolen from the house.
Definitely not an armed robbery.
He refused to let you stay longer there to properly absorb what had happened.
That same way, he killed the rest of you aunties.
That same way, your life became cartoon. Bizzare. Unbelievable.
You stepped out of the tub and stood, your tears mixing with the water sliding down your once-perfect body. When you walked out, you met him by the door. He banged a stick across your forehead and you slumped into his arms.
You woke up. Your hands tied to hooks in the wall. Four hooks. He was finally using the ropes. Four ropes that looked like giant snakes.
“Your sisters were asking too many questions… Saying too much… To hurt me… To remind me of my background… To put me place… I had to… They couldn’t keep their noses out of our life… I had to…” He held a knife. He was weeping furiously.
“They are sorry,” you mumbled. You were not naked as usual. He had worn you your nightdress, frilly, lacy, white, like a funeral attire.
Then he started cackling.
“Of course, they are sorry! In their graves!” His cackles filled the house, filled the night. “And now you will join them!”
“Please! Don’t do this. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is extreme! We can work this out—”
He dipped the knife into your flesh. You screamed. The blood rose and rolled down your chest, spread, soaked your white nightie.
Your phone started ringing. You gasped and looked at him and shook your head vigorously. It dawned on you that your saviour would be your death-enhancer. He glanced at the phone and said, “Your shop girl must be a witch. Or an ogbanje child. How did she know you are about to die?” He twisted the knife into your skin. You yelped. “Did you talk to her? Eh? Eh? Have you been telling her things?”
You wanted to speak, but the pain of the knife dancing in your skin grasped your throat. The words were smeared across your lips, like a patina of decay, and when the phone persisted and your husband leaned over to put it off, he saw the caller ID.
Kemi’s Police Uncle.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid you. Stupid him, too. Not to have known all this while.
You both were cartoons: without depth, but with all garish bloody intricacy.
All your life flashed across the back of eyes as you watched your husband’s eyes widen and redden. His hand yanked the knife out of your flesh and went up, up, up. It would come down and your life would end.
Like it never even began.
“I see my future with you.”
-asterisked words and phrases are marked for italicization.