Both stared at the phone and boy was it a tense moment “Well? Answer it.”
She gulped, “No I’m not going to. I want to know what you did.”
“You don’t even want to know who your caller is?”
Iphey snatched up the phone and checked the ID. Her stomach plummeted
when she recognized it but she wouldn’t allow herself to be deterred. “Look,
don‟t change the subject.”
James remained silent and she summoned all the firmness within her, “James,
what did you do?”
“Iphey I- It was- I had to -for the sake of my family. I borrowed money…” He
was stammering in anxiety, nonetheless his eyes held a mysterious glint, one too
dangerous for comfort.
“That doesn‟t sound too bad,” she shrugged, regaining her composure.
“Iphey, stop interrupting me please, just listen…” demanded James. “At first
it was from the bank but when their payments came up, I couldn’t make it. And
the last thing I wanted was for them to start sending letters to my office or the
house. I had to find somewhere else to get the money. Look, it was my only
choice; either that or the bank would sue me or Ngozi would find out. I wanted
none of that to happen”
It began to dawn on Iphey what might have happened. The suspense was
driving her insane. She wanted to wring his neck to get the truth out but simply
gestured for him to continue.
“I had been gambling heavily, losing a lot of money but still hoping for my big
win. Luckily the owners of the place agreed to loan me money in advance to pay
off the bank. I would then owe them…wait before you say anything!” Seeing
Iphey about to talk, “I now know I was stupid, but then I was like a man
possessed. I won a little sometimes, and it felt good at that time because I could
pay off some of the debt, I could buy stuff for your sister and pay my son’s bills.
It felt like I was working again, like I was a man…” He leaned back with a
faraway smile on his face.
Without warning, she sprang from the sofa, towering over him. Iphey‟s mind
raced a hundred ways and her heart pounded with seething ferocity. This was too
much too bear. “Of all people James, you should know better than to stoop so
low. How could a man in his right mind abandon his wife, and don‟t let me get
started about Obi. You allowed yourself to be sucked into gambling? As a man
my dear in-law, family must always come first, regardless of any financial woes
you may have incurred.”
He stood abruptly, fuming “What would you have done in my shoes? Gone
to church to pray for your debts to be cleared in an instant?”
“You abandon your loved ones and you stand before me expecting pity? So
now, have you paid off your debt? HAVE YOU?!” Unable to control her
thoughts, the damage was done as the bile spilled out.
“DON’T YOU DARE JUDGE ME!” His voice was raised to match hers.
“Tell me what to do because I have waited for God to send money down and it
hasn’t happened. He may have answered your prayers but not mine. So NO! I
have not paid it back.”
She backed down shaking, however, he had set her mind in motion; she had
judged Chinedu too. Acted as an arbiter and almost written him off because of
his past. And here she was doing the same to James, will she never learn?
He began talking once again “I messed up big time, borrowed more money
from the group and couldn’t pay because I kept losing…”
“That’s still not enough reason. James…” She began more gently, “Whatever
action you took in the past is in the past. I‟m not in the position to blame or point
a finger at you, but please let’s go see Ngozi…”
“Iphey the people I owe are after my family. I owe them millions! The gang
are after Ngoo and Obi. That’s why I had to leave, for the protection of my
Her mouth fell open. “Oh my God…”
James turned sideways and glared at her with dark eyes, coming closer till
they were an inch apart “You see why I left them? Why I cannot go with you?
Not this time and not ever. You never saw me, I was never here and I don‟t
exist…are we clear on that?”
Iphey nodded vigorously. He‟d changed. She was right, the James everyone
knew, the kind-hearted one who humbled most with his modesty, was gone and
so was the spark in his eyes, in their place was the remnants of a wounded man
and shattered dreams.
“Don’t mention this to your sister. If you do, I know she’ll come looking for
me and I can’t allow that. That was why I followed you here. I managed to get
away before the gang could trace me or my family. Still I remained in Lagos to
keep an eye on all of you just to be sure. Coincidence rocked the boat when we
met this evening. Don’t tip it over. It would be disastrous.”
Iphey was speechless. What on earth was she supposed to think at a time such
as this? Waving away her thoughts, she willed herself back into reality to see
James storming out the door in a hurried manner.
“Why?” she mouthed at his retreating back. The heavens sympathised and
joined in her despair, a drop at a time. She stood at the door unable to close,
knowing she had to go out again. She couldn’t keep it to herself, she had to tell
Ngozi. Nausea flooded her every being, overcoming her senses but she wouldn’t
Iphey picked up her car keys from Musa at the gate and drove out of the
compound on her way to her sister Ngozi’s place in Surulere.
Ngozi was puttering about her home getting ready to turn in for the night. She
felt exhausted and drained after the events of the last few days and especially
after the rousing party her mother held this past weekend. Although it was a
great distraction, she felt overwhelmed by the loud music and gaggle of people
with their mundane conversations. The emotional roller coaster she endured
while her son Obi was in the hospital left her feeling hollow and somewhat
As she dried the last few dishes and placed them into the cupboard, Ngozi
breathed a deep sigh as she realized she missed her mother already. She had been
a great help to her during Obi‟s illness and despite her nosiness, it had been nice
to have another adult in the house to talk to. She shook her head ruefully as she
recalled her mother‟s scheming to bring Chinedu and Iphey together at the
She walked around her home switching off the lights. It was quiet and Obi
was fast asleep in his bed. She stood for a moment by the windows in the dark,
and stared into the moonlit sky. The stars were twinkling and the sky was
midnight blue. A thought entered her mind and a wave of loneliness washed over
her, nearly knocking the breath from her lungs.
“Where are you?” she choked out between clenched teeth as grief overcame
her. “I miss you, James, I need my husband back.” She wondered if he was
staring at the same stars, or if he laid in the ground cold somewhere. It was the
not knowing that killed her, an answer that never seemed to come.
At that moment there was a knock on her door. Who could that be? She
wondered. It was late and she certainly wasn‟t expecting anyone. She opened the
door to find Iphey looking distressed.
“Ngozi! I must talk to you but you need to sit down,” Iphey told her as she
rushed into her living room.
“Ah! Iphey, Na wetin? Why are you coming here so late?”
Iphey took her hands into her own and led her to the couch. “Tie your
sokoto. There is news I must share with you. Ngozi… James is alive! I saw him!”
Ngozi‟s hand flew to her mouth as she held back a cry. She didn‟t want to
“How? Where? Where has he been? Where is he?” She stuttered, her words
tumbling over themselves.
She looked at her sister and began to feel faint and the edges of her sight
began to darken. Her sister„s mouth was moving as if she was talking but Ngozi
heard nothing. She was back to the day before the Monday her husband went off
to work and disappeared.
That Sunday, she and James had lingered in bed late into the afternoon. Obi
had gone to church with her mother and after that they were to visit and sleep
over at a friend‟s so there was no fear of interruption. Obi was growing fast and
strong and she very happy at how proud James was of his son. Her wish was that
a sibling would be made that day.
She turned to James, wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face
into his broad shoulder. “Let‟s make a baby,” she whispered quietly. Just saying
the words made her glow with hope.
James drew away quickly then kissed her gently. As he drew his face away
from hers, he stroked her curly hair and stared at her brown eyes wistfully; it
seemed a thousand thoughts had passed through his mind. She wondered what
he was thinking. He looked like he was struggling to say something but couldn‟t
get it out.
“I love you Ngozi,” he said instead in his gravelly voice, as he nuzzled her
neck and caressed her body. He deeply inhaled and a deep growl rolled from his
throat. For once she was grateful for her mother‟s meddling ways, because if not
for her, they never would have met. Although they had been married only a few
years, in that short time she had never felt happier and more content with her
“Ngozi… I want you to remember this-”
“Shhhh, I will. I love you too,” she said. No more talk. She only wanted to
focus on the feelings he stirred in her.
She looked at his face colored like dark chocolate. She had memorized every
fold, every crease and every expression on it. He then kissed her forcefully until
their breaths became ragged. She would never get tired of this. Hunger quickly
overcame them both and the afternoon flew by colored by passion, love and
When he disappeared the next day she often questioned the meaning behind
that afternoon. What was it he struggled to say and didn‟t? Were there secrets he
hid from her? Was the love she thought they shared really true? These questions
had plagued her incessantly for the years she failed to hear from him again.
Maybe he became victim to the ravages of an unsafe city. Or let‟s face it,
sometimes you can live with someone and not really know them.
“Ngoo, Ngozi! Are you listening to me?” Iphey exclaimed worriedly. She
rubbed her sister‟s cold hands and brought her a drink.
Ngozi snapped back to the present, “I‟m fine! Bodi just weak me small.”
“Are you sure?”
“Wetin dey do you sef! Tell me everything!” She took a deep drink and
waited for her sister to explain James‟ sudden reappearance.