A MATCHING PAIR
by Agbai Emmaterry Chinonso
Winner of the 2021 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)
“Good night mummy!” Benjamin calls as I walk past their room.
“Sleep dear, you have school tomorrow.”
“Must we go?” Grace, the 5-year-old miscreant, whispered from the dimly lit room.
“Yes, you must go,” I answer calmly.
“What if Daddy says we can stay?” This time it was Benjamin, a 7-year-old, who always encourages his sister’s mischief a little too much.
“He won’t,” I say with finality. “Now good night.”
I walk away and head into our room. Easing the door open, you hurriedly stand to your feet, blanket and pillow in hand.
“Are they sleeping?” You ask carefully, your eyes watchful of my expressions.
“Not yet, wait a while.” Quietly, you lowered yourself into the couch in our room.
Even though it was more of my room these days. For the past few weeks, it had only acted as a storeroom for your belongings. My nights now end with you sneaking away to the guest room and the mornings had you crawling back in.
It was a noisy process that always woke me up, no matter how quiet you tried to be. But the sounds of you ‘tip-toeing’ through the house had never woken the kids. That was the aim, to not let the kids know. That was why we were only true to ourselves under the hood of the night, only then could we drop our acts.
Turning off the lights by the wardrobe, I quickly begin to change into my pyjamas. I swing my head backwards to ensure you’re not watching. Testament to your smartness, your gaze is averted. Your eyes pointedly fix on the unplugged television, you understand that you lost the right to see me naked.
My eyes quickly go over your body before turning to unfasten my bra. It was a mere glance but I still noticed the difference, I have always noticed the little things about you. Your white tee, the one worn out from being a night-shirt, now hangs loosely on your frame. You had never been a very bulky man, but you were looking leaner within a month.
A month of anger. A month since betrayal broke my trust in you. Since I donned on a unique shade of hypocrisy.
Ben’s question echoes in my memory, “What if Daddy says we can stay?”
How could daddy say ‘yes’ when he was struggling to appease mummy? How could he go against her after he had cheated?
* * *
One month ago, on a night like any other, my feet were folded underneath me as I worked on my laptop. I had managed to procrastinate another task until the dying moment and now scrambled to compile a report one hour before its deadline.
‘You say I led you on, you sef dey follow me’ Ckay sang to Ayra Starr on their track – Beggie Beggie, on her new album. My head bobbed absent-mindedly and my lips sang along unconsciously; that was how much I had listened to the album.
You stirred beside me, over and over again, making me wonder if the music was a disturbance. It never was, you always slept so deeply, only your biological alarm could wake you. But then you stirred again,
“Maybe I should just turn it off,” I thought.
The silence that descended on the room was comfortable, leaving the irregular tapping of my fingers on my keyboard. But something was unusual, I couldn’t hear your snore. This was not the first time I noticed the absence of that light gravelly noise punctuating the air at night. After ten years of marriage, it was a sound I had grown accustomed to. I had come to even depend on it on some days, to lull me to sleep, my personal lullaby.
“Babe?” I called out lightly to you, unsure if you were actually asleep.
There was no reply. “Babe?” I called again, just to double-check.
“Yeah?” Came the reluctant reply.
“You good?” I asked, already getting distracted by the fact that my report was still waiting.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, my fingers skidding across the keyboard again, “You’re not snoring.” I added.
“What?” You turned slightly to look up at me.
“You’re not snoring,” I repeated, “That means you’re not sleeping well.”
“You know I’m not sleeping well because I’m not snoring?” You asked, your voice sounding surprised.
My eyes were fixed on the laptop as I answered, “Of course.”
“But I thought you hated snoring?” You asked, I could feel you watching me.
“I do, but not yours. I like yours now, I kind of even need it.”
I smiled at the irony, remembering how I gave you grief about it when we had just started dating. The night I first slept over, it served as the subject of my playful jabs at you the next day.
“Oh.” Was all you said.
“So, what’s up, why aren’t you sleeping well?” I asked again as I flipped through one of the documents, I had brought home.
You were quiet for so long, I thought you had ignored me and tried to sleep again. But when I turned, I saw you blankly staring at the ceiling.
“Gozie what is it?” I was getting genuinely concerned now. Far off wonderment was not your thing, I was the ‘deep’ person in this relationship while you never got bothered or dwelled on one thing for too long.
You sat up and looked at me. Your left eye twitched, in some other people, that may be a sign of anger or dishonesty, but in you, it had always been evidence of nerves.
“I-” You began to say then stopped, then tried reaching for my hand but stopped that too.
“Gozie?” My interest was piqued. I set my laptop aside and watched as you sprang up from the bed and began pacing.
With every step, the pending report slipped further into the back of my mind-forgotten. Your lower lip suffered between your teeth as you began to chew on it like a stubborn piece of ‘shaki’ – this was your other nervous tic. Whatever you had to tell me was big.
“Babe, I’m so so sorry.”
My heart began to slap against my ribcage. The broken look in your eyes tempted me to tell you to keep whatever you had done to yourself.
“What did you do?” I asked carefully.
“Babe, I’m sorry, I promise I love you, with all my heart. I love you, I love the kids, I love you.” You professed on and on until I raised my hand to stop you.
There was silence in the room, quite unlike the one I experienced earlier. This one was thick with unspoken confessions hanging in the air. An open secret I now suspected but you were terrified to admit.
“Did you cheat?”
My eyes followed you as you knelt beside me, holding my hands in yours. “Ebube, my love, please!”
I snatched my hands from yours and scurried away, “Oh my God!”
“How could you Gozie?!” I spat.
“She meant nothing to me, I promise you it was a foolish mistake!” Your words arranged like something in a nollywood script.
Sadness sank in my belly, like boulder thrown in a lake. My eyes glazed over as tears quietly ran tracks down my cheeks.
The kids could not wake up, I couldn’t risk having them witness this, so I swallowed my urgent scream. After what felt like an hour, but could’ve been 5 minutes, my voice croaked out,
“Why are you telling me now?”
“Uhm…” You paused, “She’s pregnant and threatening to tell you.” The words ran out of your mouth in one breath.
My head snapped up so fast, it’s a miracle I didn’t strain a muscle. “She’s what?”
“Pregnant.” You repeated quietly.
A peal of sardonic laughter bubbled in my throat and escaped my lips, then ended as suddenly as it began.
“So, you’re only scared of blackmail, you’re not even sorry,” I stated flatly.
“I am sorry.” You emphasized the ‘am’, your eyes pleaded with mine.
If there was one thing you knew how to do, it was how to be repentant, apologetic; you were always quick to be remorseful. So now that apologies easily fell out of your seemingly sincere face, it meant nothing.
“Get out.” It was almost a whisper, laced with intense anger and disgust. There was no protest, you slipped out quietly.
I immediately leapt towards the bathroom, the bile I had been suppressing now clawed its way out. The sounds of me retching into the toilet bowl echoed off the tiled walls.
Maybe you would feel the same, if you know that we deserve each other, cheats deserve cheats.
But mine was different. I cheated out of necessity, and that was why I knew your mistress was a lying whore. The child in her womb could not be yours.
The two sleeping angels in the other room were proof, no child could be.