I’m seated on the soft rug on the floor, between his legs. His fingers are dancing like a puppeteer’s fingers over my tangled, curly mop. With every move of his strong dextrous fingers, my rebellious hair obeys without fail like a marionette. I purr and sigh contentedly, with every stroke of my scalp. I thank God for bringing a man who grew up with five sisters my way. He applies some mixture he made himself to sections of my hair, working it through.
His touch is so gentle, he’s on the third cornrow when I’m jolted awake from the dream by his voice in my ear. “Your parents had the right idea when they named you Dozie. Kai.”
I laugh and swat his arm lightly. He bends my head back and lowers his lips to kiss me. I put my arms round his neck and return the kiss, pulling him into me.
He laughs and dislodges my small arms, placing them at my sides and trapping them with his strong calves.
“Not now, Nwanyi oma. Be patient, I’m almost done.”
I smile as his thumbs massage the little pressure points at the back of my neck. I moan in response and he kisses my cheek and goes back to work. I start thinking of how wonderful my life is, when a dark thought crosses my mind, sucking out all the light that’d been there just minutes prior. I start to think that my life is good, great even, but not wonderful.
It’s hard not to think that there is something missing. There always is. This even goes beyond the view that human wants are insatiable and that we can never be truly satisfied. No. This one is more obvious. It’s like having a Matisse painting on the wall, and it’s in Black-and-White — It is perfect but the nuanced beauty is gone. I take in the relative silence of the house and immediately get sadder. The hum of the refridgerator, the tweeting of the birds in the Almond tree outside and the squeak of the fan above us keeps the ears busy. But there are no cries, no pitter patter of little feet on the marble tiles.
As with every time my thoughts hover over these troubled waters, my hands massage my flat stomach. I feel hollow. I will be the first person to tell you that having a beautiful home without children is cliche but I know the emptiness I sometimes catch in Nnam’s eyes when he hugs me at the door. I can feel the echoes in the emptiness that Nnam feels when he plays with one of the many children his sisters have been blessed with.
I grow very still as I start to count the numbers.
The number of years we’ve been married.
The number of my sisters that got married after me.
The number of christenings I’ve attended since.
The number of fertility clinics I’ve been to in the past three years.
The number of tests Nnamdi and I have had done.
The number of bottles of FertilAid I’ve gone through in the past year and a half.
The number of pregnancies I’ve had.
“You’re both healthy, everything looks great. Keep taking your hormone-balancing supplements and you should conceive any day now. Just be patient.”
Dr Patel’s accent and the way his head nodded side to side stopped being amusing months ago. Every month he says the same thing. Every month, Aunty Flo aka the red robots show up. Never late, always on time.
Patience, he says.
Patience, Pastor Hannah says, at counseling every Tuesday. She never hesitates to bring up Sarah, and of course her name sake. I asked her once, when she had asked if I was 99 and how Sarah had conceived at that age, how long did she have to wait patiently to have her first child. She got knocked up on her honeymoon. The silence in the room rivaled the one in my womb after that.
My mother believes it is one of late father’s sisters that are after her. I don’t blame her. She has five grandchildren from her other daughters. I am her favorite. The devil attacks what you love the most, she says just before she launches into her endless prayer sessions.
I’ve learnt to block them all out. So I nod politely and smile on the outside, while I’m frantic and dying inside.
“Ogechukwu ka mma. God’s time is the best. Be patient, nwunye m. When the time is right, God will bless us with as many children as you want. Stop stressing.” It grinds my gears how relaxed he can be. He’s a man after all. It’s not the same. He doesn’t understand how it kills me, to see the longing in his eyes and not be able to fill it.
I knew when I met Nnam that I didn’t just want to be his woman. I wanted to have his child. I wanted a little part of him that I would always have. I always had this irrational fear that I would lose him. So I ached for a little piece of him that would also be mine. I was the good girl. A virgin bride. I kept myself pure and intact until the day Nnam and I exchanged vows.
It was supposed to be easy.
That wasn’t what I was promised.
Every one has been so supportive, it’s annoying sometimes. I feel like a broken toy, or a beautiful car with a bad engine. I feel like a disappointment. All around me, people keep popping babies, and I can’t even get pregnant.
A kiss on my cheek brings me back to the present. He’s done. I don’t have to look in the mirror to know my hair is beautiful. He’s always been amazing at it.
I don’t know how he finds the time. His weekdays are crammed with work, yet every weekend he’s home, he braids my hair. Every Saturday night without fail. For six years now.
I turn to look at him, place my hand on his bearded cheek and just stare into his eyes. “You’re such a good man. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you. I love you with my life. And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I always make this about what we don’t have. I love the life we have and you’re right. God’s time is the best. I’ll stop complaining. I’ll be as patient as it takes.”
He looks away for a moment and turns back to me with the saddest look I’ve ever seen on his face. “Dozie, I have to tell you something. I know you’ll hate me after this, but I hope you can forgive me.”
I don’t like the where this is headed. I’m genuinely worried and I just want him to get it out.
“Nnam, what is it? Talk to me.”
He looks at me like a man at the gallows. I urge him on with my eyes. As if he suddenly decides to take the jump, he says to me, all in one breath “Dozie, I’m sterile. I can’t have kids. I found out when we went to the first clinic. Dr Ben told me. I begged him to keep it a secret and I’ve been doing the same with the other doctors. You wanted a child so bad, that I didn’t know how to tell you.”
I don’t know if it’s the pent up pain, or the emptiness but the air seems to go out of the room. I’m out of breath and I’m slipping away, away from his grasp. All I can see as I slip into the void is the white of the ceiling in dizzying patterns that seem endless.
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