BN Prose: Cancerous Betrayal by Tami Okoro Dedeh
“Sorry ladies, but I’m stealing your friend away. This was our jam in UniUyo, and she never turns down a dance with her favourite man.” Archie raised my hand to his lips, and my friends smiled in admiration. No exaggeration — Jon B’s Someone to Love had always applied to our seventeen-year marriage. Until recently. Yes, Archie may have come to me in my time of need. Sure, his love had pulled me through…
…his love? What a farce. My favourite man? Too bad he never considered me his favourite woman.
Of all the whores in the world, why her? Even after three babies I boasted an enviable figure, and several guests showered me with compliments that evening. I’d quit a promising career in journalism five year prior to work as a copywriter from home, where I ran our household and raised our boys.
Like any well-bred girl born and raised in the South-South, I could easily navigate my way around any kitchen, and Archie still went gaga over my afang soup. Archie, the man I’d loved and supported when friends and family taunted me for dating a lower-class English Language student against their wishes and expectations. Archie, the only man I’d ever loved. The years passed. We proved the Doubting Thomases wrong. Archie achieved tremendous success with his transport company, and I counted my blessings every single day. Until the morning I panicked after discovering a suspicious lump in the shower.
Surely I hadn’t stumbled across anything serious — weren’t most women lumpy and bumpy during a certain time of the month? A series of tests followed, and Archie held me close when our family doctor dropped the bombshell. Why our family? Would I live long enough to see Uduak, Ubong, and Edem grow into manhood, graduate from university, get married? Damn fate and her unwanted surprises. Archie wiped away every tear, pulled me even closer when I expressed my fears, assured me I could kick the hell out of that demon destroying my system.
“I know the woman I married, Imaobong. You can do this, and you will,” he whispered as the battle commenced, both of us surrounded by beeping machines fighting to keep my body alive. Medication, surgery, chemo, radiation – name it, I faced it. In the end I won, my man still next to me the day I touched the finish line.
But I barely recognised the woman in the mirror when I returned to Uyo after my discharge from the Lagos specialist hospital. Who was this gaunt, bald woman with hollow eye sockets and sunken cheeks? Tough — my condition may have snatched away the old me, but God forbid the cruel disease messed with my family. I may have resembled a dug-up corpse, but I’d miraculously dodged that cold grave, and slowly I reclaimed my life. Only to find myself betrayed by my husband and … my best friend?
“Well, what are you waiting for, Imaobong?” Gladys set her tulip glass down and smiled. “Don’t keep him waiting!”
Archie led me to the dance floor and the guests cleared a space, watching their host and his wife sway smoothly to the rhythm. How often had he slow-danced with Gladys behind my back? Archie had invited our nearest and dearest to celebrate with us at our Ewet Housing residence after a service dedicated to my survival at the Anglican Cathedral, and the bishop had praised Archie’s loyalty, describing him as an ideal husband.
What a joke.
I closed my eyes, nestled my face into Archie’s shoulder. He planted a brief but tender kiss on my head, completely unaware of the surprise I’d planned. The local DJ we’d hired for the evening deserved a bonus for skillfully mixing that revealing dialogue into the song as I’d secretly requested, and our friends couldn’t believe the risqué details emitting from the speakers.
Archie referring to Gladys as his special lady. Gladys pleading with him to follow her home for the night. Archie and Gladys describing exactly how they’d done what they did in a Lagos hotel room as I battled the big C in hospital. Ew.
“What…what the hell?” Archie stuttered. “How did you… What is going on? That’s not me. That’s not me!”
“It is you!” I screamed. “Achiobong Orok, having an affair with my friend? And our children…” I cast a mournful look at the boys who looked almost as shell-shocked as their mother felt. Edem’s eyes brimmed with tears. Ubong could barely look at his father. And Uduak, ever the protective older sibling, wrapped an arm around each brother.
“Imaobong, I don’t know what got into me. I was lonely, and she was there.”
“Rubbish! If I hadn’t recorded this by accident, when I was dictating the campaign for that oil firm, you’d still be sexing her.”
“Is that why you played that conversation in front of everybody? In front of the kids?” Archie straightened himself into defensive mode. “Couldn’t you have confronted me in private like a normal person? You’re a crazy bitch.”
“Crazy? Trust me, you haven’t seen crazy yet.” I flew at the party showstopper, a five-tier vanilla sponge cake smothered in buttercream icing, waiting to be cut and devoured. Before our concerned friends could restrain me, I rammed the top tier into my husband’s face.
“No, this is crazy!” I swung round to address the stunned crowd. “Anyone filming this? Pretty sure this is more entertaining than hearing your own husband describing how he screwed your best friend while you’re battling cancer.”
“Don’t you tell me what to do, ashawo bastard!” My sister and cousin held me back before I caused any more damage, but my long copper-red wig slipped off my head in the heated struggle. “Is this why you cheated on me, because I’m bald?” I threw the wig in Archie’s face. “Or was it this?” I reached inside my support bra to pull out the silicone prosthesis I’d grown accustomed to wearing. “Watch me, this one-boobed bitch just got crazier!”
I shot an icy glare at my best friend who sat majestically at the high table sipping Sauternes, completely unfazed. How could my dear Gladys stoop this low? The same woman who had flown in from Uyo to hold my hand during chemo? The same friend who lovingly comforted my downcast boys with her meat pies and Kanelbullar as their Mummy lay attached to those damn chemo pumps? The whore I’d welcomed into my home when she found herself homeless and jobless after her Swedish boyfriend dumped her? How could she?
“You! What do you have to say for yourself, you shameless home-wrecker?” I screamed, marching over to her throne. “Was it my fault your relationship with Per in Stockholm ended?” No answer. I splashed the rest of the dessert wine in her smug MAC-plastered face and slapped the stars out of her eyes before my cousin held me back again, but Gladys cackled loudly without a care in the world. No remorse, zero shame. But her brazen attitude paled in comparison to her scathing comeback.
“We both thought you were gonna die.”