“Why are you acting like this? Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“There’s nothing to tell madam!” Frank snapped, pausing what he was doing to shoot her an irritated glance. “Why do you want to find a problem where there’s none? Please can we just get ready to go? Tejiri and Onus are already waiting for us downstairs.” Frank flapped out his second sock and slid it onto his foot, frowning at his wife’s reflection in the dresser mirror opposite him. Both hands were on her waist and she gave him a glare of her own.
“Frank I am not going anywhere until you answer my questions and stop evading. If there weren’t anything the matter, you wouldn’t be so jittery. If there were nothing the matter, you would never get upset with me for asking! How can I calmly go to eat with friends when it’s so obvious that something is up and my husband has started hiding things from me?”
Frank grabbed his jacket and wallet from the bed and sighed exaggeratedly. “Woman, I am going to enjoy this outing. It is Christmas Season. I am not going to stay cooped up in this house and help you mix up the batter of anxiety you are strongly craving, simply so you can feed your unhealthy paranoia. If you want to stay, stay. Bye.”
He marched out of the room, obviously angry and Idara stood in her shimmering low-cut dinner gown, staring at the empty doorway, a deep frown creasing her forehead. There was a nagging feeling that something was majorly wrong but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Did he cheat on her? Did he lose his job? Did one of her family members die?
She dropped onto the edge of the bed and was seated there, biting her fixed nails, deep in thought, when their six-year-old daughter walked in a few minutes later.
“Mama why are you still here when Daddy’s already gone?”
Idara took a few seconds to soften her features before turning around. She stretched out an arm and the little girl grinned at the invitation, rushing towards the bed and almost tripping in her haste. Idara reached out, picked her up and sat her on her lap, careful not to let anything hook her IV line. “Oh sweety, I’ll join them in a few minutes. I just wanted to make sure we have you nicely tucked in for bed before I leave.”
Pamela’s face scrunched up. “But you said that I could stay up late tonight and it’s just 7.30pm mama and my show hasn’t even started yet. Would you please not tuck me in?”
Idara laughed and set her on her feet again. “Eehn, so Pampam you don’t want mama to tuck you in because of television? Are you serious right now? I’m so hurt.”
Pamela’s wide grinned response showed she couldn’t care less about her mother’s hurt at that instant and Idara laughed again, shaking her head. “Fine. Make sure you take your medication when your Nanny tells you to, alright?”
Pamela nodded happily, gripped her IV stand firmly and rushed out of the room, not giving her mother a chance to change her mind. At the top of the stairs she called out to her nurse. “Ma’am, would you please come help me down? My show will start soon!”
Idara smiled at the excitement in her voice for a few seconds, but thoughts of Frank’s strange behavior only moments earlier wiped it off. She knew sitting at home wouldn’t do anything. Her husband was stubborn like that. He would have a blast and push every concern from his mind until he was back home and couldn’t escape it anymore. So what was the essence of her sacrificing the outing she had been planning with Tejiri since November?
She walked over to Frank’s side of the bed and stood in front of the dresser, adding gentle swipes of mascara to her lashes and an extra dusting of blush to her cheeks. She would go and enjoy the night with her spouse and their friends.
Afterwards they would meet back in this room, and he would have nowhere else to run.
Frank peeked into his daughter’s room and watched her for some seconds. He stepped into the room quietly, the only illumination a large pink butterfly pinned on the wall, directly above her head, with widely spaced white Christmas lights strewn over it. He pulled a small stool from underneath her bed and sat down beside her sleeping frame, picking her left hand gently, careful not to disturb the cannula inserted in it. He stared at his daughter and sighed heavily, several thoughts running through his mind that only stockpiled the already ample levels of anxiety he’d been fighting all day.
“Hey princess.” He whispered into the dark room, smiling gently at his daughter’s innocent features covered in a blend of flickering pink and white hues. “Don’t worry okay? You’re going to be fine. Your daddy’s going to get it all back before you know it, and we’re going to be alright.” He sat there for about five more minutes before planting a kiss on her forehead and exiting the room, leaving the door slightly ajar.
He walked into his bedroom to find his wife wiping off her make-up at the dresser. She had wrapped her lush locks on the top of her head and changed into one of his old large tees that stopped mid-thigh on her. She didn’t look up at him when he opened the door and didn’t turn when he walked to the bed behind her. Frank sighed. He knew she’d only just begun. All her laughing and playful flirting at dinner earlier didn’t fool him into thinking he’d have peace at home, although in all fairness, her carrying on was hardly an act. She’d genuinely enjoyed herself and for that he was glad. Her disappointment would have been great if she’d given into her earlier tantrum and missed the outing trying to prove a point to him he’d been all too willing to ignore till further notice. Because the conversation that was bound to ensue in a few minutes was something they hadn’t needed interfering with their fun that night. He knew that better than anyone.
Frank removed his wristwatch, loosened his tie and began unbuttoning his shirt when he glanced up again, only to find her gaze already latched on him through the mirror. He raised a questioning eyebrow cockily while mentally burying his face in his hands and wishing she’d just let the night end on a pleasant note. He didn’t want to argue. He was tired, and darn well scared. He’d messed up bad and his brain hadn’t recovered from its shock yet to help him thread together a possible solution. He took his focus off her face momentarily, knowing her steady and intense gaze usually made quick work of his front as the cocky macho male. His eyes roamed the floor a little but the dark fibers weren’t proffering answers either so they went back up to meet hers. Whatever, I’m too tired, he thought resignedly, as he pulled down his front. His expression became pleading and he let her see how tired he was. Idara’s expression showed surprise. A plea, seriously? it seemed to ask. That obviously wasn’t what she’d been expecting and usually he wouldn’t disappoint, but that was when they squabbled over mundane things. This wasn’t mundane. They would face his mistake tomorrow – they had no choice. But right now he just wanted to cuddle and drown the anxiety that was gradually freezing his mind in her warmth.
After several moments, Idara looked away and focused on securing the bun she’d made of her butt-length dreadlocks more tightly. She frowned at her reflection and Frank knew she was still wondering what his lack of argumentative spunk was really about. He finished stripping and hung his clothes in the wardrobe before returning to the bed in his boxer shorts and a round collar vest. Idara had gone to the bathroom while he changed and he seized the opportunity to quickly settle in and feign sleep, hoping that would deter her from bringing anything up. Knowing his wife, it was all a futile venture, but he was hoping for a small miracle. He was lying on his back staring at the ceiling when he heard the toilet flush and flung his right arm over his eyes carelessly, so she wouldn’t see them twitch. He heard her soft steps around their carpeted room as she moved towards her dresser and, after a few minutes, towards the door. He didn’t dare peeking, lest he get caught. The lights went off and in a few seconds he felt her side of the bed dip. He held his breath and prayed. Arguing in the dark might be a little better though, he thought; if he absolutely had to spill the news, it might do him less emotional damage if he didn’t see her face when he did. Frank felt her move in closer then, suddenly her head was on his left shoulder and she’d slid an arm over his stomach. Still taken aback, he remained semi-stiff as Idara stretched so she could whisper directly into his ear.
“It’s fine boo, relax. We’ll be fine okay? Rest now, we’ll be fine.”
Frank released the breath he’d forgotten he was holding softly before clenching his jaw. The relief was so overwhelming he could have cried. He used the arm she was partly laid on to pull her closer and took the other off his eyes, cradling her tightly. He sighed gently against her forehead and felt her arm tighten on his waist in response.
Frank smiled to himself in the dark room as he drifted off to a calm sleep, despite his troubles. Although this seemed to be the only break he’d gotten all day, he was very grateful for it.
Thanks God. Thanks plenty.
“Hello? Tejiri, what’s up hon?”
Idara used her little finger to wipe off the milk she felt at the edge of her lip and looked down at her trouser suit for the eighth time to check that nothing had spilled onto it.
“My dear, I think I had an even bigger blast than you two. That comedian that came up at the end wanted to just kill me for my husband and daughter. Ah! If only our schedules would allow us to meet more, I’d be so thankful. Sometimes I see my two jobs as this large double headed monster trying to swallow my full life.”
Idara smiled and placed her cereal bowl in the sink as her friend, not wanting to be outdone, animatedly explained the evils of maintaining a career with all the fun to be had in the world. When she was done, both laughed at their hypocrisy. They enjoyed their jobs almost as much as they enjoyed shopping with their husbands’ monies. If only there was some way they could live without feeling exhaustion then it would all be a dream. Idara glanced at her wristwatch and picked up her bag and leather folder from the small kitchen table.
“I should start heading out, if I can find my car keys that is. I’ll call during my lunch break yeah?” A glint from the fridge caught her attention and she narrowed her eyes, quickly recognizing her bunch of keys held up by a fridge magnet. She smiled, doubtless that it was the ever-organized Frank’s doing. “Found them!” she said into the phone and retrieved them before heading out. As soon as she’d stepped onto the veranda, Tejiri’s question stopped her in her tracks.
“Are we okay? What are you talking about Tej, did we not look okay to you yester night?” she hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and locked the front door, a slight frown creasing her forehead. “You caught him looking at me? Ah ah, Tej? Did you drink something? My husband shouldn’t look at me again? After what I spent on that dress, he better have been looking babe.” Idara was laughing now. She walked to her car and signaled the security man to open the gate. After settling in behind the wheel she paused before starting the ignition. “Oh, guilty looks eh? Hmm, this psychology you went to go and get a Masters in though, you can scare somebody. What? An investment gone awry – Tejiri, when did you become my personal assistant in paranoia?” Idara was quite amused at the speculations her friend was drawing. “No no, it’s possible yeah, but I think it’s more that he just has a lot on his mind with work and Pamela and all. You know how these big babies of ours can get sometimes now.” She put the phone on loudspeaker, dropped it beside her on the passenger seat and reversed. “If they’re slacking in one aspect, it might make them feel unworthy or lacking in all aspects. Personally, I don’t get it.” Tejiri gave a witty response that prompted a laugh from her. “I know right! Their egos have them tripping so bad sometimes. Like, what does your failed office project have to do with the fact that I – in my opinion – married the sweetest hunk in the Federal republic? Or do you think Pamela cares about performance evaluations when as far as she’s concerned; her Dad is the greatest thing after God? Exact-ly! Y-you get it my dear.”
Idara drove to the end of their street and took a turn, heading for the main road. “I’ll have to go off now Tej. Main road approaches. Thanks for your concern hon, but we’re doing just fine. Let’s just keep praying for each other yeah? Okay now, talk later. Bye.”
Idara drummed on the steering wheel, waiting for the warden at the junction to signal her to move as she mulled over her friend’s observations. They really were just confirmations to her personal suspicions but after seeing that look on his face yester night she told herself she’d give Frank time to build up the courage to tell her whatever was so wrong. Her husband never hid things from her. If he didn’t make the first move to offer a bit of information for whatever reason, if she ever brought it up he’d spill. It had never really been a big deal. The way he was acting now, she knew without a doubt that this news was going to be bad.
The question that was almost driving her up the wall however, was how much so?
“…No but honestly, this week has been mad. Did you guys hear what happened in the news? Ah, people have been going crazy since – I even heard of a few suicides.” Lanre’s voice drifted as he noticed Frank sitting quietly at the end of their lunch table, staring morosely at his drink. “Frank my man! You’re unusually quiet today, what’s up? Did they get you too?” He winked at a few persons who rolled their eyes at him. “Relax, it’s just a joke. Doesn’t he look so serious though?”
Frank stared hard into his Chapman, as though an epiphany awaited him within the ice cubes currently swimming in the ocean of red he held in his hands. His mind wandered to Pamela. She had an appointment on the 19th, and they still owed a small sum for her last session. He sighed and bent his head. He felt like he was going crazy. His thoughts shifted to his wife; his amazing wife. She usually ordered his sanity back in situations when it tried to wander and leave him stranded like this. But he was reluctant about sharing this one because it was nothing like the others. She’d been slaving over two hair-graying jobs, seeing to Pamela’s needs, and still making time for him – and what did he go on and do? He-
Suddenly a forceful tap on his shoulder broke into his guilt tripping and momentarily stole his fare to the land of depression. Frank looked up with a frown, startled.
“Guy, what’s going on now? We’ve all called you at least three times – and we didn’t whisper either – but you didn’t even shake. Are we safe?”
Frank blinked, trying to gather his bearings. Oh yeah, they were at lunch. For him food had lost most of its allure, but he wasn’t quite ready to explain why to anybody so he accepted their invitation to eat lunch together. Eyes sweeping over the several colleagues seated at their regular table, Frank realized the majority was waiting on his answer. He cleared his throat and let out a low chuckle. “Why are you all acting like I’m a celebrity? I’ve just been a little tired this past few days so, talking isn’t the greatest priority…nor is listening.” He winked at Lanre, the person who’d spoken last, and got a smile in return. “Sorry if I’m making you all uncomfortable.”
“No it’s absolutely fine Frank.” Aminat, the young IT specialist who’d most recently been hired, spoke up and grinned. “I was starting to think you were an invincible super employee who always turned in his work early to make us look bad and never had any problems.” She covered her eyes playfully when about three people shot her mock-horrified looks. “Relax people, I’m not saying I’m happy he has problems now. I’m saying we recognize he’s human, and things come up, and that’s okay.”
Frank forced a smile. “Thanks.”
Their orders arrived and everyone promptly sidelined small talk. They all had less than thirty minutes left in their lunch break. Lanre looked up momentarily, pausing in mid-flight the forkful of fried plantain and egg, at Frank.
“But my man honestly, if you need a break or something, talk to those guys in the top office. You work harder than the founder of this company man! You should chill every now and then.” Some at the table laughed at that, a few others nodded in agreement. “I mean look at Stanley and I. We’re always trying to ditch work for chill. Always!” There was more laughter and Stanley who was seated beside his best friend shrugged with a mock-embarrassed smile as he nodded at Frank, confirming Lanre’s announcement.
Buchi, the head of the HR department, swallowed the last muscle from his first wrap of fufu and glanced at Lanre as he unwrapped the second. “You’d take leave a week to Christmas? Did they put something in that your food?” He shook his head and glanced at Frank. “Why are you people even bothering with this guy? Don’t you know his wife? If he tries to fall ill she’ll go straight to the HR department, fill out a form for leave in January, approve it herself, and collect in cash the estimated pay for his duration of absence.” Some of his closer colleagues paused their eating to laugh. “I’m telling you people. That woman doesn’t even play.”
“Really Frank, you and your wife seem to enjoy taking turns playing superhero for each other though.” Greg, who worked in Finance, joined in. “Do you all remember the time he nearly frightened that bleached babe in finances back to her original color when she was spreading rumors about Frank and her having an affair? I swear, I’d never seen the guy so mad. You’d think he’s the only one who’s married in this firm, the way they carry on.” Greg laughed again and winked at Frank before returning to his own meal.
Frank worked up an almost perceptible smile in response, as he stared blankly at the plate of rice in front of him. Sure he loved his wife and would go lengths to keep her and his daughter safe. But what they didn’t get was that this time, he wasn’t protecting his family nor playing Idara’s hero. …
This time, he was the villain.
To be continued…