“What are you doing here!?” Iphey screamed.
“Please let me come in, I have to talk to you.” He pleaded.
“You!?” He looked the same as when she’d seen him earlier in the cab but now his face was softer, more like the brother-in-law she’d known. He was James, her sister’s husband.
Not knowing how to process the information her eyes were feeding her, her first impulse was to choke him by the collar and demand reparation for all the pain he’d caused her family. Since she couldn’t do that, the next best thing was to slam the door smack in his face. She did just that but James caught the door with his foot.
“Iphey! Please wait!” He begged again.
“Are you James or not?”
“Yes…” He breathed with downcast eyes.
“I knew it! I knew it was you.” She opened the door wider. “How did you find me?”
“I knew where you lived…”
“Damn you, James! Damn you to hell!” Iphey cried hitting his chest repeatedly with both hands till he caught them in his.
“Iphey, please calm down… listen to me!”
“Please, shut up! Shut the hell up! Why did you deny it when I called your name in the cab?”
“Iphey…I’m sorry but I had to…” He pushed her back into her apartment and closed the door. “I was shocked as much as you were, Iphey. I needed time to put myself together…”
James had managed to push her into one of the living room chairs at this time but remained standing. A tense silence ensued.
“Where have you been all this while?” Iphey asked in a low voice. Her hands hung between her knees.
“I’ve been here in Lagos…”
“My God! James, you live here? Ngoo waited…she pined for you all this time and you live here in Lagos?!”
Pictures of her nephew in his bed during the most recent stay in the hospital flashed before her eyes…Her sister’s depression…The fear in her mother’s eyes…Her own tears.
“Please Iphey, You need to relax…hear me out at least…”
She sprang to her feet. “How dare you come here after all these years and tell me to relax?! Why are you even here? What am I hearing you out on? That you abandoned my sister and her child, YOUR SON!?”
Iphey knew she was getting hysterical but couldn’t stop it. “How am I going to break this to Ngozi? How will I tell my sister that her long lost husband is infact alive? That he has lived in this same state all the while she was crying herself to sleep?” Several thoughts ran through her mind at once.
James came to stand before her. “See, I had to do what I did…I didn’t want to but it was the best thing I could’ve done at the time.”
Iphey was confused. She hadn't thought there was a happier couple than her sister and James at the time. She’d just gotten into University when they got married seven years ago. A year later Obi had been born and everyone had been overjoyed. He was three when to everyone’s shock, James had gone missing.
James went on...“Almost four years ago, something happened.”
Iphey’s shook her head vigorously. “What is it, James? What happened?” She cried, perplexed.
James breathed out and turned around. “I lost my job.”
“What?? What are you talking about?”
“You see Iphey; two years after we got married, I lost my precious oil company job.”
“What does that have to do with it?” A shiver went over Iphey. The talk of job loss was a bit close to home with the recent spate of lay-offs in the banking sector.
“I never told your sister. I kept going out to work for nearly six months afterwards and never breathed a word of it to her. I looked for other jobs, gambled, took to drinking, chased other women. Nothing helped.”
Iphey found the sofa. This is only a bad dream. If I shut my eyes, it will go away.
James continued. “The few people who knew advised me to tell her but I couldn’t face the disappointment on her face. When Obi’s asthma came up while she was still on maternity leave, we had agreed for her to remain at home. So there was no other source of income…”
He looked at her face. “I know what you’re thinking…I wouldn’t be first or last to lose my job but I was so proud! Your sister didn’t know, her behavior didn’t change but I became paranoid. I blamed her for my woes and our sickly son for my quickly dwindling savings. Then I blamed myself but still I did not tell her.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God.” Iphey kept saying.
“I began to resent everyone. My family, you and your mother, you all boasted so much about my status…”
She could see it was very painful for him but she wouldn’t let that go. “Leave us out of this.”
“OK.” He sat down. “The thing was, I was brought up to believe that a man should provide for his family. In those six months, that belief made me mad!" He was crying now, the tears trickled down his cheeks.
“Are you saying…?” Iphey started.
James cut in. “I’m not saying I became actually mad but I eventually did something insane.”
Iphey's phone began to ring.