Iphey shook her head not quite looking her in the eye, “Is Obi sleeping?”
Ngozi peered at her closely as though she could read something off her face “Obi is sleeping. Iphey, please go on. O gini?”
Iphey sighed, “Ngoo, I don’t know how to say this…”
“I don’t like all this suspense o. Whatever it is, just say it.” Ngozi snapped, her patience running thin.
“James came to my house.He’s alive and has been in Lagos I…I bumped into him…in a taxi. Ngoo he looked different but I confronted him, initially he denied it but later he came and...”
Nothing could have prepared Ngozi for those words; she stiffened barely allowing herself to breathe. In silence, her eyes willed Iphey to continue.
“I told him I’d have to tell you, I even suggested we come together but he said he couldn’t face you after everything that’s happened.”
“Where is James?” her voice was surprisingly calm and sounded strange to her. “Is he here? Outside?”
“No, he was gone before I could convince him…” Iphey leaned towards her, “Ngoo, it’s a very serious matter…infact we have to….”
Iphey was still talking as she rose to her feet and started walking towards her room.
“Sister, where are you going?”
Ngozi turned and smiled at her, it was a bitter smile that left her eyes cold and empty “Iphey, you just told me that my husband who has been missing for three years is alive and well. And not only has he been in Lagos the entire time, he’s also not here to tell me himself. I’m going to bed and maybe tonight I won’t dream of him or wake up in tears and cry to God for him…”
Iphey stood up, “Sister, you have to hear what happened...”
That was the trigger, it was enough for her to lose it and for all the emotions that had been locked up inside her to burst forth like a broken dam. She threw the mug she had been holding against the back of the settee. Iphey cringed as it bounced and then fell to the ground. Water splashed all over the light blue fabric sofa and the matching floor tiles as the cup rolled to a stop.
“Hear what?!” Ngozi tried not to scream, to keep her voice low for Obi’s sake. “When he doesn’t want to see me? I have cried every night for the past three years! I fought off his family who wanted to declare him dead! I held our son at night watching to make sure he’s still breathing! And James is not here. He’s alive, not decaying in a grave, he can walk and he can speak so why isn’t he here? Iphey why isn’t he here? He left us, he left me….” She let herself crumble to the floor as the sobs filled her throat.
When Ngozi looked up, tears had started to run down Iphey's face. She hated her sister seeing her like this, so broken. She was supposed to be the older one. Iphey crossed the distance between them, sat down and wrapped her arms around her.
“I have to see him Iphey, I have to see him.” Ngozi mumbled into her shoulder.
“You will, we’ll find him” Iphey said firmly.
After she left, Ngozi watched as Obi slept, noting the rhythmic rise and fall of his small chest. She remembered the scare when those doctors had told her to prepare for the worst, when she thought that her world was coming to an end. If she had lost Obi, she would have had nothing left to live for. Luckily they passed through it. Obi slept now his face creased into the deep frown that signaled he was in deep sleep. These days he insisted on sleeping only in his pyjama bottoms and though he had been asleep for just a few hours, his small bed looked like a riot scene with his tiny frame sprawled diagonally across the bed.
As she wandered into the kitchen to fix herself a cup of tea, she tried not to blame James but it was hard, especially having had to bear this burden of worrying about their child alone. After James had disappeared, their friends had been supportive, offering words of comfort and prayers but after a year the tune had started to change. No one could explain why he abandoned his wife and child leaving them in such financial insecurity. They said he was dead and advised her to remarry while she was still young, while Obi could learn to accept another man as a father. She had refused and slowly one by one the friends grew tired and began to keep away.
Iphey and her mother helped out as much as they could but she couldn’t depend on them solely, so she had fallen back on one of her hobbies and turned it into a lucrative career. She worked from home as a baker, and on her own terms so she could keep an eye on Obi. It had been hard when Obi had constantly asked after his father and she had told him the same thing each time, “Daddy traveled”. But now that he had stopped asking, how was she going to tell him the truth. What would she even tell him? Where was James?