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Pariah

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That night, Moyo perched on the edge of the bed, her heart quaking the equivalent of a 1.3 on the Richter scale. Lying under the comforter, Oloye touched the back of her nightgown and found it wet with sweat. “Do you have a fever?”

“No.”

“What’s wrong? Are you worried about your promotion? Your letter is on Etomo’s table. He should sign it before the end of the week.”

“It’s not about that.” She looked down at her lap. How could she present this lie convincingly?

“What is it, then?”

She raised her head. “I’m afraid—”

“What are your fears? Tell me.”

She sank to her knees. “My contraceptives failed me.”

He stared long at her, as if reading the meaning of ‘my contraceptives failed me’ on her face. “So? How does that affect me?”

“I. . . I’m pregnant.” The words felt like shards of glass coming out of her throat.

Oloye sat up abruptly and looked her over. “I thought we had an agreement?”

“Forgive me. I don’t know how it happened.” She pressed her fist against her mouth, her eyes now gushing like Victoria Falls.

They fell into silence, which clacked in her ears.

After a few moments, he asked, “What do you want to do now?”

She fidgeted. “Do?”

“What is your plan for the pregnancy?”

“I want to have the baby,” she whimpered.

“Who says you should have an abortion? The fetus has a right to live, doesn’t it?”

She took his words to mean a “yes” to the pregnancy. Her scheme had worked out, but she remained on her knees, feigning soberness.

“You should come to bed. You won’t remain there till tomorrow,” he said.

***

The evening sky was open and blue. Oloye sat at a table in his front yard, reading Sunday Guardian. Moyo brought him a snifter of Zinfandel, her bump thrusting out behind her taffeta gown. The bump was so big she sometimes wondered if it was the baby screaming “Oloye, you’re not my dad! I’m not your baby!”

He flipped through the pages of the newspaper. “I’ll be going to Canada next week.” “What? Impossible.”

He sipped his wine and then continued reading.

Moyo may have drunk from the Zinfandel before bringing it to him, but her mouth tasted like vinegar now. “You shouldn’t leave me alone at this time.”

“I need some time off to rest,” Oloye replied, his gaze at her filled with hostility.

She framed her belly with both hands. “I have one month to go before the baby comes.”

“I have to see my children.” He put down the paper and headed into the house.

Sitting down, Moyo puffed air out of her cheeks. Was he still pained that Colonel Etomo’s reign had come to a sudden end two weeks ago? Would he have travelled if his man hadn’t been removed as the governor of the state? She stroked her belly, as if telling the unborn child, “Don’t worry; that’s the father you’ll grow up to know.”

***

When Moyo finally gave birth to her child, Oloye was away in Canada. At the maternity ward, Sidikat held the baby boy. “This is enough joy for you. Don’t be sad about Oloye’s absence. You’ve now given yourself a strong footing in his house.”

“I wonder if Taju might be—”

“He’s no issue at all. We’ve done well to let him go to Libya. I don’t see him coming back in the next ten years,” Sidikat whispered.

Five days after Moyo’s delivery, Oloye returned, and life continued as normal between them. He didn’t hesitate to cradle the child, Bosun, who shared Moyo’s face.

On two occasions, Oloye went to patronize the new governor, but he was given no audience. He’d had his time during Etomo’s tenure. Weren’t a five-star hotel and other chains of properties within and outside the city his gains?

The Civil Service Commission reviewed appointments and promotions in the Service and found that Moyo’s rise to the post of Deputy Director was not in accordance with standard practice; as a result, the Commission dropped her back to a Level 12. She knew this was payback from senior officers whose toes she had stepped on when her husband was a strong figure in the government, and she refused to accept the demotion and consequently left the Service. It was time to fulfill her long-time dream of setting up a supermarket.

Over the next months, everything went smoothly as she turned one of Oloye’s properties into the largest one-stop store in the city. It filled three separate floors, and it was in her office on the middle floor that Sidikat took one look at her and said, “You’re pregnant again.”

“Yes. Seven weeks,” Moyo said.

“Who’s the man?”

Must you know who he is? “Oloye.”

“Oloye?” Sidikat’s mouth turned up into a doubtful smile.

“You don’t believe me?”

“We both understand our lies.”

Her friend was not a woman she could easily fool, yet Moyo said offhandedly, “Miracles do happen.”

“That’s why we went to such great lengths to create the first one.”

“You don’t need to know him.” Moyo swiveled around on her chair. “I’ll handle that end.”

The young man who had impregnated her was a recent university graduate whose vanilla fragrance preceded him. He had come to the supermarket to buy some items. She wasn’t sure if it was their second or third time together in bed that resulted in the conception. She had paid him handsomely.

“You shouldn’t have done it behind my back,” Sidikat said with a flash of irritation.

“Why not? Don’t I deserve some measure of privacy?” Moyo’s voice, though low, was resentful.

“This pregnancy is too soon. Bosun is barely a year old.” Sidikat eyed the picture of the grinning boy in a silver frame.

“He’s already toddling. Isn’t he old enough to have a sibling?”

Sidikat quietly walked out of the room. If Moyo knew that her friend was walking out of her life, walking out to be a fiend, she would have called her back.

***

The death of General Abacha changed the political landscape of the country. In his maiden broadcast to the nation, the new military ruler highlighted his readiness to restore Nigeria to a democratic path. When he subsequently announced the timetable for the new transition programs, Moyo mobilized Oloye’s allies to convince him to run for the office of state governor. The attention enjoyed by a first lady, the massive entourage at her command, which she had witnessed in the company of Mrs. Etomo, was her motivation. She could also get back at those who had championed her demotion in the Civil Service.

Oloye’s decision to run didn’t please Yewande. Two weeks before his party’s primary, Moyo answered a phone-call from Yewande who accused Moyo of not caring about Oloye’s life.

“Stop pursuing a selfish interest at the expense of his life.”

Moyo sat comfy on the bed. “Do you care more about him than I do?”

“If you cared about his life, you would oppose his decision to go into politics,” Yewande snapped.

“He is my husband. A good woman must give her man her full support.”

“Are you a good woman? You’re not.”

“Jealous Mama, your opinion doesn’t matter.” Moyo let out a derisive laugh. “I’ll be the first lady, while you’ll rot in envy.”

“You’re a bitch,” Yewande said.

Moyo snarled, “You too are a bitch. Your daughters also are bitches.”

Oloye came into the bedroom. Moyo hung up and greeted him.

“Who was that?”

Avoiding his eyes, she muttered, “Your woman in Canada.”

“And you dared to call her a bitch?”

“She called me a bitch first.”

“So what?” Red-faced, he crossed to her side.

“She said that—”

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear you speak again.” His voice sounded like the whining of a lorry engine in need of a mechanic.

Moyo shrank back, crossing her hands over her protruded belly. He stared hard at her, the lines on his face creasing. His throat seemed to be working up insulting words, which he eventually swallowed, and then he left the room.

She may have loathed Yewande for opposing her bid to become the first lady, but wouldn’t it be better to pretend that she adored her if only to be in Oloye’s good favor? She would apologize and tell him that she would not dishonor Yewande again. But when she drifted off to sleep about eleven p.m., he had not returned.

About twelve-thirty a.m., a knock at the bedroom door broke into her sleep.

“Ma’am?” Taye called.

“What do you want?” she asked, still groggy.

“You have some visitors.”

What manner of visitors would come at this time? “From where?”

“They said they are policemen.”

What had happened? Shrugging into her robe, she lurched off downstairs.

“What is it?” she asked the two men.

“Ma’am, something bad has happened,” the shorter officer said.

“My husband is not at home.”

“We’re sorry. I’m afraid it’s your husband,” the second officer said. “He was killed last night while returning home.”

The news was a fist in her gut. The sandwich and tea she took two hours before turned in her inside. She ran back upstairs to her bathroom and vomited into the basin. She sank down onto the floor and held her throbbing head. Oloye’s first wife will soon be back. Certainly. What’ll be my fate? What’s in Oloye’s will for me? Oh Sidikat, where have you gone? I shouldn’t have fallen out with you. I will need you now.

The concluding part comes next week

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