The bunk creaked when she came down from it, she was occupying the top bunk in the little room she shared with her cellmate. Of the two, she came first and had maintained the lower bunk but had relinquished if for the other woman who was a plus size. She hadn’t exactly given up her space out of generosity but for fear of being crushed while asleep under all that weight, if the bed decided to give way.
Her slippers had been kicked to the side of the room far away from where she kept them and so she had to walk barefooted to its new location to retrieve it. She took to walking on her toes to avoid as much dirt as possible, the floor was clammy and cold, as disgusting as she expected. She hated touching the ground without her slippers.
She quickly followed the officer who had just informed her that she had a visitor making guesses in her head of who it could be. Akunna had come yesterday so it couldn’t be her again. Maybe it was Obike, well she was hoping he would come, he hadn’t come to see her since her castration, only Hanselem had come and he had even come only twice though she heard from Akunna that they were taking proper care of Chizaram, sending money and visiting her often, and sometimes taking her out to play and eat. She smiled, Chizaram never got tired of gisting her about what uncle Obike did or what uncle Hanselem said or gave her, and even though she never got their names right she told her story anyway.
She almost jumped her out of her skin when she saw who it was, Chuka. Her travel partner and friend. So many questions flooded her mind, like how on earth did he find her? She wished the ground would open and swallow her. She had thought of him a couple of times since last year when they first met but she had also reminded herself that it was an impossible thought besides she did not have any plans to relocate to South Africa, not with the xenophobic attacks plaguing that country, besides only God knew what he did for a living in South Africa. She had heard a lot of guys living abroad who made money by swindling rich folks. She quickly rebuked herself, what different was she from those on the Internet who called her names without knowing who she was or what she had gone through.
He was standing with his arms open for an embrace “Oh come on! Are you just going to stand there wondering if it is real or not?” he said in the good natured manner she remembered and with which she always pictured him in her mind.
“Oh my God!” she closed the distance between them in three long strides, allowing him to envelop her in his warm embrace. She snuggled into him not sure of how long it would last before she woke from this dream.
“God! It’s been a while and I have searched the earth for you”
She angled her head until her eyes came on the same level as his chin that was as far as she could go. She couldn’t bring herself to look into her eyes for fear of what she would see in them.
She balanced herself on her feet signaling to him it was time to release her from his embrace.
“How did you find me?” her hands found the pocket of her prison suit before taking the seat he had pulled for her. He took the chair opposite her, his eyes doing a sweep of her body, she looked stressed and there were dark circles around her eyes and her eyes seemed distanced. Could he blame her? She was in a prison, not on holiday.
“Are you kidding me? I watch the news, movies. I ask questions.”
She smiled struggling to keep all the flooding emotions at bay. It was one thing for her to daydream about what could be and it was another for it to become a reality.
“Sorry I don’t have anything to offer you”
He laughed, obviously as tensed as she was.
“How have you been?”
“So so” was all she could manage. What the hell is wrong with you girl? The man is just here on a courtesy visit, nothing more!
“I am fine, we thank God. I mean I could be better but then…” she left the statement hanging, her eyes surveyed her environment and as expected there were people watching her.
Mentally she gave herself a knock, why hadn’t she been careful, some of these people would misinterpret their relationship and give it a very colourful definition. Geez! When will she become consciously aware that she was now in the public eye and everything she did was given an interpretation!
“How have you been?” she made a mental note to ask about his mother and sister.
“Never better. My mother’s passing took a toll on me but I am better now”
“Oh dear, I am so sorry. I didn’t know she passed”
“It’s alright. So how have you been coping? I can’t imagine the pain you bear, the death of your husband then being accused of killing him”
Ezinne was taken aback, this was the first time someone was considering her to be in pain over losing Chukwuma. His death wasn’t exactly the type she could use phrases like ‘gone too soon’ or ‘a gem is departed’ yet he was the father of her daughter and had been a part of her life for so long that now it suddenly seemed different. Like a part of the world had ended. Even when she left him, somewhere in her heart she had known he was somewhere and probably even entertained some hope that he would come back to his senses and treat her the way he had treated her before his mother’s death. Maybe even better, now all of that had vanished into thing air.
Unlike Akunna she wanted to be a married woman with a career, she definitely didn’t want the kind of life that Akunna was living. A woman searching for love in the wrong places.
“Sincerely it’s been tough. The fact that I don’t know what the future holds is driving me crazy” she lowered her eyes to the table, fighting the tears that were already in her voice.
“You are a strong woman. Don’t give room to the fear. You know when my wife died leaving our new born baby behind, I wanted to run away.”
Ezinne’s head flew up, there were a lot of things she didn’t know about this man and in the depth of her heart she longed to get to know him, to be part of his life. This was all false hope, she reminded herself. Why on earth did she think he would leave all the one thousand and one women out there to be with a woman accused of murder and in detention? humph!, she really had to be getting crazy.
“I even thought of giving her up for adoption because I didn’t know how I was going to cope” he was still saying “My mother was not strong enough to help and my sister had her own life. It was as if my world would cave in. To make matters worse, my business was struggling.”
She struggled to keep up with what he was saying, her mind which was fluttering around was making concentration more difficult.
“My daughter is 8 now and can take care of herself” he laughed and she smiled in response, not sure why he was laughing “well at least to some extent” he rolled his eyes, his mind was obliviously considering how much of care his daughter could render to herself.
“Where is your daughter now?” she was curious to know how he could have raised her.
“She is here in Nigeria, I left her with my sister in the East. I am in Lagos for a few days”
She let herself toy with the thought that he came to Lagos because he wanted to see her before dropping it in the garbage. He had to have other engagements that brought him to Lagos, at least she could live with the fact he considered her worthy enough to be included in the schedule.
“Please don’t hesitate to call me whenever.”