All Good Things Come to an End
By Obinna Udenwe
That night that Dylann Roof shot some worshippers in a church at Charleston, Efe Osemeghe told his wife that she had three months to become pregnant or else he would take a second wife. It was a cold night.
After he’d made this unscrupulous announcement, he tuned in to CNN and learnt of what had just happened in the US—he sighed and sighed again. His wife, her head pounding like a brick-making machine, looked fixedly at the television wondering what had elicited the sighs. She picked up her iPad to read him a story, eager to please him, perhaps to ward off from his mind thoughts of taking a second wife. For a year and counting she had been reading him a story before he dropped off to sleep. It had all started one night when a friend sent her a short story by one Donald Barthelme, about a man who bought himself a little city and was like God.
So the night he talked about a second wife, she read him Haruki Murakami’s Scheherazade. He found it interesting. When the story ended, he took the iPad from her, placed it on the bedside stool and wrapped her in his arms; perhaps the affection between the characters in the story had affected him. She thought it possible that if they made love that night, she might conceive, and she cried—the kind of weeping that one does without producing any sound, yet tears stream down from the eyes.
Barely four months later, she told him she was with child. She’d worried every day that he was going to return one evening with a woman. It was a fear so strong that it had arrested her whole being, shut down her brain, and made her too weak to even talk to people in her office or gossip with her friends who visited often—she couldn’t afford to tell them about her husband’s decision to find a new wife—she had feared that if she divulged that, most of her friends who were not with men might begin to make some moves to catch her husband’s eye.
The night he told her that they would try for the last time, he had just returned from visiting his father—a nagging, stubborn old man who still thought he should control his son. Whenever his father visited them, he would initiate conversation with her, steering the discussion around to the issue of children,
“Chinwe, tell me,” he would say, “Are you people not planning on giving me a grandchild, eh?”
The woman’s countenance would change instantly. “We are trying, papa—”
“Trying? I don’t understand . . . he has a penis dangling in between his legs, or doesn’t he?”
She would look away, shyly. “He does.”
“And you have a womb . . . or tell me, did you subject yourself to pills or abortions when you were not yet with my son?”
She would look down and say, “No, papa. How can you say that?” Then the old man would extract from his trouser pocket a container of tobacco snuff, tip some of the contents into his cupped palm, and using his right forefinger would scoop large quantities into this nostril, sneeze, and into the other nostril, sneeze, talking endlessly about how the world was a wreck and nothing was what it used to be.
So her becoming pregnant was a big deal, for not only was she scared of the second-wife threats, she was sure that her husband’s father was planning on bringing this second wife himself. Tales were rife of women who lost their places in their husbands’ homes because they failed to have a child suckling their breasts—in fact, there was this story one of her friends told her of a young lady who came for a vacation to her sister’s house, got pregnant by her sister’s husband, and drove the sister away.
“Men are scarce these days, Chinwe,” her friends would say and shake their heads.
“Count yourself lucky that you have a husband. The worst thing that could happen to a woman is not to have a man’s name attached to hers,” one of her friends, still single, would inform them with a melancholic voice. Another would say, “Married ones like us ought to hold our husbands with chains, oh. One wonders at the speed women are increasingly losing their husbands to young girls . . . small—small girls of yesterday.”
So every time her friends visited and they had such conversations, she would not be at ease.
The night she told her husband that she was pregnant, he didn’t jump up and hit his head on the ceiling. He didn’t hug and kiss her a hundred times and drag her around the room holding her hand like Kanye West holding Kim Kardashian’s hand possessively as if she were a child, he just removed his glasses, set them on the table and said, “Who told you?”
She laughed gaily. “Here, look.’ She dipped two fingers into her brassiere and brought out a folded white paper.
Hurriedly, he took back his glasses and scanned the paper. His face lit up. “How did this happen? Oh my God! Papa will be proud!”
She knew that the first thing he was going to say when he called his father was, “Chinwe is pregnant.” She wondered what his father’s reaction would be. Then she wondered finally why she should concern herself worrying about how he felt or what his father thought; what mattered was that she was not going to lose her home and her husband, that she would have a child to suckle her breasts. She would look his father in the eyes and talk to him however she deemed fit, for finally she was going to stand in her husband’s home on her own two feet—now her investment was secure.
Efe Osemeghe now returned home from work every day without going to the men’s club. He helped wash his wife’s swollen feet with warm salty water. He massaged her abdomen, her back, her shoulders, her neck, everywhere. He refused making love to her, afraid that she would miscarry, until she had her doctor ring him up. But what she didn’t tell him was that her ob/gyn had recommended another scan after the last one she went for—a Nuchal Translucency test he’d called it—to evaluate her risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome or Trisomy 18—a chromosomal abnormality, as he was suspicious about an increased thickness at the back of the baby’s neck. The woman had panicked at hearing of these possible defects and scans, and never visited the doctor again; rather, she committed everything about her unborn child to the hands of God every time she prayed, trusting that the God who helped her conceive would give her a healthy, bouncing baby.
The man took her shopping almost every week, each time buying things they purchased the previous week: baby lotions, cloths, diapers, combs in packs, sets of underwear, caps of various designs including one with the Confederate flag on it, which she sorted out and kept in a different chest because she had seen on TV the withdrawal of this flag in the US, after the Charleston shooting.
The man began to take lessons from her on how to prepare special traditional cuisines prescribed for nursing mothers—she taught him how to pound uda and how to wash bitter-leaf until it lost almost all its bitter taste. She taught him how to use a mortar and pestle to pound yams for fufu. The first soup he prepared himself was a disaster—but her friends oohed and aaahed in delight when she told them. His own friends said he was being stupid, “What man cooks for a woman, eh?” they asked him, laughing. “Here is not America or England or Switzerland . . . this is Nigeria, man! No fall our hands!”
But it is said that the gods send misfortune to mortals at the time they are most happy. So one day, Efe Osemeghe got a call from the doctor. “You have to hurry to the hospital. Your wife has just had the baby.” The news took his breath away.
“Ah! When did she deliver?”
“About twenty minutes back.”
“I . . . I had no idea that she was going to the hospital. Is she alright?”
The doctor hesitated. The smile on the man’s face vanished.
“Yes, she is alright. Please, come.”
“What about the baby?”
“Your wife is fine. Please come.” The doctor rang off.
The hospital gate was packed with people. Men dressed in police uniform put up a strong barricade. The noise was intense; he could see more people trooping in, blocking the gate. It would be easier for a man to sprout wings than to gain access to the hospital. The man wondered why there was a large crowd—he wondered if there had been an accident. There were rumours—a woman had just been delivered of a goat. Another said she was delivered of a demon. Some said that the woman had delivered a faceless creature that they were sure was Satan himself.
The doctor, a dapper old man, came to the gate and with the help of security ushered the man, soaked in sweat, into the hospital. As soon as they entered the hospital and the door jammed shut, he turned to the man, and said, “Mr. Efe, I will take you to your wife in a jiffy, but before then I need to tell you something. Can we go to my office?”
“I heard stories at the gate. They say that a woman gave birth to some creature. Is that true?”
The doctor hesitated, “Please come with me. . . .”
The baby . . . the creature was alive. It had a head or something that could be called a head. The two sides of the head were flat, like a slate. Believe it or not, a mouth was attached to the neck. The mouth could open, and one who cared to look would discover that it had no tongue. One wouldn’t recognise a chest, but there was a stomach covering the entire torso—a stomach so bulged out that one wondered what was inside. The private parts had a penis, long enough to scare a virgin. And there was a vagina too, beside the penis, and so on.
Chinwe had been in tears since she saw what she gave birth to. She would scream, then keep calm, howl, then cry and become silent, all in one minute. She was in a private ward with the doctor, two senior medical consultants, a senior nurse, a police chief, and Efe. The creature was kept in a box at the extreme end of the room. No one dared look in that direction—thanks be to God, it made no sound nor cried. But if they looked, they found that the mouth opened and closed like a Croaker fish gulping water.
They deliberated on what to do to the creature. Chinwe and her husband insisted that it be killed. One of them asked that it be left to die. He was sure that if it was not fed, it would starve. Each time a mention was made of feeding, Chinwe’s hands moved unconsciously to her breasts, protectively; no Jupiter would force her to suckle that which lay in the box.
Efe Osemeghe said that if the creature was not killed, he would not take it, for he knew nothing of it. When he said that, the doctor gave him a weird look, and said, “Mr. Efe, it is supposed to be your . . . offspring—”
“No, sir. I cannot birth that!” He looked at his wife with shame and perhaps anger. Tears escaped Chinwe’s eyes.
“You are aware of course, that I asked your wife to come for some tests and ultrasound scans around her 12 – 13th week of pregnancy and . . . I never saw her again—”
“Yes. I did notice some growth on the foetus’ neck after one of the earlier scans we carried out on her. I seriously asked that she return for a Nuchal Translucency test. I never saw her again.”
The man gawked at his wife, who avoided his eyes. “She never mentioned this to me! Chinwe!” He began to scream, insisting that the creature be killed.
“You have to sign some documents or write something,” the police officer said. Efe agreed. They argued some more and it was sealed. The consultant would inject some necessary drugs. And no one was to say a thing about it.
Finally, all the dust settled. The creature was killed and put in a box that Chinwe’s husband cast away in a dumpsite by the highway. There were speculations on what could have led to the formation of such a creature. But the problem did not lie in the shame that Chinwe and her husband would have to carry for so long, it did not rest on the fact that her friends had all deserted her, but rather that her housekeeper ran away because she claimed that the evening the creature was born, she saw, seated in their sitting room, a baby bleeding from the mouth. The nightmare had begun.
Every night, starting at 7:16pm, the exact time that the box was dropped at the dumpsite, some cries were heard in the apartment. Chinwe would be in the kitchen, cutting vegetables or peeling oranges or attending to a pot of banga soup, and she would hear the cries, piercing, so fiendish that she would scream. Her husband would be in the shower, soaping himself, but would fall, not once, not twice, for a baby walked into the tub, blood flowing down from its mouth—yet whenever he checked the bathroom later, after he had run out, there was no blood anywhere. They would be eating in the dining room and someone would be singing some strange lullabies in the kitchen or on the porch, or the sound of things falling would be heard from their room. Whenever they summoned the courage to retire for the night, they would find their bed unmade, smelling of baby powder and pomade—they knew, then, that it was no longer the dance steps one did with tobacco snuff in a cupped palm.*
The couple would go to their room, holding hands. They would climb into their bed, turn on the television and sleep with the volume turned high. Yet in their nightmares they saw demons inexplicable, haunting them.
At first, the couple tried running away from their home, they rented a hotel suite, yet the creature visited at exactly 7:16pm. They tried their friends’ apartments and it was the same story.
The shopping stopped. Efe Osemeghe stopped cooking—what was the point when the reason for his learning how to cook had turned around to haunt them?—In fact, he stopped eating his wife’s meals, kept to himself, and had he not been scared of sleeping alone, he would have moved to a separate room. It was around this time that the second-wife talks began to creep into their conversations—again.
Efe Osemeghe said he was going to find himself a second wife who would give him a child, a real human, not some demonic creature. He talked endlessly about this, and Chinwe would escape into the bathroom and cry her eyes out. She wondered if it was really her fault that she bore what she bore, “You put it inside me. I have never slept with another since I knew you—”
“Lies!” he would argue. “Who knows what you did? Who knows the native doctor or diabolic spirit you visited in search of children . . . you became pregnant barely three months after I threatened to find another wife. What happened? What did you do? Who did you visit?”
Chinwe’s lips would become sealed. Sometimes Chinwe would lash back at him, “I am sure your family has some explanations to make—”
“Fuck you!” he would scream. “Damn you for bringing my family into this!” He would stamp out, but hurry back when seized by fear of the evil that haunted his house.
The next time his father visited, he said to Efe, “You are not growing younger. You must find yourself a second wife.”
And the second wife was found. Chinwe left with her belongings and filed for divorce. Chinwe’s friends said she was being unnecessarily stubborn. Was she the only woman to have a co-wife? Was she the first woman whose husband brought in a second wife? But they would never understand the feeling—to share her husband whom she’d loved for years, whom she had sacrificed a lot for, with another woman, was something she couldn’t comprehend. She could understand an unfaithful man, as long as she never caught him with a woman. But she would never understand a man bringing another woman into his home, to share his wife’s kitchen, her dining room, her space.
Efe Osemeghe believed that Chinwe had no justification whatsoever for leaving their home; after all, he had every right to marry another wife, he thought—it was customary—the women could share the same house and share him. Was he not the man?
The second wife, Kufre, would not lift a finger to touch anything—within the first week that she moved in, Efe got a new housekeeper to do the chores; he employed a cook, and got her a driver. When they returned from work, she would lie on the sofa, watching one soap opera after another, while the cook served their meals, and the demon was still there. Kufre was scared. Then two months after Kufre moved in, she announced to Efe that she was with child, and the demon vanished. Efe Osemeghe called his father, “Papa, you were right all along. Chinwe has been the problem all this while. For a week now, we haven’t heard any sound in this house . . . everything is fine now. And there is good news, Kufre is pregnant.” But he dreaded returning home, not because there were any fiendish cries from some devilish creature from God-knows-where, but because of his wife’s scowls and constant nags. Even the matter of sex was a tedious task, for as soon as she returned from work, she’d eat her food, watch her soaps and drop off to sleep, rebuking every attempt at touching. Efe could no longer remember the last time he shared his thoughts with his wife. There was no one to read him stories and no one to hold him tight in his thick duvet.
Kufre’s baby was a dark complexioned baby girl with chiselled nose and dimples. Efe carried her about the house. He bought things in excess for the child. Every evening, the man hurried home to sing the baby lullabies. If the child was awake, kicking her legs up, this way and that, Efe would lift her from her crib, kiss her on both cheeks and toss her up several times, catching her in mid-air while the baby giggled. His wife noticed how her husband doted on her child, so she looked forward, every evening, to seeing him stand guard beside the baby’s crib, playing with her. She would stand by the door and watch, almost in tears. But one evening, the man got a call from his wife, “Hurry!” she barked on the phone, “I don’t know what is wrong with baby! She is in her crib but she is not breathing.” That evening, all was lost.
Three years had gone by since the man became haunted by cries, not of one baby but two. Sometimes he was sure that he could hear the sobbing of some grown women. He dressed in shirts stained with grease and oil. He smoked like a chimney and drank like a Roman praetorian, while sprawled on the tiled floor of his sitting room, bottles of Jack Daniels and Hennessy, and later on, cheaper street-brewed gins keeping him company—his ears and eyes deaf and blind to all the sounds and sights that molested him.
His father was dead and buried, he couldn’t remember if he was at the funeral. He couldn’t recall when he lost his job, when he lost the cook, the housekeeper, everything. Flies buzzed about him, some fighting for space on his saliva-coated lips and his mucus-filled nostrils.
Then one early evening. The door opened. A woman, fair in complexion and dressed in a long skirt and flowered blouse, walked in carrying nothing. Quickly, she covered her nostrils. He could not see her face, but he knew who she was, her body scent discernible to him out of the stench of vomit and urine in the room.
The woman hurried to him, lifted him up. “There . . . there . . . take it easy,” she said. She unbuttoned his shirt, removing the heavily stained cloth. She knew the house well. She sidestepped the used and half-used bottles of various cheap drinks. She went to the bathroom to turn on the water heater. It took little effort to lift his frail body and drag him to the bath. When he had been soaped and dried and put to bed, she thought of preparing pounded yams and banga soup, but that would take much time and energy and . . . love. So she prepared and fed him yam porridge instead.
That evening, as the rain splattered water on the roof tiles, she covered him with a warm duvet, and read him ‘I Bought a Little City’ by Donald Barthelme, while Nelly Furtado sang All Good Things Come to an End quietly on the stereo.
“Please stay,” the man begged. “Please.”
“I will leave tonight,” she replied.
“I have a lover waiting at home.”
*an Igbo adage meaning that a situation is increasingly getting out of control. Literally, it refers to elders who sniff tobacco powder and who can even dance with it in their palms; but if the dance becomes too intense, they risk dropping the snuff—and these elders value their tobacco more than anything else.
Obinna Udenwe is the award-winning author of the conspiracy thriller Satans & Shaitans and the controversial church-erotica Holy Sex. His short stories have appeared in the Munyori Literary Journal, Expound Magazine, Africa Roar, Fiction 365 and Brittle Paper. In 2016, he won the inaugural edition of The Short Story is Dead Prize in South Africa. He is currently a contributing editor for The Afro Vibe Magazine.