By Charles Igwe:
On the night Ego was laid to rest, Ike again had that haunting nightmare that had tormented him every day since her demise. He could see her in the shadows. She was not in any other space, but in the same bedroom where he lay. He could feel her strong presence, he could see her and might even had touched her, had it not been for the invincible hands that clamped him tightly to the bed, making sure that he could not move.
Science explained this phenomenon as sleep paralysis. Ike was certain that this was not any kind of biological paralysis and that the hands grasping him were as real as the sweat that was trickling down his face. His armpits were now moist with sweat and like every other night, Ike felt this was his last.
His eyes were open and the face that stared back at him was not the pretty fair skinned face of the woman he had made a promise before God and the entire congregation at St. Charles’ Lwanga parish, Ikoyi, to spend the entirety of his life with.
She had not always been called Ego. Her name was Chizitere. The name Ego had been borne from passion. Ike could still remember that fateful Saturday morning during their courtship. He had just concluded a lucrative business deal with a British expatriate who he had sold a duplex to. For his generous services, as the expatriate had termed it, he was given a ten-thousand pounds tip. Ike returned home that evening with a broad grin spread on his face, to meet Ego already waiting for him. After she had served him the sumptuous meal she had prepared and after drinking a few glasses of vodka to celebrate his recent success, she led him to the inner chambers to consummate their passion. They made love passionately that night, Ego moaning loudly to Ike’s thrust. After they climaxed, their bodies heated with passion and Ego’s breasts resting on his chest, Ike stared at her beautiful face, radiating and basking under the bright rays of the fluorescent bulb in the room (Ego had always made two demands during their lovemaking; that the lights be left on and the she be on top). The latter had initially bothered Ike who had been raised into believing that a man should take charge during intercourse. This was coupled by the fact that most of his friends bragged about their conquests in the bedroom, like Alhaji Idris, a business associate, who always after getting high on some bottles of beer during their outings, usually expressed how he felt like a man when his sexual partners submitted to his demands during intercourse. However, Ike soon stopped worrying when he gave in to Ego’s demands and realized he enjoyed his experiences better with her on top of him.
That night, content in each others’ warmth, Ike remembered the crisp currency he had earlier handled that morning and breathed sensually into her ears “Ego m. Ego oyibo m”. It was an Igbo word commonly used by Igbo men to describe a luxurious, quality woman. That fond name stuck with her.
Ike was cut short from his reminiscences. The eyes staring at him were lifeless, looking like eye sockets that had been hastily and desperately plunged into a face by an inept clay maker. What troubled and worried Ike more however was that the face was mutilated – scared like one who had met death brutally. However, his Ego Oyibo had not suffered a gruesome death. She had not died in a car crash; her body quashed like a tomato paste just as the disturbing images he saw on the news and social media. She had not been raped to death nor dismembered by ritualists. No! Ego’s life had been forcefully snatched from her at childbirth. In that brief rite of initiation into motherhood, death had plucked her away from her. Her ghostly appearance still had the protruding stomach where Ike had often placed his head when they both gleefully argued the sex of the unborn baby.
Every other night would have seen Ike regain control of himself after a short while. This night, however, was not every other night. It would seem that the shadowy presence before him had a different motive. Without warning, Ike felt the tight fist that had earlier held him, reaching for his neck, clenching its mighty fist over his nose, suffocating every ounce of breath in him.
I am being murdered.
Ike shuddered at the thought. Ego would never harm him. She could never hurt him. No! She had come to take him with her. Unsatisfied with the brief temporality of their love on earth had lasted, she had come to claim his soul and tie it eternally in love with hers. Comforted by these thoughts, Ike relaxed. He did not struggle. He was ready to go with her. Not even the thought that he was the only surviving male child of his family; his brother having lost his life to terminal cancer three years ago, and that his mother would go berserk if anything happened to her last seed could deter him.
“Take me with you Ego.” Ike mumbled in a voice that he barely heard. “Take me.”
However, just as it had started suddenly, the tight fist released its grip on him. Slowly, he found out he was now able to move his body. Her ghostly figure receded and in a twinkle of an eye, Ike burst into tears.
He wept like a baby, his sobs forming into spasms. His wailings seemed odd and strange to him. Perhaps, it was because he had not cried since the day, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, when his then-girlfriend had broken up with him. She announced it through a letter which read:
“I HAVE FALLEN OUT OF LOVE WITH YOU. DO NOT TRY TO CONTACT ME”
Ike had wept so much that period. All attempts to console him proved abortive. The cure to his madness was gotten the day his father, drained of all patience at what he regarded as his son’s stupidity, stormed into Ike’s room one hot afternoon, swinging dangerously a sharpened cutlass. He grabbed Ike and tried to forcefully unzip his shorts, threatening to cut off his thing.
“It is better I castrate you and know that you are of no use to me, than to have you wailing like a woman in my house, because you were rejected by a foolish girl.” He gritted his teeth in anger. “Are you a woman? Do you not know that it is only women who weep?”
Two things happened after that incident. Ike still had his manhood intact and he never cried again. He had not even wept in the morning when Ego’s corpse was lowered to the ground, the officiating priest shouting “Dust we are and dust we shall return”, while barking at the undertakers to hastily fill the earth over the corpse, as he was hungry and late for lunch.
Until this night of course.
Slowly, Ike rose from his bed which now felt like a pool mixture of sweat and tears. He glanced at the clock which hung next to the framed picture of his wedding ceremony with Ego.
Ike sighed as he left the room to enter the bathroom. He had survived the night. He never had the nightmare again.
The heavy banging on the door jolted Ike out of the alternate reality he was immersed. He lowered his gaze from the book; John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, which he had been reading and peered frowningly at the door. He hesitated a bit, hoping the intruder would leave if s/he thought that nobody was at home.
“Is there no living soul in this house?” bellowed a tough female voice in Igbo that removed any hesitation left in Ike. He knew better than to delay his mother.
He hurried to the door, turned the door knob and pushed it jar wide to meet two unfriendly and tired faces staring at him. There was his mother, her eyes blazing red hot like fire. Standing next to her was a pretty face that looked vaguely familiar, but Ike could not place where or when exactly, he had seen it. Ike guessed that she was roughly between 20-23 years of age. Her beautiful face rested on a round neck that reminded Ike of the oranges he kicked as a child in the dusty pathway after school hours. He wondered the reason behind this sudden and unannounced visit.
“So I should carry a keg of palm wine to my son that suckled my breasts, before he opens the door to welcome me?” His mother, Nee Ike, as she was popularly called, cupped her breasts with her hand, to drive home her point.
Ike was not in any mood to argue, especially in the presence of the stranger. “Nne ndo. I was taking my bath.”
She ignored his apology and instead instructed the girl to bring her bags in. Ike was still determined to make peace with his mother. “What delicacy did you prepare for me?” He said, trying to inject some humour.
It worked as Nee Ike smiled for the first time that afternoon. “I brought your best, nsala and pounded yam”
She turned to the girl who was still standing, gazing at her feet. “Grace, carry these bags upstairs. You remember the room we shared the last time we were here?”
The girl nodded and gently lifted the bags on the floor and headed upstairs.
The room we shared the last time we were here.
Ike now remembered where he had seen the girl, Grace. She had come with his mother for Ego’s burial. His mother had introduced her as a distant cousin of his or something like that.
“You look thin my son”, Nee Ike said. Her eyes hovering suspiciously all over his body as she sat down on one of the comfortable sofas on the living room. “You have not tasted a woman’s food in a long while. No?”
“Mama you worry too much”. Ike said smiling, as though the smiles would make her worries vanish. “Have you forgotten what a good cook I am? Is it because you have never allowed me to cook for you due to your beliefs?” He tried mimicking his mother jokingly. “It is in a woman’s place to cook.” It was what she told his sisters anytime they returned for Christmas holidays and threatened to boycott cooking meals unless Ike helped them in the kitchen.
Nee Ike was not impressed. “Do not act funny with me.” There were traces of impatience in her voice. “You need a good woman to take proper care of you, to make you feel like a man again.”
Ike was unsure where this conversation was headed. “Mama, what exactly is the purpose of you visit?”
She burst into a hearty laughter. “So I cannot visit my son again, inukwa. Well, if you insist, I brought you a wife, a proper woman to put a new lease of life into you.”
Ike was shocked. It was barely five months since Ego’s death. “What exactly are you saying mama? I never told you or anybody that I wanted a new wife”. He could sense the pain in his voice.
“Stop that silly talk, Ike. What do you know? You are still a boy. That girl upstairs, her name is Grace. She is here to assume her role as your wife”
Ike sprang to his feet. “You better send her back to wherever you brought her from, mama. I am not yet ready to re-marry and even if I was, I believe I can choose my soul mate.”
Nee Ike was visibly irritated. “Sit down and do not be silly.” She scolded. “Grace is a proper woman, she will take care of you and give you sons. Not like the other woman…”
Ike could bear it no longer as he forcefully cut her short. “The other woman mama?” He could not believe his ears. Did his mother just refer to Ego as the other woman? “I loved her mama.” His eyes were getting moist.
“Of course, she is the other woman, Ike. What else do you call a dead woman. You need not mourn her for long, she never fulfilled her womanhood.”
Ike swore under his breath. “What in the heavens do you mean by that mama?” he thundered. He was angry now.
“She gave you no child. What achievement has a woman who cannot fulfil her womanhood through the sacred act of childbearing?”
Ike was taken aback. He could not understand the fact that these callous words were from his mother. “Stop it mama. Ego was pregnant before she died. No?”
His mother sprang up in impatience, “That was only possible because I intervened…” She knew she had said too much and sat down, exhausted.
“Mama, what are you talking about? What do you mean by had you not intervened?” Ike asked suspiciously.
“It’s nothing my son…”
“I decide what is nothing and what is something” Ike shouted. He was now on his feet, a big frown on his face. His head was pounding, but he did not mind. “What happened between you and Ego? You better start talking if you do not want to lose another son”
At these words, Nee Ike drew an imaginary circle with her right hand over her head. “God forbid! Nothing shall happen to you my son. Everything I did, I did for you, for our family line.” She had started sobbing now.
Ike followed his instincts. He was not moved by her tears. No! But he decided perhaps it was better to play cool with her to get her talk. He moved closer to her and placed a hand on her shoulders.
He tried as much as possible to sound cool “Mama, talk to me. Do not keep your only son in the dark.”
Nee Ike brought out a white handkerchief and blew her nose into it.
“After Ego had her first miscarriage while you were at obodo oyibo, she visited me in the village crying inconsolably.When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that the doctor….” The tears were choking her now.
Ike was getting agitated. He still had no clue where this confession was headed. “Told you gini, Mama, I deserve to know.”
“He told her that she had serious complications in her pregnancy. She had suffered terribly during her pregnancy, hypertension and high blood pressure, preeclampsia, the doctor called it.” Nee Ike seemed to have aged twenty years older now. Broad wrinkles were visible in her face now and she looked worn out. “The doctor advised her that for her safety she should avoid conceiving as her next pregnancy might prove fatal to her. I couldn’t believe it my son, he told her to renounce her womanhood.”
“Renounce her womanhood mama?” Ike could not believe his ears. “Why did nobody bother to tell me this?”
“The doctor was talking nonsense, Ike. How could he tell Ego to cease being a woman? What good is à woman who cannot bear children for her husband?”
“What did you tell Ego, mama?” There was something about Ike’s voice that frightened his mother. The voice she heard was chill as ice, almost melancholic.
“It was obvious that the doctor did not know his work. That was exactly what I told her. No woman would fold her hands and watch her husband’s lineage fold.”
“Even to the point of losing her life mama?” Ike was dumbfounded.
Desperate to exonerate herself from the blame, she threw herself on his feet. “Listen to me Ike, I am your mother. Everything decision I took it for you. Ego had to conceive, she had to try if she truly loved you. Nobody knew it was going to kill her.”
The truth hit him hard. Ego had been pushed by his mother into self-destruction. His mother’s selfish interest had denied him the love of his life. To her Ego was not a human being, she was merely The Other, an object of immanence. Ego’s life never mattered, his mother had only seen her as a tool for procreation. Her life had been snatched from her. His feet was shaking now, hot tears gushed from his eyes.
What was Ego’s crime?
Being a woman?
Something was forming in his throat. He could feel the invincible hands now. Again, it was clutching at his throat. He made no form of resistance. It was gnawing at his throat, choking all form of life from him. He shut his eyes. He could hear his mother screaming his name but he shut her voice out. He only wanted to be with Ego. In his eyes, he could picture her, that imposing figure that always come for him. Except now, her face wasn’t mutilated; it was Ego just as he had loved her.
Darkness was descending. He could hear sounds of feet stomping the staircase. Maybe it was Grace running like the Proverbial woman who wakes up at night and hurries to cater for household. It was fine; she could stay in the house and procreate sons for his mother.
His mother was still screaming. “They have finished my son. My enemies have gotten me!”
Take me with you, Ego.
Death is only an escape.
As Ike’s body crashed to the floor, he felt an inner peace as darkness crept in.