Musk… he smelt like musk … and cigarettes. It was a damp old smell that had a way of lingering at the back of the throat whenever he walked into a room in our already damp house. The years had made it so familiar to me now… it was practically home. The atmosphere would clench up and go into in a gloom, stiffening from the imposing smell as he made his way through. His fingers always smelt like burnt wood, the white of his eyes… dimming, fading into the distance, like the man he once was and may never be again.
I could hear the car door slam. He was home, later than usual… drunk. He wasn’t much of a drinker. Normally, a couple of Red bulls or a few shots of tequila did him just fine but tonight… tonight was different. I could smell it as he staggered into the house, his eyes blood shot, reeking of tobacco and alcohol. It was in his every thump around the house, his chest heaving… his breathing heavy, his form… shrouded with an unexplainable anger and rage. “ODIRI!!!!!” he roared. “Odiri… Where the fuck are you?” The noises of slammed doors and shattered glasses held me in a frozen state, huddled in a corner of our bedroom like a frightened little girl startled back to reality by a nightmare.
With his every movement, the house came to life. It was frightening, like a scene from an old black and white horror movie. The old wooden floors creaked underneath his feet; cracked window panes muttered in resistance to the heavy outside winds; the dangling chandeliers clinked, threatening to fall as the walls vibrated from the doors that violently slammed up against them. The house told me where he was at all times. Quietly I sat like a helpless prey awaiting the hunter. The stairs creaked loudly underneath his every step as he drew closer, his breathing… a little heavier, grunting and cursing underneath his breath. My heart pounding so loud and so fast I feared that he would hear it … and find me.
“Odiri…” his voice was a bit calmer but no less angry. “Come on baby, it’s me… come on out, you know I’d never do anything to harm you… right?” The creaking stopped. Then there was silence, and then the door knob turned… slowly. He pushed lightly but the door held firm, keys in the lock turned for my safety. “Baby… I know you’re in there. Come on sweetie, open up. I just … I just wanna talk”.
His chest heaved… his breathing still heavy, refusing to be tempered by a flaky shallow smile. The knob turned again, this time a little bit harder… then harder and more frequently until he was banging on the door, screaming and cursing. “Open the fucking the door you bitch!!” he spat.
Obumneke was a strapping figure of a man. He stood 6ft 4inches tall, with skin so bright it looked like the inside of a freshly plucked papaya spread over a broad, finely carved chest and strong manly arms. His hair… dark, curled ever so tightly and proudly, sparkling under the warm touch of the sun’s rays. Whenever Obum smiled, it was like the perfect horizon. His lips were a temptress pair of pink, luscious lines gracefully concealing a bold set of ivory white teeth, darkening over the years from smoking. His eyes were like crystal, hazel in colour. There was a piercing softness about them enslaving anyone that dared to look in … holding them prisoner, slaves to his every will… slaves like me.
Obum owned me; spirit, soul and body. There was a grace and style about him that endeared him to me. He wasn’t a fast talker, he talked slowly and confidently making sure he was heard at all times. He would speak like a toddler counting his words…or maybe he spoke that way because he just loved the sound of his own voice and why wouldn’t he? It was as dark as the night sky and yet as rich and compelling as the stars that filled them. He had the kind of voice that words got lost in and when he laughed, it was like gentle thunder. He swayed. Each time he walked, he swayed like a cruise ship rocking to silent melodies of a calm sea, never in a hurry. Yes, Obum was to be mine to have for all time. The kind of man that walked into a room and everything immediately went into slow motion because God created him not to be ignored.
Night time used to be my favourite time of the day. It was the only time we didn’t have to pretend. I’d lay beside him, twirling the little fine hairs that grew so timidly across his chest with my index finger, tracing and drawing meaningless shapes from his neck down to his navel and just listening to him breathe. There I would lay, soaking up the light residue of tobacco that lingered from the heavy puffs that once carelessly billowed from his mouth and nostrils hours before. I would lay there just hating and yet loving the smell which time had made so familiar, one that had once been to me… home but not this night. There was something in the air tonight… something that made it almost impossible to breathe, something that made it so hard to remember. Why couldn’t I remember? Like a rusty old alarm clock, memories of great times struggled to ring through me, battling to awaken the deep feelings that I used to have for him… but time had only made its rings the more harder to hear and the more distorted. It’s funny, with Obum I never once believed there would ever be a ‘used to’ but here I was, huddled in a corner of this damp, dark room, waiting… hoping… praying he wouldn’t find me while being stuck somewhere in between a tear and a smile.
My name is Odiri, Odiri Okoroafor. From the names you can tell that my heritage lies in two of Nigeria’s many proud tribes, The Urhobos and the Ibos. I am my mother’s first daughter. My mother however is not the first wife of my father. She was just 17years old when my father, who is a man from Abia state, came for her. My grandfather, who was a local shoemaker in the village of Igun in Delta State, was not a rich man… he wasn’t even a middle class man. He could barely support his family and provide for their basic needs let alone send any of them to school. My mother, the oldest of his 6 children was praised for her beauty and natural intelligence. His faith in her, forced him to seek help from his kinsmen in the pursuit of her education.
Contrary to what Nollywood would have us believe in their home videos, our kinsmen were not witches or wizards or local scam artistes or voodoo priests. They were simple men, men of honour, great wisdom, compassion and integrity. They rallied round and chipped in because it was a thing of pride and joy to have someone educated in ones family. Who knows, maybe they did it to increase her value as and when the time came for her to be given away in marriage to another; for our kinsmen may not have been literate but they were businessmen to the core. Whatever their reasons were, my mother and her father were grateful for the opportunity and support. That is how she was able to get her School Leaving Certificate.
To Be Continued.
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Eva is a contemporary soul singer with multiple hits under her belt. You can follow her on twitter on @I_AM_EVAEZI