The starless night was a curse and a blessing as they walked to the car, one half of the pair a tottering, stuttering mess swaddled in expensive baby lace and powder blue aso-oke. They made ground slowly, one of her arms draped around his shoulder and the other on her belly as he half-carried away from the now indistinct blaring of speakers announcing the tail end of a Lagos Owambe.
Her fingers clenched around his shoulder blade and he stopped, giving her a second to gauge the shudder that seized her up. She paused, hand on her belly, waiting for the feeling of unease to pass or manifest itself in the voiding of her belly. The sensation threatened something sinister, and disappeared when she swallowed hard and turned to him.
“It has passed.” She managed weakly, the alcohol on her breath stinging his nostrils.
He nodded in the darkness and tightened his grip around her waist. With glacial patience he took her to their car, opened the passenger door and carefully situated her in the seat. But he wasn’t careful enough, not this night, because her eyes widened and she lurched, half of her pouring out of the car. The ugly but familiar sound of retching came from deep within her and her lips parted to spew viscous yellow vomit onto the roadside, splattering over his raw leather sandals and squishing between his toes.
He side-stepped the growing puddle beginning to run down the slope towards the gutter and bent to stroke her neck as she dry heaved, her belly voided of all the chicken pieces and star bottles she’d engorged herself on. It sounded like a wounded creature dying in the silence of the street and a part of him momentarily worried that touts would hear her and assume they could take advantage.
“Water.” She mumbled her voice hoarse.
“There’s none here and I can’t leave you here and go back to the party. When we get home …”
She shook her head and let him pour her back into her seat and strap her in. He rounded over to the driver’s seat and gunned the engine, putting the car in motion and accelerating into the dark street. The music from the Owambe dimmed into silence behind them as he drove away, weaving through the dark streets into the welcome orange light of Second Mainland bridge. Settling into a rhythm, he stole a glance at her through the rear-view mirror. Her makeup had smudged and her gele had fallen off, exposing her beautiful hair, sticking out in a fan of dishevelled felt spikes. Her head fell forward and bobbed, the rest of her held in place by the seat belt as a string of drool dripped onto the front of her blouse.
He shook his head and freed a hand off the steering wheel to gently push her head against the passenger door mirror where it settled and promptly began to snore. He concentrated on the road, watching the orange lights rise and wane like miniature suns, unable to illuminate the ocean beyond. A little like me, he thought to himself, only able to light the parts of her directly in front of me, but helpless against her vast dark past.
He turned off the bridge into Ikoyi, driving past the far more sophisticated soirees he was used to, hoping no one would notice his wife splayed in the passenger seat. Their gateman was already waiting, gate held open as he drove in, the man leaving his post at the gate to wait by the passenger door. He got out of the car and gave an embarrassed smile as he told the gateman to go to bed.
“Oga, you sure?” The gateman asked. “No forget say the last time wey she come dey shout, wan run enter road like pesin wey dey crase…”
“I dey sure. Thank you.” He cut the gateman off, more firmly this time.
The man backed away, sensing the warning in his voice. He opened the passenger door and shook her awake, gripping her shoulders firmly as he helped her out of the car and into the house. She turned briskly and tapped his chest, sleep driven from her eyes by panic. Realising what was about to happen, he hustled her out of their white carpeted living room to the guest bathroom and she fell to the floor in an undignified heap and hugged the toilet bowl, her spine arching like a frightened cat’s as she retched. He knelt beside her and held her hair back from her face as she sagged onto the bowl, periodically arching when another round of dry heaving began. She made to stand but her legs were jelly.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
She tried to tell him in what she must have hoped was a reassuring voice but the words came out mangled. He looked down at his ruined pants and leather sandals still squishy with drying vomit and decided to take them off.
“I’ll be right back.” He said to her and left the bathroom.
When he returned five minutes later the retching had stopped, in its place was light snoring. With a relieved sigh, he gathered her up, took her to the guest bedroom and laying her on the bare mattress, stopping only to unclip her gold earrings and her other expensive baubles, piling them on the bedside table.
“Good night, love.” He said and kissed her on the cheek, already used to the stale smell of alcohol laced, semi digested food.
She sat up in bed, hissing as she shrank away from the beams of the sunlight that hit the bed at an angle. The light had sparked a splitting headache in her temples. Their bedroom blinds were usually shut; she hated being woken by sunlight. She held her head in her arms, taking in the surroundings through a solitary squinting eye, wondering why she felt a sense of disappointment at being awake. The unmade mattress lay accusingly underneath her and though she couldn’t remember anything about the previous night, she realised instantly that he must have brought her home drunk out of her mind. She dragged herself to the edge of the bed and fished her wristwatch from the small pile of worked gold that sat there. It was just a little past seven, much earlier than she usually woke. She forced herself out of the bed and shed her clothes onto the floor. Even naked, she could smell herself. She shut her eyes and tried to remember the previous night.
She remembered where they had gone, a party in Surulere that she had practically begged a friend of a friend to get her invited to. She didn’t go to Ikoyi parties anymore, the invites stopped coming and the few that did, came only for him. She’d overdressed and he had mentioned it a few times, but she’d been so excited to be finally going to a party that she didn’t care. There was drinking and a grill and after, darkness.
She waited by their door in nothing but the towel from the guest bathroom, listening to him moving around, preparing for work, dreading having to face him. She breathed deeply and pushed open the door. He was seated on the bed, pulling on his construction boots. He raised his head to her and she held his eyes, only because she thought it was the honourable thing to do, take whatever he hurled at her with dignity. His shoulders bunched with emotions that begged release, and then they sagged in defeat.
He rose to his feet and kissed her cheek. “Did you sleep well?”
“I have a headache, other than that pretty well.”
She walked to their vanity table to pour her jewellery back in their box. There was a glass of water on the table, two advils beside it. He pretended to check for something in the drawers as she shamefaced, downed the advils and pulled on some underwear. She walked to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“About last night…” she started hesitantly.
“Baby, its fine. It happened and it’s over. New day.” He smiled. There so much resignation in the gesture that it was only barely a smile. He grabbed his jacket and was out the door before she could utter another word. She watched him leave through the front windows, burning with guilt. There’s nothing I can do about that now, she thought to herself as the coffee maker whistled in the kitchen. She poured herself a mug and drank it hot, the scalding liquid dispelling the fumes in her head long enough for her to plan an itinerary. She finished a second mug as she called Morenike her business partner to plead yet another sick day.
“I’ll make it up to you, I swear. I stepped outside the door this morning and it felt like I was going to die.”
Morenike stayed silent on the other end, no longer humouring her bald-faced lies, replying only in yes’s and no’s and murmuring something about being only an employee at the end of the day before abruptly ending the call. A third cup downed as she changed clothes and stared at the television box, looking at the pictures but too tired to bother with processing them. She’d only put it on because the sound of her feet slapping against the tiles in the empty house made her uneasy. On impulse, she topped the fourth mug with a helping of Bombay Sapphire gin, gargling it like mouthwash before she pulled on her pink sanitary gloves and entered the guest bathroom.
Dropping to her knees, she attacked the yellowed tiles with a brush and a bucket of soapy water, the rote of the scrub giving her something tangible to invest her flighty mind to. A part of her felt vindicated that the dried bile nauseated her, that she was swollen with suppressed gagging as she put her back into each scrub of the crusty toilet bowl. She congratulated herself with a fifth mug, this one a half and half mix of coffee and gin.
Her overly bright eyes told him all he needed to know when he was surprised by her at the door, dressed in slacks and hair neatly pulled back. Her breath didn’t smell of alcohol as he hugged her but of course they both knew she’d gotten quite adept at hiding it. Her twins piled in behind him squealing with delight as she swooped down and pressed them to herself, beaming. They endured her embrace for as long as ten-year olds were wont to do before they began to struggle to be let down. She gave them an extra squeeze before setting them free and they fled straight to their bedroom and television.
“You stayed home.”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “I needed time to think.”
He sat up in bed beside her. He couldn’t see her face in the darkness, only her see through negligee. He used that as a guide to find her and drew close.
“You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”
“I know. I hear the rumours. I’m living this too.”
The selfish part of him wanted so badly to tell her off, it was as simple as turning away when alcohol was offered but he stayed silent instead, not trusting himself to say something that wasn’t cutting. She climbed into his lap, settling herself on top of him, like she used to when they were just teenagers in the university, drunk only on love.
“There are those rehab places. I heard about a new one in V.I. They’ll take you for sixty days. Detox, the works. And it’s very affordable.”
She stiffened on top of him, as the very thought of being hidden away in a rehab clinic was giving up, admitting defeat.
“I just need time. I will overcome this, on my own. But I need time.”
As he rolled off of her, he weighed the cons of giving her another year, another birthday for his daughters with both of them standing together with wide smiles as they blew out twenty-two candles. He slipped out of the bed, afraid to wake her and tiptoed out of the room, checking to make doubly sure that all the doors and windows were locked. He did the kitchen and children’s room, stifling a giggle at the awkward positions in which the girls slept, their limbs tangled around each other. He finally rounded to the guest room, equipped with his wife’s pink sanitary gloves and a mop bucket. He opened the guest bathroom and gasped. The tiles gleamed in the yellow light, the porcelain bowl as white as the day the plumber’s put it in. It was almost as if he imagined her the night before, head rested on the dirtied bowl, sitting in a pool of her own vomit. The pristine bathroom spoke more to him than the sex and the remorseful words, he would give her time.
There was darkness all around her, blissful, heavy, and silent. She savoured it, unwilling to disturb it, hopeful that it was what it promised her. She enjoyed it as long as she could without twitching, that halfway place between sleep and consciousness. Reluctant and slightly optimistic, she opened an eye and deflated at the sight of their plaster of Paris ceiling, obscured by shadow in the pre-dawn darkness. She closed a second eye and tried to bury the disappointment that flooded through her, thinking up valid reasons to leave her bed and start a new day. Only one came to mind, the clear half full two litre bottle hidden behind the stack of pots under the kitchen sink.
She reluctantly shuffled off the bed, stealing a glance at her still sleeping husband as she left for the kitchen to put the coffee pot on the stove. She’d been given yet another day.