It started with a kiss. Wet. Warm. A delicious impulse that Chioma knew could only come from her husband, Fred, who was leaning over her, towelled snugly in white; his fists pinned toward the corners of the bed, bulky arms flanking her head like pillars. He tasted of chocolate, of those simple exotic ingredients Cadbury had wonderfully blended into their new finger bar, which she left half-eaten on the bedside table last night. This, she thought, was a tad funny, on Fred’s part, kissing her with the lingering taste of chocolate in his mouth, a confection he didn’t like. It was even funnier, she thought again, awkwardly sliding her legs out of the duvet and failing, that Fred had placed his Macbook at the edge of the dressing table and had set Timi Dakolo’s “Love Song” to play.

Fred, who couldn’t do without playing that song, knew next to nothing about Nigerian artistes, the contemporary ones, too. In fact, on reflection, his music e-library robustly contained vintage records only from American artistes. Once, she had brought a copy of Davido’s “O.B.O” album home and Fred had glanced at the cover photo and innocently asked if the boy on it, whose head looked similar to a stunted pumpkin, played any kind of musical instrument. Chioma giggled, realizing that his own version of a true artiste was one who could play an instrument, even if it was just a tambourine.

Fred had lowered himself to kissing her chin, her neck, moving down to her cleavage, and then back to her chin, when she touched the blissfully soft towel that now hung loosely around his waist and said, almost coyly, that they would miss their 8:50am flight to Abuja if they continued with this. Fred chuckled. He looked consumed by what he was doing, high on testosterone, eyes glazed with a familiar, devilish quality. If they skipped breakfast—no, on second thought—if they ate breakfast quickly after making love and head for the airport right away, they would still make it for boarding, and, make it for the Close Up Couples’ Red Valentine at Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Chioma had won two invitations for it, unbelieveably so, through a radio programme, at work, in between answering a call from a disgruntled customer and flipping through her pocket dictionary in a frantic search for a synonym of love. She had been surprised, really, at the question from the female radio presenter, with her cloying British accent and over-nasalized pronunciations, asking her to give a synonym of love if she desired the invitations. Not only had her pocket dictionary proved to be useless, it was incomplete, the pages already pulling out from the binder.

Still, she had to think of an answer, any answer, under the limited time, sifting words about in her head until she finally said “amorous” which later on elicited a swift congratulatory response from the presenter. Chioma slowly slid her hand beneath the pillows to check for the invitations as she looked up at Fred, inhaling his chocolate-curdled breath; the invitations were still there, sleek and reassuring. She exhaled. Fred had somehow managed to bring her legs out from the duvet without altering his position, inserting two fingers between her closed thighs, but, in spite of herself, she sat up and kissed him hastily and sprang out of the bed. Fred tried to reach for her hand but missed. Then he flashed her an impish smile, asking why she was running from him. Smiling herself, Chioma said she wasn’t running from him and then padded naked into the bathroom. Inside, she turned on the shower and looked at her reflection in the steamed mirror, happy about this new resolve to remain “preserved” until she got to Abuja.

The thing is, she had this luxurious vision of Fred and her in the hotel room, neck-deep in a jasmine-scented bathtub; the bubbles frothing over, scattered red roses on the floor and a bottle of Merlot dipped into a metal bucket of ice cubes. It would be lovely, she told herself, to have that unquestioned freedom, to break away from a chronically hectic environment like Lagos and be hermetically absorbed by the pleasures of Abuja, never mind if it was for a while. She heard Fred talking on the phone; his voice partly drowned by the sound of the streaming water.

As she lathered herself with her liquid soap that annoyingly kept congealing each time she wanted to use it, Fred stuck his head through the bathroom door and animatedly said that her mother-in-law was nearly at their house. At first, Chioma assumed that he had said his mother-in-law, because her mother had promised, many times than she can possibly recall, to visit them soon after her trip to Jerusalem.

She froze when she saw Fred’s mother sitting at the dining table, legs crossed, examining her red-polished nails as though she had just used them to tear an animal apart. She was one of those wealthy Lekki based women who think— wearing long human hair, drinking daily cups of green tea, and going for regular aromatherapy—would give them a rejuvenated glow of mortality. But it had, Chioma admitted sourly. All those long, frustrating years of people, especially the nosey new neigbours, mistaking Fred’s mother to be his wife and not her, because of how illogically and competitively youthful she looked, had made her feel displaced, insignificant, something close to lavoratory paper. Chioma mumbled a word of greeting to her and drifted to a nearby chair and sat down. Her mother-in-law barely acknowledged her, getting up quickly to meet Fred who was coming down the stairs shouldering his carry-on bag and holding a small suitcase.

Chioma felt desperation sweeping over her, which she knew, very well, would be a permanent small test of patience. Fiddling with the zip of her hand bag, she imagined her mother-in-law to be a winged monster, seeing those nails as claws, those teeth as fangs, skin meshed with scales, preying toward Fred until he was swooped and devoured. Chioma got up reflexively and realized a moment later that she was just being paranoid. So she sat back. Fred was already hugging his mother and acting like the perfect devoted son, subservient, asking whether she would eat this or that. Chioma very carefully tried to look away but ended up shambling out of the house when she heard her mother-in-law say something about wanting boiled yam with pork sauce. Walking toward the gates, she fished for her phone in her hand bag and called the car rental service for the second time. A man answered on the first ring, his voice edgy, different from the one that had spoken to her earlier. He apologized to her profusely, saying that he would have been at the house with the car already if not for the emergency situation his wife had faced. She was pregnant and due for delivery and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Although the man was still talking, Chioma had stopped listening. Her mind went back to the house. Why didn’t her mother-in-law inform them that she would be coming today? Why didn’t she check her calender first to know what day it was? She dabbed at the sweat trickling down her face with a folded handerkerchief and then tucked it in the front pocket of her jeans. The morning sun was becoming sticky-hot, but she didn’t mind. The good things that awaited in Abuja buoyed her, nudged her a step closer to the auspicious gift of secluded extravagance. Now, she walked further out of the gates humming “Sweet Love” by Anita Baker; her steps feeling light on the cracked pavement as though her shoes were compressed with Helium. Surely, surely, it would be a night of sweet love.

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Bernard Ogedengbe is a freelance writer, book publicist and the Editor-in-Chief of Literati Naija, an online literary magazine. He is also the associate producer of Live Beats, Nigeria’s longest running music programme on TV. He is currently working on his first book, a novel titled “Quantum Level”. He tweets from @Bernard_Oged

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