I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.
My head hurts and my eyes fill with tears.
“Are you crying, Baby? Don’t cry, please. I hate to see you cry.”
“You are hurting me, Tonye.”
“I am sorry.”
He releases his grip and inches closer, his woody fragrance taking up all the air between us, stopping the trail of a tear with his finger before it lands on my cheek and pulling my limp body into his embrace.
“I have missed you,” He whispers with a catch in his voice, rocking me gently as my lap brushes against his growing hardness. “I have missed you so much.”
I hold on to him now as though I would crash into the ground otherwise, breathing in his familiar smell, rubbing my cheek against the roughness of his beard.
“You are so thin now. Did you fire your Cook too?” I ask.
“It was her Cook, and I let her go.”
The gate suddenly unlocks behind me and I turn, looking past Jacob the gateman as I lead him across the compound, up the staircase, and into my apartment on the second floor. I lock my door behind us and turn on the lights amidst his weak protests. Tonye is thinner, his cheeks sunken and his mouth grim. His eyes, light brown as ever, taking their familiarly unabashed journey through my body. How many months has it been since I last saw him? I cannot say. There is a stirring in the growing moistness between my legs and I cannot think coherently.
I soon find that my body still does things without my permission, just like old times, undressing for him until every piece of clothing is lying at my feet, and I stand wide-legged, waiting for him to come to me, to run his hands over my body and kiss me possessively.
Still, He stands apart from me, unmoving. I can see clearly the outline of his erection and the lust in his eyes but Tonye makes no move in my direction.
“What is wrong?” My voice is barely above a whisper.
“Baby, you don’t get to ask the questions. I do.”
“Why won’t you touch me?” I cry.
Tonye laughs, moving over to sit at the edge of the bed. With his head in his hands, he asks, “Did you stay away because you thought I killed my own wife?”
My mouth is dry and my body throbs still.
“Is that it, Baby?” He presses.
“So if I did it, what does that make you? The whoring niece who loves to give her murderous uncle a stripper’s show?”
“Did you really do it Tonye?” Blood is roaring in my eyes, and I am familiar with the enveloping shame that I feel, for even in this moment, my body cannot deny how much it has missed his.
He looks up at me, the expression in his eyes are unreadable.
“Did you do it?” I ask again.
He shrugs. “You should give me some credit, Muna. Have you not thought of killing people too? I mean, there has been times when I wanted to zip my boy up in a bag and drown him in the creeks. That doesn’t make me a bad person, now, does it?”
His eyes are on my body again, and I lose my train of thought. He continues to speak.
“Heaven knows I am not a bad person, and you must know it too. I thought about it, Baby. I thought about putting a pillow over her head and laying her yapping mouth to rest. Did the heavens listen? Because I didn’t do it. You know I didn’t do it.”
I stare into his eyes.
“I could have asked for a divorce, sent the boy away, married you, relocated somewhere far away, and lived happily ever after. But I didn’t do it. Do you understand?”
“Sometimes you sound like a child, Uncle T, talking about marriage in such a flimsy manner.”
He smiles, that full disarming grin I haven’t seen in a long time. “You know you are not allowed to call me by that title, Child.”
I move over to his side and rest my head on his shoulder, putting my arms around him and feeling completely at home.
“It is important to me that you believe me, Muna, or I do not know what I would do with myself.”
I say nothing, burying my face in his shoulder and reacquainting myself with this smell that has eluded me for so long. I want to tell him how much I have missed him, how sorry I am for avoiding him, how guilty I feel that I did not have it as bad as he did, that while he was away, I felt happy and free.
Yet, I want to tell him how much I want him, to watch his tongue draw lazy circles around my nipples and down my stomach, further down to the sparse triangle of hair between my legs, to lap up the trail of wetness that only he can evoke.
“I want you to believe me, Baby. I didn’t hurt her.”
I draw in a deep breath and ask, “So what happened?”
“There are varied reports from Doctors. Most point to an inflated blood pressure.”
“My mother says it is your village people.”
Tonye chuckles, cupping my face and kissing my lips.
“Your mother has vivid imaginations,” he murmurs. “If she is right too, we must remember that people who do evil things usually end up getting what they deserve.”
I place my hands on either sides of his face. “Like us?” I ask.
I do not expect a response, and he does not give me one. He lowers himself to my bed, taking me with him, and this is where I find myself the morning after, curled up in Tonye’s arms and drenched in his own sweat. I think that there must be something wrong with me, that I have become unrecognizable. I look at his sleeping form, and I realize that my life before Tonye is now in snatches of vagueness. The normalcy of my existence with him is as frightening at it is mocking with its incredulity. To have him talk about marriage in such an offhanded manner, as though he did not expect me to look forward to a future without him in it and marriage was a definite end to our madness. Tonye had once said that the world finds ways to adjust to every version of self you give out, and in the end you will always find acceptance amongst the people who truly love you.
I like to believe that he must realize how laughable it sounds when he talks about things like acceptance and love, because this is the only way I allow myself forgive his utterances. A man who has lived many years in denial of a son who is all but useful to him, a marriage riddled with dissatisfaction and sadness. What did Tonye know about acceptance? What did I know about love? I am twenty-one, striving to be all the wonderful things that I had dreamed of as a child, yet so far away from seeing it take form. I do not have a name for this thing that I feel for Tonye, but it cannot be love. Yet, it leaves me confused in my breathlessness, in the nights I spent going through the text messages that I never responded to.
Today, watching him snore in my bed through slightly parted lips, I suddenly wish that it was he, instead of her, who had slept and did not wake up. I am ashamed to think this about Tonye, but I cannot shake off how liberated I feel at this possibility.
Yet, I cannot ignore the disgust that is steadily growing inside me, disgust at myself. Just then, Tonye rolls over to his side, opens his eyes, drawling, “I’ve missed making love to you. I can’t bear to imagine that those small small boys must have been touching you.”
I do not need to tell him that nobody else knows my body like he does. Silently, I let him pull me back to the bed, my heartbeat racing, my lips parting in moans as his hands moves over my body ravenously, his voice reminding me yet again how much he has missed me as my own hands reach downwards to find proof, pulsating with life.
He wounds my legs around his waist as he thrusts into me, first urgently, then slowly, cupping my face reverently as he suckles on a hardening nipple. I shudder with emotions, arching my back a little higher and moaning a little louder.
I am here again, aren’t I? The shameless and cowardly whore who would rather wish a person dead than walk away from a rapidly unfolding disaster. I am here, writhing this way and that like a jelly fish underneath him, and I think that perhaps, this is who I will always be.
Suddenly, his body jerks in the throes of passion, and try as I might to push him off, he is unyielding, not slowing down until he has emptied himself inside of me.
“I love you, Muna,” He rasps, holding on to me in the aftermath with his face buried in my neck.
You manipulative son of a bitch.
It shouldn’t have been you, Tonye.
The next time I visit the bole spot, this time alone, I find Ifeanyi there again, eyeing me from above the rim of the water bottle that he has been sipping from.
“Hey, Fine girl,” he says with a smile.
I settle on a bench across from him, replying, “Hi.”
“Want to hear something weird?”
I raise my eyebrow but do not reply.
“I’ve been looking out for the girl who licks her fingers clean after a meal, yet no show.”
“What are you so amused about?” I demand.
“It’s you. Your defiance. It’s cute.”
“I think that you are very invasive,” I say, signaling the girl waiting to take my order.
I feel his eyes on me while I tell her I want the usual but I do not pay him any attention. I whip out my phone and scroll through it, searching for nothing. I cannot explain my irritation at him, with his knowing smirk and pretty face.
“Muna,” He calls softly.
I look up again.
“I am keen about you.”
“Like the character in your poem from the other day?”
He laughs, a pure and rich sound, running his hands through his locks.
“I write about a lot of things,” he says. “I am actually pleased to know that you listened to my gibberish from the other day.”
He lowers his eyes in mock self deprecation when he says ‘gibberish’, and I look away.
“For instance,” he continues, “I feel a pressing need to write about a girl who has no airs about her, like you. However, I do not want to appear even more intrusive.”
I chuckle, “Interesting. What about?”
“After I watch you eat bole and you walk with me to the basketball court, I promise I will tell you all about it.”
“If you want me to follow you to the basketball court, you could have just said so.” I say this knowing that he would laugh, because I admit to myself that I am beginning to enjoy the sound of Ifeanyi’s laughter.
“Okay. Okay. Will you come with me?” He says, with his hands up in surrender.
I shrug and reply, “Not a bad idea, but you must first tell me if you have some policy against eating, because all I see you do is drink water.”
“What can I say?” Ifeanyi laughs again. “I don’t eat bole. I am a very picky eater.”
My eyes widen. “Why are you here then?”
“What do you think?”
I say nothing, giving him a small smile. I realize that, even with the girls at school and my agency, I have not formed any lasting friendships. I hang out with them often and listen to stories about boys, but there, I am lost amidst the clash of their high pitched voices. I watch them and my body becomes stiff with envy, for this easiness that I do not feel.
“You know the thing about thinking too much? You end up not doing anything at all,” Ifeanyi says quietly.
I roll my eyes heavenwards. “You must think you know everything.”
“Not really, why don’t you tell me some?”