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By Uche Peter Umez


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Two figures were seated on cane chairs, facing each other. A rectangular glass table was placed between them, bearing a tray of goblets half-filled with Bailey's Irish Cream. There was a single plastic chair kept at a corner of the balcony, close to some pots of flowering plants.

    From a distance, Mrs. Ngozi and Kamalu appeared like shadows in the lighted balcony of the plush one-storey building.
      It was a fortnight before Christmas, and no chilly touch of harmattan could be felt on the skin. Even the breeze was warm, as it wafted in and out of the thriving bush, which dotted both sides of the asphalted road. The duplexes, which populated the breadth of Works Layouts estate, stood out vaguely in a pasty backdrop of moonlight.
      Now and then the bustling sounds of motorists and cyclists shook the still air.
      There was a time, she said, slowly, as though recalling the memory pained her, your dad and I used to sit here She shut her eyes, leaning back in her chair.
      When she opened it, she said: I'm sounding silly, you think?
      He looked at her and said, You aren't, mum. 
      She reached for the handkerchief lying on the table and wiped the corners of her eyes so gently. Had your dear father been alive, this would have been a perfect home-coming.
      Kamalu nodded, then shifted his gaze over the balcony.
      From his sitting position he could pick out the uneven, dark outline of roofs of neighbouring houses some yards away, the lighted rooms in those buildings, and the movements of persons within. 
      Mrs. Ngozi sipped her drink. We will still celebrate it in a special way. 
      He gazed at her as if she had spoken to herself.
      You seem not to have heard me.
      Sorry, mum.
      I said, we will celebrate your home-coming with a dinner party on Friday.
      You mean three days from now? he asked.
      She dropped the handkerchief and the goblet on the table. Yes; that should be the day after tomorrow.
      I had wanted it to be a surprise but I couldn't hold myself. It is going to be a perfect way to welcome you back to Nigeria, youd agree.
      I'm about a week old in the country, mum. You dont have to strain yourself for a party.
      Her lips drew apart in a smile of maternal affection. Your dad would have done the same had he been alive. He was really proud of you, his only son, a British-trained lawyer. But those seven years, she said, her voice filled with wistfulness, as she shook her head.
      He knitted his brow. I dont understand.
      You have been away for too long. Ive been keeping counts. You left 1999, is that not so?
      But I was around for dads burial.
      You only stayed a fortnight or so.
      I was around for Cousin Iykes wedding. I spent Christmas a couple of times with you and dad. Not to mention all those other times you and dad paid me visits in UK.
      She shook her finger at him. You will never know the trauma a mother goes through when her child is living in some foreign land, with all these terrorists attacks going off like bombs. Those seven years were like a century. I kept praying for you. We shall celebrate your return, son.
      You make me feel spoilt and pampered. Well, thanks a million, he said as he remembered his father who had passed on two years ago.
      One evening after a meeting with his directors, he had returned from the office, taken his bath, told his wife he would receive no visitor, and would come downstairs only for supper, after some refreshing nap. That was the last time he slept on his bed; he was conveyed straightway to the mortuary.
      Cardiac arrest, autopsy had revealed.
      It is quite humid, don't you agree? Mrs. Ngozi said.
      Who? Kamalu asked, looking at her.
      Such a humid night.
      Yes, it is damp.
      I was trying to associate it with happiness. What are you thinking, son?
      Forget it, she said, waving her hand. You don't mind the suddenness, do you?
      How? he asked.
      The dinner party for you.
      Dinner party? Whoa! It should be cool, very cool. Kay will be thrilled.
      She sat up, with the flash of a smile on her face. Who?
      He glanced at the handkerchief on the table.
      Is she your girlfriend?
      A special friend.
      So, she is not your girlfriend? she sounded somehow satisfied.
      Curiosity made Eve to lose Eden, mum, he replied.
      A mother has every right to be curious when her child is concerned. Mrs. Ngozi motioned him to re-fill her goblet.
      Kamalu picked up the bottle, shook it lightly, then poured some into her goblet. As he kept the bottle on the table, he said, hesitatingly, I didnt mean it that way.
      She took a sip from her goblet.
      Kay will like to spend a night in Owerri, then drives off to Calabar tomorrow morning. Could I invite?
      Do you have to ask? she asked. You know your friends are always welcomed to visit.
      A rush of emotions tingled in his stomach and he grinned. He reached for his goblet and emptied his drink in one swallow. He licked his tongue, savouring the sweetness. He dropped the goblet on the table.
      He shot out his fist, exclaiming, Thanks a MILLION!
      You will be introduced to the other directors of your fathers company at the party, thereby getting to show off as the Managing Director, if you dont mind. Your uncle Ekeh and I have discussed all the details. Then, you can take care of everything, she explained.
      His features became morose.
      Or is it too sudden? I hope I'm not weighing you down with so much responsibility?
      Okay, his reply was terse.
      She stifled a yawn with a hand over her mouth. Its high time I took life very easy, youd agree. I ought to give more time to my church.
      He nodded. 
      She yawned again. Sleep is the least thing on my mind now. You seem distant. You aren't feeling sleepy, too, are you?
      A vague grin showed on his face, then faded. Not at all, mum, he said.
      If only your dear father were here to share this moment, she said, then sneezed, picked up her handkerchief, and dabbed her nose.
      Kamalu slipped a finger in between his lips.
      Come here, Mrs. Ngozi said in a voice as low as a whisper. Her eyes, fixed on him, twinkled like lighted bulbs, even though she was watching his countenance.
      He hesitated.
      She crooked a finger at him, twice.
      He heaved himself up, unhurriedly, walked around the table to her side.
      Her arms were already outstretched. As he came close, she pulled him into her embrace, hugging him tight.
      You dont know how happy I am to have you back! she cried, propping his face up to look at him. He lowered his eyes, as she planted a kiss on his cheek. The embarrassed grin of a teenager appeared on his face.
      Glancing heavenwards, she placed a hand across her bosom and whispered a prayer.
      Do you know I'm overjoyed, son? Overjoyed! What a merry Christmas it would be indeed! I can't wait - yes, everything is so splendid in a perfect way. And I've even reserved Daphne for you!
      He backed away immediately, like a man struck by a chilling revelation. What ? His mouth fell open.
      Her face quivered and her body rocked with laughter. Don't give me that I'm-doomed-look! You are young, but twenty-six is not an immature age for taking a wife, is it not so? she said.
      But His voice was jammed in his throat. He inched backwards, dodging the table, and fell into his chair.
      Relax. She doesnt eat men. She was still laughing.
      A frown wrinkled his face. Humph. You really have a surprise for me, I can see.
      Youll like her. She is the ideal woman for you, Mrs. Ngozi went on. She is truly a dream bride. Every man's dream bride; wait till you see her. You remember Honourable Justice Pat Ude?
      They both raised up their heads simultaneously.
      A car was honking outside the compound.
      The gate opened, then closed with a clanging sound. The car drove in, humming softly.
      That must be Daphne. She clapped her hands.
      The frown on his face grew severer.
      She was looking at the glass door, which opened on to the balcony.
      He rubbed his knees hard, with his hands. Then he picked up his goblet, which he touched to his lips. As the sweet taste of the cream dribbled on to his tongue, he felt it turn bitter in his mouth, or so he imagined. He put the goblet down at once, wiped his lips on the back of his hand.
      He had once felt this same way, while he was in a cozy restaurant in London sipping Pina Colada. A red-haired girl with glossy red lips had rolled her eyes at him, and he had almost choked on his drink, feeling a taste like absinthe pinching his tongue.
      The two of them turned their heads as the glass door slid open, with a scraping sound. The chintz curtains drew apart as a lady with long lashes and flowing dark hair walked into the balcony, with the grace of a model.
      Good evening, Auntie Ngozi, Daphne said in a melodious voice. You are looking very radiant.
      Thanks. How are you Daphne? Mrs. Ngozi said warmly.
      Daphne noticed him and opened her lips, just a fraction, in a bewitching smile that showed perfect teeth.
      Welcome home.
      Hi, Kamalu replied, sitting stiffly, with his hands on his lap.
      Mrs. Ngozi pointed at the plastic chair.
      Daphne sat down, crossed her legs and leaned back.
      She looked strikingly elegant in her orange chiffon dress, with high-heeled suede shoes. A scent lingered around her body, filling the balcony with its fragrant richness.
      Auntie, I'm sorry I wasn't around to accompany your driver to pick him at the airport, she sounded genuinely apologetic. My schedule was painfully tight. Thankfully, the Convention was a sell-out. Delegates were pouring out of the entire pavilion. Can you believe it? I had no breathing space, really!  She puffed out her cheeks and allowed her shoulders to fall.
      How did you cope? Anyway, you are back. Thank God. I heard South Africa is beautiful, Mrs. Ngozi said.
      Daphne laughed so softly, as if it would seem improper to laugh loud. Yes, thank God, it is over. My bones, agh, they ache. Youd think I carried bags of granite on my shoulders. Hectic week. Hectic, she paused momentarily. Then her eyes sparkled and her hair flew this way and that as she gesticulated and recounted her experience: Fabulous country, well-organized, a sort of Europe set in Africa. Really, we should be ashamed the way we carry on in our country. Oops!
      Her hand went to her mouth.
      I must have forgotten! How could I forget the Zulu bracelet I got for you? She tapped her forehead. Actually, I was in a hurry to get down here. I flew back the second the Convention was officially closed. Ill bring it tomorrow afternoon.
      It is OK. How are your parents, Daphne?
      I even got something special for him. She batted her eyelashes at him.
      Kamalu huffed. Mrs. Ngozi stared at him.
      Sorry, he said, rubbing a finger under his nose.
      Mum says, I should pass their compliments to you, Daphne said, smiling, and you, too, Kamalu, calling his name very melodiously.
      He wanted to sneer at her in a cold-hearted way that would gladden the heart of a misogynist, but because of his mother he applied some courtesy.
      You're the Faerie Queene that has charmed my mother'? Yet, his words came out, hard and pointed like jagged glass.
      If you say so, she replied.
      He burst out laughing.
      That is not amusing, Mrs. Ngozi said, snapping her fingers.
      Sorry, he said; he stopped laughing and maintained his stiff posture.
      Adaobi, Mrs. Ngozi called out loud.
      A girl of fifteen or sixteen rushed out and knelt at her side.
      Get a pack of Five Alive, a glass and some ice cubes, she told the girl
      Yes, ma, the girl answered and hurried off.
      Silence flooded the balcony for a moment before the girl brought the fruit juice, a glass and a mobile phone on a silver tray and laid them on the table.
      Uncle Kamalu, she said, handing the phone to him.
      He took it from her and rose to his feet, moving a pace away from them, towards the rail of the balcony. 
      How's your dad? Mrs. Ngozi asked.
      He is wonderful, Daphne answered. She reached for the Five Alive and poured a glassful. She sipped her juice. Mum is fond of Kamalu.
      He sat down, grinning.
      The two women glanced at each other, then at him.
      Why that look on your face? Mrs. Ngozi asked.
      Kay is in town already, and he'd be here any moment soon, he said, with some sort of pride.
      Dear me, I thoughtyou almost got me thinkingA man. Oh.
      He's spending the night with me.
      I mean, with us, the family, he said.
      Well, it is no problem. I hope, she said, a bit authoritatively, he is not bringing a bevy of girls along?
      Kay is not into such crap, he replied, running a finger over the rim of his goblet. He noticed Daphne was watching him, and narrowed his eyes at her.
      He is welcome to stay till after the party, Mrs. Ngozi said.
      Hurray, you're the greatest! He widened his eyes, like a child whose wishes have been granted, and shot out his hands.
      The expression of a woman whose dreams have come true blazed over Mrs. Ngozis face.
      You don't know how happy I am, son, she said exultantly, and, turning her head to Daphne, she said, Come round tomorrow morning at ten, Daphne, so we can draw up a shopping list for his dinner party. We are hosting a party to mark his home-coming. Youll assist in making it perfect, wont you?
      Certainly, Daphne said.
      Then Mrs. Ngozi stood up, placing a hand on her waist. Now, both of you can enjoy some quality time.
      His hand went up at once and caught her wrist. She arched her head sideways and looked at him.
      Please, sit down for a minute, he said, letting go of her hand.
      His heart seemed to be pulled by inflexible strings, and his tongue felt like a rusty hinge, as he said, Excuse us, to Daphne.
      Smiling ever so calmly, she picked up her glass and withdrew from the balcony.
      She would ruin our happiness, Kamalu whispered.
      That's the most foolish thing you've said tonight, she said.
      I'm serious. 
      Nonsense! She fits perfectly into our home. She is -
      Mum, I know, she's this, she's that -
      Do not slight her, or her pedigree. She is from a highly respectable family. What doesn't she have, brains, beauty? What? I wont allow such childish reservations.
      Mrs. Ngozi sat down, her face stretched tight in annoyance. So, you want a gutter girl for a wife? 
      He scratched his chin nervously, then spread his fingernails on the arm of his chair. After a while, he started scratching the surface of the chair.
      She is beautiful. The eye sees it, Kamalu said.
      Your dear father had always approved the idea of you marrying Daphne, she mentioned.
      Mum, couldn't we leave dad out of this? I don't want to rush into marriage
      I am not going to allow you to choose a cheap-looking girl for a wife. We have taken pains to select Daphne. And I wont sit back and allow you to ruin yourself, or soil the familys name. Do you understand?
      He murmured something, which she couldnt make out. He rested his cheek in his hand, while placing the other hand on his knee. His posture was the exact ponderous sculpture of Rodin's The Thinker.
      Then breathing out, he let his thoughts mix with the instrumental song wafting out of the sitting room, filling the balcony with soporific strains, and closed his eyes. Memories started to take shape in his mind.
      Afternoons idled away at the beaches. Evenings at the Cotswolds hills, where he and other young males, black and white, had been initiated into the exclusive Fellowship. Nights at the pubs. Nights, especially with Fellow Kay.
      You haven't answered my question, Mrs. Ngozi said.
      He opened his eyes, trying to ward off uneasiness. I feel tired, Mum. It is getting late, he answered, with a yawn.
      Dont evade my question. Now, tell me. What is the problem? You dont like her? She tried to smile, but what he saw was a rubbery smile on her face that highlighted the wrinkles around her eyes. 
      He yawned again, wondering how best to quell her curiosity, without revealing the reason why he would never appreciate Daphne, or any other female, at all. 
      She shifted the table to one side, as though it hindered their communication, and leaned forward. I am your mother in heavens name. Whatever it is you surely can rely on me, son. 
      Mum, we shall be having lots of time together. I'm home, remember? he said, hoping she wouldnt prod him any further.
      But she would never understand, even Daphne, if he was to tell any of them what had been troubling him since he returned from overseas. It was his secret, his guarded secret. He wished he hadnt stopped his mother when she got up to leave. Since his return to Nigeria, she had been hinting indirectly about the need to settle down, guide his fathers legacy, and other subtle obligations he wasnt really prepared for.
      He had always thought he would live in London, free of hassles, of obligations. But his mother had pressed him ad infinitum to return home.
      Home is where the heart is cagedKamalu thought bitterly.
      But slowly one of the songs they used to sing in the Fellowship began playing in his head, reassuring him:
      Accept me as I am
      Dont try to change me
      I may be queer
      Often act strange
      But I can be a dear
      If you let me be
      If only you accept me
      And the strings loosen from his heart. And something like a warm breeze coursed through him, bringing goose pimples all over his skin. He no longer felt covered with sweat, but dry and fresh, as though he had just woken up from a pleasant sleep. He no longer felt tense either; an energizing feeling stirred within him, forcing a smile to paste itself across his face. 
      Let me tell you a story, mum, Kamalu began in a steady voice. There is this guy who cherishes his privacy. He can't get that with a female because she hardly gives him breathing space. She keeps on prying, hovering about him as hawks; pestering him with trivialities. Darling this darling that! Interesting, the average girl simply wants to be petted every now and again like a kid! But can he really stand it, he often asks himself.
      I dont think this story has any relevance to our discussion.
      Its important still.
      It doesnt have has any relevance to your relationship with Daphne.
      Mum, do I have a relationship with her? Thats truly laughable. What kind of relationship can one build with a stranger ?
      She is a friend of the family, Mrs. Ngozi rebuked.
      Anyway, this guy prefers avoiding women. Though, all women believe going to bed with him is a terrific bargain, he said. Friendship with them is hell, he thinks, or fears.
      He stretched out his legs, shifted his gaze from her face to the empty goblets.
      Relationship with women is neither profound nor enduring. Surprisingly, he's absolutely free from sorrows with a male. Isn't a man forever lost in the hands of Delilah?
      She stared incredulously at him, as if he had just arrived from some bizarre planet. Why are you sounding mysterious?
      Sometimes he gets jealous over naught, harbour fears that she might be messing around, as certain most women do. Nam optuma nulla potest eligi; Alia alia pejor est. That's Latin. He can understand a female in the evening of luxury. And when it is no more Samson's fate - alas, he is damned.
      Why tell me this. Why? Her face swelled and pulsed with emotions. Though, she was clutching her hands together against her bosom, to stop herself from yielding to hysterics. You have been acting weird since you came back. Is this the kind of orientation one acquires from schooling in the UK? What has come upon you? 
      You might not understand, mum.
      I dont intend to understand any of your babbles. To tell you the simple truth, you are infuriating me with this blah- blah- blah! I want you to go into that sitting room and get familiar with Daphne. Is that clear?
      Kamalu struggled to maintain a firm appearance. I'm not really keen, mum. Besides, must everybody get married?
      What a thing to say! Something is wrong with your head. Imagine what you just said. If your father were alive he'd have thrown you out! She is best for you; the parents have long given their blessings. That is final.
      Breathless and angered, she slouched in her chair.
      He said, Mum, you have to understand me
      Please. Kay is sensitive, caring, and -
      Enough, I said! her reply was vehement.
      He scolded himself for allowing the conversation to have even started. She would never understand. In fact, she might treat him as abnormal, an outcast perhaps, if she was to know his true lifestyle.
      He looked at the still plants at the balcony, as though they would comfort him.
      Only his kind, a member of the Fellowship, could identify with him, he reflected, wishing himself away from his immediate surroundings.
      An evening of peach and orange. Two handsome men, dressed only in shorts, relaxing on a beach. Birds gliding in the air.
      Life is a rosy dream
      An erotic stream
      Kay had composed a song extempore as they watched the rich colours of twilight burn out.
      Now, Kamalu sighed as the fantasies faded away. He gazed up at the sky, which loomed like the grey-blue lagoon he had seen in Lagos.
      The moon had disappeared, yet a few stars twinkled.
      Far off a car screeched, and his mind flew straight to his friend.
      Who is he? The one with a girl's name, or Quay or whatever he is called, Mrs. Ngozi asked.
      He's from Ondo; he's half-Welsh, he said.
      I'm not interested in his family history. What is he to you? Is he dragging you into something illegal? Are you in some kind of shady business? A credit card fraud, because thats what you Nigerians are doing in Europe. 
      He stared at her, offended, because he didnt like the sarcastic tone of her voice. But he said nothing.
      Is something wrong with you? Am I talking to a wall? Are you in some kind of cult, son? Answer me!
      He stood up, then thought of entering the sitting room to relax. But the prospect of seeing Daphne sitting so snugly, with a pouf tucked under her legs, on the leather settee discouraged him. He sat back and placed a hand over his face.
      She suddenly threw her arms over her head.
      Dear God! You have joined a cult? The words jerked out of her mouth and made her face seem terrible and overly aged. Her eyes had a pleading look as she stared at him.
      But his silence, instead of comforting her, totally unsettled her. And even now his bearing did not suggest denial of any of her accusations.
      She was now bawling: Oh! Oh! Oh, what has befallen you in England? Who did this to you? How could you imagine that... that... that sort of...?
      Happened some years back at the University, he said somewhat carelessly.
      Aru emee! Heavens forbid!
      Even though she had let out a scream, and looked so anguished, she was, however, able to quickly control her nerves.
      You must be joking. You must marry Daphne, whether you like it or not. You must marry her even if it means summoning one of those pastors! That is all.
      His face was creased with a shade of dejection. It seems I don't have any say in this.
      Mrs. Ngozi pretended not to have heard and turned her head towards the glass doors.
      He rose from his chair, walked over to the iron rail. He backed her as his eyes roamed the distance.
      The moon was now out, round and full, casting its ivory brightness over the sky. The stars seemed to have dimmed. Trees scattered here and there, their branches stirring like listless sleepers in a train.
      A frog was croaking insistently.
      I hate this dampness, he said, feeling uncomfortable with the sweat drenching his shirt. As he rubbed his palms together, he heard another cry.
      Somewhere, a bird was singing.
      And he closed his eyes, listening to the song. His mind floating away once again.
      Brighton. Starlit night, musk-scented air. Fellows, smiling and proud. Jazzy discotheque. Moet splashing and frothy, glasses clinking. Afterwards he and Kay are lying in bed, nibbling chocolate and sipping bourbon. Elton John is purring from a CD player.
      Just as quickly as the fancies came so they evaporated. Kamalu swept beads of sweat off his forehead, then glanced at his phone on the table. He thought of calling his friend to book into any of the hotels in town, so they would meet in the morning. By then the misunderstanding would have ebbed. But he was somehow apprehensive to make that call because he knew it would further upset his mother. 
      He stretched his arms wide, wishing he could fly away into the night. Then he leaned over a little, his hands fast gripping the railing. Gazing down, he wondered what it would be like to jump down from such a height, like people do on Freaky Jumps, a Reality Show, he had watched on Cable TV several times.
      Suicide freaks, he whispered, walking away from the rail and sitting down. I thought it's usually cold and dry in harmattan, mum, he said, trying to lighten the tense mood.
      Mrs. Ngozi glared at him, and held herself back from slapping him so hard that welts would appear on his face.
      Mum, I am sorry. Everything is happening at bullet-speed, he said.
      She kept silent, still.
      He could not look at her because the glare in her eyes could eat through his bones. He started feeling, tormented even as he wished he could swallow a drink as strong as vodka mixed with lime. Yet, he couldnt help feeling relieved, somehow, in that she thought or believed he was in a cult. He decided to play along, he said to himself. Live a lie as long as he could still be true to his Fellowship, a credo he was forced to keep.
      I need some time to adjust. I think Daphne and I can work out something, okay? Kamalu said and when she still didnt respond, he buried his head in his hands, like a man fighting off shame.
      A mother has every right to be concerned about her son, his mother said, after a long while. Her voice was almost tearful. Maybe I over-reacted. I know youngsters collect some funny hobbies in school, but you shouldn't go to the extreme. I dont want any person to lead you into something that would injure you. 
      Then she went over to him and held his face in her hands, so that they both stared into each others eyes.
      You are all I have. I want the best for you; your dear father and I have always wanted the best for you. She began sobbing.
      He stood up and threw his hands around her neck.
      I can't bear to think you'd allow someone to mislead you. Daphne will bring you happiness. She'll make a perfect wife... can't you see? II have been watching her ever since she was eighteen you'd love her the instant you started spending some time with her
      Her whole body shook wildly with emotions. He started patting her on the back, pacifying her. But he felt her stiffen, as if she found his touch chilling.
      She loosened herself from his arms.
      He pulled away, staring at her in confusion.
      Just then the door slid open.
      Smiling so gaily, Daphne walked into the balcony and stopped right away. A perplexed look fluttered over her face as she took in the unfriendly situation, then turned her attention to Kamalu.
      Em, someone wants to see you, Daphne told him.
      Mrs. Ngozi was dabbing her wet cheeks with the handkerchief, but paused and glanced fretfully from Daphne's face to Kamalu's, and again, before finally rested her eyes on his face.
      He clenched his jaw and bared an unsmiling __expression.
      I will be with him, he said to Daphne.
      And Daphne went back into the sitting room.
      Is that him? Mrs. Ngozi asked.
      Please, mum, he said, after taking a deep breath.
      They both stared at each other.
      Then he got up, shoved his hands into his pockets. As he walked away, he imagined himself as a man sinking in a dark pit, his arms flailing in the air, while onlookers laughed at him.
      Daphne and a fair, curly-haired man were seated on the settee chatting. She stopped as soon as she saw Kamalu.
      Hello, Kay, he said, smiling uneasily.
      Hello Kammy! the fair man exclaimed, jumped to his feet, and swung him into his arms, embracing him so exuberantly he almost lifted Kamalu off his feet. 
      You surely look down, but still good enough to eat.
      Sorry to have kept you waiting. My Mum and I -
      Daphne was trying to charm me, Kay cut in, placing an arm over his shoulder. But I am hard as cement, you know me. He grinned.
      I thought you were the one trying to entice me, Daphne said, smiling, and twirling some strands of her hair. 
      What about your beloved mother? There was a mischievous gleam in Kays eyes.
      Let's go to my room, Kamalu said.
      May I assistwith the bag? Daphne asked, bending forward to reach for the bag at the foot of the settee.
      No thanks. Kamalu grabbed the bag in one swift swoop, and slung it over his other shoulder.
      Kay dropped his hand.
      The two friends went upstairs, speaking in hushed tones, and slapping each other's back.
      No sooner had Daphne sat down than Mrs. Ngozi entered the sitting room, holding the bottle of Irish Cream.
      Aunty, you lookdone in,'' Daphne observed and, springing out of the settee, rushed towards her, then held her by the arm, and guided her to the nearest settee.
      After a short moment Mrs. Ngozi stood up.
      I think I need to go to bed now, she said, in a low, drained voice. Tell Adaobi to get me some waterand aspirin, dear. 
      Then she dragged herself up the stairs, gripping the banister, to steady her footing. 
      And Daphne strolled into the kitchen.
      In the corridor Mrs. Ngozi paused, called Kamalu. When he didnt answer, she knocked on the door to his room and turned the knob. What she saw as the door opened slightly was enough to sear through her body and electrify her senses.
      The bottle dropped out of her hand.
      Her eyes bulged out.
      She was only able to cry out, Kamalu! Nwanka egbue muo, this child has killed me... before she collapsed on the floor.
      In that split minute the two friends drew back. She had seen it all, though. Two men who had been sucking each other's tongue.
      Kamalu imagined two hands hanging the noose of a condemned convict around his neck, as he looked across at his mother who had already fainted in the doorway. And his body dripping with feverish sweat, he knelt beside her and tried to revive her. 
      THE END


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