Duty of Love
By Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema (Nigeria)
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Amarachi wiped the tears from her eyes for the umpteenth time and stood up. She did not feel tired even though she had not slept a wink for twenty-four hours. A strange lightness encased her head like a feathery envelope as she paced the well-furnished room. I hope I am not going mad, she thought with a wiry smile. Who would not go nuts in the kind of situation I am in?
The ordinances of the land called it murder. The holy statutes sentenced both its perpetrators and victims to eternal damnation. The society railed against the mere thought of it, let alone the deed.
But who can tell the story of the hunchback’s load except the burden’s bearer? Amarachi sighed and sat down again on the bed. Of their own volition her eyes fell on the framed photograph standing on the table beside her bed. The picture of a handsome Adewale carrying her shortly after they exchanged vows at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, Yaba. The love that emitted from every pore of their beings crackled like high-voltage electricity from the inanimate picture.
Unbidden tears filled Amarachi’s eyes again as alternating pictures occupied the screen of her mind. It was a kaleidoscope of contradictions. The energetic and loving accountant who married her despite stout opposition from his family; and the vegetable who was now permanently trapped in a bed a door away. The man who had carried his wife across a stream as a declaration of love for, as he put it, ‘the angel of my life’; and the reed who was broken by a ganja-crazed bus driver who swept his car off the mainland bridge into the lagoon. Only Adawale survived the senseless accident.
Amarachi had often wondered why God let her man live. She once voiced her thought to her eldest sister, Thelma. Thelma was her only confidante devoid of religious parochialism. She had empathized with Amarachi but had no answer.
Perhaps the hunchback’s burden would have been easier if Adewale’s family had understood. Opposition to their son’s choice of spouse because she was Igbo was one thing. Accusing her of hexing their son and causing his accident so that she could inherit his wealth was another. Mrs. Williams had never reconciled herself to Amarachi as her daughter-in-law, despite the latter’s efforts to be friendly. The sword that pierced Amarachi’s heart was her mother-in-law’s reaction on the night of the accident. As soon as she beheld Amarachi outside Adewale’s hospital room Mrs. Williams paused, and in the coldest voice she could muster, uttered the soul-killers:
“Thank you for killing him with your juju. May the wealth you want to enjoy choke you, childless witch.”
Hospitals in Nigeria and abroad had done their best, but Adewale remained a vegetable. He was now a dumb thirty-year old baby who defecated uncontrollably. Only his unhurt left eye remained his link to the world. It was the surviving reflection of his soul. Amarachi always cried with the realization that behind the mummified mass of pain was a soul still full of the unalloyed love she had enjoyed for the past one year. Even her family’s unrelenting love exhausted her at times. The pain of their youngest daughter told on the Iwendu family, yet somehow they retained a smile and a simply beautiful faith in Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints.
Since that night of unspoken speech forty days ago, Amarachi had asked herself searing questions. Would it be an act of love? Or a bid for her liberation? Or a revenge against her mother-in-law? Or a manifestation of her concealed critical attitude to the codes of the church and the society? What made her think that the final solution might just be the best solution?
She sighed. She knew it was the last beautiful gift she could give to Adewale. With that unseen communication cord that binds true lovers they had seen the message in each other’s eyes that night. Since then Amarachi’s soul had tossed and turned till she felt like the ‘Titanic’ after it sank.
But she knew what she had seen in Adewale’s eye was real.
She opened the door.
Adewale was an immobile mummy. Every iota of his pain surged through her veins at that moment. She approached the bed gently. Adewale’s single eye was a laser beam. She kissed the swathed face. “Honey”, she whispered, sitting by his side.
The message in her husband’s eye was a steady demand. Amarachi knew it. In the old days her man had such a look whenever he wanted something at all costs.
“Oh, darling, don’t ask me to do this,” she said, almost crying. “What do you want to put me into?”
It is not only about you, his eye said.
“Darling, I am already being accused of remote-controlling your accident. What will happen if I do this?”
But we know it is untrue. You can always rest easy if you do the right thing, he countered wordlessly. And this is the right thing.
Amarachi shook with silent tears. A silvery tear sneaked out the corner of her man’s eye.
“Wale, please. This is not easy.”
His eye softened. I know, it said. But I can’t bear this suffering any longer. It is torture for both of us. Let the real me live on in your heart.
Amarachi stood up, suddenly strengthened. She knew at once there was no other way. She bent and kissed Adewale tenderly. His eye glowed.
Amarachi reached for the life system support and switched off the oxygen supply. She turned and watched.
There was no agonized spasm, no struggle. The eye settled in a smile of sublime relief. Gently it glazed over and closed.
Amarachi knelt by her husband’s side, buried her face on his and sobbed hysterically. Underlying her grief was an ambivalent realization that she had done her duty.
The adjacent door flung open and her niece, Jane, rushed in closely followed by Thelma. Jane’s eyes ran to the system. “Jesus,” she gasped.
As she was helped up by Thelma Amarachi spoke evenly. “Goodbye, darling. I did my duty.”
Total word count 1030
Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema is
a writer and teacher. He has won
prizes for short fiction and his stories
have appeared in the following
anthologies: (Amazing Anecdotes
2005), Author Africa (forthcoming
2007), My Trousers are longer than
yours (forthcoming 2007)