I. Sometimes, blood flows
“Hope you still ordered the baby names encyclopedia?”
“Yehp,” Paulie says, leaning across the chair to massage my shoulder. “Not like we need it, though.”
“Don’t even start.”
“Cammahn,” he says, grinning, “Imagine roll call at school.” He does an impersonation of a Hollywood voiceover. “Tyrion Obasohan, first of his name.” He winks and rubs a palm on my slight belly bump. “Too cool.”
“It’s not happening.” I hug myself. The aircon in the doctor’s office is turned way low.
“Ugh,” he says. “You’re just bias. Think of all the wit he’d be missing out on.”
“It’s a dwarf’s wit,” I retort. “Don’t be silly.”
He places a palm on his chest and bows in his chair, saying in a gruff voice, “Your wish, majesty.”
I chuckle, immediately transported to the first time he makes that gesture. He’s in fourth year of Law at University of Benin, and I, in second of Marketing. We sit in the grass of the orange grove fronting on my faculty, a group of five beneath a cluster of trees shedding yellow leaves under the watchful eye of twilight.
TeeJay, Paulie’s right hand, spreads three wraps of suya and cabbage, then grabs a whole wrap because, I bought it na. My gal Nene, who’s classmates with TeeJay, steals a wrap for herself too because, Nene. Kayode, Nene’s heartthrob, is Seventh Day Adventist and doesn’t eat meat, so that leaves one wrap for Paulie and I.
We reach for it at the same time.
“My teeth are soft anyway,” he says, pulling away.
I smile. Chivalrous. Too bad. I grab it and dig in.
“Kai, ‘Sosa,” Nene says. “You can’t even share.”
“He said I should take it na.”
“Sherrup, you like food.”
I grunt, and pepper floats into my nose. I sneeze.
Nene cackles. “Karma, baby.”
Paulie’s eyes dance around me, searching for something.
“You still want?” I ask.
“The suya?” he replies, a twitch on his lips.
“No, my face.”
He shrugs. “I like your face.”
An awkward silence passes around.
“Eww,” Nene says.
“Weak, bruh,” TeeJay says. “Weak.”
Paulie flushes, and I feel sorry for him. I divide the remaining suya into two and hand one across. “Don’t mind them.”
His palm is warm and soft, comfy. I like comfy. Maybe that’s why I linger, giggle when he palms his chest and mock bows.
“Ugh,” says Nene. “Get a room, you guys.”
The doctor’s return cuts my reverie. She’s a squat woman with round, cherubic cheeks, yet when she comes around the table, her face is all lines and angles.
She takes too long to shuffle the results of the ultrasound. Too long.
Much too long.
II. Sometimes, blood stains.
I don’t cry in the following weeks. Food is metal in my mouth, and I see everything in grayscale. I take sick leaves at work just to go home and curl up in bed.
At the first post-ultrasound appointment, they change doctors and give me a long-faced man with no patience. He slides two gray sachets towards me.
“Misoprostol,” he says. “Two tablets every three hours in five doses. You’ll bleed for days as expected. Take time to prepare, but you must eject it fast. A dead baby in your womb too long can cause permanent damage.”
I want to nod, but my neck is frozen.
We start the dosage the next night. I’m to take Ibuprofen to ease the pain but I refuse to, and when it starts, I welcome it like a prize. Paulie sits beside me on the floor by the bed’s edge, squeezing my hands. He sets the alarms between dosages, brings me fresh pads, wipes the vomit when I puke, all the time diligently returning to my side to squeeze my hands. He cries, but I can’t. I don’t remember how to.
It’s over in twelve hours, but we huddle against each other all night. Paulie is exhausted the next morning and moves about dream-like, making breakfast, prepping for work. He kisses my lips before he leaves, not my forehead, as if to say, You haven’t changed to me. I don’t kiss him back. I don’t remember how to.
I return to my consulting firm and bury myself in work. When people speak to me, it’s with their heads down, afraid they might catch the pain in my eyes. Nene calls everyday to beg for a visit. I eventually give in and turn up at her place the next weekend. She and Kayode employ painstaking effort to maintain poker faces, and they succeed, mostly. That’s until Annie, their youngest of three, enters the living, sees me and races in for a hug.
“Auntie Esosa!” She grabs my knees.
I can’t hold it in any longer. I puke on her cornrows.
We’re cleared to resume sex after two months. Paulie really goes to town, brings up all sorts of suggestions. Neither the new positions nor methods change anything. The sex remains mechanical, calculated, like a well formatted spreadsheet.
“ ‘Sosa, we have to try,” Paulie says, after a night of frustrated attempts to make me feel something. “We need to starve the pain, not feed it.”
I’m glad he says we, and not you.
The next week, an intern misses a reporting deadline. He bows his head when I berate him, and I’m tired of people gazing at my shoes.
“Look at me,” I say. He doesn’t lift his head.
“LOOK AT ME!”
I slap him.
A notice of enforced personal leave lands in my inbox before close of business. Come back in three weeks when you feel better, it says.
I don’t go back.
One evening, I return from the grocer’s and Paulie’s in the bedroom, packing a travel case.
“I’m staying at TJ’s tonight,” he says.
“To come back when?”
He holds my eyes in a crestfallen gaze.
He zips the case slowly, deliberately, lifts it off the bed. I hold out a hand as he goes by me.
He stares at my hand. His elbows twitch, but he doesn’t take it. He puts one foot in front of the other, hesitates, puts another, hesitates, then moves. I’m too stunned to follow.
At the door, he turns.
“I can deal with a dead baby,” he says, looking past me. “But a dead wife leaves me with nothing.”
III. Sometimes, blood dries.
It’s five years before a handwritten letter arrives, so old-school and poetic I know it’s Paulie.
Sometimes, blood dries, it says.
I squeeze the letter.
He calls after that. His voice is changed, now gruff like the mage he often impersonates, and with an accent to boot. He wants to see me.
“You left,” I say.
“I know,” he says, pauses. “Sometimes, the only way to return is to leave.”
After two weeks of texts I don’t answer, I finally agree to meet at an open-door cafe on the island. I want to tell him how time has created new things, brace him for the shock, but I cancel each time I type.
We meet on a Sunday when the sun really means it, and I’m waiting on my cocktail when someone taps me from behind and says,
I used to know a boy, so when I look and see a man, I’m confused. He’s joined in with the beard craze and has a full burns connected to a goatee. He wears glasses now, too. His smile is wide and real. He’s always looked better than me.
My planned speech sticks to my hard palate and stays there.
He sits in the chair opposite, and we stare at each other across the table, saying nothing, saying everything. In that bubble, the cafe’s chatter dies away, and all I hear is relief thumping in my chest, a long lost energy revitalised.
My fingers walk across the table of their own volition. His come closer. I inch mine another centimetre. He does the same.
“Mummy, my Snickers fell in the gutter.”
A teary child with an afro pouts up at me, cheeks smeared with caramel and sticky fingers grabbing my arm. He pauses when he sees Paulie. Blinks at me. Blinks at Paulie.
I rub a palm on his head, tousle the afro. “It’s fine, it’s fine.”
Paulie’s eyes are fixed on him, tracing the facial features that match his completely. I pull him close, massage his shoulder, and nod at Paulie. Yes, I say with my eyes. Yes.
Paulie rises, ever so slowly, kneels and places his palm on our son’s head.
“What’s your name?”
“Tyrion,” he says to Paulie.
Paulie pulls him into a tight embrace and starts to cry. Tyrion blinks at me, confused, and starts to cry too. The restaurant pauses to stare. I take a moment to see the scene through their eyes, and maybe that’s what gets me.
Tears run down my cheeks for the first time in years, but I’m glad. I’m glad I remember.