TIMES OF LOVE … PART 3

Harry gave a gasp of surprise when he first saw Atimma trek from the gate entrance. She was supposed to be driving. Harry walked towards her gently, and gave her a warm hug.
“What happened to the car?” Harry asked.
“I sold it a moment ago.” Atimma replied softly.
“Why Atim? You need a car now that you’re Pregnant. I don’t want you to be stressed. And you never told me you wanted to sell the car.”
“It’s my car Harry. I can decide to do whatever I want with it.” she said rudely.
Harry became quiet for a while, then held her hands. He was ashamed.
Something about the whole thing was not right, but he could not find a flaw.
“I sold the car and got a house in town.” Atimma broke the silence.
“Is this meant to be a surprise?” Harry asked, looking surprised.
“No. I am telling you that we will be packing from here today. I have gotten a better place in town.”
“Why didn’t you let me know first? I am your husband Atimma!”
Without answering, she darted around him and hurried into the room.
Harry sighed and sat down gently on the couch.
A moment later, Atimma came out of the room with her boxes and bags. Harry’s heart trembled as he stood up to his feet immediately.
“Where are you going to?” He asked in broken whispers.
“To the new house.”
“Now?”
“Yes now.”
He became mute for a while then said, “is there no truck? We need trucks to pack the chairs and the bed, and the kitchen stuffs”
“I can’t go to my new house with these filthy things, I got new stuffs.” She said softly.
Harry looked around the house and sat again on the couch. He thought of why Atimma said ‘my house’ and not ‘ our house. ‘ He was grieved.
“Who are we giving all these things to? these things are valuable to me. These are stuffs I bought with my first savings.”
He finally spoke out after few minutes of keeping mute.
“burn them.” She paused for a moment, allowed her gaze on the sitting room. She walked out with the luggage and banged the door.
Harry stood up immediately and ran after her.
“I understand that you’re pregnant, that’s why you’re acting this way?” Harry said, running after her…
*******
Harry and Atimma got to their new house by taxi. Harry was amazed at the sight of the beautiful edifice. He got the boxes of clothes from the car, while Atimma carried only her handbag.
Atimma led the way into the beautiful apartment.
As they got to the sitting room, Harry became bewildered by the Chandelier, the expensive looking furniture and the curtains. He touched the walls and pressed his hands on the sofa.
“thank you for this new place.” He said softly to Atimma.
Atimma was trying to concentrate at the view from the window, she pretended not to hear what Harry was saying.
Harry hugged her backwardly. “thank you.” He whispered.
When she turned, and raised her gaze to him, she could not move or speak.
She was frozen in place as she stared into Harry’s eyes that seemed to look right into her mind and discover all her secrets.
She Was ashamed to tell him that Seno had kissed her that afternoon at the office, but that she didn’t like it.
She held her protruded belly firmly as Harry held her into his arms.
Harry’s phone interrupted the blissful moment. He struggled to get the phone from his trouser pocket. It was his mom’s neighbor Eka Etido who was calling him, Harry’s instincts told him that something might be wrong with mama. His voice trembled as he pressed the answer button.
A wisp of Atimma’s black hair had come loosed from the tight knot secured at her neck.
She stared anxiously at Harry, waiting for him to tell her what Eka Etido said to him over the phone.
Harry sat down on the sofa, shaking his head, his eyes brightened with fear.
“What did she say?” Atimma asked softly.
“Mama is sick again.” Harry replied with a sigh. Tears sparkled in his eyes.
“She shouldn’t be sick now that I don’t have money o.” Atimma said as her eyes widened with anger.
Harry stared at her sternly. He was wondering if his wife of eight months actually said that.
Two months after their wedding, she was such an angel who had vowed to love him for better for worse. She had never talked to him insolently before. Until when she got pregnant six months ago, and suddenly sold her car without his consent. And now, he was in this big edifice that he knew nothing of.
Atimma didn’t feel sorry for the fact that Harry’s mom was sick. She was relaxed and not bothered.
She went into the kitchen and came out with a cup of tea. She stirred the tea for a while and sipped it bit by bit.
Harry’s brow furrowed, he was thinking of his mother when Atimma interrupted.
“What is wrong with Mama?” she asked finally.
Harry stared at her face for a while and then replied, “she has asthma. It’s severe, I heard her breath aloud from the background.”
Atimma closed her eyes. “I don’t have money now. I can’t use the money for my child’s bills for your mom.”
Harry’s heart felt. His lip curled into a snarl, and anger coiled inside him. He wondered what suddenly happened to his wife.
“I didn’t ask you for your money. I will do what I can to save my mother.” He said in a broken voice.
“Don’t forget that you have a wife who is pregnant.” Her voice suddenly became mocking and arrogant.
“My mother needs help, she is sick!”
“Then help her! I need help too Harry. I just paid for this place.”
Her high-handed attitude shoved every sane thought out off his mind, and he was left with only anger.
Harry became genuinely puzzled by her attitude. His former neighbor Nsemeke had told him that Atimma changed because she pays the bills. While his former landlady had told him that pregnancy makes women behave that way.
But Harry took the words of his former lady.
He recalled how his mom had told him of of how she packed her things to leave his father when she was pregnant of him.(Harry) According to her, the pregnancy had made him hate her husband. Harry was afraid that the same thing that happened to his mom was happening to his wife. He smiled slowly.
“I will visit mama tomorrow, I will like you to lend me some money please.” He demanded, finally looking into her eyes.
Atimma raised her angry gaze at him, and then suddenly sniffed in exasperation.
“you’re very ungrateful..
I can’t believe you’re asking me for money, despite my condition.” She was mumbling and leaning heavily on the the wall.
Harry was hurt again. His forehead furrowed and more lines appeared on his face.
“I am sorry if I haven’t been man enough my love. But bear with me please. I really need your help now. I can’t even afford ventolin for mama. I can’t.” His voice was fading, but she heard him.
Atimma made a short derisive sound and Harry’s face burned.

Harry closed his eyes, his lashes resting like a fuzzy caterpillars on his scratched cheek. He’d fallen asleep or passed out on the sofa.
He had been on the sofa since the previous night. Atimma had left him to the bedroom.
Harry didn’t deserve her compassion or her empathy anymore. He needed to start looking for jobs so that he can help his mother survive.
Atimma woke up with a slight headache. She turned to the other side of the bed, but didn’t find Harry. She stood and swayed with unexpected dizziness.
She pulled her cell phone and nudged it open with her chin. She pressed a fast-dial button and leaned against the wall.
She heard Harry’s phone ring from the sitting room, and sighed…
She took a shower and prepared herself for work. She had disposed all the cheap perfumes Harry had bought for her from Ariaria market, and took out the Victoria secrets cologne that she had bought the previous day from Nicon supermarket. She wrapped Harry’s perfumes and threw them in a bin bag.
“Why are you putting the ones I bought for you there?” Harry’s voice became professionally crisp from behind her. He walked in unnoticed. His guess roamed over the room and the wardrobe.
“They smell like goat shits. They make me want to puke all the time. Next time, you should get me something like this.” She pointed at the Victoria secret cologne.
“That’s expensive. You know I can’t afford it now.”
“Then don’t bother buying them. Until you can buy these ones.” She said wryly.
Harry stared at her as she pasted a deep red lipstick on her lips.
“Have you thought of what I asked of you yesterday?” Harry asked.
Atimma grinned stiffly and held up her handbag tight. She counted money from it and handed it to him.
“That’s two thousand. I don’t have money. What I have here is for my ante-natal and hospital card. I am suppose to start buying baby’s things.” She said, looking him over.
“Thank you. I know this won’t be enough, but I will try and hustle for more money. I am sorry for the inconvenience my love, always remember that things weren’t this bad, until the shop got burnt….”
“How much came out from that shop daily Harry, how much? You keep talking about the shop as if you were contributing to anything.”
She interrupted in an oddly quiet but compelling voice.
She slowly picked up her wedding ring, and fixed it on her finger. A wave of remembered desire streaked through her, making her legs feel like jelly.
“I am off to work.” She said.
Harry shook his head lightly and winced. He was still counting the two hundred naira notes countless times, until Atimma slammed the door. He shrugged and tried to grin, but a grimace of pain crossed his face. His eyes closed and his legs buckled and slid down the wall.
****
Atimma got to the office that morning with a broken heart. She had thought of how her salary was going to pay all what she got herself Into; Harry and the baby.
She pushed the thoughts to the back of her mind and concentrated on the computer screen.
There was a knock on her door, and it was the office receptionist.
“ma’am, Miss Iinda is here to see you.” She said shrilly.
“Itoro, don’t let her in here.” The bitterness of her voice surprised the receptionist. She was shocked that Atimma said that about her best friend. She still stood by the door.
“What are you waiting for?” Atimma asked.
“Madam, I want to be sure.”
Atimma giggled and then paused for a while.
“Let her in.” Her eyes lit with amusement.
Moments later, she could hear foot steps of stiletto heels walking towards her office, she knew that Linda was getting close.
She breathed a sigh of relief, ignoring the tiny inner voice that told her to be rude.
Linda looked amazingly fabulous.
She sprayed her hair gold, and had her nails painted lemon…She wore a sky blue color distressed jean and a black Sweater, as she walked zigzaggedly towards Atimma’s office.
A small smile quirked her mouth as she opened the door stylishly.
“Mrs Harry! oh my darling friend, you look beautifully pregnant.” She said softly, her words slurring.
“It’s been a while Linda.” Atimma said, trying hard to impress her with a mild smile.
“I came to visit Muhammed, since the Muhammed has refused to come see the mountain.” She chuckled, and sat on the chair facing Atimma.
“You got me really angry the last time you came to my house. I didn’t like that one bit.”
“I know. That is why I am here to say that I am so sorry for hurting you.” She pushed her hands across the table and held Atimma’s hands tight.
“If not for anything, for the sake of my god child.” She giggled.
Atimma’s face creased in a slow smile.
“It’s okay. I got over that long ago.”
“How is Harry? I hope all is well with you two? I didn’t see your car outside.”
“I sold it. I was very uncomfortable staying in the other house. The environment wasn’t good for me in this condition… The mosquitoes, bad boys, erosion etc. So I sold the car to get a new place in town.”
“That’s nice. Seno called me last night, we spoke at length…” She paused and stared at Atimma’s face for a while then said, “about you.”
“What about me?” Atimma asked shrilly.
“He is still in love with you, he told me.”
“What do you want me to do about him? I am married to someone else now.”
“I know…. But does it really matter bestie? countless women have their eyes opened now. You’re going after what your heart wants. Is it not married men that cheat on their wives and are still happily married?”
“So what you’re saying is that I should go back to Seno?” Atimma asked amazingly, Linda nodded in agreement.
They two women were quiet for a while, then Atimma broke the silence with a sigh.
“I kissed Seno yesterday. I don’t want to talk about what it felt like. It was a coincident.”
“He has been thinking of you.”
“I will make that decision after I put to birth in the next three months. Right now, I have to get over a lot of things.”
Memories of Seno crowded in Atimma’s thoughts. She smiled a bit and then nodded.
“I miss him too.” She whispered. ” But I am married.”
Linda frowned and followed her gaze. “You better grow up.” She muttered.
Atimma nodded without looking at her and stood up.
“Lunch break, I am famished.” She yawned.
“Every pregnant woman is always famished.” Linda retorted. They two ladies walked out of the office with their handbags as they headed to the office canteen.
****
Harry’s face burned down with pains. It was a sunny day, and he wasn’t bothered about how long the sun heat on him. He was worried about how he was going to reach his village with Ventolin and essential balm.
He was walking on the streets. His face was streaked with sweat and his jeans were brown with dust. He was weak and tired of walking, he didn’t want to use the small money he had to take a taxi home.
An angry insect scratched and marred his cheek and a bruise discolored his face. He leaned tiredly against a wall of an uncompleted building, trying to look insolent and nonchalant, but he was pale as a ghost, and his jaw was clenched tight.
Harry was in hell. He was doing his best to walk down the main road. A young boy selling sachet water walked passed him. He whistled at him, and the boy walked as fast as he could towards him. Harry removed two cold sachets of water from a bucket and handed over ten naira note to the boy. He gulp in the water in a second and breathe in and out noisily. His head cleared slowly, and he regained a little strength.
A car drove passed him, and then reversed backward, horning for his attention. Harry sniffed the air. Without raising his head, he opened his eyes.
“Harrison Bassey?” An husky voice called his name from the car. Harry’s heart trembled, he didn’t remember the last time someone called him by his full name. He lifted up his face slowly and his eyes caught with the man in the car.
“Abia, Abia Umosen?” Harry called out, he was looking amazed.
“It’s me.” Abia said and gave broken loud laughter.
He was driving a big, black, tinted jeep. Harry looked at Abia’s car and his appearance and felt ashamed.
“Oboy, where have you been?” Harry asked excitedly.
“I relocated to New York. I got married now…I am trying to build a structure down the street so that my family will be coming home for holidays.” Abia said.
“That’s great. Congratulations.” Harry shook his head, his eyes dark and cloudy.
“What are you doing here?” Abia asked.
Harry’s voice cracked as he replied Abia. ” I am looking for a job. My wife is pregnant. Since after service, I have been looking for a good job, but no way! My shop just got burnt down some months ago.”
“Oboy! you that graduated with a first class?” Abia exclaimed.
“Work no dey naija o. We dey suffer here.”
“I can help you. You can join the workers to mold blocks for my new house on this street. I will pay.” Abia said.
The laughter on Harry’s face faded from his eyes. His face dulled to a gunmetal grey.
He thought of his sick mom, his wife and how he was going to support them. He stared at Abia right in the eye and said, “I will do it. Thank you so much. Can you take me to the place?”
“I can’t carry you in my car, one of my men just finished washing it. I will give you my contractor’s number, and give you a note to give to him. He pays three thousand daily, he will sign you in when he gets the note.” Abia Said in a baritone voice. He spoke with pride and confident.
Grief and pain ripped through Harry like a straight razor and his voice shook with passion and fury. “Thank you.” He said.
Abia handed a note to him and he collected it shyly with both hands.
He was ashamed. Abia was one year below him in the university, Abia graduated with a third class, and yet he was right before him with an expensive car, with a good job and secured job. While Harry was in his tattered clothes, set to raise blocks and bricks for Abia’s mansion.
Abia zoomed off, and Harry trekked back down the street. He was ready to do anything for his beloved mother and wife.
After he met with Abia’s contractor, he resumed work immediately.
****
He got back home dirty and in torn clothes. His jean became sandy and dirty, his face dark and sweaty.
Atimma opened the door, and stared at him shockingly. She didn’t want to look into his eyes, she didn’t want to see the pain and the sadness deep in those eyes that had once sparked with laughter, but she couldn’t pull her gaze away.
Two hours later, Harry was in the kitchen, opening empty pots. He opened the refrigerator and gave a loud sigh.
“You didn’t cook?” He said aloud from the kitchen.
Atimma took the last gulp of juice from the glass cup and spooned more rice into her mouth, she pretended as if she didn’t hear him. Harry walked into the sitting room with an angry gaze on her.
“You didn’t cook?” He asked again, this time more authoritatively.
“Did you give me money to cook for you? this food I am eating now, it’s Linda who bought it for me from Food affairs.” She said, still munching the food in her mouth.
“And you didn’t think of cooking for me? at least you know that I have not had food since yesterday.”
“And who are you? Can’t you see that I am pregnant already? Harry you’re heartless. I am pregnant, I am the one working and paying bills, I paid for this place. You still want me to cook after working at the office since morning? What have you been doing?” She gave a mock shudder, when she saw that Harry was staring at her sternly.
“I am raising blocks for building. The little money I am being paid daily is for mama’s hospital bill. You know very well that you can assist in providing for you and I for now, while I hustle a little bit longer.” He said weakly.
“You now lay blocks?” Atimma asked again in a funny way. She handed the chicken bone to Harry, he nodded and walked into the kitchen. He got water from the refrigerator and gulped it down till his stomach got filled. Then walked tiredly to the bedroom…
Atimma got to the bathroom. She picked up the soap and began washing her arms and shoulders briskly. The thoughts of Harry being a brick layer haunted her. She was expecting her salary the next day, and she was planning to give him some money for his mother. Her salary was enough to take care of all their needs, but she would ignore her conscience and save up the money for her baby’s needs.
Her soap slipped from her fingers and plopped into the water. She tried to bend and pick it but couldn’t. But she tried harder until she slipped and fell into the bathtub. “Jesus!” She exclaimed aloud.
Harry ran in from the bedroom and held her firmly out of the bathtub. He dived into the large bathtub and took the soft bar soap. Then his words sank in… “Be careful next time. You shouldn’t be doing these things on your own. let me help you. ” He said soothingly as he pasted the soap on the Sponge; He sponged her body softly and slowly. His voice had a hollow ring and his grin was crooked and meager.
She appeared carefree and relaxed.
He lifted her hands up like a child, and sponged her armpit. She began to whimper and laugh out loud. “That tickles!” She said, and stamped the soapy water on his head. His clothes were wet. He removed his clothes and stood naked.
He rubbed his body against hers, savored
the softness of her skin against his.
He missed touching her, and he loved touching her.
She was like silk over steel, her skin was so soft.
To him, she was the most perfect human being in the world. He couldn’t wait to have his wife back after the pregnancy gets over.
He was ready to stand by her.
But while he began kissing her, he reached to push her hair away from his cheek, forgetting he had injuries on his face.
“Ouch!” he growled, and cursed.
Atimma stirred, turning toward him. She opened her eyes, and when her gaze met his, it was like old times.
They made love that night like it was their first time. Harry fell weakly on the bed afterwards and slept off.
Morning came, Atimma got out of bed slowly and made her way to the kitchen. She had changed into leggings and a pyjamas shirt, and was drinking Cappuccino from her favorite mug, the one with the chipped rim.
She lowered herself carefully into a chair and thought of the pleasant moment she had with Harry the previous night. She had missed him.
But the thoughts of Seno complicated her emotions.
She heard the shower running, and then realized that Harry was awake and ready for work.
Moments later, he was at the sitting room, dressed in a pair of jean and T-shirt.
“I am set for the bricklaying work. But first, I will reach the village to give mama some money.” He said, and walked toward her. He held her face and kissed her forehead, then sat right beside her.
“How much are they paying you?”
“Three thousand a day.” he whispered.
Atimma shook her head.
“Three thousand will feed us in this house Harry?” She asked, looking surprised.
He nodded grimly.
“We will manage. Or what do you want me to do? This isn’t a permanent job, it’s just for a while.”
“I won’t manage with you. For the fact that we made love last night doesn’t mean things have changed. Be a man Harry.” She gasp at her own words.
It was the first time she’d ever said that to him so boldly. He saw the effect of her words etched in the new lines of his face.
An anguish too profound to bear washed over his features, draining his face, and changing his countenance. Anger replaced his anguish as he vaulted up from the chair and grabbed her arm.
“You will never ever talk to me like that again! you hear me?” He yelled at her angrily. “You wanted us to be married, I agreed because I loved you, I wasn’t buoyant, do not inconvenience me and make feel less a man because I do not have a job…That doesn’t make you better than I am!” He yelled even more, and took a ragged breath. He released her arm, and pushed her away. “So don’t talk to me about being a man, I am a man! All I need is a good job to complete me, go to hell with your damn money, I don’t need it!” He whirled and stalked out of the sitting room. Tears clouded his eyes, but he held it firmly, and slammed the door.
Atimma took a shaky breath and screamed. She began to cry. She clenched her fists and squeezed her eyes shut.
“I am pregnant and you beat me up like this? I will deal with you bastard…” She sobbed softly.
She stood in the middle of the sitting room until her tears dried up. She realized she was still holding the mug. She set it down so hard that she was afraid it might break.
*****
She went to the office with a teary face. She wanted Sympathy.
Her best friend appeared at her office moments after Atimma called her phone in tears. “Harry has killed me Linda.” She cried out.
“You see where you landed yourself? with an abusive husband! After all what you’ve done for him, he still had the guts to make you cry in this condition!” She said angrily as she handed a white kerchief to Atimma.
“Arrest him! Tell the police that it’s domestic violence.”
Atimma looked meaningfully at Linda and nodded slowly.
“But he didn’t beat me, he only held my hands”
“That is abusive. You’re pregnant, he wasn’t suppose to do that.”
The grin slowly faded from Atimma’s face, she became confused. For some reason, Linda’s words embarrassed her.
Harry’s face burned when he saw black maria and a few police men in front of the house. He held the waterproof that contained two plates of rice he had bought from Eka udo’s restaurant, and a red rose. His heart trembled.
He had wondered what might have happened to his wife, he noticed four police men in their uniform, standing by the gate.
“Is everything alright?” He asked in a shaky tone.
The police men immediately turned and pointed a gun at him.
“Officer that’s the wife beater!” Atimma screamed from the house. She came out dressed in a pyjamas night gown and flip flop.
Two officers held Harry, the waterproof that contained food and the rose fell off from his hands. The officers handcuffed his hands and pushed him to the black maria.
A queer regret settled into her heart. And a horrible, shivering feeling skittered up her spine as one of the police men slapped Harry hard on the face.
“What did I do?” Harry asked in a shaky tone.
“You beat woman, shut up!”
For a split second, an unguarded look appeared in her eyes. A look of fear. Her heart pounded.
Another police officer slapped him hard for the second time, and he turned to look at Atimma. She turned away, frightened by the intensity of his gaze.
“What did I do to you?” He yelled…and shook his head angrily.
The police officer pushed him into the van and they zoomed off.
Harry’s sad face when the police officer slapped him, appeared in Atimma’s imagination. She became afraid of her very own act.
She stared at the black maria, until she couldn’t view it anymore, her pounding heart, stealing her breath.
She went back to the house reluctantly, and thought of how Harry was going to cope in cell.
She called Linda’s phone and it rang twice. Linda called her back afterwards.
“He has been taken away by the police.” Atimma whispered over the phone.
“Good. perfect! He will learn his lessons in there.” Linda said.
The two women talked and laughed about so many things, until Atimma decided to sleep off.
****
Weeks passed into months, and Atimma had not gone to see Harry in cell. Shame won’t let her.
She was in her third trimester, and she needed him more than anything. His mother had started getting worried, and demanded to talk with her son. The last time she saw him was when he took drugs and some money to her.
“He is in cell mama, police arrested him because he beat me up and almost killed me with this pregnancy.” She said in a shaky tone.
Harry’s mom cried and yelled over the phone.
“I don’t believe you, Harrison won’t do that, I didn’t groom him to be aggressive!” She cried out…
Atimma hung up the call on her and turned off her phone. She was afraid that something terrible might happen to him, she became weak and thought of him at that moment.
Harry’s mother had gone around different police stations, crying with her son’s photo and showing it to the police men. she wanted to see her son and her joy was lifted, when she finally saw him at ikot Akpan abia.
“He has been here for over a month mma, he was arrested for battering his wife.”
Harry’s mom shrugged her shoulders and sat carefully at entrance of the police station, crying and yelling that her son is innocent. Every emotion inside of her was written on her expression.
When Harry was brought out by one of the police men for identification, her heart felt as she saw bruises from his head, to his feet. She wept uncontrollably.
She wept until he was taken back to cell.
she wept until she slept off and woke up again.

Atimma’s heart trembled when the police officer called her.
“Madam, his mother is causing problems here in the station.” He said huskily.
She could not believe her ears.
“How did she find out where your station is?” She asked in soft whispers.
“I don’t know ma. But we need you here.”
She turned around and imagined the man who once meant everything to her. Her heart became broken as she took a cab to the police station.
She couldn’t hold her tears when she saw Harry’s mom sitting at the counter with the look of pains and agony.
“What did my son do to you?” She cried out when she saw Atimma.
“I can sell my wrappers and even sell my husband’s house in the village just to pay you off for all what you’ve done for him.”
She cried out.
“Mama e don do…You go see your pikin. him wife don come to bail am.” One of the police officers said authoritatively.
“If not that you are carrying my grand child, I would have given you that beatings that you deserve, ebod atefo!” She said bitterly.
Atimma had a low whisper conversation with the officers, she counted money from her wallet and handed to them. The police officers cheered her aloud. She gave a pained smile, as Harry came out in his torn clothes and bruised filled body. His mother ran and hugged him tight to herself.
“How have you been feeding? I brought you food.” She said in a shaky and teary tone.
“I ate in the morning.”
“Who brought you food?”
“One of the sisters of a cell mate. She fed all of us daily because of her brother.”
“Did her brother beat somebody?” His mom asked anxiously like the response mattered so much to her.
“No. He was arrested on his way coming back from church. He will be released today, his lawyer is on the way. let’s go mama.” he said, as he wore his shirt handed to him by the police officer.
“What about his sister who brings you food? where does she stay? I want to tell her thank you.”
“I don’t know mama.”
“What’s her name?”
“Enomfon…”
“ata Enomfon, God bless her. and may God punish every false accuser in your life. ” Harry’s mom said, as she turned rudely to Atimma who was already on her way out.
Harry could not look at Atimma’s face. He was held by his mother. He shrugged, then winced when the movement hurt his shoulder.
Atimma became ashamed.
Harry’s mom sighed in irritation and stepped out of the police station, while Atimma followed them sluggishly behind.
A dark hurt shadowed Harry’s face briefly then his mouth quirked in a wry smile.
He wasn’t walking too well, he was leaping.
Atimma closed her eyes when she watched him leap from behind, she tried to feel relieved that he was finally out. But all she could find inside her was a faint apprehension and a hollow sense of loss that had been there ever since she arrested him.
Somehow, she knew things were never going to be the same again, until she delivered her baby.
Harry’s mom kept muttering words and laying curses until they got home. She untied her wrapper and took out some money from her brazier.
“where is market? let me cook food for you.” She said excitedly.
“Mama, I have to clean up these wounds first. try and locate the bathroom from the corridor, you will see a bucket and towel.” He tried to describe in a shaky, sick tone.
His mother rushed in and came out again with a disinfectant, bucket and water. She cleaned his wounds and dressed him smoothly, until he slept off peacefully.

Atimma couldn’t wait for the morning sunlight to meet her at home, she was too ashamed to face her mother inlaw and Harry.
She stepped into the bathroom to get her makeup and nearly tripped over the pile of bloody clothes and towels. With a grimace of distaste, she picked up the towels. underneath was Harry’s T-shirt.
She picked it up half-reluctantly. She saw a wet paper in the shirt pocket, and took it out with two fingers, she opened it and saw a writing on it. ‘Enomfon Amanda…080333333677…’
She threw the paper into the toilet and flushed it.
She avoided thinking about what a lady’s number was doing in Harry’s pocket.
Harry woke up into another penniless life. He laid on the Persian rug carpet, just beside his mother. She had covered him with her wrapper.
Atimma felt sad. She could not talk to them. She only whispered ‘good morning’ to Harry and his mom, but they didn’t respond. She felt shamefully uncomfortable in their midst.
Harry had thought of how he was going to resume his bricklaying work at Abia’s building. His mother needed to stay for a while, until he healed properly. Atimma was going to put to bed in two months. He needed money to support these two women.
Looking at the clock, he hurried into the bathroom. He walked passed Atimma at the corridor, and didn’t say a word to her, or even stare at her face. It was going to take a while for him to communicate with her again, if not that long, just maybe when baby is born.
He avoided her as much as he could, and stood strictly, only on his lane.
After he had his bath, he dressed up hastily.
“I am off to the building place mama.” He said.
“You need some rest first. You don’t need work now.”
“I do need money badly.” He whispered softly and ran out of the house.
Harry got to Abia’s building place at a quarter pass seven. He was struck by the new look the structure had…
The other workers had finished working on it. They had painted it and completed the structure, it turned out to become a beautiful edifice.
Harry wanted to knock on the gate, but he couldn’t. He knew he had lost the job already and that there was nothing to do. Rather, he thought of going back into the arms of his mother, and eating the remaining afang soup she had made the previous day.
He was sad, disappointed and felt like the whole world was against his happiness.
He trekked back home that day with a headache.
****
As soon as Atimma stepped into the office, Seno pulled out behind her, keeping a safe distance so she wouldn’t spot him. And the same time, watching to be sure nobody was following either of them.
Atimma sat slowly on her office chair and tried booting her computer. Seno walked in without knocking.
Her heart slammed into her throat, and her knees buckled. She had to grab the chair handle to keep from falling.
“Oh jeez!” she breathed. “You scared the hell out of me, you just walked in like a ghost.”
Seno clicked the office door locked and inserted the key into his suit pocket.
“You and I need to talk.” He said huskily.
“Where did you keep the car I got for you?”
“I sold it!” She replied boldly.
“Why?”
“Because I was in need of a house. I sold it and rented myself a new place.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you needed a new place? I would have arranged for one of my duplexes in Shelter afrique to be cleaned up for you and your man.”
Atimma shook her head. A smile curved her mouth. Seno stared rightly into her eyes, as he walked stunningly towards her.
“I am about to kiss you, and I want you to let me. I know you’re pregnant, I don’t wanna see you suffer anymore. You mean the world to me. Give me a chance to love you more, take me back please” His head descended, his breath brushing against her lips.
Seno kissed her lips, as he looked at her tolerantly.
His shoulders brushed against hers, and her heart pounded as blood thrummed hotly through her veins.
She had never been susceptible to Harry’s touch the way she was with Seno.
She suddenly remembered that she pregnant, she paused a bit and pushed him slowly away.
“I can’t be doing this in this condition. My baby won’t like it.” she whispered.
He frowned and placed his hands on her belly.
“Let it just come out, so that I can have my woman back into my life.” He whispered softly into her ears. Atimma’s laughter was deep and amused.
“I want to surprise you. I will be going on a vacation with you after childbirth. But for now…” He dipped his hands inside his suit pocket and brought out a cheque, and put In her hands then kissed her palms. “This is for my lost but found Queen. Get yourself a car with that. You don’t deserve to walk or suffer with this pregnancy.” He added.
Atimma shook her head excitedly. She hugged Seno tight to herself and whispered, “thank you so much.”
Seno stared at her body lustfully. The thoughts of her beneath him, her body covered with sheen of sweat, her eyes filled with passion while he made love to her ran through his mind.
“I love you. It’s my wife I don’t cherish. I cherish you.”
“You should have married me. Harry is a good man, he doesn’t deserve this.”
“I am sorry my love.”
She flushed and pulled away from Seno’s reassuring strength. The feeling of longing to be with him again settled.
****
Harry had trekked from Abia’s building to his house. He walked on his feets for over five hours until he got back home.
He clicked the door open and saw his mother counting ten naira notes, sitting on the floor with her legs spread. He became surprise.
“Where did you get that from mama?” he asked.
His mother used the saliva in her mouth to separate the notes accordingly before responding.
“I went to look for money. I used the last five hundred I had to buy pure water. I made gain of eight hundred naira today alone.” She said excitedly as she stared down at Harry, his face closed and grin.
“Why would you mama?” he asked painfully.
“We need to save up for your wife. She will be due soon. I also have to buy clothes for my grand child.”
Harry nodded and half smiled, a pale phantom of his usual flippant grin. “I think I will join you in selling tomorrow.” He said softly and settled on the sofa.
“What happened to your bricklaying work?” His mother asked, looking surprised.
“I lost it. The house has been completed already.” He said sadly.
“Everything will be fine… I have been praying for you….” The voice continued, soothing, calming, and gentle. Her beloved hands cradled his forehead.
Moments later, Atimma got into the house. Her face had a delighted expression.
“Good evening…” She greeted calmly.
Harry didn’t respond, but his mother nodded. ” Welcome my daughter…”
Atimma became amaze at Harry’s mom new attitude towards her.
“Sit down Atim. I want to talk to the both of you.”
Atimma lowered herself slowly on the sofa. They both watched Harry’s mom squeeze in the arranged naira notes inside her wrapper, she tied it firmly and then took her gaze back to Harry and Atimma.
“I was told that marriage isn’t the bed of roses, it is true. There is no perfect Marriage, but love corrects imperfections and makes it beautiful.” She paused and yawn a bit.
“Forgiveness isn’t for people who are not ready to be married. Since I came here, I haven’t seen the both of you talk to each other, no love…
It is not good. Reconcile and make peace, if not for anything, for the sake of the baby.”
Her voice was coaxing them, buzzing into their ears like a a pesky bee.

Finally, Atimma felt as if she could raise her head after Harry’s mom had advised the both of them. Harry was mute.
While Atimma just said “thank you mama.”
She had bought food from a restaurant as usual, and ate in her room before she concentrated on her laptop.
The next day, she was ordering for her new car, and she didn’t have anyone to answer to, not even Harry.
Morning came, Harry and his mother left the house early for the sachet water company downtown. It was etaha market day, and they were aware of the number of people who bought and sold in the market. They held and empty bucket and filled them up with twenty sachets of water each. He filled his mother’s bucket with just ten sachets and held her hands as they hawked around the busy market.
After an hectic day, Harry and his mom sat under a flyover weakly, thinking of what to eat; they were hungry and their legs were hurting.
“Doesn’t your wife cook?” Harry’s mom broke the silence.
“I can’t remember the last time she did that.”
His mother wanted to protest, and Harry knew what was in her mind, but he glared at her suspiciously.
“It’s not a problem, I think it’s the pregnancy.” He added. His voice hoarse and unsteady.
“Is she the first to be pregnant? When I was pregnant of you, I went to the farm with your father and carried cassava stems for plantation. Who is she?”
“Mama just let her be.”
“It bothers me. You two don’t behave as husband and wife.”
“We will sort things out.” He said dryly.
“I don’t need to ask if you had beaten her up for real, because I know you my son, you didn’t.”
Harry nodded in agreement and laced his hands into his mother’s.
He knew that things might not change, all he ever wanted was his child and a good job.
His mother and him bought plantain porridge by the road side, they ate it till their belly became filled.
****
Atimma waited anxiously for Linda to join her at the office, so that they could go get her car from the agent.
She was excited.
She had started having light pains around her stomach, she suspected that baby was coming soon.
Linda arrived her office that day, smelling of masculine perfume.
“You this girl! you’re smelling man, man.”
Linda laughed out loud and sat on the office table.
“Chief Nwabueze’s perfume. That man loves me real good.” She chuckled.
“I don’t know why married men are loving their girlfriends more than their wives these days.”
“Don’t be deceived Atim. No married man loves his girlfriend more than his wife. They only pretend about it. They will all go back to their wives someday, when they get tired of our vaginas.”
Atimma stared at her stunned, as her words sank in like a bomb in her head.
“Well, Seno loves me. He gave me over four million to buy a good car for myself.”
“Amazing! congratulations… the baby is bringing in favours…”
“The agent is waiting, that’s why I called you, so that we can go get it together.”
“Bebe! you don turn big girl well, well!”
They both laughed out loud in unison.
“I am spending three million on the car, and the rest will go for my baby things. If not that you advised me to take Seno back, I would be looking like a mad woman from the ghetto by now.” Linda’s laughter became amused.
“Wait a minute, you mean Harry hasn’t even given you a dime for his baby things?”
“Not a kobo! His mom came by, I met them last night counting some smelly ten naira and five naira notes.”
Linda laughed and fell on the floor. “This morning, I overheard them talking about selling sachet water.”
“Oh no Atim…I hope you get fresh air when you get back home today.” Atimma gave a loud laugh, and shook her head.
Harry and his mother felt delighted, as they sold their water again in quantum.
Before Harry and His mother got back to the house, they had sold the water for five rounds.
Harry saw some baby clothes at cheap rates in the market and bought ten pieces of them, he also got baby napkin and white towels.
“It is remaining toiletries mama.” He said to his mom after he counted the remaining money.
“We won’t buy it today, after tomorrow’s sales.” She said. He helped her to her feet. He doubled the water buckets and placed them on his head, followed by his mother.
As they got back home, Harry was strangely quiet. He took a deep breathe when he noticed a fine, red car parked in front of the house, with a new plate number.
He stood as still as a statue, his arms folded across his chest, with the buckets on his head, and he did not look into that direction anymore.
When he got to the door, he tried to open it with his own keys, and noticed that Atimma had locked from the inside.
He knocked the door several times. His mother yawned and lowered herself slowly on the staircase.
They sat outside for hours, knocking on the door.
“Dammit!” Harry exclaimed, as he bounced more harder on the door.
His mother shook her head and stared pitifully at him. “maybe she is sleeping.” she said softly.
“Sleep for how long? We’ve been here for hours!”
The door finally clicked open as Atimma stood in her night gown. She didn’t say a word to them, she walked Passed them and got into her room.
The whole house was filled with baby seaters, diapers and baby clothes in piles filled up the sofas and the center table. Harry stared at the few clothes he bought from the market. Tears gathered in his eyes, as his head fell across his mother’s shoulders.
He walked into the bedroom and saw Atimma lying on the bed, she was playing candy crush with her phone.
“I for something for baby.” he muttered, his manner turning suddenly cold.
Atimma turned her face to him. “What’s that?” she asked shrilly.
” Baby clothes, napkin and towels. Tomorrow, mama and I will buy the rest.”
He whispered.
Atimma stood up and took the clothes from him. She held them irritatingly in her hands and perceived them.
“You got okirika for my child Harry? Did you not see the foreign things I bought for my baby?
Tell me that’s what you can afford again, let me shame you.” She said slipping her gown back in place and retying her ribbons with trembling fingers.
Her eyes closed as she threw the clothes at him.
“Babies don’t use napkins anymore. They use diapers. Take those things to the motherless Harry.”
Harry fell into brooding silence as he wiped a drop of tear from his eyes.
He packed the clothes slowly on the floor and piled them in his arms.
“I will talk to my boss about getting you a space at the office.” She Muttered, and then said aloud, “Not something serious, as a cleaner precisely.”
“No thank you. I do not want. I will rather sell water around the streets of Uyo, rather than work in an office for people who will take me as a fool Atimma. I am not a fool.” He said softly, his voice was gruff, and he walked out of the room.
He heard her sigh deeply, murmuring words to herself.
When Harry arrived the sitting room, his mother’s eyes was fixed on his face. “All is well mama.” He said, his voice broke. He began to cry as he sat beside his mother and kept his head on her laps. His heart was drumming to his ears.
Their hearts trembled, as they heard a loud scream from the bedroom. They paused, then waited to be sure it was from Atimma.
She yelled again. Harry ran helter skelter to the room, his heart broke as he saw her in tears and pains.
“My water broke!” she exclaimed in pains. Harry couldn’t wait for her to say the next word, he swept her into his arms and he ran hastily outside.
Harry’s body and face was coated with sweats. He looked pale and his eyes looked tired.
He folded his arms across his chest, while his mother was praying deeply in her heart.
He wanted all of this to be over.
Doctor Edet’s deep voice came from behind them. “Mr Harry…”
His mother jumped up from her seat when she saw the doctor. They both stepped towards him to hear his words clearly. Doctor Edet’s face was beamed with smiles as he announced the good news.
“It’s a beautiful, hairy Princess.” He said lyrically, almost like a song. “I have never seen a baby this beautiful…”
Harry and his mother could not hold their joy. They were excited. His mother knelt down and slowly hit her head on the cold tile. “Thank you Jehovah, Yahweh! elshaddai, elohin, adonai, I am that I am, abasi apostolic, ahha. At my age, I am going to carry my first grand child.” She stood up and danced around by twisting her waist. Harry and the doctor watched her with smiles on their faces.
“Doctor, can we see her now?” Harry asked in a shaky tone.
“Oh yes…you can.”
They both walked hastily behind Doctor Edet as he led them to the ward Atimma and the baby were.
Harry’s heart skipped as he saw his daughter. He carried her from the baby bed and handed her gently to his mother.
He walked gently towards Atimma and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Thank you for giving me an angel.” He whispered into her ears.
She gave a forceful smile, but didn’t say a word.
Harry went back to his daughter and took her from his mother’s hands. She had a full black hair and a pointed nose, and looked exactly like him.
“she looks like you when you were baby. She has your nose and your hair. look at her nails, looks like her grand father’s.” Harry’s mom said excitedly as she held the baby’s hands.
Harry giggled, and kissed the baby on the forehead.
“What will be her name Mama?”
“I will name her Mkpoutommi…” She whispered excitedly.
Harry smiled.
He watched her lick her small pink lips. He admired her pink, unisex sleep wear and her coverall.
She made him feel so many emotions.
He held her tight to himself and cuddled her gently. Her tiny cry caught his attention.
“Is like she needs breast milk. she is hungry.” Harry said softly, turning to Atimma.
“I won’t give her breast milk. I bought her tin milk.”
“Abasiakan…My grandchild will suck breast milk until she clocks six months. I did same for your husband, my son.” Harry’s mom said shrilly.
“I won’t give her breast milk. I am not interested in what breast milk does to babies. I won’t. I will give her baby milk.”
Atimma said weakly, but authoritatively.
“Why? Breast milk is good for babies.”
“Harrison, I don’t want my breast to fall because of your child, I don’t want to breastfeed anybody.” She said.
Harry became sad. Atimma saw his frown and immediately took away her face.
“That’s her food, in case, you want to mix it, make it 50ml.” Atimma said and laid slowly on the bed. Harry’s mom became mute.
Harry’s gaze dropped at where the baby’s food was pointed at. He searched through the bag, saw the milk, a water flask and a feeding bottle. He went out hastily to look for hot water so that he could feed his child. His heart was filled with anger. But the face of his little angel softened him.
He named her Edidiongabasi.
“She will bring me blessings mama.” He said to his mom, as he inserted the feeding bottle into her mouth slowly, she took it without hesitation and sucked it gently.
“Didi girlllllll” His mother teased, he handed the baby to his mother and watched her feed baby excitedly.
He was amaze at such enchanting beauty and he stared at his little girl like she was magic. He was more proud that she was his.
Didi was barely two months old when her mother Atimma resumed work at the office.
Most times she was always with her grandmother; She bathe her, fed her and watched her sleep before she could wash her tiny clothes. While her father Harry cuddled her at midnights when she was awake.
Didi didn’t have a bond with her mother.
Harry became Worried as Atimma always came back home late, mostly at midnights.
He had resumed his pure water business, and most times he went to the markets and schools to sell them.
He thought of his daughter each time someone insulted him, abused him or made him feel inferior. he will hawked them to sell, so that he could afford her milk.
And every night, when he came back from selling water, his mother watched him lament about leg pains, headache and backache.
****
Rushing inside the house, Atimma found Harry’s mom in the kitchen. She had Didi girl tied to her back with a wrapper; she was holding a feeding bottle and hot water in a kettle, she was about to make Didi’s food.
“Mama what are you doing here in the kitchen with my child?” She asked rudely.
“I want to make her food.”
“She is too little to be tied to the back mama. That is why I bought baby roller and bouncers.”
“When I place her on those white people’s seats, she cries so much. She prefers my back Atimma.”
“No she doesn’t!” Atimma yelled and grabbed Didi girl out from her mother inlaw’s back. She pulled her into her arms.
“Come my little princess.” She teased.
When Didi opened her eyes and saw that it was her mother who was holding her, she cried out so loud. Atimma became surprise that her daughter doesn’t know her.
She put her hand at the back of her neck and tried to cuddle her, but Didi wept even the more.
“Give her to me!”Harry’s husky voice came in, he grabbed Didi from her and held her to his body. “Don’t you ever, talk to my mother like that Again! If you love your child so much, you should be coming back home early to cuddle her, feed her and bathe her!”
Atimma became silent for a while, she didn’t know what to say. She smelt of vodka and masculine perfume…Harry perceived it, but didn’t ask her about it.
Didi girl relaxed in the comfort of her father’s hands.
Harry’s mom walked into the room immediately with Didi’s formula in a feeding bottle. Harry handed Didi to his mom and she took her away to the sitting room.
“When is mama leaving my house, I am tired of seeing her face.” Atimma broke the silence, as she tried to remove her earrings from her ear.
“You must be insane. How can she leave, who will take care of my daughter?”
She gasped audibly. Harry’s face crumpling like a child.
“I will get a nanny.”
“A strange being will never ever take of my child. My mother will. I wake every morning, toiling, walking around streets and hawking water like a child…for you, for my child, for my mother. At her age, she is suppose to be resting and enjoying the fruit of her labour. But she made the sacrifice of taking care of my child and you’re here blabbing nonsense.” He clenched his fists and anger suffused his features.
“Stop telling me your life history Harry. I am tired of always getting to hear of your pathetic life stories. How you hawk around the streets, how you do this and that…and blablabla..I wonder what you would have said if you were in my shoes. If you were the one who owned this place, or the car…maybe the world would have been at your feet…
but thanks be to God, he knows what you have become, if he had blessed you with wealth. He made you this way!” A faint light of a smile, tickled the corners of her mouth.
Anger burned Harry’s heart, he pushed her to the bed and almost landed a slap on her face.
“Don’t do that!” His mother’s voice came from behind.
A shiver, like a cold rigor, slip up Atimma’s spine. She shifted slowly out of the bed and walked to the kitchen.
“I curse the day I met you Harry. Take your daughter and leave my life!” She said in a choked voice, splashed water on her face, took her car keys and drove out……

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