I scroll the TV. I have Netflix and Showmax and I still have nothing to watch. I sort of feel like those women who have a wardrobe full of clothes yet never have anything to wear. Speaking of which, here she comes flashing a smile, asking me if I want chili in my food. She likes her chili this girl. I don’t like it very much but sometimes I compromise because what is marriage if not compromise? We had taken chili off the menu for a while, we were paranoid there for a second. We thought it was the reason we could not conceive. Ridiculous, I know. “Do whatever you want.” I find myself shouting dismissively and I feel bad immediately. ‘Well done, Charles, just keep pushing the disrespect button and one day she will be sure to leave you.’
To be honest, I’m on edge and the phone call I got from mother didn’t help.
“You know Linda was asking about you.”
“Which Linda?” I asked ignorantly.
“The one you grew up with, the prettiest one in our church choir.”
I know Linda alright, mother has been trying to push her on me for the longest time. Sometimes I wonder what kind of character she has to allow such dirty tricks. I mean, where is her self-respect? Anyway, I told mother I have no time for Linda because I’m a married man and she out-rightly came out and said Linda could give me the children Agatha hasn’t. I hang up and now I’m prickly at the love of my life. Sometimes I look at her and wonder how I got such a jewel. There are days I wake up sweaty afraid she has left me, afraid my trial period with her has ended.
She has never divulged my defect to her kin but then again they are not nosy like mine. They know their place and it’s away from our business. Her parents only seem to be concerned about our happiness. And even if they did ask, Agatha is the type of woman who covers me up in satin when I should be dressed in rags. My drinking, my smoking, my shortcomings, she covers them all up. She shields me the way the ozone layer shields humanity from dangerous sun-rays. She makes me appear a god in the eyes of men. What would I do without this woman? I’d be truly lost, wandering in the sea like a ship without anchor.
Mother doesn’t know that I’m the problem. We’ve gone to the doctors, I have low sperm count. There are foods I have been told to stay away from, chili is not one of them. I can’t smoke my cigarettes or drink my whisky. Just the thought of it makes me crave a stiff drink. I breathe a sigh and flick through movies. They all seem to blur into each other. They all seem to have the same story-line but with slightly different titles. ‘Friends with Benefits’ and ‘No Strings Attached.’ ‘White House Down’ and Olympus Has Fallen.’ I sigh. Are all the producers drinking from the same imbecile cup?
I can’t think properly. Especially now that she’s being threatened. Someone is slandering her with an unknown number. She showed me the texts. One said, ‘BARREN WOMAN, HAHA.’ Another said, ‘You are bewitched, go back to the brothel you came from.’ She’s such a sweet soul, she takes it all in stride and says she can manage but I know it isn’t okay, it hurts her. Last night her pillow had a big patch of water around it, it was not drool.
I confronted mother and my sisters. They all denied it but you could smell the baby fever off them. My big sister was the first one to shout that I should marry a second wife. “Will you feed this second wife I will marry and put a roof over her head?” I asked and she shut her mouth. I don’t know who told this family of mine that they can meddle in my affairs. My small sister, she’s a freshman in college, hasn’t even shed her milk teeth but she was quick to tell me about surrogacy. Then mother came in singing, Linda, Linda, Linda. I can’t even come with Agatha around anymore. They look at her like she’s a disease. Smacking their lips and rolling their eyes as if she owes them a debt.
I could tell them that it’s me. I’m the one with the problem but I know they wouldn’t believe it. They will say I’m covering up for her. They are blind to the extent that they don’t know that they are blind. I’m forty now, all those years and there has never been a girl who has knocked on our door claiming she’s carrying my child. You would think that would open up their eyes but not my family, they close their eyelids shut to whatever they don’t want to see. I flip channels, my jewel comes back again. The fluorescent light touches her skin and it glows like neon.
“Honey, is everything okay, your voice seemed off?”
“I was just from the phone with mother. You know how she can be. It’s nothing.”
She stretches and kisses me on the cheek. Her lips warm and wet. Their touch send volts through my body.
Today we’re going for an IVF. They will extract her egg and take my sperm sample and manually combine them. To mother this is unnatural, bordering on demonic. I breathe a sigh when I see her at the hospital reception. I need a cigarette, I remember I can’t have one. That only serves to increase my urge. What a busy body mother is, she even knows our hospital schedule. In tow with her is Linda. The nerve. I’m quick to tell the doctor not to admit her in the examination room. “I squeezed you out of my vagina, you ungrateful thing.” She bellows and I allow her in just to stop the ruckus. ‘Unnatural, devils work,’ she matters under her breath. “This couldn’t be happening if you just did what I say.” She goes on. That night Agatha cries in my arms, I wake up the next morning and find her in the bathtub with a knife. I take the knife away from her, pick up the phone and call in sick.
The year begins with good news, Agatha is pregnant. We don’t tell anyone because we don’t want to jinx it. We will break the news after three months, after she starts to show. The third week and she feels a cutting pain. I rush her to hospital in my Toyota Fielder, it’s a miscarriage. We’re back to square one.
Mid-year and another miscarriage knocks. We start considering sperm banks.
“It will feel as if I’m betraying you,” she says.
“We will look at their profiles and find one that suits us the best.”
“I mean, we’re already dysfunctional, what with mother breathing down our necks. Not to get it confused, we’re not doing this for her. It’s just that, I want to wake up to the smell of soiled diapers instead of the stench of my problems.”
“Ahem.” She gasps and moves towards me. Her figure hugging dress catching the wind and filling the air with the aroma of jasmine. I hold her hands and gaze into her.
“You have a say in this too. It’s your body that will expand for nine months.”
“It’s not that, I also want to wake up to the crying of a kid instead of my sobs. It’s just that…”
“It’s unnatural?” My shoulders rise and fall. “Let’s reserve such talk for mother.”
The baby comes, bouncing and healthy. Mother says how much he has my eyes. Big sister says that the forehead is definitely hers. Mother says they never doubted Agatha, not even for a second. We squeeze each other’s hand and smile. On the TV screen my small sister is flipping movies wondering what to watch between ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Shark Tale.’
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