“What do you mean they’d not apply the poison?” My wife asked for maybe the umpteenth time.
“Just that, Adunni. Chike asked me what poison we used and where we bought them. Why would he ask that question if they applied it?” I said, knowing that she was not exactly hot, but was warming up as her paranoia kicked in.
“Daddy twins, I can’t believe how easy you agree to his lies. He’s just trying to divert attention, especially since they left the cleaning to us?”
“No. He sounded very sincere to me.”
“He would, Dotun Akintoye, he would. You can so be gullible it hurts. Who would’ve spread the poison? Who else lives in this house with us? We didn’t apply it, so it must be them. I intend to speak to that condescending woman and her husband o. I don’t care if her father owns this house.”
“Calm down, Adunni,” I said, for she was already shouting, not caring if anyone was listening. “It could have come from any of the houses nearby. You know rats socialise a lot. One visit to a poisoned meat and the scourge spreads through the four legged kingdom.”
My intention was to diffuse the tension with some light humour. Her sour look at me told me humour would not work. I persisted, no humour though. My reward was the sight of her beautiful smile replacing her scowl. However, it would be much later that I found out my summary of the situation was right.
Life went back to normal, kind of, Adunni still refused to be on friendly terms with neighbours. We never saw another rat again, not inside the house, not within the compound. We felt that a good omen. We never talked much about the issue with the poison as my hypothesis of the poison’s source carried even with my cynical wife. Perhaps the neighbours had overheard my argument with Adunni about their culpability, because Chike never mentioned the issue to me again. Perhaps this was because there were no rats left to kill? Whatever the reason, I never asked.
We would have gone on living our lives, happy that the brief pauses and quick darts of the rats across the living room and those irksome scratches they inflict as they make their way across a sleeping body were now stories to be told with relief. We—I to be precise—maintained a somewhat cordial relationship with our neighbour, trading polite greetings and swallowing the anger of having to mow the lawn and care for the compound alone.
Things did not remain normal for too long. No, the rats did not come back, they never did. It was something worse that came.
It was late afternoon when I returned from picking the kids from school. Adunni’s car was in the car park but the silence of the house, despite the scent of fresh disinfectant, baffled me. The kids’ shriek of “mummy we’re home” went unanswered. I walked into the bedroom, checked the bathroom, the guest room, and kitchen too. Adunni was not in the house. A quick check at the backyard showed she had been weeding her vegetable patch. The old-style hoe she was very fond of was lying between the ridges she had made me dig for her beloved plants, beside the hoe where uprooted weeds with clumps of earth still attached.
I went back into the house, ignored the twins “where’s mummy” and stepped to the front yard. I was crossing the spiral stairs that led to the second floor when a faint whimper reached my ears. I paused, cups my hands to my ears. Sure enough, the sound came again, accompanied this time with soft whispers. I looked up. The window to the Nwaogu’s living room were open, the sounds came from there.
My legs where rubbery when I began walking up the stairs, and they got more so by the time I was turning the door handle to get into the room.
I opened the door and thrust my head in, the sight before me was enough to stop me in my tracks, and it did.
Mrs. Bisi Nwaogu, Chike’s ajebuttter wife and my Adunni were in each other’s arms on the single settee in the Nwaogu’s sitting room.
I heard a noise behind me and turned to see the twins coming up the stairs. I pushed the door all the way open and stepped into the room, the twins came in behind me. I stood in the room, numb, saying nothing, staring at my wife and Chike’s wife.
The twins stood beside me, silent, hanging to my hands as if staking territory, watching the scene.
“what’s going on here?” I asked.
The women, who until then were oblivious of my presence, turned to look at me.
No, not my Adunni, I know her well enough. There must be a reasonable explanation for what I am seeing, I thought.
I noticed tears on Bisi’s cheeks. Adunni was dry eyed, but I knew her enough to know that what I saw in her eyes was sorrow, tinged with something akin to fear.
“What is going on here?” I asked again.
Adunni did not pull away from the woman’s embrace. She opened her arms wide, beckoning on us to come to them. I held the Twins back, stood my ground, my eyebrows quirking, askance.
“Darling, did you not get my message?” Adunni asked.
Darling? Could she be so brazen? She only calls me darling in the bedroom, the only place she lets go of that stern exterior of hers and lets me be boss. Yes, that is fear in her eyes.
“I did not, the twins were singing all through the drive back.” I said, throwing darts at her with my eyes, at least I thought I was.
Beside her, Mrs. Nwaogu went from gentile sobs to open wailing.
Adunni looked at her for a moment and shook her head sadly. I flexed my fingers, my hands felt limp. The bewildered twins squirmed out of my grasp and ran to their mother.
What the hell is going on?
“Eko Atlantic City is under quarantine, Chike is there,” Adunni’s voice was flat and devoid of emotion, as if she announcing yet another curfew for the twins.
“Quarantine, what quarantine?” I asked, wondering what game they were playing at.
Adunni did not answer; she instead managed to free one hand from a twin and pointed. I followed her finger to the left and saw a hologram that filled one part of the sitting room.
All my attention, when we walked in, had been on the women on the couch. I had not even noticed the hologram.
In the projected image, men in protective gear were leading several sickly looking people into tents, others, too weak to walk, or perhaps dead, lay limp on stretchers. However, that was not what struck me. I stood there, stunned, trying, but failing to deny the suggestion that came to mind. The sick people all had bluish secretion coming out of their noses.
Captivated by what I was seeing, I moved closer. “How are you getting this?” I asked, noticing that the screen was without a media logo, so it could not be coming from a mainstream news outlet.
“Chike planted a spy camera yesterday. He suspected that something is going on and wanted to get first hand information. He says an epidemic is upon us. I told him not to go, I told him not to go.” Mrs Nwaogu said through her sobs.
“How come this is not on the news then?” I asked no one in particular.
“Chike’s camera’s streams to Bisi’s allincom, those are real-time images from his camera. I’ve tried reaching my colleagues in Eko Atlantic but the connection’s busy,” Adunni said, finally coming to stand beside me. The ever-perceptive twins stayed with the sobbing Mrs. Nwaogu.
To be continued...