Florence returned to the city with Nwamgbeke.
Since Ikechukwu’s death, Nwamgbeke has not remained her usual sprightly self. She was slow and rarely talked.
Florence on the other hand became a louder and more aggressive version of her old self. She never smiled and seemed to be in the mood of a fight always.
First, she asked Nwamgbeke to give her the key to Ikechukwu’s car.
‘Why you needing it?’ Nwamgbeke asked her.
‘Bring it,’ she said.
Nwamgbeke walked upstairs and brought the key for her.
One morning, she entered the kitchen to find Nwamgbeke cooking.
Florence carried down Nwamgbeke’s pot of boiling beans and put on her kettle of water.
‘Florence, if you want boil water, why you not on’ing the other side of the gas?’ Nwamgbeke asked her.
Florence hissed. ‘Who told you they cook beans with gas eh?’
‘What you mean?’
‘Mgbeke, since last week, you’ve been cooking beans with this gas. If the gas finish, will you refill it?’
Nwamgbeke left her and quietly took a plate from the rack.
She dished out her half-done beans and walked out of the kitchen.
Florence stared at her, her chest heaving.
Later in the afternoon, she came out to the corridor to meet Nwamgbeke. Nwamgbeke has just dropped some clothes and her towel inside the washing machine.
‘Turn that off!’ Florence said.
Nwamgbeke turned to her. ‘Why?’
Florence walked to the socket and pulled out the machine plug. ‘If you want to wash, go outside and use the tap.’
In the night, she came into the sitting room and turned the TV off.
‘Florence?’ Nwamgbeke called her.
‘Go and sleep,’ Florence said. ‘It’s past 12.’
Nwamgbeke stood and started toward the steps.
Florence drew her back by the arm. ‘What is wrong with you?’ she asked Nwamgbeke.
‘What you mean?’
‘Why are you acting so quiet?’
‘This is not you, what happened to you?’
Nwamgbeke swallowed. ‘Florence, in case you not know, Ikechukwu is dead.’
‘If I fight with you and break your komkom head with bottle of small stout, what of outside?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘How many people I fight?’ Nwamgbeke asked her. ‘How many people I kill?’ She paused on a breath. A ball of air had formed in her throat. ‘How many heads I break before I be happy again?’
Florence was staring at her.
Nwamgbeke swallowed again. ‘I reaving tomolo morning.’
‘Leave to where?’
‘I not happy here again.’
‘Because of me?’
‘No,’ Nwamgbeke said. ‘My happiness is going. He is going and he not coming back so I going back home.’
Florence sniffled and started to cry. ‘I miss him too,’ she said. ‘I miss him, I really do.’
Nwamgbeke nodded. ‘Sorry.’ She turned and walked upstairs.
The next morning Florence was in the sitting room when she came down with her bags.
Without greeting her, she made her way to the door.
Florence quickly stood. ‘Mgbeke, wait.’
Nwamgbeke halted at the door and turned. ‘You call me?’
‘Please don’t go.’
‘I can’t stay here alone. I can’t stay in this house alone.’
Nwamgbeke stared at her, saying nothing.
‘Please,’ Florence said. ‘Stay.’
Nwamgbeke shook her head. ‘I reaving.’ She turned back to the door.
Florence ran to her and grabbed her bag. ‘Stay here you this stupid girl!’ she yelled. ‘Stay!’ She fell on top of the bag. ‘Stay!’ Her shoulders continued to heave from the tears. ‘Stay.’
Nwamgbeke watched her, swallowing one ball of sorrow after another.
The next day, Nwamgbeke left early to the hospital.
Samson was still unconscious.
‘Doctor, you sure he waking up at all?’ Nwamgbeke asked the chubby-cheeked man across the table.
‘We are hopeful,’ the man replied.
‘What that mean?’
‘It means we are optimistic.’
‘I not know that one too.’
‘There is hope.’
They were still inside the doctor’s office when a nurse ran in to call the doctor.
‘Doc, he moved!’ the tall and thin lady in a nurse uniform announced.
‘Who?’ the doctor asked her.
‘The man in Ward B2, he just moved.’
The doctor stood immediately and followed the nurse.
Nwamgbeke rose too and followed them.
Stepping into the ward, her steps lost zeal. Samson lay quiet on the bed, his head wound heavily with bandage.
Nwamgbeke stared at him in pity, and at that moment remembered Ikechukwu. The day he finally closed his eyes and the doctor turned to her and said that he was sorry.
Her insides tightened from sorrow.
Samson moved his arm and the tears welling up in her eyes fell. She quickly wiped them.
‘Aunty,’ Samson called her.
Nwamgbeke moved closer to him.
‘Aunty, it was him,’ Samson said.
Nwamgbeke sniffled and wiped at her eyes again. ‘Samson, what you saying?’
‘It was him that night, Aunty.’
And at that moment Nwamgbeke felt something hit her— a giant blow. Something like the experience of finding yourself in the middle of a terrible collision.
Outside the hospital gate, she waved down neither a taxi nor a bike.
She trekked all the way home. The rising afternoon sun stung her skin and sweat poured off her face, but she walked on, her mind completely vacant.
At home, she pushed the door open and entered.
Chuka was in the sitting room with Florence, a pack of juice and two glass cups sitting in a tray before them.