Grunting, just as Matron had coached them during ante-natal classes, Ujuaku cursed this thing called childbirth. Why do women have to suffer excruciating pains just to be called mothers? Ugonna certainly hadn’t busted a sweat when he planted the seed that was about to make him a father.
A nurse interrupted her train of thought, ‘Madam, please take it easy. When it’s time we’ll transfer you to the delivery room, okay?’
Nodding her understanding, Ujuaku breathed in and out in an attempt to reduce the pain and steady her nerves.
She saw Ugonna, her husband looking at her and glared at him; amused, he smiled encouragingly at her.
‘Do you need me to rub your waist?’
She shook her head. A wave of anguish engulfed her.
They had met during their national youth service year in Owerri, south-east Nigeria. He had pursued her with single-minded determination until she caved. And when the service year came to an end, she had followed him to Nsukka where he opened a textile manufacturing factory, and she enrolled in the university for her MSc.
They lived together for a year before they got married.
Then, they had agreed to wait a bit before starting a family. She had just gotten a teaching job at the University of Nigeria, and was working on her PHD; and he wanted time to focus on his business.
Two years into their marriage, he made his first million and started hinting at babies. Often he made passionate love to her ‘forgetting’ to don condoms. When his efforts proved fruitless, he erroneously believed they were having fertility issues, and started hinting at fertility clinics.
It was Uchechi, her cousin, who had told her about the affair. She had seen him leaving a hotel at Enugu early one morning with a woman – the week-end Ugonna claimed he was attending a business meeting in Enugu, they chatted briefly before leaving separately; Ugonna in his 2009 Toyota Higlander, the woman in a hired cab, instructing the driver to take her to one of the colleges in the city.
She hadn’t wanted to believe Uchechi but she nursed some doubts – he travelled a lot. She began to monitor Ugonna: checking his Laptop, iPad and Blackberry for any clue he was having.
For a while it looked like the gossipy Uchechi had got it all wrong, then she had come across an SMS that read: "Hun, its Sara. Whn r u cming? U wan 2 stay @ Alpha’s?" She knew instinctively it was her. Only college students wrote in that appalling shorthand version of English.
Her first instinct was to leave, divorce her unfaithful husband. But she lacked the will; she loved him too much.
Hurt, she locked herself in their bedroom and wept. Why was he cheating on her? Was he no longer attracted to her? (They were age-mates, almost: he, thirty-two, she, thirty. He was only nineteen months older than her. Her once slightly-curvy-not-fat body (the type African men liked) was becoming quite voluptuous, despite her strict exercise regime, but Ugonna also assured her he loved this curvier her and they still had a healthy sex life.)
A confused Ugonna had stood at the door, begging her to open up, to no avail. He left her alone, called her diplomat mother who lived in Doha and cancelled his meeting in Enugu.
Ujuaku’s mother had called her almost immediately, and Ujuaku had told her, in hushed tones with the TV tuned to CNN, what was happening. Predictably, she blamed her.
‘You’re so stubborn! So bent on a career! See where it will land you now,’ her mother scolded.
Incredulous, Ujuaku asked, ‘Mum, my life is falling apart and you’re blaming me?’
‘No, I will blame me! Did I not warn you to face your man? Career-woman, career-woman! You-‘
‘Mum, please! I am tired.’
Her mother sighed audibly, ‘young woman, you’ll take a leave from work immediately and pamper your husband. You-‘
‘What! He cheated and you want me to pamper him? Mum!’
‘Shut up this child or I will end this call! Do you want to save your marriage or not?’
‘I do, Mum. But-‘
‘Take time off; spend it with your husband. Show him you’re still that girl he fell in love with.’
So she had opened the door, feebly put her weeping down to stress; never once mentioning Sara.
Her sudden renewed interest in little areas of his life caught Ugonna by surprise, he seemed not to know how to handle this new her that acted like the old her but was more expressive.
Slowly and passionately, they rekindled their love. And that was the happiest month of her life, the month she conceived the little warrior who was now threatening to tear her apart in his haste to meet the world.
Ugonna had enthusiastically welcomed her pregnancy. He doted on her and avoided travelling, until these past few weeks when he had started going for regular ‘meetings’ in Enugu.
The pain of his betrayal struck her once more, coinciding with a long and sharp contraction, making her to cry out in agony.
Ugonna sprang up from his chair, ‘Darling, what is it?’
‘Don’t "darling" me! Call the damn doctor!"
He hurried out, returning some seconds later with the doctor and two nurses in tow.
They transferred her to the delivery room where they helped her borne her eight pound son.
Ugonna was there to happily receive his first bon child.
Ujuaku couldn’t take the pretence any longer. She blew up one morning after a long night of loving, when Ugonna said he will be travelling for a business meeting the next day.
‘This is it! I am tired of your duplicity! And I can’t live like this anymore! I am leaving this house today!’ Nearly toppling him as she sprang up from the bed and faced him; looking unknowingly sexy in a sheer lace night-gown with her hair tousled and her eyes flashing fire at him.
Looking nonplussed, Ugonna exclaimed, ‘what are you talking about?’
But she was consumed by intense anger, and she rushed at him, punching and cursing. He fielded her punches easily and swung her, astride, on his laps, silent as she wept broken-heartedly.
Spent, she struggled to get off him, but he held her tight. Deftly he lifted her off him and pinned her beneath him on the bed.
‘No! You’ll listen to me!’
Face mutinously set, she glared at him.
‘Uju, I love you. I cant possibly live without you-‘
‘Puh-lease! Don’t insult my intelligence with false declarations. I know about Sara who calls you "Hun" and -‘
He laughed uproariously.
‘You misunderstood, my love. Sara is Emeka, my business partner’s younger sister and she calls everyone "Hun". She’s also his organiser, which means that she books our hotel reservations and occasionally attends meetings with us.’
Sighing, ‘I swear to you I’ve never cheated on you. I’ve never felt the need, and I never will.’
Not ready to swallow his explanation without being certain of its truth, she asked, ‘but what about these meetings you’ve been attending lately?’
Cupping her face, he smiled, ‘my intelligent wife.’ Kissing her deeply, he continued, ‘the company was in trouble; I didn’t want to worry you. Something about irregular tax records but the Accountants have fixed it. The meeting scheduled for tomorrow is actually with your brother.’
‘Yes, my love. He wants us to do business together but we are still negotiating. I didn’t want to tell you, in case you felt bound to butt in on my behalf.’
‘And I know how touchy you can be about my family’s wealth.’
‘With good reason! They thought I pursued and married their girl because of her wealth.’
She laughed at the absurdity of that. Ugonna would never take a dime he didn’t work for, not even from his in-laws.
‘I’m sorry I doubted you. On the plus side, your supposed affair pushed me back into your arms, thanks to Mum."
At his raised brow, she laughed, ‘ it was that serious! I read that sms and my world tilted.’
‘And you took a one-month leave from teaching to shower me with love,’ he chuckled.
"I have a confession-‘, at his surprised stare, she hurried on, ‘I was secretly on the pill for many years.’
‘You don’t say! No wonder my efforts were in vain.’
‘Youre not angry? I am sorry. I didn’t want to give up my career and become a "little woman".’
He laughed and kissed her long and deep, ‘God, woman! I love you. Ill forgive you anything. Besides you can never be a "little woman".’
Just then their son let loose a lusty cry, and his father walked to his crib in the adjourning room decorated baby-blue and spotting posters of Lion King. He lifted his son up, and was rewarded with a toothless grin.
From behind, Ujuaku wrapped her arms around them, ‘I love you, both. You’re my heart; my world.’