- The Storried Platform
STOLEN WATERS – By Ify Omeni
I looked out of the window of the four bedroom flat, my thoughts running riot in my mind. The happy laughter of children floated into my ears. Three young boys came into view, running around on roller skates and obviously having fun. I wished I could be like them, excited, happy, with the carefree nature of children who had no serious problems to think of. Having none of the encumbrances of adult life. I sighed as I moved away from the window and sat staring absently at the sitting room furniture.
I willed myself to smile, to think on happy times but a mountain of sadness rose before me. The words of a song came to my bemused mind:
Oh my home
When shall I see my home?
When shall I see my native land
I shall never forget my home
I wondered as I hummed the song what inspired the lyrics. The songwriter’s nostalgia for a lost heritage? Or an ostracised child’s longing for his homeland? I wondered to which of those two groups I belonged. I wondered where home was. The prison where I now lived or that place of childhood which now seemed so far away, like a cottage hidden deep in the woods, the pathway to it blurring in my mind.
I heard the sound and turned. It was him. I walked closer as he strode towards the door.
‘Where are you going dear?’
‘Anywhere, just to be away from you.’ He said and shut the door so loudly, I thought it would explode. I started as the noise resounded around the house. His words from the night before came to me again:
‘Lovette and I were so happy together. Why did you come between us?’ His words sounded more like a desperate cry than a reprimand. I heard the pain in his voice and my heart felt as if it was being squeezed from within.
Lovette! Her very name suggested love. And she indeed epitomised the four letter word. Lovette was my sister. My only sister. A lovely, loving and lovable sister. The most selfless human being I had ever known. Lovette was the firstborn of the family and acted that part true to type. My parents could go to sleep, knowing that their two other children, my brother and I were in safe hands. My mum told me of how Lovette would sit with me while she did other chores. Though she was only six years old when I was born, she had begun to act the part of the devoted, big sister. Lovette loved me with a fierceness that sometimes scared my mother and literarily fought anyone that wanted to touch her ‘baby sister.’ And when our only brother, Eric was born, she once again swung into the role of the protective big sister.
Everyone who came into our house loved Lovette. She was like a burst of light in a dark room. She made anyone she met feel special and my parents never ceased to sing her praises. Eric practically adored her and told anyone who had ears to hear that he would marry any woman who made him feel the way his sister did. We all thought it a joke till we met his fiancée, Julie. She could pass for Lovette’s twin sister in physical outlook and character. Everyone in the family fell in love with Julie instantly.
I loved my sister but sometimes felt she was being overrated. All my life, it seemed I was in competition with her. For Christ’s sake, she was six years older than I was. I certainly could not be expected to behave EXACTLY like her. But my mum especially never failed to reprimand me each time I erred with the famous words:
‘Why can’t you act like your sister? She does not give me the kind of headache you do.’
‘I am not my sister.’ I would say sulkingly. ‘I am me and I intend to remain like this.’
‘You will not go far with this kind of attitude. You better change before it is too late.’ Mum would reprimand.
I wonder whenever I think back on those words if they were not a premonition. If I had listened to mum, maybe I would not be caught in this cauldron of torment.
What headache was mum referring to? It was my headstrong, flighty and vivacious nature which was a perfect contrast to Lovette’s easygoing, homely, calm, controlled and humble nature. I just could not sit down in one place. Like Tricia, my best friend used to say in her spiced pidgin ‘You nor dey hear word.’
I had been punished several times for sneaking out of the hostel to attend one party or the other. Matters came to a head when I got into a fight with a girl from another school who accused me of ‘snatching’ her boyfriend. When the news got to the school authorities, I was sent home with the advice to my parents to ‘take care of their daughter’ as they could no longer do so.
My parents were so upset and my dad made sure I got the furious end of his cane but I was not moved. Punishment never swayed me. I was once flogged in the assembly ground of my former secondary school, in the full glare of the students. A teacher notorious for subduing tough students was assigned to flog me. He had brought out his cane, a gleeful smile on his lips, like a lion that had sighted prey. He swung the cane but my face remained expressionless. By the time he had given me the twelve strokes he boasted about, I was still standing erect, like a brave Roman soldier. Then with defiant steps, I walked up to him and asked,
‘Is that all?’
The whole assembly seemed to erupt as my classmates yelled my nickname Angy baby. Mr. Balogun felt deflated, like a balloon that comes in contact with a pin. The principal had been livid and so were the other teachers. I was the defiant student the teachers dreaded and the students admired.
These days, I did not feel so proud of myself anymore as I thought on those times of youthful exuberance.
I often felt depressed each time my parents punished me for one wrongdoing or the other. Eric my brother was disgusted with my antics and called me a time bomb going somewhere to explode. We fought often but my sister Lovette proved to be a buffer at such times. When I retreated to my room after my suspension from the boarding house, she had come to me
‘Can I come in?’ She stopped tentatively at the door of my room. That was vintage Lovette. Ever so kind and thoughtful, respectful of everyone’s privacy and not able to hurt a fly.
‘Go away. I don’t want to see anybody. Nobody loves me.’
‘That is not true. You know I love you very much. You are my only sister and the closest one to my heart.’
Her words warmed my heart and soon I was in her arms, weeping out my frustrations. She listened as I told her of how everyone wanted me to act in a certain way and I felt choked because I could not be myself.
‘You can be yourself and still avoid trouble. You know that.’
‘I don’t have to be like you, Lovette.’ A note of anger crept into my voice.
‘I don’t believe you should be like me. You are you. Angelic Angela, beautiful daughter of the most high God. You can be yourself and bring sunshine to your world. If you accept Jesus, he would show you how.’
Lovette’s soothing words seeped through to me and I felt better. She sure had a way of making everyone feel great. It first had to do with her natural genial nature. Then it had been spiced with her latest religious affiliations. Lovette became a born again Christian in her final year of secondary school and ran around with the religious doctrine but I refused to be a convert to her religion
‘Your words are soothing but this born again thing is not for me.’
‘Will you promise me you would be a good girl?’ She asked, not pushing me to take a religious stand.
‘I promise.’ I meant it and tried to act it out, at least till I left secondary school. Lovette convinced our parents who had become so angry, they vowed not to send me to school again. They registered me in a school close to the house where I could be monitored closely. Lovette who was now in her fifth year in the college of medicine tried her best between her hectic academic schedule to keep me in check. And for a while, I behaved myself.
Till I gained admission to the university. I chose the University of Benin because I wanted to be far away from home in Lagos. I wanted to spread my wings and drink the sweet waters my parents had stopped me from drinking. I was the toast of the campus. The favourite of the guys but every lady’s nightmare. My natural good looks and heartwarming smiles endeared me to many of the males but I was highly selective. I had three main criteria to consider before I could date a man. He had to be handsome, rich and polished. Anyone who did not meet those criteria was poison to me and I treated as such.
The years rolled lazily by and soon, I was in my final year at the university. Eric was in his third year in Engineering at the University of Lagos. Lovette was already a practicing medical doctor at the Island Maternity hospital, Lagos Island. She loved her work and was the darling of patients. Practising medicine had always been a dream she nursed from her childhood. No one could dispute the fact that the profession suited her. Lovette ‘s caring nature made her a model medical doctor. She practically existed to care for people. And she was making a great success of it. But one thing bothered everyone.
That evening, many years ago, I overheard the conversation between my parents.
‘It baffles me what all these men are looking for.’ My mum’s voice held sadness.
‘I wonder too.’ My dad’s response came soon after.
‘How can my Lovette still be single at almost thirty? She has everything a man would desire in a woman.’
‘I still think we should hold on. There is someone out there for our daughter and I know he would show up.’
‘I pray he does soon. I don’t want to go through what the Alades are going through.’
My dad sighed and was silent, probably musing on the Alade’s ‘misfortune.’ They had five grown up daughters and none of them was married. They had become a laughing stock in the church where they all attended and I often wondered what the problem was because they were all beautiful ladies.
At that moment, I made up my mind that no such thing would befall me. I had all it took to be a man’s wife. The looks. The polish. The seductive appeal. These three qualities where what I felt it took to get a man eating out of my hands. Already, three men were vying for the prize of my heart and I had a hard time choosing. I knew marriage for me would be a walk in the park.
I graduated from the University at the age of twenty four and went to Abuja for my Youth Service. There, one more prince was added to my collection. I returned to Lagos and picked up a job in a manufacturing firm. I worked there for one year and became bored with the whole set up. I could not just sit in one spot working. I teamed up with Prisca who had become a fashion designer and together, we organised beauty shows and traded in fashion and accessories. That was a more fulfilling job as it gave me the freedom I needed to indulge my wildest fantasies.
At this time, Lovette was living in the doctors quarters of the hospital where she worked and insisted I stay with her. She was thirty two at that time, still single, still dedicated to her job, still a source of worry to our parents and all who knew and loved her, still hopeful that a man would turn up.
‘God will do it, Angela.’ Lovette told me each time I wondered about her marital status. ‘I have never known him to fail me. God is preparing a special man for me and in time I will meet him.’
I was intrigued by Lovette’s faith in a God that in my own opinion had deserted her. How could my loving Lovette be without a husband? She who was the epitome of purity and goodness while I who was the bad girl of the household had four men vying for the coveted place in my heart forever? Life seemed unfair indeed.
And then it happened unexpectedly. Like sudden sunshine after a heavy rainstorm. I was relaxing in the living room when they entered the house.
‘Angela, meet my fiancé Peter.’
That was all I heard. My eyes collided with another set of eyes that sent me spinning into s dizzying world of attraction. This was Lovette’s fiancé? Plain, couldn’t-care about-her-dressing, unattractive Lovette. Could attract such a rare specimen of humanity? Was he a Christian? Did Christians look this attractive? I asked all these questions in a rush as I stretched out my hands, my lips dry to shake Peter.
‘I am so pleased to meet you. Lovette speaks so warmly about her little sister. She loves you very dearly.’
‘I am sure she does.’ I managed to say as I left them alone.
I was not myself for days after I met Peter. For the first time in my life, I desired something that was far out of my reach. How could I do it? Lovette was such an angel. She had waited so long for this moment. How could I steal her joy to satisfy my lustful feelings? I could not confide in anyone, even Prisca. I tried to make it go away. This lethal attraction for my sister’s fiancé. All the four men who flocked around me suddenly seemed very unsuitable. The more I fought it, the stronger my attraction for Peter grew.
Maybe I should have moved away from Lovette’s flat. Maybe I should have kept a distance from Peter till they got married. Maybe that would have cured the feeling I had. The few times I saw Peter after that, I could not just help letting my feelings show. I could see him reluctant to look into my eyes. He always avoided being alone with me. And I sensed, with the instinct born of an ‘experienced’ girl that he was game. And I went for the kill. On a day that Lovette was on call.
When Peter opened the door that day and saw me, the look in his eyes was a sight to behold.
‘What do you want? Lovette is not here.’ His expression was guarded as he tried to shut the door and keep me outside but I was faster. I pushed Peter aside and walked into the flat.
‘Are you scared of being alone with me?’ I asked as I sat on the sofa, giving him a generous view of my thighs,
‘Jesus.’ He mouthed as he looked away.
‘Brother Peter, do you like what you see?’ I teased, laughter in my voice.
‘Why are you doing this, Angela? Lovette is your sister.’
I knew I was making a fool of myself but I was past caring. I just wanted to quench the fire of passion that burned in me like a raging storm.
‘So? Does that stop me from having a piece of the man who has intrigued me from the first day I met him?’ I stood and walked slowly towards Peter who retreated.
‘Please don’t do this, Angela.’ His voice sounded so weak and I knew his defences were down.
‘Why not? I bet your Sister Purity does not give you a taste of this.’
With one swift movement, I pulled my button down dress over my head. Peter gasped at the sight that greeted him. I was completely naked. By the time I touched him, he had lost all sense of reasoning. We groped our way to the sofa and tore at each other like two inflamed beasts.
Peter wept like a baby while I struggled to come down from the clouds of ecstasy.
‘My God! What have I done? Forgive me, Lord.’ I watched him weep and felt anything but remorseful.
‘What’s all the weeping about?’ I asked
‘Are you so heartless? Don’t you feel terrible at how we have betrayed your sister?’
‘I thought we both shared something special tonight. I did not think about betrayal.’
Peter looked at me as if the devil spewed me.
‘I wonder if you came out of the same womb as Lovette.’ He said, his voice packed full with his obvious disgust for my action.
I left his house that day, feeling used, dirty, disgusted and……..
The cry distracted me and cut short my flight to the past. I rushed to the room and looked dazily into his eyes as he yelled continuously. Every inch his father’s spitting image. I lifted him gently and placed him on my shoulder, cuddling him closely as I resumed the flight to yesterday.
After that night with Peter, his trips to the flat became more and more scanty. Since Lovette was often on call, I saw less and less of him. I was not cured of my obsession but he never got caught in that moment of madness with me.
When I held the report in my hands, I knew the game had changed and I put the call through.
‘I have told you to stop calling me.’ Peter’s rage seeped through the line. ‘What happened between us was a mistake and it would never happen again.’
‘If you don’t see me tomorrow, I would tell Lovette what happened between us.’
I used the final weapon I had.
‘What do you want?’ Peter’s voice was rough and unfriendly as he sat across from me in the restaurant after my summons. It was quite unlike the voice that moaned and whispered into my ears that evening on the sofa in his living room.
‘I am pregnant.’
I could almost see Peter’s face disintegrate before me. His face looked as if it had been whitewashed as he gazed at me, or more or less through me because his eyes seemed so distant and caked with an expression I could not easily decipher.
‘You are not kidding?’ He said in a voice that I could hardly hear.
Peter placed his head on the table without a word. His body shook with sobs and for the first time since the whole incident, I felt a tinge of guilt. What had I done? To my sister who had waited so long for this moment of matrimony? To my parents who had been so elated that their daughter was getting married to such a distinguished gentleman? To Peter who longed to make a promise of forever with my sister?
The reactions flew through my ears as I held my son, Solomon close to my breast.
‘You, Angela? You did this to me. My only sister. You could stab me in the back this way?’ Lovette’s pained cries often echoed in my mind.
‘I have always known you were a demon. It’s just a pity that Lovette was too trusting. So trusting that she allowed you live with her. She was the only one in the family who loved you genuinely and tolerated all your faults and see what you did to her. You disgust me. From today, you cease to be my sister.’ Eric’s words pierced through my skin.
‘Who put a snake into my womb?’ My mum yelled. ‘Angela, how could you do this to your sister? After all, she did for you? Have you forgotten how she covered up for your bad deeds? How she always begged on your behalf? You know how long she waited before Peter came along. How could you destroy her happiness like this?’
‘I don’t believe you are my daughter. Bisi, go and take her back to her father. I cannot be the father of such an evil child.’ My father said in a deceptively calm voice.
‘Ah! Kolawole? How could you say a thing like this?’ My mum yelled at my father’s harsh words. I was pained at what my indiscretion was doing to my family.
I was too ashamed to face Lovette and I hung out with Prisca who was beyond angry at my shameful deed.
‘How could you do such a thing to Lovette of all people? That lady really loves you.’
‘I don’t know what came over me. I was blinded by my love for Peter.’
‘Love? That is not love. It is evil passion. I am truly ashamed of you.’
‘Please don’t hate me, Prisca. You are the only one who accepted me. My family has abandoned me.’
‘I did not accept you, Angela. I am only keeping you till you get a place of your own. I don’t want you to snatch my own boyfriend.’
Prisca was true to her words and gave me a one month ultimatum to leave her house. She dissolved the partnership between us and gave me my own share of the fashion business we ran together. I had to start from the scratch growing my clientele and it was not easy. I was at the cross roads one evening wondering what to do when my phone rang. I picked it up absently.
As I heard the voice on the other end my emotions gave way and I wept. In a matter of minutes, the loving Lovette was at my doorstep. I fell into her arms and she carried me gently into her car and to the familiar flat whose familiarity leered at me. Lovette got me a one room apartment not far from hers and her parting words as she helped me arrange the place stayed with me.
‘Feel free to call me when you need anything.’
Was this lady human? How could she still be this loving after all I did to her? Lovette was there by my side when I gave birth to my son, Solomon. She called Peter and told him of the birth of his son. When he was reluctant to see us, she contacted his parents. When they saw Solomon, who was the spitting image of his father, they knew I had not trapped their son with another man’s child.
I got what I wanted. Peter and I were married in a quiet ceremony at the Ikoyi registry. Only Peter’s parents and Prisca were in attendance. No member of my family came and I could not blame them.
‘Congratulations.’ The voice sounded close to my ears as I stood up to leave the registry.
‘No’ it could not be possible.’ I turned around and Lovette was standing there, a lovely smile on her face, no trace of sadness or bitterness in her expression.
‘You came!’ I yelled as we embraced tearfully.
‘I have forgiven you, Angela. From the bottom of my heart.’ I wept some more as she said those words.
I truly did not deserve the love of such a lovely sister. Peter tried to avoid Lovette but she walked up to him and shook his hands, that sunny smile still on her face. She hugged his parents and his mother clung to her, tears sliding down her eyes.
‘It could have been you.’ She said, giving me an eyeful of spite. It was obvious she resented my intrusion into her son’s life.
The months following my marriage to Peter showed her hostility in full colours.
‘I am sure you are hoping you would be happy after destroying your sister’s happiness.’ Peter’s mother looked scornfully at me. ‘You lie, Angela. I have just one thing to say to you: You cannot build your happiness on another person’s ruin.’
Those words haunted me every day as I walked through my matrimonial home and nursed Solomon. I found them echoed in a sermon I heard in a church I stumbled into at the height of my distress. It was a marriage seminar and the theme was ‘Sweet home.’ I attended it in the hope that the message would somehow show me how to make my home sweet, despite what I had done. I wanted to embrace the God that Lovette served; listen to the messages that could make her still love me after the wicked wounds I inflicted on her.
The pastor preached about how a sweet home cannot be founded on deceit. He used two scriptures that put more nails in the coffin of unhappiness in my life.
Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant……….Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
‘You cannot build a happy home when the foundation is faulty. You need to repent and start afresh.’
I left that meeting, weighed down with guilt. Indeed, I got what I wanted but did not like what I got as I heard a preacher once say. Peter married me only because of Solomon. He did not want to abandon his unborn child. He had not touched me since the day I moved into his house. We slept in separate rooms and he refused to listen to all my pleas. I cooked choice meals for him, wore transparent negligee till I got tired. He never touched me or any of the meals. Exasperated, I asked him,
‘Are you not a Christian like Lovette? She has forgiven me. Why can’t you?’
‘Maybe someone should hurt you the way you hurt Lovette and me. Then you would know how easy it is. What you did was unforgivable and I am only tolerating you because of my son.’
I put Solomon down to sleep after breastfeeding him. I took my position by the window as I thought on the scripture used at the marriage seminar. The waters I had stolen to drink had choked me. My mouth was indeed filled with gravel as I could see no sweetness anywhere.
Lovette had married a man who loved her to bits. Eric had been true to his words and never contacted me despite Lovette’s pleas. My parents did not relate with me as before, though they accepted my apology and visited once to see their grandchild. Prisca is not the close friend she used to be.
I feel loneliness trapping me in this matrimonial prison and I wish I never took that first sip.
By Ify Omeni
I looked out of the window of the four bedroom flat, my thoughts running riot in my mind. The happy laughter of children floated into my ears. Three young boys came into view, running around on roller skates and obviously having fun. I wished I could be like them, excited, happy,