When Sylvia kissed Anugo on the lips and took him by surprise, he pulled her to himself and kissed her neck. It was her weakness. She moaned and opened her mouth and brought out her tongue for him. He sucked it and she romanced his mouth with her tongue. He gently pulled her to the cushion, pulled down his short and began to unbutton her shirt.
“Wait.” Sylvia pushed him gently on the chest. Then she sighed weakly. “My darling, I am not in the mood now.”
“I need to finish this book… besides I had a rough day. Everyone out there hates me because I am educated… because I am an educated woman. We had a meeting of senior lecturers today. They were talking trash, I stood and made a point and they shushed me.”
“I understand. Most men here are like that. They haven’t grown to that mental stage when they begin to respect women. But is that why I can’t play with my own wife?”
“Your ‘own wife’ is tired and angry, my darling.”
“You will be fine. But then you have been since… uhm… I can’t remember, more than two weeks now eh.”
Sylvia said nothing.
“I am a man, you know.”
“I am a woman. I am human too.”
“No.” She buttoned up. “Perhaps tonight. Not now. I promise.”
Anugo inhaled sharply. “I miss you.”
“But I am here. I am here with you every day. Now eat your food.” Anugo pulled up his short and walked away, leaving the spilled rice on the table.
“Baby! Please!” she called. He didn’t turn back and Sylvia continued with her reading. He would come around, she thought.
After the first time they met at the car wash, Sylvia couldn’t keep Anugo out of her mind. She liked that he was entrepreneurial. That he obeyed and worked when she talked to him. She’d hated herself for talking to him the way she did. She’d wondered why she talked anyhow to people sometimes. People couldn’t just understand her, that was all, she thought. Sylvia was also very conscious of the gap that existed between her and everyone – at thirty-four she already had a PhD, she was working, living in a good apartment and had a nice car. She travelled all over the world and believed that she had a better opinion on things than others – she was the last person that would be subservient to a man. No matter what the man was.
Sylvia hated the fact that men believed themselves better humans than women – she blamed the bible for teaching that man was made to sleep and out of his ribs only one was taking to create a woman.
The second time Sylvia came to the car wash. She discovered that Anugo hadn’t done anything about her suggestions. When they finished washing her car – which wasn’t dirty actually, but she couldn’t sleep nor read without thinking about him and had to bring her car to the centre so that by doing that she would see him.She’d sat and waited for him. His boys had said he was away.
When Anugo returned he walked up to her and said, “Kedu? They told me you have been waiting for me. How is work?”
“Oh, fine.” She smiled at him. He smiled back and sat beside her.
“I never asked you what you do for a living.”
“I am a lecturer. I teach African novels.”
Anugo was surprised to learn that. “That is what you teach?” His mouth was open.
“Yes, I teach at the department of English and Literature. I teach other minor courses though.”
“Oh, you have a Masters then?”
She laughed gaily. “No. I have a PhD from the University of Memphis.” She was always sure to look at men’s faces when she said that. The effect made her happy. She was aware that the world was totally male-chauvinistic and men knew that and believed that all women should be subservient and slaves to them – feed and fuck them, and nothing more. She was never going to be like that – which was why she had only had two relationships since she was of age.
They talked about her education abroad and how long she was away on scholarship. She said,
“You haven’t done anything about my advice.”
Anugo scratched his head. “I will. There is no money to renovate and rebuild the shade, get air conditioners, refrigerators, cushions and buy the drinks.”
She nodded. When she was leaving she told him, “You should start small. Perhaps start with the newspaper thing I said. Then start building the shade small small. You will get there.
Okay? Besides when you finish, in no time you will recoup your money. I am hungry and need to eat, assuming you’d started I could have eaten here.”
“I can cook for you.”
“Cook for me?”
“Yes. In my house. Can you come tomorrow? It is Sunday.”
In her mind, Sylvia did the sign of the cross, though she could not remember the last time she entered a church. “See you then.”
He wrote the address for her on the inside back cover of Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. As he was writing down his address, she asked, “Have you read that?” He smiled and shook his head. She smiled triumphantly.
Sylvia came to Anugo’s house the next day. He lived in a two room apartment. It was modest and she could see he had taste. The meal was rice and ofe akwu, stew made with palm oil sauce. They talked about a lot of things. He argued that Helon Habila was a better writer than Adichie – that he was more experimental. She laughed.
“You see you are a male-chauvinist. All men are like that, because Helon is male, you believe he is better.”
“No, not because of that. Have you read Measuring Time? The work has energy.”
“Half of a Yellow Sun has energy too. You need to read novels not for pleasure but to study the style and structure.”
“You mean I read shallow?”
“No, I didn’t mean it that way. But you see, every writer is different and good in their own right. Adichie and Helon are good. Both of them are very good and they write differently. Have you read Helon’s Oil on Water? It is not so rich like Measuring Time. I recall what you said about Tsitsi Dambarengba – I don’t agree with you that she isn’t prolific, she is, that a writer takes years to publish doesn’t make her a lesser writer.”
Anugo pouted and pretended to be annoyed.
“You are being a baby.”
He said nothing. It was a strategy. She came to him. “I am sorry” and ruffled his hair. What was she apologising for? She thought.
Anugo smiled and grabbed her face and kissed her. It surprised her – his boldness and maturity. They were on each other. Sylvia was like a caged tiger that was on heat and had just been released. She tore his shirt and the buttons bounced on the tiled floor. She sucked his mouth, his neck, and found his nipples and bit them. No one had done that to him before. He moaned. She unzipped his trousers and traced her mouth down his tummy, to his navel and to his manhood. Just then he saw angels waving him goodbye. That day he knew he must marry her. Damn the age! Fuck her education! She was the kind of woman he wanted.
Sylvia was becoming very different and aloof every day. Anugo noticed that she stopped cooking entirely and concentrated on her work. He refused her a cook and a maid. “You are my wife. Since you are stubborn we either do the cooking by ourselves… do the washing and house chores or leave them unattended.” Anugo was determined to prove to her that he was the man. No matter what, he must teach her a lesson. He banned Sandy and the girls from coming to do anything. He took his cloths to the laundry at the car wash and left hers unwashed. It had been Sylvia’s idea that he started a laundry business at the car wash.
One day he asked her, “What kind of woman are you that can’t wash her own cloths?” And she responded in the same tone, “Fuck you!”
They yelled at each other, their voice travelling up to the ceiling and seeking for any hole through which to escape to the void outside. Later that evening, she took their cloths to the bathroom and washed them all. But she wasn’t cooking. She had argued, “A woman mustn’t cook. I am not sure any law, even the bible has it that a woman must cook. You used to cook before we got married. You used to prepare wonderful meals, why can’t you cook now? Your hands have been infected and eaten up by leprosy?”
“Don’t insult me!”
“I am not insulting you. I am saying that I enjoyed your meals before, when you were a bachelor. Since we got married, you became the man. You started strutting like a peacock.
And you have forgotten how to cook.”
Anugo banged the door on her face and lay on the bed. She opened it and came to him. He said, “You are looking for my trouble.”
“I am not. Listen to me. I am a professor. I am busy. I contribute much to this house… to our business just like you. I am a human being. I want meals, I want sleep. I want rest. I want also to be pampered like you. I… I want to be fucked too. Because you are a man doesn’t make you a baby… It doesn’t give you the privilege not to ever do all the things you used to do when you were a bachelor.” Sylvia was panting. Anugo was calm, staring at her.
Sylvia stood still. She was breathing hard, and angry. Then she obeyed and climbed the bed to him.
“What is wrong with us?” Anugo asked.
“I don’t know.” She shook her head.
Anugo was staring at her fair laps. He couldn’t stay angry staring at her like that.
“I am tired. I am confused.”
Anugo hugged her and kissed her neck. “Perhaps we need babies. They will distract us. As soon as—”
“Hold on. As soon as they come, things will change. We should make babies.”
She wrestled away from his grip. “Not yet.”
“Please. You are going on thirty-seven. I am thirty-two. We are not getting younger.”
“Don’t call me an old woman!”
“I didn’t call you an old woman.” He laughed.
Sylvia banged the door. Five minutes later, he heard her car zoom off. He couldn’t understand what was wrong with her. Sylvia was stubborn yet lovely, she had given him part of the money he used to expand the business and grow it. Not that he felt that he owed her anything. She gave him money and status as the husband of a professor, but he gave her the status of a Mrs. He thought. They had both benefited from each other. Anugo loved her and he was sure that she loved him. He couldn’t just pinpoint what was eating her up. Sometimes Anugo wondered if she had a boyfriend before they met, who was coming back – sending her emails and text messages. He had checked her text messages several times and saw nothing.
He wished he could access her emails.
Sylvia came back by one-thirty in the morning. Anugo was still awake. He’d left the door open, so she came in and went to her room. After waiting for her for some time and she didn’t join him, he went to her room.
“Good morning,” he greeted.
“Anugo, how are you?”
“I am not a kid. Don’t ask me ‘how are you’ like I am a primary school child.”
“What is wrong with you? Okay, Anugo, whattsap?” Sylvia had changed into her night gown – a milky coloured flowered robe. Her long twisted hair was ensconced in a net.
“Where have you been?”
Sylvia came out of the bed and dropped her earrings on the desk.
“In my office. Writing.” She turned and faced him.
“How dare you!” She slapped him.
No one had ever slapped him before. Anugo searched his mind and couldn’t recall when anyone ever slapped him. He used to watch his father beat his mother occasionally, and he never liked it, he had sworn not to ever lay his hands on a woman.There was silence. She softened and looked down, he was sure that she was ashamed of what she had done. “Why did you slap me?”
She raised her face. “How dare you accuse me of infidelity?”
“And why shouldn’t I? Tell me, which responsible married woman would leave her husband’s house and return by almost two o’clock in the morning?”
“I am an academic. I need to do my research and read—”
“And you drove all the way to the university? What if anything had happened to you?”
“Nothing would happen to me. Don’t ever accuse me of infidelity because it is not even in my mind.”
“I have every right to! You avoid me. I cannot touch my own wife. You don’t cook or wash or clean anything in the house. You read and read and research and teach and… and travel. I am beginning to hate that. You are not the only woman that has PhD or are you?”
“But I have it so deal with it!”
“Please!” Anugo didn’t know when he said that. “Please. Let us make this marriage work.
People said negative things about marrying an educated woman. They said that the reason most very educated women stay unmarried is because they are too feministic. They think too much of themselves and want to be equal to the man.”
“Like your mother is one of them that said that.” Sylvia turned and dressed her bed and climbed back on it. “Close my door when you leave.”
“What is eating you up?”
“Equal to the man! I hate those words!” She screamed at him.
He didn’t respond. He stared at her face, then he said, “Let us start making babies. It is important. This is Nigeria. This is Africa. We are not in America or France.”
“Now you’ve come again.” She turned. “Close my door when you leave. I have headache.”
Anugo walked out and closed the door. Alone, Sylvia cried till light began to filter into her room through the windows. She didn’t mean to hit him but how could she apologise. How could he suggest that she was seeing someone else when she laboured for both of them every day? Was she not working for both of them? – all the readings and research and travels. She did not need children yet; they would bring their own responsibilities and stop her from pursuing her goals. Perhaps she needed some time for herself.
She cried, slept briefly and woke. She phoned her friend in Kenya, they had met during a conference. She had a doctorate in anthropology. Since they met over seven months earlier, they had continued to exchange emails and calls. After Sylvia talked with Nyambura, she packed her things into her large luggage – almost all her books, some of her jean trousers and her blouses. She collected all her shoes and slippers and her makeup kits. She knocked at Anugo’s door and pushed it open.
Anugo saw the luggage. His heart skipped and fell into his stomach. He nearly had a heart attack. “Are you leaving me?”
Sylvia said nothing.
Anugo sat up. “But I love you.”
Anugo approached her. He wore only boxer shots and his upper body was bare. Sylvia didn’t want to look at that body. She looked on the floor.
“Haven’t I been good to you?”
“Why do you treat me so?”
There was a long silence. Anugo took her face in his hand and she pulled away. “I have to go, baby.”
“Don’t call me that. Don’t patronise me.”
“I am sorry.”
“For slapping me? I am no longer angry about that. Please take your things inside.”
“I am not sorry for slapping you. You think I sleep around? I don’t. I hate that you could even think of that. I work hard for us.”
“I do too. The business has grown. We have more boys at the centre, but I still wash cars. You taught me that. I owe you a lot.”
“You owe me nothing.”
“How long will you stay?”
“A week. Two. A month. A year. I don’t know.”
“I may never come back to you, Anugo.” There was a lump in her throat. She needed to cough.
“I have to go.”
Anugo grabbed her hands, she pulled away. He grabbed her luggage and they struggled over it.
“Don’t spoil my bag.”
“My laptop is inside it.”
He let go. Sylvia wheeled the big bag to the sitting room. He followed.
“Please, baby. Please, my love. Please. We won’t have kids till you are ready. I won’t disturb your readings. I will have to cook for you… once in a while… we can call Sandy. There is a spare room, she can come and live here.”
“Sandy is a student. She has her studies.”
“You can help her with her studies while she lives here. Then she does the cooking. It will give you time for work. I won’t ever disturb you again.”
Sylvia turned to face him. “I don’t know. I don’t feel happy. I need to move. To explore. To see things.”
“Haven’t you… seen enough?”
“That is the problem with you men… you cage women like birds. A woman is not supposed to be adventurous – I can’t live like that.” Sylvia walked out of the sitting room. She slowly closed the door. Anugo could hear the sound of the luggage wheels on the concrete floor. She didn’t leave with her car but walked to the street to get a taxi.
Anugo slumped on the floor. Confusion called his name and beckoned on him. He followed the call obediently.
Anugo lived in despair. He didn’t go to the car wash centre the day Sylvia left and the day after and the day that followed that. He ate junks and only when he had a little appetite. He drank lots of Johnny Walker Black Label and St. Remy VSOP and slept when he couldn’t see the floor he was sitting on anymore. Then his mother came. She was brought by a yellow coloured taxi and while she was arguing with the cabby, he came out and paid the fare.
“Mama, you didn’t tell me you were coming?”
“Do I have to tell you before I visit your house?”
“But you swore not to ever visit me—”
“Oh, but she is gone now…. My son, did I not tell you? Ko’na agwarom gi ya?’ Anugo did not respond, he took her Ghana-Must-Go bag to the house. She immediately began preparing his meal – she was cleaning the fish when Anugo came and sat in the kitchen.
“Look at you, negodu gi anya. You look like this fish I am cleaning. What happened”
“I don’t know, Mama. She said she was tired. She wants to be free… she said I was caging her.” He felt like crying, then his mother, left what she was doing and sat beside him.
“Ozugo, it is enough. Don’t worry, see, she will return. You will see. A woman without a man is like an empty tin of milk, children will even kick it about. You will see.”
He said nothing. He hadn’t known how much his life revolved around Sylvia, how much he had grown to love and cherish her. He wondered if she would ever return and if she did not, if he would be able to find another woman, to love another woman. Ever.
“You must resume work. I hear from the neighbour that you do not go to work anymore.”
Anugo looked at her. He wondered which of the neighbours that had been talking to his mother. The elderly woman stood and went back to the sink and continued with what she was doing. She stayed with him for two weeks, cooking his meals, doing his laundry and talking with him far into the night, mostly about his father. He had started working again.
Then seven months or there about after Sylvia left, Anugo met a young lady. She was a medical doctor in her late twenties. She had come to see one of his neighbours and her car couldn’t start. He loaned her the battery in Sylvia’s car. The next day, she returned the battery and sat on the step, in front of his door waiting for him.
“Oh, how long have you been waiting?” he asked. She stared at him. His jean trouser was dirty and a little bit wet.
He unlocked the door and took her inside the house. She sat down and stared around. “Who is this? Your wife?” she asked.
“I didn’t know you were married.” There was some disappointment in her voice.
“I am married. Or was married. She left. Months now.”
Her face became sad. “I don’t know your name,” she said as he served her a can of malt.
“Anugo. Short form for Chianugo. And yours?”
She said her name was Ifunanya. They talked till late before she drove home. She visited every week – she would cook his meals and wash his cloths. She brought him some drugs from the hospital and took him to the clinic to take a free HB vaccination. He bought her a bangle with a heart shaped pendant attached to it. She kissed him for the first time.
Then one day, they were on Anugo’s bed, it was raining, Ifunanya would never stop asking about Sylvia – how did she talk? What kind of books did she read, to which Anugo would answer that she read more than everyone he ever knew. She would ask how her food tasted and Anugo would lie, and say that Sylvia was a great cook, then Ifunanya would cook some kind of meal that Anugo had not tasted before. And they were always very delicious.
Ifunanya was the best cook he had ever truly known. Once she sliced some tomatoes and onions, and poured canned sardine into it and served it with white curried rice. Anugo made love with her after eating that. Then she asked, as they lay close to each other, naked, staring into each other’s eyes, “What do you want from me?”
“I don’t understand.”
“What are we doing? Where is this affair leading to?”
Anugo took some time before replying. He had been thinking about it so much. He had always wondered why God would bring along another woman who was more educated than he was, first a Proffessor and now a Medical Doctor. But then, Ifunanya was homely and had a lot of respect for him, if Anugo was talking, she would keep quiet and make her points later. She would call every two hours to find out how he was doing, if he had eaten, what he ate, if he enjoyed what he ate and if he said no, she would come and prepare something for him. She said she didn’t always have time for laundry, since she was always on call, but it was her duty as a woman. It broke his heart. The only thing he had discovered about this dark complexioned, tall lady was that she had a slight bow leg which looked sexy though and that she cried easily. He wondered if he could cope with someone who cried a lot.
The day she asked him what she wanted from her, he had replied, “If God wills it, I will love to have children with you… but you know we just met and we need some time to get to know each other. Eh? And my mum will have to see you.”
“I know… of course.”
“I fear she might object.”
“You are a medical doctor. I only have OND and I wash cars.”
“Shush! Shush!” And she kissed him. “I will convince Mama.” She said ‘Mama’ with some finality that he liked, that made her own his mother too. That evening he whistled to himself throughout but when he slept, after Ifunanya had left, he dreamt of Syliva. He was kissing and caressing her till he woke up. The next morning, as he was preparing to go to his business, having spent some time watching on CNN the capsizing of some migrant boats trying to cross to Lampedusa, someone pushed open the door, without knocking. She was dressed in a too-short skirt, red in colour. Her lips were painted red and her face, made up, looking so gorgeous. She was carrying a big bag, which she struggled to drag through the door. The same bag she’d left with.
Anugo stood still, the TV remote in his hand, staring at her. Sylvia said, “I am sorry.” Then she knelt down. And tears streamed down from her eyes, running through the heavy makeup and smudging the lipstick and dirtying her sparkly white shirt. “I… I… I love you. I know this now more than ever. I couldn’t be happy anywhere… without you—“ Anugo didn’t know what happened, if he walked or ran but he knew that he found himself in her arms, kneeling beside her, kissing her mouth and sucking in the tears mixed with the lipstick.
No mouth ever tasted that good.
Author of Satans & Shaitans – a conspiracy crime thriller on terrorism, politics and love, published in the UK by