3 Favorite Excerpts
On Wednesday Lola decided to sleep in late, and then to spend a few hours by the pool relaxing before the nineteen-hour sojourn home. Sleep came and went that night, with a blurry feeling nervousness but nothing upsetting. It wasn’t until morning, when she woke up naturally with no alarm clock, that she felt the sense of turmoil.
You’re leaving? You just got here. You can’t go! It was an unmistakable thought, as clear as if it had come from a distraught lover, needy parent, clingy friend. Anger and disappointment. Even a bit of panic. Who the hell cared if she stayed in Nigeria?
Impatiently, she got out of bed, began to gather together her toiletries. Leave me alone, she thought with vehemence. I do not want to hear from you. Whoever you are. Get out of my head. And then to herself. Stop thinking this is real. It is not. You have a thirteen-year-old daughter and two other kids counting on you and this is absolutely no time in your life to have mental issues. You are fine. Get a grip. Act like a normal person.
She took a moment and sat in the uncomfortable easy chair and forced herself to use the mental imagery she had learned in Lamaze classes so long ago. Instead of picturing a beautiful lake at sunset like they had taught her to do in order to relax, she pictured the giant steel doors to a vault, glimmering in a cold artificial light, clanking closed in her head. The doors seemed to work. She got out of the chair feeling better. As she finished packing and headed poolside for lunch, she felt fine, although strangely alone.
In the days that followed, Djimon discovered how extraordinarily fortunate his choice in a second wife had been. Throughout the drive southwest toward Lagos, sometimes over major highways and twice over bad roads as he detoured for “business meetings,” Nwanyi was not only timid, she asked for almost nothing and did not even seem to expect kindness from him. She stopped her attempts at conversation early on when they were met with stony silence, only asking twice to use his cell phone to call her sister. He informed her curtly that his charger worked poorly and he was saving the battery for important calls. After the second time she did not ask again.
She appeared to be fearful about sex, or at least shy enough about it that although they slept in the same bed at night, she never brought up his lack of interest. As they traveled, he saw to it she stayed covered and had whatever meager food and water she required, and in return she did not complain to him. He figured she was scared of him and vowed to see that useful condition continue throughout what he had come to think of as “phase two.” Phase one, of course, had been finding and procuring her.
Four days later they arrived at his home, where Mairo, his true and beloved wife with her beautiful Fulani features, dutifully got Nwanyi settled into a particularly cramped and poorly ventilated room in the rear of the house, and promptly assigned her a sizable share of less desirable household chores that would normally have fallen to the servants. Djimon had to smile. Even though Mairo understood all too well how important Nwanyi was to their plans, and what little husbandly interest Djimon had in the woman, Mairo was apparently not inspired to exhibit the least bit of kindness to the Igbo. Now that Djimon thought about it, it was just as well. He would let Mairo inflict all the petty insults she wanted.
For part of each evening, Lola allowed herself to sit on the porch and imagine the sound of rushing water and to think about how she now had trouble washing her hair without cringing. This intrigued her a little. She would never have guessed a brief experience like hers, which ended perfectly well with no harm done, at least once all the minor cuts had healed, could linger on in her mind with such intensity. To a woman who had reacted to the idea of mental problems and syndromes of all types with why don’t you just get over it? it was informative to discover some things were surprisingly difficult to get over.
Then Lola’s thoughts would invariably wander off to the strange woman with whom Lola had agreed, bizarre as it seemed, to listen. The woman seemed to be younger, less educated, and probably more superstitious. She also seemed foreign and, based on her not wanting Lola to leave Lagos, Lola assumed she was Nigerian.
She had a younger sister, of that Lola was certain. She was worried for the sister, and puzzled as to why she was unable to sense the sister’s emotions when she was able to pick up the feelings of so many others. The woman seemed to lack firm knowledge about the sister’s whereabouts, too. Was the sister lost? Kidnapped? Had she run-away from home? Certainly she was gone and could not be found.
Sometimes Lola tried to mutter comforting things back to the woman, but that never seemed to help. Lola had not a clue what else she could do.
Other times she sat on the porch and thought about nothing at all. It was one of those times, when her mind was on nothing, when she heard an elderly gentleman’s voice in her head.
Lola? Little Lola Conroy? Good heavens dear, is that you?
Lola searched her mind for knowledge of any older man who might have known her by her maiden name.
It’s okay honey. You’re fine. I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s okay. She could almost see an elderly man backing out of her mind with great care.
Good grief, she thought. Now what?