Lavender is a Shade of Purple – Nneamaka Onochie

She walked barefooted each step grazing the sinking sand, her sandals hung over her shoulders with the support of her clumsy hand, holding a plastic bottle in the other. She walked past a couple smiling into each other’s eyes, hands intertwined, shoulders slightly brushing. She could tell they were oblivious of the happenings around them and she resisted the urge to look over her shoulders. Pressing forward with quickened steps, the wind trolling her long gown to whichever angle it deemed fit. It was late and the night held no promise of the moonlight. She got to where she parked her Camry, opened and flung her sandals and the bottle to the back seat then entered and zoomed off.
It was almost 8pm when she got to Evergreen hospital, she alighted from the car and walked straight to ward 6, waving to the nurse at the reception who was almost dozing off. Her son was sleeping when she entered, his shoulders heaving, his breath a rasp. She sat on the chair beside him and placed her hand on his forehead. His temperature was normal. He opened his eyes and smiled.
“When did we come back?” he whispered.
“Not too long ago.”
“How many pebbles did we pick?”
She raised the bottle she had kept beneath the chair to his view.
“We picked plenty.” He smiled.
“Yes and guess what? We also picked cowries.”
She unzipped her bag and brought out six cowries and placed it on the table beside his bed.
“Today is our lucky day.” He smiled wryly.
“Yes.” She took his hand and softly planted a kiss on his palm then intertwined it with hers.
“Tell me a story,” he demanded.
“Which do you prefer to hear?”
“Ike the bully.” He smiled.
She cleared her throat and started.
“Once upon a time?”
“Time time,” he replied.
He dozed off when she was halfway into the story. She covered him with a blanket, stood and went to the hospital corridor. There, she sat on the white bench ignoring the woman sitting beside her, glancing sideways, eager to meet her gaze and share some warm familiarities of despair, pain, and hope. Chidera had seen the woman frequent the hospital, lurking in places like the pharmaceutical store, lab or the corridor. She wondered whom the woman cared for. She looked young, though was likely not. She refused the urge to guess her age, closed her eyes, and clasped her hands deliberately, fostering an aura which indicated:
I don’t want to chat.
Not interested.
Better not say hi.
She felt the woman’s gaze on her, and her body stiffened, then she took a deep breath and relaxed her nerves. She wouldn’t indulge the familiarity of strangers, sharing what they deemed a common pain in an uncommon space.

Before their wedding, Ikem had promised that he would start processing her visa to America once they got married. Their wedding was rushed to her aunt’s dismay.
“Why doesn’t he make the necessary preparations before the wedding? Most of these guys can’t be trusted,” Aunt Chika said, frustrated.
Chidera had always termed her aunt as tough and unyielding, then she enlisted killjoy to the titles.
Maybe her Aunt Chika was jealous of her and her American Bobo. Afterall, she wasn’t her mother, though she raised her after her parents died.
Ikem insisted she stayed with his parents in Ikorodu for just a year till she was able to join him. They had agreed she would keep her apartment after the wedding but after the wedding, Ikem reminded her of submission as the wife and, nonchalantly, she packed her belongings and moved in with his parents to her aunt’s utter dismay.
“Are you sure?” she had asked her.
“He is my husband and wants the best for me.” She gazed at her aunt with hurt in her eyes and swallowed the remnants of her words.
Two years elapsed and her visa was never processed. His calls became less and she couldn’t reach him because he had warned her not to call unless he called her. Two years she cradled a baby who was sickly and couldn’t walk; the doctor told her he had six holes in his heart. When Ike called his voice was distant, void of emotion. He sent her money through his mother for food and the boy’s hospital bills.
Her aunt called her a glorified housemaid when she visited. Chidera would stay in the kitchen, preparing one meal or the other, and she would go to the market, run errands, and tend to her needy child.
“When and why did you stop working?” her aunt chided.
“I needed to take care of my baby,” she replied, sniffing back tears.
“When did you speak with your husband last?”
“He calls when he is less busy.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Four months ago.”
That day when she escorted her aunt to her car, her aunt slipped a brown envelope in her hands and told her to call if she needed anything.

“Hello Madam.”
The soft voice snapped her out of her sleep. She didn’t know when she dozed off.
“Hello,” she mumbled.
“The drugs are ready. You can come and collect them and also speak with the doctor if you wish to.”
“He’s already asleep,” she yawned.
“We would have to wake him. It’s proper that he takes his medicine before sleeping.”
She stood and headed to her son’s ward. His mouth hung open, spittle sliding down the corner of his mouth, his breath unsteady. Chidera steadied her eyes on him and wished she wouldn’t have to wake him to take his medicine. The nurse entered abruptly, went over to the edge of his bed, and gently nudged him until he opened his eyes.
“Mr Man, it’s time for your medicine,” she cooed.
She meticulously raised his head and slid the tablets into his mouth. He gulped it with water and his mother held him as the nurse removed her hands, smiled down at him, and left. Chidera held him up for about ten minutes before lowering him down while humming a lullaby until he slept. She looked around his ward, wondering if she would run into the increasing debt of medicine and private wards. She would have to move him to a public ward in the next three days. She stood and strengthened herself, then walked to the doctor’s office. She knocked softly on the door and the husky voice asked her in. She opened the door and entered. He ushered her to sit down without looking up, fully concentrated on what he was writing and the file he worked on.
“How are you faring?” he asked
“I can’t complain?” she responded.
A few minutes later, when he looked up, Chidera noticed the bags under his eyes and how exhausted he looked. He wasn’t smiling warmly like he used to, but his eyes danced, and that was more than enough for her. Expecting so much from him seemed unabashedly selfish.
“He has taken his medicine for the evening right?”
“Yes, just a few minutes ago,” she replied.
“I have decided to move him from private ward to public ward maybe in the next two or three days, instead of accruing more debt that I probably might not be able to afford. I will sort out the money as soon as possible. Please give him every treatment he needs. I will settle most of the bills before the end of next week.”
“Giving him the treatment he needs is not the problem. He needs to be flown out of the country as soon as possible for surgery. He is getting weaker daily and his breath is inaudible. You should make arrangements for his transfer and you know it costs money.” Concluding, he looked at her intently.
“Okay doctor, I will see what I can do.” Tears welled up in her eyes.
She went back to the bench in the corridor where she initially sat. The woman was no longer there. She let the tears slide down her cheeks and wiped it off with her thumb. Tonight she would calm her mind and begin her ceaseless worries tomorrow.
Four months elapsed into a year and she barely heard from her husband. She asked her mother-in-law if he could call her and she said she hadn’t heard from him. She called him one day and he picked and warned her never to call him unless he called her. Her inlaws almost raised their hands against her when they learned she called her husband without prior permission. She called her aunt and shared her concerns.
“Do you want me to spell it out for you?” she lampooned.
“Auntie I don’t understand,” she cried.
“You don’t understand the fact that your husband is married to a white woman and you are a glorified housemaid who is supposed to make babies for him in Nigeria as a backup plan for when his obodo oyibo children fail him?”
Chidera dropped the call and immediately her heart started thumping. She rushed to the room where her mother in-law sorted sarongs, contemplating the one she would wear in a meeting.
“Ikem is married to a white woman?” It was more of an accusation than a question.
“The reason I couldn’t contact him whenever I wanted. The reason he failed to take me with him to America. He. He has another family.” The words tasted like ash in her mouth and she didn’t realize she was trembling. Immediately, the house she lived in with her inlaws seemed to stink and felt abominable to inhabit.
Mama Ike threw her a side glance, like one who detected the sound of a buzzing bee. She rolled her eyes and continued the same business she’d been doing before being interrupted.
“Mama.” She broke into tears.
“So what if he has a wife abroad?” Mama Ike replied. “Is he the only man in such a situation? Isn’t he providing and meeting your needs? Do you know how many women would give an arm to marry a man who is based abroad like Ikem? Be prepared; he will soon be back to make a healthy baby out of you.”
Rage surged through her. She couldn’t believe the deceit and fluidity of it all: a husband she hadn’t spoken to in almost a year, and one who barely sent money. What she had to her name was the Camry car he had given her as a wedding present. Looking at the nonchalant woman before her, who sorted her wrapper now humming, Chidera turned and lumbered to her room. In her room, she sat on her bed, trying to flash back to the past three years of her life, the deuces and the charades. The wall before her tinned, her vision blurred, and the soft cry of her baby echoed in her heart. Having recollected herself, she threw and flung clothes in her big box–shoes, bags, books, and a few collections she termed hers–and took her child and drove to her aunt’s house.
“You mean, all that time, and you never knew?” her aunt lampooned her.
“How on God’s own earth am I supposed to know?” she cried.
When her mother-in-law called her later in the evening, it was to tell her to snap out of her silliness and return home and that, if she didn’t return, if she really did move out, she’d have to pay all the hospital bills herself. She called Ike several times and the time he picked, he shouted at her for being so childish for even calling him.
“What do you expect me to do? Aren’t you supposed to understand the arrangement?” he barked.
“Ike, the only arrangement we have is me joining you in America immediately after our wedding,” she said mustering the courage to sound as calm as possible. “Moreover, you never mentioned you had a family over there; you didn’t tell me you were married to a white woman.”
“Anyway, you will get nothing whatsoever from me as long as you are not within the confines of my parents’ home.” He hung up and that was the last time she heard from him.

She woke up from sleep to see that her son had already woken up. She stretched herself and blinked.
“Why do you always have to wake up before me?” she grumbled.
She took him to the bathroom and cleaned him, and fed him a breakfast of biscuits and tea.
“Your favorite nurse will attend to you shortly. Mummy has errands to run.” She smiled down at him.
“Okay mummy.” He blushed.

She entered her one-bedroom apartment and threw herself on the bed. She had missed the coldness of her mattress. She lay on her mattress like an embryo and clutched tightly to her pillow. She would bear the selfishness of a stolen moment and indulge herself in the harbor of safety from infringing thoughts and a mind beclouded by chaos. She dozed off and slept for what seemed like three hours. She woke up dizzy, entered the bathroom, and immersed herself in a cold shower. She walked to where the mirror stood and stared at the essence of her nudity. She had lost much weight and looked like a bag of bones. She combed her hair, wore a long flowery gown the type her son Dubem liked and set out to hand over her car to the buyer. Her Camry car had been up for sale for two weeks and the proceeds she would use to settle the outstanding hospital bills and use whatever remained to send her boy to Dubai for the surgery he needed.
By evening, she had run some errands and delivered the car to the new owner, a car she sold off desperately with a watered down price. She made some withdrawal from the transfer the buyer had made to the bank and rushed to the hospital. The doctor was attending to some patients. She went to the nurse at the reception to make the deposit and afterwards went to her son’s ward but it was locked. Distraught, she knocked on the door but no sound emitted from inside. She went in search of the nurses who were busy attending to patients and they told her that she had to see the doctor first. She glanced around for Ruth, her son’s favorite nurse, but she was out of sight. She then remembered that Nurse Ruth’s shift ended in the morning and sighed frustrated.
Two hours later, the doctor came out from his office, signaled her and they went to Dubem’s ward. He opened the door and there he lay covered in white blanket from head to toe.
“This morning after you had left, the nurse came to administer his medicine but she was late. He stopped breathing, we are really sorry,” he admitted, flustered.
When Nurse Ruth entered, her eyes were red. “I canceled my shift to keep him company and wait for you,” she whispered.
Chidera moved closer to her boy’s bed and opened the blanket. He looked pale and peaceful. She stroked his head and cheeks.
“See how handsome you look going to the other side,” she breathed.
“Do you want us to move him to the mortuary?” the doctor asked.
“No he wouldn’t want that. I will commit him to mother earth right away,” she said.
She put a brief call across to Aunt Chika and sent her the address to the cemetery.
Aunt Chika stormed the Oak cemetery, crying, and held onto Chidera as a form of comfort, but it looked like it was she who needed comfort. The pastor made prayers and supplications. Dubem was lowered to the ground as Chidera looked on, her hands clutched tightly together. Holding herself together as much as she could, yet smiling sadly. About half an hour later, the burial was over and Aunt Chika held her by the hand and took her to the car. They drove to her house. She alighted from the car and opened her door. It looked deserted though she had been there earlier in the day, a house she hoped her boy would return to one-day, a small home she provided just for them. Then like a sudden bolt of lightning it caved in: her loss–a boy she would never brush his teeth again and pick pebbles with. The string that coiled round her emotion loosened and gave way. Like a wrapper which lost its balance on a waist, she fell to the floor and screamed in an unguided agony, releasing of her body whatever it held back. Aunt Chika let her be; she didn’t proffer words of comfort. She sat on the couch and watched her niece ease into the momentary madness of grief. Less worried than she had been when Chidera displayed indifference at the cemetery and on their drive home, she helped Chidera pack her clothes and took her to her house; she wouldn’t leave her alone all by herself.
A week after the demise of Dubem and a week after Chidera sent a message to her inlaws informing them of her loss, no message or call came forth. She hadn’t wanted to inform them but her aunt advised that it was the proper thing to do, though she buried him without their notice, not as if they cared. She agreed mainly because she wanted words to be sent across to Ikem and also to tell them to come and collect their bride price. At least he would know that the chord that loosely held them had wriggled free off their hands. It was on a Saturday morning that her phone rang non stop, nudging her from sleep. She cursed and picked the phone from the table near her bed and checked to see who the caller was. She thought her vision was blurry. She wiped her face with her hands and looked again, but her eyes were not mistaken. It was Ikem. She let it ring the first time, wondering if she should pick up, or even why she would pick up. On the second ring, she answered…
“Hello,” she breathed
“H-hello,” said Ikem.
Silence trailed the end of the lines, each waiting for the other to trip or go hysterical.
“I hope you called in regards to the collection of the bride price.”
“You buried Dubem.”
“I will not discuss my son with you.”
“He was my son too.”
“First thing tomorrow morning, I will make sure to send across your bride price to your family.”
“I don’t want to collect the bride price. You are still my wife. We can make another son when I return to Nigeria and discuss–”
“You are mentally deranged. Do I look like a game of chess you can play anytime you please? Our marriage was over a long time ago and I don’t ever want to hear from you ever again.” She cut the call, fuming. She hadn’t realized she was shouting.
Her aunt barged inside her room.
“It’s Ike, I guess?” It was more of a statement than a question.
Chidera nodded.
“What does he want?”
“Aunty, we are returning his bride price today. We will put the money in an envelope and drop it off at his house.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” her aunt replied. “Get up. Let’s get started.”
One hour later, they drove to her in-laws’ house.
Her father-in-law sat on the couch in his wrap tied firmly on his shoulder, and his spectacles touching the tip of his nose. He was reading the vanguard newspaper like one who had just discovered the map to a treasure. When he looked up and saw them, disappointment creased his face and he pouted.
“You are here,” he said.
“We have come to return the bride price and would like to leave immediately, as we have errands to run,” Aunt Chika replied as she dropped the brown envelope on the center table.
“Wait, let someone quickly go and call my wife.” He frowned.
“Your wife has little or no say in this besides that it was you whom we paid the bride price to when we came with our people and married off Chidera,” she replied impatiently.
“Don’t you have any man in your family who could have done this transaction himself?” His tone was edgy.
“It doesn’t matter now that we have done what was necessary with the exact amount you paid inside the envelope.” She dragged Chidera by the hand and left.
As they drove home, Aunt Chika played Osadebe in her car stereo. Chidera, lost in her thoughts, realized that it was her mother-in-law who had always worn the pants in the marriage. Her father-in-law had always been passive, indifferent; he always read newspapers on the couch and would never comment on anything without his wife around. He would never set his foot down.
“What a lily-livered man,” Aunt Chika sliced through her thoughts as if she’d heard her.
“I know, right?” Chidera smiled weakly.
“I know you are thinking it’s love, odiegwu. I wonder where she got the charm she used in brainwashing that man–to completely turn the man of the house to vegetable…”
Chidera stared at her aunt. She could be irrational sometimes but she has heard such tales wherein some women used juju to sideline their husbands. Whatever the case might be, she was glad she was free and no longer part of Ikem’s life.
“Udoka disclosed to me that she will send you a visiting Visa to the UK,” her aunt said.
“Really?” Chidera’s eyes glistened.
“But you must act surprised when she tells you. I’m not supposed to tell you,” she said smiling.
“I really can’t wait to visit her.” Chidera smiled amidst tears.
“It’s time you start all over again and maybe plan on relocating to the UK,” she replied.
“My son is here,” Chidera groused.
“Your son is dead,” her aunt hissed.
Tears slid down her cheeks and she started weeping.

As a writer, Nneamaka Onochie basically advocates on issues concerning women with plethora of emotions, experiences, information and opinions and she also spreads her tentacles towards other genres of literature. She writes fiction and nonfiction. She is poet, playwright, journalist, educator, a girl child and gender based violence activist. She is a graduate of English and Literary studies and a post graduate of Linguistics and Communications. Her works have appeared in newspapers, magazines, blogs, Literary magazines and journals like Adanna, Literary Network (Litnet), International Human Right Art Festival (IHRAF), Kalahari Review. When she is not nestled on the couch with a book or advocating for the girl child, she is watching horror movies, listening to Lucky Dube and watching people.

Leave a Reply