That evening, on the eve of Christmas, Rachel sat before the television, looking, but not seeing. Her thoughts were miles away and her heart, laden with grief.
Feeling light-headed, she placed the back of her hand on her forehead and reclined her head on the cushion, letting out a deep sigh. Then the tears hanging at the corners of her eyes coursed down her cheeks.
A hand rapped on the door, startling her to reality. She strained her ears to be sure. The knock came again, this time, louder. She quickly wiped her face with the back of her hand.
“Who is it?” she called.
“Who?”she asked, irritated. “Who?” she quizzed again.
Rachel sighed. She walked towards the door. She could hear the faraway sounds of firecrackers.
“Hapi Christmas, Anti Rachel.” Johnpaul’s lips stretched into a smile. “I wan–”
“What is it?” Rachel snapped at him.
The little boy was taken aback. “Em… I just wan come wish you hapi–”
“Thank you,” Rachel said curtly, making to close her door.
“Em… Anti Rachel.”
Johnpaul stretched out his right hand. “Any’ tin for the boys?”
“No!” Rachel slammed the door shut.
Mama’s slippers made slap-slap sounds on the concrete floor as she made her way to the sitting room. She stopped in her tracks, her eyes burning with anger. Her gaze was fixed on a man lost in thought, with a ball of eba clutched in his right palm.
“Huh? Ah, mama!” The man was startled.
“Why aren’t you eating your food?”
“I have lost my appetite,” he said, shoving the bowl of onugbu soup aside.
“Is it because of that girl?” Mama’s tone was accusing.
“Shut up!” she said, taking a seat opposite him. "Don’t please me. Now tell me. Why do you let that girl bother you?”
“But mama, I love her.”
“Tah! Me shi onu.” Mama scolded and pulled her chair closer to him. “Come, let me tell you. I have my sight set on Nwakaego’s daughter, Olanma. Can you imagine that the oporoko in this soup was given to me by Olanma? And do you know the best part? The good girl didn’t even collect a dime from me at all. Now tell me, is that one not super love?”
Ifeanyi shook his head and looked away.
Getting no reply, Mama continued, “I had always known you weren’t meant for each other. Isn’t it because of your American dollars that she wants to force herself on you, eh?”
Ifeanyi stared at his mother, shocked.
“Don’t look at me like that! Come to think of it, what did you even see in her? Look at her chest sef. No breast, as flat as my slippers. What will you enjoy? What will my grand-children enjoy?”
“So doctor, what is it?” Ifeanyi asked, while placing his hand over Rachel’s.
The doctor took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and ruffled his hair
“Well, going by the results, I am sorry to say…” He paused to glance at the couple. “You are not compatible. AS plus AS will spell doom.”
“Doctor, what…” Ifeanyi could feel Rachel’s hand slip away from under his.
Ifeanyi studied the man as they spoke. Loud boasts. Silly gestures. Senseless talks. He shook his head and gulped down his glass of beer.
“O’ boi, cool down na,” his friend, Tobi said. “Dis na your fourth bottle. Shey you wan kpeme?”
“My man, you wouldn’t understand.” Ifeanyi belched.
“Undastand wetin? Shey na bicos of small kasala you wan kill ya’self?”
Ifeanyi ignored him and signalled to a waiter for two more bottles of Star Lager.
“You really want to know the cause of my troubles?” he asked Tobi.
“Yes.” Tobi’s cheeks bulged as he rinsed his mouth with his beer and swallowed. “Yes, yes I wan know.”
“OK. What would you do if you can’t marry the woman of your dreams?”
“Simple! Marry the woman of reality,” Tobi chortled.
“You’re just impossible.” Ifeanyi hissed. Cocking his head toward the approaching waiter, he signalled for two extra bottles.
Rachel was poised to spank Johnpaul as she yanked the door open. Her hand hung in mid-air as her eyes came level with that of a man.
Her face grew pale.
“May I come in?”
She hesitated, and then made way for him. The man walked into the room with his head hung and shoulders drooped. The familiarity of the room weighed him down.
“Aren’t you going to offer me a seat?”
“What do you want, Ifeanyi?” Rachel asked. “Speak now! I don't have all day.”
“Please Rachel. You are being too hard on me.”
“Oh, really?” she said, hands akimbo.
“Yes, you are. And you know I am also on the receiving end.”
“Well, why don’t you leave?”
“Be reasonable, will you!” Ifeanyi bit his lower. He knew he shouldn’t have said those words.
“So I am being unreasonable?”
“Get out.” She pointed to the door. “Out!”
Ifeanyi lost his cool.
“Now you listen, you don’t talk to me in that manner, you hear?”
“Or else what?”
Ifeanyi sighed and unclenched his fist. He loved this girl.
“Let’s talk things out,” he said in a calm voice. “Please.”
Rachel hugged herself.“OK.” She shrugged and sat down.
Ifeanyi took a seat beside her and clasped her hands with his, then in a calm voice, he said, “I’m sorry, Rachel. I haven’t been myself lately. See, I love you…” He paused for effect. “But I don’t think we can still be…” His words trailed off as she stared into his face.“What?” he asked.
“Have you been drinking lately?”
“Yeah, I.... Let’s forget about that. What I am saying is that we can still be together – as friends. You get me?”
Her expression was blank.
“I guess I do,” she said, “at least I knew your mum never liked me.”
“See; let’s not drag my mother into this.”
“Why not?” Rachel asked. “Even the part that I helped you go abroad doesn’t seem to please her.”
“Please forget my mother. Moreover, must you always remind me of the role you played?”
“Why mustn’t I? I–”
“Now that’s my problem.” Ifeanyi stood up. “Always ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’. You’re just too self-centered.”
“Oh, yeah? Who cares?” Rachel rose to her feet.
“Shut up! Shut up! By God, shut the fuck up!” Ifeanyi’s eyes blazed with fury. “Come to think of it, it’s not my damn fault that we can’t get married, is it!”
Rachel staggered back. Tears stifled the words in her mouth. She flopped onto the settee. With her head in her hands, she sobbed.
Ifeanyi felt the anger in him fizzle out as quickly as it had come. Moving close to Rachel, he fell to his knees.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said, ‘I didn’t mean it. I–”
“Go.” She raised a hand to silence him. “Just go.”
With a sigh, Ifeanyi dragged himself up to his feet and left the room.
As the door closed, Rachel hurled her phone at the wall.
“Damn!” She clutched her head. She wondered what Ifeanyi would do if he found out she had his seed in her womb.
A loud knock on the door drew her out of her misery.
“Yes? Who is it!”
“Anti Rachel, na me Johnpaul!”
Rachel sprang up with purpose from the settee. This time around, she thought, the little rascal was in for it.
(The Walls Between first appeared in NaijaStories.com. Uzoma writes short stories and hopes to be a prominent writer, someday.)