He found her in Nkemakolam’s room huddled over the baby’s cot clutching a stuffed bunny. He had no idea how long she had been there but he suspected it must have been hours.
She looked up and her glazed eyes met his in silence. He stooped down and took her hands, looking into her eyes.
“Honey, what are you doing here?”
When she gave no response, he placed his arms firmly underneath her shoulders and gently lifted her up. She held tightly to the bunny as he dragged her into their bedroom and laid her on the bed. That was when he noticed the tears.
Feranmi was exhausted- completely spent. It had been a year since they returned from the hospital without Nkem. The baby that should have been their miracle child after 7 years of waiting and trying. The baby that should have ushered in perfection and joy and laughter. One year later, Ifeoma had still not recovered. She had steadily sunk into depression, refusing therapy and any other form of help.
There were days when it felt like living with a zombie. Because Ifeoma went through life as though she were in a trance. She moved out of their bedroom and into the guestroom. She began stress eating and it showed in all the folds and excess layers of fat in every part of her body. She quit her job by simply refusing to show up at the end of the 3 months maternity leave she had taken. She barely left the house even.
Feranmi had been patient, struggling with his own grief yet trying to be strong for her but she shut him out completely. He still remembered that day like it had only been a few minutes even though a full year had gone by. He had stayed by her side while she labored for hours to bring forth their son. He remembered his exultant excitement as the baby was pushed out and his echoing panic that gradually rose to a crescendo when the baby made no sound. He remembered his heart stopping momentarily when the doctor’s eyes told him what his mouth could not put in words- It was a still birth.
Now one year later, having tried everything within his means to help Ifeoma overcome their grief, he was fresh out of ideas and completely spent. Nkem’s death at birth had taken the light out of her life and his by extension. Gone was the vibrant, energetic, passionate woman he had fallen in love with and married. This woman in his bed was a complete stranger.
Feranmi left her lying in bed, shedding silent tears and walked out of the room. He went into his study and slowly paced the length and breadth of the room. He was inches away from having a mental breakdown himself and he did not know what to do about it. He loved Ifeoma with his entire being and for a whole year, that loved had been tested and tried and he was really close to giving up on it. Was this love worth his own sanity? Was this part of the ‘for better for worse’ phrase in his wedding vows?
His right foot kicked something as he paced and he bent down to pick a book lying oddly on the floor. As he looked around shelves trying to figure out where it fit, his eyes caught a portion of a particular shelf that held some albums. He dropped the book on the table and reached for the albums, carrying them carefully to the couch. As he flipped through the wedding album and their honeymoon album, he realized just how much he missed Ifeoma’s smile and the sound of her laughter.
Everything he had tried to do before now to bring her out of depression had failed. But now his eyes lit up with a sudden realisation. There was one thing he was yet to try and even though it seemed like a brilliant and yet stupid idea at the same time, he decided he would try it anyway. He would take Ifeoma on a trip. Somewhere nice where she could enjoy the sun and put her feet up. A brilliant idea because Ifeoma enjoyed travelling and had not done much of it after they got married, yet a stupid idea because Ifeoma had refused to leave the compound since they got back from the hospital one year ago. What was to say she would want to travel?
It took Feranmi another 4 weeks to put everything in place and as he walked into Nkem’s room yet again to find Ifeoma on the floor by the baby’s cot, his heart thumped wildly in his chest. If she turned this down, there would be nothing left for them. Their marriage would be over.
“Honey, I got you something.”
Ifeoma looked up blankly and Feranmi held up the passports with the tickets in between.
“We’re going to Barcelona.” he said with an uncertain smile.
Ifeoma gave no response.
“There’s a lot we can see and do there. We can go hiking, swimming, take long walks, enjoy great meals, go dancing…”
It was the dancing that earned him a vague semblance of a smile which disappeared as quickly as it came.
“I don’t want to go anywhere without Nkem. His spirit is in this room. If we travel, he’ll be lonely and afraid.”
Feranmi’s heart rate tripled as it became evident that Ifeoma was suffering a proper mental breakdown. He gave himself a few minutes to think before responding gently.
“Honey, his spirit can come with us too. We’ll pack a small bag with his clothes and you can bring the bunny too.”
Ifeoma sighed resignedly.
“If you say so.”
Packing was a hassle. Ifeoma had several crying fits over clothes that no longer fit and Feranmi soothed her kindly, promising to buy her new clothes and anything else she wanted but hours later, they were ready.
Barcelona turned out to be a brilliant idea. After checking, into their hotel on arrival, Feranmi arranged for a spa session for Ifeoma whilst he unpack their bags. She returned two hours later and her face held a familiar glow. They ate a late lunch in their room and Ifeoma promptly fell asleep. Feranmi watched her sleep and ached to cuddle her but she had laid out a tiny blanket and pillow in between them where according to Ifeoma, Nkem lay. He stayed staring at her until he fell asleep.
Hours later, they woke up and made their way into town, taking a long stroll down La Rambla, the longest tourist street in Barcelona. Ifeoma seemed to enjoy the sights. She marveled at the dexterity of the artists who sketched caricature images of interested tourists as well as actual portraits, some with pencils, others with charcoal. There was a wax image of a woman sitting pretty and for a few minutes, Ifeoma was convinced it was an actual person. When she realized it wasn’t, she smiled and Feranmi thought his heart would burst.
At the end of the street, Feranmi grabbed Ifeoma’s arm and pointed ahead.
“Honey, look!” Ifeoma followed his finger and saw the towering sculpture of the Columbus Monument and she gasped. “Wow! It’s so huge!”
They joined a teeming crowd of tourists to admire the structure and take pictures, especially of the huge lion sculptures that surrounded it at the bottom. Two little boys ran past with their mother chasing after them and Feranmi noticed Ifeoma’s face fall. He squeezed her hand and asked that they keep moving.
“I hear there’s a mall built on water. Let’s go check it out.”
To get to the mall, they walked over a long wooden bridge surrounded by a massive expanse of water littered with numerous yachts and smaller sailing boats. At the end of the bridge, they came face to face with the Maremagnum mall and Ifeoma gaped. It was huge. They walked in and explored the various shops on the different floors. The entire place was crowded with children and for a few minutes, Feranmi thought it was a bad idea, until a cute little girl walked past with her mother and smiled at Ifeoma. Ifeoma smiled back and the little girl came back and said to her “you’re so pretty!”
Ifeoma swallowed hard and tried to stop the tears but failed. The mother quickly came back and apologised then took her little girl away. Feranmi hugged her tight, littering her forehead with a thousand kisses, all the while muttering “I’m really sorry honey.”
When she looked up at him eventually, she was smiling through her tears. “She said I was pretty.”
They spent another hour walking around the mall, catching a small rock concert that had been set up somewhere in the back. It was not Ifeoma’s cup of tea but she stayed beside Feranmi for the few minutes that he stopped to observe it before moving on.
At night, after dinner, Feranmi mentioned a club he had found online. Ifeoma was reluctant at first until he specified that it was a salsa club. Dancing salsa was Ifeoma’s absolute favourite thing to do and Feranmi was hoping she would enjoy it.
Her healing began with the salsa dance. They walked into the club in time to catch Marc Anthony’s Vivir mi vida and while they stood at the bar to order drinks, Feranmi observed her tapping her feet and swaying gently.
“Maybe we should leave the drinks first. Do you want to dance?”
“You can barely move your feet and you always say salsa isn’t your thing.” Ifeoma said.
Feranmi smiled. He took her hand and led her to the dance floor. With his right hand circled around her waist and her left hand firmly in his left hand, he began to dance, counting the steps in his head like he remembered. He had spent 4 weeks practicing because he had meant for this trip to be worth it and the surprised smile on her face as he led her in a cross body lead was fully rewarding.
He faltered a little bit and her soft giggle was even more rewarding. They danced together to the next song but his moves were basic and he could tell she was warming up for more. The moment Elvis Crespo’s Suavemente came on, he nodded to some Latino guy he had observed checking them out and the guy came and took Ifeoma’s hands. They moved so fluidly and were a delight to behold. Feranmi returned to the bar and observed them from there. The light had begun its return to Ifeoma’s eyes and he was grateful.
Just as the song ended and Ifeoma began to walk back to him with the biggest smile on her face, Don Omar’s Danza kuduro came on and everyone began cheering. Before Feranmi could figure out what was happening, the entire club lined up on the dance floor and began moving harmoniously in line with steps being proffered by a leader.
What happened next felt like magic. One minute, Ifeoma was in the second row, digging in the moves with a great deal of enthusiasm and the next minute, she was front and center leading the pack and throwing in random Nigerian dance moves with a huge smile on her face and a great deal of laughter. First there was the shoki then some shakiti bobo and finally some shaku shaku which the dancers managed to imitate fairly well. Feranmi fought back tears of gratitude. This was the woman he married. This was the woman he had loved for 10 years. She was finally back and the constellation of stars that shone brightly in her eyes were full proof of her return.
Later that night, after a warm shower back at the hotel, Feranmi cuddled his wife in bed for the first time in over a year.
“I really missed you honey,” he whispered into her ear, with her head buried in his chest. Her response came minutes later in form of soft gentle kisses that trailed from his neck to his ears and eventually to his lips. Their lovemaking was slow and passionate and that night in the beautiful city of Barcelona, Taiwo Nwachinemelu and Kehinde Kaosisochukwu were conceived.