Web Site: Labyrinths
14th February, 1985.
My smile was almost audible yesterday night when one of the prison guards handed me the envelope that bore your letter. The first sight of your name on that paper sent tiny suds of sweat and myriads of goose-bumps all over my skin. Despite my sadness and the nodules of nostalgia that knotted in my throat, I found myself smiling; smiling at these four grey walls that have barred me from your honest love and that of my children, smiling at the pale and shallow silk of flesh that now hides my bones and at these mosquitoes that have turned out to be my only companions here.
I can’t remember thinking anything else. All I did was smile and stare at the paper in my palm until the alphabets began to blur and to swallow one another. It was then that I discovered I was actually crying. Tears welled up my eyelids, trailed down my cheeks and soaked my jeans. Apart from the persistent dialogues among the mosquitoes as they refused to sleep, the room was calm. Even the air appeared to be listening. The only movement in the room came from my tears as they rolled down my cheeks. I folded the letter which had become moistened with my tears and slipped it inside one of my breast pockets. The one closest to my heart.
My love, I sincerely apologize for my inability to write to you all this while. From your letter which I just finished reading, I learnt that you have been writing to me since the six years I have been here. My dear, I’ve not read any of those letters since we are not allowed to receive or send letters. I was only lucky to get the one that arrived yesterday secretly through Joseph. Joseph is one of the guards but has been of great help to me since the first day I arrived. I’ve always begged God to be good to him as he has been to me.
How are you and our lovely children? I hope they are recovering from the series of shocks they’ve undergone from all that has happened within this period, especially from the loss of their only sister. Bridget, please, always let them know, even in my absence that I truly loved and will continue to love them. Tell them that being their dad was the greatest honour I ever received.
Today is the 14th of February, the day of my execution after these six years of silence and sorrow. The soldiers allowed me a dying wish and I begged to be given some time to write you this letter before I die. They gave me twenty-five minutes to write to you. So, if this letter suddenly ends without the final full-stop, then know that they came for me before I could finish.
My dear, I know that by now you’d still be confused at what actually happened on that day the verdict was pronounced in the court. I also know that you must be wondering why I pleaded ‘guilty’ in court, defying the initial plans you made with the lawyer you hired.
Darling, the lie I told the court was the truth everyone wanted to hear and besides, no amount of evidence would have been enough to pull me through. My face was already on every newspaper and television screen as the one who murdered Dr. Jones.
Bridget, although I had a serious quarrel with Jones in the office on the very day he died, the thought of doing him any harm never crossed my mind. Earlier that month, I was sacked with three other workers and accused of dereliction of duty. Till now I am still finding it hard to trace the source of that allegation, knowing how committed to our functions, we all had been.
I know you must be shocked to hear this. Yes, I was already jobless when you called to inform me of Cynthia’s Alzheimer’s disease and the urgent surgical operation that was supposed to be carried out on her. I was already sacked but I could not open up to you and the children. I did not know how to travel back home with my pocket full of holes. I did not know how to look my children in the face and tell them that I could not become the dad I’d always wanted them to see. That’s why I remained in Lagos and made-up excuses all those times you called and begged me to take a vacation to visit the family.
Seven million naira, was a huge sum. When I got your call I knew I needed to act fast, and from what you said, I had only forty-eight hours according to the doctor and I feared losing our only daughter to that illness. The only option I was faced with, was to go back to my boss, Dr. Jones, that morning to get the money which the office owed me before my expulsion. Jones asked me out of his office and played down on the urgency and importance of the problems I narrated to him. I got angry and we had a hot quarrel which attracted the other workers. I finally left his office, threatening to check on him later in the day. That was the morning I called and told you I would be coming back to Enugu the next day.
Later, that afternoon, I breezed into Jones’s office with the speed and manner of a lightening, ignoring the quizzical glare on the face of his secretary.
His back was what greeted me as I opened the door. He was sitting on his couch, staring out through the rear window of his office.
In my burning rage, I called out to him but my call was ignored. I called again for a second time and he remained unmoved. I was further enraged by this attitude of his and decided to step closer to the point where he was sitting at the other side of his table. Right before his face and ready to unleash the devil in me, I discovered a little crimson hole on his forehead and tiny line of fresh blood that had traced a track down to the tip of his nose.
Silence occupied a vast part of the room and I felt the throbs of my heart as it hammered against my ribs. In my pocket I had a .35 automatic pistol but it wasn’t even loaded. It was just there to threaten and soften Jones’ stiff-necked obduracy and cruelty. All I wanted was to get him to pay me so that the doctors could commence the surgery on Cynthia. I hadn’t fired any shot.
But who would believe such a story. Just then, the secretary walked into the office and raised a loud alarm that arrested the attention of the entire workers. I was confused and mute, like a statue. I wished for the ground to open and swallow me. I prayed to wake up and discover that I was dreaming, but I did not. It was real.
Dear, I decided not to tell this long and strange story to all those hostile eyes that surrounded me because none would have believed it. I give the truth to you alone because I know that you’re the only person in the world that can listen, understand and believe this story. I have no material evidence but I have love and honesty. The only evidence I have for you is the sincerity that flows from my heart, through this pen.
My voice has known six years of silence inside this prison and worries have given me wrinkles. Last night I tried to sleep but could not. My mind, like an unchained monkey, wandered from one event in the past to the other.
First, I remembered that day you said that I was gifted with an awkward ability to always seem normal in the face of adversity. Only now have I begun to understand how wrong that statement was. I also remembered that very day we first met, twenty years ago.
It was impossible not to love you that very first time. It seemed as if you stepped out of an old dream. My heart felt bigger and heavier than my whole body as our eyes met and locked. I was unable to hold my stare and yet unable to look away. What felt like an entire colony of butterflies rent my stomach. It was like a piece of heaven.
When I held your hand that evening, I thought my heart would stop beating. It was as soft as a damp cotton wool and warm and nice. It was too good to be real.
Sweetheart, I have come to realize that it is in the agony of parting that one actually looks into the depths of love. Before this ink dries on this paper, I must have crossed that tenuous passage that separates our world from that of ghosts. My hangmen are already waiting to cut the thread of my days but I am happy, at least to have been granted this chance to spurt out these final words.
I remember all these things and cry, because, bottled-up inside me are the love and affection I failed to show you and our beloved kids. My busy hours at work kept me away from you and the poetry of our spirits got drowned by the thoughts and cares for daily affairs. It would have ended up a good grief if Cynthia hadn’t died after all the struggles but the devastation and sadness I feel about her early death are soothed by the strong belief that she is now our guardian angel.
Beloved, I wanted a perfect ending just as I’d always wanted the best for all of us, but I have come to learn, the hard way, why some poems do not rhyme and why some stories do not have clear beginnings and endings. It’s because we cannot fix appointments with fate. I’ll keep you in mind until my bones are rotten.
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