Ignorance is indeed bliss. Iya thought to herself as she lay in the dark, listening to the soft sounds of Max’s breathing next to her. She marveled that she’d spent a year completely unaware of just how estranged from Max she had become, only to have it rubbed into her face at every turn this evening. This was the first evening she and Max had spent greater than an hour in each other’s company, since Lorie had told her about the possibility of Max’s knowledge of her affair. They had spent other evenings together before she found out but she’d never questioned his need to spend time in his study or to be at work, or to leave the house for one reason or another. He was after all a busy surgical fellow.
This evening had been excruciating, and the pain showed no sign of lessening even now as she lay in bed next to him, his back turned, the space between them wider than the Grand Canyon it seemed. They’d attended a fund raising gala hosted by the Chicago Cameroonian Community, where they had both been honored for outstanding accomplishments. It wasn’t the sort of invitation they could easily have bowed out from, especially considering that they had agreed to have a scholarship set up in their name. The Litumbe Award for Excellence was open to Cameroonian high school students who had been accepted to an accredited four year college in the US or to medical school in Cameroon. The first recipients were to be announced that night. Max had arrived from the hospital at the very last minute and barely had enough time to shower and change. The drive from their Deerfield home out to the city where the gala was being held had been done mostly in silence, with Max focusing his attention on the road. Any attempt to engage him in conversation was met with one line answers and distracted sounds. Before recent revelations, she would have chalked it down to him being distracted by some work puzzle and found something else to occupy herself with. Today, however, she saw his distance for what it really was.
When they had arrived at the Marriott, he disappeared into the crowd. It was easy to do. Sticking together was hardly a requirement – it could even be regarded as strange…snobbish. Cameroonian functions were like huge family reunions where everybody knew everybody or had gone to school with or grew up in the same town as the mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, niece or nephew of somebody. These occasions were a smorgasbord of culture, an audiovisual delight. Conversations buzzed in English and French, as well as pidgin English and the multiple local languages still spoken in the country. All of this against a backdrop of loud Nigerian pop music, with its throbbing beat, interspersed by the more fluid guitars of the odd hit from the glory days of Cameroonian music. The eyes never tired of taking in the variety of brightly colored outfits present. Some people dressed in traditional garb and others in European formal dress. You could pick out the North-westerners and Westerners from their richly embroidered gowns and the South-westerners from their crisp white shirts paired with loin cloths. There were men in agbadas, dashikis and western style suits which ranged from the expertly cut to the baggy and ill fitting. Women wore kabas as well as custom made, brightly patterned dresses from Côté Minou, Kibonen and Mesanga Fashion House. Several women sported the increasingly common gele, a head wrap more native to Yorubas from Nigeria but which had taken West African fashion by storm. Other women, like her, wore European couture gowns, the wealthier ones having purchased them from Michigan avenue stores. The less wealthy women wore their garb from Ross and Marshalls with just as much glamour. Young girls teetered around, perched perilously on high heels, their Forever 21 dresses bright and short. Older men watched them with lustful eyes while their wives pretended not to notice, throwing dirty looks at the girls as they pranced past.
Iya had found friends and acquaintances of her own soon enough and there hadn’t been a shortage of people wanting to congratulate her for being featured in Chicago magazine. Things had gotten awkward when Joan had shown up. Joan had made a beeline for her the moment she arrived, pulled Iya aside from the group she was with and asked in a loud pseudo-whisper:
“I hope you didn’t go through with that crazy idea of yours to talk to that woman.“
Iya smiled weakly and shook her head no. No use fanning the flames.
“Have you talked to him yet?” Joan had pressed, her voice dripping condescension. Iya made no response, choosing instead to look over at the crowd of people. She and Joan weren’t particularly close. The only things they had in common were Eposi; Iya’s former classmate and Joan’s cousin and they fact that all three women attended Baptist High School Buea. Joan was one of those women perpetually on the look out for gossip. By all accounts she’d hit the marriage jackpot when she married Molua, a man who had simply wanted a wife to bear him children and spend his money.That left her with ample time to meddle. The fact that it was Joan who had told her about Max, seemed to have given the other women the impression that they were now best friends. Max had come into sight then, his eyes searching the crowd, looking for her. The MC was calling everyone to take their seats. Joan once again launched into a session of Max bashing, calling him a fool for cheating on her. Iya had tampered the urge to defend him. That would only raise more questions. He spotted them and walked over, a smile on his face for Joan no doubt. Molua was his friend. He greeted Joan cordially and in response she had hissed at him loudly and walked away. A couple of bystanders had exclaimed softly under their breaths, having witnessed Joan’s rudeness. The exchange was definitely going to set tongues wagging. He had turned to her for explanations, a question in his eyes and she had looked away, so deep was her mortification. She heard him make a strangled sound in his throat as if holding himself back from speaking.
They had continued in the uncomfortable silence as they found their seats. The ceremony began with the endless speeches that was typical of Cameroonians. She’d focused all her attention on them, trying to ignore the waves of anger and hostility coming from Max. She felt terrible. Here they were, him knowing fully well that she had and probably was still cheating on him, but at the same time having to bear her friend’s rudeness without a word from her. She felt like a coward for not having said anything to Joan. Her phone on the table had buzzed with an incoming text message. It was Sebastian.
“Hey!” It read. “Good time to talk?”
She’d texted back quickly.
“Not exactly. Gala for home folk.”
He’d texted back a sad face, which had made her smile. Then : “I won’t distract you now then. But we still need to sort this mess out.”
She set the phone down and her eyes lifted to find Max looking directly at her, his eyes tortured. He looked away when their eyes met but there was no erasing the memory of the naked emotion she’d seen on his face. The rest of the evening had been spent in uneasy silence. When she’d been called up to accept the plaque she was being awarded, he’d stood up and cheered with every one else, a smile on his face but not in his eyes. She’d kept her acceptance speech short and simple. Thanking God for the honor and dedicating it to Him, feeling like the worst kind of hypocrite as she did. The pleased looks on the faces of the crown and the nods and shouts of “Amen oh!” told a different story. The crowd ate it all up. In better days, she would have dedicated the honor to Max and commended his dedication and support. She couldn’t even look at him tonight. When it was his turn, he’d held the plaque in both hands and looking directly at her, dark emotion in his eyes, he had thanked her for being the best wife a man could wish for and for always being there for him. Each word he spoke had been a knife stabbed and twisted around in her heart. The crowd had ooohed and aaahed and the MC had come back to shower them with praise, holding them up as the model couple for all young Cameroonians present to emulate. Iya had felt queasy.
Just before the scholarship award ceremony, he’d been called away to work and he left quickly. Normally he’d fret over how she would got home. Deerfield was a good 40 minute drive from the city on a good day. He didn’t even ask this time. She hadn’t stayed long after he left. As soon as she had presented the scholarships to the recipients and posed for pictures, she’d called the cab company Morrison & Roth had on retainer and they’d sent a town car to take her home. She’d gone straight to bed. Max had come home a couple of hours later. He’d spent sometime in his study, but had eventually made his way to bed, where he now lay next to her.
Iya could not sleep. Slipping carefully out of bed so she didn’t wake him, she padded downstairs and made for the kitchen. Perhaps a cup of chamomile tea would help settle her tumultuous emotions. She didn’t turn on any of the lights. It was a full moon outside and the light generated was enough to guide her through the familiar halls of their home. They’d bought the 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with its hardwood floors, laundry/mudroom and full basement with recreation room, office, bedroom, bath and storage, 2 car garage, big patio and family room with fireplace, in anticipation of the big family they planned to have. It was likely they would now have to sell. She remembered how excited Max had been. After they had signed the mortgage papers and taken the keys, they had stopped by a Binny’s and bought 4 ridiculously expensive bottles of wine with cheap wineglasses. They had then driven to the house and gotten drunk. He’d run through the house like a little boy, talking animatedly, planning. For all his medical genius, at heart he was just a simple guy who wanted a family. He’d made her laugh hysterically that day as he had named each of their children and plotted their futures. The Litumbe kids were going to take over the world, all four of them. Mojoko was going to be a savvy business woman and an expert artist. A painter and sculptor. Joffi was going to be a doctor like her daddy, and would discover the secret to never aging and the vaccine for AIDS and cancer. She would also be a kick ass performer, a triple threat singer, actor and dancer. Ngale was going to go into politics and become the second black president of the United States, as well as an accomplished martial artist and basketballer. Eyole the baby was to be an astronaut and cordon bleu chef, who would discover new inhabitable planets and thus ensure that their family’s guaranteed survival after the destruction of earth. She’d teased him for not giving their children anglicized names and they’d argued for hours over the decision. They had decided that if they gave their children non-Bakweri names, they would be respectable, noble names like George and William, Elizabeth and Victoria. No Britneys and Kelseys. She wanted to send their children back to Cameroon to attend boarding school and he’d seemed conflicted over the idea, although they had agreed that summer vacations in Buea or Limbe where he had grown up would be compulsory every year. He’d insisted that their children would all go to Ivy League schools and had been outraged that she’d refused adamantly, even jokingly calling her a hypocrite for not wanting to give her children the quality of education she had gotten. In her mind she’d only been able to picture one of her daughters getting raped by some rich, spoiled ivy leaguer with powerful parents. Exhausted and drunk, they had fallen asleep holding each other in front of the fireplace.
Iya made her tea and paced the living area as she sipped. Deep inside she grieved as she walked barefoot across the gleaming hardwood home. She made peace with the fact that whatever dreams she’d had with Max would never be realized. She let go of the children and the plans and consciously for the first time, let go of her marriage. There was no was this could ever be fixed. Never, because deep within the anguish, deep within the anger and resentment and disappointment, she’d seen on Max’s face this evening, she had seen something else: hatred.
A light footstep and the rustle of cloth interrupted her thoughts. She paused mid step and looked towards the stairs. It was Max. They regarded each other silently for a couple of seconds.
“I think we need to talk.” He said, finally.
Read Part 6 here