Marlene woke up with a start, beads of perspiration on her forehead. “A nightmare,” she whispered to herself. A loud pounding began in her head, and she massaged her temple with her forefinger and middle finger trying to remember exactly what her dream was about. Feeling disoriented, she switched on the bedside lamp, and began to push the quilt aside to swing her legs to the lush carpet rug when a rich baritone voice froze her in her tracks.
“Are you okay baby?”
Marlene’s eyes widened in shock as a head materialized from the sheets. She swallowed her scream and shoved the sheets aside. Her eyes still on the intruder, she landed with a thud in an ungainly heap on the floor.
“Whoa!” the man exclaimed. “Easy there now sweetie,” he said, chuckling softly, humour filling his sleep softened eyes. Marlene untangled her legs from underneath her, quickly drawing herself to her feet. She could hear the blood rushing to her head. She backed away from the bed till she stood a good distance away.
Daring to take her eyes off the man on the bed, she looked down at herself. Her nipples pushed hard against the fabric of the sheer lace lingerie she was wearing. Quickly she folded her arms protectively over her breasts, trying to shield them from the stranger’s gaze. She felt very exposed standing before him. What am I doing almost naked in bed with a man I don’t know, a half naked one at that?
The man on the bed frowned quizzically at her.
“Are you okay baby?” He asked again, sitting up. Marlene stared at him.
His face was captivating with eyebrows that rose in high arcs above heavily lashed eyes. His aquiline nose was a strong dominant feature of his face, and his lips, an inviting deep cut bow. A faint line of hair trailed his almost square jaw, and thin sideburns stopped halfway on both sides of his face. Marlene’s bewildered gaze followed the sheets as it slid down to expose finely chiseled chest and biceps she would have admired on a normal day if she did not feel panic pressing down on her chest as she tried to breathe.
“Who are you?” She asked, her voice barely a squeak.
One of his perfect eyebrows shot up at her question. “Who am I?” he repeated in an incredulous tone. Then, a brooding expression fell over his face as he looked at her.
Her eyes which turned upwards at the corners were tinged with the redness of sleep, and her nostrils flared with the gust of air that fought its way out of wide sensuous lips parted in surprise. Her hair net tilted ominously to the side, an annoying fixture that was taking eternity getting used to. He preferred her to leave her head bare at night, but in recent days she had developed a sudden taste for the black hair net she used to wrap her thick long hair to bed.
The look on her face was paradoxical to her appearance and he almost laughed aloud but thought better of it. Seeing her standing five feet five inches in all her glory, and looking cornered in the tempting slip of a nightdress that left nothing to the imagination did something to humour him. He did not know what to make of the drama unfolding before his eyes.
After a long pause, he answered. “Your husband.”
The gasp from Marlene’s lips was audible. “My, my hus…,” she stuttered, staring at him aghast as the rest of the sentence froze on her lips and she lifted up her left hand to see a gleaming gold wedding band sitting contently on her fourth finger. She looked back at the man, and to the ring again, confusion on her face. Her breath came out in short gasps as her mind searched for any clue to the identity of this man claiming to be her husband. To her shock, she found none.
The man on the bed rose in a fluid motion and the sheets fell completely away, revealing his nakedness. He appeared tall and must have stood at over six feet. Still struggling to catch her breath, Marlene held out her hand.
“No, no, please stay away,” she said, backing away with a stricken look. Who is this man, and why am I finding it hard to remember? A fragment of her brain screamed.
“Oh no,” she whispered this time as he advanced slowly upon her, oblivious to the effect of his nudity on her. “Please stop,” she begged. She wanted to scream from the sheer masculinity of him.
“Why are you naked?” she croaked, her hand flying to her neck in a protective gesture. He paused, a sardonic smile on his face even though his eyes appeared slightly troubled.
“I was hoping you were tired of asking the same question every other night.”
Marlene stared at him blankly, lack of comprehension on her face. He took another step towards her and she jerked backwards on reflex, banging her head sharply on the edge of a shelf she didn’t know was on the wall behind her. The impact jarred her and she almost lost her footing
“Ouch!” She moaned, massaging the sore spot. The man stopped in his tracks, and she eyed him warily, her hand still working behind her head. Now he stood in front of her, feet apart and arms folded across his chest without the slightest hint of consciousness.
“I am going to the bathroom, and you are in my way,” he said, frowning quizzically. “Marlene, is this a joke?” he asked after a long pause, and this time concern etched deeply on his face. “I think this is getting weird”.
I think you need to put some clothes on, Marlene thought, still rubbing her head, her eyes unwittingly drawn to his manhood. Embarrassed, she raised her eyes back to his face and saw his eyes darken with desire. Her breathing quickened at the change in him and she wanted to find somewhere to hide. This must be a dream, she thought again, still rubbing her head.
“It’s been a while for the both of us you know…,” his eyes caressed her lush ripe bosoms. “Your business seems to be getting in the way of our marriage, and I think it is time to address your frequent trips outside Lagos. Those trips rob me of my God given right.”
Marlene did not know if the gleam in his eyes meant he was mocking her, or it meant something more ominous. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully like a well rehearsed speech. She wondered why her body tightened in response to him when she didn’t even know him.
She made a very obvious effort to keep her eyes on the safe spot around his collarbone. She couldn’t trust him despite the wedding ring on her finger. His eyes devoured her chest, and she fought the urge to bow over to keep her breasts from being ogled shamelessly by the man. It just seemed hard to accept that this sexy stranger was her husband.
“You mean I sleep with you?” she asked him stupidly. The man laughed. She heard bitterness in his mirth.
“Well, you used to. For four months,” he said, holding four fingers up. “You have managed to cling to your side of the bed. It seems like we are having marital problems.”
Marlene blinked. “Marital problems?” she asked, feeling like a parrot, but helpless on how to react to the situation before her.
“At first, I thought you were cheating on me, but I could not prove my suspicions.”
Marlene looked at him in puzzlement. “I was cheating on….,” she was about to add you but stopped on time. She was still not sure she understood what he was talking about.
“Please put some clothes on,” she said, sweeping her hand at his direction as his eyes attempted to pierce through her. For a moment, Marlene was afraid he was going to ignore her suggestion, but with a resigned “ok” and a shrug of his broad shoulders, he walked past her towards a slightly open door to her left.
Marlene spun on her heel, watching him walk with lazy long strides through the door. Putting a wide distance between them, she followed behind him almost on tip toe. At the door, she pressed slim hands on both sides of the door frame and peered into the room. She found herself staring at a dressing room, and gaped at the ceiling to floor mirrors that caught his reflection from either side of the walls. Shoe boxes lined a six tiered shelf, and further from it, handbags of different shapes sat idly on an adjoining shelf. Opposite the colourful array of bags were rows of clothes that covered the other section of the room. The man was before what appeared to be some kind of closet, slipping on a pair of boxer shorts. She turned away before he saw her, and took some steps back to her former position.
Marlene looked around the bedroom, wrinkling her nose in a frown at the colour of the room. The stark white walls were too sterile for her taste. A lone massive black and white picture frame hung above the bed she stood up from few minutes ago. It tilted almost face down, framing the four poster bed. Bending her head a little to the side, she saw a couple snuggled under sheets and facing each other with passion filled eyes. It took a second to realize that she was looking at herself and the man in the other room.
“Our first anniversary picture.” A voice said from behind her and she jumped. “Your idea actually,” the man said again as she turned to see him standing behind her.
“So I’d have something to remind me of what I am missing when you are not around.” Marlene put one foot behind her and stepped backwards as he paused. “Your very words,” he finished, snapping the waistband of his shorts against his skin with finality.
Marlene rubbed her right arm with her left hand to dispel the gathering goose bumps. There was a flash in his eyes but a shuttered expression fell over them the next minute before she could understand it. She didn’t miss the regret in his voice, but her guard stood like an impenetrable wall and she observed him from underneath silky lashes, her emotions jumbled together in one undecipherable mass. She still found it difficult to believe that she was married to the man standing before her. Ok, I just found out that I am married to a gorgeous stranger, what more surprises now God? Just then, an ear-splitting wail rent the air. Marlene jerked in surprise.
“What was that?” she asked, her eyes scanning the room frantically for the source of the noise. She looked past a black oak vanity set where different cosmetics and perfumes were arranged on a table beside a wide circular mirror, an exquisite ivory painted reading table with a heavy looking book on it, the wide black television screen hanging on the wall like an ominous spider and the flat split air conditioning unit silently churning out frosty air until her bewildered expression settled again on the man. A slow and mournful wail began.
“There,” He pointed to a small white box attached to the wall beside the vanity mirror. “Have you forgotten the baby monitor?” he asked with a low chuckle. “You have grown so attached to the baby, I am almost jealous of him”. There was a solemn smile on his face at the end of his words, but Marlene stared at him blankly, unable to connect what she was hearing with reality. The baby’s crying reached an alarming crescendo. I have a baby too she realized, her knees almost buckling under the weight of the knowledge. At last she found her voice.
“Can you take me to him?”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Marlene, you have me worried now.” Deep creases ran across his forehead. “It makes me uneasy to hear you refer to Dare that way.”
He searched her face as if for clues before walking past her out of the room. Marlene followed behind, feeling an unspeakable dread as she did. Please God help me make sense of what is happening to me.
They turned into a carpeted hallway and the man made a turn to the left. She was quick behind him, her bare feet sinking into the luxury of the lush black rug. Soon he stopped before an open doorway, standing aside to let her pass. She walked into a baby nursery with small steps.
The room was big and spacious, and unlike the rest of the house, it was painted in warm yellow tones. The green curtains with butterfly designs that hung over the two wide windows complemented the green rug that covered the floor. Beside the window, a high four compartment shelf held white towels at the top, a small diaper bag, two feeding bottles bags and teddy bears of different colours with their glassy eyes and permanent smiles in the lower compartments.
A yellow crib stood in the middle of the room, a toy mobile hanging low over it. In a corner of the room was a contoured diaper changing table, its harnesses hanging loosely. A small green bassinet held stuffed toys and rattles beside a cushioned comfortable looking rocking chair with a small breastfeeding pillow thrown on it. Boxes containing more toys were stacked together at another corner of the room with a small baby stroller beside them. At the far end of the room, she spied through the crack of an open door, the white background of a bathroom and a cart holding baby oils, lotions and powder.
Something propelled her forward, and she inched closer until she stood over the crib. A beautiful baby that could not have been more than five months old was on his back in a deep blue sleep suit. His face, a smaller picture of the man behind her was crunched up in infant fury, pursed lips ready to let out another wail. Instinctively, she leaned over, forgetting the man in the room.
“Hush now,” she whispered softly, caressing his smooth soft cheek. At the sound of her voice, the baby stopped crying, gazing up at her with clear white eyes. He had kicked the soft quilt that covered him aside and his little feet still kicked sporadically in the air. He began to make cooing sounds, looking expectantly at her. Her response was automatic. She picked him up from the crib and held him gingerly against her chest.
A choking sob of complaint again filled the room when the baby’s searching lips encountered the lace of her night dress, and Marlene looked up at the man feeling nervous. There was an unreadable expression on his face as he watched her. She looked back again at the bundle in her arms, wondering if she should ask the man for some privacy.
She could tell from the way he looked at her that he wasn’t prepared to leave her alone with the baby. Thinning her lips in determination, she walked to the rocker, lifted up the breastfeeding pillow there and lowered herself gently into the chair. For a moment, she felt awkward with the man watching so closely. She willed him away as she supported the baby’s head with the pillow, but he refused to budge, leaning on the door frame now. The baby continued to cry, pressing his face against her chest as he strained impatiently in her arms.
Marlene closed her eyes, and shrugged the thin straps of her nightgown off her right shoulder. She opened them again when she felt the cool air against her skin and concentrated this time on the baby in her arms.
At the sight of her breasts, the baby flashed a wide toothless smile, adoration in his eyes. Suddenly Marlene didn’t care anymore about the man watching her every move. She lifted the baby’s small head to her exposed bosom and he latched on to her unmentionable, sucking greedily. He is so beautiful, Marlene traced the outline of his soft cheek with her finger. The baby caught her eyes and paused at his sucking to give her another bright smile. She tried to smile back. I own this baby, she thought again in wonder and dismay. She could feel the man’s eyes on her. How am I going to cope with recognizing other people? She could not even remember who she was or the family that seemed to be her own. Several minutes passed. The man at the door shifted on his feet.
Mustering courage, she raised her head, tears gleaming in her eyes. I don’t know anything about you or this child.
“What is your name?” She asked softly, her voice breaking.
“You know, I could have sworn this was a joke,” the man said, pushing himself away from the door frame. She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. He sighed, looking briefly at the ceiling and back at her again.
“Femi,” she said, fighting back tears. “I am sorry, but I don’t know who I am.”