‘Charles, where are you coming from?’ Funmi snapped at her husband as he walked in through the front door.
Charles stopped and gave her a long look. ‘You are monitoring me now?’
Funmi’s face went hot. ‘It’s midnight for heaven sake. What responsible married man comes home at this time? I’m asking you again, where are you coming from?’
Charles thrust his hands into his pockets and strut towards the bedroom.
Funmi followed behind. ‘What kind of man are you? I refused to make breakfast for you and now you are acting like a teenager. Grow up! Maturity is not in fine body and fine face-’
Charles entered the room and slammed the door in her face.
Funmi’s mouth flew opened. ‘What did Charles just do?’ She leaned against the door post, burning rage hissing through her body.
God, what kind of man did you give me?
When she opened the door, Charles was standing akimbo in front of the mirror, bare-chested. His eyes were dark and muscles tight.
Funmi moved closer. ‘Charles, you know what? If you like, don’t come home for days, I will not be bothered one bit. I want you to know that it takes two for a marriage to work. God knows I’m doing my best. I will not allow you stress me out. I’m happy without you! Gush! I’ve never met an immature man like you!’
Charles turned swiftly and reached for her arm. He dug his fingers into her wrist. One glance at him and Funmi felt a chill run down her spine. Who was this man she married?
Tears welled up her eyes. ‘Charles you are hurting me!’
‘Don’t ever in your life talk to me like that again!’ Charles yelled and let go of her hand.
Funmi started to cry. Charles sat on the edge of the bed with his hand raking through his bushy hair. A voice was laughing in his head, taunting him.
I told you! That woman is a pain in the ass! You belong to me forever! No woman can ever satisfy you like I do. Charles, this stubbornness will land you in greater trouble. Come to where you belong.
Charles closed his eyes. Was he running insane?
You are mine!
Charles felt fingers brush across his chest. He jerked forward, relief flooding his heart when he saw it was Funmi. She wrapped her hands around his neck and kissed him fully on his lips. He turned his face away, unmoved.
What was wrong with this woman? He wanted to be alone for goodness sake.
Give her a dirty slap! She is a nuisance! Beat her blues and drag her out of the house. She is a worthless fool.
Charles moved away from her. ‘I’m tired okay? I’m not in the mood for this.’
‘Why are you treating me like this? Don’t you love me anymore?’
‘I have told you everything is fine. I just want to be alone!’ Charles barked.
He shook his head and clenched his fist. He covered his head with his hands.
‘I will not slap her.’ He muttered underneath his breath, praying quietly that Funmi would get angry and leave.
‘Fine! Have it your way.’
Stewing, Funmi went to the wardrobe and pulled out a blanket neatly folded on top of a flowery pink bed sheet.
Charles didn’t know her at all. She was a queen at shutting people out of her life. One time she had an intense argument with her best friend, Lizzy, they didn’t speak for seven months. Lizzy couldn’t handle the silence anymore and went on her knees pleading with Funmi to forgive her. If Charles wanted to withdraw, that was his problem. She’d show him she could play the game better.
In the living room, Funmi’s eyes burned with tears as she sat in front of her laptop.
‘Funmi, don’t cry. Reach into your soul and draw strength.’
She wiped her tears quickly and turned on her laptop. Two weeks ago, she’d downloaded two blockbuster movies that she was yet to see. This was the exactly what she needed to wash away her sorrows. She reached into the refrigerator for a bottle of apple fanta.
Cookies would have been perfect alongside the drink, but she dreaded going back into the room to face Charles. She would stay far away from him as possible until he returned to his senses.
She stared at her laptop screen, horrified.
Where were her movies?
She ignored the voice and went on with her search. Where for goodness sake were all the movies?
‘Oh!’ Funmi exclaimed and rushed to her recycle bin. She had deleted all the movies some days ago to please Charles. What good had it brought her?
She restored all the movies and arranged them in a folder.
Pray, Funmi, pray.
‘Why should I pray for a man who behaves like a wimpish fifteen-year old? I don’t even feel like praying. Besides, not everything is about prayer.’
Funmi played the first movie and within few minutes into it, lost interest. She played the next. She could hardly concentrate.
Tears ran down her cheeks.
When did Charles become like this?
Back in her campus days, Charles was the gentle, easy going prayer co-ordinator of her campus fellowship. She’d crushed on him for a while but forgot about him after he graduated from school.
A surge of emotions had swept through her when she stumbled into him few years later at a friend’s wedding. Everything had happened so fast. The re-connection. The long night calls. The dates. Courship. Wedding.
Had she married Charles in a haste?
Funmi shut down the laptop and went into the guest room.
Funmi, when you have a misunderstanding with your husband, settle things with him before you go to bed. If he refuses to listen, speak to the Lord.
Her mother’s voice rang in her ears. This was different. What was there to settle with a man who just wanted to hurt her feelings?
Funmi lay on the bed and tossed from side to side. Why was she so restless?
Memories of her single days rushed into her mind. Back in Abuja, she’d spent the weekend with her friends, trying meals at different restaurants. She missed the days when she was a banker in one of the new generation banks. She missed her friends. Lola, a lawyer was dating a divorcee. Lizzy had a thriving fashion business and no boyfriend. How she envied them.
She needed a distraction if she’d sleep tonight. Even though it was late, sometimes her friends stayed up at night, following up on the latest gossip news or surfing the net.
She had to talk to someone. Excited to find them online, she pleaded for a video call. They agreed.
‘Jeez! I have missed you guys like crazy!’ Funmi shouted in excitement as soon as their faces popped up on her phone screen. To hell with Charles. She still had friends who cared about her.
‘Why are you still awake at this time? It’s almost 1a.m. I thought married people don’t stay up late at night.’ Lola said, pulling her bonnet close to her forehead.
‘Funmi! Look at how your skin is fresh. Mehn, marriage looks good on you.’ Lizzy said, laughing.
Funmi pretended to be annoyed. ‘I’m vexing with all of you. It’s because I’m now married that you don’t have my time again. Well done.’
‘Sorry jare. No vex for us. Lizzy and I hardly get to see each other like before. Work is so hectic.’ Lola said. ‘I’m so happy to hear your sweet voice again!’
‘Married woman!’ Lizzy clapped her hands. ‘Babe, gist us. How’s marriage like?’
Exhausting. ‘Well, interesting!’ Funmi exclaimed. ‘It feels like I just got married to Charles yesterday. That guy is heaven on earth. I won’t have asked for a better guy.’
Lola gave a mock sneer. ‘Stop making us jealous.’
Funmi chuckled. ‘You guys need to get married. Marriage is fun. Charles helps me around the house, cooks my meals and even brings me breakfast in bed.’
Lola’s eye widened. ‘Are you serious? Girl, you are so lucky.’
Funmi continued. ‘Girls, my guy is so good in bed! Ah! Guy is good mehn! Don’t underestimate some of these christian brothers. They sabi work.’
‘That reminds me, there is this brother in my church that has been toasting me like forever, maybe I’ll give him a shot. You know, my parents’ marriage killed any desire for committing to a man, but with your testimony, I think I’ll change my mind.’ Lizzy said.
Lola sighed. ‘I wish Felix will just propose to me today. It’s getting too long and I’m already tired. Sometimes I feel he is still in love with his ex-wife. One time I caught him staring at her picture. I don’t even know what to do anymore.’
Funmi rested her head on the pillow and stretched out her legs. ‘If this guy has not been healed of his past, it may be dangerous getting married to him. Did you even ask him why his wife left?’
‘Of course I did. He said she never really loved him even though he loved her. The moment she saw an opportunity to travel out of the country, she grabbed it and disappeared with his son.’
‘Girl, it looks to me like Felix is still smarting from that emotional pain. You don’t want to get hurt.’ Lizzy added.
Funmi nodded. ‘I think you need to sit down and think if this is worth pursuing.’
Discussions shifted from relationship to fashion to cosmetics.
‘How far Funmi, are you pregnant?’ Lola asked.
‘Hiya! Lola.’ Lizzy exclaimed. ‘What kind of question is that? If Funmi is pregnant, she will tell us. You don’t just ask somebody a question like that.’
‘Are we not friends? What’s bad in the question I asked?’
Funmi raised her hand, smiling. ‘Relax ladies! It’s okay. I’m not pregnant yet because Charles and I are not ready. We decided to stay away from having kids for now. We just want to bond and get to know ourselves better. You know how it is when kids show up, we’d rarely have time to cuddle and play.’
A pang of guilt hit Funmi’s heart. How many trips had she taken to the hospital for scans and fertility test? The doctors had said her body was fine but she wondered why she still couldn’t conceive. Two days ago, she’d cried after seeing her monthly period.
She couldn’t tell her friends that. She hated to hear, ‘it is well.’ or ‘Everything will be okay.’
Funmi suddenly felt alone and depressed. She wanted to get away from the phone.
‘I have to go now.’ Funmi said, grinning. ‘You know, I had to leave our bedroom to take this call. My husband might wake up soon and start looking for me. I’ll talk to you another time.’
‘Alright, be good.’ Lizzy said.
‘Bye guys.’ Lola said.
Funmi sat with her back against the wall and wept. Why couldn’t she get a grip on her emotions?
She rolled from one side of the bed to the other. Why couldn’t she get pregnant? Was this the reason behind Charles’ nasty attitude? Maybe things would get better between them if they had a child.
Her aunt had been married for fifteen years without a child. What if she ended up like her?
Funmi shut her eyes, willing for sleep to come. The banging in her head was becoming intense. Was this a migrane? She pressed the pillow over her head. When it made her uncomfortable, she pushed it away.
A door opened and closed as if a heavy wind had blown in the direction of the room.
Funmi’s eyes flew open. What was that? Did someone step into the room? She stared at the door, confused at the same time listening for footsteps.
She lay back on the bed and tried to sleep.
A hand grabbed her throat. Funmi opened her eyes and in front of her was a dark-eyed muscular man wearing a blue jean and red t-shirt. He had a cowboy hat over a very handsome face.
Alarmed, Funmi kicked her legs in the air, trying to get his hand off her neck. He was stronger.
A grin pulled at the corners of his mouth. It was obvious he was enjoying the pain inflicted on her. Funmi’s face turned white.
‘Charles!’ Funmi screamed but no words came out. Her body was covered in sweat. Where did this man come from? Would he rape her?
She must have forgotten to lock the door after the fracas she had with her husband.
Oh God, please
When he finally let go of her throat, she panted heavily, sucking in air into her lungs. The man laughed again and pinned her hands to the bed.
‘Please, I’m sorry.’ Funmi let out a soft groan. Who had she offended that wanted to get back at her?
Something sharp ran down her arm. Funmi stared at the man weakly, too tired to scream. She closed her eyes, waiting for the worst to happen. When she opened them, the man was gone.
Funmi sat up, heart pouding. Her eyes darted across the room. Had she been dreaming?
She looked down at her right hand. Blood trickled down her arm to the bed. Funmi fled the room.
In the bedroom, Charles lay on his back, snoring. Funmi burst in, leaning heavily on the wall for support. She crawled into bed and snuggled close to his warm chest.
‘Charles.’ Funmi whispered, too weak to utter another word.
Charles squinted at the light streaming in from the window. He yawned and looked down to find his wife’s head nestled against his bare chest. Smiling, he patted her back gently.
‘My beautiful Queen.’
His eyes caught a circle of blood that had formed a small pool on the white bedspread. Alarmed, he leaned closer. He traced the blood to a long tear that ran from Funmi’s shoulder to her arm. It was narrow and yet deep. Even though the blood had clotted, the wound was fresh.
Charles reached for her injured arm. Panic melted into worry. Where did Funmi get this wound from? Why didn’t she tell him about it?
He squeezed a wet hand towel in a small bowl and gently cleaned around the wound.
Funmi let out a sharp cry. When she tried to sit up, Charles held her back on the bed.
‘Baby, when did this happen? Where did you get this wound from?’
Funmi closed her eyes and said nothing. The event of the previous night rose to the surface. Charles had returned at midnight without telling her where he’d been. Instead of apologizing, he had lashed out at her. Did he think she’d quickly forget? If he had not upset her, she would have slept in their bedroom and the man with the cowboy hat would not have hurt her.
There was something terrible about the guest room. Was the house under a curse? Maybe it was. She remembered the estate agent saying the house had been abandoned for two years because It had been in dire need of renovation. Was there something else the agent didn’t tell them? Was it possible the house was abandoned because it was haunted?
‘Funmi, I’m talking to you. Where did this happen?’
Funmi finally looked at him. She saw compassion in his eyes. ‘A man came into the guest room and tried to strangle me to death. While I was still trying to find my breath, I felt something like a nail moving down my arm. It was painful. Baby, we must move out of this house. There is something evil about this place.’
‘What were you doing in the guest room?’
Funmi glowered at her husband before turning her face away. Was he really expecting her to answer that question?
Charles became uncomfortable. When he finished cleaning the cut, he left the room for the kitchen.
What’s happening to my home? Charles thought as he leaned on the kitchen table.
After leaving Ireti’s place the previous day, a sudden hatred for Funmi had enveloped him. He’d almost punched her in the face when she called him an immature man. He wanted to slap her and throw her out of the house. He still longed to hurt her and the thought filled him with shame.
What was wrong with him?
Charles swore never to speak to Ireti again. He would turn a new leaf and stay faithful to his wife.
He’d prepare breakfast for her, take her to the hospital, drive over to an eatery to get ofada rice and for dinner, they would have pepper soup with plenty of fish.
‘You deserve the best Funmi. I am stupid for treating you less. Please forgive me. I promise it won’t happen again.’ Charles rehearsed his speech as he placed a flat bowl of fried eggs and hot dogs on a tray. Beside the eggs were six slices of bread.
Charles froze as he entered the bedroom.
‘Jesus!’ He muttered.
Funmi was on her knees coughing spasms of blood. He dropped the tray on the bed and ran to her.
He lifted her from the ground and carried her on his shoulders and out of the house.
‘Jesus, please.’ He prayed quietly.
His shoulder was splattered with her blood as he placed her gently on the back seat of his red Mazda. He jumped into the driver seat and searched his pockets for his car keys. It was not there.
He got out of the car.
‘Sweetheart,’ Funmi said, weakly. Her face was pale and her lips white. Charles leaned over, relieved she had stopped coughing.
‘Please call my mum.’
The cough started again. Charles ran into the house, grabbed his keys and rushed out.
Back in the car, he turned towards the back seat. Funmi was still. He shook her, she didn’t move.
He tapped her again. ‘Funmi!’
‘I’m not dead, Charles. Please drive out of here.’ Funmi said in a low tone.
Charles sped out of the house like a mad man. He scrolled down his contact list for his mother-in-law’s number. He dialed it. Switched off.
Funmi’s parents were no longer in the country. They had left few weeks after his wedding for a missionary work in Ghana. Charles didn’t have her number saved on his own phone and Funmi’s phone was at home.
Who else could he call?
He had no Pastor. The last time he stepped into a church was few weeks after his wedding. He was tired of hearing the Pastor scream ‘hell’ in his ears, leaving him full of guilt of his affair with Ireti.
‘Physical gathering will gradually fade away. There is no point going to church. We can watch as many online services as we want. Jesus is everywhere.’ Charles said to his wife when she kept disturbing him about attending a church.
Charles was alone. His best friend was the last person to call. Shola was possibly nuzzled in the arms of his one night stand. How he missed his friends from his campus days. They prayed together, ate from the same pot and looked out for each other. Charles had pushed them all away out of guilt when he started sleeping with Ireti.
‘God, please.’ Charles muttered as he drove into the hospital compound.
Funmi was rolled into the emergency ward. Charles ran after them but was restrained at the entrance to the ward. He leaned against the entrance to the ward, his thoughts torn in different directions.
God, I know you hate me. Let the punishment be upon me. Leave my wife out of this. She has done nothing to deserve this. I cheated on her. I broke our vows. I should be the one paying for my sins. Don’t let her die, please.
Charles’ phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. He stared at the caller ID and hissed. He was not in the mood to pick his aunt’s call but he knew she would not stop until he answered the call.
‘Charles, how are you?’
Charles closed his eyes, anger welling up inside him. He clenched his fist to stay calm.
‘I’m fine ma.’
‘Sorry about your wife’s health. I believe she is recuperating.’
Charles’ heart stopped. ‘How did you know Funmi-.’
Aunt Toyosi laughed sardonically. ‘I pray she gets well soon.’
‘Eyah. Please take good care of her. Let her drink lots of water.’ Ireti said, laughing at the background.
Boiling with rage, Charles ended the call and went outside the building. Why was he surprised they were behind this. He’d heard the terrible things his aunt had done to his relatives. In his final year, his cousin had warned him to stay away from Aunt Toyosi. She’d told him the woman had killed his parents and made her own husband paralysed when he refused to do her bidding.
What did she want from him? Why wouldn’t she just leave him alone?
We have plans for her. We are coming for her.
Oh yes we are. We won’t destroy her just yet. It’s going to be a gradual process and when we get her out of the picture, Ireti will step in..
Charles’ shoulders slumped forward in frustration as he returned to the waiting room. He knew his aunt. She would do anything to get what she wanted. He’d have to divorce Funmi and marry Ireti. God had destined him for destruction and he would not drag an innocent woman into it.
Charles’ phone rang again. Reluctantly, he answered the call.
‘Good morning.’ Charles said.
Charles jumped to his feet. His mother-in-law had called at the right time.
‘Mummy-’ his lips trembled, tears filling his eyes. ‘Mummy, good morning ma.’
‘I’ve been trying to reach your wife for over an hour.’
‘We are at the hospital. Funmi has a cough.’ He said, in a shaky voice. He wanted to say more but he restrained himself. He didn’t want his mother-in-law boarding the next bus to Nigeria.
‘How is she now?’
‘She is getting better now. The doctor is attending to her.’
Funmi’s mother hesitated. ‘I’ll call back later then. I hope everything is fine.’
‘Yes ma. We are doing well.’
‘Are you sure? Around 3 a.m, my husband and I were awakened at the same time to pray for you and Funmi. About two hours ago, It was also impressed on my heart to pray for her. Are you saying, everything is okay?’
Charles rubbed his head. ‘I think a man tried to hurt her in a dream last night and when I woke up this morning, I saw blood on her right arm.’
Funmi’s mother sighed. ‘I have to go now Charles. I sense an urgency to pray for my daughter now. You should intercede too. Let me know when she wakes up.’
The line went dead. Charles placed his hands on his head.
He didn’t know how to pray anymore. Apart from the quick one-minute prayer he had in the morning with his wife, when was the last time he engaged in any serious prayers? Would God hear him with the mess he had put himself into? God doesn’t listen to the prayer of a fornicator, his Pastor had said. Praying was a waste of time.
God, I know you won’t be merciful unto me. I’m past redemption, I know. But for my wife Lord, she is innocent, please have mercy on her, Charles cried silently.
Read Episode 3
Have you read Dear Franca Series, My secret has been exposed