A Storyby Ifeoma Sesiana Amobi
Emeka and I built our kingdom in a slanted row house on a patch of green grass in Highland Park, Pittsburgh, PA. Our floors creaked, our toilet growled, our heater hiccupped and often went out for the night, but it was our kingdom. Ours. Our little hideaway where time stopped for us, stretching into forever at our whim. It was where I could paint pomegranates and daffodils and portraits of an eager-eyed girl without feeling like I was wasting my life away. It was where Emeka could beat his igba to the Afrobeats of Fela Kuti and dream.
It infuriated me the way he hunched over his desk into the early morning hours, squeezing his head with sweaty palms. Huffing through the names of pathogenic organisms and their virulence factors for med school, chasing a fantasy that wasn’t even his: shadows of a dead throne in a dusty village in a land far, far away that his father, its long-lost king, wanted to bring back to life. Lurking in these shadows were tales my mother used to whisper in my ear. Of war and corruption. Aunts, uncles, and cousins who took weekly Sunday–Sunday medicine so they wouldn’t drop dead from disease. There was a time when you took this pill, nne. Of chosen people whose divine purpose was to journey into the heart of the other world to save home. My family came to America when I was one, and in my tiny luggage bag my mother stuffed dreams too large for me to carry. I would pull Emeka away from his desk and into bed when the taste of bitter became too much for me to bear. Our arms and legs would entwine like thirsty vines, and heat from the blood rushing through our veins thrilled us. After making love, we cupped our hands to each other’s lips and whispered our deepest fears into them. With a flourish of our fingers, we released them into the universe.
It was a cool night in April, five years after I left my mother, two years after I met Emeka, and nine months after I moved in, his wandering concubine of twenty-three, when he grabbed my waist at 2:00 a.m.—my heavy eyes wandering in the dark—and told me that he did not want to be with anyone else. “You will paint and I will play the igba forever.”
I went cold. Then hot. Real hot. An aching fire devoured me. I turned to him and cooled. He looked at me with eyes so large, so gentle. So forgiving. A week earlier in a drunken rage, I threatened to leave him. Smashed a wineglass on his drums. Tore down the Christmas lights strung on the walls. I split the skin on his bicep as he fought to hold me in the house, shushing me so that I wouldn’t alert the Ghanaian grad students on the other side of our left wall or the Indian med school couple on our right. Ha! How uncouth of me! How selfish I have been! I did not deserve him. I knew this. I’d had enough of being subjected to phone calls from the potential wives his parents were arranging for their hallowed son.