A Tiger’s Heart (Part I)

-A Short Story….

Jaya pulled the pillows harder over her ears. It didn’t stop the pounding headache, neither did it muffle the grating, unrelenting chiming of the doorbell. She finally surrendered and looked up to her ceiling in exasperation. In a loud enough voice to warn her sleep robber, she exclaimed ‘Who on Earth is at my door at this time of the day? All I want is some peace and quiet’!

Scrambling off her white king size bed, she gave a quick glance over her shoulders at the alarm clock beside her bed and sure enough, it was an unholy hour: 12.34 am! What emergency could bring someone to her door at this time? Pulling on a house coat from the chair beside her bed, she wrinkled her nose in disgust at her reflection in the mirror. The pouty lips, lush body, shoulder length dark-as-sin hair…’I don’t know why I torture myself and dress up to the nines every night. Anyone looking at me would think someone’s had their wicked ways with me’. In the words of her best friend, Zel: ‘Jayamma, God wasted ‘mammy water’ looks on you because you’re not using your gifts at all’. In her mischievous sing song voice, her crazy friend Zel started each conversation with her with the same line: ‘Jaya, chei, if God made me half as lovely as you, all the big boys in Las Gidi and Abuja ga fu ife di egwu.’

Jaya froze just as she got to the middle of her expansive living room, as it occurred to her that Zel was the only person in the world that would dare to come over at this time. Her irritation and scattered thoughts became suddenly alarmed. She knew something really serious must have happened for Zel to come over this late. She did a shaky sign of the cross, praying in agonized hope that Zel finally got the courage to leave her arrogant, two-timing, abusive and condescending boyfriend, Kalu. Handsome prick that he was!

Just as she opened the door, the comforting words died in her now parched throat. It was not Zeluwa at the door but her beloved grandmother, Fulani, as she was fondly called by villagers in their hometown of Azuedo. ‘Nne! She exclaimed, both happy and confused. Her grandmother stood there, smiling that glowing smile. Despite the wrinkles around her eyes, she was as beautiful as ever, radiating the warmth and mystery that was as familiar as eternity. She wrapped her in a bear hug and Jaya was transported to the wonderful scents and smells of her youth: that sweet avon night magic powder aroma and the unmistakably fragrance of unconditional love. Nne whispered in her hair, repeatedly, almost like a chant: ‘Jayamma, Adanneya, Oyilim…’ They both came into the living room, still wrapped around each other in an embrace as old as time. After settling down on the couch in the middle of the room, Jaya raised her head, with eyes shrouded in worry she asked frantically-‘Nne, did anything bad happen, why is it that you didn’t tell me you were coming? Is Papa fine? What of Mama and Ndu? The questions were rapid and in succession and she paused for a deep breath.

Nne took her hands and whispered, ‘Hush, Oyilim, one question at a time. Everyone is healthy and doing fine but I had to see you for an important reason.’ Jaya was more baffled than ever. How could everyone be fine and yet Nne came all the way from the village to see her. What was so important? She thought worriedlly. Taking a deep breath, with her chest constricting, she looked Nne in the eye and asked: ‘Nnem, whatever it is, biko promise to tell me the truth’, she wanted to say more but Nne looked at her and nodded. She settled back into the couch and spent the next hours rocking her granddaughter’s life upside down and some, with her words……

5 hours later:

Jaya stood before her kitchen sink, splashing water over her unblinking eyes. Shock was an understatement to describe her state of mind. She needed a drink of something strong. She needed some whisky or vodka, anything hot to shake up her senses. With shaky fingers she took a glass from her cabinet. Three things happened at once- Nne stood up from the couch and walked to her bedroom. And just as the door closed after her, the home phone started ringing.

At that instant, the sudden agitated sounds jarred her and the glass in her hands slipped off her still shaky fingers and broke to pieces on the pristine marble floors. With confusion, she grabbed the phone from the cradle beside the refrigerator. She answered in robotic monotones: ‘Hello, who’s speaking please?’ The familiar voice at the other end did little to assuage her bewildered mind.

‘Jaya, nwam, it is your mother, how are you?’ It suddenly occurred to her that her parents would be frantic with worry and wondering if Nne had arrived at Lagos safely. She mentally chided herself for not calling earlier but then recalled the conversation with Nne that had kept her enthralled and lost to the world around her. ‘Mama, she whispered brokenly, Nne arrived safely. I’m sorry I should have called earlier’. She heard her mother’s loud tears over the poor connection. ‘Jaya, who told you about Nne’s death?  Nwam, your father and I knew it would be a huge loss to you, we knew how close both of you were. Ndu, is coming to Lagos tomorrow to travel with you to the village.’ Jaya stared at the phone in consternation. She mentally cursed the poor connection. And yet she felt the uneasy and sickening quiver settling in the pit of her gut. Her mother’s words were not making sense at all.

‘Mama! Mama! She practically shouted into the phone. ‘Nne is fine. She arrived here late but she’s fine. Ndu does not need to come. I will convince Nne to stay for some days with me and we can head back together. There are strange but very important things she shared with me and we have to talk about them’.  She glanced furtively over her shoulders towards her room. In a near whisper, she continued. ‘Mama, why didn’t you tell me Nne was not feeling normal? I’m not sure if its dementia or senility…’.  Jaya stopped mid-sentence as she heard the shocked gasp and agonised sobs of her mother at the other end. ‘Jaya, Jaya, nwam what strange words are you saying? Your beloved grandmother died in the evening around 5 pm. I am in the same room with her corpse as we speak. Nwam, nne ekubi go.’

Jaya felt the goosebumps all over her body first, before the heightened prickling at the nape of her neck. The phone fell off her shivering frame and she put a hand over her mouth to stifle the silent scream struggling to get out. With rubbery, wobbly legs she advanced towards her bedroom where Nne had entered after their talk. Just as she put her fingers on the knob to open the door, she recalled vividly the last words Nne said: “Oyilim, he has come for you. The chosen one with the heart of a tiger is here. Your groom from the other world has come. He burns hot with fire and desire for you. It is finally time for the two of you to marry and heal the divided and broken realms. Jayamma, nwam, oge elugo. Obiagu will wait no more!”  TO BE CONTINUED……

(c) ‘Kego Onyido (All rights reserved).

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