I hate eulogies. Like political campaign speeches, they’re fancy, empty words seldom reflecting the true feelings of the speaker for the deceased. Why speak this flowery language to the dust if it was unspoken between breaths? Why compose beautiful odes to yesterdays that can’t be appreciated by the muse? We rely on the living for that. Eulogies are polished until they can wring hearts and tingle tear ducts. Well received, it elicits praise from mourners, stroking the ego of the speaker. And yet, here I am rehearsing one in my head.
I’m sitting next to your mom and two sons. Your husband is markedly absent for reasons you already know. Your mom’s white handkerchief is stained a light brown from wiping sweat, and sometimes tears. She’s staring straight ahead at the reverend sermonising. I look down at the words I’ll be reading to the mourning crowd in a few minutes. They’re all lies. Our friendship ended on that odious day at Ugonna’s wedding, and even before then it had been on life support—kept alive by those two-minute ‘Happy Birthday’ phone calls and ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’ text messages we exchanged each year.
Though the rift relationship was quite recent.
For eighteen years, we had been confidantes. Our secrets, no matter how discomfiting or painful, were shared freely without reservations. Like when I told you I wouldn’t be returning to school for the new semester because my dad couldn’t afford to pay the fees, you knocked on every students’ door urging them to donate and help their ‘fellow’ student. And the time you told me about your brother who was tucked away in a psychiatric ward, far away from vicious, ignorant lips and empty, prying eyes. You had tears in yours, and I promised I’d never tell. Between us, suspicion was a non-existent word. The loudest whispers never escaped the walls surrounding us until…
It had been three years, no, four years since we conversed like friends. The drift started several months after your wedding, expanding as the years went on. Naïveté initially chalked your withdrawal to the burden of caring for two young kids and a husband. It wasn’t until I made the mistake of running into you at the mall that it dawned on me that like vinegar and oil, a politician’s wife such as yourself didn’t mix with regular people like me. Was it my peeling faux leather bag or makeup free face that made you all but snub me before your well-to-do, Chanel-toting friends? Like a butcher’s knife, you hacked my heart into a thousand bleeding pieces. That night, I cried. Yes, I did. I mourned the girl who, years ago, waded in ten inches of coffee-coloured water to hail a taxi, just so my only leather shoes wouldn’t be ruined.
All three of us, me, you and your husband with four other guests were seated at the same table. The mood at the wedding reception was exuberant, joyful. Laughter flowed as generously as the drinks. Old colleagues from secondary school who passed by our table commented enviably on the longevity of our friendship, and we put on appreciative smiles, chuckling when they referred to us as two peas in a pod. If only they knew ‘our friendship’ was nothing more than a sham. Most of the time you chatted with your husband, sometimes to the other guests. You didn’t say a word to me except on my return from catching the bouquet.
“I’m surprised you joined them.”
“I’m single, or have you forgotten?” I said jokingly.
You gave a lazy shrug, taking a sip of champagne, one of many habits you had acquired since becoming a Mrs.
“I just thought, you know, since the abortion you had in uni destroyed your womb, and with it limiting your chances of getting hitched, that you wouldn’t be interested in catching bouquets.”
It was a low blow. A gratuitous remark intended to belittle and embarrass me. I watched in shock as you casually betrayed my most intimate confidence, as all ten eyes turned to me. Sweat pricked my armpits and my mouth tasted rage. That tiny, restraining voice had been snuffed out. In its place was a keen desire for revenge. I struck back in the best way I knew, and as hard as I could.
“If you could marry despite having sexual relations with several females, I think I might be in luck too.” My voice was as cold as the tundra.
Your expression went from nonchalance to shock to indignation. “You’re talking nonsense.”
“Come on, you’re not going to deny the reason for your expulsion from secondary school at a venue swarming with witnesses, are you?”
Now, your husband was intently searching your face for an explanation. For a lawmaker who said homosexuals were vermin that should be exterminated, and recently voted to outlaw homosexuality, the revelation proved unfathomable.
You squirmed under the glare of our eyes, trying again to brush off the allegation with a short, mirthless laugh.
“I see you’ve had one too many glasses of wine. You’re not making sense,” you said, convincing no one.
“Maybe so. But I could do us a favour and ask Ezinne behind me to corroborate or deny my story.”
You spared me a poisonous glare as if daring me to do so. I made to turn around when you cried ‘enough’ in a hushed, bitter tone. Your husband had also enough, rising without a word. You ran after him, but not before blaming me for every consequence that may arise with your wounded eyes. It would be the last time I saw you alive.
Months later, a mutual friend said your husband had thrown you out of the house and barred you from contacting your sons. The latter privation had tortured your mind and soul senseless, pushing you to the brink of death on the several occasions, I was told. A year after our last meeting, I got a call from your mom. You hadn’t seen the bus coming. She repeated the sentence as if doing so would make it true. The news rattled me to the core, my reaction surprising me. After she hung up, I grabbed the old tin box under my bed, sat cross-legged on the floor and read your old letters to me as waves of sadness, guilt, apathy then anger washed over me.
That was three weeks ago.
I’m still angry. Angry at myself for being here about to read this lie. Angry for agreeing to your mom’s request to eulogize you, asserting you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Angry for stealing your two little boys from you forever. Truth is, I killed you. It was my words that gunned you down.
Your mom lays a hand gently on mine. “It’s your turn,” she says in a husky voice reminiscent of yours.
I nod weakly, smooth the crumpled paper, and rise.
Related country: Nigeria
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