She knew this wasn’t the right thing to do, she knew, but the risk of losing Bola stared at her with monstrous eyes, the expected pain so deep her breath became laboured just thinking about it. ‘Every woman has a skeleton in her cupboard,’ her mother had told her. ‘Don’t destroy your happiness with your own mouth. Let the past be and let you be.’ On the mantra of these words, Chinelo passed the mantle of responsibility, and the possibility of blame, to her mother. She knew she should tell her fiancĂ© about Uche but she was glad her mother stopped her, stopped the breakup. Or postponed it? She sighed.

Uche. Chinelo still had nightmares of him. He was drunk the first time, she made this excuse for him. But he knew what he was doing the second and third time. He knew what he was doing when he took her to that quack. Chinelo had red-hot foreboding over the stuffy room with a battered overlay mattress. Even the doctor’s moustache held portentous promise for her. When Chinelo laid her back on the sticky foam, she knew she didn’t know what she was doing, she knew she had no excuse. Her parents would discreetly get her the best medical solution money could buy. But it would break their heart. How would she explain to her parents that she had been raped and impregnated by her only brother. It would kill them; at least, her hypertensive father, if not her diabetic mother. So Chinelo faced the viperous suction curette than have her parents know the truth. Now with the power of hindsight, she knew what she had was just good excuse.

The operation was a disaster. Half of the pieced placenta was not completely discarded from her. The fetal remains became fatal. Infection followed. Her parents’ shock became secondary. Her life, the only matter. The next three months was hell for Chinelo, duly recorded with burning iron ink on her heart, forever.

Her womb wasn’t removed, she was lucky, a miracle. But the doctor said she would never have a baby. Her father called him a liar and consulted another doctor. He had called the man a genius for saving his daughter’s life, but he was a liar, he ought to be, for saying Chinelo’s uterus had been damaged and was no longer fertile to host a foetus. They consulted another doctor who admitted her womb suffered parlous injury but said it wasn’t final. Chinelo’s chances of being pregnant was high. HIGH. Chinelo was happy and refused to think that the exorbitant fee her father paid the man might have affected his judgement. The third doctor said it was a fifty-fifty chance.

Zero percent. Seventy-five percent. Fifty percent. This was how Chinelo arranged the equation in her heart. She had two-third majority in her favour. No, the fifty percent man wasn’t really for her. Technically, he was neutral but she could always borrow one percent from the seventy-five and the deal was struck. She would have babies. But somewhere in the back of her mind was a small potent doubt that a thousand hundred percentages would never fully assuage.

As she picked her wedding date and made plans, this ‘0.1 percent doubt’ as she tagged it tormented her. It was at this junction that she would have unflinchingly stuck a knife on Uche’s kidney if she could lay her hands on him, but he wasn’t within her reach. Would never be. When Chinelo’s abortion intricacies began, he disappeared. Few years later, Chinelo was preparing for her bar exam, her father informed her that the mad boy was in Malaysian prison. She didn’t know what to feel. No, she wasn’t happy nor relieved. She felt something, but couldn’t put a tag on it. Perhaps it was sisterly sadness blurred by the fog of those horrendous three months. That was pre-Bola; today, seeing how even being in prison a million miles away, Uche could still stretch his hand and threaten her happiness helped Chinelo admit her abhorrence for him. She even wished he was one of those Nigerians recently executed by the Malaysian authorities.

The wedding would come up in six weeks time. There was no longer any possibility of calling it off, her mother’s ‘Every woman has a skeleton on her cupboard’ had seen to it. But Chinelo wasn’t sure this was very true. There were many women with a technically clean cupboard. The possibility of a woman having an Uche brother was one in a million. The possibility of being pregnant via incestuous affairs was one in ten million. And the possibility of any sensible woman following Uche to that nut house for the D&C was one in a billion! No, many women don’t have hidden skeletons. No woman on earth has this kind of skeleton, Chinelo concluded. But her mother wasn’t entirely wrong, she was right, Chinelo shouldn’t destroy her happiness with her mouth.

She wasn’t sure Bola would call off the marriage if she told him the dark truth but she couldn’t bring herself to match the risk with action. If she got pregnant in her marriage, all good. If she didn’t, circumstances would force the confession from her. Bola would divorce her. She would then hold her mother responsible. ‘Why didn’t you let me tell him the truth earlier?’ she would cry. It wasn’t the brightest future, this, but it was better than what she had envisioned, dreaded. God bless mama.

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