Kandudi opened her eyes to a flood of light, a welcomed contrast from her recurring dream of traipsing through the dark woods, tailing the cry of a baby. Her head throbbed. It was worse at her right temple. It sounded like the incessant, rhythmic pummeling of the pestle on an empty mortar. Each sound came three seconds after the former: kpom—1, 2, 3—kpom—1, 2, 3—kpom. Her vision was blurry, as though a thick curtain of cloud stood between her eyes and everything else. She shut her eyes and inhaled. She smelled disinfectant. She heard the sounds of beeping. She rubbed her hands on her thighs. One of her hands felt heavy as though she had elephantiasis. A very thin material covered her skin and she felt the soft surface on which she lay. She opened her eyes again. They rested on a woman’s beautiful smile and honey-colored face. Kandudi felt a grip on her arm. She stiffened.
“It’s okay, darling,” the woman said.
Kandudi’s vision became clearer now. She was dressed in a thin hospital gown. An IV was connected to her arm. She was surrounded by machines. The zigzag lines of the heart rate machine and its constant beeping confirmed her location. She did not know why she was there, but she relaxed her arm
“Welcome back,” the woman said. “I’m going to take your vitals.”
Kandudi gawped at the lights. It felt good to see such brightness. The door creaked open, ushering in two females wearing blue scrubs. They smiled at her.
“B.P. 130 over 84; temperature, 36; pulse rate; 88,” the woman said.
“Get her a glass of water,” one of the newcomers said before turning to Kandudi. “My name is Doctor Chioma.” She pointed at the second lady in blue. “This is Doctor Tinu. Your friend here is Nurse Ebo.”“You have been unconscious for 18 months now. You were involved in an accident.”
Doctor Chioma was saying something but Kandudi only heard a deep-pitched, very loud, draggy sound before she slipped back into sleep.
The next day, Doctor Tinu and Doctor Chioma came back after a nurse had cleaned Kandudi’s body, checked her vitals, administered drugs, and gotten her a bottle of water. Pleasantries were exchanged.
“It’s good to have you back,” said Doctor Chioma. Kandudi raised an eye and furrowed her brows.
“You have been unconscious for 18 months now. You were involved in an accident.”
Kandudi’s eyes almost abandoned their sockets.
“It is good to have you back. May I ask you a few questions?”
“What is your name and age?” Doctor Chioma asked.
A line etched on Doctor Chioma’s forehead. Doctor Tinu was writing.
“Are you married or single?” Doctor Chioma asked.
The lines on Doctor Chioma’s forehead moved like those on the heart rate monitor.
“Have you any children?”
Kandudi moved her forefinger from left to right two times. Doctor Chioma dug out her phone and swiped her index finger across the screen. “Where are you from?”
“Achina,” Kandudi replied.
Doctor Tinu still scribbled viciously; her eyes thinned and her lips tightened. Doctor Chioma scratched her forehead. The slight wrinkling of her eyes hinted pity to Kandudi.
“What’s wrong with me, Doctor?”
Doctor Chioma held Kandudi’s swollen palm, the one with the IV. “Well, some of the answers you gave are no longer correct.” She snapped her fingers at Doctor Tinu, pointed at the jotter, and opened her hand. Doctor Tinu handed the jotter to Doctor Chioma, and then Doctor Chioma placed the jotter side by side with her phone. “From my years of experience, I can immediately diagnose, with 90 percent certainty, that you are suffering from what is called focal retrograde amnesia.”
Kandudi rolled her eyes.
Doctor Chioma raised a hand. “It is temporary, I assure you.
And as far as amnesia goes, this is one of the best.” The doctor smiled. Kandudi did not smile back.
“From our records, you were brought in here by one Chiemela Ezeudo who claims to be your husband. Your file says that you are Kandudi Ezeudo.” The doctor looked up from the jotter. “This suggests that you have lost a part of your memory, possibly a few years back. Also…”
Kandudi stopped listening. She could not be married. Did she not know herself? She remembered when she played kpakpangolo as a child with her friends, running in a circle, raising dust. Strangers became friends merely by holding the hand of a friend. How she and Onyinye, she remembered the girl’s name, danced in the rain and bathed in the sand. The sand, invisible on her skin, glimmered on her black hair. She remembered when her father died. He went to bed one night and was a rock the next morning. She remembered the cotton wool stuffed in his ears and nose. His skin looked dry and gray as if he had been bathed by the harmattan winds. She also remembered the voices of her uncles quarreling over mundane issues during her father’s burial, and her wishing she could use her stony father to break their heads. With her mother, she moved into a small shelter made from zinc roofing sheet. It was like living in a boiling pot. Her memories came back to her, not caked and cracked as a clay wall, but hot, soft, and sweet as fresh bread.
Kandudi opened her eyes to a man sitting on her bed, rubbing the back of her swollen arm. His eyes were deep brown and his skin was the color of unripe plantain chips. His hair was wooly, black, and low-cut. Neat facial hair covered half of his cheeks, his entire jaw, and the top of his lips. He smiled. His left canine was unaccounted for. She was infected by his smile. He smelled like a lathered rose. He was certainly not medical staff or he would’ve been wearing scrubs like the rest of them. So who was he? She closed her eyes, scuttling through the disorienting sandstorm of her memory. She was an only child. She loathed her uncles: a feeling that was mutual. Her father was dead. So who was this fine man? She felt his soft, pink lips on her forehead, his beard pricking her. She winced.
“I am so happy to have you back, sweetheart.”
When you place a plastic bowl upside down on a hard floor and hit the top with your finger, the sound you would hear was exactly his voice. His eyes had begun to look watery. He avoided her gaze and rubbed her arm.
“The doctor told me you lost a part of your memory. That’s where you would have found me, your husband.”
He looked at her and smiled. He was so fine. His teeth were the same shape and size, except for the missing one, which made him even more handsome. She did not catch the happiness in his voice. It made her remember sepia-toned pictures. He made to touch her, but she moved away from his hand and sat up on her own. She picked up the bottle of water from the table. He got off the bed, dragged a plastic seat closer, and sat.Kandudi stopped listening. She could not be married. Did she not know herself?
“I don’t know who you are. Stay away from me.”
“I am your husband.” He struck his chest. “We are married. I . . .”
“I want my mother. Stay away from me.”
“I have proof!” he said, clasping his hands. “Please, I beg you, sweetheart, let me show you the proof, and then I will leave you to rest. I promise.”
Before she could object, he grabbed a white, worn-out, polythene bag off the end of the bed and fished out a stack of photographs. One by one, he fed her the pictures. She saw herself looking beautiful in an off-shoulder, white-floral lace dress. Her mother stood to her left, smiling all her teeth to the camera; and he was at her right, looking fine in a black suit. She looked at him. He was the same person in the picture. He showed her gazillions of their wedding pictures, talking and talking: this is my aunt; that is my uncle; this is Uche, you remember? There was a picture of the two of them in front of a black car he said was theirs. There was another one where she was pregnant, smiling and posing in a house with red cushions. She picked out the furniture, he said. Did she remember the furniture, he asked. He was like a cook, sprinkling salt on stale food to make it tasty again. His words meandered like a stream, emptying into her brain and draining out. His desperate effort to fill her memory only exhausted her.
“What is your name?” she asked.
He tried to touch her hair. She dodged. He touched his eyes with the back of his forefinger. “Chiemela.” She yawned. “Chiemela, I want to sleep.”
Kandudi turned toward the creaking door. Nurse Ebo smiled at her. Kandudi managed a weak smile, sniffed, and turned away. Nurse Ebo sat on her bed.
“Kandi, why are you crying?”
Kandudi shook her head and pressed her eyelids together for a fleeting moment. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Nurse Ebo set about her business of injecting some fluids into the IV bag.
“Do you feel sick?”
Kandudi shook her head. The headache was still there, but it did not make it to her list of problems. When Nurse Ebo was done, she sat beside Kandudi and held her hand.
“Please, tell me, what’s wrong?”
“I am afraid. Who am I? Why is this happening to me?”
Nurse Ebo rubbed her arm. “It’s okay, Kandi.” She looked at her watch. “This is almost midnight. Do you want us to take a stroll?”
Kandudi smiled, holding the nurse’s hand tightly as they strolled to the garden, following the half-moon’s light splashed in the gloomy blankets of the clouds like a flashlight in a dense forest. Her thin cotton gown swayed in the direction of the wind. Dry leaves squashed underneath her feet as she walked. Nurse Ebo had plastered an injection to the back of Kandudi’s arm and had brought along two bottles of soft drinks. They sat on a cement bench in the garden. It felt cold. Nurse Ebo opened one of the drinks and gave it to Kandudi. She took some gulps, closed her eyes, and allowed the sugary liquid to slide through her dry and bitter throat.
“So, tell me, why were you crying?”
Kandudi scratched her eyes. “I don’t know him. But he has been too kind to me.”
“Who? Your husband?”
Kandudi shrugged. “I’m not sure who he is.”
“But we all are. We all know him. Even while you were unconscious, your mother and he always slept in your room in turns. He paid for all your expensive surgeries. Surely he will not spend all that money if he doesn’t love you.”
Love. That was exactly what she was running away from. She had been thrown off a cliff like an ordinary biscuit wrap into this world where the only person she knew, her mother, was now dead. Kandudi had felt abandoned by life and love after looking at the picture of her mother’s corpse that Chiemela gave to her. He said he’d been attending the funeral when he received the call that his wife had emerged from coma. Kandudi remembered feeling dizzy after seeing that picture. And when she woke up yesterday, they told her that she had been unconscious for two days.
“But why are you afraid of him?”
“I am not afraid of him.”
She was afraid of what she felt for him. Was it too early to feel? She remembered when she felt his body touch hers. She stiffened and opened her eyes, but he was only lying beside her and cuddling her. She closed her eyes, her heart tolling like a bell, but she felt at peace. She adjusted to make more room for him on the bed. And whenever he wanted to kiss her forehead, he kissed the scar on her right temple, which was not there in any of the pictures.
“He came one afternoon with his laptop and said he wanted to play a movie for me. It was The Sound of Music.”
“You hate the movie?”
“It is my best movie ever. And just before the part that always makes me cry, he gave me a tissue. He buys me my favorite flavor of ice cream. He knows me too much.”
Nurse Ebo pulled her closer. Kandudi rested her head on the nurse’s shoulder.
“Kandi, it’s been three weeks. Open up. I have no doubt that that man is your husband. Forget the pictures and focus on the sacrifices he’s made. Kandi, you are so lucky. You were brought in here unconscious, bleeding through your cracked skull. You had tiny visible strands of wood sticking to your brain, like a broomstick under someone’s skin. You pulled through two brain surgeries. This man waited for you to survive. He is still here. See, I look at you and I say ‘what a lucky woman’ and here you are being afraid.”
Kandudi sighed. “It is not that easy.”
“You have amnesia. You will only make your head ache the more if you try to remember yesterday. Just flow with the now. Life chose you. Choose life too. Forget the forgotten memories and create new ones.”
The wind was peaceful. Bats clicked. Crickets stridulated. Kandudi knew her friend spoke the truth. She imagined angry water pushing through towns, eroding houses, trees, her mother, and her memory. Life had taken enough from her.
Nurse Ebo tapped her gently. “Drink up; it’s late.”
Kandudi left the hospital two weeks later with this fine man whose wind of love blew her off the ground.
When she walked into his beautiful big house, which had double gates and a fountain in front of it, she was first struck that the cushions were black, not red like the ones in the pictures. A smiling girl, smelling as if she’d been immersed in a drum of sweat, came and collected Kandudi’s bag.
“Welcome, ma,” she said, bowing. Kandudi smiled. She did not know her.
Chiemela asked, “What are you people cooking?”
“Egusi and pounded yam. The soup is ready. The yam is almost boiled.”
Kandudi walked around the house looking at the artwork hanging on the wall and the small statues spread out on the tv top. She remembers being philistine. But what did she know? She heard the voices of children. Since seeing the pictures of herself pregnant, she’d been dreaming of meeting her twins. Chiemela had told her that the boy looked more like her than him, but the girl looked nothing like her. She stood by the door and listened.
“Ainde need the biscuit,” a baby voice said.
Kandudi wondered what “Ainde” meant. Was it a name? She wished Chiemela had talked less about himself and been more open about talking of their children. She slowly pushed the door open. She sensed that it was a playroom because of its weird paint of pink, yellow, and purple. But she did not recognize the precious two-year-olds looking at her. The girl sat in front of a train track, wearing an engineer’s cap; the boy stood by a corner, holding a teddy. Kandudi’s heart leaped for joy. She did not know what to say first. Was she to say hello? Hi? I’m your mother? What was she to say? Chiemela put an arm around her. She rested her head on his chest. The children suddenly came back to life, screaming in glee, running to hug their father. He rubbed their heads and laughed. Kandudi found herself smiling. Chiemela held her closer and kissed her hair. Then he pointed at the children, pointed at her, and said, “This is your mummy.” The boy was silent, clutching his penis through his pants, shaking his legs.
The girl said, “No, she’s not.”
“Yes, she is. Shut up that talking-talking mouth,” Chiemela said and led Kandudi away.
Kandudi felt stung. The little girl sounded so sure. They had Chiemela’s complexion. And just as she imagined, the boy had her lips. She saw nothing of herself in the girl.
“I’m sorry about that,” Chiemela said.
“Oh, it’s okay.” She waved her hand.
“What are their names?” She felt his hand on her shoulder stiffen.
“Taiwo and Kehinde.”
She looked at him. Taiwo and Kehinde? Those weren’t Igbo names. She had no Yoruba person in he rlineage. Chiemela rubbed her shoulder, raised his phone to his ear, and moved away.
She wandered into a room. There were clothes neatly stacked in the open wardrobe. There was a Bible on the table and an opened notebook and a pen. She heard sounds of high-pitched laughter coming from the other side of the wall. She rubbed her hands on the wall, which felt like sand. She pressed her ear to the wall, but instead of human sounds, she heard kpom-kpom-kpom. She pressed her palms to her ears, yet the nightmare sound intensified. A thin cloud covered her eyes as if she was seeing the room through a foggy sky. Her right temple ached. Her feet felt as if they were being lifted from the ground. Blackness.
Excerpted from All Shades of Iberibe by Kasimma. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Sandorf Passage. Copyright © 2021 by Kasimma.