Encounter : Onset

Perhaps it arose from the need to numb the pain of her grief, or maybe she was simply catering to a fallow desire that seemed to have become active in the light of recent happenings, all Betty was sure of was that she was going to purchase a cat. It would do well to keep her company until the baby arrived. She had read somewhere that it was not unusual for people who lost someone to become enchanted with strange obsessions. She tried to make a choice while peering through the large window of the Pet store; perhaps the white furry one near the counter would suffice, she reckoned as she walked into the pet store.

The handsome youngish and bespectacled store-keeper looked up almost reluctantly from the paperback in his hands and smiled when he saw her. He got to his feet eagerly.

‘Good day, need a pet? Ah sorry, of course you do. Which can I help you with?’  A few weeks ago, the light humour would have brought a smile to Betty’s lips. Her face remained passive.

‘I would like a cat’, Betty said weakly. Her voice was still hoarse from all the weeping and she couldn’t be bothered to raise it. She hardly spoke now, her few friends had complained.

‘Ah’, the man noticed her condition for the first time, ‘need some company before the baby arrives? I have just the one for you’ He made to leave the counter but she halted him by quickly pointing to the white furry one in the wire-cage to her right. It had big eyes, she noticed, just like hers.

‘You want this one? Oh, erm, isn’t it a little too old for you? I know women who need some pet company usually go for the kittens-you know, so you sort of ‘grow on’ them as they grow, just like you do a child’ he glanced at her large belly.

‘No, I’ll take it’. Her comment invited no argument. She was already tired.

A few minutes later, Betty left the store with a bag of cat food and the wire cage with the cat in it. She had already chosen to call it Robin. It felt oddly romantic. She had no idea why she was romanticizing a cat, but she assumed it was one of the symptoms of the depression that followed the loss of a loved one. Mama would throw a fit if she saw the cat. Mama didn’t like any animals except poultry which she reared.

She had chosen to walk to the pet store, which wasn’t so far from the gate of the residential estate, instead of using the SUV because she needed the breeze. It was her first time out of the house in the six days since the burial and the driver was on the usual weekend break which he had so reluctantly taken after she had resisted his insistence on staying. She dropped her load and unlocked the front door. The estate was of the beautiful luxurious kind and everyone here minded their business. In the five years of her marriage and residence here, she had not established the identities of residents who lived more than four houses away; she hardly ever saw them. It reminded her of living abroad.

Her eyes automatically went to the large portrait of James on the far wall as she swung the heavy oak door open. She tore her gaze away and took a cursory look at the empty street beyond the low wire fence before picking up the cage and entering her house. She took another look at the portrait of her late husband; the eyes seemed to follow her round the room. She couldn’t bear to take it down or have somebody turn it over because it seemed too much like a betrayal. Perhaps she would do it in a few months, when time had begun to heal the wounds of her loss. She felt tears sting her eyes. If only she had somehow prevented him from flying that plane that fateful day. Well, she couldn’t have known. She tightened her lips as she stared at the big TV, reliving the moment when her lunch was interrupted by the news of the crash of Aurea flight 3-42 to Ghana near the border. She had involuntarily vomited all over the table. As far as the authorities could gather, the plane just dropped out of the sky. They couldn’t even identify his remains. They had resorted to erecting a memorial for him at the village cemetery. His family had been inconsolable. She shook herself free of this reverie, wondering for the umpteenth time if she was wrong to have declined mother’s suggestion of leaving this house and going home with her. She didn’t want to be cocooned by sympathisers anymore; the crass pity was beginning to irritate her. Perhaps she might sleep tonight without weeping, now that she had some company. She only hoped she would always remember to feed the cat.

*

Pursuant to the instruction of doctor Kamsie, Betty was staying in the hospital during the expected week of delivery when the contractions started.  As she was being wheeled to the theatre along with Dr. Kamsie, she called for James by her side in her delirium. Doctor Kamsie calmly told her that her mother was being contacted. She was about to protest when she remembered that her James would not be here for the arrival of their first son. The resurfaced memory of James’ coffin silenced her momentarily before the pain took over as the theatre doors opened to the frightening metallic brightness within.

She christened her new-born son James. Not like there was a choice, the baby reminded her of her darling James in every way. When she first suckled him, she felt a strange glow of victory and smiled for the first time since she became a widow.

**

Betty was wrenched from an early evening nap by the piercing cry of little James in his Cot. She lazily rolled over to the other side of the bed-the side her late husband slept on- , half-raised herself and peered into the white cot. She gasped.

She quickly reached into the Cot and with a swift movement, grabbed the cat and flung him almost to the far wall. True to its kind, it landed on its feet and scampered through the open door, startling her mother who was just coming through the door

‘I have told you to get that creature out of this house’, her mother grumbled.

She decided not to tell her mother about what just happened. It would freak her out, considering her prejudice on pet matters.

‘Robin is good company’, she defended as she cradled the child in her arm and fed him a nipple.

‘And a devilish creature! You think this is one of those oyibo movies where they carry cats anyhow? Soon now, this ‘Reuben’ will begin to share the same cot with your child. I don’t want anything to happen to my grandchild o!’

Betty shifted her eyes and changed the subject.

‘Well, what did you come to talk about?’

She hesitated

‘I don’t like the way you are carrying on. I hear you when you cry softly in the middle of the night? You are my only daughter and I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Your husband has been gone for almost three months now, please take heart and try to move-‘

‘Mama, I’m okay’, she retorted a bit forcefully, breaking the baby’s connection to her nipple momentarily.

‘What about your work?’

‘My assistants are handling the travel agency well in my absence. You seem to have forgotten I am a nursing mother’

‘Have you thought about distracting yourself with a little work? You know I am always here to take care of James for you?’

‘This is not the time. I am not ready for that now.’

Her mother sighed resignedly and left the opulent room without saying another word

*

She woke up sweating in the dim light of the room. Her first instinct was to look towards the baby cot in apprehension. Before her mind caught the reason for this behaviour, the memory of the nightmare had frittered away. Her door was shut, as usual. The baby made a sleepy sound.

Ok, all was well.

She went back to sleep.

The feline stared at her from the darkest corner of the room, and then at the cot. It seemed to change its mind and walked to the door which swung open silently for it to ease through before closing again. Betty slightly raised her head and sleepily regarded the door before turning over to continue her sleep

 TBC…

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