No matter where I am, the smell of Chinese balm always reminds me of home.
I grew up poor in a one room apartment in a face-me-I-face-you with my parents and five other siblings. My mother sold roadside roasted corn and coconut while my father was a security guard at a factory that made balms.
In retrospect, I see now that my father must have stolen some balms regularly because it was the only constant thing in our house. There were days where we went without food or just drank garri only but we always had our little tins of balm. Our father always warned us not to play with it but when you’re the first child of six children in a house with no television, you have to come up with different ways to amuse yourself and the only thing we had in abundance was the Chinese balm.
We played with it, bartered with it, even when we were worried that father would lose his job (probably because he was caught stealing – he blamed it on his enemies at the time), we prayed with it, mother said we were channeling God through it, it made me feel validated that God liked the balm as much as I did.
I always had a tin of the stuff on me, I’d carry it around in my pocket pretending I was carrying an object worth one million naira, I’d open it up and inhale it from time to time, maybe that’s where my addiction problem started. Like father I blamed it on my enemies, my enemies made me smoke weed and acid on the eve of my finals, adding an extra year to my education. My enemies made me drink codeine before I went for an interview at my dream job, my enemies made me alienate everyone who cared about me, I wondered about my siblings, did they have enemies as well or wait, maybe they were my enemies.
As time passed, I landed a great job and life was going well. I still partook in my drugs and alcohol but I kept it pretty balanced, at least that was what I thought, but you know how enemies are, they rear their heads up when you least expect.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning the day I met Laura. I was driving to meet my weed supplier and it started raining, we used to laugh about how cliche our first meet was. Girl is standing under the rain, boy drives up to give her a lift, girl makes boy take her to church and invites him to service. I said no of course, I needed to get my fix but I took her number because I liked her and wanted to see me again.
Thus began our game of cat and mouse, I courted her but tried to hide my vices from her because I knew she wouldn’t approve, she knew I was hiding something and kept trying to change me so I’d be a much open person and tell her the truth. We did this dance till she took me home to her parents and I asked her to marry.
By now I expected my enemies to show up but they didn’t, we planned it, did our engagement and eventually got married but still they refused to show up so I got complacent, I decided to let her see my vices, I was tired of sneaking off to smoke weed in my car and gaggling with mouthwash after.
I came home drunk one Friday night and I passed out on the floor in the living room, I woke up to the sounds of tv, she was watching cartoons while eating cereal. Ashamed, I sat up and tried to apologize for my state but she shushed me and told me to get cleaned up, she brought me breakfast in bed and told me to rest throughout the day. I was ecstatic, I had friends who were like who complained about their wives chewing their asses off but here was mine taking care of me!! She was an angel. This was probably why I never said anything when she disappeared sometimes in the middle of the night, she was always back in the morning to make me breakfast so I didn’t care.
That night, I promised to do all I can to change for her but her reply shocked me. She said she loved me the way I am, that she had been trying to get me to open up about my vices so that she could open up about hers to me. I was shocked! My wife has vices?! My perfect little angel of a wife ? I married her as a Virgin for Christ sakes! I wondered if this was connected to the occasional disappearances.
I didn’t believe her so I told her to stop talking but she insisted that she had one, after arguing for a bit, she told me to get dressed and she got dressed too. We got in the car and she drove a considerable distance from our house, infact this was a similar neighborhood to the one I grew up in, she pulled up to a ramshackle one story building that was farther away from the other buildings, infact it was like the other buildings made a pact not to be near the ramshackle building.
We went inside and the first thing I noticed is how clean it was, it was immaculate, pristine, maybe even sterile and it was deathly silent, at least it was until I heard a squeak coming for a corner of the room that seemed to be shrouded in darkness.
The squeak sounded again and move in to take a closer look and I see a young girl chained to the floor. The girl starts to scream when she sees my wife but my wife doesn’t seem bothered by it, infact she’s got a happy almost earnest look in her eyes. She says that she’s doing God’s work, ridding the earth of filth, one prostitute at a time and she wanted us to do it together.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the girl, she was missing all the skin from her face and her back was branded with what looked a cross. In front of the girl lay a table spread with knives and I wondered what would happen if I lunged for one. She made us leave before my cowardice got the better of me though and the cries and image of the girl are forever burned in my mind.
I still haven’t said anything and it’s been three days now, I haven’t had a lick of alcohol or drugs or weed, they don’t offer any solace to me anymore but above all I’m angry, at myself, at my serial killer wife and at my enemies for not ruining the relationship before we got to this point.