Ruth (Part 1)
It is her whimpers that wake me up in the middle of the night. They start out lightly, like the midnight rain drizzles. When they first hit my ears, a cold calmness suddenly fills me, and I can feel the muscles of my body relaxing. It is the thing with rain; when it comes when every other thing is silent. It forces you to submit to its power, and clears you of every thought that has clouded your head. It reminds you of the calmness that lies in silence, and the thirst for water, deeply rooted in your heart and soul.
When they first hit my ears, the sounds, I unclench my fists and jaws, and let my hair loose. And then I steady my nose, awaiting the petrichor. I wait, and wait, and wait, but it doesn’t come; the petrichor.
When they hit my ears next, the sounds, they are louder and coarse. Like a woman in labour, trying to bite down her pain. Like an injured dog, struggling to make it home. Like a baby abandoned by its mother in the thickets, so it cries and cries, and cries, until its throat runs ry and starts cracking.
I do not know what people do, at night, when they hear foreign noises, so I assume it is my neighbour, again, whose children never know the meaning of calm. I tiptoe to my bedroom window, slide the curtain a little bit, but see nothing. All the lights in my neighbour’s house are out, and there is no sign of life therein.
I fall back in bed just as another coarse whimper brushes my ears. Then it hits me; this sound is coming from my house!
My heart leaps, and I quickly sit up. I reach for my phone on the bedside table: 2:03 a.m. My first instinct is to call my mother, even though I know there is zero chance she is awake. My mother, because all these years I have known her, she has always been the one waking up the whole house whenever she heard noises outside.
She does not pick.
I feel a single drop of sweat trickle down my left armpit. I want to dial my mother’s phone, again, but my hands freeze with cold when another whimper, now loud, hits my ears. Then it hits me; Ruth.
Slowly, I push open the door to my guest room. There is nothing but darkness around me, but dull orange light filtering in through the window helps me spot Ruth. On her knees, beside the table, one hand clutches at her stomach while another holds the pillow in place on her face.
I know she is crying because I see the forced movements of her abdomen, and the sniffs from her nose. When she showed up at my door yesterday at 8:40 p.m., I almost turned her away. Dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a navy blue base ball cap, she reeked of cheap alcohol and cigarettes.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“There was nowhere else to go.”
“I am sorry, you are not welcome.” I said.
“Because I am drunk?”
“No. Because I respect my space, and will not let anyone disrupt my peace.”
“What are you hiding?”
“This is my house. The only person I answer to is not here tonight.”
The last time Ruth and I saw eye to eye was six years ago. She was shouting at me from across an open field, as I did my best to maintain my calm, and avert stares from strangers.
It is not him, it is entirely you!
You are a mess, that is why he left you, for me!
What was I supposed to do? Show him the door?
Abeg, do not be jealous. It is my turn.
I have never heard from Ruth since then, neither from this man that made her make a shame out of both of us. And suddenly, six years later, she shows up at my door looking like a homeless woman.
I let her in after I grow tired of her pleading, and also because my head is pounding from hours of sitting in front of my computer, trying to beat deadlines.
“Do you want a shower? Bathroom is last door along the hallway.” I say.
“Do you want food? There is leftover chicken in the kitchen.”
“What do you want?”
I show her the guest room, hand over clean bedsheets and a nightdress, whisper a tired ‘goodnight’, and head back to my study desk.
Five hours later, I am staring as she cries, in darkness, unable to move. I muster just enough courage to force out a cough, and she abruptly turns to face me, then starts mumbling apologies.
I flick on the light switch and head over to her, sitting at the edge of the bed. Still in her kneeling position, she throws the pillow away and buries her head in my laps. Her tears fall on my bare thighs, and trickle down my legs. I stare into space, unable to say anything. Why? Because this is someone I have loved and hated in equal measure. This is someone that was closest to my heart, but also served me the worst heartache I have ever endured. Because this is someone I cannot look straight in the face, and I am just realizing the anger and hate from six years ago is still fresh within me. I feel it stinging in my eyes, and I gently pull myself away from her.
I start heading for the door before she finally speaks up.
“He is dead.”
I turn to look at her, my face blank with curiousity. “Who?”
I run for my phone, and dial my significant other’s number. After four rings, a sleepy voice on the other end says, “Baby, why are you up at this time?”
I hang up and turn to Ruth. “Who is dead?”
“Ben. I killed him.”
I sink slowly to the floor, bury my head in my palms, and beg my heart to calm down. This can’t be true. This can’t be true. This can’t be true.
“I know you two have been in touch, recently,” she says, and sits beside me.
“Don’t touch me, please!” I shout.
“I know he opened up to you, and told you our marriage was on the rocks. I know you know I am the problem…”
“What did you do? Why did you do it?” I scream.
“I was afraid he would crawl back to you.”
“So you killed him?”
“I didn’t mean…”
My phone starts ringing and I quickly pick it up.
“Babe, is everything okay?” He asks.
Ruth snatches the phone from me and whispers into it. “Can you come over? Something bad just happened.”