Mr. and Mrs. Doctor

Julie Iromuanya

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor

For my mother

1

CHAPTER 1

EVERYTHING JOB OGBONNAYA KNEW ABOUT SEX HE LEARNED FROM American pornography. So on their first unchaperoned meeting, Job rushed his new wife, splitting her thin body against the papered wall of their lavish honeymoon suite at the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Job tore at her lacy pink panties and only released his lips from her face to haltingly shout, “You-are-the-dirty-slut-girl!”

Ifi punched his gut with the sharp heel of her sandal. He crumpled. Together they landed on the floor in a tangled heap, legs splayed in every direction.

“You are ugly,” she said, glaring at him. Potato-sack head. Stout shoulders. Hog’s gut. Bushy, curling eyebrows. Thick glasses pushed into the lips of his nose. “Eh? And now a beast? I married a beast. Hey!” She wound up her fist and struck him squarely on an ear.

Job clutched his throbbing ear. For a moment, he struggled to unwind the underwear from his wrists before handing them back to her.

When Ifi attempted to put them on, the ripped elastic band left the underwear lopsided on her hips. “You see what you have done, oh?” She thought of the time and care she and Aunty had put into her appearance for this day — the matching underwear set, the hours cooking her hair in an egg-smelling relaxer and then curling it; her lipstick and eyeliner were now a streaky veneer finish on her face.

A solid fist banged at the door. Ifi disappeared into the bathroom, clutching at the panties. When Job opened the door, a man in a too-tight suit stared up at him with liquid eyes.

“Is everything fine, sah?” The man took in Job’s appearance — his trousers with the zipper open and belt dangling, his face prickling with beads of sweat, his slack, bare chest. A smile gradually spread over his face.

Job cleared his throat and heard his father’s voice in his ears. “What is this? You have come to disturb me on the day of my honeymoon with this nonsense?”

“No, sah, my apologies, sah,” the man said.

Job and the man stood in the doorway, awaiting the next line in the script. Finally Job gently let the door close on the man’s teasing grin.

He turned back to Ifi, who now sat on the bed with her legs crossed, her face turned away from him. He positioned himself so that his body was turned away from hers too, then gradually he made his way toward her. Still she remained unmoved. His hand snaked toward her bare, brown thigh. Her skin gleamed, shiny. Just before he touched her, his hand dropped short. He thought of her words. She had looked prettier in the photographs, even light skinned — not this tall, skinny thing with no buttocks. She was lucky a man like Job Ogbonnaya would even consider her appropriate for marriage. Although Job’s life had been bare in America, he had never convinced himself that what he felt was loneliness.

She looked tossed apart to him, like the two legs of the goat his grandparents had butchered in honor of the engagement. On the day of the celebration, Job had stood back warily as the butcher knocked the goat unconscious before they pulled its insides apart and prepared it for roasting. He’d always loved goat meat, so much so that as a child he’d earned the nickname onye ohi, thief, from his mother and sisters, because he would always let his hand slip into the large pot and steal bits of meat as it cooked. Still, he’d wanted no part of the killing.

“I can give you back to your people,” Job said.

Ifi turned a furious glare on him, one eye widening. Aunty and Uncle would be angry with her. After all, they had found her a doctor husband who lived in America. He had even promised to send her to an American university, so that she could be a nurse in his clinic. Aunty would say, How can you, an orphan, be so ungrateful? Aunty would say that all their hard work in raising her since her parents died had been in vain. Still, Ifi could not take this. She was nearly thirty, almost a decade older than he believed, not a child.

She would find her own way to her dreams without him. “I will go,” she said. Their bags were open on the floor of the hotel room. Ifi began, indiscriminately, to dump article after article of clothing into her suitcase. Job saw his tan slacks disappearing into the bag. “That belongs to me,” he said.

As if in rewind, Ifi flung clothes out of the bag. “It belongs to you!” she said. “It belongs to you!” Job ducked, barely missing the flying clothes.

“Ifi,” he started. Then, clumsily, he added, “Darling.” Although she didn’t turn back, she stopped flinging objects from the bag. He thought of his virgin wife tensed against the wall and wondered. Surely she had been schooled in the responsibilities that came with marriage. But perhaps she hadn’t. No one had explained it to him. He had been a boy of nineteen when he first came to America all those years ago.

Job sifted through his bags until, from far beneath the clothes and shoes, he produced a faded, well-worn magazine. He slid the magazine across the bed to Ifi and flipped it open.

It was a simple enough story. Page one: the doctor and the patient. The caption read, “Doctor, it hurts here,” followed by, “Let me examine you.”

Ifi flipped the page. The doctor’s milky buttocks stared back at her. The patient had her arms and head back and was chortling wildly.

“What is this?” Ifi exclaimed. Was this how Americans paid for medicine? She covered her eyes, but couldn’t help peeking through her fingers. She had been with one man before, but it was over in seconds, and she’d never actually seen him completely disrobed.

Suddenly there was a flickering of lights, a gasp, and the room filled with darkness. They waited for the generator to click on, Ifi curious to turn the page, and Job expecting to consummate the marriage without further complication. When the generator did not turn on, Job instead suggested that they leave the room for a meal.

They ate at an outdoor restaurant, partially shaded from the elements by skinny, frayed umbrellas. Fela Kuti roared from a radio. A big man in khaki pants and a loud printed shirt owned the restaurant. He wrapped Job in a thundering embrace. “Oga! Doctor!” he said, “Mr. Doctor, how long are you staying with us?” Job told him he was with his wife on honeymoon, and the man proceeded to rattle off all the years he had known Job and his family. “This man’s father is my father’s cousin. I have known him since before he could stand.”

Job ordered two Coronas. When the bottles arrived, sweating cool, wet pearls down the sides, he paid in U.S. dollars. Ifi and Job sat silently across from one another as he swallowed his Corona and then hers. Job sucked the layers of slippery flesh free of the fish bone as Ifi nibbled. She sat quietly — thinking of the magazine — and wondered, Is this how Americans pay my doctor husband? Light streamed in diagonally, cutting his face into odd patterns. His features seemed to surrender to his surroundings. Is this what America does to a man?

Finally she spoke, her voice low. “Are Americans so poor that they must. .” She couldn’t finish her question without thinking of the naked doctor and patient.

Job sipped the beer and told her, “Money is time in America.” Then he launched into telling her about the shops, the ladies’ clothes, the shoes, and Ifi was no longer listening.

A beggar boy of perhaps nine moved from table to table with a pan full of peanuts. His lean, meatless face was filled with long lashes, and his sinewy limbs were shiny and exposed through the holes in his wrinkled Michael Jackson T-shirt.

Many of the dining couples flagged him away in annoyance or simply ignored him. But he refused to go unnoticed. He leaned into a table where a large woman and a thin man took up the seats. They were dressed well. He winked flirtatiously and clicked his teeth at the lady. “Mah,” he said, smiling. “Mah.”

“I will buy you a fur coat,” Job said to Ifi. He would have to get one of fake fur.

“Mah,” the boy said again.

“I am not your mama,” the woman said, drawing her wobbly chin back. “I am not old enough to be your mama.” Shifting her wig back, she turned away from him.

“This foolish boy,” the man said. Still, with his knees pulled close together, he smiled and hunched forward, scraping the floor with a cane. He was old enough to be the woman’s grandfather, much older than Job.

Ifi wondered how this man and woman had met. Ifi had met Job only once before their honeymoon. Even during the wedding, Job’s junior brother had stood in while he was in America. All Ifi had remembered from her one meeting with Job was that his face was nothing more than a jagged relief etched on the dark. He’d sat across from Ifi, Aunty, and Uncle, all squeezed together on the smaller couch so that he could have the large one. Aunty and Uncle had unsuccessfully tried to borrow a generator for the occasion and had been forced to settle on kerosene, so they stiffly argued about Nepa, the oil truck drivers’ strike, corrupt politicians, and the ongoing teachers’ strike in abashed explanation. The kerosene had scrubbed roughly at Ifi’s nostrils and throat. Outside, she’d heard the sounds of church services going on despite the dark along the length of their street. Children ...

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