Two is company and three is a crowd of scalene proportions.
They stood around for a while, the three of them. Their meeting was over and the rest of the coven had petered off in a crackle of flapping, and pattering, and shaking of bushes. There was something to be said, but they couldn’t bring themselves to say it.
“So, is this how it’s going to be?” the first one asked. He was an electronics trader by day and his business was failing. The remaining two said nothing. The woman looked at her feet and the younger man looked away at the pitch-black sky.
“This is how it’s going to be then,” the trader said, nodding his head and swallowing.
It was time to leave, but no one knew what the new dynamics of their relationship were. Previously, the young man would have left so the couple could go home together; or sometimes, the trader left because he trusted his wife with every member of the coven and he had no qualms about leaving her if she wanted to spend a few extra minutes chatting. She could always find her way home.
She didn’t know if she was still welcomed in his house and he didn’t know if he could stand the sight of her in his bed and the younger man could not fathom what was expected of him! He could take her home, but that was only if the trader didn’t want her. If not, he could very well do without the trouble, thank you.
It was New Year’s Eve.
The younger man decided. A bold move. He turned. He caught a flash of disappointment on her face. She didn’t want him to leave; she wanted him to stay and fight for her but that would have been foolhardy, the worst mistake he could ever make in his life. He was only a toddler in this coven. The trader was decades old, decades. The younger man went up in a flurry and the trader stared at his wife for a second before reducing to their diminutive mode of transport. They went under the bushes, the man in front and the woman behind him at a respectful distance.
She knew he was angry. She could see it in the rise and fall of his shoulders and haunches as they made their way through the short grass. The moonlight illuminated their way, but their eyes made things much brighter and the undergrowth was livid with the almost microscopic fauna that chirped and breathed and lived in these parts. He skirted a thread of Wood spider's web and glanced back to see if she saw it too, and avoided it. Her heart broke. It was in these little things, these little gestures that she treasured her life with him, that she remembered why she had agreed to his entreaties three children ago.
When the hawk came down, the misunderstanding was expected. The trader thought the boy had changed his mind, and the wife thought the boy had finally stepped up. He stared at her with glassy hate and in the oil droplets that were his eyes she saw a sea of sadness. She allowed the hawk to pick her. If she’d known it was just a regular hawk, she’d have simply materialized and startled the animal, but she thought it was the boy, until the beak broke her neck.
The trader found his way into his house through the broken pipes which snaked upwards and formed the exoskeleton of the crumbling building. He skittered over the asbestos of the ceiling, this newly widowed man, though unbeknownst to him, pausing tenderly over the room of his children, listening to the pillowed sounds of their laughter and feet as they wrestled or played. The rodent denizen of these hollow roofs hung on the rafters and stared at him with red-green eyes. They had long since learned to let him be. He was not of them. The trader entered his room through a hole in the ceiling, hanging onto an electric cable and dropping onto the bed where he fell in the sheets and slowly unfurled into his true form. He lay a bit, the nausea of the earth and dirt, of the grass and of the pipes, of the red-eyed animals in the roof running through him like a shudder, his body expelling them in a catharsis as it regained its true form. The trader was thinking now of the years they had spent together, of the children she had for him. He felt this nebula of humiliation and fatigue, and a tear crystallized across his nose bridge. He hoped she was coming back to him, even though the boy had come for her. He turned around in his bed and waited to hear her footfalls in the pipes and in the ceiling.
Waiting, he slept off.
Adelehin’s short stories have appeared in The Best of Everyday Fiction, Takahe, On the Premises (second place winner Mar 2008 & Honourable Mention Oct 2021), The Tiny Globule, Page and Spine, Pandemic publications, Omenana, Sub-saharan Magazine, The Naked Convos, Kalahari Review, Canary Press, Our Move Next anthology and Fiyah. He was once nominated for the Commonwealth short story award (2014) and was recently on the Nommos award long list for speculative fiction (2021).
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