Sam Abhulimhen heard the sound again – like the muffled cry of one in severe pain. He opened his eyes and rubbed off the sleep with the back of his left palm. Then he sat up on the soft king-sized bed, looking down on the rumpled bundle beside him. The rays from the bedside lamp illuminated the room as soon as Sam hit the switch.

There she was. Anne – the source of his troubles. Sam knew his world would end the moment the woman beside him stopped nagging him. What was marriage, if not the endurance of sweet torture? His fuzzy brain tried to take it all in.
Sam wondered at how Anne had turned him into her stooge the moment she became pregnant. Now she expected him to grant all her wishes as though he were a machine. He did not want to admit it, but he sometimes enjoyed all the attention.

He watched his wife sit up on the bed. Her hands gripped the sheets as if her life depended on that one silent gesture. There was intense pain in her eyes. ‘The travails of pregnancy,’ Sam muttered under his breath. He moved closer to her and touched her protruded stomach; the outer skin was hard and had stretched almost to breaking point. Anne winced as soon as she felt his touch.
“With the way you’re going, I am not able to interpret these groans as pleasure or pain,” Sam said, trying to hold her gaze with his.

Anne had to smile. Her husband always found a way to make her feel at ease with his silly attempts at humour. She knew his patience had to be wearing thin – now more than ever before. She also knew that he understood; he always did. Sam was the most patient and understanding man she knew.
“And what could be pleasurable to me now, given my condition?” Anne asked, her voice a tiny whisper.
“Hmn? Don’t say that, oh! You think all expectant mothers are blessed with ever-doting fathers at their disposal? I mean, it is not that I am complaining or anything, but even patient fathers like me have a limit, don’t you think? So the pleasure in all this is
that you have me.”
“As if that does anything to ease the pain,” Anne mused.
“C’mon, Girl, you really don’t mean that, do you? You know I would do anything to take this burden from you, but some things are just feminine. Nothing I can do about that!” Sam looked up at the ceiling. “Oh! If only I had a womb . . .”
Anne said something, but the words were swallowed up within intermittent groans. She held on to Sam as though to draw strength from him. ‘Don’t just sit there. Do Something!’ Her eyes screamed at him.
“I wish I had more practice,” Sam mumbled.
“What?” Anne found her voice again.
“I said you should practice more often. You know, exercises and other stuff like that.” Sam could not believe he had just said that. It sounded so lame.
“Practice? What are you saying?” Sam heaved a sigh.
“I mean, I know this is your ninth month, but the child is not due till two weeks from now. Wasn’t that what the doctor said the last time?”
Anne nodded.
“I meant I thought we would get some more days to prepare.”
It just then occurred to Sam that the baby might be on the way already. So this was it? He jumped out of the bed in a flash and ran out the bedroom door.
Anne tried to move but decided against it. The pain was too intense. She would just sit here until her man got back from wherever he had gone.
“So I guess you’re in labour, right?” Sam asked as soon as he came back to the room. “Right?”
“No, I am not.”
“You are not?” Sam missed the irony.
“Why didn’t you ask me that before running after your car keys in the first place?”
Sam attempted to hide the keys behind his back.
The woman was too sharp.
Anne made a face as she struggled out of the bed. But that was as far as she went.
Her husband caught her in time, before she toppled back onto the bed.
Anne caught her breath. “Oh my God!” Her arms darted straight at Sam in the process.
“Oh my God!”
Her screams pierced the stillness of the night.

The next few minutes rushed past like a bolt of lightning. Sam could not fathom how he somehow managed to get his wife to the garage. The next minute, he was helping her onto the back seat of their car. Then he ran around to the driver’s side and sped off into the night. He almost brushed Musa the gateman into the flowerbeds nearby as he made frantic efforts to open the gates. The red twinkling taillights of the Mercedes Benz 230 were all that convinced the lanky Hausa man that this was not one of his accustomed nocturnal dreams.

So many hours later, somewhere in a brightly lit hospital ward, a plump newborn baby lay in its mother’s arms, oblivious to all else around him. Both parents continued to stare at the child in utter amazement. For the second time that morning, the baby rolled its eyes and smiled – all innocence.

To be continued…