Annevoi’s husband is missing—that’s where we find ourselves at the beginning of Caleb Ozovehe Ajinomoh’s tender yet surprising new fiction, “Taking Mr. Itopa,” today’s entry into our New Voices catalog. Dive in below to this phenomenal tale of a woman who takes her life into her own hands:
At the clinic, everyone smiled at her. A real shitty position to be in, she thought, when patients have to rise above personal discomfort to comfort the doctor. She dreaded their sympathy for the same reason she had evaded her neighbors’ queries about Joshua’s absence. They all talked her into blamableness, as if she had chased him away from home. Where has your husband gone to, Fatima’s mother had asked, a question of abandonment, instead of, when is your husband coming back, a question of adventure.
Even though Joshua was not dead, she missed him. She forgot the children; the two boys she had adopted to please him, and Vick, the girl she had had at first, unluckily, who had then extended their bad luck by having a child of her own, a grandson nobody had asked for. She was thinking about how much she missed him, hoping all was well–being herself, her forty-eight-year-old illusion-hamstrung self–when the kids shrieked, jolting Annevoi out of her daydreams. If Joshua were here, if he had returned from his mysterious Lagos trip, she would not be the children’s first shout. This was what she was thinking when she burst into the children’s room.
The children had looked at her for a full minute before she realized her buba was not tied high enough to cover her breasts. The children, especially the older boys, Mac and Darwin, seemed more interested in their mother’s chest than the mamba splayed as pathetic and lifeless as a belt on the shoe rack behind them. Annevoi shoved the boys aside, grabbed a mop stick and approached the serpent, whose haggard eyes thrummed with the terror of blows not yet suffered. It slinked away when she attacked, vanishing down the shoe rack, displacing a fair number of Vick’s shoes. Annevoi chased it around the room for a few minutes, losing her buba’s grip on her chest twice before striking a fortunate blow with the mop stick.
In the morning, an engineer investigated all the plumbing channels and inlets and concluded the snake may have crept in from Annevoi’s clinic, a sturdy structure which was attached to the back of the house. He had found a slit inside a ward ceiling which, in the building plan, led to Vick’s room. A slit resulting from a badly cracked tile, which he blamed on harmattan. He’d return with a workman to fix it the next day. But first, the engineer told her, he would call her husband to discuss it. Annevoi wagged a warning finger in his face, threatening to give the job to someone else. The engineer made his apologies and sprinted away.