Nimi locked the front door and secured the slide bolt. She turned off the kitchen and hallway lights leading to the room in which now she’d slept for a year. A lumpy shadow of the old Singer foot-pedal sewing machine, heaped with fabric, fell across the narrow bed. Drawing the curtains and sliding open the lower window louver failed to stir a breeze. The wrought-iron window protector still gave off heat.
The lights were going off in her neighbor’s house, and the low rumbling from their generators diminished. It was past midnight—no car creaked up the road, no gate slammed shut, no dog, not one voice raised from the stalls outside—everything was as still as it must be on the moon. After Nimi settled into bed she felt a supple movement that lifted the curtain and scattered the fading aroma of supper. That was when she heard the shuffling of feet outside, by the kitchen door, and the sound of someone breathing, waiting patiently. She knew at once that Benji, her husband, had finally returned. The lock clicked. Benji still had his keys. He didn’t turn on the light when he entered. Belt buckle clanking, zipper running, and the rustle of clothes falling to the ground: when you are sixty-seven years of age and have shared nearly fifty of those with the same person, you can tell his intentions by the sounds he makes. The carved cupboard of Sapele mahogany and the wall beside it caught Benji’s shadow shifting in the lantern’s low-trimmed light. It seemed to her that he stood in the gap of the screen curtain, his eyelids heavy with fatigue, as if he’d paddled through miles of smoky streams to get here. She’d always known he’d return, she’d waited for him to come home, as he always did—straight from the workshop, pausing before joining her to check on little Alice; or, perhaps, after a brief stop at Uduak’s drinking table where, with his friends, he would knock back shots of schnapps imbued with medicinal roots, bark of trees known to restore vitality and provoke desire in men young and old. With his clothes hooked on the back of a chair in the hallway, he would walk into the bedroom naked as day, the old scar on his arm gleaming.