An anniversary gift (A short story)/ Edith Ohaja
 Brendan seemed to be scribbling endlessly that Monday morning. Not a good way to start the week but what the heck! Business was slow anyway and he was the boss. Besides, what he was doing was serious business too. It's not everyday that you celebrate your wedding anniversary and he was determined to design a card with a heartfelt message for his sweetheart, Cynthia. It wasn't the design part that was his problem 'cause he had recently mastered Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. It was the message part that was proving unbelievably difficult. All he wanted was to compose short lyrical verse, a few couplets, perhaps, or just one quatrain. 
        Although he had never attempted this kind of writing, he prided himself on having a good ear and had thought it would be a piece of cake. But the trash can beside him was already half-full and he was feeling the beginnings of a headache. He wanted to write verse that rhymed but even with two dictionaries at his disposal, the results sounded lame and even imbecilic. What 45-year-old man says something like:
                     You are my beautiful lass 
                     You make me happy like laughing gas, 
he asked himself. Maybe if they were teenagers, that would do. But now, he couldn't imagine himself spouting that kind of stuff, sounding like a wannabe hiphop star. 
        He wanted something more profound, something that summarised their marital journey of eighteen years and captured the depth of his feelings for his wife. He wondered if it was even possible to encapsulate all that in a few lines of verse. His head was throbbing and he reached for some pain killers from his drawer. He downed them with bottled water from the fridge and decided to go out to pick a gift for his wife and a card from a book store to accompany it.
        As he buttoned his jacket, his heart swelled with pride and joy. Theirs was a really good marriage, he reasoned, notwithstanding that they were both too busy to spend appreciable time together on most days, his wife a journalist and he running his own office equipment supply business after being booted out from the bank he had worked with since graduation two years ago. Their marriage was blessed with two girls who were undergraduates in the US.  
        He informed his secretary of his mission and drove to his friend's electronics dealership. He paid for the Apple laptop he'd spoken with him about on the phone earlier that morning and got two sales promotional gifts - a power bank and a flashlight. He had the lot beautifully wrapped, all the while congratulating himself for remembering this anniversary all by himself. In previous years, Cynthia made it a point to remind him. He really had no excuse with all his digital devices that he could have set alerts on. But he ran such a hectic schedule while he was with the bank that he never got round to setting those reminders and last year, he was consumed with getting his business off the ground. There is a lot to be said for being self-employed, he told himself.
        At the bookshop, he got a card with a rainbow on the cover. The message read:
                    When I first said, "Hello" to you,
                    My skies were dull and gray;
                    But ever since I said, "I do,"
                    The rainbow's come to stay!*
As he read the words again, he nodded in agreement. The message, though simple, was apt. It was as close as he could get to the story of their love. He first met Cynthia at a restaurant in his third year in the university. He had lost his only surviving parent, his mum, a month earlier and didn't know how he would complete his studies. She came and said "Hello", sat opposite him and simply asked, "Can we be friends?" As he hesitated, she added, "Please, don't misunderstand me. I'm not usually this forward. But I've been watching you and something tells me that you need a friend". 
        From there, they struck up a conversation that led him to unburden himself. A wholesome friendship followed and she helped him strategise on how to seek help from his extended family members. Through those plans, he realised just enough money to pay for his final-year expenses and the same day he got a job after youth service, he proposed to her. She really did help clear his skies and he was so grateful that they were still together and good friends after all these years.
        As he drove back to the office, he imagined Cynthia's excitement when he presents the gifts, especially since she had forgotten their anniversary herself, something she had never done in all their years of marriage. He planned how he would hold her hands, look into her eyes and recite the words in the card. He made a mental note to memorise them and rehearse so that he would render them in a very touching manner. He was definitely sure she would cry. 
        That was something he liked about his wife: she was soft-hearted and very easy to please, satisfied that he was faithful to her and took family responsibilities seriously, especially paying for their daughters to go to the best schools. Some of the gifts he had given her over the years didn't cost much but she cherished them and still had them all. He, well, you guessed right. He had too many things on his plate to be that sentimental. Those other gifts - a watch here, a few items of jewelry there, some bestseller novels and some clothes - none of them cost nearly as much as this laptop (300 grand) and she was impressed with them. So today, she would be wowed to the third power, especially since he did all this without any reminder from her. He just couldn't stop praising himself!
        He left the office by 4:30 p.m. They had the tradition of coming home by 6 p.m. on this their special day. He had ordered a special meal because he called her on his way and got an sms in response that said, "In a meeting". When he got home, he decided to freshen up and listen to the news but by 7:30, he was getting impatient, so he placed the gifts on the centre table in the living room so she couldn't miss them when she walked in. Not satisfied with that, he unwrapped them, standing the card atop the laptop, with the power bank and flashlight between its leaves. When he heard her driving in, he began to microwave the meal. This is going to be good, he thought.
        Cynthia walked in with her shoulders drooped and leaned against the door for a minute or so. Then as she began to head for the stairs, Brendan came out of the kitchen, all cheerful, and stopped her, "Not so fast, my love!" He spun her round and made her to face the centre table. "I believe those are for you". "What am I supposed to do? Dance?" she asked. A strange question to ask on a day and occasion like this but Brendan wasn't going to let this hint of unwarranted bellicosity stand in the way of his planned performance. So he led his wife close to the table and with a right hand flourish that took in the gifts, he said, "Happy anniversary, my darling!"   
        Her response was as sudden as it was unnerving. "Why is it only on our anniversary that you buy me something special?" Ignoring the surprise on his face and raising her voice slightly, she continued, "I'm still the same person the rest of the year. How come you don't consider me special until this one day in the year? Just one freaking day out of three hundreeed and sixty-five!" She was screaming by the time she was through. While he was shaking with disbelief, she marched away into the railings. Her bag dropped with the impact, scattering its contents. She hissed, sidestepped it, and went upstairs, leaving Brendan standing in the middle of the living room, confused.
        He staggered a few feet and collapsed into the nearest armchair. "What did I do wrong for the life of me?" No, the problem was not with him, he concluded after reviewing what just happened, mentally. What in the world has come over my wife, he wondered. That outburst ... she had never talked to him like that before. Something else must be going on with her, he reasoned.
        Cynthia's job as a newspaper editor was stressful and didn't even pay well, but she was good at it and felt she was making a valuable contribution to society. Left to him, she should just quit and do something else but he knew better than to make such a suggestion. Right now, her paper was being transferred to new owners and some reorganisation was afoot. He knew she was fretting about it even though they hadn't really discussed it. He had heard from the grapevine, though, that the new owners had a subversive agenda and he had wondered how his scrupulous wife will fit into it. To make matters worse, her laptop had just crashed and she lost some files she hadn't backed up. That informed his choice of an anniversary gift. 
        But she was not a stranger to work pressure. It didn't seem like it was enough reason to make her snap like that. Nonetheless, he promised himself he would be more supportive of her from now. He knew that although she majored in communication studies and was a good listener, she had great difficulty sharing her problems even with him. She made herself available as a shoulder for others to cry on but she hardly ever did the crying herself. He just had to find more inventive ways of getting her to open up, he told himself.
        Feeling comfortable in his decision, he went to switch off the microwave oven. Then he came to repack the contents of her bag at the foot of the stairs. There were the usual stuff - her phones, chargers, a small vanity case, pens, a jotter and her purse. There was also a white envelop with the logo of the company that recently bought her paper. He slung the bag over his left shoulder as he stood up and opened the envelop. 
        The moment he read the subject of the letter inside, "Relief from duty", he gasped. Who titles such a letter like this, as if they are doing the receiver a favour, he wondered. He scanned the body to verify that it was outright cessation of employment and his fears were confirmed. There was something about inability to sustain the present staff strength, promise of a financial settlement, and "We wish you well in your future endeavours". "Oh my God!" he exclaimed, and slowly began to ascend the stairs.  "My darling, my poor, poor darling!" 
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-The end-
Ⓒ  Edith Ugochi Ohaja  2015     (Facebook: /edithugochi.ohaja  Twitter: @EdithOhaja)   
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*This poem was first published as part of a story in my book, Feature Writing Simplified.