by Umari Ayim
– Read Episode 1 of the compelling story HERE.
– Read Episode 2 of the compelling story HERE.
– Read Episode 3 of the compelling story HERE
–Read Episode 4 of the compelling story HERE
Tokunbo’s Visit, Sarah’s Chemise And Richard’s Dreams
The sound of the door opening makes me look from the computer screen. Tokunbo’s left hand is still holding on to handle of the door as she smiles uncomfortably at me. I sit back in my chair and put up a friendly face.
“Hello,” Tokunbo says, turning to shut the door with a click before walking to my desk.
I think she has a thing for extremely tight clothes but who can blame her? She has quite an enviable figure. The short black belted dress ending miles above her knees makes her look more like a glamour model than a company executive.
“Can I sit down?”
Tokunbo spends some time getting comfortable in one of the chairs opposite me. I wait for her, my pen tapping lightly on the table. One slim leg crosses over the other and begins to jiggle.
“My secretary brought back the papers you signed.”
I give a casual smile and nod. “Okay.”
Tokunbo pauses and holds my eyes for a few seconds. “I don’t know if this is the right time to do this, considering….”
Tokunbo manages an apologetic look, “considering the fact that we will be traveling to the U.K in a few days.”
I give a shrug I hope conveys my nonchalance over her impending business trip with Richard. Since the night he asked me to move to his room, I have refused to ask him about the trip with Tokunbo. I am reluctant to bring up the subject again. I don’t care how much my reflection complains in the mirror.
“You have every reason to be suspicious…” Tokunbo begins and then hastily adds, “After what you saw in Richard’s office some days back.”
“But the thing is, Richard and I are just close friends,” Tokunbo stops and looks in the direction of the window, “really close friends.”
“So…you are not upset or anything?”
I don’t have to read Tokunbo’s mind to know that she is disappointed by my answer. The evidence is on her face.
“I am happy you don’t feel bad about the whole thing.”
I keep my face straight and say, “I know you are doing this for work.”
Tokunbo nods and stands up from her seat. “Thank you.”
As soon as Tokunbo leaves the office, I go back to looking sightlessly at the computer screen and worrying about the clothes on my bed and the suitcases packed at the foot of it. Tonight I am moving back to Richard’s room.
Chika and I wait for the waiter to leave the table before we resume the conversation he interrupted.
“So it was completely unexpected.”
We are discussing the recent change in behaviour of Chika’s husband. According to Chika, he has been returning back home more than ever.
“I am still surprised,” Chika tells me, slipping off her sunglasses and sipping from her glass of fruit juice. She drops the glass back to the cotton coaster seconds later. “I don’t want to get my hopes raised yet.”
I reach for Chika’s hand on the table and pat it. “Don’t worry too much about it.”
“Hi guys,” a voice says and I look up to see Chika’s friend, Sarah in a knee length silk shift dress and a wild curly Afro that makes her look almost unrecognizable. It was just fifteen minutes ago that Chika had received a call from her. The meeting at the estate’s most popular restaurant was her idea.
We compliment Sarah on her looks as another waiter hurries over and takes her order of a plastic bottle of water.
“My doctor says to lay off the sugar for a while,” she tells us, breaking the seal of the bottled water moments later when the waiter returns with it.
Sarah has a large paper bag with her and mid way into nodding her head to Chika’s story she announces that the paper bag contains a collection of lingerie she bought on her last trip outside the country. She says they are for sale and that she is trying to test the waters to see how popular they are before venturing into a full scale lingerie business. Chika reaches out for the bag that Sarah holds out to her. After pulling out a satin chemise with strips of lace running through the middle and holding it above the table, she hurriedly shoves it back, a look of embarrassment on her face.
“Sarah,” Chika says, the smile on her face softening the note of reproach in her voice. “Those things are not meant for women like us.”
Sarah looks at Chika as if she has just sprouted another head. “Women like us?”
“Yes,” Chika says, looking around to confirm whether the occupants of the tables around of us have gone back to minding their business. “You know…” she lowers her head and says in a low voice, “wives.”
“Nonsense,” Sarah declares with a shake of her head. “Who says?”
Chika begins to giggle as Sarah pulls another chemise from the bag, this time under the table. Chika studies it, laughs and passes it to me. This one is even worse. Lace, lace and more lace.
“This is as good as going naked,” I tell Sarah with a bemused smile.
“Look, I have found out that these things have their uses,”Sarah tells me with a serious look. “Men are visual….never forget that.”
“You found out they have their uses?”
Sarah nods at Chika and says, “Yes, but I will get to that later.”
A hundred excuses later, Sarah corners us by saying she has decided to give the exotic pieces of nightwear to us as gifts.
I am still shaking my head at my gift when Chika reminds Sarah about the discussion she put on hold, “so you were talking about finding out how useful lingerie can be.”
Sarah nods and begins her story. “Just last week, I found that apart from the problem of my husband’s relative calling him for money, there was another problem.”
The problem turns out to be a mistress that Sarah discovers while picking up her husband’s phone.
“The number was stored as engineer Engee, so I thought it was a man…”
Engineer Engee turned out to be a woman whose opening lines were ‘darling, when are you coming?’
“You know the first thing I wanted to do was rush into the bathroom where he was and scream my head off….” Sarah stops and shakes her head. “But for some reason, I was able to restrain myself.”
“What did you tell him about the call?”
“I just told him that the phone rang but the caller did not say anything…” Sarah says, answering my question. “You should have seen the relief on his face.”
Sarah tells us about deliberately delaying her return home after working hours to raise her husband’s suspicions about a possible affair.
“Once I knew he was worked up, I began to wear nice lingerie to bed.”
“I am sure he thought you were really seeing someone.”
Sarah laughs, agreeing with Chika. “He did not understand the hair, the lingerie or the new attitude.”
“So how did it help you?”
“Well,” Sarah says with a slow smile. “He comes home earlier than usual…sometimes he picks me up from work. It is almost as if he hopes to catch me with my phantom lover.”
I am smiling at Chika when Shadda appears beside her.
“Hello love,” Shadda says, eyes on Sarah. “Your friend, here,” Shadda stops to look at me in concern. “She is in danger of dark forces.”
Why? Did she do anything to call them up?
Shadda makes a face and shakes her head. “Her husband’s mistress…has grown a little ambitious. By this time next week, she will go to a practitioner of the dark arts to call malevolent spirits on her.”
Today is Tuesday and it is already evening.
Next week Tuesday?
At Shadda’s nod, I ask, What can be done?
“You know what to do,” Shadda says, moving to my side and placing her hand on my shoulder. Now Sarah is laughing about a more loving husband and all I can feel is dread.
I don’t want the whole neighbourhood knowing about my powers.
“Who says anything about telling the neighbourhood,” Shadda asks, removing her hand from my shoulder and bending to study my glass of coke.
The tiny bubbles on top seem to interest her, but that is normal with Shadda. She is intrigued by the senses of smell, taste and touch, and does her best to study the things humans use to satisfy those senses.
So what am I supposed to do?
“Tell her about the circle of light.”
Shadda gives my shoulder one more pat and disappears. Just then Chika is looking at her black leather wristwatch with a silver round face.
“It has gotten pretty late.”
We pay for the drinks and tip the waiter before leaving. As we walk Sandra back to her car, I ask Chika when the next prayer meeting is and she tells me it will holding in a few days time. I will tell Sandra about the circle of light then. Maybe this is the reason my path crossed with Chika, that evening, two weeks ago.
Richard is sitting on his recliner and pointing to the television, remote control in hand when I get home. He stops flipping stations to look at me.
“Went out for a walk?”
He picks his phone from the arm of the recliner and looks at it. “It is almost eight.”
“I lost track of time.”
Richard nods as if considering my words, and then he notices the small paper bag in my hand.
I tell Richard that I am going upstairs to check on the baby and he nods again. Toju is fast asleep in his cot when I enter the room. I stand beside the cot for some minutes and watch him sleep. I am tempted to carry him to bed. I don’t want to be the only one sleeping beside Richard tonight. When my feet begin to ache, I leave the nursery, but not before checking to see that all the window latches are locked.
I look at my reflection and shake my head. She is holding her hand over her head and standing with her back slightly arched. Her lashes are lowered and there is a smile on her face.
“I should take it off,” I tell her, looking down at my new lace chemise. My reflection disagrees with me with a shake of her head.
“You don’t want to start sorting through all those night dresses you brought from the other room.”
I think she has a point. My nightdresses are in one of the compartments of the chest of drawers in Richard’s dressing room and I am too tired to go sorting through them for the most decent night dress I can find.
“His bathroom is bigger,” my reflection says, moving around the tiled big bathroom with an L-shaped vanity and corner shower. She steps out of my view and I can’t help looking around the bathroom myself. I admire for the second time, the ceiling to floor mirror where a ceramic topped cabinet with a sink and a shinning silver faucet sit underneath, the crown moulding at the top of the mirror which is the same height with moulding on the top of the shower stall.
I turn backwards and stare at the bathtub beside the shower stall. The solid wood at the sides of the bathtub is the same design with that of the sink cabinet. The recessed lights give the white walls a somewhat bluish tint. There is a toilet with a bidet sitting next to the door. Solid iron bars where three fluffy towels hang add more to the mix of dark and light that characterizes Richard’s bathroom.
My reflection steps back into my view and smiles at me. “I think I am going to like it here.”
I nod at her, before looking down at myself again.
“He is still in his study,” my reflection says, giving me an encouraging smile. “You can go back to the room and stay under the covers before he turns…morning is just around the corner.”
I think hiding under covers is the only option I have. The bed is soft and inviting when I slip into it. I pull the covers over my body and tuck them under me until I am swaddled like a new born infant. At least I will know when the covers are pulled away from me.
I wake up sometime in the middle of the night to find Richard in the room. He is sitting on the gray upholstered sofa in the corner of the room, his leg on a cushioned foot stool, and his laptop on his knees.
I try to stay still but he must have seen me coming awake because he stops typing to look at me,
I shake my head, feeling suddenly shy. Richard nods and then goes back to typing. I am turning on my side when I see him close his laptop and throw his legs off the stool. I tense and make a small attempt to push the covers that have shifted open, under my body as Richard walks towards me. I am clutching to the top of the sheets and looking up at him with eyes that convey my uneasiness. Richard has an amused smile on his face when he sits down beside me. He slowly reaches for the covers in my hands and pries them lose with gentle fingers.
“I don’t think I have seen this one,” he tells me, looking at my chemise.
I nod wordlessly. Richard looks at me for some minutes and stands up from the bed. I watch him walk to the other side of the bed and lower himself to it.
“You are uncomfortable around me.”
I open my mouth to deny Richard’s words but his right eyebrow is raised at me as if he knows it will be a weak denial.
“There is no need to be,” Richard says, throwing his right arm over his eyes.
I look up at the glare of the florescent light above me. “Can we sleep without that?”
Richard takes his arm away from his eyes and squints at the light.
“Fine,” he says with a nod, his hand disappearing behind him. Darkness covers us a few seconds later and I give a quiet sigh of relief, feeling less exposed in my dress. Richard lowers himself from the head of the bed and turns away from me. I do the same and spend time staring at the cream and orange drapes on the window until I fall asleep again.
The next time I wake up, daylight is stealing through the window drapes and I am facing Richard’s bare back. I watch the rise and fall of his body for a while and guess that he is sound asleep. I breathe in deeply and then reach out my hand until my fingers settle lightly on his back. No reaction. I pull my hand back and fold my arms under my breasts, my eyes still trained on his back. I try to read his mind and when nothing comes out of it, I sigh and stretch. Midway into my stretching, Richard moves on the bed and I drop my arms quickly.
The sounds coming from his mind means he is slowly coming awake. I watch it happen even though I really want to turn away from him. Richard’s back flexes slowly as he turns to his side and faces me. He rubs his hands against his face with a low groan and then opens his eyes. For a moment, I see surprise registered in the depth of his eyes. I know why. Like me, he is trying to get used to waking up with someone in his bed. The surprise soon gives way to a half smile. I feel an uncomfortable fluttering in my stomach at the sight of that smile.
“Cold?” He asks, looking at the air conditioner beside the window.
“No,” I tell him when he looks back at me.
Richard nods and then moves to cover the distance between us. I do not resist when he pulls me into a cuddle. At first my hand is pressed against his chest and then he gives me enough room to slip them over his back. When I get comfortable, Richard sighs and begins to stroke my back in a rather reassuring way. When minutes pass and nothing happens, I decide that Richard does not have any ulterior motive. I try conversation.
“Have you packed yet?”
Richard’s hands stop moving and he pulls back to look down at me. “Packed?”
Richard’s face disappears above my head as he goes back to his stroking.
I wait for a response and just when I think it is not coming, Richard says,
“I have put a hold to the trip for now.”
I should not feel relieved but for some reason I do. I want to ask about Tokunbo. I struggle with myself.
Don’t do it!
He will think you care!
And you don’t?
I close my eyes and go with the second voice, “so your ex?”
The stroking slows down. “What about her?”
“Are you…taking the trip with her eventually?”
Richard stops his stroking completely and reaches to pull down the sheets from my body. Not the answer I was expecting. One knee nudges my legs apart as he settles between them.
“I like your dress,” he says, looking down at me with a flirty smile.
I wonder why he changed the topic. I want to read his mind but the movement of his hands all over my body is rather distracting. He takes his time, trailing kisses all over my body, but somewhere along the line things get a little heated, and deep inside I know that this person twisting under Richard is not me. I know that her moans don’t belong to me. The straddling and the throwing back of her head while hands stroke her chest and the restless moving all over the bed does not belong to me. I don’t know how long it continues but when the room stops spinning, Richard looks at me with a baffled expression and says,
“These days, I feel like I am with a different person when this happens.”
I look away from his eyes, feeling self conscious. Richard is right. This is not my usual behaviour. I think I have been listening to my reflection too much these days. I make up my mind to stop the conversations with her. While I am still thinking about this, I feel Richard’s lips at my exposed neck and turn to him.
“I think I should get ready for work.”
Richard shakes his head and moves to lie on his back, pulling me gently with him.
“It’s fine,” Richard says with a smile. “I am not going to sack you.”
I can’t help the smile I give him but my lips settle back into a prim line when he studies me for some minutes.
“About your question…”
I wait for his answer. I know we are back to Tokunbo.
“We will not be the only ones going together in the next trip.”
I give an automatic nod. “Okay.”
“And we will not be staying in interconnecting rooms.”
I watch him pick up my hand from the bed and lace his fingers through my fingers.
“I only learned about the rooms a few days ago.”
“Are you upset?”
I shake my head.
“Good,” Richard says with a nod. “It is all work for me.”
We stay preoccupied with our thoughts for some time until Richard breaks the silence with a call to his secretary. I watch him give instructions, and when the call ends, he looks down at me thoughtfully.
“Last night, I had a funny dream.”
Richard tells me about the dream. He says in the dream, he is young again.
“At least ten years old.”
He talks about finding himself sitting on the steps of his childhood home with a tall man.
“In the dream, the man is so tall I feel like I am looking up to the sky every time I look at him.”
Richard continues to tell me how he thinks the man was saying something about me. I ask him what the man said and he shakes his head.
“These days, I don’t remember the dreams well enough…I have been seeing this man since I was a young boy.”
A cloud falls over his face as his eyes grow distant with memories. I enter his mind and hear,
I pull away from Richard’s arms and tell him I need to use the shower. As soon as I enter the bathroom, I see Shadda sitting on the covered toilet seat with eyes closed. She opens them and gives me a smile the moment I close the door.
“Was it you?” I ask Shadda, leaning on the door.
“Well, what do you think?” Shadda says, standing up and walking to the mirror.
I remember Shadda walking beside Richard the first time I saw him. I also remember the tenderness in her eyes when she talks about Richard. It all makes sense now.
“It was you!”
Shadda shrugs and picks a bottle of aftershave and stares at it.
“And you were a man!”
Shadda returns the bottle to the counter top and rolls her eyes at me. “I told you guides change, Tamisho.”
I am nodding at Shadda and then I notice that my reflection is giving one of her annoying smiles. I turn and gasp at her in surprise.
“I did not release you.”
“I did,” Shadda says, smiling and waving at my reflection.
My reflection blows Shadda a kiss and scowls at me.
“She is cute, eh?”
I scowl back at my reflection. “No, she is not…She is trouble.”
“You should listen to her more.”
“I have decided not to,” I tell Shadda, sounding like a petulant child while my reflection looks on in amusement.
“She is boring.”
“I am not,” I tell my reflection in a curt tone, and then turn to Shadda again. “He says, he no longer remembers what you tell him.”
“I told you, he has forgotten how to listen.”
Shadda looks at the door and turns to render my reflection powerless, but not before giving her a warm smile.
“See you children later,” Shadda tells me with a wink and I am alone in the bathroom again. I am pulling out my toothbrush from the holder I brought from my room when Richard walks into the bathroom.
“I was thinking,” he says, coming to stand beside me. “Apart from the cleansing rituals…do you have any extra powers?”
I look at him in surprise. Does he know?
It is a difficult five seconds but I am able to give Richard a convincing shake of head.
Richard smiles at me but his eyes tell me he does not believe me. Finally, he shrugs and picks his own toothbrush from a blue toothbrush holder. I move my toothbrush slowly in my mouth, watching him squeeze toothpaste from the tube I hand over to him. Richard goes about his business in a brisk manner and soon he bends down to rinse his mouth while I play with the toothbrush in my mouth. He smiles and shakes his head at me.
“I am not used to this too.”
I nod wordlessly at him and bend to rinse my mouth with the water rushing out of the open tap. When I raise my head, I find him in black boxer shorts.
“Want to share the shower?”
I smile at the teasing look in his eyes and turn away to the door. “I will just wait for you.”
Richard is chuckling to himself when I leave the bathroom. I walk to the bed, sit at the edge of it and think,
I think I have fallen for him.
– To be continued…
Umari Ayim is the author of ‘Twilight at Terracotta Indigo’ and ‘Inside my Head’ both winners of the 2011 ANA NDDC Flora Nwapa prize and 2012 Poetry prize respectively.
Umari blogs at www.umariayim.com and tweets from @umariayim