Prose: The restaurant conversation

by Uche Peter Umez

‘Men are all the same…’

I glance across at the woman who has just blurted out that statement. Her face is clenched like a fist; sharing her table is another woman, who is quite well blessed around the chest with a rotund bust. Only an empty table separates us. There are other nibblers scattered here and there.

‘Imagine what the stupid man told me,’ Clenched Fist goes on.

‘What did he say?’ Rotund Bust asks.

I check my time. What the hell is keeping Anwulika?

‘Trust me; I lashed him with my tongue.’ Clenched Fist sounds like she’s been ditched.

The chicken burger on her plate is untouched, her serviette still folded, the bottled Mirinda still uncorked. Rotund Bust is munching undisturbed. Both are in their mid-thirties: younger than me.

‘But what did he say?’ Rotund Bust probes some more.

I decide to eavesdrop on their conversation to kill time. Then realise I have to get back to the office before my boss finds out that it’s past lunch time. I usually prefer seeing Anwulika in her flat, at sundown. But she’s travelling this afternoon, so we agreed to meet at the restaurant. I flip out my cell phone.

‘Where are you?’ I ask Anwulika.

‘On my way,’ she replies. ‘Is it the one on Ikenegbu–?’

‘No, Okigwe Road .’

Anwulika tries to say something, but I cut her short: ‘Be fast!’ She’s becoming too playful, I think, sliding the phone back in my pocket.

‘…keeps coming late, says he’s working hard to meet a target, but he doesn’t know that I know he keeps a mistress…’ Rotund Bust recounts shakily, clutching her serviette. ‘I don’t understand him anymore.’ Then she adds, ‘You’re lucky.’

Clenched Fist retorts, ‘In what way?’

‘You have children, at least.’

Clenched Fist seems subdued by the statement. There is a silence, hollow and uneasy, which makes me believe that Rotund Bust’s marital expectations remain unfulfilled; she has no child.

Clenched Fist uncaps her bottle of Mirinda, takes a sip. ‘Marriage is not about producing children, that’s what I’ve been trying to make that idiot realise.’

Rotund Bust slumps in her chair. ‘Children are important.’

That moment I recall what my wife said two Sundays ago after church service: Honey, look around; we are blessed. Four kids. So many marriages are in pieces.

‘Are you saying it’s OK for your husband to mess around as long as you have a child and a home he always comes back to?’ Clenched Fist mutters. ‘It’s this kind of desperation that makes men ride us. That’s why the ewu who calls himself my husband has the guts to tell me that I should be thankful because he has given me children! Maybe I should start thinking of life as a single parent.’

‘What are you saying?’ Rotund Bust asks, sitting upright.

‘I’ll tail him to one of those hotels someday and…’ Clenched Fist trails off. A scowl tightens her face as Anwulika struts over to my table, stunning in her miniskirt.

I try to smile as Anwulika says, ‘I’m famished,’ but I don’t, because Clenched Fist is eyeing the wedding bandon my left hand.

Before I can glare at her, Clenched Fist rises from her seat and reaches for her hand bag. ‘Time to pick up the kids,’ she says calmly to Rotund Bust. ‘Meanwhile, if girls of today didn’t go about half naked, maybe our husbands probably wouldn’t be drooling over them like dogs.’

Anwulika eyeballs her, then turns to me, and asks, ‘Chike, what’s that about?’

I shrug.

‘Let’s order,’ I say, wishing I had remembered to tuck my wedding band in my pocket.

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