by Umari Ayim
– Read Episode 1 of the compelling story HERE.
– Read Episode 2 of the compelling story HERE.
Visiting Chika, Conversation With Richard And The Collision
The account books…have to sack the auditor. There were gaps in company account….must explain. I shake my head to stop Richard’s thoughts from reaching me and I manage to succeed. “These things are ridiculous,” Shadda says from the other end of the bed, twisting her ankles around as she looks down on the purple suede high heeled pumps on her feet. I look up from the baby who is holding my middle finger in a surprisingly firm grip to Shadda.
“I think they look nice on you.”
Shadda makes a face and throws her feet to the floor. When she draws to her height, her head is almost touching the ceiling. She shakes her head and returns back to her normal height.
“Ridiculous things,” she tells me, walking over to my side of the bed to show me her latest footwear. A pair of black fold up ballet flats. “These are more comfortable.”
I laugh and look down at the baby again. His mouth is opened in a small O, and he is observing me with interest.
“Make a face at him,” Shadda says, leaning over my shoulder. I obey her and I am rewarded with a wide toothless grin. I think I am beginning to get used to him. This morning while feeding him, I even managed to call his name for the first time. Toju. I know this is the shorter form of his name, but I will leave Toritseju for his father and grandparents. That way, I can claim this child as my own. I pull away my finger from Toju’s grasp as gently as I can and turn to Shadda. “So what do you think about Chika?”
“She is trying to lose weight,” Shadda says with a smile.
“You know what I mean.”
Shaddda gives a shrug and walks to the foot of the bed. “I don’t.”
“Tell me about her.”
“There is nothing to tell Tamisho,” Shadda says, now preoccupied with the curtains on the window. I watch her trail long fingers over the fabric of the curtains with a distant look. I wish I could read Shadda’s mind.
“Read my mind?” Shadda says, turning to me with a laugh. “That kind of power is not given to mortals.”
I smile at Shadda and go back to the topic of Chika. “I am going to her house in a few hours, I want to be prepared.”
“Just be yourself.”
“I want to know how it will turn out.”
Shadda gives me a dismissive wave. “It will be fine. There is nothing to get worked up over.”
I want to ask more questions, but there is something about the way Shadda holds her shoulders as she goes back to examining the curtains. I have a feeling that she is not going to budge. There are things Shadda will not share.
I close the door and step into the dimly lit passage where the only source of light is the one streaming from the open door of Richard’s office. I pick my steps slowly and hope to slip past without being noticed. There are doors on each side of the wall. Six doors in all. The two doors beside my room open to a guest room and the small library where I spend most of my time. The baby’s nursery is the first door on the opposite side of the wall. My eyes trained on the door to Richard’s study which is beside the nursery, I begin to walk on silent feet. A casual glance at the nursery makes me quicken my steps till I hurry past. I stop and lean on the wall beside the nursery to confirm that the figure I saw standing beside the baby’s cot was not my eyes playing tricks on me.
Richard is standing over the cot, left hand in the pocket of his casual jogging pants and the other holding a mug he raises to his lips every now and then. I try to pry into his mind. Nothing. I think this is strange, especially as I heard his thoughts earlier today. I resolve to ask Shadda the reason for this later. I resume my trip to the door of the living room, looking over my shoulder as I go. I want to avoid Richard as much as I can.
Chika’s house is a five bedroom duplex with a spacious living room with cream walls and six circular sofas that match the walls, a block shaped coffee table with a blue striped fabric. I am sitting on one of the sofas where throw pillows of different colours are scattered. Chika is chattering away at the window where she is busy trying to pull her crimson red curtains from brass curtain holders at each side of the window. When the curtains are free, she pulls them shut.
“….the first thing I thought was how different Lagos was from Enugu,” Chika says, walking to sit across me. She crosses her ankles and smoothes down her short skirt made from Ankara. The bold red prints complement her red lipstick. I think she looks a lot prettier this evening.
“What do you expect?” Shadda says, appearing on the sofa beside me. “She was jogging when you met her.”
I do my best to keep my eyes on Chika who is saying, “It was really difficult trying to adjust to Lagos
“I know how it feels,” I tell Chika with a smile. “It was hard for me too.”
“You are new in Lagos too?”
I nod. “I moved here last year.”
“Where was home?”
I think of that small quiet town where I spent my growing years, “Ogoja.”
Chika tells me she knows the town and how a close relative has lived there all his life. We pause somewhere along the line, and I use the opportunity to look around for Shadda. The chair beside me is empty. I turn one more time and find her squatting beside Chika. She stands up slowly and appears to be looking at the sofa next to Chika.
What are you doing? I ask Shadda in my mind Shadda turns to look at me. “I am communicating with her guide.”
She has a guide?
“Tamisho, a guide is assigned to every mortal.”
Why can’t I see her guide?
“Because you can’t,” Shadda says with a sigh. “Not all mortals can see their guides or those of others. I was ordered to make myself known to you for a reason.”
What reas –
“Will you like me to refill that glass for you?” Chika says, standing and pointing to the empty glass sitting on the coaster on her coffee table. I tell Chika I am fine and she returns the glass to her kitchen, Shadda walking beside her. When she returns, she is alone. Shadda is nowhere in sight. We begin a conversation about home decorating and then move on to friends. Chika tells me about a prayer group she hosts in her house every Friday.
“We just meet to talk husbands and pray for our families, you know,” Chika says with a small laugh. “It is one of those times where you feel a lot better after sharing your problems.”
In that moment, I realize that I am sitting before a woman burdened with problems. Her thoughts are a mixture of several voices and most of them are about her husband. I want to ask questions but I know better than to rush things. There will be other days.
“I should be leaving soon,” I tell her, pushing to the edge of my seat.
Chika looks disappointed but she walks me to the door. I feel sad for her as I leave. I know she will be alone till after midnight before her husband returns, if he decides to return at all. I heard all of this from her mind.
The man is smallish with a folder tucked in his under arm. He is hurrying to a light gray Toyota Camry parked outside the compound when our eyes meet.
“Good evening,” he says, bowing slightly before pointing at the Camry with the key in his hand.
I return the man’s greetings with a smile and get ready to knock on the gate the security man is just about to close when I hear the man say, I don’t think he will call the police on us.
I turn back to ask the man if he is talking to me and see him sliding behind the wheels of his car. I realize that the words are coming from his mind. He is just bluffing……have nothing to fear anyway. It will not be traced to me. The man gives me a polite but curious smile when he sees me staring at him. I flash an apologetic smile and hurry away. I think I just ran into one of Richard’s employees. Could this be the auditor?
I nod at what Shadda has just told me, understanding the man’s dialogue better. Richard is the one the man is referring to. I think Richard is having some problems in his company. I wonder if I can help but I know it will be weird talking to Richard about something he never discussed with me in the first place.
When I enter the living room, Richard is sitting in his favourite sofa, a black leather recliner with raised foot rest. He is holding his favourite silver pen over the note pad on his lap while talking on the phone.
“Sure, I will call you…”
And then he laughs in that soft husky manner men do when they talk to women they like. I begin to walk past him but he holds up the hand with the pen, still on the phone.
The phone sitting on the jotter now, Richard gives me a long thoughtful look.
“So, enjoyed your walk?”
I nod curtly. “Yes.”
“I did not know when you left the house.”
I shrug and look away to the television on the wall. It is black and silent. Almost like Richard’s mind because I can’t hear him think. Second time today. When the silence drags on, I look back at Richard. He is still watching me with that thoughtful look.
Richard slowly reaches for the buttons on the right arm of his recliner. I lean on the back of the sofa close to me, fold my hands under my breast and watch as the lowered back rest of the recliner pushes Richard forward and the leg rest lowers and folds back into itself.
“I am thinking of hiring a nanny.”
I think about Richard’s words for all but ten seconds and then shrug. “Okay.”
“How do you like the idea of starting work next month?”
This time I spend more than five minutes on Richard’s question.
“Where will I work?”
Richard stands up from the recliner and begins to walk to the gilded staircase directly opposite my position behind the sofa.
“We will think about that.”
The note pad clasped to his side, I watch Richard jog up the staircase, and think, why is he suddenly interested in what I do with myself?
I am wary when I march up the staircase and into the mint green carpeted hallway. I check on the baby and see that he is asleep on his stomach in his cot. Shadda is sitting on the chair beside the window, head thrown back and humming a lullaby that forces a yawn out of me. I say nothing to her. She ignores me and continues to hum.
I hold up the three night dresses for my reflection to admire. They are among the gifts Richard brought from his last trip to London.
My reflection makes a face and dumps the night dresses on the counter top of her own sink before picking through them.
“This one,” she says, holding the white cotton one that is my preferred choice, “is so ugly, I would feel like a granny in it.”
I laugh and pull the night dress she just condemned over my head. It is quite tight but I am determined to squeeze into it.
“I am sure Richard thought of you when he bought that,” my reflection says with a sneer, pulling out the short black lacy night dress that is so sheer, it leaves little to the imagination from the heap on the counter top, “and thought of a hot tempting seductress when he bought this.” I watch my reflection try on the black night dress at the other side of the mirror. I open my mouth at how perfectly the dress molds her figure. Her breasts are almost spilling out of the low cut lace trimmed neckline.
“But the cut is so low,” I complain in my own unattractive night gown. “It is almost indecent.”
My reflection laughs and skims a hand down the front of the black night gown. “You should try it. It is silk.”
I nod and proceed to struggle out of the white night dress. I pick the black one from the counter top and stare at it for long seconds.
“Go on,” my reflection urges with a smirk. “It won’t bite.”
With a sigh, I pull the dress over my head and down my body. The fabric is cool and fits perfectly.
“See?” My reflection says, a note of triumph in her voice. “You look like the seductress Richard had in mind.”
I make a face at my reflection and she laughs.
“I think you should let Richard see you in that.”
“No,” I tell my reflection, touching the lace trimmings on the front of the night gown. “He has his girlfriend to wear sexy night dresses for him.”
My reflection shakes her head at me.”You should never have encouraged him.”
“I don’t want him visiting my room anymore.”
“It won’t be long before you start missing those visits.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Fine, I give up.”
I give my reflection a sarcastic smile and say, “thank you.”
My reflection angles her head to the right and says, “I think I hear your phone ringing.”
I dash out of the bathroom without looking back. The only frequent callers of my phone are my sisters, father and my step mother, Amara. It has been a month since I last heard from them. I am shaking with excitement when I begin to ransack the bedroom for my phone, but after a few minutes I sit on the bed, my mind blank. I think I hear Shadda humming somewhere in the room. The last thing I remember saying is, “Shadda, is that you?”….
And then the pillow rises to meet me as I fall back on it.
The shaking is rigorous and almost painful. I snap out of the deep fog of sleep that has claimed me for God knows how long. Shadda’s face is close to mine.
“Wake up! The baby…he is crying.”
“Shadda,” I say with a groan, “please bring him to the room.”
“No,” Shadda says, straightening and shaking her head. “I stopped playing nanny an hour ago. Time for you to play mummy.”
I sigh and stumble out of the room and into the dark hallway, half asleep and with limbs that are still numb from being twisted in the awkward position I slept in. It is when I bump into something hard that I come fully awake.
“Sorry,” I tell Richard, stepping back and dropping my hand from the chest I was just feeling up a few seconds ago. In his pair of very brief boxer shorts, Richard is all male and very interested in my flimsy slip of a night dress. I toy with the idea of holding my hands over my chest but I know how childish it will seem. “The baby,” I tell him simply, turning away into the nursery as he says,
“Yeah, I heard him too.”
I am relieved to hear him retreat to his bedroom and spend the next few minutes feeding the baby and reliving my collision with Richard. My reflection! It is all her fault! When I return to the bathroom after putting the baby to sleep, the mirror is empty. I lean on the sink counter top and peer into the other bathroom.
“Where are you?” I hiss angrily at the mirror.
My reflection moves into my view from the left, head lowered slightly and watching me with hooded eyes, a sly smile on her face.
“My phone was not ringing.”
I shake my head at my reflection, close my eyes and return her to normal but when I look at myself in the mirror one last time before leaving the bathroom, I can’t help seeing her in my eyes, that mocking smile still on her face. That night, I had a dream. I saw Shadda and my reflection together and all they did was laugh.
– 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