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.
Meeting New Friends And The Dream
I smile politely at the four faces looking back at me. I can tell they are nervous with having a new comer in their midst. They all appear to be in their mid thirties with expensive clothes and nice jewelry. I look at their bags. Clutch. Shoulder strap. Sold gold handle. Fine leather. Their shoes match their bags in colour and cost. Their complexions range from dark to medium brown and are caked in expensive foundations.
“Chika, tells me you live down the street,” the one who had earlier introduced herself as Sarah says with a curious smile.
I like this one. All her thoughts center on the right prayer points for today’s meeting, plus she thinks I am pretty too.
“I do,” I tell her with a nod.
“House wife?” The second one says, I am trying to remember her name. Felicia? Rose?
I remember Richard’s suggestion and add, “but I will be starting work soon.”
The one with the lightest complexion and the death grip on the clutch bag on her knees says, “you look quite young.”
I smile and shift in my seat. “Okay.”
“So any kids yet?”
“I have a baby,” I tell clutch bag with a nod.
The questions and observations stop coming and I notice the quiet one of the group. She has hardly spoken a word since I walked into the house. She has a long face with round lips that remain slightly parted. She is wearing short red skirt with matching jacket and a cream camisole. At the moment she is playing with the red beads on her neck and thinking about me.
This new lady. I wonder why Chika invited her. Those shoes…are they original? They look like a knock off of the one I bought at Harvey Nichols the last time I travelled out.
I am about to give her a smile when Chika returns to the living room with a silver tray where slices of cake sit on round white saucers.
“Sorry guys,” Chika says a little breathlessly, lowering the tray to the coffee table and passing the saucers around. “I was on the phone with my husband.”
With the familiarity that comes with old friendships, Sarah, Felicia or Rose, clutch bag and the one in red suit thinking about me make small talk about Chika’s husband. I treat myself to my cake and wait patiently for the chatter to end, but red suit is still appraising me.
Her blouse looks expensive. Might not be so poor after all. I will ask Chika later.
I sigh and turn to Chika as she begins addressing the room.
“We all know why we came here today…” Chika pauses and looks at all of us. When our eyes meet, she gives me a smile. “Before we begin, I will like us to welcome the newest member of this group, Tamishoo.”
“Ta-mi-sho,” I correct Chika who gives me an embarrassed laugh.
“Oh dear, please forgive me. I tend to forget easily.”
I smile at Chika and turn to her friends. “You can call me Tami.”
Sarah is first to welcome me. The others follow with a lot of friendly gestures. Felicia or Rose gives me a short wave and smile. Clutch bag pauses in between nibbling at her cake to raise friendly brows at me. Red suit smiles wanly and wonders what brand of foundation I use.
After that, the meeting begins and the women all have something to say. I listen in fascination at the experiences of these women. Sarah believes someone in her husband’s family is controlling him through voodoo.
“As soon as a business deal comes through, he just calls my husband and says, brother I need five million.”
“Hmmmm,” the women say together. Unwilling to be left behind, I make a low ‘hmmm’ even though I am two seconds late.
“And then my husband says, okay, send me your account number.”
“And you know why I am so convinced that this is nothing but spiritual remote control?”
“Why?” Chika asks, setting her empty saucer back on the silver tray.
“He always calls at the stroke of midnight.”
“Definitely has a spiritual angle,” Chika says thoughtfully. “I think you should start midnight prayers.”
Felicia or Rose is next. Her husband is an unrepentant patron of Victoria Island’s many clubs.
“I am talking about a forty two year old man here,” Felicia or Rose says with a frown. “I keep telling him that he is setting a very bad example for our two teenage sons.”
Clutch bag’s story is almost pathetic. Her husband is a serial womanizer. A very brazen one at that. I listen to her, feeling a deep sympathy for her.
“Just last week, I caught him with his secretary.”
“Oh God!l” Chika says, one hand on her cheek. “I am so sorry Bidemi.”
So, clutch bag is Bidemi. I store the name carefully in the compartment of my mind where her clutch bag is and listen to her as she relays more horrifying stories. Strange calls from women who threaten her life. Her husband’s affair with her cousin. A receipt for a car purchased for a mistress.
“The worst part is the fights,” Bidemi says, shaking her head. “Sometimes we go weeks without talking to each other.”
Bidemi talks about a divorce but Chika asks her to consider her children. Two little girls who adore their father.
“They are too young to understand your pain, and may never forgive you for separating them from their father.”
Bidemi shrugs, and I know she is still considering the divorce. I heard her last thought,
I can’t continue this way. Chika does not understand.
Red suit is next.
“We sleep in different rooms.”
I am biting off a part of my cake and wondering how that is a problem when Chika shakes her head.
“Ajumai, I told you to move back to his room.”
“I can’t stand his snoring,” Ajumai says with a shudder. “It is like a train is driving up and down the room.”
There is contained laughter from the other women but Chika does not share in it. She is still frowning sternly at Ajumai.
“That man loves and takes care of you,” Chika stops and folds her hands on her laps. “We are supposed to be in the same boat but you don’t know how good you have it.”
I search her mind for the meaning of Chika’s words and the only thing that props up is, ‘baby.’
Everything soon becomes clear when Chika begins her story. After rounding up her NYSC programme, Chika met and fell in love with Paul, an engineer who worked in her uncle’s company in Enugu where she had gone to apply for work.
“He was the most caring person I had ever been with,” Chika says with a nostalgic smile on her face. “A perfect gentleman.”
A few months after they met, Chika and Paul tied the knot before an excited crowd of family and friends who expected that a baby dedication ceremony would hold in no time. They were wrong. It took five agonizing years for it to dawn on Chika that she needed more than just olive oil blessed by pastors to conceive.
“After the sixth year, Paul changed,” Chika said with a long drawn out sigh. “He moved down here and started up his company,” a lone tear falls from Chika’s left eye and down her cheek. “For a while, I lost my husband.”
We all wait for Chika to wipe the tear away and she does, resuming her story moments later. I know this story is for me. The others have heard it before because right now Sarah is thinking,
Poor darling. This story always makes me sad.
As for Bidemi and Felicia or Rose, they are both thinking that Chika needs to stop revisiting the past. Ajumai’s mind is buzzing with inconsequential information and I don’t have time to sift through. I focus my attention again on Chika.
“I was a wreck,” A sniff breaks the story before it continues again. “All I did was eat to escape my problems. When that did not help me get better, I turned to God again.”
Chika tells us how she believes prayers influenced her husband’s decision to send for her.
“But we still live like strangers and sometimes he does not return home for days, and if he does, it has to be after midnight.”
I am touched by Chika’s story but I notice the lack of condemnation in her voice as she talks about her husband. She tells us that she has started IVF treatment in one of the clinics on Victoria Island. Bridge Clinic. At this point, Ajumai jumps in and they both compare notes. Like Chika, Ajumai has been experiencing troubles getting pregnant.
When the stories end, Sarah leads us in prayers and then we call it a day. A bond has been formed and I feel drawn to these women more than before. Felicia or Rose is not even offended when I ask for her name again. It turns out her name is actually Patricia. Everyone hugs everyone. They are requests for my number. Ajumai, Bidemi, Chika, Patricia and Sarah. These are my new friends. Somewhere deep inside me, I know that I am in their lives for a purpose. Maybe Shadda knows what it is.
The woman walking towards me in a very short black skirt suit and red medium heel pumps is tall, dark skinned, and with a perfect hour glass figure accentuated by the very clingy fabric of her suit. There is a friendly smile on her face but her thoughts are far from friendly.
So, this is the woman I have to compete with. Ha!
There is a loud chirrup and the white Honda parked outside the gate of the compound comes alive with lights. The woman withdraws the hand that was pointing the car.
“Hi,” she greets just as I begin to walk past her.
I nod at her and give a quiet, “hello.”
The woman enters her car, still thinking about me.
She looks so normal. Not Richard’s type at all. I can’t believe he let Henry talk him into giving her a job.
I am distracted from the woman’s thoughts by the security man that greets me as at the gate, but just before she drives away, I hear her think,
I have to insist on that business trip. I must win my man back.
I toss and turn on the bed and pray for sleep to come but the voices in my head are not relenting.
Win my man back! Not Richard’s type! Win my man back! Not Richard’s type!
I sit up and close my eyes, willing the voices away.
“I don’t care what his type is, please let me sleep.”
The voices subside after some minutes. I lower myself back to the bed and try to sleep but I am unsettled by what I heard from the mind of the woman at the gate. Who is she? I wait for Shadda to tell me, but it is in vain. There is only silence at the other end. I try to make the deductions myself. She called Richard her man, could she be the girlfriend he spoke about on our wedding night? It makes sense that she is, because that is the only way to explain her thoughts. I wonder about her and Richard. Did she come to the house for business or a love tryst.
Not Richard’s type.
I sit up again and plump the pillows as hard as I can. I tell myself I am not upset and do my best not to let her words haunt me.
I settle back in bed and pull the covers over me. It is not long before I begin to dream. I dreamed of leaving my bed in the middle of the night and stalking off in a fit of righteous indignation to Richard’s bedroom. I saw myself knocking on his door and waiting to be let in, but when the door remained closed, I tried the handle. Finding it unlocked, I walked into the wide spacious room with deep blue rug and a bed twice the size of my own. On the bed, Richard was sitting up, and reaching for the switch beside him. When the light came on, there was a look of confusion on his face.
Undaunted, I moved smoothly to his bed and slipped under the covers beside Richard who remained half seated, watching me with wariness while I slithered against him. I ran my fingers down his chest. Daring him. Feeling reckless, I lowered my hand and began to move southward until I touched the band of his boxer shorts.
In another part of the dream, I am falling backwards on the bed with Richard leaning over me. In that moment, I am thinking about the woman at the gate and feeling a thrill of satisfaction as Richard gently feels his way inside my nightdress. The sensations are almost real. Skin against Skin. Fingers trailing a flexing back. Lips meeting in a desperate need. Slipping off the bed and finding my way back to the middle of it. The hand that never leaves my waist and the spiraling back to earth when it all ends.
I wake up the next morning, feeling strange about the dream. My body feels weirdly tired when I drag myself to the bathroom. I am surprised to see that my lips are slightly swollen when I stand before the bathroom mirror. My reflection starts to massage her neck the moment I release her.
“I had a funny dream last night,” I tell her, picking up my toothbrush from the holder on the counter top.
“What dream?” My reflection asks, leaning towards me.
I lower the hand holding the toothbrush to the counter top and try not to be embarrassed by what I am about to say.
“I had a dream that I went to Richard…”
“In the dream, we…were intimate.”
I am surprised when my reflection throws back her head and laughs. When she stops, she leans towards me again.
“Look at me closely,” she says, touching her lips gently. “Does this look like something I got from falling off the roof?”
My stomach flips as I watch my reflection closely and think, oh my God.
“That’s right,” my reflection says with a nod. “That was no dream Tamisho. You went to Richard’s room and practically seduced him.”
“Oh God,” I groan, lowering my head to the counter top. “I can’t believe I did that.”
A tap at the other side of the mirror makes me look up to see my reflection looking into my eyes.
“It is okay,” she whispers with a devilish grin. “He is your husband.”
I shake my head and pick up the toothpaste beside the toothbrush holder.
“I am sure the person who went to Richard’s room was not me.”
“Of course,” my reflection says with a nod. “You are too timid and reserved. That was me.”
I wave a toothpaste filled toothbrush in front of her face. “You are not me either.”
I nod at my reflection, moving the toothbrush in my mouth.
“So whose reflection am I?”
I spit out the toothpaste from my mouth and shrug.
“You are just not me.”
My reflection snorts and goes to her shower stall like me. Fifteen minutes later when we are both through with the shower, I am wrapped in my towel and she is lounging on her counter top with nothing on.
“I still think that was a dream. I don’t care what you think.”
My reflection is rolling her eyes at me when someone knocks on the bathroom door.
“Quick, get your towel,” I whisper frantically at her. The door pushes open before I can check if she obeyed me.
“Hi,” Richard says, looking suave in white button down shirt, black pants and black shoes shined to perfection.
I hold up my head, trying not to remember the dream.
“About last night..”
No! I can’t believe my reflection was right. It was not a dream.
My voice is surprisingly cool when I ask him,
“What about it?”
“I didn’t expect that,” Richard says, a line appearing between his brows. “It was unlike you.”
We stare at each other for a while and then Richard surprises me with a small smile. It is not too obvious but this is the first time he has ever smiled at me. Never mind the hint of curiosity in it. I am thinking of the best way to respond to that smile when Richard produces an envelop.
There is a letter of employment in the envelop. I read through the formal letter, too wound up to make sense from it. The only thing I understand is, I am being offered a job.
“You resume next week.”
I nod and Richard turns to study the bathroom. I use the opportunity to check on my reflection. I am horrified to find her standing beside Richard, her nose buried deep into his neck. I motion wildly at her to step away from him and she gives me a lazy smile. I drop my hands just as Richard turns to me.
“Is everything working fine?”
“Yes,” I tell him tersely, sending a prayer to God to keep Richard from looking into the mirror. My prayers go unanswered because just then Richard turns to the mirror. My heart in my mouth, I turn with him.
My reflection is in the same white towel I am wearing and standing behind Richard like me, her eyes open in fright just the way mine are. When I sigh in relief, she sighs in relief. I make a face at her just before Richard turns away and she copies me perfectly.
“So, I guess we will see later then.”
I freeze in shock when Richard bends towards me, his lips grazing my cheek lightly. He pulls away, looking just as surprised as I am by his action.
“See you,” he says one more time and leaves the bathroom. I am still staring at the door when my reflection says,
“God, he smells divine!”
I look at her and blink away her powers of independence, and then leave the bathroom, my employment letter in a limp right hand. Shadda is sitting on my bed and flipping through a book. I sit beside her.
“Good morning,” she says, still flipping pages.
I look at Shadda to see if she knows but her head is down so I can’t tell.
“Last night….I went to Richard’s room.”
“Hmmmm,” Shadda says, the page flipping continuing.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Do you see everything I do?”
“You know…watch Richard and me…at night.”
The book falls from Shadda’s lap as she dumps it and stands up with a yawn.
“I have better things to do than watch two mortals mate.”
I am relieved by Shadda’s words but I have one more question for my guide.
“But what about God?”
“God is omnipresent…”
Shadda looks offended on God’s behalf. “Just because he is does not make him a peeping Tom.”
I laugh at the expression on Shadda’s face. “Okay.”
Shadda looks at the gold wristwatch on her hand.
“Okay, time to go worship,” she says, flashing me a thumbs up sign and walking through the window. According to Shadda, all guides worship God at certain hours of the day. I look at the timer beside my bed. Twelve noon.
I lift up the letter in my hand and decide to read it again.
….Would like to offer you employment in our prestigious firm as an assistant manager…resume on 13th November 2012….offer a monthly salary of N500,000.
I fold the letter and put it back in the envelop. I am nervous. It is one thing to live with Richard in the house and another to work with him, especially with his ex girlfriend nearby. I am not looking forward to my first day at work.
– 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