About that Njang…

A week ago, today, I attended a party. Dear friends of mine graduated from college and hosted one big party to celebrate. First, let me say that it was a great party. A party I’d been looking forward to for months and drove ~ 5 hours to be present for. This party was going to be the highlight of my summer.  The plan was to eat, drink, dance and celebrate as hard as I could. You see, it was not just a graduation party. It was so much more than a celebration of achievement. It was a celebration of resilience, of strength, determination and sheer bad-assery. I mean, two bachelors degrees (in hard core science subjects), one medical school acceptance, and an MHA/MBA, all in the same family, is nothing to sneeze at. From the amount of  pride I felt in my heart you’d think it was me graduating.

There was food. I mean, what self respecting Cameroonian party wouldn’t have enough food to make you reach for Miralax or Peptobismol the day after? And there was booze – with yours truly the bartender. This was a job I fell into quite by accident, but unlimited access to wine? Yes. Yes, please.






I could go on and on about food and booze but what I really want to talk about is the dancing. In this age of internet, hardly a day goes by where you don’t see some dance video of some kind come up on whatever social media you use. I usually watch them because I believe dance is one of the best ways to celebrate being alive.

But I have to say that there is a freedom, a reckless abandon, a joy that us Africans have when we dance, that I have yet to see in any other culture. Call me biased. I see it in South African dances, Rwandan, Congolese, Cameroonian, Nigerian, Mali, Ghana. Everywhere! I see it in traditional dances and their more modern renditions.  It’s in the rhythm, the throbbing beats, deep and soft, that make your muscles instinctively tense and release into movements, that all come together to make one soul shaking groove that any human being would respond to. And respond we do, with smiles on our faces and a light in our eyes that corrupt leaders, hardship and the contempt of the world cannot diminish, because we’re survivors. We have thrived, we thrive and we will always thrive, no matter the circumstances. All I needed to do was look at this family graduating three girls on one day to know, without a shadow of doubt, that we do.  

And did I mention we dance with reckless abandon? Balles à terre!




You don’t even know the half of it.

Well, that night we got turnt. T-urnt. The saka’ah be too trong. 

See, what happened was they got this DJ right? DJ BankE (Click name for info) Hands down the best DJ in MN. They don’t play out there, no ma’am they don’t. I’m still trying to figure out if hiring him was a good or bad  decision, because on one hand… make DJ no ever play man music so again. Seamless transitions, beat on point, he knew exactly what to play and when. It was like he tapped into the brain of everyone in that hall and was like “Baby, I’mma give you what you need.” Dude has me considering starting a plot to lure him out to Chicago…. or moving to MN. Just when you thought your thighs couldn’t take it anymore, he rolled  out a tune that had you apologizing silently to your body. I went from heels to flats and by the end of the night I was barefoot. But on the other hand? Wah mami, them no be warn we. Wah mami them for really warn we because the matter end up worry. Man want die dance. Death by Dance. At the end of the night, we wondered if we needed to call the ambulances. 

I don’t think there was anyone in that hall who didn’t make it to the dance floor at some point. As someone put it, you could tell the age of the crowd on the dance floor by what music was playing. The Naija club bangers got all of us twenty somethings and teens shaking our bum bums like:







But then the oldies brought in the older crowd. Ain’t no one could touch them.



Not even the children were spared. And you know they brought it, because this thing runs in our blood.



Then there was Pinguiss. It was an experience to be lived. It lasts ten minutes and at the end… if you survive,  you knew in your bones that you are gloriously alive. P90X ? Naaaah…. Pinguiss.



The story, however, changed when the Njang started. I’m not even going to try to explain Njang because I could dedicate a whole blog to Njang. It is one of the signature dances of the people of the Cameroonian North West Region. The grassfields as they are colloquially known.  I’m willing to bet over 70% of the people in that hall (me included) were from one part of the grassfields or the other, so when Njang came on , it was clear our time had come. Most seats were empty. The energy, the vibe in the room changed. The joy and pride was tangible. You could reach out and touch it if you wanted. The sight of my friend’s mother leading the room in dance, is one I will remember for the rest of my life. The joy on the woman’s face would last a lifetime of rainy days.


Even the people of other nationalities present understood that this dance was special. The Naija peeps came in like :

No one was messing around, I can assure you. Chai!


Anyway, the next morning, we woke up in real pain. Our legs looking at us like:




But it was a pain we welcomed because we all knew that times like that, when we can celebrate ourselves, our accomplishments, our inherent value, those are the times that make everything else we go through worth it.

Congratulations again, girls. You make us all so, so proud.

Go! #237


The Lunch Date Pt 5

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here


Ignorance is indeed bliss. Iya thought to herself as she lay in the dark, listening to the soft sounds of Max’s breathing next to her. She marveled that she’d spent a year completely unaware of just how estranged from Max she had become, only to have it rubbed into her face at every turn this evening. This was the first evening she and Max had spent greater than an hour in each other’s company, since Lorie had told her about the possibility of Max’s knowledge of her affair. They had spent other evenings together before she found out but she’d never questioned his need to spend time in his study or to be at work, or to leave the house for one reason or another. He was after all a busy surgical fellow. 

This evening had been excruciating, and the pain showed no sign of lessening even now as she lay in bed next to him, his back turned, the space between them wider than the Grand Canyon it seemed. They’d attended a fund raising gala hosted by the Chicago Cameroonian Community, where they had both been honored for outstanding accomplishments. It wasn’t the sort of invitation they could easily have bowed out from, especially considering that they had agreed to have a scholarship set up in their name. The Litumbe Award for Excellence was open to Cameroonian high school students who had been accepted to an accredited four year college in the US or to medical school in Cameroon. The first recipients were to be announced that night. Max had arrived from the hospital at the very last minute and barely had enough time to shower and change. The drive from their Deerfield home out to the city where the gala was being held had been done mostly in silence, with Max focusing his attention on the road. Any attempt to engage him in conversation was met with one line answers and distracted sounds. Before recent revelations, she would have chalked it down to him being distracted by some work puzzle and found something else to occupy herself with. Today, however, she saw his distance for what it really was.  

When they had arrived at the Marriott, he disappeared into the crowd. It was easy to do. Sticking together was hardly a requirement – it could even be regarded as strange…snobbish. Cameroonian functions were like huge family reunions where everybody knew everybody or had gone to school with or grew up in the same town as the mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, niece or nephew of somebody. These occasions were a smorgasbord of culture, an audiovisual delight. Conversations buzzed in English and French, as well as pidgin English and the multiple local languages still spoken in the country. All of this against a backdrop of loud Nigerian pop music, with its throbbing beat, interspersed by the more fluid guitars of the odd hit from the glory days of Cameroonian music. The eyes never tired of taking in the variety of brightly colored outfits present. Some people dressed in traditional garb and others in European formal dress. You could pick out the North-westerners and Westerners from their richly embroidered gowns and the South-westerners from their crisp white shirts paired with loin cloths. There were men in agbadas, dashikis and  western style suits which ranged from the expertly cut to the baggy and ill fitting. Women wore kabas as well as custom made, brightly patterned dresses from Côté Minou, Kibonen and Mesanga Fashion House.  Several women sported the increasingly common gele, a head wrap more native to Yorubas from Nigeria but which had taken West African fashion by storm. Other women, like her, wore European  couture gowns, the wealthier ones having purchased them from Michigan avenue stores. The less wealthy women wore their garb from Ross and Marshalls with just as much glamour. Young girls teetered around, perched perilously on high heels, their Forever 21 dresses bright and short. Older men watched them with lustful eyes while their wives pretended not to notice, throwing dirty looks at the girls as they pranced past. 



Iya had found friends and acquaintances of her own soon enough and there hadn’t been a shortage of people wanting to congratulate her for being featured in Chicago magazine. Things had gotten awkward when Joan had shown up. Joan had made a beeline for her the moment she arrived, pulled Iya aside from the group she was with and asked in a loud pseudo-whisper:

“I hope you didn’t go through with that crazy idea of yours to talk to that woman.

Iya smiled weakly and shook her head no. No use fanning the flames.

“Have you talked to him yet?”  Joan had pressed, her voice dripping condescension. Iya made no response, choosing instead to look over at the crowd of people. She and Joan weren’t particularly close. The only things they had in common were Eposi; Iya’s former classmate and Joan’s cousin and they fact that all three women attended Baptist High School Buea. Joan was one of those women perpetually on the look out for gossip. By all accounts she’d hit the marriage jackpot when she married Molua, a man who had simply wanted a wife to bear him children and spend his money.That left her with ample time to meddle.   The fact that it was Joan who had told her about Max, seemed to have given the other women the impression that they were now best friends. Max had come into sight then, his eyes searching the crowd, looking for her. The MC was calling everyone to take their seats.  Joan once again launched into a session of Max bashing, calling him a fool for cheating on her. Iya had tampered the urge to defend him. That would only raise more questions. He spotted them and walked over, a smile on his face for Joan no doubt. Molua was his friend. He greeted Joan cordially and in response she had hissed at him loudly and walked away. A couple of bystanders had exclaimed softly under their breaths, having witnessed Joan’s rudeness. The exchange was definitely going to set tongues wagging.   He had turned to her for explanations, a question in his eyes and she had looked away, so deep was her mortification. She heard him make a strangled sound in his throat as if holding himself back from speaking. 

They had continued in the uncomfortable silence as they found their seats. The ceremony began with the endless speeches that was typical of Cameroonians. She’d focused all her attention on them, trying to ignore the waves of anger and hostility coming from Max. She felt terrible. Here they were, him knowing fully well that she had and probably was still cheating on him, but at the same time having to bear her friend’s rudeness without a word from her. She felt like a coward for not having said anything to Joan. Her phone on the table had buzzed with an incoming text message. It was Sebastian.

“Hey!”  It read. “Good time to talk?”

She’d texted back quickly.

“Not exactly. Gala for home folk.”

He’d texted back a sad face, which had made her smile. Then :  “I won’t distract you now then.  But we still need to sort this mess out.”

She set the phone down and her eyes lifted to find Max looking directly at her, his eyes tortured. He looked away when their eyes met but there was no erasing the memory of the naked emotion she’d seen on his face. The rest of the evening had been spent in uneasy silence. When she’d been called up to accept the plaque she was being awarded, he’d stood up and cheered with every one else, a smile on his face but not in his eyes. She’d kept her acceptance speech short and simple. Thanking God for the honor and dedicating it to Him, feeling like the worst kind of hypocrite as she did. The pleased looks on the faces of the crown and the nods and shouts of “Amen oh!” told a different story. The crowd ate it all up. In better days, she would have dedicated the honor to Max and commended his dedication and support. She couldn’t even look at him tonight. When it was his turn, he’d held the plaque in both hands and looking directly at her, dark emotion in his eyes, he had thanked her for being the best wife a man could wish for and for always being there for him. Each word he spoke had been a knife stabbed and twisted around in her heart. The crowd had ooohed and aaahed and the MC had come back to shower them with praise, holding them up as the model couple for all young Cameroonians present to emulate. Iya had felt queasy.

Just before the scholarship award ceremony, he’d been called away to work and he left quickly. Normally he’d fret over how she would got home. Deerfield was a good 40 minute drive from the city on a good day. He didn’t even ask this time. She hadn’t stayed long after he left. As soon as she had presented the scholarships to the recipients and posed for pictures, she’d called the cab company Morrison & Roth had on retainer and they’d sent a town car to take her home. She’d gone straight to bed. Max had come home a couple of hours later. He’d spent sometime in his study, but had eventually made his way to bed, where he now lay next to her. 

Iya could not sleep. Slipping carefully out of bed so she didn’t wake him, she padded downstairs and  made for the kitchen. Perhaps a cup of chamomile tea would help settle her tumultuous emotions. She didn’t turn on any of the lights. It was a full moon outside and the light generated was enough to guide her through the familiar halls of their home. They’d bought the 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with its hardwood floors, laundry/mudroom and full basement with recreation room, office, bedroom, bath and storage, 2 car garage, big patio and family room with fireplace, in anticipation of the big family they planned to have. It was likely they would now have to sell. She remembered how excited Max had been. After they had signed the mortgage papers and taken the keys, they had stopped by a Binny’s  and bought 4 ridiculously expensive bottles of wine with cheap wineglasses. They had then driven to the house and gotten drunk. He’d run through the house like a little boy, talking animatedly, planning. For all his medical genius, at heart he was just a simple guy who wanted a family. He’d made her laugh hysterically that day as he had named each of their children and plotted their futures. The Litumbe kids were going to take over the world, all four of them. Mojoko was going to be a savvy business woman and an expert artist. A painter and sculptor. Joffi was going to be a doctor like her daddy, and would discover the secret to never aging and the vaccine for AIDS and cancer. She would also be a kick ass performer, a triple threat singer, actor and dancer. Ngale was going to go into politics and become the second black president of the United States, as well as an accomplished martial artist and basketballer. Eyole the baby was to be an astronaut and cordon bleu chef, who would  discover new inhabitable planets and thus ensure that their family’s guaranteed survival after the destruction of earth. She’d teased him for not giving their children anglicized names and they’d argued for hours over the decision. They had decided that if they gave their children non-Bakweri names, they would be respectable, noble names like George and William, Elizabeth and Victoria. No Britneys and Kelseys. She wanted to send their children back to Cameroon to attend boarding school and he’d seemed conflicted over the idea, although they had agreed that summer vacations in Buea or Limbe where he had grown up would be compulsory every year. He’d insisted that their children would all go to Ivy League schools and had been outraged that she’d refused adamantly, even jokingly calling her a hypocrite for not wanting to give her children the quality of education she had gotten. In her mind she’d only been able to picture one of her daughters getting raped by some rich, spoiled ivy leaguer with powerful parents. Exhausted and drunk, they had fallen asleep holding each other  in front of the fireplace.

Iya made her tea and paced the living area as she sipped. Deep inside she grieved as she walked barefoot across the gleaming hardwood home. She made peace with the fact that whatever dreams she’d had with Max would never be realized. She let go of the children and the plans and consciously for the first time, let go of her marriage. There was no was this could ever be fixed. Never, because deep within the anguish, deep within the anger and resentment and disappointment, she’d seen on Max’s face this evening, she had seen something else: hatred. 

A light footstep and the rustle of cloth interrupted her thoughts. She paused mid step and looked towards the stairs. It was Max. They regarded each other silently for a couple of seconds.

“I think we need to talk.” He said, finally.


Read Part 6 here

Coffeeshop Encounters

Sade’s Sweetest Taboo playing softly in the background, the rich smell of coffee in the air, animated conversations, a laugh here, a cough there, baristas calling out orders in their chirpy voices. Starbucks on a Saturday morning. Standing in the long line of  ‘bucksheads, as she’d come to think of her fellow coffee addicts, Manka’ah felt completely relaxed.  This was a familiar sight for her. She made the trip to the coffee shop almost every morning, having developed a taste for the chain’s over brewed beverage during her nursing school years when cups of coffee jacked up with shots of espresso were the main way she had managed to juggle taking classes during the day and working as a C.N.A at night.  Back then, she’d always stuck out like a sore thumb from the Starbucks crowd with her disheveled, poorly sewn in weaves, saggy, faded scrubs purchased from the thrift store which hung ungracefully from her slightly pudgy body, old sneakers and above all her tired face marred by stress pimples. She always stood completely at odds with the lean, clean, quietly expensively dressed, glowing golden beauty of the shop’s regular patrons. Ellicott City, Maryland was predominantly white and located in one of the wealthiest counties in the US. 

Today, however, apart from not being white, she would have fit right in. Her skin was a healthy mahogany brown and her face pimple free after thousands of dollars spent on dermatologists and high end cosmetics. She kept her hair natural these days, having given up on weaves or any sort of hair processing. It was currently caught a puffy afro-bun and she’d noticed several of the Starbucks patrons staring at it, the expressions in their eyes ranging from admiring to puzzled. The attention no longer bothered her as it used to. She was fit and lean from running and wore a red sundress with yellow and white flowers. It was short in anticipation of the heat the weather report had promised for that Saturday afternoon. On her feet dainty brown sandals which showcased her pedicured toenails.She took a step forward as the line moved forward.



Manka’ah felt happy. It felt good to have gotten to a point in her life when she could afford to actually live without having to worry about rents or bills. The grueling years spent working and studying had paid off. She loved her job as a surgical nurse at Howard County General and they paid her well. She loved the circle of friends she’d developed and enjoyed being part of the Maryland Cameroonian community with their never ending drama. She chuckled. The story had broken recently of a Cameroonian man arrested for trying to kill his ex-wife. The idiot had tried to hire a hit man, not knowing he was talking to a police officer. Too much action film. She thought. The line moved again and she took two steps forward.

What would make a man hate a woman so much he would actively seek to kill her? A woman he’d once been married to, a woman he must have loved at some point. What could change the dynamics of a relationship so drastically? She could understand divorce. Her own parent’s marriage had fallen apart two years ago, after her mother had gotten tired of her father’s philandering and the seemingly never ending parade of illegitimate children who constantly showed up at their doorstep. Her youngest half sister was barely a year old. The end of his 35 year marriage had not been enough to stop Henry Neba from going after anything with a skirt. But would his bitterness at her mother’s departure or the many arguments they’d had since ever make him seek to kill her mother? He’d been angry. He felt her mother owed him unconditional loyalty. He, after all had taken her from their village, Bafut and sponsored her through school. His connections in the Bamenda hierarchy had her landed her the job she had. Rose Neba had become one of the most prominent nurses at the Bamenda Regional Hospital, eventually rising to become Nurse in Charge of the Labor Room. As far as Henry Neba was concerned, he had created the woman Rose Neba had become and she owed everything to him. Their divorce had been a scandal in Bamenda. Ironically, people had been more scandalized over her mother’s departure than over the fact that in 35 years, her father had managed to father six children with five different women out side of his marriage. This was in addition to her and her three siblings.

Stories like this made Manka’ah extremely wary of marriage or any kind of commitment altogether. They also made her extremely grateful for the fact that she owed none of her successes in life to any man. She had no idea what she would do if she was in a position where she felt like she owed her education and her professional success, her most precious possessions, to a man who would betray her the way her father had betrayed her mother, repeatedly. And then to hate her so much to want her dead? 

It was her turn at the counter she stepped forward and placed her order.  Venti coffee frappucino with a shot of espresso. The iced drink was a concession to the heat. She was meeting Sarah, one of her college friends, in a few minutes for them to drive to D.C. They planned to make a day out of seeing the sights of the U.S. capital. They were both immigrants. Sarah had come from Paraguay a couple of years before on the DV lottery, the same lottery that had helped Manka’ah come to the US. They had attended nursing school  at the University of Maryland together and formed a deep friendship over their shared immigrant experience. Sarah was a charge nurse at Howard County General. This Saturday was the first they’d both had off in almost 3 months.

The barista took her order quickly.

“Name please?” she asked, running Manka’ah’s card.

“Judith.” 

She used her English name when she placed orders. Manka’ah wasn’t exactly a standard name Starbucks baristas were used to hearing. She’d learned that lesson the hard way during her first months in America.

” Would you like your receipt?”

“No, thank you.” Manka’ah took back her card.

“Coming right up!” The barista said, all chirp and cheer.

Manka’ah stepped off to the side to wait. It would be another ten minutes at least before her order came through, going by the number of people who had placed their order before her and now stood waiting. She let her eyes roam the crowd. It was a typical Saturday morning crowd. People just done with their morning run or bike ride, still dressed in their brightly colored exercise clothes. Others just like her, dressed in more casual clothes, out for a morning coffee before continuing on to whatever activity they had planned for their Saturday. Individuals, couples and families all of them gleaming with health and well being, totally absorbed in their lives and plans in the way inhabitants of an upper middle class neighborhood in America could be. Manka’ah wondered if any of the women present had husbands who hated them so much they would pay money to have them killed. Or if any of the children present had ever woken up to the sound of their parents arguing while a baby screamed in the background. If they had been informed later that day that they had a new sister. A sister whose mother, a young girl in the neighborhood, had abandoned at their gate in the wee hours of a chilly Wednesday morning, before taking off for parts unknown. Did any of the men cheat on their wives? Manka’ah snorted with laughter. Like that was even a question worth asking. Did any of the women cheat on their husbands? Would they also arrange to have their husbands killed if they could? Probably.

Her eyes had been roaming the crowd, not focusing on anyone in particular, as she asked herself these questions, so the fact that he was staring intently at her did not register at first, when her eyes swept past him. But the momentary glimpse of slate gray eyes set in a ruggedly handsome face which looked oddly familiar had her swinging her gaze back to the man sitting in a corner of the shop. His gaze no longer rested on her so she let her gaze run over him. He had what looked like a writing pad in front of him. He was focused on it, his hand moving in carefully measured precision. Not writing, his movements were too fluid for them to be those of a person writing. Drawing, perhaps. Her gaze moved up from his fingers wrapped around his pen. He wore a faded denim shirt, sleeves rolled back to reveal lean muscled arms. The shirt lay easily on his fit body. Khaki pants, hems rolled back and blue canvasses completed his outfit. His head of dark brown hair was tousled, like he’d simply run his fingers through it, not bothering with a comb. She examined his facial features, the broad forehead wrinkled in concentration, thick eyebrows, the aquiline nose, strong jaw. Why did he look familiar? Then it hit her. He could easily pass for Christian Bale. 


As she watched, his eyes lifted from his pad and focused on her, but not on her face this time.  His gaze rested in the general area of her midriff and then meandered it’s way down her body, slow and leisurely, almost like a caress. His hand didn’t stop moving as he looked. His gaze shifted momentarily to the pad then back to her, still not reaching up to her face. He’s drawing me!  The realization dawned on Manka’ah suddenly, leaving her slightly discomfited. The man’s attention had taken on a eerie edge. What did he see when he looked at her? What about her had captured his attention enough to inspire him to want to draw her? What was going through his mind as he drew? Did he find her attractive?  Who was he anyway? And why did he think he could just sit there and draw her without her permission? What would he do with the picture he drew? Manka’ah felt a frisson of unease stronger than the earlier discomfiture she’d felt. What was the etiquette in situations like this? Did she go over and ask him to stop? Demand that he give her whatever he had drawn? Was this a violation of her privacy? It was after all a public space. She had spent many a Saturday herself, sitting in this Starbucks, watching people.

“Venti coffee frappucino, shot of espresso for Judy!” 

Manka’ah’s attention snapped from the man to the barista who had just called out her order. The amusement she would have felt over the fact that they had taken her order under the name Judy instead of Judith, was overshadowed by her thoughts of the stranger.  She took her coffee and made for the door,  looking at the man one last time as she walked. He was no longer drawing. He held his coffee cup, having just taken a sip or maybe about to. He was looking directly at her, grey eyes calm and serious. When their gazes locked, he lifted the cup, toasting her, lips curving in a smile. She narrowed her eyes at him in displeasure, trying to communicate her disapproval of his actions. He seemed to understand exactly what she was trying to say because as the cup moved towards his lips, a small frown creased his forehead.

Manka’ah walked out of the Starbucks.

The sun’s intensity had increased in the time she’d been in the coffee shop but it was still cool with a slight breeze rustling the air. She looked at her watch as she made for her car, she’d been inside for about 25 minutes, longer than planned. It would take her 10 minutes to get to Sarah’s apartment but they would still make it to D.C in good time.

“Excuse me.” The voice was masculine, deep. 

She ignored the voice at first, certain the request for attention wasn’t directed at her.

“Excuse me… Judith?” 

Her head whipped around at the sound of her name. It was him. She pivoted to face him directly, automatically gripping her coffee cup and purse tighter, body poised to run if he made any suspicious moves. It was 9:30 a.m and she was in a busy parking lot, but Manka’ah made no assumptions. He noticed her actions and held up his hands to show he meant her no harm. There was a piece of paper in one hand

“I’m sorry to bother you.” He said quickly. “I just thought I should give you this.” He held out the hand with the paper.  She reached out and took it from him but didn’t look at it. It was the drawing he’d made of her, obviously. He’d picked up on her discomfort and cared enough to ease her fears.

“I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable.” He said with a shy smile. He then turned around and walked back into the coffee shop.

Heart racing slightly from the small adrenaline rush her fear had induced, Manka’ah walked quickly to her car, got in and locked the doors before looking at the drawing.

It was exquisite. He’d captured everything about her from  her button nose, full lips, almond shaped eyes and puffy afro to the slight tilt she tended to have to her head when she was thinking deeply.  He’d drawn her body faithfully, realistically, capturing her musculature but also managing to capture the curves that sat atop her muscles. He’d even noticed her butt. Noticed that it was just a little too big for her slim frame. She giggled in pleasure as her eyes took in the lines of his artistry. He’d made the other patrons in the shop into faint shadowy figures but had drawn her in such sharp detail such that it gave the overall impression that she was the only person worth noticing. 




She laughed, suddenly no longer angry at the man. His attention had been a little creepy but he seemed like a nice and polite enough person to have noticed and taken steps to assuage her fears. She put the drawing on her purse which was on the front passenger seat and started her car. Sarah would be waiting for her. The drive took less than ten minutes. Traffic wasn’t heavy. She pulled into an open space and reached for her purse. She needed to text Sarah to let her know she had arrived. She’d placed the drawing facing down so this was the first glimpse she had of what was on the back. He’d written something. Brow creased into a bemused frown she picked up the paper again and read what he’d written.

You are the most breathtakingly beautiful woman I have ever laid my eyes on. I apologize again for making you uncomfortable. Can I buy you lunch sometime?


It was signed Aaron B. Gallagher. His number was scribbled next to his name.




The Lunch Date Pt 4

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here


Sebastian Roth did not want to be at this meeting. Matter of fact, this meeting was the last place he wanted to be right now, but his lawyer had assured him that being present to endure Kate’s anger was the only way to make the divorce proceedings go faster. She’d been stalling at the negotiations, changing her mind, demanding more, then less, refusing to listen to both her attorney and his. His lawyer seemed to believe if she got the chance to rail at him or cuss him out, embarrass him or make him beg her, she’d be more willing to agree to a settlement. Steve Burke was a pretty damn good divorce attorney and at this point, Sebastian was ready to do anything to make it all go away, so he’d caught a flight from Chicago to New York the previous night in order to make the 11 a.m meeting. 

Kate was already there when he and his lawyer arrived. Seated calm and regal at the table, she’d barely spared him a glance when he walked in. They’d been given the executive boardroom for the meeting. Delgado and Associates, after all, was a law firm used to dealing with high stakes divorces. Kate’s lawyer, Laura Delgado, the firm’s top partner, known for her prowess as one of the most ruthless divorce lawyers in New York smirked at him. She was certain of her victory. He had, after all, asked for a divorce with no justifiable reason. Kate could make whatever demands she wanted. He kept his face bland. He intended to give her whatever she asked for.

His lawyer was right about Kate’s anger. He’d been more than a little cruel in the way he’d broken the news of his intent end their marriage, to her. Truth be told, he’d been outright heartless. He had blindsided her completely. They’d just returned from a fundraising gala  for the art gallery she managed. She’d been excited. The gala had raised more money than she’d anticipated. She was sitting at her vanity, having just finished brushing her hair. She had been talking to him about the plans the gallery had to tap into local talent from New York area art schools and give starting artists a chance to show their work – plans that could now be expanded to include more artists than they had initially budgeted for. Her face radiant, green eyes sparkling with joy, creamy smooth skin made even more luminous by the soft white glow of her vanity table lights, her back length mass of brown hair gleaming from being brushed into wavy perfection. Her normally quietly modulated voice was a few octaves higher and her hands moved animatedly as she talked.



He’d been sitting on on their bed, watching her as she celebrated. This was a familiar scene; him on the bed, her at her vanity, talking in the bedroom of their luxuriously furnished Upper East side town house. It was something they had fallen into the habit of doing at the end of the day, after dinner and just before they went to bed. In the early days of their marriage, they had talked about the minutiae of their day, shared funny stories, sought each others advice and made plans for the future: where they would go, what they would do, things to see. And then they would make love. It had been a comfortable routine established over ten years of marriage. They had gone, done and seen most of those things by that night.  It was one of the perks and curses of being wealthy, this ability to do the things you wanted to do sooner than the average person. It left you with an ennui made even worse by the fact that you know you can afford to do anything you wanted, if you just knew what you wanted to do. Or turned you into a thrill seeker, if you were that averse to the ennui. Ideally as a couple, they would seek new ways to explore the world together, but ten years into the marriage, he’d realized that he didn’t want to seek thrills with Kate. He was weary of their marriage, weary of its perfection and predictability. Kate was everything any man could wish for in a wife. She was smart, lovely, independent and cared deeply for him but he just did not want to be with her. He should never have married her to begin with and deep inside him, he regretted that decision almost daily. This was what he had on his mind that night and that is why in the middle of her excited chatter he’d simply said

“I want a divorce.”

She had stopped mid-sentence and just looked at him for a few seconds.

“Excuse me?” She’d said finally, her voice back down to it’s deep husky timbre, a little tremor in it from shock and confusion.

“I said, I want a divorce.” He repeated calmly, his eyes holding hers. “I can’t do this anymore. I should never have done this.”


Her face had blanched then. Gone completely white and then he’d watched the red climb back up as her anger rose.

“Get out!” She’d snarled, teeth clenched. He had left without another word.

That had been over a year ago. A few weeks after that encounter, he and a team of Morrison & Roth analysts had flown to London for a meeting with officials from the John Lewis Partnership, one of the Britain’s largest retailers and a client they were trying to bring on board. Iya had been on that team and she had been put in the same hotel as him since she was now an executive, having been recently promoted to director at the Chicago office. Seeing her and knowing that he was soon going to be a free man had brought to the surface all the feelings he’d suppressed for the last ten years. Their friendly banter had thickened with sexual tension as the day progressed. He hadn’t been sure at first if she was just flirting back or if the hunger he saw in her eyes was real. As far as he knew, she was happily married to her high school sweetheart, a formidable man in his own right. Any surgical resident Bloomfeld-Hyman recruited as eagerly as they’d recruited Maxwell Litumbe, would make medical history eventually. He’d played it cool, flirting but keeping a respectful distance. Right up until when they’d been in the elevator, riding up to the Royal Suite of The Savoy where their rooms were located, he still wasn’t sure where her mind was. They had stepped into the marble foyer, and she had made for the en suite office. He’d caught her hand before she walked away.

“Iya…” That was all he could say, ten years of regret and longing poured into her name. It was all he needed to have said.

After that trip, he’d pretty much moved from New York to Chicago. The move raised no suspicions. Morrison & Roth’s main offices were in Chicago and so were his parents.  Things between him and Iya had become more involved. He’d left the sorting out of the divorce proceedings to his lawyers.


Sebastian’s thoughts shifted to the boardroom where his lawyer and Laura Delgado were engaged in a heated argument. He had no idea what it was about. His gaze shifted to Kate. She was looking directly at him, eyes narrowed. He looked away, his eyes focusing on the painting hanging on the wall over her shoulder. It was an impressionist painting of a red flower. The artist had layered different shades of red to give the petals the unfocused vividness that impressionist paintings are famous for.  Kate probably knew he wasn’t even present at this meeting. He knew she was wondering if he’d even even been present during their ten years together. He wondered if she knew about Iya. Probably not. He and Iya were very discreet and David Morrison would not rat him out. Not to Kate. News of his affair with Iya was worth much more. He knew that since she didn’t know why he was divorcing her, she would simultaneously be railing against him and berating herself, trapped between wanting to hate him for his selfishness and treachery, and wondering if something she had done was the reason why he’d left her. Suddenly he felt guilty. The intensity of the feeling as red hot as the shade of red paint the artist had used to outline the bigger petals of the flower. It almost suffocated him. Kate was a friend and he had betrayed her deeply. She had known theirs was not necessarily a love match but she had bet on their friendship and had tried to be good to him. She deserved better than he had treated her, better than he was treating her.  It was not her fault that he was in love with someone else. He knew that  she would treat any concession he made now as pitying condescension but to tell her the truth would mean telling her about Iya, which could open the door for the story about Cornell and Greystone and Kyle and everything else.

He wasn’t ready to open that door just yet.

As usual when he thought about Kyle Hammond, even peripherally, cold rage settled like a thousand pound stone in his stomach. Twenty years, he’d watched the son of a bitch – and he meant that literally – go about his life, date other women, become president of his fraternity, graduate, go to law school and then go to work for their family law firm. Last Sebastian had heard, he was engaged to marry, his second go at it. Apparently, the first woman he’d been engaged to had called off the engagement. I wonder why… Sebastian mused bitterly. The fact that Kyle Hammond had not been brought to justice after he raped Iya had been the single most disillusioning experience of Sebastian’s life. He wasn’t a naive person. Growing up wealthy meant that he had quite often seen the ugly side of people’s characters, the side that wealth or the prospect of it tended to bring out.  He’d still been shocked, however, at how easily everyone had brushed of the matter. How willing they had been to look away. How the Hammond’s had rallied around their son and how the police had taken their side despite the evidence from the rape kit. What had gutted him had been his parents refusal to help. He had been sure they would. He clearly remembered the conversation he’d had with them that day. He’d been aghast when they told him they would not be intervening.

“But mum! Dad! He raped her!” He’d raged pacing his apartment. His parents had flown in from Chicago when he’d called them to tell them what had happened. “He pumped her full of booze and drugs and kept her in that room for over an hour. I know because I saw them walk upstairs together. He didn’t even use protection!”

“I know it’s wrong, honey.” his mother had said gently “But Bob and Carol Hammond are pulling every string they can to kill this. Your father and I talked about this, it’s just not worth it to take them on.”

“Not worth it? NOT WORTH IT? Are you guys fucking kidding me right now?” He’d yelled.

“Watch your language around your mother, Sebastian.” His father had snapped.

” No! I will not. There’s a kid out there who will  have to live the rest of her life with this. She’s terrified out of her mind. She has no one in the States, no one who can fight for her. She’s here on scholarship, the first in her family to make it out of their country. She’s smart and brave, she got a full ride to Cornell from an African country for crying out loud.  Kyle Hammond raped her. He destroyed her life and you’re going to sit there and tell me she is not worth fighting for? Who are you people?” His voice had cracked with frustration as he battled tears.

“Son, I understand your frustration” His father, Nathan Roth had said.  ” I would be too… I am too. I have money and influence but Bob Hammond…” he trailed off. ” If this girl had been a family member, or family friend, or someone we knew… She just isn’t. This has the potential to turn very, very ugly. I’m sure they will offer her a nice settlement, compensate her properly for her pain…”

“Compensate her for her pain? Dad…seriously? I thought we were the good guys. I thought Roth men did the right thing. That’s what you always said, that’s what Grandpa Moses always said.” Sebastian’s voice was quiet, defeated. He knew the real reason his parents would not intervene. It was rumored that Bob Hammond would be running for president. He was powerful enough within his party that even if he didn’t run or didn’t win, the next election would leave him in a position more powerful than the senatorial position he held currently. The Roths had always had a good relationship with the Hammonds, their son’s were best friends. Having connections that high up in government would prove very beneficial to Morrison & Roth. Moses Roth, Sebastian’s grandfather, Nathan’s father had always, however, been a believer in steering clear of any allegiances that weren’t grounded in honesty and trust. A Holocaust survivor, he’d seen first hand what fear could motivate people to do. He and his family had been turned in to the Gestapo by the Austrian family they had been hiding with after the Gestapo had threatened them. Sebastian knew without a doubt that Moses Roth would not have hesitated to take on the Hammond’s.

Nathan Roth closed his eyes and sighed. “We are the good guys, Sebastian. This is just not a fight we can fight right now. I’m sorry.”

“You know what?” Sebastian had said, leveling his gaze on his parents. “I’ve always been proud to be a Roth. Proud of the name, proud of our history. Today, I am ashamed and I will always be after today. Grandpa Moses would be too. I’d like for you both to be gone when I return.”

He’d left his apartment for the hospital. On the way, he had planned. His grand father had left him a sizable trust fund and he would use all of it to pay for a lawyer for Iya if he had to. He would make sure the story went public. Once it his the press, there would be no stopping it.  He had arrived at the hospital full of hope only to  find Iya trying to check herself out of the hospital, her hospital gown hanging from her frail body, hair a complete mess, eyes swollen and red from crying. Carol Hammond had just left. They hadn’t even offered to pay her off for her silence. She was too small, too insignificant. He’d begged her not to leave, to press charges all the same. He promised her his help, swore vengeance on her behalf. She’d been adamant. Terrified and adamant.

“I have no one. No one.” She’d said in her precise accented English. He voice soft and defeated.

“You have me.” He’d insisted, guiding her back to the private room he’d gotten her into.

“You’re one person. I know who the Hammonds are. I am not stupid. I know what will happen to me. Your media will crucify me. I cannot let that happen. I came to America to get a better future for myself and my family. If I go forward with this, I lose that chance.”

“You will not lose it. I promise you.”

“You’re in no position to make me promises, Sebastian Roth. You’re one of them. Andy Hammond is your best friend. Why should I trust that you will stick your neck out for me,  a complete stranger?”

Sebastian had no answer for her. That accusation: you’re one of them had stung because it was true. He was one of the elite, one of those wealthy and privileged enough, the world was their dainty little oyster for them to do as they wanted with. The cards would forever be stacked in his favor. He would never ever be in the position she was in right now.

“Iya, I’m so, so sorry.” He pronounced the name “Eye-ya.”

“My name is Iya.” She had snapped at him. “Eee-yah. Get it right. Iya Mojoko Malafa. I come from a big, loving family. My parents, siblings, grand parents, aunts, uncles, cousins live in a town called Buea, in a West African Country called Cameroon. I am not a nobody. No one in my family has AIDS. We do not live in a jungle. I had a good upbringing in a good home. We are a smart and resourceful family and everyone contributed to send me to America when I got my scholarship through the American embassy. I intend to make them proud. Kyle Hammond will not stop me. I made a bad decision to go to that party but I have learned my lesson. I will survive this.” She’d stood there, clutching the purse she had taken to the party the night before.

“Let me help you. You don’t have to do this alone. Let me help you. Let me be your friend through this. You can’t leave the hospital in your hospital gown. Your clothes were taken as evidence. Let me get you clothes and take you back your dorm room.”

Her eyes had widened when she realized she would have to to back to the dorm with Adelaide. Adelaide who would be full of concerns and questions. He picked up on that immediately.

“We can go to my place and figure out what to do.” He said quickly. “Let me help you Iya.” He was careful to pronounce her name correctly this time. “I feel so guilty. I saw Kyle taking you upstairs and I assumed…. ” his voice trailed off.

“Your guilt will not change anything.”

“I know…” He’d said miserably. “I fucking know.”


                      ******************************

His guilt would not change anything then, and it wouldn’t now. This needed to end. Laura and Steve his attorney were still arguing over the particulars of the settlement. He didn’t look at Kate. The baleful look she was sure to have in her eyes was more than he could deal with now.

“Enough.” The room quietened. It was Kate who had spoken. Her voice frigid. All eyes including Sebastian’s turned to her.  She laughed bitterly. “He’s not even here.” She gestured at Sebastian.

“He’s sitting right here but he’s not even here.”

He was right. She had noticed.

“I am sitting right here, Kate.” He said.

“Don’t you dare patronize me, Sebastian.” She replied, her voice dripping venom.

“Tell me what you want.” He said. “I’ll give you anything you want to end this as amicably as we can.”

“You’re giving anything we want either way, Mr. Roth ” Laura Delgado said, her voice sweet with poison. Sebastian cut her a withering  glance then  shifted his gaze back to Kate and met her furious eyes.

“I’d like to talk to Kate. Alone.”

Both lawyers began to say that would not be wise but Kate had spoken up.

“I’ll talk to him.”

“Kate, I do not think…” Laura had begun but Kate had raised her hand to silence the woman. Steve looked askance at Sebastian but Sebastian nodded. Both lawyers left, closing the door behind them.

Kate immediately stood up and began to pace. It was a habit of hers. She paced when he had something on her mind. When she figured out how to say it she would. It didn’t take long.

“For how long have you wanted a divorce?”

He sighed.

“We should never have married to begin with, Kate.”

“That long, huh.” She nodded, a jerking motion, and continued pacing. He watched her in silence. She’d lost a lot of weight, her wrap around dress in the bright floral prints she prefered hanging from her frame. Normally they draped over her fit body. Sebastian felt the red hot curl of guilt again.

“Is there someone else? Was there some one else?” She asked quietly.

“Yes.”  He answered simply. He couldn’t say no because he intended to go back for Iya and that news was sure to reach Kate’s circles.

She stopped pacing, her eyes closed. She wrapped her arms around herself, hugging her thin frail body tightly. She started to sob then. Huge heaving sobs, a keening sound coming from deep within her chest. He stood up and went over to her. Tried to draw her close, she kept him at arms length.

“Do you know why I agreed to marry you Sebastian?” She asked through her tears. “I believed you wouldn’t hurt me. I know we didn’t love each other, but I trusted you not to hurt me.  I don’t believe in love. Never have. I watched my parents tear each other apart because they thought they loved each other but couldn’t stop cheating on each other. You were my friend. I bet on our friendship to see our marriage through. And then somewhere along the line, I started to think maybe there was something to love after all.”

“Kate…I am so terribly sorry I did this to you. I shouldn’t have.” He reached out and pushed her hair behind her ears, a gentle gesture.

“Is she someone I know?”

“No.”

” Where did you meet her? How long did it go on for?”

“It’s a long and complicated story Kate. One I cannot tell without breaking her trust.”

“But you have no problem breaking mine.”

“I’m sorry, Kate.”

“Do you love her?”

“Yes. Yes I do. I do very much.”

She looked up at him then, her face somehow managing to still be composed even in her distress.

“Did you ever love me?”

He sighed deeply. Then holding her gaze, spoke the simple truth.

“No. Not as I should have.”



Read Part 5 here

Morning Bell

The clang of the morning bell did not wake Solange up. She’d already been awake for the most part of the last hour,  lying on her back in her top bunk bed, dreading this very moment. The moment when that bell would ring. Dreading it because it meant she would have to wake up, fix her bed and go take a bath. That was, after all, the routine performed by thousands of girls like her who attended boarding schools in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon.

They were a privileged group, these boarding school girls. Religious boarding institutions provided the best available education in English-speaking Cameroon. Parents who could afford the monstrously expensive tuition  sent their children to these schools for 8 out of 12 months a year, confident that at the end of the seven years it took to acquire a secondary and high school education in Cameroon, they would emerge after the Advance Level  General Certificate of Education exam, as some of the most learned, moral and principled students in the country. Students able to thrive in any tertiary education system in the world. They were right to have that expectation. A near majority of the most prolific English speaking Cameroonian women were products of such boarding schools as Saker Baptist College,  Our Lady Of Lourdes College and  Queen of the Holy Rosary College. The men usually came from Sacred Heart College,  St. Joseph’s College, Bishop Rogan’s. There were a couple of co-ed colleges: Baptist High School, Buea, Presbytarian Secondary School, Mankon, Christ the King College, St Augustine’s, St. Bede’s, Joseph Merrick. Parents loved them all and sent their children to these schools in droves from all over the country and even abroad.

This was Solange’s fourth year at Saker Baptist College or just Saker as it was called. Her parents had chosen the school because being fervent Baptist turned Pentecostal Christians, they’d wanted their daughter not only to get an education, but to get it in an environment which espoused their religious beliefs. 

Also, they wanted a boy free environment. 

Stomach tight with apprehension, she rolled over and swung her legs over the side, careful not to hit Cathy the girl in the bed below hers. Cathy had sprung into action the moment she’d heard the bell and was already in the final stages of making her bed. Cathy Ngwa was a newly arrived lower sixth student. It was the  first term of the year, which meant the upper sixth students, the school prefects, were out for the blood of lower sixth students. This was a familiar power struggle. It would ease out by the end of the term after friendships had formed and ultimately end after “hand over,” the not so creative name given to describe the period when upper sixth students handed over prefect positions to lower sixth students…who in turn became out for every body else’s blood.

The dormitory buzzed with the familiar sounds of a boarding school morning. Beds squeaking, foot steps, the rattle of metal and plastic buckets and titi pails, water splashing. Metal trunks, where personal belongings were stored snapped open and closed, bed sheets rustling and the sound of beds dragging on cement floors as they were made, muffled conversations:

“Keep a space for me!”

“Hurry up! The line at the tap is getting long.” 

“WHO STOLE MY WATER?!”  A lament which was as sure to be heard as the sun was to rise.

“Eiiissh! Mukete! You peed again?” An upper sixth student, voice high with embarrassment and frustration scolded one of her petites, as the first year students placed in the care of upper sixth students were called. . Everyone within earshot burst out laughing. The poor child, who couldn’t have been older than nine years old, stood next to her soiled bed, head hung in shame while her dulong ( as the upper sixth guardians were referred to)  ranted. “How many times have I told you that if you want to pee at night, you can wake me up to go with you? Na which kind bad luck this? Man go die smell inside this dormitory.” (What kind of bad luck is this? This stink is going to be the death of us, in this dormitory). 

All these sights and sounds  faded to the background as Solange focused on bracing herself for what was to come. She made her bed quietly and found herself praying under her breath as she did.

“Father in the name of Jesus, I thank You for giving me a new day. For preserving me through the night and helping me wake up this morning. I thank You for the blessing of my life and the start of a new term. Father, I’m Your child, washed and cleansed by the blood of your Son Jesus Christ. I reject any plan by the devil to use my body for his evil purposes. I declare this school year a year of new beginnings, a year when my thoughts will be only for Your glory. I bind and cast out any demonic spirit which tries to inhabit my head or my mind in the name of Jesus. I declare myself free of demonic possession in the name of  Jesus. I rebuke any demon present in this dormitory or in the baths in the name of Jesus. I declare my path clear in the name of Jesus….Olandashegegegeromolipoponinigureteetmalibasokaratimanetibabbababababa.”

She lapsed into praying in tongues as she was wont to do when she felt really strongly about what she was praying about. Eventually she felt her chest swell and a feeling of peace came over her. It was as if God had sent a healing balm of reassurance to her to tell her  that everything was going to be alright. 

“Takang! Hurry up and go take a bath!”  The dormitory captain yelled at her using her family name as was the tradition in Saker. “Dey for dey di pray. God no go helep you if you late” ( Stand there praying. God will not help you if you’re late)

Emboldened by her prayers and sure that God was on her side, Solange rushed through finishing making her bed and grabbed her toiletries. She found her bucket of water where she left it the night before. It was untouched. Thank you God! She thought, taking it as one more sign that God indeed was on her side. The trip to the bathrooms was short. Her dormitory, Martin, shared a wall with the bathroom. Keeping her eyes down, she found a space and settled into the familiar routine. She poured a little water on the cover of her bucket where she’d put some Omo (powdered laundry detergent) and took off her panties from the night before to soak them in the solution. She’d wash and rinse them with whatever water was left from her bath. Next, she put tooth paste on her tooth brush and stood up straight to brush her teeth, Her gaze taking in the bath room. The bathroom full of naked girls. Her vision filled with breasts, curved backs, butts, pubic areas, arms,  flat stomachs, thighs, dark skin, fair skin….

Solange quickly averted her eyes but the damage was already done. The memory was stamped indelibly on her minds eye. The harder she tried not to focus on it, the more it became the only thing she could focus on. She squeezed her eyes shut and brushed her teeth furiously. 

It was futile.

 To her horror, she felt the familiar softening in her groin, followed by the tingles. Goosebumps suffused her body and her nipples hardened.

The demons were back.

My God, my God…. why have you forsaken me?



The Lunch Date Pt 3

Read Pt. 1 here
Read Pt. 2 here

So how does one start a conversation with one’s husband’s mistress, who just happens to know that the reason why said husband felt betrayed enough to step out on his marriage and seek comfort elsewhere to begin with, is because one had cheated on him ? 

Iya mused over the question as she fiddled with her tea cup. She couldn’t take on the role of the wronged wife. She knew that despite the discomfort Mabel had shown, she wouldn’t hesitate to put her in her place if she dared to. She couldn’t play the victim either. She’d get no sympathy here. So what to do?

“I’m sorry I’ve contributed to putting you in this position, Mabel. I really am.”

The apology came out before she could stop herself. 

The apology caught Mabel off guard. It was clearly not what she had expected. She looked at Iya with faint surprise in her eyes. The surprise quickly gave way to seething anger.

“You’re sorry?”  Mabel asked, her voice low and incredulous.  “You’re sorry?” She asked again, leaning forward, her eyes narrow, her beautiful face twisted in rage.  “Why did you do it then? Why did you put Max, in that position? How could you do that to him? Do you have any idea how much he loved you? Still loves you? Do you know what you did to him? How much you hurt him? How deeply? How much it affected his work? His patients?” 

Mabel’s accusatory questions would have been easier to deal with if they had held the shrill tone of a jealous mistress, but what undid Iya was the angry frustration in Mabel’s tone. The distinct note of bewilderment  could only be had by someone who knew exactly the kind of man Max is and just how little he deserved what Iya’s actions had put him through. Iya decided then and there that she would be honest with Mabel. That she would tell this woman, the one person who all rules of society dictated should be her adversary, the truth.  The truth she had kept secret for 20 long years. The truth which no one on this planet knew, no one aside from  the  Roths of Chicago and the Hammonds of New York that is.

“I’m going to talk with you honestly, Mabel.” she said evenly. “Before I say anything, I need you to understand that I am not trying to excuse my actions or minimize their impact. I’m going to share this with you because I think you, deserve to know the truth.” 

Mabel raised an eyebrow, clearly not impressed with Iya’s candor. 

I deserve to know the truth?” she spat “What about your husband? Didn’t he deserve the truth?”

“Max deserves to know too” Mabel replied wearily, fighting back her defensiveness. “You both deserve explanations.”

“If you’re going to offer explanations, they better be damned good ones.” Mabel said testily, her lips curled in scorn.

“It may not be a damned good one, but it is the only one I have.” Iya shot back, losing her patience a little. She was a woman used to being in control. Being lectured and treated with contempt stung, no matter how much she deserved it.

Mabel smiled, a small curve of her lips which had little to do with mirth and everything to do with wry amusement at Iya’s audacity to  snap at her.

“I’ll listen to your explanation” She said, smirking. “Make it good.”

Iya breathed in deeply and leaned forward, lacing her fingers on the table. Looking directly at Mabel, she started speaking.


“Twenty years ago, I was raped by a classmate at Cornell University. His name is Kyle Hammond. It happened the night of the Homecoming party for the Alpha Phi Chapter of Sigma Chi, a pretty well known fraternity. My first and only college party ever. I went with my roommate, Adelaide, who was at the time dating the chapter president, Andy. Andy is Kyle’s big brother and was Sebastian’s best friend. Sebastian Roth, that is. It was a great party. They held it at Greystone, Alpha Phi’s chapter house. I  was glad to have been invited. See, I’d just come from Cameroon  a few months earlier and I was homesick. I didn’t really know any body in the US. The only people I knew were my father’s cousin’s family and they lived in Texas. My aunt had flown to Ithaca with me when school started to help me settle in but that was it. I missed home, I missed my family. I missed Max. I was afraid and lonely. Adelaide was nice. She asked me to go with her and promised to introduce me to all her friends. “
“They were all very nice, especially Kyle. He was in a couple of my classes and hung out with Adelaide sometimes so I kinda knew him already. Adelaide was a bit of a social butterfly, so she took off from time to time that night. Kyle hung around to keep me company.  I probably was one, of less than ten black people at that party that night and I was a  complete stranger to those circles. He danced with me and made sure everybody else treated me with respect. He also brought me drinks.”
“I don’t remember going upstairs with him or him taking off my skirt and underwear but I remember knowing that something was very, very wrong. I tried to fight, but he’d put something in my drinks. He wasn’t rough. He was gentle, so gentle in fact, my body eventually responded and I climaxed several times. I remember crying and  begging him to stop but he kept at it for over an hour, whispering in my ear that I actually really did want him and every time I came, he kissed my eyes, licked tears and told me I was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.”
“Sebastian found us. He came into the room looking for Andy and saw me laying there with Kyle on top of me. Kyle tried to convince him that I’d consented but Sebastian could tell from my dilated pupils and the fact that I was just lying there, crying and weakly begging Kyle to stop, that I had not. He told Kyle to get out and threatened to get him expelled. Kyle laughed in his face. Kyle’s father is Robert Hammond. You know, Bob Hammond, the guy who is Secretary of State. He was a Senator at the time.”
“Sebastian sat with me that night and barred anyone who tried to get into that room. He helped me to the bathroom and stuck his finger down my throat so I could throw up. Kyle had given me enough ketamine mixed with alcohol to induce a coma. Kill me even. When I’d started having convulsions, he panicked and called his cousin, Jacob who at the time was a resident at New York Presbyterian. Somehow, they’d managed to sneak me out of Greystone to the E.R. Sebastian paid for the rape kit and they used their family name and Jacobs connections at the hospital to accelerate it’s processing time. Everything checked out, the drugs in my blood, Kyle’s hair,saliva and semen.”

“One of the side effects of ketamine, especially such high doses is that one losses memory of what happened…” Iya paused and chuckled.  “You’d know this better than me, being a doctor and all. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t remember much of what had happened. I knew I’d been violated in a horrible way and had flashbacks of Kyle doing things to me but I couldn’t remember exact details. Sebastian  told me what had happened, why I was in the hospital. I was terrified. Everyone know the Hammonds, it was even rumored that Senator Hammond would run for president eventually. I was completely in over my head. Sebastian assured me that Kyle would not get away with it. That he’d already called his parents and a police report was being filed on my behalf. He assured me that word of what had happened had not leaked out to anyone and that it was better it remained so, seeing as I was a black girl. He said I would basically be considered culpable on that fact alone. He was right. An officer came later that day to take my statement and everything about his attitude confirmed Sebastian’s predictions. The next person who visited me was Carol Hammond, Kyle’s mother.”


“She told me in no uncertain terms that I was nothing but a slut who was trying to entrap her son. She assured me that the Roths would not protect me from her and her husband’s wrath if I tried to drag the Hammond name in the mud. She pointed out that it was unlikely they would even stick their necks out for me, a social climbing whore from some nameless family in the African jungles. She told me that if I knew what was good for me, I’ll shut my lying mouth or pack up and go back to whatever disease infested corner of Africa I came from and pray that I’d not given her son AIDS because if I had, they would be the one’s prosecuting me.”

Iya paused to take a sip of her now cold tea. Opposite her, Mabel sat frozen, a dazed look on her face.

“I believed her. Having hung out with Adelaide, I was pretty up to date on the who’s who of Ithaca and New York state in general. I knew that the Roth’s were a rich family from Chicago, but the Hammonds were not only rich, they were old money with political connections. I also doubted the Roths would go to bat for me against the Hammonds. I dropped all charges and left the hospital.”
“Sebastian was furious. He broke off his friendship with Andy, who naturally had taken his little brother’s side. He tried to convince me to refile charges but Carol Hammond had scared the living daylights out of me. I refused. He spent the rest of the semester alternately trying to convince me to refile and to make my stay at Cornell as pain free as possible. I could not bear to continue staying in the dorms with Adelaide, who was still Andy’s girlfriend and blissfully unaware of what happened that night. Andy had told her I’d gotten drunk and fallen down a flight of stairs which is why I was in the hospital. Sebastian helped me find a a small studio apartment and an under the table job to help pay for it since I was on a student visa and scholarship and couldn’t work. He’d used Roth family clout to get student affairs off my back when I moved out of the dorms.”
“He tried to get me into therapy but that would have meant talking abut what had happened. I couldn’t. I was terrified of the Hammonds finding out that I had talked. I couldn’t tell my relatives because I knew they also would be out of their depth. I couldn’t tell Max. He was 6000 miles away in Cameroon and I was ashamed of what had happened. I was disgusted by the fact that I’d had multiple orgasms while being raped.  Max and I were each others firsts, just before I left Cameroon. I had never orgasmed with him, but I had for my rapist. The guilt I felt was all consuming.  It ate at me inside.”
“Sebastian became my only support system and we had to keep it on the down low so no one would question why he was so invested in my welfare. He got Jacob to agree to arrange for me to get prescriptions for anxiety pills. His parents, as Carol Hammond had predicted, wanted nothing to do with the potential scandal. I finished my undergrad years at Cornell. I saw Kyle Hammond everyday on campus, watched my rapist live his life worry free. He acted like he didn’t know me. Adelaide tried to remain friends but I couldn’t stand to be around them so I cut off all communication and built a new circle of friends.”
“Sebastian is how I stayed sane, why I stayed sane during that time. He gave up on the Harvard MBA program to go to Johnson’s at Cornell so he could be close. My senior year was hard because he’d finished business school by then and moved to Chicago, but we kept in touch by phone and he visited when he could. When I graduated, he convinced his father to hire me at their Chicago office so I could get away from New York. He is the one who helped me get a green card and eventually citizenship. He arranged for the company to pay for my MBA at Kellogg. He basically helped me put myself back together and we fell in love as that happened. Sebastian is who helped me become a woman again, who helped me be able to bear a man’s touch without having a panic attack, who helped me be able to share a bed with a man again. If it wasn’t for Sebastian, Max would have married a shell, a dry husk, a machine on autopilot.”


Iya looked down at her hands. They were trembling. No they weren’t. The shaking was because her eyes were filling up with tears, the liquid trembling as it swelled up and spilled down her face. Through her suddenly blurry vision, she saw Mabel reach out and take both her hands, cupping them between hers and squeezing gently.




“It’s OK, Iya.” Mabel whispered gently. “It’s OK. I hear you.” She grabbed a napkin from the table and gently wiped the tears from Iya’s face. “You don’t have to continue. I hear you.”

“I need to continue. Someone needs to know what happened…why it happened.” Iya said, her voice coming out rougher and more forceful than she intended.

“Ok. I’m here. I’ll listen.” Mabel conceded.

Iya extricated one of her hands and grabbed a tissue. She blew her nose gently and dabbed away her remaining tears. She tried to pull away her other hand but Mabel held on to it. Iya looked up at Mabel and their eyes met. Mabel’s eyes were sorrow-stricken, full of compassion and remorse. There was also helpless anger at the whole situation, it was an anger Iya knew well.

“I’m here, Iya. I’ll listen to you.”

Iya took Mabel’s measure for a couple of seconds then nodded, breathing a sigh of relief. 

“Thank you…” She whispered. Keeping her eyes fixed on their joined hands, she continued the  story.

“We knew our love was doomed. Roths could befriend, but they could never marry black women, talk less of a woman from some barely known African country.  Plus, there was Max. He’d faithfully kept in touch all the time, taking my withdrawal in stride, attributing it mostly to the distance between us. He graduated top of his class from the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria where he attended medical school and he won the American lottery soon after. He moved to Maryland and completed a surgical residency at Georgetown’s Providence Hospital. His move to the US had coincided with the time when, due to family pressure, Sebastian had married Kate, a childhood friend who he’d dated on and off through college and who his family liked.”
“I was devastated and the comfort and familiarity of Max’s love was where I found succor, even though in my heart, I don’t love him as I should, as he deserves. Max was just happy to have me back. I poured all my energy into my marriage and we were mostly happy. We knew each other well enough to be. Sebastian took  a position at Morrison & Roth’s office in New York so the distance helped. We tried to stay out of each other’s way but, we really couldn’t, seeing as we work for the same company and attend business meetings together sometimes. It was during one of those meetings in London about two years ago, that things started again between us. The company put us in the same hotel. Nothing could have stopped us getting back together that night. That was the night Morrison got the video recording of me and Sebastian. We were careless and started messing around in the hallway of the penthouse suite, forgetting there were cameras. The Morissons and the Roths may have been in business together for nearly a century but they keep as much dirt on each other as possible, for leverage.” 


Iya gave a bitter laugh.

“The day Max came to my office, the day he found out, Sebastian had just told me had left his wife because he wanted to be with me, even if his family was against it. He’s ready to walk away from the company and his family if that is what it takes. He told me I needed to tell Max. I told him I couldn’t. That Max would be devastated, that I couldn’t do that to him. We argued. He told me that we belonged together and that he would wait for me until I realized  and accepted that.”
“I noticed Max’s withdrawal but I was too caught up in my own drama to give it much thought, I just attributed it to work stress. It wasn’t until last week, when my assistant Lorie overheard one of my friends, Joan, telling me that she’d been at Bloomfeld-Hyman with her daughter and saw you and Max together. She said  that you both looked suspiciously cozy. Lorie happens to own a condo where you live and she has already seen you and Max together many times over the last year. Also, she was with me in London and knew about me and Sebastian. She’d kept her silence for a year, not wanting to involve herself in my business. She’d seen Sebastian head towards the restrooms after leaving my office that day, then had seen David Morrison leave his office and follow Sebastian. Then Max had gone in there too. She’d then seen Max leave the rest room looking dazed and confused  and instead of coming back to wait for me, he’d left the building. She had feared the worst but kept silent still not wanting to involve herself in anything more than what she was paid for. Lorie is a straight shooter and hated being made to feel like she’s keeping secrets that she didn’t consent to keep. She’s also a highly valuable member of my team. After Joan left, she sat me down, told me what she knows and informed me to sort out this mess or she would take it to the board.”
Iya looked up at Mabel. 
“I need to come clean, before things spiral out of control, but I am terrified of what it will do Max when he finds everything out. It’s going to hurt worse than finding out I cheated on him, because he will now also know that the marriage he thought he had is a lie. That I have been lying to him all this while. He’ll want to know how me and Sebastian started and I’ll have to tell him what happened back at Cornell and then he’ll know just how much I have kept from him, how deeply I have betrayed him. It will destroy him, Mabel. I have no idea what I am going to do.”




Read Part 4 here

The Lunch Date Pt 2

Read Part 1 here

2 days earlier…

Laying here, his arms wrapped around her, felt right.  Their bodies were tangled in each other, sweaty and slick, hearts still racing slightly from the bout of passionate sex they’d just finished. A breeze rustled through the plastic blinds of her open bedroom window causing them to clap rhythmically and blowing cool air over their heated bodies. It was June in Illinois, normally a time for the kind humid heat which covered one’s skin like a hot, wet blanket. This year’s was an unusually cool summer, however, which meant there was no need to turn on the air conditioning. If the weather man was to be believed the high for the day would barely scratch 65F.



Mabel shifted slightly so her whole weight wouldn’t rest on Max’s arm. He grunted and moved, shifting them so they lay on their sides, his body half over hers. The new position meant neither of them was crushing the other. This was classic Max: ever accommodating and considerate. She stroke his back,watching her hand move up and down over the expanse of his back. She’d never understood what India Arie had meant when she sang “Brown Skin.” She did now.  Max’s skin mesmerized her. It was Hershey brown, smooth and supple. It had been one of the first things she’d noticed about him when she’d been introduced to the doctor who would be performing one of her patients surgeries. 

The patient had been the infant daughter of one of Chicago’s most successful venture capitalists, who she had diagnosed with biliary atresia. This was a birth defect which caused a blockage in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder. Treatment would involve surgery to connect her liver to her small intestine, going around the abnormal ducts, as well as a liver transplant. The panicked parents had demanded the best surgeon and Dr. Senapathi, the chief of surgery at Bloomfeld-Hyman Center for Pediatric Medicine where she worked   had immediately recommended Max their pediatric surgery fellow. Mabel had been proud and curious when she realized the person the chief of surgery was praising so glowingly was a Cameroonian but she’d been expecting a geeky, pedantic and self important, dweeb as super smart Cameroonian guys in her experience tended to be. Nothing had prepared her for Max Litumbe.

Max’s easy going and infectious charm had won over both her and the child’s parents right away, the deal being sealed when the sick, fussy child had stopped crying and chortled when he’d taken her from her mother’s arms and made funny faces at her. Throughout the rest of the consult, it had been all she could do to not stare at him open mouthed. He explained the procedure easily to the parents, assuring them that their daughter would receive the best possible care. He complimented Mabel for diagnosing the condition so quickly and joked about a Cameroonian take over of  Bloomfeld-Hyman. Max was not a classically handsome man. His ears were too big for his face and he had just a bit of an over bite. However, he was tall, lean and muscled with arresting brown eyes, a strong square jaw and perfectly proportioned facial features. Add the rich brown skin, easy charisma and confidence and he made for an overall magnetic character.

Mabel breathed in deeply and couldn’t  stop the sigh of pleasure that slipped past her lips. The next best thing about Max after his skin, was his scent. There was something about the way Max smelled which stirred the depths of her most elementally feminine places. The major scent was that of his cologne, but now the undertones of his sweat and the unique essence that was his alone gave it a rich earthy muskiness that could never be bottled. He’d laughed at her attraction to what he called his pheromones when she’d mentioned it to him and she’d chuckled in return, but the power of how much his scent got to her had dawned on her when she’d almost walked into a display at Target, after some random man who wore the same scent had walked past her. She’d been engrossed in her phone, not paying attention but the moment  the scent had hit her nose, her head had whipped up and around to search for the source, thinking it was him. A lady nearby had shouted “Watch out!” just in time for her to not crash into the display of purses. He’d laughed so hard, tears had streamed down his face when she told him that story.

“Sniffing at me again, eh?” He asked now, his voice laced with amusement, surely remembering her near accident..

“Shut up.” She replied, pinching him. He yelped in pain and she  chuckled.

It was moments of easy intimacy like this which hurt her the most, because she always immediately remembered that he wasn’t hers. That as much time as they spent together both at work and in the moments they stole to be together, it was really just only matter of time before he’d decide to fix things with his wife. His wife who he still loved deeply, despite the fact that he currently lay content as cat in her arms.

As always, Mabel felt anger curl in her stomach when she thought of Max’s wife, Iya. She’d never met the woman and for that she was grateful. She wasn’t sure she’d have it in her to be polite if she did.  Mabel remembered how depressed she’d been when she had found out he was married. It had been over lunch at the hospital. After their patient’s surgery, they’s started seeking each other out for consults and just to chat about life. It had been an easy enough friendship, they were the only two Cameroonian doctors at the hospital. He’d talked about his wife with affection and pride. She was a financial analyst at  Morrison & Roth, one of Chicago’s top global investment banks. She was currently one of the directors of investment banking but he was sure she’d be named managing director by the end of the year. They were both very busy and Max had been worried that their demanding schedules were taking  too heavy a toll on their marriage. 

Max was a good guy. A kind, compassionate man who was also brilliant and hard working.  He also loved his wife. He was devoted to her. Which is why finding out that she was involved in an affair with her boss had almost destroyed him. From what he’d told her, the way he’d found out was right out of a Hollywood movie. In an effort to spice up their marriage, he’d  taken some vacation time from work and had planned to stop by her Wacker Avenue office to take her out for a surprise lunch. He’d arrived 5 minutes before her lunch hour and had been informed by Iya’s assistant a businesslike Asian girl, that Iya was at a meeting but would be with him shortly. The stricken look on the girl’s face when he’d told her he was Iya’s husband hadn’t really registered on him. As he sat waiting in the richly appointed lobby of the executive floor, a strikingly handsome white man, about his age had walked out of Iya’s suite. The assistant had bid him farewell with the utmost deference, calling him Mr. Roth. Probably the “Roth” in Morrison & Roth. Max had thought to himself admiring the man’s loping gait, the kind of carefree stride that could only come from knowing you were the captain of your ship, the master of your domain. It was a feeling Max was familiar with, he was after all Bloomfeld-Hyman’s highly prized surgical fellow.. The assistant buzzed Iya and told her that her husband was waiting and then informed Max that Iya was going to be another 15 minutes, as she had to take a quick call.

Max had then excused himself to made a quick bathroom run. In the restroom, he ran into Mr. Roth again.  He and an older man stood talking in hushed tones near the sinks. Both men had stopped and looked at  him when he walked in but upon realizing that he wasn’t an employee, they’d continued their conversation. Max went about his business. The barely suppressed anger in the men’s voices, however, soon caught his attention. The older man obviously chiding Roth  told him to stop “fucking around with female employees.” Max had laughed silently. With a face, body and money like Roth’s, there probably wasn’t a shortage of female employees who very much wanted to be fucked around with. The next thing the older man said had made Max’s blood run cold. 

“Iya Litumbe is one of the best people we have,” he said “I intend to make her chairwoman one day. I’ll be damned if her hard work and brilliance get cheapened by the fact that she’s sleeping with you. Cut it the fuck out, Roth. She’s married and you’re in the middle of a divorce.”

“What Iya and I do is none of your fucking business, Morrison.” Roth said coldly. “If not for me, we wouldn’t even have her here, you racist bastard. I have proof of that, remember.”

“And I have video footage of her on her knees sucking your dick.” Morrison had said smugly. “You remember that.”




Max did not remember leaving the building. 

Mabel had found him in his office when he’d not returned any of her calls. Eyes bloodshot from crying, unsure of what to do with the rage and betrayal he was feeling. She’d encouraged him to confront Iya but he had refused, needing time to process the unraveling of his life and the betrayal of the woman he’d loved since they’d been form five students in B.H.S Buea.. He’d begun to spend more time at work and Iya, busy with her own work and affair had barely noticed. A small part of her had rejoiced at the chance she now had to take Max for herself. Any woman who cheated on a guy like him did not deserve him. He’d pulled away from her in the months that followed but she’d been consistent about checking in on him and making sure he was OK. 

Their transition from friends to lovers happened one fateful night when, after leaving the hospital late due to a surgery which had taken a turn for the worse leading to the death of a 7 year old girl, he’d come to her condo, drunk and in complete shambles. She’d taken care of him, stripped him of his stinky clothes, bathed him and then cuddled him in her arms as he wept not only for the dead child but his dead marriage. They had fallen asleep together and woken up hungry for each other. Their affair had blossomed and through it Max had found the focus he needed to get his head back into his work. Months had passed and he still did not confront Iya. Mabel had asked him about it once and he’d shrugged it off saying he would when he was ready. It had now been over a year. 

The moment she’d known he was still in love with Iya was the week of the hospital’s annual fundraiser. Employees were expected to attend with their spouses.  She and Max had been having their customary cafeteria lunch date when Dr. Senapathi, the chief of surgery stopped to chit chat.  He had asked if Iya would be at the fundraiser and Max had said she was out of the country on business. They’d started talking about Iya’s prowess. She’d just been featured Chicago Magazine as one of the potential candidates for  the Chairperson of Morrison & Roth. The first woman and black person to hold that position. Mabel had first, been shocked then completely heartbroken by the pride, love and affection she’d heard in Max’s voice as he spoke about his wife. It was the same pride, love and affection she’d heard the first time he talked about her before he was aware of her infidelity. Later that day, she’d asked again if he intended to confront Iya but he’d avoided the question. She’d let it go and they’d fallen back into their pattern of lunch dates at work and stolen moments of passion at her condo, which was a few miles from the hospital. As time passed, however, she became more and more anxious. Was he ever going to confront her?

Even today, laying here in his arms, the question haunted her. She’d come to realize that he was delaying because when he did confront Iya, it would be the first step towards  fixing his marriage. A step which would mean ending things with her and he apparently didn’t want things to end yet. Well, he’ll have to make a decision. She was getting tired of sneaking around and it was only a matter of time before someone at the hospital noticed.

“Max?”

“Hmmm?”

“Have you spoken with Iya?”

His body, which until then had been fully relaxed in post coital bliss, tensed.

“No. I haven’t.” He replied.

“Why?” It was the first time she’d ever pressed the issue. She usually let it go when he said he hadn’t.  He sighed heavily.

“I don’t know, Mabes. I keep planning to but somehow I can’t bring myself to.”

“You know we can’t do this forever right? I can’t do this for ever.”

“I know….” 

They  didn’t speak for the next couple of minutes.

” I want to –    ”   

Whatever he was going to say was interrupted by the sound of his pager going off. He groaned, rolled over and picked it up from her night stand. He glanced at the number, cursed quietly under his breath and started dressing up.

“I thought you weren’t on call?” Mabel asked from the bed.

“Technically, I’m not. I got off at 3 p.m. and I’m supposed to be off till 9 a.m. tomorrow morning” He said, pulling up his scrub pants and tying them at the waist. “But I operated on Atkinson’s grandson yesterday.”

“Atkinson? Chairman of the Hospital Board Atkinson?”

“The one and only. Post-op is being a real bitch. Poor kid is also thrombophilic. Clots galore.We might eventually need a vascular surgeon.”

“Oh wow… that sucks. Anything I can do?”

“Nope. Not right now. But I’ll keep that in mind.” He was done dressing. He reached over and kissed her forehead, a gesture she found tender and endearing. “I’ll see you later.”

Mabel lay back in bed, listening to the sounds of him leaving. Eventually all quieted down and she was left with the faint sounds of vehicles in the distance and the claps of the plastic blinds on her window as the breeze rustled them. Max was gone which meant dinner plans were cancelled. It was Tuesday – a work night, so she’d planned on ordering in Thai. She’d just fix a salad. No need ordering anything when she was alone. It’s good he left, she thought. She was going to press for answers and from every indication, he wasn’t ready to answer.

Her own phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. She picked it up from her night stand and looked at the number. It was a strange number with an 847 area code, so definitely Illinois. She normally ignored calls from strange numbers but distracted from thinking about Max, she answered this one.

“Hello?”

“Hello.” The voice was female and the inflection oddly familiar. Definitely not an American. “May I speak with Dr. Mabel Mbemba?”

“Yes, this is she. Who is this?”

There was a small hesitation then the woman spoke again.

“This is Iya, Iya Litumbe. Max’s wife. I was hoping you’d be willing to meet me for lunch… I’d like to talk with you.”



Read Part 3 here