Read Part 3 here Read Part 4 here
When Mabel saw Max getting off the elevator into the Bloomfeld-Hyman Internal Medicine Unit lobby, she made an about-face and then a beeline for the women’s bathroom. She had been headed towards the elevators herself but thankfully, he was talking with another doctor when he got off so he didn’t see her initially. She’d been avoiding him since her conversation with Iya which happened almost two weeks ago. She did not want to talk to him. She could not bear to talk to him, or hold him or be with him now, knowing what she knew. Normally, they ate lunch together at least twice a week and snuck off to her condo as often as their schedules allowed. There had been very little communication between them the last two weeks, though. Whatever communication there had been, consisted of hurried greetings in hallways, quick phone consults over patients and short text message sessions. She’d started using work as an excuse to get away. He texted her asking if she was angry with him over his reluctance to confront Iya and she’d replied that his marriage was none of her business. Her own words had seemed hollow, because she knew she had made it her business the moment she allowed him into her bed and even more so when she met with Iya.
She heard him call her name but walked faster, ignoring him. For the 100th time since that meeting with Iya, she cursed herself for getting involved with the whole mess to begin with. Cursed herself for falling in love with him. What a mess! His marriage was doomed. There was no way he would get out of this without being hurt. She wanted to be the one to help him pick up the pieces but she feared what his reaction would be if he ever found out she had met with Iya. Would he see it as an even further betrayal his trust? The wife and the mistress getting together would be any reasonable man’s worst nightmare. Add the surrounding circumstances, however, and his pride might not survive it. The bathroom was empty so she slipped into a stall and locked the door. Almost immediately, her phone which she kept in her lab coat pocket began buzzing. She ignored it. It rang and rang and then stopped.
Next was the incoming text notification.
At ur office. Need 2 talk 2 you.
She couldn’t tell him she was out because he’d seen her. Talking to him right now was not an option, however. She texted back.
Restroom. Have a pt. in 5 mins 😦
The iMessage bubble popped up almost as soon as her message was delivered.
U’ve been avoiding me.
It was a statement, not a question. She sighed deeply.
He didn’t reply immediately but when he did, his words made her heart skip a beat.
Talked with Iya. She told me everything. I need 2 talk to someone. I need u
Everything? Mabel thought, her mind racing. What does everything mean? Does he know that I know?
Max sat down in one of the leather chairs in the waiting room of Mabel’s office suite. It was a cheerful room, with brightly colored chairs, cushions, toys and children’s paraphernalia. The TV was tuned to the Nickelodeon channel and Dora the Explorer’s squeaky voice chirped in the background. Normally, the room would have lifted his spirits just as it was designed to lift the spirits of the children Mabel treated, but today it could have been all grey for all he noticed. He felt lost. Disconnected. Numb. Everything he thought he knew about himself, as a husband and a man, made no sense right now.
The range of emotions he’d felt during and after his conversation with Iya had left him disoriented and exhausted. He’d come down the stairs angry. Angry and hurt. He had asked her if she was sleeping with Sebastian Roth and she had said yes. He had lost it. He lashed out at her for cheating on and lying to him. He had accused her of making a fool of him. Asked her if her rich, white lover was everything she wanted in a man. She’d stood quietly, eyes lowered and let him levy his accusations but when he had railed at her, calling her a two faced slut and asked her if sucking Roth’s dick was how she’d gotten to the top of Morrison & Roth, she had started laughing. She laughed so hard, tears had streamed down her face. Her deep belly laughter had stunned him into silence. She sat down on the sofa and kept on laughing, bowled over, holding onto her sides. He had watched her, rage roiling deep in his chest as she laughed and laughed, the sound shrill, almost manic. It had grated on his nerves and his fists had clenched and unclenched. He wanted to grab her, shake her, make her stop laughing but there was a note of impending doom in her laughter, a sense of if only you knew what I was laughing about, that had kept him rooted in place.
She had pulled herself together finally, wiped her eyes and clapped her hands together three times, a classic Cameroonian expression of bewilderment.
“Tatah koko… I don suffer.” She mused to herself. (Oh my God, I have suffered.)
She looked up at him, her face calm. “Is there anything else you want to say to me, Max?” She asked wearily. “Any more insults you want to heap on my head? Accusations you want to hurl at me? I know I deserve most of them. “
“Most? ” He scoffed. “You are the one with explaining to do Iya.” He said this stonily, folding his hands across his chest.
“Indeed…” She had retorted, sounding slightly amused. Her amusement scraped on his nerves. Made him feel ridiculed. He resented her deeply for it.
“Why Iya? Why? Wasn’t I enough? Wasn’t my love for you enough? Wasn’t what we had together enough? Why?” He heard the note of desperation in his voice and resented that as well.
“It was never a question of whether or not it was enough, Max.”
“Then what was it a question of? A promotion? Is that how they do it at Morrison & Roth?” He asked nastily. “How many supervisors have you slept with then? You climbed up that corporate ladder like a pro.”
She cut him a withering glance.
“Everything I have achieved at Morrison & Roth was through my own hard work.” She said coldly. “I will take your insults as a woman who broke her marriage vows, Max. But that is all I will take.”
“You have a lot of nerve, talking to me like that. I’m not the one whose boss has a recording of me on my knees with my mouth open.” He saw her eyes widen in shock. “Oh! You think I didn’t know that? It’s fascinating the conversations one overhears in the men’s restrooms at Morrison & Roth.”
She smirked at him, having recovered her composure quickly.
“Equally fascinating the going-ons at Primavera Bay Condominiums, I could say. Dr. Mbemba is such a lovely woman, isn’t she?”
His eyes narrowed.
“How do you know about Mabel?” He asked.
“Not so comfortable on your high horse now, are you? How long did it take for my wronged, devoted husband to run into another woman’s arms?”
“This is not about me and Mabel, Iya.”
“Max, you don’t get to call me a whore and question my work ethic, all without knowing a single damn thing, while you’re out fucking a colleague as well. At least I am assuming your affair started after you found out about mine. I’m giving you that benefit of doubt.”
” I would never have stepped out on you Iya.” He shouted. “Do you know what it did to me? To stand there and hear these men talk about my wife, the woman I love, like that? Like she was a call girl, spreading her legs for the highest bidder? They didn’t even care that there was a stranger in the room. Do you know how that humiliated me?”
“Max, I am sorry. I am sorry you had to go through that and even sorrier for putting you in that situation to begin with. This is so much more complicated than you think.”
“What is complicated, Iya? That my wife is having a not so discrete affair with her boss?”
Her next words had shattered his world.
“No, that your wife is in love with her boss. Was in love with him before she married you. That your wife should never have married you to begin with. That this whole marriage is founded on lies.”
“What are you talking about, Iya?” His voice had been dangerously low, rough with shock. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Do you know who Bob Hammond is?” She asked.
“What the hell does the Secretary of State have to do with the conversation we’re having right now?”
“Everything, Max. Bob Hammond. His wife Carol, their son Kyle, who’s now an attorney in New York. Word is he’ll be running for Congress next year. They have everything to do with this conversation.”
“You’re making absolutely no sense, right now, madam.”
“My first semester at Cornell, Kyle Hammond raped me.”
Her words were like a blow. He felt blood drain from his face.
“It was at their frat party.” She continued. “He gave me drinks with enough ketamine to put me in a coma and kept me in a room for hours, raping me over and over. Sebastian Roth is who found us. I ended up in the hospital, convulsing. The Hammond’s covered it up and threatened to sue me if I ever spoke about it. Sebastian’s parents refused to get involved. This was in 2004 when Bob Hammond ran for president.”
She had told her story, each revelation like a nine inch nail shoved into his body. Being on campus with her rapist, siting in class with him. Bearing his taunting smiles. The time Kyle Hammond had cornered her and told her he had more to give her if she was ever interested, and the emails he had sent to her with pictures he took of her with his phone. Pictures which showed her drugged and naked, his semen all over her body. Pictures which he threatened to release to the student body if she ever talked. How he’d told her he still masturbated while looking at the pictures. At a certain point Max had reached blindly for a chair and sat down, his legs weak from the force of his shock and confusion. He’d been revolted by the Kyle Hammond’s actions, incensed by Carol Hammond’s viciousness, outraged by the Roth’s inaction, his heart had broken for Iya, his sweet, innocent Iya who had left Cameroon excited and hopeful. His heart broke into millions of tiny pieces as she spoke about being unable to even seek therapy for fear of the Hammond’s retribution.
As she talked he found himself thinking about the last time they had been together before she left Cameroon. He’d caught a bus to Buea from his home town Limbe and they had met at the French-Cameroonian Cultural Center, commonly known as the Alliance Franco Camerounaise. The well kept grounds and the well stocked restaurant at the establishment made it a favorite meeting spot for young lovers wishing to be together, away from the prying eyes of family. He had bought soft drinks and they had drunk them sitting under one of the many cypress trees on the grounds. She had been full of plans and ambition and could barely contain her excitement over her impending trip. He had worried about her. She’d been very sheltered growing up and he wondered if she was ready for life by herself. She’d smiled at him.
“I’m going to America, Max. I can always dial 9-11, you know.” She’d said it confidently. Little had she known.
When she had spoken about feeling guilty and afraid to tell anyone back home in Cameroon (even him) what had happened, he’d felt so guilty because he knew that like everyone else, he would have probably wondered why she had gone to the party and drank alcohol to begin with. Hearing her speak about feeling dirty and defiled, not being able to let a man touch her, he’d felt sick. Hearing about how Sebastian had been the one to help her get past that, hearing how she had fallen in love with the man, had broken him. There was no denying that she and Sebastian Roth had forged bonds that had been tested in hot fires. He had known and loved the pre-rape Iya, but Sebastian Roth had loved her through the darkest time of her life. There was no comparison. At a certain point he even felt grateful that Sebastian Roth had been willing to be her friend and help her, to smooth things over for her and help her move on. The gratitude was heavily laced with bitterness and jealousy. It killed him that he could not have been there for Iya, even if he had wanted to be. He, however, deeply resented the fact that she had used his love for her, to heal her broken heart. But then, at the same time, he was glad he had been there as a rock for her to lean on.
By the end of her story, he hadn’t been able to speak. There were no words to describe the emotions that had been raging in him. The injustice. The sheer unfairness of it all left him speechless and it maddened him that Kyle Hammond had never been brought to justice. Might never be brought to justice.He had left her sitting in the living room, unable to even respond to her story. He spent the rest of night in the guest bedroom and had left the house for work before she woke up.
He’s spent most of the day in a trance. Operating on autopilot. Luckily, he had no surgeries scheduled and had told his program director that he planned to spend the day doing research into a complicated procedure they had coming up. He’d been unable to focus on anything. He could barely process all he had heard last night. He’d ended up going to look for Mabel. He needed to talk to someone. She’d been avoiding him for the last two weeks and he was sure it had to do with the fact that he had been reluctant to confront Iya. He sat in her waiting room now. Paralyzed. He would sit here and wait for her to finish seeing her patient is he had to. His phone buzzed in his hand. An incoming call. He looked at it thinking it was Mabel. It wasn’t. It was Molua. He ignored the call. His phone immediately started ringing again. Molua again. He really did not want to talk to the man. He hit ignore for a second time.
“Would you like some coffee, Dr. Litumbe? You look like you could use some. ”
It was Marcia, Mabel’s receptionist. An elderly African American woman, who for some weird reason, reminded him of the women who sold dried fish at Limbe old market. She was used to him stopping by to see Mabel by now. He wondered if like Lorie, Iya’s assistant, Marcia knew that he and Mabel were having an affair. He tried to summon a smile but the alarmed look on face told him he didn’t succeed.
“I’m fine, Marcia. Just a little tired.” His voice was raspy.
“Tired? You look like death warmed over. What are these people doing to you?”
Then his phone buzzed with an incoming text message. He looked down at it.
I’ll be out in a sec.
It was Mabel. He sighed in relief. His phone buzzed again almost immediately. It was Molua.
Boy, call me ASAP. Joan is talking some strange shit here. Are you seeing someone at work?
He ignored the message. Joan’s behavior from the night before had puzzled him, but after talking with Iya, he knew where it was coming from. He’ll talk with Molua later. His phone buzzed again. Another text from Molua.
Man, people have accused her of disrespecting you last night and she is saying things here that I don’t understand. We’re at Ekwang Parlor.
Max’s heart sank. Ekwang Parlor was a Cameroonian restaurant in Chicago. A popular venue for Cameroonians and gossip central. If Joan was talking about him there, the whole Cameroonian community would soon find out. He started to type a response to Molua, but his phone buzzed with an incoming text message. It was Ndolo, his little sister.
Max. Call me ASAP. Someone just texted me something horrible. Are you cheating on Iya? She called me last week and asked me some very strange questions.
He stared at his phone in horror. What the hell was going on?
His phone started ringing again.This time it was Likume, his best friend who lived in Houston, Texas. He answered quickly.
“Guy, ase-eh?” Likume sounded worried. “Na weti di happen for that side? I don di receive some very bizarre text them for here.” (Man, what’s going on over there? I’ve been receiving very bizarre texts over here.)