Read Part 1 here
One Year Earlier…
She watched him from across the crowded room, the food in her plate forgotten. Around her, loud conversations swirled against a backdrop of afro beats music and laughter. The sounds were typical of any Cameroonian party. The baby shower was in full swing now that all the cutesy games and gift giving was over. It was time to eat, drink and talk, the three things Cameroonians excelled at. She might as well not have been there, however, so engrossed was she in watching him. Not that she would have had anything to say to anyone. The hosts were friends of Jude’s, francophones he grew up with in Yaounde. The majority of the guests were people she didn’t know. There were a couple of familiar faces, but no one she knew beyond the acquaintance level. Attending a baby shower had not been part of her plan when she’d impulsively bought a plane ticket to go visit him in Virginia, but he had insisted on going, stating matter-of-factly that he made the plans before she told him she was coming. After introducing her to Amandine the mother-to-be and her husband Yves, he escorted her to the food table where she made plates for both of them. He’d then proceeded to grab a drink for himself and migrate over to where his friends were, leaving her to her own devices. So here she sat, watching him and thinking.
It was a common occurrence these days, this habit of mulling thoughts over in her head completely oblivious to her surroundings. The thoughts were usually about him… or them. About what was happening to them. About what was going to happen to them. They annoyed her, these thoughts, drained her of energy. Her friends said she was fretting over nothing but her gut had never failed her. She knew she had reason to worry. The challenge was figuring out what was triggering her warning system. On the surface things were as good as they could be at this point. They talked often – or as often as his work schedule would allow. Not as much as she would prefer but they were both working adults living in different states. They couldn’t constantly be in touch, could they? Each time they talked, she felt she got to know the kind of person he was a little better. Or did she? Her mind threw the question back at her almost immediately and she paused. How well did she know him? And more importantly how well did he know her? Was he even paying attention? Or was he seeing just what he wanted to see? He had been distant recently and a lot of the effort to drive their communication seemed to be coming from her end.
A passerby ran into her leg almost upending her plate. A ball of puff-puff rolled off and thumped to the floor.
“Oh, I am so sorry!” The girl’s distinctly francophone Cameroonian accent seeped through her Americanized English. “Would you like me to get you another one?”
“No… That’s OK.” Nadia bent over and picked up the pastry, absentmindedly putting it back into her plate of barely touched food. The girl gave her a weird look, clearly thinking she still intended to eat the sullied food. “I’m done eating anyway” Nadia said quickly. It didn’t help. The girl’s eyes drifted to her still packed plate, and her brows furrowed with disapproval.
“Is there something wrong with the food?”
Nadia looked up at the girl, taken aback by her confrontational attitude. Her face was familiar. Smooth dark skin, high forehead and full lips with a pink tinge. Why did she seem familiar? And then it dawned on her. She was related to the mother-to-be. A sister perhaps. They looked alike enough for that to be true. She had more than likely participated in the cooking.
“Uuuhh… No. No. The food is fine. I just lost my appetite. I’m sorry. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, I suppose.”
The girl narrowed her eyes at Nadia, obviously still not pleased with the answer. She looked like she might say something else but instead walked away, muttering something in French. Nadia heaved a sigh of relief. It was bad enough being at a party where she didn’t really know anyone, surrounded by Jude’s friends. The last thing she wanted was to get into a confrontation of any sort. Speaking of Jude, her eyes shifted to where he last was standing. He was still there and he was looking in her direction. The moment their eyes met, his slid away, barely acknowledging her. A frisson of discomfort ran through Nadia.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
“Oh my god, Vanessa! You made it, girl! I’m so happy to see you!”
A lull in the buzz of conversation and a pause between two songs made the mother-to-be’s exclamation louder and more noticeable than it would have been over the party’s din. All eyes shifted to the door where a group of girls had just walked in, among them, a strikingly pretty dark-haired white girl holding a brightly colored gift bag. She exchanged hugs with the mother-to-be, a happy smile on her face. They obviously were good friends. Talking animatedly, they walked to the decorated table where all the gifts were so Vanessa could set down her bag and then turned to survey the party which had returned to normal with music and conversation. For some reason, Nadia watched Vanessa with great curiosity. She lacked the self-consciousness that most white people had when surrounded by black people. She was relaxed, even reaching over to pluck a piece of dodo from Amandine’s plate to eat, joy spreading over her face as she chewed. She leaned close to Amandine and asked a question. Amandine’s brow furrowed as she looked around the room. Her eyes settled on a spot and she gestured with her chin. Vanessa’s gaze followed the direction of the gesture and then softened as she found who she’d obviously been asking about. She smiled warmly, intimately and waved.
Nadia looked in the direction of their attention and felt a jolt when she saw whose gaze Vanessa’s was locked with. Jude looked ecstatic, his handsome face suffused with the glow which comes with the pleasure of getting a much desired wish. It was a far cry from the annoyed almost hostile look he had given her when he picked her up from the airport the night before. Nadia’s eyes shifted back to Vanessa but it wasn’t Vanessa who caught her attention. It was Amandine. Amandine who was staring at her. Amandine, who looked away guiltily when their eyes met.
Nadia’s heart sank.