Sweet Bitterleaf

The day Daddy’s release from prison was announced on the radio was the day I discovered that feelings could taste sweet. Mama fell to the floor crying. Grandma and Aunty Nina, Mama’s mother and sister held her while thanking God for his work. Big Papa looked pleased and his pleasure seemed to increase when Uncle Clovis came home with the palm wine he’d gone out to get for him just before the announcement was made. My joy seemed to bubble up from my stomach and spill over my tongue and it tasted sweet like honey. Me and my cousin Shirley jumped up and down happily hugging each other close. A few minutes after the announcement was made, a large crowd of people flooded into the compound of our house in Bonduma, in their jubilation, trampling over and completely destroying the vegetable and flower gardens Mama worked so hard to keep neat and productive. The crowd grew big, so wide reaching was Daddy’s influence, the gendarmes had eventually shown up to disperse them, careful to behave appropriately, because they knew that anyone who had so quickly been arrested, taken to Yaoundé and then released by the Regime without anything untoward happening to them, was someone to treat with care. My cousin Shirley and I exchanged wide eyed looks after as we surveyed the yard, concerned what Mama’s reaction might be when she saw the damage to her years of hard work. She had barely noticed, so great was her joy. I walked around that day and the days that followed until Daddy came home, with the sweet taste of joy sitting at the back of my tongue, drawing its fullness out to savor fully when I remembered that soon, I will be able to hug my Daddy and smell his perfume again, read newspapers with him, ask him all my questions, and drive around with him as he checked on his farms and various projects in Buea. It feels good to see how loved and respected my father is. His workers always look very happy when he shows up. These activities with my father are the highlights of my life. It’s not a very long life as I am six years old. I used to say “only” six years old but Daddy told me to embrace my age. I was not sure what he meant so I asked him. He told me it means to be ok with being a six year old girl and learning how to be the best six year old girl I could be.

The day Daddy came home from prison is the day I learned that feelings could also taste bitter.  Grandma and Aunty Nina had come to our house from the village the day after Daddy was arrested. So had Big Papa, daddy’s father and Uncle Clovis who was a distant relation I couldn’t explain but who always travelled with Big Papa to assist him. I had not like being made to say hello to all of them when they arrived. Their attention made me itchy and I did not like being touched by anyone but my Daddy. Big Papa patted us on the cheeks and commented on how we were big women already. He asked Shirley when she was getting married. I frowned in confusion when he asked that because Shirley is only 13 but everyone laughed, like it was the most normal question in the world. Maybe they were just glad to be given a reason to laugh because it felt like a cloud of tension and fear had descended over our house after Daddy got arrested.  As everyone laughed, I noticed Uncle Clovis looking at Shirley, his eyes lingering on her the way Daddy’s eyes linger on Mama when she forgot to wear her house coat over nightgown. Shirley didn’t like this very much. I think so because I looked at her right at the moment she caught Uncle Clovis staring. Her eyes grew bigger then she looked at the floor. Her body then slouched over as if she was trying to hide her chest. The whole exchange caused my heart to skip a beat. I wasn’t sure why but I was sure the tight feeling I got between my eyes and nose after was not something I wanted to feel again. More relatives showed up from the village the next day, crowding into our house. The day of the return itself, even more relatives and friends started showing up as early as 6am, bringing food, drinks and anything they thought would contribute to the celebration.  It was a happy festive mood in the house. A little bit like Christmas but the buzz of excitement held something more to it. I heard the uncles sitting and talking in the parlor say Daddy is a true son and protector of his people. They continued to list Daddy’s good qualities: a well-known business man, a family man, young and dynamic, with good values and ideas as demonstrated in the scathing takedown of the Regime he had penned that got him arrested. The conversation shifted to politics with the men debating loudly if secession was really an option and if they could trust any of the people likely to run in the presidential elections next year. I heard some suggest that Daddy should run in the presidential elections or even lead the move for secession. The men in the room seemed to like the idea. Uncle Kome, Daddy’s classmate from Sasse seemed to like it the most.

“He is the best we have right now, I can’t believe we didn’t see this before!” he said in his typical forceful manner, his booming voice rattling the small cavity of my chest. As he talked, I saw small drops of spittle fly from his lips from where I sat in the corner fiddling with the food I didn’t really want to eat because I didn’t want to spoil the taste of joy in my mouth as I listened to everyone talk about my father.

“The man has had integrity since from our school days, so what he wrote did not surprise me” Uncle Kome continued, proud of his long relationship with my father. “We thought he was quiet but the teachers would always read his essays to the class because they were so brilliant. He is a natural leader. One article in the Post! Just one! And the Regime gets so afraid they send goons to arrest him. What a failure of a government!”

The men in the room agreed heartily. They talked about Mama too. She would be a real asset, a whole professor, and of course a beautiful woman.

In the kitchen, Mama and the women cooked.

When the car carrying Daddy showed up, I was the first to see it because I was waiting near the gate. My excited scream when I caught a glimpse of the familiar silhouette of my father’s head drew everyone’s attention and people came pouring out of the house. They and everything else disappeared as I focused on the man whose presence in my life was love, safety and joy. I flew into his arms, his laughter washing over me like a sweet, warm river of love. All was right in my world again. I fell asleep that night curled in Daddy’s arms, against a backdrop of music, the thick scent of beer and palm wine and excited talk about elections and secession. That word again. I told myself I had to ask Daddy it means.

I woke up in my bed from one of the bad dreams I started having when Daddy got arrested. Normally, I went to Shirley’s bed but I was already sharing my bed with her, since Grandma and Aunty Nina shared the other bed in the room. I listened to her soft breathing for a few seconds before deciding tonight was a night I couldn’t bear to be separated from my father. Still half asleep, I made for my parent’s room hoping to get in their bed. I stopped at the door when I heard sounds from inside the room, then froze in surprise, coming fully awake when I realized the sound I heard was the sound of Mama crying. Why is Mama crying? I thought. Daddy is home! She should be happy. Why is she crying? Was he in there with her?  I wanted to open the door, go into the room and ask why she was crying but then I heard Daddy’s voice low and deep. I could not make out what he said but he sounded angry. The volume of her crying seemed to increase just a little before being abruptly cut off then I heard a sharp intake of breath, a scuffle, footsteps and what sounded like a muffled yelp. I got that tight feeling between my eyes and nose again and the sweetness of joy I had pulled to my tongue as I thought about sleeping close to my parents seemed to intensify to the point my tongue felt numb then as the intensity dissipated, a flat bitterness was all I could taste. A small crack formed where my chest used to be solid and sure. It frightened me. Why is Mama crying? I decided to go back to the room I shared with my cousin. As I turned away from the door, a rhythmic sound, similar to the sound Daddy and Mama’s bed made when I jumped on it came through the closed door. I would have had to be jumping very fast to mimic this sound, though.

The next day, Daddy and Mama seemed happy with each other so I asked none of the bitter-tasting questions that had lodged themselves in my mouth. Over the next weeks, things slowly returned to a new kind of normal. Grandma, Aunty Nina and Uncle Clovis stayed after everyone else left. I was glad Grandma and Aunty Nina stayed even though that meant I had to share the bed with Shirley but Uncle Clovis’s presence confused me. He was always with Big Papa, and I wondered who would fetch the beer and palm wine Big Papa seemed to exist on if they were apart. When I asked Daddy about it, he said Big Papa was worried what might happen to him next, he wanted Uncle Clovis to stay and keep watch over the family. Daddy now spends a lot of time travelling and meeting with different people to talk about politics. He doesn’t take me to these meetings as he would his other meetings. I asked him why and he told me these discussions would be too heavy for a little girl. It made me want to go even more. I wanted to spend time with my Daddy in case the Regime came and arrested him again. I wanted to know about politics if that was how one stood up to the Regime that arrests people’s fathers because they write well. I continued to have bad dreams which seemed to increase every time Daddy came home from one of his trips. Sometimes, I would wake up and go to their room to sleep with them. The nights I heard Mama crying and those strange sounds, I went back to my room after licking some toothpaste to lessen the bitter taste that coated my tongue, breathing through my mouth as if that would stop the crack in my chest from growing bigger, spreading from the point in the center. Very soon I began to hate this politics thing that had come into our lives and taken my Daddy away from me. I felt like crying and the broken glass screen that was my chest vibrated in a weird way when I thought about it for too long. Is that why Mama cries at night too sometimes? I wondered.

The tightness between my eyes and nose and the bitter taste on my tongue have become a fixture of my life since then. A few weeks later, however, when I saw Fatou, our Francophone neighbor’s house help crying behind their firewood kitchen, the tightness bloomed into a headache. Mama sent me to get bitterleaf from the garden in the backyard which was the one the part of our yard that had not been trampled upon weeks earlier. I was glad to have something to do in the kitchen because I always felt like I was underfoot when Mama and Shirley were cooking. Today, with Aunty Nina and Grandma present, my services were scarcely needed at all. I went off on my errand happily and picked the leaves carefully as I’d been taught to. The first thing I heard was hurried footsteps then a heavy sob followed by hysterical crying. I peered through the wood fence and shrubs that divided our compound from theirs and saw her sitting on the ground, her plump body folded in on itself, shaking as she wept. The crying was many things I didn’t have words for yet but the sound, the keening, hollow, hopeless sound of it hit the already fragile space in my chest, exploding its fractured solidity into many tiny slivers. A big yawning, seemingly bottomless hole was left and I felt myself falling into it and the bitterness flooded my tongue so strongly I felt I could scrape it off with my teeth.

“Fatou?” My voice trembled.

Her head swung up in shock when she heard her name. She scrambled up from her sitting position and ran to the fence, her eyes wide with fear. She had sought out the spot hoping to hide, I realized. From who? I thought frantically, feeling my own fear rise. I walked to a spot in the partition that had little shrubbery so I could see her. She moved over to where I stood.

“Rosa!” she whispered my name urgently, crushing the “r” as Francophones do. She pressed her face close to mine through the fence, so close I could see the red veins in her eyes, swollen from crying, the tears still forming as the spoke. There was a bruise on her lips with what looked like bite marks on them. I could smell her sweat, the Vaseline she used for body lotion, and the sour breath that accompanied the words that came out of her mouth next. “No tell any man you see me crying. I beg you! Promise!”

“Ok.” I whispered.

I blurted out what I had witnessed the moment I got back to the kitchen. The air seemed to go out of Mama’s body when she heard my words and she cast a worried look towards the neighbor’s house. Grandma and Aunty Nina both looked askance at her. Shirley sat frozen with a faraway look in her eyes.

“Has Aurelie’s father come back from Yaoundé?” Mama asked Shirley.

My cousin nodded, suddenly very interested in the plantains she was peeling.

Mama sighed.

“The least they could do is send the child to school.” Aunty Nina murmured.

“When she’s not a relative?” Grandma asked, sounding scandalized.

“All women need an education these days, Mama.” My mother said softly.

That wuna book wey di make am woman no di want shiddon inside house, so…” Grandma said, her mouth set in a decidedly disapproving line, as she leaned over to poke at the wood fire.

I saw Mama and Aunty Nina exchange looks. No one said anything else. Aunty Nina and Grandma left a couple of days later and Uncle Clovis stayed.

I asked Daddy why Aurelie’s father makes Fatou cry about a week later, when he was in town.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Fatou and the hole in my chest but neither Shirley nor Mama wanted to discuss the topic again. Besides, they always treat me like a child and Daddy answers my questions like I am smart enough to understand.  I had to wait because Daddy is now very busy. He travels a lot and when he is not, he is talking politics with the seemingly endless stream of men who come by to visit in the evenings. I asked him when we sat in his study as was our morning tradition, him reading the newspaper, me halfheartedly doing calligraphy exercises since Daddy wanted me to have perfect cursive writing. I worked quietly waiting for him to share some news from the paper with me so we could discuss it but that had happened less and less since his arrest and release. Now, we mostly spent what he called our daddy-daughter time with him reading and me doing some exercise he assigned. My questions needed answering, though. He’d come back from Bamenda the day before and Mama had cried last night. I wanted to understand what was happening around me and why I now walked around with this hole in my chest I was deathly afraid I would fall into. His lips set into a very hard line when I asked my question and he asked me where I’d heard that. I told him the events of the week before, down to Mama’s conversation with Shirley, Aunty Nina and Grandma. His body vibrated tensely when I finished. I’d never felt that from my father. It frightened me and the hole in my chest seemed to pulse in invitation.

“I’m going to have a talk with your mother about the conversations she has in front of you.  But I will try to answer your question since you asked. Relationships between men and women are complicated and people feel hurt sometimes, so they cry. That’s all that was. You see, the girl told you not to tell anyone, right? That means she will be fine, so do not worry about it. Just remember that no good and honorable man would do anything to make a woman cry, alright?”

I wanted to ask him about Mama and why she cries at night. I wanted to ask him if that meant that he was not a good and honorable man himself. But I already know my Daddy is a good and honorable man and that now, sometimes Mama cries at night. I felt that tightness between my eyes and nose again so I said nothing more. I didn’t want a head ache. That night I slept with my parents. I woke up the next morning from a dream about Fatou, Aurelie’s father and I which involved us falling down that hole in my chest –  her crying bitterly as she had been that day, him laughing as I’ve heard him laugh over the fence from time to time and me listening to them in a detached way. I perked to attention when I heard Fatou’s name and knowing they would stop talking if they knew I was awake, I pretended to still be sleeping.

“Stay out of that business, Beatrice” my father was saying. “First of all, they are Francophones and he is a military man. This is a delicate time for everyone. The girl, they call her Fatou? Didn’t she tell Rosa not to tell anyone? Obviously, she has some stake in keeping the situation as it is, which looking at the man’s wife makes it understandable. She’s young but they pay her probably makes it worth it. She’s always seemed too loose for my taste and reasonable men do not do what you claim that man is doing.  And even if so, that is more reason we must break away from these people. I hope Shirley no longer goes over there.”

Mama assured him that she doesn’t.

I told Shirley what Daddy had said and her eyes took on a glassy look like she would cry. She said nothing for a few seconds, her breath seeming to flutter in and out of her chest.

“He’s right.” She said finally, her normally high-pitched voice a small sound barely louder than a whisper. She wouldn’t meet my eyes when she said it and seemed to be in a bad mood for the rest of the day, avoiding everyone. Her mood was so bad, she disobeyed Mama for the first time I’d ever witnessed and refused to take Uncle Clovis his food in his room when Mama asked her to.

Mama beat Shirley for the first of many times that day.

 

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Choosing Me: Part 2

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.

Choosing Me : Part 1

Before she even realized what she was doing, Nadia brought up her Facebook account on her laptop. She had sat down at her computer intending to work. Smiling ruefully and shaking her head she scrolled down her timeline, liking pictures and browsing through comments.  She wasn’t sure at what point it had happened but Facebook had been programmed as the default website her brain pushed her fingers to log into whenever she sat at her computer. It was  quite alright – the social networking site was a source of constant entertainment for her. Glancing over the conversations, the pictures, the memes, some inane, some important, had become a part of her daily routine. It connected her with her friends both in and out of the Cameroonian community, which was important to her.  She depended on it for her “social” life. It was after all “social” media right? Eugene, Oregon wasn’t exactly a hub for Cameroonians or any Africans and being relatively new to her job and the city, meant she hardly did anything other than work and exercise.

This lack of an active social life had been one of her major concerns before moving there. In Houston, Texas where she had attended college and grad school, there was a good-sized Cameroonian and other African community and she’d formed solid roots there. But the money Molecular Probes, the Eugene based biotechnology firm had offered her to work for them had made the move worth it.

She clicked on a video a friend had posted, of a little girl dancing azonto and chuckled delightfully at the look of concentration on the child’s face, her tongue sticking out as she bobbed and stepped to the music. She liked the video and moved down her timeline. Marianne was at travelling to Aruba? Nice! She made a mental note to call her childhood friend as soon as she could. It had been a while since they talked. Oh… It was Aban’s birthday? She typed a quick “Happy Birthday, big bro!” He was a friend of her brother’s. Ang, her college roommate who had recently moved back to her native Cambodia to work as doctor for Doctors Without Borders, had shared a link calling for donations to their small free clinic. She clicked on the link and bookmarked it, making a mental note to donate later. She scrolled further down. Bessem was ranting yet again about feminism. She rolled her eyes. That girl really needed to get a life…or a man…or both. She agreed with a lot of what the girl posted about, but goodness, wasn’t there other stuff she could talk about?

Someone doing the bible verse challenge

New York Times article about the futility of breast cancer screening. She bookmarked that too. Her mother had dealt with a bout of the disease and she read up on everything she could about it compulsively.

Another bible verse challenge participant.

Funmi’s baby shower. Oh no!  She’d forgotten to send a gift. She clicked through the pictures, her guilt warring with delight as she saw the look of joy on her friend’s face. The pictures went on and on and on and she knew if she continued clicking, it would become an inescapable  rabbit hole. She clicked out of the album.

I really should get work done…

But she kept scrolling.

Maggie had posted song from Daphne Njie. She liked Daphne. “Ndolo” She’d never heard that one. She clicked on the link to the song and Daphne’s smooth voice filled her room. She immediately liked the swinging zouk-like undertone the song had.

She returned to her timeline as it played, humming along.

I no go ever ever ever let you down…

Bible verse challenge.

Amaka was feeling happy.

You are so beautiful ….. Ah Ndolo….

Gwen had posted pictures from her latest event, in an effort to promote her decoration service. She liked the album.

Bible verse challenge.

Jude Abang is engaged.

Her heart missed a beat.

Jude was engaged?

Ah Ndolo….

She stared at the status update, in confusion and shock. How had this ended up on her timeline? Since their break up, she had unfollowed him and didn’t check his profile.

Mercy Angwafor commented on Jude Abang’s life event.

That explained it.

Jude was engaged?

Ah Ndolo….

To who? When did this happen? She checked the date and time. It had been posted the day before. Sunday. He had gotten engaged yesterday?

She clicked on his name to go to his profile, her curiosity overriding  the hollow pain in her chest. Sure enough there was a picture of Jude, smiling broadly with a girl she didn’t know, her slim hand outstretched to showcase the ring he’d just given her. The pain in Nadia’s chest grew in magnitude, sinking down to her stomach. Her heart beat accelerated till it thumped loudly in her ears as the reality of what she was looking at sank in.

Jude was engaged.

Frustrated Woman Using Laptop

Ndolo Ndolo Ndolo Ndolo

Ndolo Ndolo Ndolo Ndolo

Ndolo Ndolo Ndolo Ndolo

Ah Ndolo….Everybody thinks about you…

You are so beautiful

Ah Ndolo….

Easy

“You live in a fantasy world. One you created for yourself. One where things go according to rules that make sense only to you and you behave accordingly. To us here in the real world, your behavior makes you look crazy. Desperate. Cheap. Easy.”

Easy.

Easy.

The word ran through her mind over and over again. Its two meager syllables heavier than they should have been. Soaked with the accusation. Dripping with condemnation. 

It is really strange as few people, no one she knew certainly,  would willingly choose a more difficult path if an easier path was available offering the exact same reward and no consequences. Presented with an easy and difficult exam, job, task, with the same outcome, everything being equal, most normal thinking people would choose the easy one. Even the laws of nature are biased towards easy. Atoms, after all, always seek to achieve the lowest energy state possible and will do whatever needs to be done to get there…high entropy, low energy, perfect disorder, the path of least resistance. 

It really should, and could, be easy. And moreso for something like love.  What is easier than I am my beloved’s  and he is mine? 

It certainly had been easy that afternoon. She’d come back from work, tired, Tired but wired with what she knew was unspent sexual energy. She’d stripped out of her clothes and lay spread eagle on her bed in nothing but her bra and panties, letting the cool breeze from her open window wash over her skin. It was hot outside, but she didn’t turn on the air conditioning. She liked the humidity – liked how it lay on her skin almost like a lover’s carelessly thrown arm. A warm weight, no less sensual for its innocuousness. Her eyes drifted shut and instead of indulging in one of her fantasies which inevitably would have led to orgasm, her mind conjured up his face. Almost instinctively, her lips curved into a smile. She couldn’t help it. The things she felt for him had come easily. And she’d let them come. Even now, the swelling in her chest, the hesitant hope, so different from the cynicism that was her hallmark had come easily, despite herself. The moistening in her loins came the same way too. Easy. She chuckled.

Her phone had buzzed, the sound loud in her quiet room. It was an email from work. She scanned it quickly and after determining it was nothing that needed her immediate attention, she flagged it for review later. She swiped out of her email and did her customary social media check. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Nothing new. Double click, swipe up. She closed app after app which she’d left open on her phone, apps which ran down her battery. It was an old iPhone which barely could hold juice for two hours without dying. The last app was the camera. She couldn’t remember why she’d opened it but instead of swiping up to close, she clicked on it to open.

Send me a picture. His demand from the night before echoed in her head. She’d declined then as she had the first time he’d asked. And the next. And the next. As she’d always done.  The thought of that kind of picture of her in the hands of another person was too unsettling to contemplate. She’d told him that and he’d stopped asking eventually. But things had progressed…or so she thought. Now she wanted him to see. She wanted to share. She lifted the phone up and snapped. Once. Twice. Thrice. Then checked. She shifted position to get a better angle, then snapped again. She repeated the process till she got a catalog. Different poses. Different views. All communicating the same thing. All showing her just as she’d imagined they would. As she had feared they would.  Open. Vulnerable.

Beautiful.

7

She sent them.

It had been that easy.

The next time he’d asked, she had acquiesced. Easily.

4

As time had passed and things had become more intimate…or so she thought, the ease had grown.

1 3

“You shouldn’t have made it so easy. No man wants easy. You should have made him work for it. Made him feel like what he was getting is of high value. That is just how men from our side are. If they think it’s easy they’ll treat it as such. Easily gotten. Easily disposable.”

This line of thinking had always puzzled her. Why the need to make a man see her value, if he didn’t have eyes to see that value for himself in the way she lived her life? And if he didn’t feel like what he would be getting was of value, why would he pursue? Was she or any other woman valuable because they created the impression of being valuable? Or because of desirable intrinsic qualities whose value was not contingent on accessibility?  What was the real attraction? The unique qualities both good and bad, that made her who she was? Or the idea that she was not easy to get? Which really was a mistaken assumption. She was easy, laughably so. But to the right person – or who she believed to be.

What then if the aura of unavailability hid emptiness, boredom, vapidity, shallowness? Was the high value maintained because it was presented as valuable and hard to get?

And if that value had to be created and maintained with carefully chosen words and actions, at what point would it be fine to relax and be messy old self, without the risk of losing value? Where then, did the idea come from that love, the ultimate expression of the value you place on another, meant acceptance of that other, for who they are…not for who the make you believe they are?

And what about when, after the acquisition of the valuable was complete, and then the opportunity to pursue something else valuable – as defined as hard to get – presented itself?

What ultimately was held in high value? The creation which may not reflect reality? Or the reality, which like mother nature herself, simply might just want the lowest possible energy state?

And why treat people like objects? Possessions?

“I say these things to you because I care about you, but you will not listen to me. You are my friend and you have stuck with me through my own rough times. No one will tell you the truth about guys like I will, because I am a guy like them. I don’t want you hurt. But the path you have chosen, the way you want to live your life, the way you give yourself when you like a guy, will result in you being hurt over and over again, because most guys will just not get it. They will not get you. The society we live in will not get you and you will get hurt because of that. You will end up with the reputation of being easy and cheap even though we both know you are not.”

She heaved a heavy sigh. Resigned.

She gave freely. Always had. Probably always would, with the enduring hope, that the chosen the receiver would not only see the fancifully wrapped gift, or get lost in notions of value,  but would see the heart of the giver. Her intentions. Simple. Uncomplicated. Easy

Because she was.

Easy.

And that was OK.

Because things should be. If they could be.

8

Photo Credit: bebeautifulla.tumblr.com

Hairy Situations

“Yaya, are you coming?”

Bisi’s voice, deep and husky carried clear across the room, causing Yaya to look up from the storyboard she was working on. Bisi stood next to the hallway leading to the elevators, her jacket on, portfolio in hand.

“Girl…?” She widened her eyes and inclined her head. “It’s time for the meeting, come on! ”

The other occupants of the room, mostly other junior and mid-level  account managers looked expectantly at Yaya. Yaya and Bisi, everyone at Meacham and Pettigrew knew, were attached at the hip. They were the small advertising company’s  rising star account managers and it was their big day. Both women had coordinated to nab the attention of  Nadine  a major cosmetic company and today they presented their campaign to both Nadine and M&P’s executive. Success meant a huge contract for the company and definite promotions for both women. While they had worked as a team, everyone knew that it was Yaya’s persistence and attention to detail that would ultimately make the deal. Bisi saw big picture situations and had a feel for what was right. Yaya’s ability to solidify the concepts and communicate them effectively to graphic artists, copy editors and other people who worked to bring the campaign to life, and then review their work with almost manic meticulousness was what made their products top-notch. It was the expectation that Nadine would accept the campaign and Yaya would be point person working directly  with Nadine, while Bisi held down fort at M&P.

“I’m coming, Bisi, give me a second.” Yaya murmured, returning her attention to the story board she’d just received. It was for another campaign she was working on. Something was off but she could not put her finger on it. As was the case when she was thinking, she rubbed one of her chin length dreadlocks between her thumb and forefinger.

dreadswoman

“Meeting starts in fifteen. That story board can wait.” Bisi walked towards the corner where Yaya sat, her heels clicking on the floor. “We gotta make a good impression today, woman. Let’s go!”

“I know… but something is…”

“Off, I know. We can look at it after the meeting and your big promotion. Right guys?” She looked around the room.

There were murmurs of “Yes!” and “Go, Yaya, go!”

Everyone knew how important this account was. Their paychecks probably depended on it.

“Alright alright,” Yaya chuckled and locked her computer. She stood up and ran her hands through her hair. “How do I look?”

“Like the next account manager for the M&P, Nadine account. But we gotta go to make that happen, luv. Chop chop.”

Bisi spun around and made for the elevators. Yaya shook her head and grabbed her portfolio.

“Goodluck Yaya!”

“You got this girl!”

“Go get’em!”

The calls of support and encouragement came from around the room. Yaya smiled and nodded as she walked past her colleagues.

I sure hope so, she thought to herself.

In the elevator, Bisi tapped her foot impatiently as they rode to the executive conference room.

“You are so impatient…” Yaya chuckled to her friend.

“I’m ready to make that money, girl.”

“I know right! Let’s hope they think it is as good as we think.”

“Oh they better. We worked our butts off. You worked your butt off. I bet they give you a fancy new office at Nadine’s HQ to sweeten the deal.”

“You know if they do, you’ll probably end up using it more than I do.”

“This is true.” Bisi flipped her hair over her shoulder.

“It is still so weird to see you without your dreads. That was a pretty sudden decision to get rid of them.”

Bisi’s nervous movements slowed a little.

“I know…” She seemed a little more subdued, her voice a little quieter. “I was ready for a change. I’d had dreads for so long.”

” Yup. We got them together what, summer before we started college? That was like 7 years ago. That was a long enough time. Aiyana did a good job with this weave though, you got that Naomi Campbell thing going on.”

“For what I pay her, I better be Naomi’s double.” Bisi grumbled good-naturedly and both women laughed. “Besides, it’s just hair right?”

naomi_campbell41

Two hours later….

“What the hell just happened in there, Tom?”

Yaya faced Tom Cranfield, her manager across his desk, her fists clenched in fury, hot tears burning behind her eyes.

“Yaya, I am so sorry, you have to understand. We need this account but the folks at Nadine were adamant that they wanted Bisi and not you as their account manager.”

“But why? I basically put that campaign together single-handedly. You know it. They know it. Bisi knows it. You let them cut me out completely.”

“We made the decision that was best for M&P, Yaya. I know it screwed you over but we had to. Nadine was too big for us to let something as trivial as your hair get in the way of us getting them.”

Excuse me?”

Tom’s eyes widened as he realized what he had just said. A red flush crept up his face.

“Look. Nadine was reluctant to have either of you ladies as their account manager, seeing as you would have to work with their stakeholders. Something about you not exactly being the image their company wanted to project.” his eyes darted to her deadlocked hair.  “But they really liked the campaign you put together. Somehow Bisi must have found out. Why didn’t she tell you?”

Photo Credit: africancurls.com, starpowerrent.com

The Lunch Date Pt. 8 (Final Installation)

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here Read Part 7.6 here
Read Part 7.7 here Read Part 7.8 here
Read Part 7.9 here



“Hello, you’ve reached Mabel Mbemba. Sorry I can’t answer your call right now but if you leave me your name and number, I’ll give you a call back as soon as I can.”




“Hmmmm… Sister May, you di cam back from that Barbados wey you go na when? Enjoyment oh! I’ve been trying to reach you for the last couple of days. Ase-eh, no that Dr. Max Litumbe di work na for that hospital we you be dey dey? Wandaful thing oh! So his wife got killed in a hit and run accident near their house, last week. Hit and run in broad daylight with people around, oh! They said maybe someone killed her because eyewitnesses saw the person driving the car that hit her step out and pick up some of her things from the road before driving away. But no one was really sure what the motive was. And then yesterday, the news broke that her husband was going after the Secretary of State’s son who is running for Congress in New York for her murder and get this, his story is being corroborated by another man  whose family owns the company the woman used to work for, some money people for wuna Chicago dey. This is a guy she who allegedly she had an affair with. I say eh! Dirty laundry is spilling. All man don confuse. The story is developing but all the major news networks have picked up on it, I sure sey e go reach international news small time. Na big scandal for here. Also, a while ago there were rumors that the Max Litumbe himself was cheating on his wife. Do you know anything about that?”



THE END




So this has been a pretty long journey. Thank you all for sticking through to the end. I know it didn’t end with your favorites riding off into the sunset in bliss with the promise of  a life full of joy and babies. But then, life is messy and we have to deal. I hope the story entertained you. But I also hope it made you think about the themes it featured. 2015 will feature more from me and we’ll delve deeper into our often untold stories.



The Lunch Date Pt. 7.9

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here Read Part 7.6 here
Read Part 7.7 here Read Part 7.8 here

Iya watched the shifting emotions on Max’s face so she knew exactly the moment he decided he was walking away from her. First ,there had been the revulsion at the thought of what the envelope she held out contained: pictures, written accounts, lab results which recounted her defilement in gory detail. Then there had been shame, because he realized what happened to her was not something she had asked for. Then there had been a flash of anger as he thought about the fact that she had hidden all of this from him, choosing instead to confide in another man. The anger festered into resentment as he thought about the consequences of her decision. His resentment was tinged with uncertainty however, because she knew he still couldn’t answer with certainty what his reaction would have been had she confided in him. She knew he couldn’t say for certain he would have understood and sympathized then. The uncertainty grew as he thought about Mabel and the fact that his first recourse had been to jump into the arms of another woman.
 
For a couple of seconds, Iya wished she could talk to Mabel again. Aside from Sebastian Mabel was the only other person who seemed to actually understand where she was coming from and the precariousness of her situation. After their lunch meeting, at the end of which Mabel had gently encouraged her to seek therapy before even talking to Max about what had happened, nothing had been said about the affair with Max.
 
The growing uncertainty on Max’s face, however, soon recaptured her attention. He was likely thinking about the magnitude of the scandal her going to the police would cause, and how that could affect him and his career. The Hammonds were a very, very rich and even more powerful family. Finally, he thought about the fact that for all his trouble, he could still be losing her to Sebastian.
 
“I’m sorry, Iya. I don’t care when you file your charges, just keep me out of it going forward. I can’t do this anymore.
 
She’d been expecting the words but they wounded her nonetheless. A small part of her had hoped that this could be their chance to start all over again. While she’d sat waiting in the examination room of the hospital Sebastian had taken her too and then on her flight home, she’d wondered if staying with Sebastian was a good choice given the revelations she was about to make and how he and his family were involved. She’d found herself thinking again about the day he had told her he was marrying Kate. How she had cried and begged him not to. His stony silence, then and how he’d walked out of her apartment, leaving her curled into fetal position on the floor crying like a baby. She’d thought too about how he’d simply walked away from his marriage to Kate when he was no longer willing to be in a relationship with her. Then she’d wondered if Sebastian Roth even had it in him to be loyal, to stay the course. What direction he would be walking in when things got rough with the case as it definitely would get, given that his family and their business which they had built over four generations would be taking direct hits?

That was when the thought had popped in her head to stay with Max and try to mend things with him. Max who, until he found out about her deception, had never given her cause to doubt him. Max who according to Mabel, still loved her. Max who just seconds ago had made it clear he wanted no more to do with her. There had been deceptions and betrayals between them but with both of them being willing, they could work through it all and perhaps come out stronger. All of that had hinged of course on if he would be willing to stay with her despite what was  about to be a very public, nasty career destroying and quite possibly dangerous legal battle. She was not some sort of prize he would win for sticking with her. It would be incredibly presumptuous and manipulative of her to act like that. If he wanted to stay by her side through the trial, better it be from his own goodwill. She certainly did not hold it against him that he chose to walk away.

Yet a small part of her had hoped.A familiar helplessness crept over Iya. A helplessness borne of having survived a traumatizing experience but being unable to fully process, heal and move on from it. It was, she thought, like being paralyzed from the heck down but being fully conscious of the fact that you had legs and arms that used to move. The helplessness was accompanied by loneliness.

“I can’t do this anymore.” Max repeated.

“It’s fine… I understand.” Her voice, previously strong was now raspy and weak. She picked up the envelope from where it lay on the bed between them, still untouched.

“I’ll catch a cab back into the city. You should hear from whatever lawyer Lorie can find for me tomorrow.” 

He made no response.

Even though there were no cabs in the quiet residential Glenview neighborhood  their house was located in, Iya grabbed her bag and walked out. It wasn’t until she was a block away from her home that she realized the streets were empty of anything but private cars. Dusk was falling and the streetlights  were just starting to come on. A few people walked their dogs and up ahead she could see a lone jogger. She pulled out her phone and pulled up the number for the cab service she patronized through Morrison and Roth. She could not use her company credit card but they certainly would send someone over to pick her up. The automatic response system informed her that all operators were busy but someone would be with her shortly. She listened absentmindedly to the saxophone music they  played as she walked down the street. She knew there was a Starbucks at the intersection down the street . She could wait there for them. Probably start looking up divorce lawyers too. She looked up and down the road to make sure she could quickly cross to the side the coffee shop was on. The road was empty except for a beat up Honda Civic, making its way slowly towards the intersection. If she walked fast, she could cross the road before it got close. A cheery female voice thanked her for calling Chicago Premier Chauffeur services and asked for her phone number as she stepped off the side walk into the street, increasing her speed. She started to give the woman her information but was distracted by the sound of an engine revving and tires screeching. She turned just in time to see the once slow moving car bearing down on her, accelerating as it closed the short distance between them.

Why can’t I see the driver?

This was the last thought she had before the car hit her full force, sending her sailing in the air to land twenty feet away, her skull hitting the pavement with a sickening cracking thud.

Even as people began running towards her prone form, the car stopped and the driver jumped out long enough to grab her purse and document satchel which lay in the street and then speed away.

Read part 8.0 (Final Installation) here