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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Love After Death (1)




 My husband is coming home tonight. I’ve waited for him all day and when the short hand on the clock hits twelve he’ll sit right beside me. I always wonder what he gets up to during the times he is not with me, whenever I ask him, his jaw tightens and there is something in his eyes which are usually so guileless. Like he is hiding something even when he says everything is fine with his extra charming smile.

  My mother doesn’t like him and she makes no secret of it. “I don’t trust that Jide boy, with his charming looks….will he stay, even if he wanted to? Will these Lagos girls let him?”

 All through her rants and tantrums I said nothing; I didn’t need to because Jide always proved her and her baseless suspicions wrong.

I sit on the bed and look up at the clock placed intently above the door; it’s exactly 12am. I almost scream as I feel Jide’s ice- cold hands on my thigh. After all this time he is still the same not even a beard or moustache. The same short curly hair in varied colors of brown, light honey-brown eyes that turns golden in the sunlight, his hooked nose and pink plum lips. He’s so perfect he looks almost surreal, like a dream. In that instant, I understand why my mother is so skeptical. I run my fingers through his hair and he pulls me in for a kiss.

“Hey beautiful.”
“How was work?”
“Let’s not talk about work, I have a better idea.”

He steps out for a minute and comes in with some DVD’s and two spoons. I give him a puzzled look before his ‘idea’ sinks in.
“We are taking a trip down memory lane.” It comes out as a statement rather than a question.

While he puts in our wedding DVD’s, I take out a tub of ice-cream from the mini-fridge next to my side of the bed. Minutes later I’m in his arms, ice-cream in hand laughing at the TV screen. I’m freezing; his arms are comfortable but so so cold-almost as cold as the plate in my hand. But I feel like the luckiest woman in the world and I sleep with a content smile on my face.

I wake up knowing. Knowing my husband is not by my side and immediately wish I was still asleep. He didn’t even stay for breakfast. I grudgingly tear myself off the bed and make my way to the kitchen.
“Mummy, good morning.” I call out from over my shoulder; she already made breakfast and served some for me.

“Mummy you didn’t have to, I’ve told you. You’re a guest here–”
“Ehn?! Guest where? In my daughter’s house, Biko. Stop that joke.”
I smile and take a bite of the food, boiled yam and eggs fried with beef and vegetables.
“Ego.”

“Yes,” I mumble from a stuffed mouth.
“Ego.” she says slowly for dramatic effect. One look at her serious face and I drop the fork and take a gulp of water.

“Mum, what is it?” I ask while recalling the last time I saw this look on her face.
I remember with startling clarity that it was last year; I came home from the doctor’s with the news. I was pregnant! 

Before I could say anything she sat me down and with this same look she told me Jide had died in a car accident at the Benin/Ore road on his way home. There were no survivors.
“Wait, what? But I’m pregnant.” At that revelation she broke down and started crying. My mum, crying – blubbering- like a little girl in my arms. This had to be a dream. A terrible sick twisted nightmare that played on for months. I pinched myself, it went on, I slapped myself; it went on, I cut my wrists it still wouldn’t end. 

The same faces at our wedding were now at my husband’s funeral barely six months later and my unborn baby might have sensed the grief and opted out; I had a miscarriage and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back....

 To be continued 


 By Naima


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Sauce For The Goose (2)





She lay there on the floor where he’d left her, her muffled sobs breaking the silence in the room. Her breath came in quick, shallow gasps like her heart was breaking. He didn’t care.

She said it was Steve from work. It had happened just once – the week before, on Tuesday night. She had realized her mistake as soon as it was over and she had hated herself ever since. She could not stand seeing him at work anymore, reminding her every day of the wrong she’d done; worsening her guilt. She had decided then that she had to leave her job, and that she had to tell him, so she could get the weight off her chest. 

She knew he was mad, he had every right to be, but she hoped he could somehow forgive her, and maybe then she could forgive herself.
He saw a flash of lightening make a jagged path through the blackness outside the window. It would be raining soon.


      ***

He looked up as he heard her open the door to the room. She paused inside the doorway and said a detached goodnight. She was still for a moment, waiting for his response. But the words were stuck somewhere in his throat and he could not get them out – also he didn’t want to say goodnight, not like this. 

So he stood there with his mouth open, staring at her back and willing her to hear what was in his heart; the thoughts that he could not say. She was wearing that old pink nightdress he hated, but tonight he wanted to bury his face in the faded cotton. It always held her scent. He could have reached for her, they were that close; but at the same time they were ages apart. She walked into the guest room and shut the door behind her. The click of the lock was thunder in his ears. It had a disturbing note of finality to it.

 Frustration tore at him. He’d never thought he would feel this way after what he’d done. He wanted to bang on that door and make her come out. He wanted to see angry fire light up in her eyes. He wanted to shake her and make her hurl accusations so he could remind her – and himself – that it was she who had started it, she who was to blame. He unclenched his fists. Their daughter was asleep in the other room. 

He didn’t want to wake her.

He turned and walked into what had until weeks ago been their bedroom. He took off his shoes, socks and tie and went into the adjoining bathroom. There, he stood before the mirror above the sink and he stared at his reflection. After work today he’d taken some members of staff out for drinks. 

They’d just bagged some big new clients and were still reeling from the success. A celebration was in order, they had all agreed. As the night wore on they had left one after the other, until he was left alone with his very young, very female assistant. She’d moved to sit closer to him. They had talked and laughed for a while about things he could not now remember. 

When she’d asked if he’d like some more drinks at her place – with that suggestive gleam in her eyes – he had hesitated. And then he had remembered.

It had only lasted a few minutes, and as soon as it was over he could no longer stand to look at her. He had hurried out of her bed and into his clothes, all the while ignoring the longing look she had been giving him.

 She had teased him about running home to his little missus and had said they should do it again sometime. He had said nothing. He’d hoped she would accept the huge check he would give her as a no-hard-feelings gesture when he fired her tomorrow.

 He had found his car keys and dashed out of the flat. The plan had been to let his wife know of his payback in the most hurtful way possible, but as he had made his way home he’d known it wouldn’t turn out quite that way. He had felt the guilt and shame long before he stood in front of her in that doorway.

 The anger was gone now, leaving him feeling like a deflated balloon. She had stood there, somehow knowing what he had done, but saying nothing. She might never know it, but her silence had killed him a thousand times. Plus the pain he had felt since that night four weeks ago had not gone away.

He started to shed his clothes like they had suddenly caught on fire. Then he fled into the shower stall and turned on the shower. Closing his eyes, he turned up his face to the spray of hot water. That way, he could pretend not to feel the tears fall from his eyes.


 Concluded











Friday, October 11, 2019

Sauce For The Goose (1)




She could tell as soon as she looked at him; one glance at her and he knew she could tell. Maybe it was because he couldn’t hold her gaze like before. Or maybe it was just that powerful intuition he knew she had; the kind that left no room for doubt. 

Standing there outside the door in the rain with his head down, he wanted the anger back, the fury that had spurred him on; that righteous feeling of being the slighted one. But that place in his heart where the flames of his anger had once raged now held cold ashes.

“Come inside now. It’s cold…and you’re wet.”

Her voice was hoarse, and he could tell she had been crying. He raised his head to look in her eyes for a moment – it was all he could bear. There was neither anger nor accusation, just a sad acceptance. It took all the strength he had to walk across the threshold. 

He stood aside, his hands hanging limp while she shut the door, then he fell behind as she turned and walked up the stairs. They seemed like another lifetime to him, those days when she would have her hand around his waist as he walked up those same stairs, hanging on to his every word like he was the best thing since indoor plumbing.

“Are you hungry? I made spaghetti for dinner.”
 He shook his head, but she had not turned to look at him.

“I’m not hungry…. Thanks.”
As usual she said nothing. He had not eaten at home in at least four weeks, but she had never stopped asking.
    
   ***

He got home late from work that night to find her sitting cross legged on their bed. She looked up as he entered the room, and he knew immediately that she had something on her mind. Well, he thought, she’s picked the wrong night because all I want is a shower and a good night’s sleep.

 The last couple of months had been bordering on nightmarish; what with him working virtually all day every day to please his new investors. It occurred briefly to him that he had not seen much of his wife lately. But it would all be worth it in the end, he knew.

He gave a brief greeting and began undoing his tie. She got out of bed and came to stand in front of him. She said they needed to talk; there was something she had to tell him. It was then he noticed how swollen her eyes looked. He felt an odd blend of concern and exasperation as she led him to the edge of the bed and made him sit. 

Then she got on her knees before him. He could see her inner struggle as she gathered her thoughts. She said she had left her job today; she’d resigned without notice. He gave a sigh of relief. Did women always have to be so dramatic? She had only left her job, and here he was thinking someone had died! 

 Of course, it was nice to have the extra income they got from her job, but his company was doing well enough now and he could comfortably provide for the family. She had never really liked her job anyway so he figured she could take her time now and get to do something she loved, maybe even start that catering school she had been talking about for years.

 He told her this in his most soothing voice, but she looked away, biting her lips like his words had caused her physical pain. She buried her face in his thighs and squeezed them hard. He felt her tears soak through his trousers. Only then did he think to ask what was wrong.

She raised her head slowly to look at him, and through the tears he could see the guilt in her eyes. He was starting to feel uneasy. She said she was sorry. She did not know what made her do it, but she had realized it was the biggest mistake she could ever have made. She said she knew there was no excuse, but she had been so lonely. 

His heart froze with dread, but he kept his face impassive. He asked what she was talking about. She looked away again, staring at a spot on the wall for what seemed an eternity; and then she said it. She had slept with someone. His mind went blank for an instant. 

Then it hit him hard, the volley of emotions; shock, jealousy, hurt, shame, and then the rage. He shoved her off and stalked to the window, ignoring the sharp cry she let out as she hit the floor. He stood staring out into the night, his fists balled up in his trouser pockets, his chest heaving. He could have killed her.

 He wanted to call her all the vile, hurtful names he could think of, but as he had long discovered and come to accept about himself, words failed him every time he got emotional... 



 To be continued 


By  Uche Okonkwo




Friday, September 20, 2019

The Small Print (2)





Coleen continued. “Let’s get on with the interview?”
Jennifer spread her arms out as if to say “Whatever.”
The veins in Wale’s head throbbed. Why didn’t he hit the delete key when the cursed job advert landed in his inbox? Because he was an over ambitious idiot with a bank account the size of a dried pimple, that’s why.

Coleen looked at him, an expectant expression on her face. “Well?”
He sighed with weariness, feeling as though he was about to be strapped to an electric chair for a crime he did not commit. Finally he nodded. “I am ready.”


 ***

“Africa!” Wale’s colleague called out as soon as he returned to the main office floor of Syms & Syms, the IT project management consulting firm that employed him. Wale groaned as Q stumbled through scurrying assistants and ringing phones towards the cubicle they shared.

 Q’s real name was Quaddam, but everyone called him Q. They had been working in the same department- Admin and Supplies- since Wale started at the company. Unlike Wale, Q loved the brain- deadening post office runs, monotonous stationary upkeep and general servitude to the entire company that had been their duties for a little over a year. The position gave Q an opportunity to be the first to hear office gossip while it was still sizzling. On the bright side, Q’s enthusiasm usually made Wale’s days slightly shorter and more bearable.
 But not today.

“Get lost Q,” Wale muttered. “And stop calling me Africa.”
 Q gripped a bunch of manila files under his arm as though his life depended on it. “Not until I finish my investigation.” He wheeled a spare chair close and slammed his files on top of Wale’s desk, unsettling the dust around the pen holders.

“What is it?” Wale asked. He reached for a copy of the IT News magazine on his desk, and hoped that Q would take a hint and get lost.

“Andrea Lennox interviewed you,” Q said, hardly noticing his lack of enthusiasm.

“Yeah?”

“She left a massive IT firm in Manchester to help shape things up here for a few months.”
“And?”

“Why travel all the way from Manchester to London? Syms & Syms has never been in the Times top hundred IT companies to work for.” Q let out a chuckle. “Or top five thousand.”

“Your point is?”

“My point is why?”

Wale returned to the magazine and fingered it; moving his hands across the images at a snail’s pace. ”I don’t know. Leave me alone.”

Q nodded but didn’t shift from his position. ”I see the interview didn’t go well?”

“It was a blast.” Wale replied in perfect monotone. “Go away.”

“Feisty.” Q wiggled his index finger. “Don’t worry, Wale. You’ll get the job you have always wanted. Then you will get promoted and leave me here all by myself.”

Wale placed his palm on his chest and feigned distress. “I’m heartbroken.”

“Okay.” Q sat bolt upright. “One more question and I am gone.”

“Five seconds.”
“Are you and Andrea related in any way, shape or form?” Q’s beady eyes shone with curiosity.
Adrenaline propelled Wale out of his seat. “Me and Jen-Andrea related? Why would you think that?”

“Just answer me.”
“Why?”

“Why do you Africans answer questions with questions?”

“Are you going to talk or not?”
“See what I mean?”

Wale took a deep breath. “This is not the time to muck about.”
Q tapped his chin and stared at the ceiling as though his answer was engrained in the perforated tiles. Finally, he lowered his head and said, “I just ordered an ID card for the new project manager.”

“So?”
“In her passport, her surname is hyphenated.”
Wale’s heart thumped. “What has that got to do with the price of fish?”

“Wait till I tell you,” Q said and then paused.
“I am waiting.”

“The first half of her name is the same as yours.”
“Meaning?”
“Her full name is Andrea Ademola- Lennox.”
The room whirled. Wale closed his eyes. “No. No way.”
“Yep,” Q said. “I saw it myself. Now what was that about the price of fish?”




Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Small Print (1)






The moment he stepped into room 415 and saw Jennifer Lennox sitting behind the polished mahogany table, Wale Ademola knew he was a dead man. He shut the glass panelled door behind him with a click and glared. It had to be an illusion. He checked again. Nope. This was for real. She was here. What on earth was his ex wife doing there?

“Good morning Wale.” The woman sitting next to Jennifer spoke first. Her name was Coleen something from HR. She had interviewed him only last year, at the start of his job as a temp administrator.
She peered at him. “Is something wrong?

He started to come forward, stumbled and bumped into a stationery cupboard.

“Sorry. I… I must have the wrong room. I am here for a promotion interview for the trainee project manager position.” It had to be the wrong room.

 Coleen waved a piece of paper at him. “You didn’t get the confirmation email?”
He nodded. His mind swirled with questions and he tried his best to look relaxed. Had Jennifer traced him to London? Or was this a nightmare?

Coleen gave a reassuring smile. “It will be over before you know it.”
My life will be over before you know it. “Uh-huh.”

Jennifer gave nothing away with her expression, and when she glanced at him it was like she was looking right through him. As though he was not even there. She shifted in her seat and the aqueous floral scent of her perfume smacked his nostrils. He coughed, spluttered. He had given her the fragrance for her twenty- eighth birthday last year… a day before he – should he say left her? 

He dropped his gaze to the table.

“You look a tad bit uncomfortable,” Coleen said, concern brimming on the edge of her voice. “Take a seat.” She gestured at the only vacant chair in the room.

In front of Jennifer? God forbid bad thing. He sagged into the chair like an invalid. “Thank you.”
Beads of perspiration beneath his armpits prickled. Trouble had landed in his backyard. Jealous enemies from his village in Nigeria had chosen the best time to strike their juju, African black magic. Wale mentally sent a curse in return. Thunder fire them all. Including Jennifer Lennox.

Jennifer tossed a stray lock of curled blond hair away from her face and held out her hand. Obviously, his curse did not work. “Mister Ademola,” she said. “An absolute pleasure to meet you.”

Mister? Her performance deserved a standing ovation. He sat up straight with a tight grin, convinced his expression must look like one on a mug shot. “Same here.” His hands remained on the table, numb. If Jennifer noticed, she didn’t react. She turned to Coleen. “Ready when you are.”

“We almost cancelled the interview when Maryann called in sick.” Coleen gave Jennifer a grateful nod. “Thank your stars that Andrea came in on a short notice. She will lead the interview.”
Andrea? A chill spread across his body. Jennifer changed her name? He swallowed. “T-that’s fine.”

Jennifer pointed to the jug on the table. “Water?”
Her nails were perfectly manicured, as always, metallic blue with silver sparkles.
Rat poison would be perfect. “No. No thanks.”

She sipped water from her glass. “I will allow you a few minutes to get your self together.”
Wale squinted at the window. Determined rays from the sun streamed into the room even though it was barely ten. Somewhere down below, a car tire scrunched against the asphalt. The engine of a bus shuddered to a stop and the doors hissed open. Stall owners’ voices were faint in the distance as they paraded sun hats and ice-lollies. A perfect summer day. Why hadn’t he called in sick? Cancelled the interview?

“Did you bring your identification documents?” Coleen asked.
He snapped his head up. “Documents?”
“Yes. I included the list of acceptable documentation in the email.” She looked a bit irritated. “Your passport?”

Crap. He had been hoping she would forget. “Do you have to see it now?”
Coleen’s apologetic smile had a life span of about a nanosecond. “Immigration rules.”
“Uh, of course.” Wale shoved a reluctant hand into his breast pocket. He fished out a passport that had once been vibrantly green and shook it lightly. The frayed edges coughed out a small cloud of thick, black powder.

He forced a smile. “I dropped it in a pile of soot on my way here.” Yeah right. More like good luck charm from Nigeria to distract immigration officers at Heathrow from staring too hard at the passport. 

They were usually wary of visitors like him coming into the UK: Immigrants with no prospects of ever returning to their country of origin. The charm had worked. Despite the filth, they had not asked a question when he had presented it. He placed the document into Coleen’s open hand. “Here you go.”

“You are a Nigerian citizen?” Coleen asked. She blew away some more of the black powder and flipped to the middle page. She studied the page for a long moment. Wale kept his focus on the space behind her head. To the right was an old Xerox photocopier churning out documents with an industrious hum. He stared at the papers as they floated unto the receiving tray, counting in sync with slow eye movements.

“Your UK residence permit is a temporary one? Expires in eight months?” Coleen’s eyebrows rose in a probing arc. “This is a permanent position.”


Wale swallowed, wiped his palms on his thigh. “I will be entitled to a permanent residency real soon.”

Jennifer suddenly perked up, fluffed the ruffles of the stripped orange shirt underneath her suit. “You certainly will. Won’t you?” Her Irish accent was more pronounced than usual. As it often was when she wanted to be sarcastic.

He stared pointedly at Coleen. “Syms & Syms offers work permits to foreign workers right? I was thinking of-”
“We don’t.” Coleen cut in with a frown. “Not anymore. We exceeded our quota for work permits last week. Are you expecting to get a work permit from us?”

Last week? Talk about bad luck. “No I am not. I was just asking for information purposes. My, uh, wife is a British citizen.” Stupid answer.
“If you are sure…I guess we can proceed.” Coleen looked at him as though she did not entirely believe him.

“Hundred percent.” Wale nodded vigorously. “You have nothing to worry about.”
Jennifer’s cold, cerulean eyes pierced Coleen with a look. “The applicant is an illegal immigrant, and the interview will continue?” She gave half a chuckle. “Is that how Syms & Syms works?”

Her words stabbed his gut. Illegal Immigrant.

Coleen’s eyes flicked between them as if to question Jennifer’s sudden coldness. “Andrea, until Wale’s visa runs out, he cannot be considered an illegal immigrant and will be treated fairly. Trust me, when his visa expires, we will know. And we will deal with it then.” She slid the passport across the table. Wale failed to catch it and the document smacked against the ceramic floor and landed by his feet.....


  To be continued 


  By Abimbola Dare  





 









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