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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  


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Amity In An Emerald City (2)

Her head bobbed up and down like a basketball.
I favoured her with another wry smile and then something struck me.

“Why are you here?” I asked her instead.
A dark cloud fell over her face, swallowing the glint in her eyes. I watched as tears pooled just below her eyeballs, shimmering in the dimness like a lonely stream. She looked away. 

“You see, not even you can tell me why you are here.” I said.
She shook her head vehemently from side to side and stared me straight in the eye. That was when it dawned on me. This beautiful girl was dumb. In her eyes, I could see tales and tales of pains past and pains, present; pain she could never express with words, pain that ate her up hourly and daily.

With frail hands, she wiped her tears and locked her gaze with mine. This time, I understood what she wanted. She wound her arm around my neck and pulled me to her bosom.

The dam broke and the tears I had denied light for the past weeks broke to the fore. Mati cradled me, rocking me to and fro in her arms like I was her child.
“She died!” I cried like a baby. “She left me all alone . . .”

Mati kissed my hair and I pressed my face against her scented skin. I told her all about Kelechi, my childhood sweetheart with whom I had only recently exchanged marital vows. That had been six months ago, just before I got admission into the University of Amsterdam to do a Masters programme in Engineering.

 Two months ago she had called and told me she was heavy with child. I had begun necessary preparations for her to join me immediately. I could not stand her being all alone while expecting our first issue. Six months without her was already taking its toll. The time came for her to come, just two weeks ago.

“And . . . and her plane had crashed over the Atlantic.” I roared with tears. In my eyes, I felt my whole life slowly grinding to a halt.

Mati cuddled me, running her slim fingers over my face and bearded chin. She raised my face and sought my lips. Once again I surprised myself at the urgency with which I responded to her kisses. Within minutes, our naked bodies lay entwined, moaning and writhing on the creaking bed like a pair of snakes.
I woke at dawn, a new man. The figure on the bed slept soundly, snoring like she had no cares. Quickly, I threw on my clothes, kissed Mati’s brow and headed out. I had no regrets. In Mati’s arms I had found a reason to look beyond my pain. 

I didn’t kid myself that it was going to be easy, but somehow I knew that with this emerald queen in cheap clothing and bedding, by my side, I could find my way back to sanity.

The hall downstairs was deserted. I pushed up the flap of my jacket to cover my neck from the early morning cold. Out on the sidewalk, I took one last look at the giant front doors of Anne Frank and I knew with a flutter in my heart, that I hadn’t seen the last of her walls.

From the window, Mati beckoned, waving frantically at the stranger. Desperate, she flung the first thing that reached her hand, at me, narrowly missing a commuter.
I could recognise the red slipper anywhere.

I looked up and saw her, framed against the sky in her golden wrap.
She smiled.
There and then, I knew I had to protect her....


By Omhston Weth

Monday, August 12, 2019

Amity In An Emerald City (1)

I approached the coloured lady. Her face was well hidden behind a thick curtain of smoke which came from the cigarette dangling from her lips, making it quite difficult for me to make her features. 

 She sat forward and peered at me with a bored expression. Somehow, she still managed to evade the full glare of the red neon lights shining from across the street, whose tiny slats forced their way into the small hall she occupied in Anne Frank. She chewed on a bubble gum, making loud clicking sounds with her tongue. 

 A musty tang, mixed with the strong whiff of tobacco, hung languorously in the air. It took all of me to keep from holding my nose and hiding my disgust. For the latter, I had the poor lighting in the hall to thank; smoker lady wasn’t the only one who avoided the intrusive tiny bright lights. The two worn armchairs resting on the wall and the sordid carpet were the only appurtenances that were not so lucky.

“May I help ya?”

Her voice dripped of boredom, reminding me of the Black American clusters in suburban New York and their funny singsong lilt.
“Yes Ma’am,” I parodied her accent. I could almost see a grimace in the featureless face behind the desk.

“I need company,” I ventured further.
Prior to that day, I had no idea concerning what really went on behind the massive oaken front doors of Anne Frank. The few times I had walked past the district, I never gave the buildings a second glance. But today, all of that was about to change.

“Ya been drinking?”

My slouched steps as I walked into the hall must have given me away. She cocked her head to the side, flipped ash from her cigarette onto the dirty brown carpet and regarded me with cold unfriendly eyes. I had the unsettling feeling that she was taking in my every detail.

“Let’s see some Id.”

I flipped my student Identity Card for her to see. To take a proper look at the card, Smoker Lady was forced into the light. She was coloured alright, with big round eyes that would have looked beautiful on a lady twenty years younger. She couldn’t have been less than forty-five, at least not with the dull look, the desperation and fear in her eyes as they regarded me.

 Her nose was pinched, and her teeth were brown, tobacco stained—I never would have been caught dead kissing her. Her cheeks drooped in shame just like the flesh in her exposed upper arms. Her skin was an uneven blend of coffee and orange. I was certain one of her precursors must have been American. The other, I wasn’t so sure; could have been anything from black to yellow. 

She drew her lips together at the side, so they formed a wrinkled circle of disapproval as she scrutinised the plastic.

 “Damn coppers,” she muttered under her breath, taking a lazy drag on the almost extinguished cigarette. “Well, don’t ya blame me; ya look really young. Guess I was wrong,” she said with a heave of her wide shoulders. She fanned my face with smoke. 

“Got twenty dollars and ya just got ya a nice time.” She held on to the ‘nice’ word, drawing on it like it had some hidden meaning I was yet to fathom.

I counted two ten dollar bills from my wallet and dropped them on the worn wooden desk. Veined fingers snatched the bills and tucked them into a mountainous cleavage.

“Upstairs. Second floor, room 302. It’s the first door by your left as soon as you get off the landing. You won’t miss it.” Then, with a conspiratorial tone that sickened me, she said, “Enjoy.”

I hurried up the stairs, away from the stench of her and her dirty hall, but not before her voice caught my disappearing back.
“Her name’s Mati,” she called after me.

“Thanks for the info,” I hollered back.
do to my hurting ego and suicidal thoughts—at least this was better than drinking myself to death. By all means I had to forget her and move on. 

One of the many doors along the hallway flung open, pouring harsh light into the gloomy passage. The door snapped shut almost immediately, taking its white light with it. A fat middle-aged man, an American by his looks, waddled towards me, struggling with his buckle. 

He gave me a frightened look, shielding his face with short pudgy fingers like he was afraid I might recognise him. I did not, and I didn’t care. I felt familiar disgust rise in the pit of my stomach.

I pulled back the stripper and rapped her twice on the metal door, then without waiting for a response, I turned the knob and stepped in.

Room 302 was quaint.

The same musty tang from downstairs came rushing into my olfactory lobes. The floor was laid with another sordid carpet that had cigarette burns in several places. Pale light hung limply from the wooden ceiling, casting its weak glow on the dirty brown curtains, hiding pockets of darkness here and there in the small room.

 An old ceiling fan whirred noisily, casting long shadows every time its blade swung over the light bulb. To my right was an armchair with patches of dirty brown foam peeping from its every corner. The smell of sweat was pungent. I wrinkled my nose; it was all I could do to keep away the lascivious images of American tourists whom I guessed frequented this place. 

My gaze rested on the small bed in the middle of the room. Seated on the edge was a very pretty damsel. She had a gold wrap wound around her supple body, exposing her upper arms and a bit of her chest.  A pair of red slippers lay beside her feet. From the look of them, I could safely assume they were about the only things worth any value in this smelly shack. 

I could feel her expressive eyes drill holes into my clothes. I closed the door behind me, only then did I realise why the initial feeling I got from room 302, despite its discernable filth had been pleasantly strange. It was this girl.

She stood up and ran into my arms, burying her head on my shoulders like she had known me all her life. I stood transfixed, my heart thudding against my chest. She felt so fragile; I had the strangest of urges to protect her. Her curly black hair dangled loosely over her bare shoulders and she smelt nicely of a blend of many fruits. I inhaled her fragrance and found myself relaxing. 

I raised my hands, held them tentatively in the air before bringing them to rest on the small of her back. Then I felt the tears slowly creep down my cheeks. I hadn’t allowed myself to feel since Kelechi’s passing. I was so scared that my heart would burst if I let it feel the significant loss that had nearly crippled my brain. I felt Mati’s hands tighten around my waist.

Like she knew my pain and could relate.
I stiffened, and then pulled away.

How did she see my grief? Was I so porous, she could easily see my sorrow?
I took three long strides into the room and stood by the curtains. I threw them open and welcomed the moon with a wry smile. Here I was in a house of necessity, in the very heart of a foreign land. Kelechi would probably be churning in her watery grave if she knew where my insane desperation had led me. But she was not see the anguish caused by her absence. She was not here to see the shadows that lurked in a heart that was once luminous light. She was not here to see how confused, how alone and how thin I had become.

I heard the shuffle of petite feet. I turned. Mati stood beside the bed, her gaze seeking mine. With all the innocence in the world, she let her wrap fall to the floor. My breath caught sharply in my throat; I can’t do this. I averted her eyes and returned my gaze to the moon and her emerald city.

Amsterdam lay before me like vast, pulsating machinery with a thousand green, red and yellow lights. From where I stood I could see the tall architectural masterpiece of the ancient Royal Palace which dominated Dam Square. The twinkling green lights of Amsterdam’s most famous bridge, the Magere Brug, or “Skinny Bridge” as it was fondly called dotted the distant skyline.

 I traced the lights of the Dutch draw-bridge from one bank of the River Amstel to another. But tonight its beauty did not hold its usual charm. The longer I stared, the sooner it paled.

Not so far away was the looming cross of Ouder Kerk. Tonight, the old church exuded peace that even I could feel. Not the frenetic immorality that bathed the Red Light District could touch this haven which was situated in the same neighbourhood as I was.

I closed my eyes and relaxed my shoulders. I forced myself to unclench my fists and breathe through my mouth. Now, that was better. Then I turned to face her.
Mati lay sprawled on the bed, naked as the day she was born. Her legs were carelessly thrown apart, exposing her clean-shaven pubic mound and the bloated lips of the moist crack in-between her thighs.
I sat beside her, willing myself to get it over with already. Even I, surprised myself when I picked up her wrap and covered her nakedness. She stared at me, disbelief colouring her eyes.

Then she sat up and that was when I caught a good look of her face.

Mati had a high forehead which was framed by her long curls. Her eyes were dark pools of emotion, perfectly spaced, reminding me of the eyes of a feline. Her neck was graceful, tapering down her chest towards the swell of her apple-shaped breasts. 

 Her skin was dark, her lips full with a pout.
The alcohol in my system was wearing off, and looking around me, I realised I never should have come here. I made to stand but Mati grabbed my hand and pulled me towards her. In her eyes was a glowing light, a nagging question I immediately discerned.

“You want to know why I am here.”

 To be continued

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