She loved the soft touch of the ragged carpet’s fur caressing her skin as she lay sprawled in Achika’s living room, her short dress barely covering her thighs. In her right hand was an unlit cigarette, which she had been contemplating for a while now, even though she had asked for it with the confidence of a chain smoker. Her head was tipped to the left, eyes staring at Achika who was standing at the window, blowing a thin string of smoke from the corner of her mouth outside the window. Sometimes, the smoke came out of her nose and when she looked at Amara, Amara was fascinated by how her eyes burned red as if a small fire had been lit underneath her eyeballs. She also loved how Achika closed her eyes when she rubbed the back of her neck. It felt suggestive. And each time their eyes met, they both smiled and continued to gaze at each other until one of them, mostly Achika, looked away. It was like two people noticing each other in a club, neither of them willing to be the first one to approach the other.
“Let’s get married,” Amara said and watched Achika’s cheeks widen in a smile.
Achika moved away from the window and pressed the cigarette butt into the ashtray before letting her weight drop on the couch with a small thud. Amara followed her movement with her eyes.
“And who will be the man in this our marriage?” Achika asked.
“You will be the man because I love being a lady, you know, being pampered, taken out and all that. Besides, I am girlish, something you are not.”
“But you should never expect long love messages from me because those things are pretentious.”
“I understand. I will be okay with short ones.”
“No love messages. I, though, can buy you flowers and always cook for you if it counts for something.”
“That’s a fair deal. The next thing is, who will be paying rent?”
“That will be fifty-fifty.”
“I don’t know,” Amara shook her head, “Someone who wants you to foot half the rent isn’t worthy of being the man in the relationship.”
“Okay, okay, rent will be on me.”
They both laughed.
A brief moment of silence passed between them before Achika moved from the couch and sat next to Amara. Amara, with her eyes closed, felt Achika’s presence but did not open her eyes. She smiled when Achika ran her fingers through her hair and said, “You seriously need to see that hairdresser of yours, your hair is a mess,” but did not say anything.
“You miss him, don’t you?” Achika continued.
“More than I would love to admit. What’s worse is I don’t know what’s happening with him. I mean, I am sure it was him I saw at the hotel with that annoying beautiful girl but something keeps telling me I might have been mistaken. I mean, if it was him, he would have said something about it in that note he sent me, right? Why would he assume what happened in that hotel never happened, or that I don’t deserve an explanation for it? It’s not fair, you know. It’s not fair.” Her voice began trembling.
“You know, though I didn’t expect this rubbish from him, I am beginning to think he has a reason for this. A good reason, that is.”
“What reason could justify him leaving me in this condition?” Her eyes were now welling up and Achika was at loss on what to do.
“Look, I thought he was just a being a typical miserable man trying to run from his responsibilities. But him buying you a car and leaving you that staggering amount of money defeats that line of thinking. Something big is going on. Didn’t James say him and his friend will get to the bottom of this? We should allow them time to see what they will come up with.”
Amara said nothing. And she would remain silent for the better part of the evening. At some point, she stood and walked to the window where Achika had stood earlier on and finally lit the cigarette. Achika tried to discourage her from smoking but she didn’t try hard enough. So she sat and watched her take a few drags, cough but not give up. With neither of them saying anything, Achika found herself running her palm over her thigh, touching the round ring in her pocket. The feel of the ring filled her with goosebumps because, the idea that she was now engaged, to a man, was still surreal to her. Which is why she was hiding the ring together with the fact that she was about to get married to Amara, partly because she wasn’t ready to talk about how she changed her mind about men and marriage, but mostly because she did not want Amara to feel even worse now that she was in turmoil because of a man.
By the time Amara was done with that cigarette, she looked like a pro. She repeated what she had always seen Achika do by pressing the cigarette butt into the ashtray, but not before taking one final drag and blowing the smoke in Achika’s face with an evil grin.
“Tell you the truth, I never knew smoking could feel this good once you get used to it,” she said.
“It does, but it feeling good doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.”
“Spare me your philosophy madam and walk me out.” Amara straightened her dress and grabbed her handbag. Downstairs, before hopping into Samuel’s revving taxi, she said, “By the way, that thing about us getting married was a joke.”
Achika smiled. “I know, idiot.”
On the way, Samuel kept stealing glances at her. Amara noticed and when next Samuel looked at her, she was waiting, so their eyes met and it was awkward for the next few seconds they looked at each other without either of them saying anything. Samuel cleared his throat like he was about to say something but instead shifted his gaze to the road and like always, during such awkward moments, tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
“Samuel, what is it, you look like you are about to proclaim your love for me.”
Samuel burst into laughter.
“I wouldn’t even dare. Men like me don’t fall in love with women like you.”
“Women like me? What does that even mean?”
“I am a hustler, being with you means taking Panadol every day to cool off that headache that comes with dating a woman who is more loaded, gorgeous, and certainly with a long queue of suitors. Average girls are okay for me; I leave beautiful, loaded women for handsome, loaded men.”
“But you are a handsome man. Besides, love doesn’t care for money.”
“You are wrong. Money its all love cares about nowadays. Why do you think young women are falling for middle-aged men like myself? Because when I pack my old scrape outside a club, they think I am one of those loaded chaps.”
“Well, what happens if you marry a woman without money and then they get money thereafter?”
“You start reading your Bible religiously, holding the door for her whenever she is going out and most importantly, pray three times a day.”
Amara laughed, “This attitude of yours needs to change,” she said, staring outside. She spotted a huge liquor store signage beside the road and stared at it until it disappeared.
“Let’s stop briefly at the next liquor store you see,” she said.
“I know you heard me the first time, Sam.”
“I know you are going through a difficult time but drinking won’t help. Look at me, my wife left with everything I worked for but did I turn into a drunkard? No, I picked myself up, dusted myself and here I am, driving a famous and the most beautiful woman this side of the Sahara.”
“I am flattered that you think I am famous and the most beautiful woman but I am not turning into anything, so don’t worry yourself for nothing. Besides, you drink alcohol, so what are you talking about?”
“I did not start after my wife left.”
“Just do as I asked, okay?”
Samuel pulled over at the next liquor store and she told him to wait as she went in. When she walked out, she had a bottle of Smirnoff and packs of cigarettes wrapped in a brown paper. When Sam dropped her, he got out of the car and run his open palm, just like he did earlier that day when he picked her up, over the BMW and said, “BMW X4, gorgeous car. Amara, why again aren’t you driving this baby?”
“Do you want to come in for a drink?”
“Dodging my question, I see. But no thanks. Still working hours for me, my dear.”
Inside her house, she placed the bottle of Smirnoff and the packets of cigarettes on her kitchen counter and stared at them for a while before pouring herself some in a glass. But her hand was shaking as she brought the glass to her mouth and she couldn’t bring herself to take the first sip. She lowered the glass and emptied its content in the sink, lit a cigarette and smoked while sitting on the kitchen floor. She spent the better part of the night on the floor: Kitchen floor, Living room floor, and finally bedroom floor. It was like she was deliberately denying herself any form of comfort.
On Monday, she did not feel like going to work. The prospect of being on-air, flattering her audience with her sweet voice and sly remarks while she was aching inside did not excite her. So she called Fred, her boss, and told him she was unwell. But she did not go to work the next day or the day after. She locked herself in and smoked from her kitchen’s floor, filling her kitchen with tides of smoke. It surprised her how easy it had become for her to light up a cigarette while it dangled from the corner of her mouth as if she was born smoking. But she did not give her actions too much thought because smoking calmed her nerves. After a week of not going to work, Fred called and she only stared at her ringing phone until it rang out. Seconds later, Fred sent her a message asking how she was doing and it wasn’t until later that evening that she replied with, “Not bad, but I might need a few more days.” As she pressed the send button, she realized she didn’t really care about her job anymore, and she wondered where this feeling was coming from. Was it the money Masai left her? Or the fact that Masai had left and now she was struggling to make sense of everything?
When she stood up from the kitchen floor to open the window for the smoke to float out, she noticed that the grey sweatpant she had on no longer tightened at her waist. And that her now growing bump looked fake because it was the only part of her body that was growing while the other parts were shrinking. She could not remember the last time she had a proper meal. She went into her bedroom and stood in front of her mirror, topless, running her fingers over her now showing shoulder bones and wondered what Masai would say if he saw her like that, but then quickly reprimanded herself for caring about what he would say. Why did it matter what he would say? Had he not made it obvious that he wanted nothing to do with her? She thought. But the BMW parked outside and the bag of money in her closet begged to disagree. She opened her closet, reached out for the bag, unzipped it and run her fingers over the bundles of clean notes, their scent of newness hitting her nose. She was afraid to use this money. She had had nightmares of armed masked men with big guns breaking in, dragging a bloodied and lifeless Masai on the floor like a log of wood, demanding for ‘their money.’ Maybe it was the movies she watched, but she couldn’t get past the possibility of the men Masai had defrauded finally catching up with him, and then with her. The scene of how things would play out if her imagination turned into reality made her shudder in horror.
That night, like the many nights before that, her eyes lurked in the dark for the longest time. She was unable to sleep mostly because of the nightmares, and she longed for human companionship. Names stared crossing her mind. James. Hassan. And to humour herself, Samuel. But for some reason, she couldn’t think of Hassan without thinking of him having his arms wrapped around Anita in bed. He had probably realized that cheating on his wife was a stupid idea, and maybe that’s why he had gone missing. Anita, she thought, was one lucky woman. Her decision to leave Masai was a good one now that she thought about it. She sat up straight in bed suddenly. What if Anita’s leaving was not as innocent as she had thought all along? What if she had found out that Masai was into something bad and decided to bounce? Without thinking, she picked up her phone and called Hassan but he did not answer. She called again, and again, and again, but he did not answer. She gave up.
In the morning she woke up with a slight headache and an unnerving feeling. At night she dreamed not of masked men breaking in and dragging Masai on the floor, but of Masai and his other woman in that hotel, hands all over each other. She relived that day again in her dream and it made her sick to the stomach. Like a possessed woman, she jumped out of bed and charged into the kitchen, grabbed the bottle of Smirnoff and drunk straight from it. She lit a cigarette, drag in smoke, blew it out and drunk from the bottle again. It felt sinfully wrong what she was doing, and amazingly good at the same time. But when she glanced out of the window, she saw Achika staring at her with her mouth open. Behind Achika, to her astonishment, stood her mother, her own mother, staring at her, mouth open, too, in shock. She let go of the Smirnoff bottle and it hit the ground sideways, spilling its content.
Apologies for the one day’s delay, things got thick kidogo on my side. Meanwhile, hunt for the subscribe button somewhere on this page and when you find it, drop your email and subscribe. If you already have, just share and move on, sawa?