She stares at his portrait photo. A photo that has been on her desk ever since she got promoted to Creative Director at the agency, a position that came with the coveted corner office. Her office sits on the fourth floor of The Mall in Westlands and, while at her desk, her back faces a huge glass window overlooking Waiyaki Way. She could hear faint noises of speedings cars and a few daring hawkers shouting the interesting names and benefits of their products. She smiles when a tiny voice in a surely old speaker mounted on a moving car narrates how lethal their bedbugs pesticide is. She doesn’t see anyone openly approaching that car to buy a bedbugs pesticide because that would be an open confession that they had bedbugs, and no one wants to admit that they have bedbugs, especially those with bedbugs. His smile is broad. She tries looking away but she can still see his smile and thick sideburns from the corner of her eyes. It saddens her, this smile. It saddens her because he doesn’t smile like this anymore.
The last time she saw him smiling was three months ago when he left for work before coming home later in the evening with a frown on his face. He had been laid off. Cost cutting, he said. He was an excellent salesman in a Travel Agency, selling travel packages to tourists, both local and foreign, and it was always a spectacle listening to him sell a travel package over the phone: “Yes, you need to sit at the shore of this ocean and watch the rising and falling waters, or watch the many lovebirds walking arm in earn, whispering, giggling, and simply enjoy being in someone’s arms. Haha, that’s the point ma’am, this package is meant for couples. Look, nature is calling you, don’t say No. Oh, the price? I haven’t mentioned it yet because it’s ridiculously low it can easily high-five the shortest of people!” he would say. He was the one who encouraged her to pursue a career in copywriting and she was proud of this fact. She was also proud of the fact that they were college sweethearts, having dated since they were in the first year and defying all odds to finally get married. Every time she told the story of how they met, she told it with a faint smile and a distant look on her face because it filled her with nostalgia.
That evening when he came home with the news that he had been laid off, she did not freak out. She did not freak out because she was convinced with his personal skills and connections, it wouldn’t take him long to get another job. She told him this as much but it didn’t cheer him up. He lay on the couch with his tie loosened and remote control in hand, ignoring her eyes. She sat on the edge of the couch and stared at him without saying anything for a long time, hoping he will look in her direction but he didn’t. She prepared dinner and he didn’t touch it. In bed, he slept facing the wall and completely ignored her even when she ran her fingers seductively over his skin. When she persisted with her touching, he turned to look at her and said, “I just wanted to sleep, please!” and henceforth, that’s all he wanted to do.
He was gone when she woke up the next day. And the day that followed, till it became a pattern. In the evening he came back with the same look on his face that said he didn’t get lucky. One evening, as he wrapped a towel around his waist ready to hit the shower, he walked to her and run her hands over his bare chest.
“I know you are used to being the man of the house and getting everything done but you don’t have to worry. I will step up and do the needful till you get another job.”
“You won’t have to,” he said, walking away. “I am selling the car.”
“I didn’t know I have to wait a certain amount of time after losing my job to decide whether or not to sell my car.”
“But why? What do you need the money for?”
“I am really not in the mood to answer any of your obviously silly questions.”
“I don’t know why you are acting this way. It’s not like you are the first person in the world to lose their job, are you? You don’t talk to me as a man should talk to his wife, and you brush me off every time I try to be a good wife to you.”
He laughed. “And what’s your definition of ‘a good wife?’, huh? Pretending to want to help so you can turn around and call me worthless? If you want to be a good wife, I would suggest you shut your big mouth, do whatever you want to do and let me be.” He walked into the bathroom and before slamming the door shut, he added, “Or you can go talk to that your ‘hot’ colleague you were talking to your friend about.”
She was taken aback. And her lack of quick rejoinder suggested that she was guilty of something, and she believed she knew what it was. The Saturday that followed her husband losing his job, her friend Goretti called to tell her about this colleague of hers who was head over heels in love with her, always stopping by her desk to say something nice about her smile, or hair, even when she was having a bad hair day.
“And you, the way you are this hot, no one at work is crazy over of you?” Goretti asked?
Her husband always went for a morning run on weekends. So she was not mindful of what she said next because she knew she was all alone in the house.
“There is a guy, a junior copywriter. He joined the company recently and I have noticed that he doesn’t smile at everyone else the way he smiles at me. He is cute but young, and you know how I feel about dating younger men.”
“Is that the only reason you haven’t summoned him to your office for a private copywriting session yet?”
“No, the main reason is I am married.” She paused. “But sometimes I feel like I never gave myself a chance to meet other people and so somehow this marriage feels like a trap. Whenever Eli and I had issues when we were dating, he would go out and hook with someone else but I will wait for him to calm down and come back to me because he always came back, because I had vowed to stick to only but one man. And that was him.”
“I know,” Goretti said. “Is he in the house?”
“No, he has gone for his morning run.”
“Don’t ignore that guy. The one in the office, just saying.”
So when she opened her bedroom door and saw her husband Eli seated on the couch, his legs spread out on the table, she was shocked. She grew panicky and tried to speak but nothing came out because she was sure he’d heard her phone conversation. She felt uneasy even as she approached him with a forced smile. “Good morning, sweetheart, you mean you were here the whole time? You didn’t go for your run today?”
“I was feeling tired so I changed my mind. Was even thinking of coming back to bed.” He stretched out his hand and when she placed her open palm to his, he pulled her to him, kissing her on the lips. He hadn’t heard their conversation, she thought, otherwise this wouldn’t be happening. When he didn’t bring up the conversation for weeks, she stopped worrying about it, until now.
“W-what are you talking about?”
“You know what I am talking about. Just because I act like a fool doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on.”
“Nothing is going on. Listen, babe, I am sorry, I didn’t mean what I said.”
There was silence, then the shower water started running.
He would give her the silent treatment every time she brought up that topic. And when he eventually decided to talk about it, he made her believe he was ready to forgive her so they can move on with their lives but it wasn’t long before he started using that against her. Because of the guilt, she gave him money when he asked for it and asked fewer questions about what he intended to use the money for. In fact, she didn’t even need to ask because he started showing up late, drunk, singing off key and commanding her around. One day she stood her ground and told him there was money and he needed to get a job, and he was not amused.
“Oh, so you’d rather spend your money on that small boy?”
“I have told you this before and I will tell you again, nothing is going on between me and that boy. And would you stop bringing that up every time I try talking some sense into you?”
He shrugged. “Fine, you can keep your money, and your pussy too because who knows how many small boys you are fucking in your office!”
She was surprised at how easy the vulgar words rolled out of his mouth as if he had been rehearsing them. Even though he had stormed out of the house after saying those words, she could still see his face and the way his lips moved, slowly for effect, accusing her of sleeping around. She felt like there was a small lump in her throat, making it difficult for her to breathe. She eased herself on the couch and sat with head buried in her face. She would not cry, she promised herself. She had cried for him over the years and it was all for nothing. That night, she went to bed early without preparing any meal. But when she woke up, she wa sfeeling guilty again, so she prepared breakfast and left some money for him on the table and left for work. The money was still on the table when she came home from work but he wasn’t in the house. She stayed up late, waiting for him, and when he hadn’t shown up past midnight, she called his phone and a clearly drunk young woman, answered, giggling, “Look, I know he is your husband, but tonight he is mine, okay? Go to sleep, sweety, he is in safe hands.”
She lowered her phone slowly before, in a flash, ramming it on the wall. It’s pieces flew around the room. In bed she covered her head with a pillow, letting it soak up her tears, breaking her own promise of not crying over him again.
Standing at her office door, his gaze never leaves her sight even for a second. She is in a blue sleeveless dress that goes slightly below her knees. A pair of black heels makes her appear taller than she really is. Taller or not, her beauty is striking. His gaze falls down to her shoes, slowly working its way up her legs, then ass, which is carefully concealed inside that dress. At this moment, he didn’t see her as his boss, or as a married woman. He saw a woman struggling with her marriage and whom he was madly in love with.
When he first approached her, one fine morning just as she entered her office and was settling in, he held his love proclamation in one hand and a resignation letter on the other, just in case things went south. But after listening to him, seldom-blinking or making any facial expression he could read, she told him, “Go back to your desk and we will assume this never happened.”
He went back to his desk.
Two months later today, she asks him to stay back, calls him to his office when everyone else has left and now he was standing there, patiently waiting for her to turn around. The last patience forces its way out of his grip and he turns around to leave but then she clears her voice and says, “Jackson?”
“Come in and lock the door.”