(death is no parenthesis)
She sat still and asked him not to stir when she saw who was calling, and when he giggled, she asked him to shush, her face suddenly the stern glare of polished steel. It was Fawaz’s mother on the phone. What did she want this time—to gossip about Fawaz or his father? Or was Fawaz moping again? Was she not seeing them at Easter?
It had been her own mother on the phone the last time this had happened, and Fawaz was the man on whom she’d been mounted. What spirits possessed him that day she did not know, but while she talked to her mother, Fawaz raised his back inches from the bed, bent her closer to himself and splayed a hand on her back, at the precise point where the small of her back swells into the big of her ass. And then he ground into her slowly and deeply, so deep he seemed to have punched through to more vital spaces. She spluttered and sighed her sentences. She yelled senseless things in silence, her eyes large, round, shut, slits, large again. Pleaded. Threatened. Pleaded some more. With her one free hand, she tried without success to tear Fawaz’s bushy hair from his head.
When her mother wanted to know what the matter was, Tẹ́ní told her it was a headache, a bad one that started. That. That started. Ha. Thatstartedyesterday.
Her mother had prayed in that earnest manner of Pentecostal mothers, and asked 400 questions about food, malaria, drugs, stress and boys. And dákun, buy antimalarial and treat yourself on time, before it gets too serious. You’re no longer a child; you have to learn to take care of yourself now. I can’t leave my husband to come and be taking care of you over there. You hear?
When she was sure her mother had clicked off, Tẹ́ní flung the phone somewhere. Have you ever heard Wizkid weave a melody around a beat? Tẹ́ní’s deep moan killed Fawaz’s triumphant cackle, killed it dead.
But that had been Fawaz.
Fawaz was not some random guy she met at House on the Rock, the church she’d lately taken to attending in Àkúrẹ́.
They sparkled in that church, you see. They glittered and twinkled, were wild now and sombre the next minute. Their worship was grave; grave as in very deeply considered. When church was out, they went at life full-throttle—whatever life it was.
The Sunday she met him, the Vessels of Mercy, as the choir was christened, had poured their soul into the music. Their soul filled the church and spilled over so much you had to wade through it to get into the church. The drums were loud, too loud, as was the piano, as were their voices, one chorister desperate to upstage the next. Beneath all that loudness the trumpet and guitar flailed and clawed, desperate for breath.
Pastor Thompson was Idris Elba, strikingly so—a foot or so shorter, inches narrower but with the same smoldering carriage. He spun with his sermon intricate linkages across the bible like spiders given too much leeway, and she thought that it might be fun watching Idris Elba play a pastor.
Like the Vessels of Mercy, Pastor Elba the Shorter too got the people going, worked the whoop-and-holler into them. A sea of cliché and small islands of profundity later, he exited the stage, drenched in a ferocious shower of applause.
That was when Rántí took the stage. His smile was lopsided, like he was up to no good, his pitch-black hair drenched in some concoction or the other. He spewed that churchy spiel that rifled your pocket for money with a straight face. A tight fist does not receive; how can it? There’s no bountiful harvest to be had without commensurate planting. (Last time Tẹ́ní heard so much about seeds was in agric class in secondary school, taught by a teacher who was both a pervert and a Deeper Lifer.) She didn’t pay too much mind to what Rántí was saying but how he said it. He sounded like butter and honey and soon enough something essential shifted at the bottom of her belly—a familiar pathology.
So she sat on him as Fawaz’s mother rang. His lopsided smile had assumed a cocky quality and he studied her breasts like they were a difficult simultaneous equation, as if he was looking for the easier equation, the one in whose simplification laid the key to its kin.
And though he tried not to stir, he pulsed. She felt him pulse with the newtons of invisible effort he was making to arrest the inevitable wane of his member, as if it would not rise if she needed it to. She put the phone to her ear and greeted Fawaz’s mother good morning. The cocky grin had become a sheepish smile, and the wane was a full-blown retreat. She bit back a chuckle.
Except for the small madness at the second army checkpoint outside Àkúrẹ́, Tẹ́ní’s journey to Lagos had proceeded without much event. A dainty woman in a sky-high gèlè had been on the phone to her shop girl, and the soldier on duty, a trim woman with an enormous unsoldierly ass, confiscated the phone, placed it on the road and asked the bus driver to drive over it, at the pain of jackboots, horsewhips, steel belts and gunbutts.
She was lucky, eh, a wiry old man with the hair pouring out of his nostrils said when the bus moved out of the soldier’s earshot. Thank God she hadn’t been ordered to sit beside the road for hours, or on the bus, stewing in your sweat like boiling meat. A young man with fugitive buns in his cheeks swore to God he’d been on a bus when a soldier asked a man to suckle another passenger who’d been rude. Everyone hissed their disgust. These animals. A gruff voice in the front said he’d once been asked to roll in the mud. Can you just imagine? The bastards dirtied his white.
A silent rage simmered on the dainty woman’s face and Tẹ́ní imagined what hoops her poor husband might have to jump through that night to appease her. If it were her, Fawaz would jump through hoops alright—oh yes he would. Tẹ́ní dozed off thinking of all the ways he would suffer and slept right through the commercial bustle at Ọ̀rẹ̀ and the depressing stretch of the Ọ̀rẹ̀-Ṣágámù Express.
She woke up with a start: Fawaz had broken his neck jumping in a well after her.
Fawaz had been in hot pursuit, a cutlass gleaming silverly above his head, a mumble in his mouth and some serious fleet in his foot. She’d had a head-start, had been nimble too, like something out of Kung-Fu Hustle. But he was nimbler and gaining rapidly. To keep her head on her shoulder, she had followed the logic of dreams to jump into a well yawning conveniently by. Behind her, a sickening crack followed a tremendous roar.
She seldom dreamt. Certainly not in daytime, in transit. And here she was cramped in the backseat of a 14-seater Hiace, outside the monstrous sprawl of the MFM camp just outside Lagos, in a traffic jam five-lanes wide on a two-lane express, the heat from car exhausts overpowering, dreaming about God knows what.
Fawaz’ mother did not call her Ìyàwóo Fawaz as she always did. Instead, Tẹ́ní. Her voice was still graceful, deliberate, mid-octave, but barely audible tremors wracked its underbelly. I’m sorry dear, Fawaz’mother said, every McGill-bred syllable clicking martially into place, Fawaz died this morning. I will talk to you when you come down. Tẹ́ní was unable to get a word in-between.
Was she joking? She had to be. Who joked with something like that? This woman. This dignified old woman who could be both goofy and haughty. Tẹ́ní smiled a little smile and felt Rántí’s flaccid penis rub against her thigh. What a joke.
It was a joke alright but what if it wasn’t? Rántí’s slick smile had begun to sicken her, piss her the fuck off, and when he cupped her breasts, snakes encircled them. She recoiled, climbed off him and asked him to go, sorry. When he protested she asked him who invited him. You, he replied, stroking his dick. Good; now carry your big fat Carillo cojones and be gone. If he’d protested again, she might have switched to Yoruba and clapped him to boot. Hówù. Àní ẹ wá máa lọ. Ojú ò ńti ẹ̀yin ni?
It didn’t come to that. With him gone, she dialed Fawaz’s number. It was switched off. An ìrẹ̀wẹ̀sì seized her and she lay on the bed, useless, not knowing what or how to feel. She tried his phone long into the night, a little past midnight. Nothing. She tried Ṣọlápé, Fawaz’s sister; Ṣọlápé, the lion who looked at her like she was venison, whose first words to her—after examining her like a dress on a mannequin at a clothes store—had been,
You’re so so beautiful. Fuck, like, how does my brother find you people?
Her phone was switched off. If it was a joke, it was getting distasteful. Fawaz dead, the Fawaz who’d called the previous day promising heaven at Easter. The cheek.
There was one more call to make. After that, lift this clitoral angst by self-assisted nirvana.
If Tẹ́ní and Fawaz were circles that overlapped, Lará was the slice of shade where they intersected. Or something like that. Lará was Fawaz’s bosom childhood friend as Tẹ́ní had been Lará’s bosom university friend. At an elaborate wedding where Lará had been an usher, one bosom friend met the other. Tẹ́ní wore a short, short wrap dress to turn heads, and boy, was Fawaz’s head turned. He stalked after her, a dog dogging its owner, a tail tailing its quarry. When he spotted her with Lará, what balls? He’d inserted himself into the conversation like a crisp naira note slots into a book. To her suggestion that an old man ogling her ass had been gross, he’d said,
What an ass.
Which had kindled between them something, the consequences of which had engulfed the previous friendships with Lará, stealthily at first, till the roof burst into flames; a raw red henhood revealed by a gust of wind. The overlap became complete. Lará was eclipsed, with protests. Like the alárinà that she was, Lará drifted from Fawaz and Tẹ́ní. Or was it they who drifted from her? No matter. It was to Lará she now turned.
Like what? Lará had said. Like illness or something. I still saw him last week and he was popping. At the mall. With. She trailed off.
Nothing much had changed since she was last in Àgbàdo.
Roads were still co opted as drainages by houses overflowing with tenants. Some houses extended the logic and simply ran their waste straight onto the street. Look how a congress of potholes sat splat on the road legislating God knows what, their commodious bellies filled with filth. And Tẹ́ní thought how Nigerian it was, this shitting in public to bolster the private.
The Ògúnbàjò residence was mostly tucked away from the madness. A labyrinth of roads led away from the main street into the tranquil cul de sac that bore their name, the very end of which the Ògúnbàjòs lived. The Close closeted them from the reality of their surroundings and if you did not stray too far from the house, it was easy to forget where you were.
Kennedy the trippy boerboel was chained and sleeping in its kennel. Which was perfectly fine; she didn’t care much for the barreling mongrel’s impassioned sniffing. From its depressing grey, their matchbox duplex was now brown-and-cream. Which was smart given dust. The matchbox duplex was set well back within spacious grounds, spacious grounds upon which they grew a magnificent palm tree, a magnificent palm tree whose ripe fruits glistened redly that morning, whose long, flamboyant fronds were blown amorously backwards like a girl’s long weave at a beach.
Mr. Ògúnbàjò, small-time legal luminary, comfortable in all registers of erudition (he could say “vapid blather” as easily as he could say “dọ̀bọ̀sìẹsà”), loved to recount how he’d wanted to cut the tree because he’d grown frustrated at its fruits growing more out of reach every day. He was frustrated too that no immediate Ògúnbàjò, unlike his dead mother, possessed the wherewithal to exploit the several essences and peripheries of the fruit.
But hadn’t little Fawaz saved the day? Enamoured with the simple treehood of the tree—the man sometimes spoke as if parodying something—little Fawaz had pointed out that though he was no Jesus, the tree was a lone star of wonder that once led three friends of his who’d come visiting to the perfect light that was his house. The episode had given Mr Ògúnbàjò pause (something Herod might have learnt from), Mr Ògúnbàjò whose profuse toothbrush mustache called to mind Mister Hitler. When one day he had peered out of a plane as it neared Ikeja and picked out his house using the palm tree, the tree’s fate was sealed. My little boy is a bright little boy, isn’t he? Fawaz had grumbled something indecipherable about being little. Tẹ́ní’s grin dripped with carnal knowledge. Little, yes, but sizeable where it mattered.
They could still fit a driveway in too, a narrow, concrete driveway you had to reverse cars out of, a driveway lined by tall thin ornamental trees plumaged in cascading finery, tall trees that swerved like masquerades in the fulsome earthy breeze that eludes Lagos. This used to be our maize farm, Mr. Ògúnbàjò once said to her, launching into a gripping origin drama from the vantage of his verandah, his grasp of history—whether it was of an obscure ancestor or a long-forgotten national event—as sweeping and intricate as that of Russian novelists. Fawaz had excused himself, the scamp, muttering something about a deadline. This place used to be government land you know, the man continued. That’s why we’re so close to that waterworks you see in the distance. That waterworks, by the way, is how Lagos Island and co. get potable water. We don’t get a drop here of course, Nigeria being Nigeria. Intimacies of the South South, yes? But look at that yellow monstrosity behind us. The owner was—he’s dead now—Ọbásanjọ́’s kin. In Ọbásanjọ́’s first coming….
The day burned tyger bright in her memory, fuck, the day she made the mistake that now subjected her to Dostoevsky-of-the-suburbs’s War and Peace. It was her first time at the Ògúnbàjòs, and he wanted to know who or what she was. She told him, and then it called to his mind his days at Ifẹ̀ where he was this close to joining the Pyrates—so magnetic was Ṣóyínká’s allure. Oh yeah? Well, perhaps he assumed the light in her eyes that day was a forever thing. It was that same day under his father’s nose that Fawaz had told her eating her pussy was like eating a fucking mango.
All this hair in my teeth; where’s my toothpick?
Do you know we used to have mangos too? Creamy, succulent mangos. Your breasts remind me of them.
She’d pushed his head back down.
Shut up and eat up bitch.
Over the fence, in the distance, the sun glowered in the strongest orange possible. In the distance too, loomed the end of the world—the point at which God stitched earth into a sky an angel seemed to have gone over with a broom. Much nearer, the crown of broken glass atop the fence glistened with the strong orange of the sun. Tẹ́ní knocked. Come in, a disembodied voice said, after a respectable interval. The door answering gizmo was new too.
Somberness hung from the ceiling like a grand chandelier in a desolate castle. The drapes were brown, heavy and drawn, adding a dollop of brooding to the atmosphere. Mrs Ògúnbàjò sat listlessly on a sofa, watching Erdogan on CNN, the flickering, out-of-place fluorescence of the TV lightening the gray of her hair. Ṣọlápé was at the dining table snipping ṣọkọ branches off their stalk, a large, framed photograph of Mr Ògúnbàjò beaming down at her like she was a daughter in whom he was well pleased. An aroma wafted through the house from the kitchen, an aroma that announced that somebody was whipping up something that could make your brain upset the delicate dance between tongue and teeth.
When Ṣọlápé saw who it was, she got up, her thick head of unsullied hair combed up and tackled with a band. There were no words today, no twirling about her axis, no fussy inspection, no shrill praise, no liking this or that item of clothing, no where did you find that, no I’m definitely copping that off you.
There was only a resigned hug, a limp hug, a long desperate hug that said things Tẹ́ní still didn’t believe. Come sit beside me, Mrs. Ògúnbàjò said, swinging her legs off the sofa with some effort, patting the immediate space beside her. Tẹ́ní sat, her tongue tied into a knot, her antennae furiously scanning the scene for meaning. As stealthily as she could manage, she searched the older woman’s face for any sign of tears or of sorrow but found only resignation.
Pẹ̀lẹ́ ọmọ dáadáa, the older woman said, rubbing Tẹ́ní’s thighs close to the knee. The tremors were gone now, the glint of the TV in the eyes of her red-rimmed glasses.
How was your journey?
And then she hugged Tẹ́ní’s head to her bosom.
The long black gown she wore reeked of unuse, like something dug up from the bottom of those raffia àpọ́tis every woman over sixty seemed to have. It was weird what this woman was doing, Tẹ́ní thought. Whose grief was this precisely if there was any grief at all? Something fishy was afoot. Her antennae twanged in excitement.
Silence. From the humans. Tẹ́ní sat stock still, still not knowing how to feel. Ṣọlápé brought her some water in a bottle whose neck arched to one side as if kissed. On the TV, the world was praising and mocking Erdogan in the same breath: Erdogan the sorcerer, who’d quelled a coup with FaceTime, sorcery either destined for its place in the mythoi of world politics or to be usurped in due course by a shiny new excitement manufactured by CNN. Wolf Blitzer, who might as well have been a robot teddy bear with concealed sentience, was conducting the mind-numbing orchestra in monotone, and somebody called Gulen kept getting mentioned.
Someone—Ṣọlápé—fiddled with the remote, searching, perhaps, for a respite from CNN’s hypnotic news circles. Tẹ́ní thought about Brain, thought about his hare-brained fixation on taking over the world, thought about how worthy a vehicle CNN would be for his nightly endeavours. Or was Brain an her?
Won’t you go freshen up, said Mrs. Ògúnbàjò, from a mile away. Tẹ́ní snapped to.
Can you, she added quickly, seeming to realize that Tẹ́ní would have to go up to Fawaz’s room. Ṣọlápé can share her room, ṣèbí?
Sure thing, Ṣọlápé said.
Ṣọlápé lingered on Telemundo, then seemed to change her mind. It’s okay ma, Tẹ́ní said, getting up. So, this had been the plan all along. A family that plots. She would play along. Fawaz was waiting upstairs, the idiot, waiting to startle her. Well, there’ll be hell to pay for this one, hell he would pay alone. First of all, he would crash through the floor when he stamps his feet and yells woo. Second of all, sex was out of the question till Easter at least… what is sex, not even a touch. Tẹ́ní took the stairs. When is daddy back, she heard Ṣọlápé ask her mother.
There had been somebody else in Fawaz’s life when Tẹ́ní sauntered in—Ṣọlápé and her big mouth had let that slip. Later she would find out that Ṣọlápé meant to say it, had said it because she did not like the other girl.
Those tentative early days had set the tone. They fucked like rabbits on heat everywhere they could get away with fucking—living rooms, bathrooms at home and abroad, bedrooms, neat and cluttered kitchens, in the cluster of bananas with mosquitoes buzzing about them, in the backyard of a friend’s house, in the back row of an empty cinema, once in a car at a mall’s car park, careful to make sure the car didn’t move, giggling like stupid children.
Still there were calls that lingered too long, received out of her earshot. There were chat sessions conducted long into the night while she flopped around the bed feigning sleep. There were furtive smiles and flashes of annoyance at the phone. His phone had been passworded, a password he refused to share—a proactive admission of guilt in Tẹ́ní’s moral universe. She’d said nothing, had taken the hint to pursue similar preoccupations having never needed much of an excuse. The budding thing with Fawaz felt solid, yes, substantial even. But it was malleable too, like wet concrete. Like liquid metal. How it would set was up in the air.
Some redemption had come by way of a raunchy message he found on her phone. A pulsing body, some wrench for an unknotting, a particular scratch for a particular itch, had styled itself more. Remember when we fucked at Biggie’s party? Best. Just like that. She remembered him vaguely, and she’d probably fucked him too, but the details were wispy now. It’s the thing with recreational love. You leave shards, wisps of memory behind; shards that are entire panes in some other consciousness, wisps that are a sky full of clouds.
What was it with men and the incapacity to bear burdens they thrust on others? For two weeks, the indignation burned in Fawaz like a fever, after which the furtiveness vanished, curiously, in its place a luminous affection. Was it too late? It was hard to tell but it was his light she now reflected. He was the sun and she his moon.
It was the sort of affection that often caused Ìyáa Fawaz to ask, boldly, when she planned to transition from Ìyàwóo Fawaz to Ìyàwóo Fawaz gan-an gan, planned to imbue all this running around with legitimacy. Look at his eyes, the woman had said one day, this one is gone; ẹ̀fọ́ yẹn-ẹ́n ti pọ̀jù. He’s switched his trousers for your skirt… even if we only now have buttocks to thank for being able to tell who’s who. When he becomes your wife, she’d continued, ṣáà rántí pé èmi nìyá ẹ̀; it was I who wet his head with blood. Rántí o. K’o dẹ̀ ṣè’jọba pẹ̀lẹ́pẹ̀lẹ́.
Tẹ́ní had wanted to tell her how much of his lifeblood Fawaz had wet her with. Instead, she’d faked horror, all wobbly knees and a crumpled face, at the thought of usurping a woman in her son’s life. Ìyá nìyá ṣì ma máa jẹ́ mummy.
But Ìyàwóo Fawaz gan-an gan wasn’t something she thought about much—at least not yet. The boy still lived with his parents and there were too many other important things: what she was and could be, her place in the world, how she figured in the great matrix of things. Marriage was a distant thought.
The comforts behind which she secreted herself were beginning to wear off. In three months for example, she would be confronted with the prospect of prospecting for a job, having exhausted her service year. Against all sane counsel, she’d opted to study literature in school because it fulfilled a fundamental yearning and she had been convinced there had to be a lot more meaning to a university than being the fattening house of labour. Romantic, but finding out there’s little romance to adulthood was heartbreaking, especially as you no longer had the pretext of school to fleece your parents.
And she had come to this pass where being with Fawaz seemed more duty than yearning. There was no force-field around them anymore, except for when they fucked—there was something completely animal about how they went about that one thing. No sparks flew off now when one wandered into the other’s field of influence; they were smooth and dependable like an old marriage. Her togetherness with him was the togetherness of the buttocks and the àpọ́tí. He was a landmark, a lodestar, the Ògúnbàjòs’ palm tree, a familiar unmoving solidity to which she could always return—the one thing that seemed certain in the general crush of uncertainty.
But wasn’t this—this familiar solidity—the stone from which dependable husbands are hewn? Perhaps she’d always had it wrong: who wanted her heart racing all the time till the end of time? Perhaps it wasn’t necessary that she herself become a sun. How many suns, after all, can one solar system manage?
Outside Fawaz’s door, she lingered, steeling herself for the jolt, killing her breathing, listening for anything at all. For a moment, she contemplated entering the room like a babaláwo—back first, swishing some mumbo-jumbo in her mouth. She dismissed the thought; better to stare what death will kill you in the face. She pushed the door open with some force, hoping to throw Fawaz off script. The door handle banged against a wall.
Nothing jumped out. At least nothing she expected. Instead an eerie quiet.
His bed was tucked in like a good schoolboy, which wasn’t even right—chaos was Fawaz’s thing. His devices—the HP from work, the iPad his mum had bought and his phone—were lined up at the head of the bed, beside them, an ankara-bound jotter. She set her nose out for his musk, that comely combo of sweat, man and faint cologne, but, instead, the vestiges of an air freshener. She cracked his bathroom door open. Nothing but whiteness. She had red, red memories here and caught a soft moan as she had once stopped loud ones from carrying to his parents just feets away.
She stalked from one end of the room to the other, unsure what to do or how to feel. How does one respond to a thing like this? Laugh? Cry? Fall down? Nothing? She wasn’t sure she would cry should her own mother die, a detachment from sentiment that often scared her. And what was this, to start with?
She sat down on his worn wicker chair, before the bookshelf that also served as his workstation—the thing she’d once threatened to burn for its preponderance of Carnegies, Maxwells and Clancies. That day, she’d read him an excerpt from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the part at the beginning about the fuku she loved too much. Fawaz seemed thrilled, laughed on cue, hung his head at the exceptional misfortune of the Kennedy family. Oscar Wao. Sounds a lot like Oscar Wilde, doesn’t it? She’d beamed.
Later she learned he’d been indulging her, that maybe the Oscar Wao thing was cool but nobody but cloudy-headed fairies fucked with aimless, convoluted shit like that, that he was perfectly comfortable with the military detail of his Clancies and the practicality of his Maxwells, that he had only been waiting till he was comfortable enough to tell her, that he’d even had a splitting headache keeping his permanent grin of keen interest on.
Beside a box of cufflinks on the desk bit of the bookshelf were four books that gleamed and sat on their backs, stacked one on the other. The topmost was a slim volume of Ṣóyínká poems, Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known. She picked it up now and flipped through it. But have you heard of wèrèpè Demosthenes? Not all your Stoics’ calm douse the fiery hairs of that infernal pod. His father could not have bought Fawaz this—he considered the boy an astounding disappointment for inheriting his mother’s disdain for literature. The Fawaz she knew would sit to watch a Ṣóyínká book burn first before ever contemplating reading it. In Tẹ́ní’s most lucid moments, Ṣóyínká seemed to her the centre of an oedipal struggle between father and child.
Now she picked up the other books. Say You’re One of Them, Americanah, and Open City. They were, strangely, some of the books she planned to read but didn’t yet have the money to buy. Maybe he’d been doing some research. What research? Maybe he’d wanted to surprise her at Easter. Maybe he was so tuned to her frequency that his accuracy was uncanny. Maybe she was nuts. Maybe he’d consulted Lará. Her chest clenched with affection. Then she turned the first page of Open City.
To Àárínọlá, with love. Yours, Fawaz. Written in his clean, cursive hand. Àárínọlá? Who the blazes was that? And Yours, Fawaz? Wh … Whose? She sat down again and opened the first page of the other books. They too were meant for Àárínọlá, with love. Fawaz had never spoken of an Àárínọlá to her. How would he? The cheating bastard. Who was she? She recalled now that Lará had mentioned running into him at the mall last week, with someone she hadn’t mentioned. Perhaps she would know. She fished her phone from her handbag. Lará did not pick up and dark clouds travelled quickly over her face.
Well she had no option but to sleuth, did she? It’s no less than the fraud deserves. She took a survey of the room. An Anne Hathaway poster had joined the Arshavin and Megamind ones on the wall, as had a framed painting of a woman with a nun’s cornette over her head and Fẹlá dancer make-up around one eye. It seemed the sort of pretentious gift someone who would read Open City would give because Fawaz certainly didn’t pick this out. The woman’s head was lifted, her neck long and bare, her gaze fixed on something beyond the painter. She looked on the verge of a smile, or was that on the verge of tears? Who the fuck did the painter think he was—Leonardo da fucking Vinci?
And who did Àárínọlá think she was with this nonsense? She tore her eyes away from the painting and eyed the wardrobe. No panties or bras. She went back to the bathroom. Nothing. The bastard probably didn’t bring her home. She knew his phone password, but the ankara-bound jotter… yes, that was the place to start.
At the top of its first page were two phone numbers belonging to a Jessica and Faridah. He hadn’t only been collecting paintings from pretend Italians, but was now himself collecting women? Okay. Beneath those, a schedule of events that looked like the programme of events at a wedding reception—prayer, procession, speech, dance, cake, vote of thanks, prayer, talk to Sola—but could have been a birthday party for an important older person. Further into the jotter were some jottings about integrated marketing communications. Disney makes fantasies, not movies and theme parks. Nonsense.
After a sea of space, she found a sketch of an ass that looked too small to be hers. Probably Àárínọlá’s, the bastard, running around with little-ass girls. You didn’t sketch a girl’s ass if you had no plans for it. There was a list of songs he planned to download—Nas’s discography, Twenty-One Pilot’s latest album, Tye Tribbert songs. There was a phone number belonging to a Surulere agent. He’d been planning to move and she’d been none the wiser. Bastard! Another sea of space. There was an elaborate mind map that bloomed from entrepreneurship at its center. Funny. There was the synopsis for a bottle-smashing game. She chuckled. The idiot was also now a fucking tech bro. Two months and she could as well have been living in an alternate universe.
Then she saw it. When you will marry her, but she has no idea. Find meme of girl with plaited hair and wry smile. Tẹ́ní’s heart leapt.
What did she know so far? That he’d been planning to gift someone books. That that someone might have gifted him a framed painting. That there was a list of events that looked something like a wedding programme. That he wanted to rent a house. That he was…
That he was going to propose to someone who had no idea?
Tẹ́ní dropped the jotter. Her gaze returned to the stack of books, to the box of cufflinks beside them. The red box stared back, daring in its studied neutrality. She throbbed with anticipation. Were those cufflinks?
She’d asked him to come down to Àkúrẹ́ when last they spoke, and he’d said something about being too swamped. Do you have a new job you haven’t told me about? she’d asked. Are you keeping things from me now? He’d muttered something in defence she no longer now remembered and segued smoothly into how he longed to pick hair from his teeth again. You know where to find me, she’d said. I could do with some manhandling myself. Ah yes, my father has been asking after you; you should come around at Easter. I think I may have found one square of tile on which we’ve not fucked in this house. She’d called him a stupid moron with his brain in his penis and asked him to buy her Coldstone. Still a complete trip there’s Coldstone in that your Àkúrẹ́, he’d replied.
It was a ring alright, a gold ring with a small, jagged stone that sat gleaming in a silver sepal, the kind of ring you give to a girl when you want her off the market and all to yourself. She stifled the fit of laughter that threatened to escape her and just as well because someone was knocking. She snapped the box shut, ushered the mirth off her face and thought about wiping the drop of tear that now teased the corner of her left eye. Ìyáa Fawaz was at the door. Better for her to think she was crying. What happened to her goddamned bastard of a son?