By the time you read this letter, I would be long gone.
You probably have most likely noticed my deserted room by the time you before seeing this letter. You might have seen that my bedsheet was peeled off and rolled like ball on the bed. My wardrobe, desk and safe are empty. Maybe you haven’t seen it, but I left that tiger-shaped figurine on the nightstand. I want you to have it. Keep it at the depths of your travelling bag anytime you go on those business trips—those extra stretched business trips.
I never told you but seven years ago, I followed you, wearing cowboy hats and dark shades. I bought that figurine from hurrar antic shop. Remember hurrar? That one with the bell above the door. That one that smelt like roasted beef and ginger. That one where Georgia, the dark woman with grey hair gives a tour, telling the origin of every sculpture in the shop. That one you entered with your hand around Jessica’s waist, smiling ear to ear. I guess you don’t remember.
Your heart might leap at the fact that I know Jessica. Well, she was the first girl I saw you with. That was seven years ago, on this same day. 14th February.
What put me off was that after you left the shop, I entered. Just after Georgia informed me about the history of the tiger-shaped figurine, you called me. If I didn’t just see you with a girl, I would have believed you leaned on the balcony watching the stars like you told me. I would have believed the board meeting went well, only that so and so didn’t appreciate your presentation.
Where did you get all those stories from? Did you take your time to formulate them or did you speak by heart?
Well, I didn’t leave you because of your travelling lifestyle. I didn’t leave you because of how comfortable you were lying to me either.
When you were not home, I had my flings too, mostly young men. And this one time with your best friend, Ikechukwu.
But yours was more hurtful. Maybe because of how casual you act around me; how you pecked my forehead and hit the right spot every morning. The way you served me breakfast in bed. You did it all without any hint of scandal written on your face. Maybe it was because I saw proof that you were actually cheating. At least my sheet was clean, you never caught me.
You would have, if beneath that smile you always had, you weren’t paranoid. If you weren’t always feeling guilty. Oh, I know you were. For birds of the same feather flock together. I was paranoid around you. I had that look of a teenage girl that has just had sex in the toilet. But, you didn’t notice because you were doing the same thing.
Especially that day I wore that your red satin nightwear. How you laughed and said, it was oversized. How you lifted me off my feet and kissed my forehead. How we ended up not reaching the bedroom, and making love by the stairs. How you laid beside me, breathing heavily after you made sure you deeply buried your fluids in me. Even the way you made love, you inadvertently reminded me that I had no child for you.
But this is not about that. This is about everything.
This isn’t about the question you asked me that day before the whole sex by the stairs thing. Why are you wearing my nightwear? The guilt was plastered on my face, but of course, you didn’t see it. You were also drowning in your own guilt.
Didn’t you see the tension that widened in my eyes? Didn’t you notice that I didn’t really hit my feet at the edge of that chair? That I was pretending…Instead you rushed to me and cuddled me. You never spoke of the nightwear again, or why it had a masculine fragrance. You must have thought it was one of yours. But I could tell from your expression that the fragrance didn’t really register. You said nothing.
You might remember the exact scent if I tell you it was Ikechukwu’s rub off. That he was in the house few hours ago. You knew it was familiar but you couldn’t really place it. Was it because of your drug use? Did you forget things then too? Because I do now…
Some days I would wake up to a note by the night stand, you were off to Ghana. I didn’t really wake up to it. I was awake when you adjusted the cover and reached into your drawer and brought out your phone. The backlight was bright enough for me to see the mischievous smile that tore slightly across your face, after you must have read a quick text. You killed the screen and gently slid out of bed to avoid waking me up.
When I heard the shower run, I moved over to your drawer and went through your phone. The message was from Efua. That dark slender girl. For an instance I got jealous of her chocolate skin. The way she glowed under the sun with her yellow gown shouting on her dark skin. Her text read, come get it, whatever that was. Well, I followed you to go get it.
You entered a see-through restaurant, and ran across into another restaurant, watching everything that happened. You hurried inside and she stood up to hug you. You were still in your black polo and jeans. You guys spoke for a long time. After what felt like forever, she stood up and intriguingly left the restaurant. You sat there for another hour swirling your spiked coke without taking a sip. Was it the day she informed you of her pregnancy? Yes…i know about the baby(s). But, this is not about that.
It’s about everything. About your flaws and mine—mostly mine.
Let me tell you a story. A true life story, of a woman— a married woman. One can’t tell her age from her face. Her hair wasn’t as bouffant as a white person would think of a regular African woman. Her hair had a funny looking texture, like that of the white women. But hers, unlike theirs, wasn’t natural. She had a ritual of applying chemicals to her hair every month to make it look fragile and silk like that of the white woman.
It wasn’t her idea, it was that of her husband.
When this woman had had it up to her throat, she left her husband. News went around that it was because he asked her to change—through surgery—the shape of her nose after she must have adjusted her ears, because he thought they were too big.
I wonder what people would say when the news goes round that I have left you. Impossible! they were perfect together, many would say. Little did they know that it was a picture being painted. That at home, I never spoke to you. That we were so apart and no matter how deep in love we fell, we climbed out of it.
I might be speaking for myself. Maybe you might claim that you still love me. That you cherish and care for me. That you… Your phone always interrupted you when you were proclaiming your love. Always. Would your phone beep on the day you would meet me again? I doubt you ever will, because right now, I am on a flight to a country— an African country? Asia? Europe? Of course, you wouldn’t know and would never know.
I didn’t leave you because I climbed out of love, no, because when I dig my feet in our history, trying to climb out of love was impossible. I couldn’t explain it. That was why I stayed with you all through those years of deceitful living and lies.
I could have left that year you met Chibu at the airport, on your way to see Alanna. I could have left when you went to Togo to meet that Libyan woman that works with the United Nations. She had a black scarf over her head that crossed her shoulders and a black pencil skirt that revealed long legs in red heels. She strode with such confidence. Her general countenance screamed affluence. Even from the binocular pinned to my eyes, I felt intimidated. Four hefty men dressed in camouflage, armed to the teeth, accompanied her into the embassy. She was probably so influential, because nobody spoke to you as you tagged along. I could feel the control she had over you. The way you buried your hands in your pocket as you strode. I know you enough to know when you were intimidated.
All of that, just to sleep with her and come back to me the next day?
You might not know where I am going but you might as well know Komla Mally. The man that tapped me and made me remove the binoculars from my eyes. For a moment, I forgot I was in a coffee shop way across the street.
“Are you spying on the embassy?” A voice asked.
The moment my eyes registered with his features, I stammered. “N…no.” the binoculars slipped from my grasp and it’s impact on the glass table attracted few eyes.
“I know a better view if that’s what you are doing.” He raised his brow but I couldn’t hold his gaze so my eyes fell on his well structure chest that was squeezed in a black V-neck polo.
“My name is Mally. Komla Mally.” he stretched his hand.
Realising I hadn’t said a word since, I thought about the name and reprouncing it was close to impossible. “Komka—” I shook his hand.
“KOM-LAH…” He interjected slowly and firmly. “MA-LEE.” he said raising his hand to match the tempo of the latter syllabus. “You are not from around here.”
Awkward silence hung heavy. The thought of me being a terrorist spying on the embassy crossed his mind, but he said, “May I sit?”
“Almost correct, just a little misbalance in that tempo.” He smiled and I mirrored it. For a while I forgot about you. “Ma-lee it is.”
Still smiling he said, “May I seat now?”
“Of, course.” I adjusted uncomfortably.
He pulled out his chair and sat. “What’s with the intriguing dressing…and binoculars…” he pointed to it on the table “Who are you spying on?”
“No one…” I removed the hat and my shade. The space looked brighter and Mally’s complexion brightened. He was coloured like the protean bar I had eaten that morning at the airport. The rat faced waiter came back to table for the fourth time. He spoke to Mally in an unfamiliar language. After a moment he smiled and left.
“He was about to call the police on you.” Mally said with a smirk.
Heat ran to my cheeks and I laughed out loud. “The police?” I didn’t take it serious.
“Of course, you ordered water and have been looking towards the embassy with binoculars… dressed in that.”
I knew I wasn’t thinking straight. I was still fazed by his features. He reminded me of your youthful days. “So what are you doing in a cafe full of aged people?”
“Oh, I am here with my mother,” He pointed to an old woman in thick green sweater that was smiling at me. “She asked me to check up on you…she thinks I can help in every situation.” He chuckled. “She sees me as Superman.”
“In my country, they say it’s the women that looks after the parents in old age.”
“Yea…how did you—”
Mally waved a dismissive hand. “It was a wide guess. ‘The giants of Africa’.” He teased.
Anger kindled in me once he said that but his smile was just heart melting.
“So if you are not spying on the embassy or on anyone, why are you here, dressed like that under this radiating sun.”
Merely looking outside, I could tell the sun was scorching. At least I was safe under the roof of the café. “I am just visiting…seeing around.”
Disbelief flashed on his face, “I don’t believe you,” he said unseriously but I could tell he meant it. Without much significance to what he said he asked, “Have you seen the Koutammakou landscape?”
I have heard about it from friends. The antic mud houses littered on a landscape. “No, do you want to show it to me?”
“Ehm…” he looked at his mother. When I saw her, I wanted to take back what I said but he spoke before I could. “It’s fine. How about we drop her at home with my nanny and off we go.”
“Do you have kids?”
He laughed, “Why do you ask?”
“You have a nanny.” I shrugged.
He laughed again and I could feel his stomach tightening under his polo. “Of course I do.” He stood up, “Let’s go meet them. ”
I reached into my bag and he guessed I wanted to pay for the glass of water so he said, “Don’t worry, water is free here.” He had this smile that revealed his black gums and white teeth.
Do you remember our first date? That evening that the stars were scanty and the moon was hidden behind a cloud. Remember, when you saw me, you swallowed a gulp of air. You put your hand around my waist as we walked into that fancy restaurant that could be wrapped and thrown into the future and still not look out of place. After a waiter served us water, my stomach got upset. I told you I wanted to leave, and you agreed at once. Remember how that waiter in a white shirt and bow tie ran to us and told us we had to pay for the water, that it was sparkling.
Mally was lying, he didn’t have children. In his Honda, I was angry that I was going to see a stranger’s kid and it kept reminding me of the fact that I didn’t have mine. His ever-smiling mother behind made me wonder if I would ever have someone to look after me when my face wrinkles completely and my bones are too weak to move.
He was living comfortably, and the estate where his white painted duplex was located was uptown with asphalt coated roads. Inside his parlour I sat, gazing at the different art hanging off the wall. He carried his mom upstairs and when he came down, he had showered and changed into a loose fitted singlet. When he spoke, he inadvertently seduced me. He didn’t know what he was doing. “We better get to your hotel. You need to get into something comfortable if you wanna climb that hill.”
I didn’t know how to tell him I just came with myself, and credit card. I bought the binocular so it could see clearly this time. I didn’t know if you were going to spend the night or not.
“Nice painting…” I said trying to sway the conversation. “But they are kind of weird.”
“I am happy you like them.” he moved to me and place his hand on my shoulder and waves passed down my body. “Which one do you like?” he retrieved his arm and folded it over his chest.
I looked around the art-dotted room and my eyes caught one above the flat screen TV. It was larger than the ones around it. It was a painting of a very determined face—old face. So up-close that the tiny black heads in the skin were visible. I pointed to it. “Those eyes, the artist must have put alot of effort to convey such emotion.”
He chuckled and his hand reached for my wrist and he gently tugged me close to the painting. “One of the laws of power is to make one’s accomplishments seem effortless, so I would say it was pretty simple.”
“You drew this?” I was amazed. It had crossed my mind before, but having him tell me gave it a whole new feeling.
“And every other painting you see in this house.” he added proudly.
Something flashed my mind. My bucket list. Remember when I told you I wanted an artist to draw me naked? Like it was done in titanic? That sunny day, inside the Gerald’s art gallery where nude paintings hovered on walls and antic sculptures were mounted on glass frames. When I told you, you smiled and said, “Only that this painting would be different. I would be next to you.” you motioned and pecked my head.
Well, I found an artist, while you were with a Libyan woman somewhere in the tropical, sub-saharan nation, Togo.
“Would you draw me if I asked you to?” I asked Mally, reaching for his arm but my fingers didn’t make it to his forearm.
“You…” his words hooked in his throat. “do you want me to paint you?”
“I am just asking if you would accept if I requested.”
“Of course,” he reached for my arm. “Not here.” he tugged me excitedly and my feet followed hastily. We walked past an art decorated corridor, then climbed down a ramp into his basement.
“I have actually never been inside a basement before.” I told him, watching my steps down the ramp. “we don’t really do basements in Nigeria.”
He trailed his fingers on the wall then I heard a switch flip and the room materialized. The bulbs emitting the light were dangling from the top and they buzzed ever so slightly; as if they were going to blow up any moment. As expected I slipped, but Mally reflexly caught me. “Watch your steps, there is paint everywhere.”
He ran ahead and removed the transparent trampoline that covered a long couch and another over a glass table. “Make yourself comfortable.” I tiptoed, avoiding empty cans of paint and many other junk wraps. The couch was thick and the body felt like fur. He perched on the glass table. “So what do you want?” his eyes were bright as he spoke, “Portrait, full —”
“Nu…nude…” I barely uttered.
“What?” his ears spiked. “What did you say?”
“I want a nude painting.” I said more firmly. I had already calculated it in my head. Do it, don’t look back, I would probably never see him again. He agreed and said I was doing him an honour.
The first thing I removed was my wrist watch. Then my boots and my top. My hat and shades were abandoned at the sitting room. “I need a cover.” I said, about to unhook my bra.
“I thought you wanted nude?”
“Yes, like that of Rose in titanic.”
He smiled then scurried to the Corner and picked a sheet. It was stained in a splatter of paint. I wrapped it around my chest then went to assume position on the long couch. He was behind a board. “You will have the covers on while I get your face.” he said innocently.
“It’s fine,” I loosened the cover and my boob slipped out. I heard him inhale audibly. “Go ahead.” I closed my eyes for a second.
“Paa! Where are my manners?” he placed the brush on the rims of the paint and ran out the basement. He returned with a bottle of red wine and two glasses. “Wine?” he asked, before I could think to answer, I heard a pop.
I relaxed now with a glass of wine, taking impromptu sips. It wasn’t as I imagined. I thought I would be as still as a mannequin, but Mally had conversations with me as he gently put his brush to the board. I watched him closely, admiring his muscle tighten as he carefully dipped his brush into the paint. His eyes stole gazes at me before sweeping back to the board and remaining longer, then back to me again. We stayed there so long. Without a clock, I knew the sun was dying. “How do you tell the time down here?” I asked.
“I don’t, ” he answered, soul affixed to what he was doing.
“I need to make a call.”
“One second.” he stole a long glace at me and from his line of sight, he was looking at my boob. For the first time, I felt uncomfortable. I covered up, breaking his intense stare. I stood up and tightened the covers around my chest. Choosing my steps carefully, I ascended the ramp. It was as if I stepped into another dimension. The corridor that led to the basement also had paintings flanking me on both side. I halted before one. The shades of blue instantly gave me the feeling of looking at the sea. There was a tiny brown boat by the extreme. I had a smile on my face as I scurried to the sitting room. I reached for my purse, it was next to my hat and shade. I slipped my phone out and when the screen came alive, I saw I had seven missed calls and two messages. Four from you and three from your best friend, Ikechukwu. The messages were from him too.
My heart skipped, guilt bubbled up in me and my hand began to tremble. I took a deep breath to calm my racing pulse. You were probably calling to lie to me. I perched on the couch then took another deep breath before dailing your number. Do you know how expensive it is to roam with Etisalat? Of course you do, probably more than i do.
You picked on the fourth ring.
“Hello baby where are you?” you asked and my heart skipped. I am with you in Togo. “Gy…gym… I went to the gym.”
“You started working out again?” You made an inscrutable follow up.
“You should be tired. Need someone to come pick you up?”
I faked a laugh. “That’s sweet of you, only if you can fly back and do that.”
“I am home,”
The phone fell but I picked it up immediately. “…Found some packaged food at the door.” your voice continued. “Your order is here ma’am.” You laughed then before I could say anything, you told me you will eat part of the food. “I am so damn hungry baby.” You sent kisses and asked me to be safe. The line went dead but I still had the phone pressed to my ear. The text was from Ikechukwu, telling me he was at the house with food. Then, another that said he left.
After reading it, I scurried through the corridor, down the ramp. Mally noticed the nervousness on my face. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
I picked my boots and other cloths. “I need to leave.”
“Wait… Leave?” He stood up from his tall stool and approached me. For a minute I hoped he would be hostile, tell me I wasn’t going anywhere and rip the covers from my body. “What’s the problem?” he asked again, truly concerned.
“I am sorry you can’t continue the painting…” my legs swiftly entered my trousers and I started buttoning my shirt. “I have to go.”
“I can drive you back to your hote—”
“No Mally. Nigeria.” My legs hit the empty cans of paint as I scurried to ascend the ramp. I slipped again but Mally was there to hold me. “Watch your steps.”
“I can drive you to the airport if you like.” Mally offered. “Let me just clean up.” He ran upstairs before I could say anything.
Ten seconds felt like ten minutes. My feet was unconsciously tapping on the floor. No position was comfortable to sit on the couch. I crossed and uncrossed my legs. I picked my phone and tapped on the uber app. An uber was just twenty seconds out. I ordered it and ten seconds later, my phone rang.
I entered that uber and easily found my way back to Nigeria.
This isn’t about that night. It’s isn’t about Komla Mally either.
This isn’t even about your mother. It isn’t about how she looked at me with a sneer. It isn’t about that day she beat me to a pulp. Even if I had a womb, I would have lost it that day. You couldn’t believe it. There was blood everywhere like a bloody chicken had been let loose. I could hear you wail. “I hate you mom!” Your voice billowed. I smiled slightly and pain rang down my body. I never told you, but she used an iron ladle to hit me till I could no longer move. It all started in the kitchen…This isn’t about that so I wouldn’t run down the details. But you saw me, you can never forget how the corridor was decorated in blood.
Our corridor…Do you remember that night I came in with a bunch of painting wrapped in kraft. I told you that I went from the gym to the art shop? That the arts were sampled for charity?
“Such great art.” You helped up a painting. When I saw it, I smiled. “Really talented people. Hope you put in a bundle for this.” You kept gazing at a determined face. “Such determination on this old face…those eyes…” you muttered.
“Of course I did.” You didn’t even ask me why I wasn’t wearing gym cloths, or why I had boots on.
That was the day I met Komla Mally, and those paintings were the ones I stole from his sitting room. I told you it would be nice if they were hung in our corridor and you smiled and said, “Why not?”
That day my blood splattered on the paintings, and my bloody palm print trailed on the wall as I scurried to my room. Immediately I made it behind the door, I locked it and her bang followed. Each bang making me huddle tighter and tighter.
Your mother will be happy, turning in her grave that I left you. She always thought I wasn’t good enough for you. But this isn’t about that.
It’s not even about the text I saw in your phone; the one you sent to Ikechukwu. If I wasn’t drunk that day, what I saw was, I am tired of my wife, with a bunch of exclamations. Once I heard the shower go off, I swiftly dropped your phone and assumed my sleeping position. I felt your weight on the bed then moments later, I felt your breath on my neck. As usual, you began to trail kisses down my neck, hands caressing my skin. If there was one thing, you never starved me of your marital duties.
I didn’t understand you. At a point it felt like a game. Go through your text, follow you on trips, meet new people.
I guess in the end, I followed you to that city I found peace. You have already shown me love. What I need now is peace. Our bones are weak and we need people to take care of us. I am sorry I never gave you a son. With the record, all your children from other women are all females. Your mother’s fear is coming to pass. Your name might die and wither, never to be remembered.