“Damn you, Chief!” Victor muttered. Who would have thought that texting a woman would leave him cold? He was sure there were fourteen-year-old boys who could manage the task with finesse. He stared at the words he had typed on his Blackberry: Hey, this is Victor, Chief’s assistant. Learnt you were in town. Can we do something this weekend? Do something? What exactly? He had bribed the housekeeper with a peck on the cheek to get Amah’s phone number, now he didn’t even know how to proceed. He discarded the message and threw the phone on his bed. Life shouldn’t be this complicated, he thought. A voice laughed in his head and said, “Common woman, you cannot syke.”
Amah rummaged through her makeup bag and found a tube of mascara she hoped hadn’t expired. She raised the tube above her head and burst into silent laughter when she caught her solemn expression reflected in the bathroom mirror. Dear Lord, she thought, may this old mascara not blind your daughter. Someone cannot come and be blind on top of this muteness business. She acknowledged that she needed to go shopping in the nearest future, since the new stuff she needed won’t come to her unbidden. Her phone beeped on the sink in front of her. She picked it up and saw a message from her younger sister, Vicky.
“Still going out?” the message asked.
“Yes,” Amah typed on her Samsung phone. “And I still need to borrow shoes.”
“What kind of shoes do you need, big sis?”
“Nothing crazy. Medium heel. Something to go with a black dress.”
“You don’t get it,” Vicky replied. “There is take-me-home-to-mama shoes, it’s-going-down-tonight-and-these-heels-will-be-pointing-at-the-ceiling shoes, I’m-too-expensive-for-your-tastes shoes… What kind of shoes, sis cos I got ‘em all.”
“What did all those innocent hyphens do to you? Anyway, assume I know nothing about fashion and bring me a nice pair.”
Amah slipped the phone into her purse, and then she turned back to the mirror and slapped on two layers of Ruby Woo lipstick. Her makeup was minimal. A little more and she’d fall smack into clown territory. She acknowledged that she could never get it right if she piled the makeup on.
She left the bathroom and went into her room. Her closet offered very limited options, but luckily she found four very old, very forlorn-looking dresses. She threw three of them on the bed and settled for a black velvet number she didn’t remember ever wearing. She wiggled into the dress, and then gave up trying to tug the zipper close. This one will need a lot of belle sucking, she thought. She regretted not running to a store to get a new dress for the date. Date. That frightening word again. One experience had left her self-esteem charred. It was unarguably her most humiliating experience. Although she knew it was best to shrug it off and be satisfied in the knowledge that not all men were assholes, she just couldn’t shake it off.
His name was Bill. She’d found the blond curls falling over his blue eyes quite cute and sexy in a nerdy way. They met at a party hosted by Bill’s frat house and went on a few dates afterwards. He was a quirky guy with a solid family name that necessitated the use of Roman numeral suffixes. It was easy for Amah’s twenty-year-old self to fall for his lightening-quick wit, to take his hand and follow him back to his frat house after dinner one night, to step out of the dress pooled around her ankles and pull him down on the bed with her. She’d woken up to find his lithe body standing by the window with his back to her, his phone plastered to his ear. She smiled sleepily, content as an overfed cat. Until his words dragged her back to earth.
“Project Stephen Hawking is in the bag, or in the sack if you’re in the mood to play with words,” Bill laughed into his cellphone.
Amah remembered feeling like the world had run out of oxygen, like the walls were closing in on her. Bill was not aware that Amah had heard his Stephen Hawking reference, so he hopped back on the bed after the phone call to his pals. He was snoring as soon as his head hit the pillow. He could afford nocturnal bliss; he had bagged the mute student who topped the Dean’s List semester after semester. It was still dark outside when Amah found her rumpled dress and picked it up and tried to cover what was left of her dignity. She got to the door and found that it was raining. She stepped out, unconcerned about getting drenched. The rain could hide her tears from the world. There were a few more casual encounters with the opposite sex after that, but she never stopped overthinking their intentions. Most men treated her like a charity case, like they were doing her a favour by being with her. She was used to hearing, “You are very beautiful, but…” She did not want the buts and other incomplete statements to steal what was left of her sense of self. It took a while, but she grew up and realised that it was possible to blossom with or without a relationship. She sought completion and purpose in work. Returning to Nigeria was not a very hard decision for her, especially with the discovery of her father’s illness.
Now Victor wanted to go on a date with her.
Her father had called her to tell her he was in the garden, would Amah mind coming down to meet him there? She went down to meet her father and instead found Victor pacing the length of the garden.
“Hey,” he greeted. “Nice to run into you.” She smiled at him and walked back into the house in search of her father. His text message came as a surprise some hours later. Dinner? She stared at the message, shocked, excited and terrified in equal doses. Victor? What had suddenly made him aware of her existence after all these years?
Her reply was as simple as his request. Yes.
Vicky entered Amah’s room bearing shoes and a glittery red dress.
“I also brought you a dress because I wasn’t sure you wouldn’t just go out in your decrepit, baggy jeans and those ugly BYC vests you like wearing,” Vicky said, assessing Amah from head to toe. Vicky pushed her favourite pair of shoes – a strappy Chanel number – under Amah’s nose. “Are you wearing what I think you are?” Vicky asked.
Amah nodded yes.
“You are wearing your seven-year-old graduation dress! Go shopping for new stuff, grandma.”
Amah collected the proffered shoes, slipped into them, and then rose to her feet with the tentativeness of a toddler who was only learning to walk. It would take a while before she got used to her sister’s skyscraper shoes. Vicky moved to Amah’s side and tugged at the open zipper till the dress came together and Amah’s body spilled out in all the inviting places. “I now see why you chose this dress,” Vicky smiled, shaking her head. “You have gained a bit more weight since the last time you wore this. Look at all those popping curves!” Amah turned around and showed her gratitude by planting a kiss on her younger sister’s forehead.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, big sis,” Vicky called after Amah, who was now tottering towards the door. “And there’s not much I wouldn’t do.” Her younger sister added for clarification.
Amah found her parents playing scrabble in the sitting room. She smiled through her accelerated heart rate and dry mouth. It wasn’t only that she was going out after what felt like eons, it was really about the person she was going out with. Her parents looked up as she came into view. They already knew about the date with Victor as Amah had asked her father’s permission. She had to make sure Chief was fine with her going out with his employee. Her father had surprisingly broken into a wide smile before going into a recitation of how wonderful and intelligent Victor was, and it made Amah wonder why the man hadn’t already erected an altar on which his favourite employee could be worshipped.
“You look splendid, my dear,” her mother said. Amah noticed that there was a film of sheen covering her mother’s eyes. Unshed tears.
“Have fun,” Her father managed, before a coughing fit cut off the rest of his words. The two women rushed to the ailing man at once, but his wife reached him first. Amah pulled the fleece blanket tighter around him and sat beside him on the couch while her mother rubbed his chest.
“Go on, darling. Have enough fun for both of us.” His voice was raspy and tired. Amah hugged him tight and sighed when his protruding ribs pushed against her side. He kissed her and waved her up. “Don’t keep the poor young man waiting,” he said.
“Don’t worry about us,” her mother added. “We’ll manage just fine.”
Amah sighed in surrender. If going out and changing her hermit-like existence was going to retain the wobbly smile on her father’s face, then so be it. She smiled her thanks at her parents and stood up slowly, very slowly. The shoes still needed getting used to. The Buxom housekeeper beamed when Amah got to the door. “You are looking very sumptuous, Miss Amah,” the older woman said, stepping aside so Amah could pass. Outside, the Victor guy stood leaning on his Ford Explorer with his hands tugged casually in his pockets. Help me Lord, Amah prayed.
Victor’s breath caught in his lungs when Amah stepped outside. He conceded that his reaction was normal for a healthy heterosexual guy who had just spotted a gorgeous woman. She looked so…out of his league? Her milky skin seemed to snatch the light and throw it back at him. And the dress, it could have been another layer of her skin for all he knew. He gritted his teeth and watched her sashay towards him in those sky-high heels. He caught his erring attention and dragged it back to the moment. He considered himself a seasoned gentleman, a greedy, opportunistic, morals-in-the-gutter kind of man of recent, but a gentleman nonetheless. This was business, a tasking soulless endeavor, but he was damned if he wouldn’t do it. Right now there was a beautiful woman to woo. And deceive.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime