As I drove home, I knew I wasn’t mad. I was quite uncertain what emotion I felt but it was akin to the grief that accompanies a loss of something dear. All my mind could recreate from this charade of a “get-acquainted-with-my-girlfriend meeting” was a story I had once read as a child.
In this story, filled with pictures to aid my young mind keep track, a teen girl in a typical mid-size American nuclear family kept moving from room to room of her parents’ home intensely searching for something. As she entered each room, the occupant(s) of the room would ask her what she was searching for. In response, she’d answer, “It’s not in here”. At a point, the rest of her family members followed her around hoping they could assist her in finding this ‘thing’ she had seemingly lost.
Finally, she opens the door to a vacant room, turns back to face her family members, smiles, enters the room and shuts the door firmly behind her. Her sister knocks on the door, curious and a bit worried and asks what she had found. In response, the teen girl screams out excitedly “Privacy!”
I was that teen girl, but I knew that the earnest search for privacy during my teenage years in Nigeria would be futile. I could just imagine my mom sarcastically responding to my request for some privacy with a “what is privacy? Is it the name of an animal, place or thing?”. To avoid such mocking remarks, I got accustomed to having people around me until the wee hours of the night when privacy could poke out its timid head amidst the quaking snores of my sister, who I shared a room with.
When I could finally relocate permanently to my second home in the North American continent, I found loads of privacy. Oh what joy! I was like a little girl in a candy store. I danced and bounced, with glee, on the social bubbles wrapped in privacy that this continent afforded me. When I got on the train and a train commuter preferred to stand rather than sit beside me, ahhhhh what gooey happiness I felt. All the more space for my work computer, which was imprisoned between my legs. ‘Unsat’ went the sides of my jacket, which I had politely stuffed under my bum to make more room for Mr-I-rather-stand-than-be-seated-too-close-to-you and when I walked into my corporate office, the loud “Hey, how are ya?” from my Western colleagues was refreshing because, for the most part, they never anticipated any other response outside the regular “Great and you?”.
When I met Zack, I pushed myself off the bubbles of social space and privacy that I had been bouncing on. I was carried away by the yumminess of him. To him, I was a queen. Untouched and elegant. On my end, I wanted nothing more than for him to invade every aspect of my private and social space as passionately as he saw fit. I hated how empowered I felt from his high regard and love of me. I, especially, feared the day I would glide off the clouds of euphoria his love created. And so, I got to work. I reminded myself at the break of each new day of how special I am. I complimented my figure, my teeth, my intelligence and my laughable minute biceps that never quite looked like the Michelle Obama arms I dreamed of. I applauded my sunken soufflés and my rock hard chocolate cookies, which I fondly and with no other option, nicknamed gooey rockets. I took myself out and revelled in the privacy and workings of my own mind.
And now, that day had come. The day I dreaded. I never expected the meeting with Camila to be sweet but I did not expect it to leave such a terrible taste in my mouth. Camila was a presence I could not wish away. In Zack’s life, she existed way before I did. She was like a ‘sister’ to him. It was only right that I did not intrude into the boundaries of their friendship. I was a secure woman, after all. Though over the years, she took big strides that encroached on the borders of I and Zack’s love, I turned a blind eye. I was uncomfortable and my heart was knocked out silly by the hard punches of jealousy but I am a secure woman. As long as his heart remained with me and our issues and “us-ness” were ours and not hers to know, I was ‘outwardly’ calm and secure.
As we sat at a Starbucks downtown, I listened to her rush over topics of zero interest to me while stuffing her mouth with banana bread. I hoped to catch a glimpse of her true intents but she seemed so happy and carefree…so harmless and oblivious to my own suspicions and caution. I commented on the few occasions I could get a word in and mostly nodded like an Agama lizard on a hot afternoon. Almost suddenly and with no reason whatsoever, she sharply changed the topic to sexual matters. I blushed so obviously that I almost slapped myself. She noticed and almost cackling said casually “Oh, stop it! I already know you both did the do. About time, eh? I know Zack was a bit weirded out afterwards but good thing he’s over it now”.
Her lips were rapidly moving with the occasional flying of saliva. While everything about her was in constant motion, everything had stopped for me. I could feel my lungs tighten and the blood drain from my face. The only motion I envisioned and so desperately yearned to do was lunge across the table for her jugular. She had come into my private space, she had desecrated it with her comments. Comments that shouldn’t ever have been made because she should never have known! She finally got up out of her chair, gave me a half hug and a kiss on the cheek. I saw her white teeth gleam and her lips profess her delight at our meeting and her hope we would ‘chill’ again. Just like that, she was gone. This woman had walked out the door of the coffee shop with my privacy…with my intimate moment I had cherished. My privacy, which was framed and hung proudly on the wall of my heart, she had in one happy swipe brought it crashing into pieces. I knew I couldn’t be mad at her. I just didn’t know what to think. “When did this conversation happen?” was all I could mutter to myself.
I drove into the parkade of my apartment building and walked out of my car like a zombie into my small, cosy castle of ‘me’. I should have remained within myself but I chose to invite him into every private space of me. To many, it would seem very inconsequential but to me, it was massive. I walked sluggishly into my bedroom and sat on the floor with my back resting on my bed frame. My feet ached in my tight pumps. My breasts ached for release in my bra but no ache resonated as loud as my crushed heart. And as bizarrely as the whole coffee date had gone, I began to laugh. I began piecing together bits and pieces of my dashed privacy while thinking of how he could have skipped across the glaring line he wasn’t supposed to cross and destroy the one thing that was so dear to me.
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