(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A. Adams… continued from last week)
Our doorbell rang and Ruth jumped at the door. An ashen-faced man, in a FedEx cap, reared his head as though to deliver some ashen news.
He flipped the clutter of letters in the crook of his hand, doffed his cap to take a second, squinty glance at Ruth, as though the address on the letter were also written on her face.
It was a Sunday evening and we were making pancakes in the kitchen. She sorted the letter and tossed at me.
With my flour-smudged hands, I ripped the envelope. It was an admission letter into Luigi Angelo fashion school for a diploma in fashion illustration.
“Congratulations,” Ruth said. “Now your life begins.”
I signed the acceptance letter, and the following day, I went to the school, enrolled and paid my fees by myself.
In the mornings I worked at the spa, and in the evenings, I attended classes. I spent 40-hours a week developing ideas for clothes.
Life began to take on a new meaning as I rediscovered myself. I was reading my bible again. There was something in the scriptures that cured my broken heart. The more I studied it, the more I discovered myself, and life began to make sense again.
By August, my fashion instructor, Manfred -a tall, good-looking blond- told me of a fashion house that wanted to publish a ‘Fashion Lookbook’ for black Italian women.
“I thought you’d be a good fit.., you got the looks, the curves and the strokes,” he said.
Wow!!! I accepted the offer -very quickly. So I did a series of photo shoots – I wore skalter dresses, V-necks, turtlenecks; I posed in cold shoulder blouses; in blouson sleeves; in jumpsuits. I struck glam look and the sultry pout. I struck the naïve look, and the girl-next-door look. I saw myself in multiple images as in a kaleidoscope.
This was Funto Questa Colesworth, rediscovered, re-branded. Wow! It was good to be empowered, successful, free, emotionally un-entangled. I was simply happy myself! Though occasionally, I feel the pinch, the insult of him walking out on me and sending dogs after me. I felt I deserved a decent closure.
By September, the weather was changing again, and the fashion shops were screaming: Sales!!! All summer clothes must go! Thankfully, Manfred renewed my modelling contract for winter clothes.
A day before I was to start, I saw him in the Salon. He was wearing a blue denim shirt and a matching baseball cap. I was rushing to school so I didn’t heed him. But as I sat to write my test, I saw him in on the pages of my question paper and answer sheet.
“What did he come to do,” I later asked Ruth when I returned at 10pm. I was preparing to sleep at my usual place- a convertible sofa bed in Ruth’s living room.
“Of course he came to see you. He is at the door, as I speak.”
I wondered at Ruth’s ambivalence. People like her love to eat their cake and have it. One minute she was telling me to get a life, the next minute, she was telling me to milk his life.
“To see me? It possibly can’t?” I shook my head, as I set down a mug of hot chocolate, and the novel, I read before sleep.
“I know you still love him dearie. It’s in your eyes, so let this be over, at least now you have your life now. You are no more a liability; you can call his bluff anytime you want.”
To further shock me, she started dressing up, applied a matte lipstick threw her heavy laps and hips into her favourite blue pedal pusher, on a yellow cold shoulder blouse.
The bell rang, Seth came into the living room hugging everyone, and laughing. He followed doing same, but his steps were as unsure as that of one running when no one is pursuing. I buried my head further into the book pretending not to notice him.
And then the sound of the TV went off. Before I could ask where she was going at 10:45pm on a Thursday night, “Ciao,” she kissed the air, closing the door behind Seth and her.
The silence in the room was suddenly uncomfortable and I wanted to leave the flat, but it was 10:53pm. Meanwhile, he was pacing the floor restlessly.
“So who is this?” he finally broke the ice. I looked up, and saw him, pointing to the modelling pictures of me in Luigi Fashion Catalogue. I looked at him, and then buried my head back into my book.
His voice was firm, and I was irritated.
“I believe I am talking to someone here.”
“And I believe that someone can’t possibly be me.”
He moved idly past the u-shaped arrangement of the settee, towards me on the sofa bed.
“Mind if you answer me, Questa? I believe we have an inconclusive discussion,” his voice was flat.
I raised my head. “Yes of course, we have an inconclusive discussion….have you come to say goodbye? Have you come to give me the closure that I deserve….?”
“I’m not ready to ride on your guilt-trip,” he said, his voice flat, his face, void of laughter lines.
“Neither am I feeling impressed by this supposed august..in quote, visit of yours.”
“You don’t need to be impressed. Just be civil,” his tone was even flatter.
“It’s you who needs to be civil, Khalil?” I said, irritated at his grandstanding attitude.
“You can’t just walk in on me…so crass!…No pleasantries, no revision or review of the past. You are acting as though nothing ever transpired between us. Let me quickly refresh- you walked out on me over two months now, just because I told you the honest truth. I went looking for you at your Milan house on St Francesco avenue, and what did you do. You sent dogs after me? And now you come here bossing me around, demanding I answer you, as though I owe you any answer. You can see, I’ve since moved on after all attempts to reach you failed. I am actually very surprised that I hadn’t died sorrowing after you. And as you can see, I’m not same as you left me. I have a modelling job now and I’m about to get a diploma.”
“Questa?” He laughed cheekily. “It looks like this modelling job has gotten into your head…It’s me you’re talking to. Do you realize that?” He placed his right hand across his chest, as if to verify his existence.
“Then you don’t talk to me as though nothing ever transpired between us. You don’t come barging in on me rudely and pretending all is well. I believe I deserve some lil bit of respect.”
“..damn respect Questa! You hurt me. Do you realize that?” his voice went a pitcher louder.
“I hurt you? You left me Khalil. You had been away for two months… two months,” I emphasized dropping my book, and pointing two fingers upwards…. “and I am actually very surprised I had not died,” I laughed mirthlessly. “So what about you, tell me about yourself?”
“You hurt me deeply. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that all the while we were dating, Hamil was having your ass.”
“…now…that’s so disgusting,” I said and rose to my feet.
“That’s the worst insult, I’ve ever received in recent times, and I demand an apology. How dare you even think of me in that light! I am a very decent girl, from a decent home. Forget that I was trafficked to Europe and you met me here homeless. I know who I am, and I know where I am coming from. I am not your regular gutter girl. I was already on my way to the university to study medicine before all this shit happened. I didn’t cheat on you! I told you whatever happened between Hamil and I, was a misshapen, but you chose to believe the worst part. I should have known that if frowardness is bliss, it is folly to be honest. I shouldn’t have been honest with you. It’s all my fault. ”
“…hey you..don’t give me that bullshit, Questa…” he wagged his finger, “misshapen my foot!…and don’t try to blackmail me, playing that guilty card…huh? …misshapen sex?…You and I know you owe me an apology for not telling me before we started dating. You know how strongly I feel about my brother. You know Questa, you know,…you damm know,” his voice turned hoarse at the mention of his brother. It sounded like the voice of one into whose throat had been forced a lump of poison, and he was screaming for help..
“I’m not playing any guilty card… does a girl have to tell a prospective date about all the men she had slept with before she takes on a new date? Where in the world is that done?”
“That’s beside the point, Questa. I told you about my girlfriends, didn’t I? I told you everything about me, my mom, my job, my properties. I was up-front with you, Questa…but you didn’t come clean until…”
“Until what! You are missing the point because Hamil was not even my boyfriend. We never spoke to each other in the house until the night he saw me with you.” I was panting and pacing the floor. By now, I was standing, several meters away from my original position -towards the door.
“…but why am I surprised Khalil…. It’s your way, you always leave me without saying goodbye. The first time we met, you left me inconclusively, without saying bye. The second time, I opened up to you with all sincerity, you also left without saying bye. You should have at least said goodbye. Why Khalil?” I couldn’t believe that my voice was shaking and my eyes misty. I didn’t believe I was still this vulnerable.
“If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t goddam give a hoot. But I do,” his voice suddenly turned calm, as he moved to closer to where I was, trying to hold me.
“You do what?!” I rebuffed his attempt.
“I still feel strongly about you,” he spread his arms apart. “Congratulations to you, at least you could cope without me. You survived me. …but I couldn’t survive you…I guess, perhaps that’s why I’m here,” he parted his lips, and I wasn’t sure if he was preparing to laugh or cry..
“So why did you send dogs after me?” I quickly moved away from him, as though moving quickly away from the memory of the dogs…. and went back to sit on the sofa bed.
“Dogs? Where, how? When?”
“I was at your house in St Francesco avenue, in Milan!”
“It wasn’t me. I checked outta there!
“Oh my God,” I muttered.
“…also didn’t you see my texts and calls, Khalil?”
“I was hurting Qesta. I was hurt, not quite at you as much as I was with Hamil. My brother is an usurper. He exasperates me. He always takes anything that belongs to me. Right from childhood- he took my toys, he took my food, my friends, my girlfriends. He is a damn good bully,” his voice went hoarse and feverish, as he kept gesticulating with his hands and eyes; even the hairs on his skin were standing.
“You see, my house in Rome, he’s taken over it. And he’s damn too broke to maintain it. The house is not only growing with weeds, it reeks of weeds, hemp, marijuana. My papa, and mama know, even heaven knows… that Hamil is an asshole…a bloody pissant…and I am sick and tired of running away from him. I am sick and tired of having him have my house, my money and now my girl?… I’m fucking sick and tired…” he yelled, gritted his teeth and punched the air. “And one day very soon, I am going to face him and put an end to this,” he lowered his voice suddenly, stood and flung himself into the settee, very far away from me.
I was speechless. “There is problem oh,” I said to myself. “Real palaver!!!!” How would I get on with this guy and his deep-seethed animousity for his brother and father.
There was no way I wouldn’t be mashed in their jumbled mishmash of what is supposed to be family love and hatred, egoism, favouritism and complexes of inferiority. I would a target for trouble- an endangered specie.
And then he sauntered towards me again, and sat, stretching his strong athletic arms across the back of the sofa.
“….I’m sorry I yelled at you…..anyway, congrats on your modelling job,” he whispered and pecked my forehead.
“I’ve always known you are a smart girl!”
“I don’t even know what to say. I am very confused now, because I am afraid to have you back in my life while your brother Hamil is lurking somewhere in the dark. I am really scared Khalil.”
I cocked my head to look at him. He looked at me for long time, with his reddish, misty eyes.
“I promise to keep you out of his way as much as I can,” he said cooly, his hands squeezed my right shoulder.
“To start with, can you come with me to Bonn, next weekend?….,” he paused and watched my eyes… “…we could go see Beethoven house, since we share the same music interest, we could go watch a Mozart symphony, visit the vineyards, walk together in the woods…I mean, I just wanna gerraway with you…. I mean leave you with some good memories?
“…leaving me again…?”
I widened my eyes at him. “Of course NO…,” he began laughing. The ring was back and the zing was back.
“I miss you,” he whispered, and took a long look into my eyes.” And I wanna give you some real, damm good memories.”
I laughed too.
“Please don’t say you have a modelling job….don’t say ‘no…,” his voice was a plea.
“Well, I will have to think about it, cos I’m starting my midterm test tomorrow, and I have to begin modelling for winter clothes.”
Abiose A. Adams is a novelist, investigative journalist and programme officer at TheCable Newspaper Journalism Foundation. She can be reached on [email protected], @abioseadams, 08174217144(WhatsApp only).
Synopsis (After these eerie days)
She is ambitious but unschooled in street-wiseness. Seventeen-year-old Funto Colesworth did not know the trip to study her dream course, Medicine, in France, is one to nowhere until she finds herself in a brothel in Cotonou.
Rather than remain there to hawk sex which she is mandated to do, she escapes and joins another set of human traffickers to cross the ghoulish Sahara Desert with ten other trafficked girls. On surviving, she continues her flirtations with danger; gets into a close-shave with death in the Mediterranean Sea, where she is the only survivor amongst the girls. Arriving Italy breathless, Funto is introduced to Rome’s red-light district, where she subsequently meets a rich and snazzy footballer, Khalil.
Their whirlwind romance would have resulted in marriage and landed her a fortune, but her hopes went up in flames again when he is killed by his irascible, psychotic twin brother Hamil. Then she realises the more ruinous cost of naivety when Hamil implicates her, leading to her imprisonment in Germany. Thrown in gaol, and with no clemency in sight, Funto felt defeated until she meets a Ghanaian missionary, Duncan Melanby, whose romance with her leads to the fence-mending between father and daughter, after twelve eerie years.
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