(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A. Adams… continued from last week)
If I tell him, I might get my fingers burnt. If I don’t tell him, he might burn my fingers when he is told. Should I tell him? Should I listen to my heart? Should I say yes, should I say no?
Hamil was sitting by the swimming pool when Khalil pulled into the yard in top gear, headlamps in full blare, and car stereo, in full blast. I walked past him in unsteady steps, my shoes in my hand, pretending to be half-drunk. Khalil, held on to my waist as we wobbled past, until we entered the house, through the front porch.
It was 9pm.
I woke up the following day into a noiseless echo. I noticed conversations ceased at the living rooms and around the dining. The love in the home was suddenly stifled by some atmospheric iciness. The house smelt like the flatulence of boil eggs and beans. Hamil has spoilt the air. Hamil has frozen the air.
Outside the house Khalil laughed, as usual, his sense of humour intact; his solicitousness, abiding. He would poke my ribs and watch me laugh, his playfulness and snappy comebacks were still spot on.
We had lunch together and saw movies, hand-in-hand, until one Wednesday night, two days after Hamil’s return. He had left a note on my bed that read. “Eagle’s all eyes”. Succinct. Tacit. Sinister.
What could he mean? I was sure he knew there was something between his brother and I. Khalil had told me he was a controlling person, who ran his house, and anything he owns. He might as well want to run my life as though I belonged to him! Otherwise, what’s the meaning of the message… Eagle’s all eyes.
On reading the note, I became uncomfortable and couldn’t exhale. I couldn’t enjoy the fun-ride with Khalil. I felt a mask across my nose- the mask of asphyxiating guilt. The sense of guilt stripped me of my humanity. I appeared to myself a hypocrite, and to Khalil as an unintelligent liar. When he talked to me, I couldn’t connect.
When he looked at me, I imagined he saw me naked with his brother. His pranks felt like traps and his jokes, like a mockery of my hypocrisy. How did I find myself living in the same house with two blood brothers, twins, even? The one I’m crazy about and the other I’m crazy at.
Was it possible Khalil knew something but decided to play along? Was his silence a deliberate attempt to guilt-trip? Or was he sincerely ignorant? The fact that I couldn’t read Khalil’s mind was driving me crazy.
A day after, I packed an overnight bag and raced out of the house. The house had begun to give me claustrophobia. So I was going to stay out of it.
On Thursday, I got to the saloon at 6am. I set my bag on the table and began cleaning. American R&B Nu Shooz’s song, Should I say yes, was playing on the radio.
Should I open up to Laura? No, she might mock me. I could guess what she would say, “you are being used as chewing gum, there must be something temporary about a chewing gum that makes the chewer spit it out after a while temporary stress reliever!” Or should I tell Ruth? I sat on one of the spa suites, my eyes closed when suddenly I heard the footsteps.
“So early Questa,” Ruth exhaled, setting her brown Louis Vuitton handbag on the chest of mirror and drawers.
“Cool, “ I said, turning my back at her so she doesn’t see my misty eyes.
“You look so worried,” she said in her peculiar Swahilian accent, turning at me, and placing her right hand at the back of my shoulder. She was wearing a white turtleneck top on a pair of culottes. “What’s da matter?..….is it about Khalil?”
“No,” I lied and smiled.
“Questa? (my name, on her lips, sounded like pasta ) You look haunted. Talk to me, I can talk to Seth. We can all sit over some fish pizza and talk it over,” She leaned, laps crossed, against the long mirror table that spanned the room. Her last statement fed my confidence. So I told her, how Hamil got down with me just the night after I met Khalil. And how I detested it, but I really had no choice at the time.
“I just feel so cheap and messed up,” I said, with heads bowed, resting on my fist. “I am a Christian with strong moral codes, but right now, I don’t feel like one. I feel so God-forsaken, so messed up.”
“Oh common,” Ruth said, giving me an avuncular pat. She sat on the brown leather chairs, and the leather hissed. “That’s not cheating. Cheating is if you slept with Hamil after you were already dating Khalil. I mean… common, stop being a child. You may feel better if you open up to Khalil…”
“Will he believe me? Will he still love me” I looked up to her, my eyes full of plea. “I’m so scared of losing him.”
“Well, you just told me you are a Christian. Pray maybe if it’s is God’s will, maybe he will, maybe he will not. Whatever the case, I think he deserves to know.” she got up, sauntered away from me, switched on the wall screen TV, flipped the remote nervously, and sauntered back towards me.
“…because his brother might still tell him.”
My head dropped again.
“If you tell him yourself, you stand a chance of gaining back your integrity and he should respect you more.”
And then Laura breezed in, morning, morning guys,” she dropped her bag, studying our faces, wondering.
Later in the evening, Khalil returned with Seth, Ruth’s boyfriend, chirping excitedly.
“Baby, we are going to try the newly opened Mediterranean along Via Montenapoleone Strada,” he lifted my jaw and kissed me full lips. I was plaiting a client’s hair, but my head spun as it did the first day, the magic of that foresty cologne. The lady whose hair I was plaiting, looked at me through the mirror and blushed.
And my heartbeat paced up again. What will happen to me if I lose this guy? Will I survive the aftermath? I have a few days to decide if I would tell him or not. But I must tell him not to lose him. If I don’t tell him, I will be loosening the bond, and I might lose him.
Then came Sunday night with him insisting we must go to the Mediterranean.
“No, I’m not…uhh got a tummy upset. Of course, I know you got butterflies in your tummy because of me,” he chuckled and looked at Seth, who also spun the laughter, rippling it across the room.
A Latino woman, whose head was in white towels and bathrobe, sprawled in the spa chair, also chuckled. It was almost impossible to be around Khalil and not cough in preparation for laughter.
“You are so naughty, Khalil” Ruth laughingly said.
He came behind me and whispered into my ears, ‘I can’t do without you.’
That was the signal I needed. If he can’t do without me, it means if I tell him, he wouldn’t leave me. Ruth winked at me and went to the restroom. I followed her.
“Go for the dinner, that’s your opportunity to open up. Seth and I are also going. Okay?”
I nodded, ran the tap over my hand. She winked, and then sashayed out of the restroom, making click-clack sound with her heels.
I smoothened my blouse and went back inside.
There couldn’t have been a more super place to be than the Mediterranean. The amber wall and the golden chandelier lights bathed us in a bewitching bronze spectrum. I wore a silvery deep ‘V’ backless dress he bought me. He wore a white shirt, with turn-up sleeves
There was a low hum of banters and laughs in the restaurant. Classical music issued out of the sound ducts in the ceiling. We sat across a table for four. The uniformed waiters served olives and nuts, prawns and crabs. He ordered Heidsieck, the most expensive wine on the rack.
After some minutes, Ruth and Seth excused themselves with a wink and sat some tables away.
“The Mediterranean, that name reminds me of…something,” I said, trying to introduce some seriousness into our gist.
He immediately squeezed my hand affectionately.
“Don’t. I heard that story over and again. How you were trafficked, bla bla, bla.”
“Yea, I know, but seriously Khalil”
“What’s so seriously now.” He studied my face.
“Can’t sleep for days now so I thought you can make me sleep.”
“Not as you think.”
“So how? Tell me” he bit an onion.
I cleared my throat. Shooz’s lyrics- Should I say Yes, Should I say No. Should I listen to my heart; So much confusion when it comes to loving you, floated in my mind again.
“Khalil, I’m sorry, but I want to stop seeing you.”
He laughed such a burst of laughter that everyone in the room turned in our direction.
“Why?” You just embarrassed me?” I said, arms apart.
“Are you kidding me?”
“I wish I could kid,” I smiled wryly.
“Can you really do without me? He giggled, lifting and dropping his shoulder. He looked bronzed in the night’s light.
“I can,” I said in contrast to what I expected.
Truthfully, I can’t do without him, but I was living in fear, and can’t keep leading him on this way.
He paused, looking at me shocked.
So I began to tell him the story of my life in a nutshell; how I was born and bred in Lagos, how I had just passed my secondary school certificate in flying colours. How a conflict of faith led to my dad throwing me out of the house. How I got rejected and naively got deceived into the hands of traffickers. How I managed to survive to get to Europe. How I was homeless and how I ended up in his house, received by Hamil.
He sighed, pursed his lips, and gulped another glass of Heidsieck.
When I got to the part where Hamil came into my bed. I paused and looked at him.
His brown limpid eyes suddenly became opaque, indiscernible and narrowed. “And so what?” He asked, sounding a little angry that I stopped abruptly. “Ride on, I am all here and all ears.”
“I didn’t know when he came into my bed.”
“And so what? Ride on,” his eyes, which was in a moment liquid with love, morphed into an empty cavity.
“Ride on to where? Why are you pretending? How far can one ride when you are in bed with the opposite,” I mustered feigning anger.
I was breaking. I was about to implode. This was too much for me. The thought that I might lose him and probably lose all.
“You mean you’ve been fucking my brother?”
That was his response.
I succumbed to Nu Shooz’s deliberation- I said yes- a slow, inaudible, but truthful Y…..E….S.
“Shit!” He banged the table, clenched his teeth, picked up his keys, and walked away.
My eyes traced his retreating back. I was hoping that in his playful self, he would return, and say, it was a prank. Ruth came, rubbing the back of my neck as though to remove the tension there.
She drove me back to the house. I sat by the swimming pool. The crickets chirped, the waterfall gushed. Life continued. But I could not continue. He was not there.
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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