‘I am a Domestic Goddess’, I thought.
Or at least…I knew how to play at being one.
I admired the well-arranged sitting room in my boyfriend Soji’s flat. It looked luxurious with its cream curtains and brown and black furniture. It was located at Apo Quarters in Abuja and was one of my favourite places to be in. The room was cool from the humming Air-Conditioner, which protected us from the heat that Saturday Evening. A Caterer and her servers bustled around me, carrying one dish or the other, scrambling to do my bidding as I was the one who had hired them.
Soji hugged me from behind, rubbing his nose against my neck. ‘Ese-Baby, this is amazing. But…I said only a few of my friends will be here’.
I smiled and leaned back into him. ‘I just want the best for you, Love’.
Okay, I had to admit that I had gone a bit overboard. He had hinted that 5, maybe 6 of his friends would attend his 35th birthday gathering, but I had gone out of my way to order food enough for at least twenty people: Jollof and Fried Rice, grilled Chicken and stewed Fish, fried Plantains and Moi-Moi, Spring Rolls and Samosas. The food was laid out on the side table in a tantalizing array of serving dishes, each one more colourful and fragrant than the next.
He squeezed me briefly, kissed my neck and then he stepped back. ‘I need to go and change. I told them to be here by 5pm’. Our eyes drifted to the large clock above the television; it was 15 past 6. We both made the obligatory Nigerian-time jokes before he went into his room. He looked very handsome in his black t-shirt and blue jeans and recently cut hair.
I hugged myself tightly, happy that the party planning was going well so far (the food was ready, there were drinks in the freezer, a cake was in the fridge, and people who were not me would serve the guests and clean up afterwards).
My pink chiffon kaftan swished delicately around my legs as I went to turn up the smooth jazz instrumental music playing softly on the sound system. I sat on a plush single chair and rubbed my forehead and pushed my braids away from my face, my gold bangles chiming with each movement.
Today had to be the day.
The day that Soji would propose to me after two years of dating.
It wasn’t just that it was expected-we’d had the marriage discussion some months ago and seemed to be on the same page for the most part (he wanted 4 or 5 children. I wanted no more than 2. I was 33 after all; who had the energy to have 4 or 5 children?).
I had also stumbled across a very expensive wedding ring nestled sedately in a red velvet box in his bottom drawer behind his vests and boxers (I had been bored one Saturday two weeks ago. He had gone to the gym and I had snooped around his flat, looking for nothing in particular until I hit the apparent hidden jackpot).
I made a show of not knowing about his plans, and nothing in his behaviour in the following days showed that he knew I had gone through his things or when he was planning to propose.
Until he had asked a few days ago if I would mind him inviting a few of his friends over for a birthday gathering. His words: ‘It will be a significant day and…I really want to share that day with people very dear to me’. I had said ‘yes’ (practicing my answer to the real question) and I offered to take over the planning process.
I slipped my black leather mules off my feet. I gestured to one of the servers. ‘Please get me a Smirnoff Ice dear, thanks’. I smiled, hopeful that the evening would be a lovely one.
The evening was not going well.
Oh, the guests were very friendly and the food was well received. The 5 or 6 friends turned out to be two guys who were his co-workers, two guys he had known since Secondary school, a lady who was his supervisor at work, and another lady who was a long-time friend of his.
This lady also happened to be Soji’s ex-girlfriend, Adaeze. They had dated on-again, off-again for years after University but had somehow annoyingly remained friends after their breakup. She lived in London but somehow kept popping up in Abuja at random gatherings of mutual friends, her tone always polite but mildly patronizing. We had similar slim builds but she favoured wigs and weaves whilst I preferred braids. She smiled easily whereas I shared smiles tentatively.
She was overall a pleasant person and was the only guest to come along with a gift: an expensive bottle of wine. I just felt it was my duty to dislike her.
I smiled at all the appropriate times and I felt my mouth move as I engaged in polite chatter about the state of Nigeria and how good Soji was looking these days. I was seething though, and a little bit confused.
Why would Soji invite his ex-girlfriend to his party where he was going to propose to his current girlfriend?
I couldn’t sit tight with my thoughts for too long, though. I hovered around the sitting room like a wasp, supervising the servers one minute and touching Soji lightly on the shoulder whenever I walked past him. ‘This love is sweet oh! Our wife, you’re looking good!’, his friends said. I smiled demurely but I rolled my eyes internally; I had 4 elder brothers and I had learned from them that Nigerian guys would call any woman their friend brought to a gathering ‘Our Wife’. It was nothing special until you actually became his Wife.
‘Thank you guys so much for coming today, and thank you to my beautiful girlfriend Ese for such a great party’, said Soji. Everyone smiled at me and I waved shyly, pretending to be humble.
‘Well, I have some news…something that I would like to announce’.
Time seemed to stop and the world went quiet.
‘I’ve been offered a scholarship at the University of London for my PhD Studies’
Time resumed and the world became a loud place.
I stood rooted to the spot as Soji’s friends congratulated him, thumped him on the back, and said that they were proud of him. He eventually untangled himself from them and drifted towards me, a broad grin on his face. He hugged me, saying ‘Baby I wanted to surprise you. Remember when we talked about me sending an application some months ago?’ I stood enveloped in his arms as I searched the depths of my memory for a long-forgotten conversation we’d had whilst I was painting my toenails. I remembered the smell of the varnish and nodding, saying the right words of encouragement during pauses.
I cleared my throat and stepped back from him. ‘I knew you could do it, Love. Well done!’. ‘We’ll talk about details and logistics when everyone has gone home, okay?’ ‘Okay lovely. Go, your friends are waiting’. He squeezed my shoulders and practically ran back to his happy friends, each peal of laughter sounded like claws scraping my insides.
After a few more hours, the party was coming to its conclusion. The servers had packed up takeaway bags of food for the guests, and I had gone inside to trade my fanciful mules for Soji’s flip flops. When I emerged from the bedroom, the sitting room was empty. I could however hear voices near the enclosed space by the front door, and I moved towards the sounds, my feet making no noise.
‘…happy things are going well with her. Is she The One?’
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Hmm. There was a time you said I was The One’
‘That was before you broke my heart and ran off to London with that guy’
‘And here you are…moving to London’.
‘So. Ese seemed surprised by your announcement…are you guys going to do the long-distance thing?’
‘I don’t know…let’s forget about her for now. You know…I still have the ring I bought for you…’
‘You shouldn’t have told me that’
I had heard enough. I stepped away from them and went into the kitchen. The Caterer and servers had done a great job cleaning up after themselves; the kitchen looked even cleaner than before the party began.
I leaned against the fridge, trying to remember each moment of my relationship with Soji, from when he had approached me at an Art Exhibition of nude portraits at Sheraton Hotel, to our first kiss, to when he first told me that he loved me. I searched my mind for hidden clues in every hug, every argument, every reconciliation, something that would indicate to me that in all that time, he had been in love with his ex-girlfriend all along.
I heard the front door being shut and bolted. He was whistling as he walked through the sitting room to the bedroom.
I rubbed my eyes and took a deep breath. Looking around the kitchen, I took note of the clean surfaces, the pots on the cooker, and the plates, lighter and utensils on the marble countertop. I needed to be calm and rational about the situation. Maybe we could make a long-distance relationship work. I nodded.
Yes, I would be rational about things.
The next morning I lay in bed in my immediate elder brother’s house in Garki and scrolled through my Twitter feed on my iPhone. I read on Abuja News Daily’s page about a fire that had occurred in a flat in Apo some hours before.
The occupant’s kitchen had caught fire and spread through the house as he slept. The smoke fumes had woken him up and he realized that he was trapped in his room as the fire engulfed the curtains in the sitting room until neighbours had broken down his front door to rescue him. The Fire Service Truck that had arrived at the scene turned out not to have any water in it and residents of the compound had filled buckets with water which eventually quenched the fire. The occupant was currently being treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns at The National Hospital.
I took a bite of a spring roll as my phone rang. I stared at Soji’s call until it ended.
Ivie M. Eke 2020