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The Copycats Among Us (part 3).

Read part 1 here!

Read part 2 here!

 

Elsie was seated opposite her boss, ‘Big Dog’, in his office the next day at 10am on the dot. He had beckoned for her to sit down on one of the chairs opposite him whilst he continued a conversation on his mobile phone.

The room looked and smelled expensive, with luxurious brown leather chairs, a bookshelf with leather-bound books and a large window which overlooked Abuja’s Central Business District. Elsie resisted the urge to remove her feet from her flat shoes so that she could sink them into the grey rug.

‘Yes, sorry about that, Elsie’ Big Dog said in his jovial deep voice as he dropped his phone on his desk. ‘I had to give my driver specific instructions on how to service my car’.

‘Oh. That’s alright, Sir’. Elsie still had no idea why her boss requested for this meeting, and she tried her best not to fidget in her seat. Despite wearing a blazer over her blue floral dress, she was starting to feel the chill of the airconditioner in the office.

‘Right. I’ll get straight to the point’. Big Dog cleared his throat. ‘I am fully aware of the bullying and harrassment you have endured whilst working with Bilkisu’.

Elsie opened her mouth, and Big Dog held up his hand, so she closed it right back. She actually did not know what she would have said, anyway.

Big Dog removed his glasses and rubbed his beard. ‘Don’t worry about how I found out or who told me. You’re not in any kind of trouble, okay? In fact, I’m impressed with the maturity you’ve displayed in handling the situation’.

‘Thank you Sir’, Elsie said, not knowing what else to say.

‘Have you heard of Axis Consultants?’ Elsie nodded. They were a startup company which was in the news regularly.

‘Good, good. They’re currently in the process of overhauling their activities. I met their MD last week at a conference and she asked me if I could recommend someone to be their new PR and Social Media Manager. I told her about you and she would like to discuss the job with you. Are you interested?’

Duhhh, yessssssss!!!! Elsie thought.

However, she sat up straight, cleared her throat and said, ‘Yes, Sir. I am very interested’.

Big Dog’s face lit up. ‘Good! Good!’. Their pay is comparable to what we earn in this organization. I have asked Ms. Ashione, the Axis MD, to to expect your call this morning’. He handed Elsie a business card. ‘They are looking for someone to take the position in 2 weeks’.

Elsie examined the expensive-looking business card which had ‘Axis’ emblazoned on it in black letters over a yellow background. Big Dog continued to speak. ‘I know your capabilities, so it would be a shame to lose you, but I know you will thrive over there’.

‘Thank you so much Sir!’ Elsie was no longer able to suppress her smile.

She walked out of the office moments later, resisting the urge to dance as she did so.

 

***

‘Thank God that’s been sorted out’, Big Dog mused.

He would have preferred to get rid of Bilkisu instead of Elsie. He regretted hiring Bilkisu (she was a nuisance), but his wife had harrassed him into hiring her younger sister to the point that his sanity had almost been at stake.

Big Dog stood up, smoothed down the wrinkles on his grey trousers and adjusted the sleeves on his long-sleeved white shirt as he walked to the window. He had not told his wife that Bilkisu had made a pass at him the previous year, and that her bullying of Elsie was probably a way of trying to get his attention.

Or maybe she was simply just a mean person.

Sighing heavily, he returned to his desk, put on his glasses and pressed a button on his intercom.

‘Mrs Onuorah? Please ask the Head of Human Resources to see me immediately. Thank you’.

He needed to know what his options were if he decided to fire Bilkisu at some point in the future. He put on his glasses and picked up the sheaf of papers in front of him.

He had an organization to run, after all.

 

***

‘I heard you’re leaving soon’.

It was two days after her meeting with the MD, and Elsie looked up to find Bilkisu standing in front of her desk.

‘Yes, I am’, Elsie replied. She had met with the MD of Axis Consultants for lunch the day before, who had offered Elsie the job on the spot. She had received the email with the offer of employment letter that morning. ‘I wanted everything to be confirmed before I told you in person’.

Bilkisu said nothing for a moment, as she tapped her long nails on Elsie’s desk. ‘Please make sure that you leave a detailed handing-over note before you leave. You can start working on it now’.

Actually, I’ve been working on my handing over note for almost a year, Elsie thought. It will take me only 10 minutes to review it.

Instead, she smiled and said, ‘Alright, I will start working on it now’.

Bilkisu nodded and walked into her office, her shoes making a clicking sound on the tiles, before she closed the door behind her.

 

***

Damn it.

Shit. Shit Shit.

Bilkisu rained silent curses on her Brother-In-Law. And on Elsie.

She had discarded her orange high heeled shoes in the middle of the office and was pacing angrily like a trapped wild animal. Her perfectly arched eyebrows where screwed up as she frowned.

What was the point of having the MD as your Brother-In-Law if he kept giving you work to do? He had reported her treatment of Elsie to his wife, her big sister, who had surprsingly taken her husband’s side.

‘Either step up your game, or you look for work elsewhere’, her sister had told her.

What rubbish.

Bilkisu conceded that she may have taken things too far with Elsie…and maybe she should not have tried to kiss Big Dog last year at the office barbeque…but surely, none of this was her fault, she reasoned. She was the last of 4 daughters of a wealthy Senator, as a result she was overindulged and carried an air of self-entitlement. She usually got away with doing the barest-minumum of work in any given situation.

But now the Elsie-Bitch was leaving, which meant that she would have to do actual work.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Bilkisu flung off her blazer which she wore over a multi-coloured Ankara print fitted dress. The blazer missed the chair and slid down to the floor, but she did not notice.

Why was life so unfair?

Stepping over her shoes, she walked barefoot to her desk, sat down and stared at her computer’s screen without actually seeing anything.  She would go through the handing over note that the Elsie-bitch was writing…maybe that would remind her of what work she was supposed to be doing in this office.

Bilkisu reached into her top drawer, ignoring the files in front of her, and brought out a bottle of red nail polish. She began to paint her finger nails, an activity which always put her in a better mood.

Work would just have to wait.

***

Two weeks later, Elsie lay on her sofa wearing black shorts and a grey ‘Sesame Street’ T-shirt, reliving the going-away party her colleages had thrown for her that Friday. It was a simple but colourful affair, and she enjoyed it more because Bilkisu had taken the day off.

Tunji was out of the country for a conference in London, but he had called her to wish her good luck on her new job, which was nice.

As she thought about what life held in store for her, Elsie’s phone beeped. A message from a UK number.

Tunji.

‘E., I will wait for you to work for a month in your new office before I ask you out again. I hope I’m observing the right protocol. T’.

Elsie laughed, her first real laughter in weeks. She alreay knew that she would say yes when he asked, but for now, her mind was only on her new job.

 

The End.

 

©Ivie M. Eke 2017.

 

(Thanks for reading! I know a lot of people can relate to being in toxic work environments, which is why I decided to come up with this story. Best wishes).

 

 

 

 

Short Story: The Copycats Among Us (Part 2).

(Read part 1 here!).

Bilkisu was the Head of Public Relations, and Elsie was a mere Assistant Manager. No other department had an Assistant Manager present at those meetings.

The MD was making such a fuss because Elsie had written a few good reports. Bilkisu seethed every time she thought about it…and also felt very uneasy. She did not feel so secure in her position in the firm anymore. She had only gotten the job anyway because Big Dog’s wife, Binta was her elder sister.

Bilkisu therefore went out of her way to play down Elsie’s achievements, even though she secretly coveted her creativity in coming up with pitches for clients and the ease with which she wrote reports.

Much to her annoyance, Elsie seemed unaffected by her schemes, and always had a serene look on her face, which Bilkisu really wanted to scratch off with her long nails. She could feel her resentment for Elsie growing every day inside her, and she did not know how to quell it.

Even the mere sight of her was enough to put Bilkisu in a bad mood.

Bilkisu was a self-proclaimed fashionista, and it irked her that the men in their office seemed drawn to Elsie with her simple outfits, barely-there makeup and unimaginative braided hairstyles.

Now she just sat there, staring at her, even smiling.

‘What could be making her smile?’ Bilkisu wondered.

She found herself fidgeting from the intensity of Elsie’s steady gaze. The power had come back on, and the air conditioners were doing a good job of rapidly cooling the conference room, and yet she still felt sweat dripping down her back.

Just as Bilkisu was thinking of an excuse to leave the conference room, Mr. Bala, the MD bustled in.

‘Sorry I’m late guys, let’s start the meeting!’ he said jovially. ‘Big Dog’ had the cuddly physique of a bear and the harmless features of a puppy, but was very astute and shrewd as a boss. No staff member ever thought to underestimate him.

He took his seat at the head of the table.

Bilkisu and Elsie continued to stare at each other, their mutual dislike simmering in the air.

***

‘They say that imitation is the best form of flattery’.

‘I knew that you wouldn’t take this seriously’ Elsie chided Tunji. It was 7:43pm, and they were replaying the events of the work day.

‘I really don’t know why she told me the pitch was her idea’ Tunji mused.

Elsie adjusted her phone, cradling it on her right shoulder as she dished left-over jollof rice from the pot on to a small plate. Her sister Ella had prepared the meal and it looked and smelled delicious, but she only had an appetite for a small portion of food.

‘You know that she really likes you’ Elsie said. Tunji remained silent, and Elsie sensed that he was smiling.

Tunji had wanted to date Elsie since her first week at the firm, but dating a colleague just felt wrong to her. They became friends nonetheless and were very professional with each other at work, but he made it a routine to ask her to be his girlfriend once a month, which amused her.

‘So, what do you advise me to do?’ she asked him. ‘Should I start looking for a new job?’

Tunji thought for a moment. ‘Honestly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. You are a great PR professional, but I know that as long as Bilkisu works at our firm, you will not see considerable growth in your role’.

‘It also helps that she’s Big Dog’s in-law’. Elsie laughed, even though she did not find the situation very funny.

‘Don’t worry about that. Big Dog isn’t stupid. He knows your value, which is why he insisted you attend management meetings’.

‘Well…I will update my CV and begin my job search again’.

‘Be very shrewd about it-you wouldn’t want Bilkisu walking in on you when you browsing for jobs on nigerianjobs.com’ Tunji warned.

‘I’ll keep that in mind’ Elsie answered. They said their goodbyes and ended the call.

Just as she was leaving the kitchen, a text message from Tunji appeared on her screen.

‘The good thing is that you would finally say yes to becoming my girlfriend if you worked somewhere else. T.’

Elsie shook her head and smiled at her phone. She did not send a reply, and she knew that he did not expect her to do so.

She suddenly had no appetite, and she covered the plate of rice and placed it in the fridge.

Elsie walked back to her living room and sat down heavily on the sofa, suddenly feeling very tired. Ella was out on a date with her new boyfriend, so Elsie had the flat to herself. The sultry vocals of Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Put your records on’ played on the radio, helping to put her in a meditative state of mind.

‘I need to protect myself’ she thought. Elsie understood that office politics was to be expected at the workplace, but she knew that she would not win a battle of wills against Bilkisu. She rubbed her eyes, and ran her hands over her face.

A sudden thought came into Elsie’s mind, and she stood up abruptly and walked into her bedroom. She opened her jewelry box which was on top of her dressing table. Nestled among her colourful earrings and necklaces lay her silver ‘believe’ bracelet. She slipped in on her left wrist and stretched out her arm to admire it.

Elsie noted wryly that she was long overdue for a manicure-she had started to bite her nails again and they were in an atrocious state.

She closed her eyes and envisioned herself somewhere peaceful, where the copycats could not get to her.

Just as she started to drift off, her phone beeped with the text message alert.

Elsie picked up her phone and read: ‘Please see the MD by 10am tomorrow. Thanks. Mrs Onuorah, PA to the MD’.

‘What have I done now?’ She thought.

Elsie rubbed her eyes, not looking forward to work the next day.

Written by

©Ivie M. Eke 2017
(Thanks for reading! Part 3 will be posted soon!).

Walking On Eggshells. 

‘Walking On Eggshells’, my short story collection is available on Amazon and Okada Books! 

 

Short Story: The Copycats Among Us (Part 1).

Elsie stood at the entrance of the conference room, observing the spectacle before her.

It was almost 10am. The executive meeting was supposed to have started at 9:30am but was running late because the Big Dog (a nickname for the MD-which he endorsed) was tied up in a Skype call with their London office.

Elsie had just returned from the restroom and had reached the entrance of the conference room when she heard someone say, ‘…and that’s how I came up with the pitch to expand our market to Lagos’.

Bilkisu, Elsie’s supervisor was the person who uttered these words to her rapt audience of fellow executives at Primrose Management Consulting Ltd.

This statement was news to Elsie because Bilkisu, in the two years Elsie had worked with her, hadn’t come up with a single innovative or original idea.

Elsie stared at Bilkisu, while she was still rooted to the spot. Bilkisu wore a skirt suit which was an eye-watering shade of orange, her hair was slicked back into a Brazilian-weave assisted ponytail, and she wore an extraordinary amount of jewelry. Else usually felt like a dowdy 90-year old woman beside her when they went out for client meetings.

As a supervisor, Bilkisu was very hands-off, barely giving Elsie’s pitches or reports a cursory glance when she presented them. Elsie always felt like she was doing something wrong: nothing she wrote or researched ever seemed to be up to Bilkisu’s standards.

‘Elsie, I’m sure you must be very proud of your Madam’s new ideas’ said Tunji, the Head of Finance.

The words brought Elsie back from her reverie.

She smiled and took a step into the conference room, looking at Bilkisu, who couldn’t seem to make eye contact with her.

‘Yes, I’m very proud of her’ Elsie said, as she took her seat opposite them.

Tunji smiled-Elsie knew that being her friend, he was aware of the true nature of things. Bilkisu had the decency to look uncomfortable.

The air in the conference room was very stale due to the Abuja heat. There was no electricity and the generators had developed an unidentified fault. The windows were open, but very little breeze blew in.

‘Yes, I’m very proud of her’, Elsie repeated, as she used a document to fan herself vigorously. She was glad that she had worn a short-sleeved blouse with her grey trousers. She was also impressed with herself for saying the words with a straight face.

Tunji and Bilkisu continued to make conversation and the other occupants of the room-Brian the Head of Legal and Kofo the Head of Human Resources-continued with a conversation of their own.

Elsie was alone in their midst but she did not mind, she had her thoughts to keep her company.

She observed Bilkisu’s facial expression as she spoke earnestly to Tunji. Bilkisu tended to have a constant look of being constipated; Elsie suspected that it was meant to be her ‘sexy’ look.

Bilkisu was only three years older than her, but you would never know with the way she carried on, Elsie mused. At age 27, this was Elsie’s first job after she had completed her National Youth Service. So far, it was her monthly salary alerts which motivated her to come to work each day, and not the job itself.

A bracelet on Bilkisu’s wrist caught Elsie’s attention-it was silver with the word ‘believe’ engraved on it. Elsie stared at it for a while, remembering when she had worn the exact bracelet about 2 months ago. Bilkisu had asked her where she had bought from, and muttered a disdainful ‘oh, ok’ when Elsie said she bought it from Primark, the U.K. clothing store known for its affordable (or cheap, depending on who you asked) clothing.

Now, staring at the bracelet on Bilkisu’s wrist, Elsie suddenly felt light-headed.

She thought about all the time she had wasted wondering what she was doing wrong, when in fact it now appeared that she was doing everything right.

Why else would Bilkisu take credit for her own ideas, or buy the exact bracelet which she had looked at with disdain when she had worn it, thought Elsie.

No, she was doing everything right.

Elsie smiled.

She realized that she was no longer in awe of Bilkisu.

***

Bilkisu felt cornered.

She had been so absorbed in telling Tunji the story of her “successful pitch” that she had not noticed that Elsie was standing at the doorway.

Why did she walk so damn quietly, anyway? Maybe she was wearing those cheap rubber-soled shoes again, Bilkisu thought.

She saw no harm in taking credit for the successful pitch-it was a team victory after all.

Bilkisu had almost started to believe that the story she told Tunji was true. His face gave no indication that he doubted her; he had nodded and responded politely.

Bilkisu couldn’t help herself: despite Tunji making it clear years ago that he wasn’t interested in a relationship with her, she kept trying to get his attention, to conjure up his interest in her.

The conference room was quiet, except for the sound of muted conversation by their other colleagues. Bilkisu suddenly felt Elsie’s eyes on her wrist. She looked down and saw the ‘believe’ bracelet, the same one she had sneered at when Elsie wore it some months ago.

She quickly covered the bracelet with her right hand, but Elsie had already seen it. Elsie said nothing, but merely stared at Bilkisu, who resisted the urge to squirm.

When Bilkisu had traveled to London for a week-long break the previous month, her first urge was not to take advantage of the warm August weather to do some sight-seeing. Rather, she took the tube to the Primark store on Oxford Street, near Tottenham Court Road. She had walked into the store with single-minded determination and taken the escalator up to the jewelry section, where she picked up the bracelet for herself. It had cost £5.99.

Bilkisu couldn’t explain why she needed to buy the bracelet so badly. All she knew was that after she saw Elsie wearing it, she couldn’t take her mind off it. She knew that she would not rest until she had bought the bracelet for herself.

Bilkisu didn’t know why she disliked Elsie so much. She was pleasant enough, and pretty in an obvious way. However, since Elsie joined the firm as her subordinate, Bilkisu had derived perverse pleasure in being the most unhelpful supervisor that anyone could have.

It was bad enough that the MD now insisted that Elsie should attend managerial meetings.

Imagine that!

 

(Part 2 will be on the blog next week!).

 

Written by

©Ivie M. Eke 2017

 

 

 

Short Story: An Ordinary Day (Part 1).

Mildred looked up from sweeping the sitting room to watch the forced banter on yet another American Talk Show. The four women on the show’s panel were of varying ethnic backgrounds. The show’s producers were obviously pandering to all sorts of demographics, she mused.

She listened for a while as the women talked over each other on the topic of spousal cheating. She eventually got bored and put the TV on mute. Watching the women gesturing wildly with no accompanying sounds amused her immensely.

Mildred finished sweeping the living room and began to mop the floor; this was her usual Saturday morning ritual. She loved the brown floor tiles which resembled wooden boards and she whistled tunelessly as she completed her chore.

She was happy that there was power that morning, so she could put on the ceiling fan as she worked. Even then, the Abuja heat still prevailed, and before long her shorts and grey T-shirt were soaked with sweat.

Mildred suddenly heard her phone ringing from where it was plugged in the kitchen. She removed her patterned scarf from her head and used it to dab at the sweat on her forehead, before shoving it into her pocket. She then picked up the mop and bucket and got to the kitchen just as the phone stopped ringing.

The display on the phone’s screen showed ‘one missed call from Mrs. B.’

It was her Mother-in-Law.

Mildred smiled.

The phone suddenly began to ring again, startling her. She answered it on its third ring.

‘Hi, Ma. How are you today?’

There was a slight pause. To Chief Mrs. Busayo, her daughter-in-law saying ‘Hi, Ma’ instead of ‘Good Morning, Ma’ was an offense almost equivalent to murder.

‘Mildred. Where is my son? I have been trying to reach him but he is not answering his phone’.

‘Oh, really? Well, Dotun is somewhere in the house, Ma. I will ask him to call you back’.

There was a muffled sound from upstairs which Mildred ignored.

Chief Mrs. Busayo muttered something in Yoruba about poorly brought-up children and Mildred smiled but said nothing. She was Igbo but she actually understood Yoruba very well, a fact which her Mother-in-Law was oblivious to.

Suddenly losing interest in the conversation, Mildred shouted ‘Bye!’ and ended the call while her mother-in-law was still talking. The thought of the shock on the woman’s face tickled Mildred deep in her stomach, and she did a small dance to mark the moment.

When she was tired of dancing, she switched off her phone. She then cleaned the surfaces in the kitchen and decided that it was time for her breakfast. It was almost 10am now; just the right time for an indulgent meal, she thought.

Mildred decided that she wanted scrambled eggs, and proceeded to prepare the meal. She used the electric side of the cooker since the gods of electricity had blessed her that morning with some power. Gas was getting too expensive for her liking.

When she was done with her cooking, she dished the eggs onto a white plate and placed it on a green tray. She placed a fork on the tray, aligning it so that it was perfectly parallel to the plate. She then poured herself a glass of orange juice and added it to the tray.

The house was quiet, with just the hum of the refrigerator and the deep freezer piercing through her thoughts.

Satisfied that the kitchen was tidy, Mildred picked up her tray and carried it upstairs to her bedroom, balancing the tray on her waist as she opened and closed the door.

She walked to the bed, stepping over her husband who was lying face down on the floor, unconscious. She noticed the white mug on the floor beside him, now empty and lying on its side.

She was impressed that the mug had not cracked when it fell.

Mildred stared at Dotun, intrigued that even though he was well over six feet tall, he now seemed shrunken in her eyes from where she sat. He looked so small lying there in his singlet and boxer shorts.

He looked harmless.

‘Your mother said you should call her as soon as possible’, Mildred informed him, though she was not really expecting a response.

She picked up her fork and began to eat her breakfast, savouring the tastiness of her meal.

The bedroom was fragrant with the smell of scrambled eggs.

Written by

©Ivie M. Eke 2016.

Short Story: Braids Gone Wrong.

image1

‘Nooo, this cannot be happening! Not today!’ Bosede moaned, staring at the handful of braids which had come off along with her hair.

She was in the process of getting ready for work and had decided to oil her scalp before putting on her makeup. As she removed the rubber band which held her braids together, about five braids came off her hairline, taking her hair along with them.

For a moment she had simply stared at the micro braids in her hands, as if they would suddenly stand up and explain themselves.

‘Bosede, can you see your life?’ she grumbled to herself. This would teach her to leave her braids in for much longer than was necessary. She had meant to take them out last Saturday after about two months of wear, but she had succumbed to laziness and television and watched a marathon session of ‘NCIS’ instead.

Now, here she was on a Wednesday morning, sporting a bald patch on the right side of her head. She glanced at her watch and saw that the time was now 7am. Suddenly realizing that she had to leave the house in fifteen minutes if she did not want to be late for work, Bosede snapped out of her reverie. 

She went about strategically arranging her braids over the new bald patch so that it was mostly covered up. She then put on some makeup, opting for a ‘no-makeup’ look instead of her usual ‘full glamour’ look.
There was no time for that.

***

Bosede made it to work just before 8am, beating the worst of the Abuja morning traffic, which made her happy; she did not need another query for late-coming. She sat at her desk and enjoyed the few minutes of solitude before her three other team members arrived. Despite her colleagues living much closer than she did to their workplace, a Parastatal of the Ministry of Education, they still managed to show up to work long after the resumption time.

Bosede looked around, making sure that she was alone, and brought out her mirror from her  bag. She examined her ‘braids arrangement masterpiece’ and, satisfied with her work, put the mirror back into her bag. As she pulled out her hand, out came a stray braid along with it.

‘Seriously?’ she asked herself, glaring at the offending braid.

‘Miss Bose, are you talking to me?’ asked Nene, one of her colleagues who had just walked into the office.

‘What? Oh…no, I was just…talking to myself’ Bosede replied, sheepishly.

‘Ah Bose, you know that talking to one’s self is a sign of madness-hope all is well oh!’ Nene laughed. Bosede joined in the laughter, even though she did not really know why she was laughing.

She rolled up the stray braid and put it back in her bag.

‘I must stop at the salon before I get home’ she mused to herself. Thankfully, the office closed by 4pm; she would call her usual ‘hair lady’ at her salon to see if she could schedule an emergency braids removal session.

***

Unfortunately for Bosede, that Wednesday was the day that her supervisor, Mrs. Kalu, decided to schedule an emergency brainstorming session.

The meeting was set for 3.45pm.

Bosede could feel her braids smirking at her.

The meeting, of course, ran until 4.30pm, with her supervisor doing most of the talking, and with very little being accomplished.

Bosede was the first out of the door of the meeting room once the meeting finally finished, and she walked quickly to her cubicle, shut down her computer, picked up her bag and was dialing her hair stylist as she walked to her car.

‘Aunty B!!! Long time, hope you are fine Ma. Do you want to make another hair?’ ‘No, Dorcas, I actually want to remove my braids now’ Bosede started to say this when Dorcas interrupted her. ‘Ah Aunty, we will soon close, can you manage it until Saturday morning?’

Bosede sighed, sitting down heavily in her car. ‘Ok dear, I will see you on Saturday’. With that, she ended the call and looked at her braids in the rear view mirror. Her hair arrangement was holding up, but she was more concerned for the safety of her hairline.

She had just put her key in the car’s ignition when her phone started to ring. It was Oche, her boyfriend.

‘Hey, baby! How was work today?’ he asked, sounding annoyingly cheerful for someone who had also just closed from work.

‘I’m fine darling…I’ve just had a stressful day’ and she told him all about her braids debacle.

He was silent for a while, and Bosede was sure he was trying not to laugh. ‘What if I come over to help you remove the braids? Would that help?’

She suddenly felt like crying and laughing at the same time. ‘Sure darling- that would be great. Okay, see you soon’. She chuckled as she ended the call. She would probably end up with no hair if she let him anywhere near her braids, but she appreciated his kind gesture.

With that in mind, she started her car and drove home to remove her braids.

***

The End.

© Ivie M. Eke 2016.

Short Story: Dinner For One.

 

dinner for one

Photo: weheartit.com

 

The occasional sounds of cutlery meeting plates and muted conversations pierced through Bella’s subconscious. Peaches, a newly-established upscale restaurant in Abuja was buzzing with activity, with the Friday evening diners exuding a sense of cheer which she did not feel.

The evening had started to go downhill from the moment Mike had arrived at her place to pick her up for their date. ‘This blue dress again? I don’t know why you won’t wear any of the dresses I have bought for you’ he muttered by way of saying hello. Bella had been withdrawn and quiet afterwards on the drive to the restaurant, but he didn’t seem to have noticed.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Mike returning to the table where she sat, and she sighed. She almost wished he had left after taking the phone call which had taken him outside.

‘Sorry, Belly! One of my clients wanted some information about something’ he smiled.

Bella rolled her eyes internally. Why he insisted on calling her ‘Belly’, she could never fathom. For almost a year of dating, Bella had cajoled and outright asked him not to call her that, but Mike being Mike, did exactly as he pleased.

‘Maybe my calling you Belly will make you lose some weight’ he reasoned. Bella had been too stunned to respond. At size 10, she definitely wasn’t overweight. But then to Mike, anyone who didn’t go to the gym every day like he did was ‘chronically unhealthy’.

Their relationship had started off as exciting, but soon Bella realized that what she had first thought to be Mike’s decisiveness was in fact just plain bossiness.

They resumed their meal, with Bella enjoying her jollof rice and chicken, and Mike wolfing down his couscous and a giant plateful of leafy vegetables.

‘This food is really tasty’, Mike said.

‘Hmm’, Bella agreed, thinking that hers was the best grilled chicken she’d had in a while.

‘You should have ordered this salad-it’s very good’. Mike added. Bella pretended not to have heard him; her mind was focused on her chicken and on whether she had diesel left at home for her generator.

Mike continued talking. ‘I was talking to my mother yesterday and we both agreed that you would make a good wife if only you adjusted your diet. I told her how you really like burgers and other fast food’.

Time seemed to stop. Bella stopped eating, mid-chew. She looked up at Mike, who was still scooping spoonfuls of food into his mouth. She swallowed her food, placed her cutlery on her plate, and waited.

Mike eventually noticed that she was not eating and looked at her, surprised. ‘I thought you liked the food. Are you full already?’

Bella stared at him, wondering how come they had lasted for almost a year together.

‘So’ she started, ‘you want to get married to me’.

‘Well…of course’, Mike replied, looking surprised.

‘And you discussed it with your mother, before discussing it with me’.

‘Oh, is that why you are upset?’ Mike laughed. ‘You know how close my mother and I are. In fact, my father even suggested that I should make sure you can cook Afang soup before I discuss marriage with you’ he added.

Bella was at a loss for words. She looked at him, with his smooth black skin and precise haircut, good-fitting blazer with accompanying designer beard and shirt. She looked at his hands, with his badly bitten nails which she usually ignored, but which now seemed to be shouting at her.

She had a sudden image of herself, married to him, heavily pregnant and asking him to take her to the hospital, with his reply being, ‘wait-let me call my parents and find out if your pain is worth the trip’.

Rage dissolved into giggles. It started slowly, with just her shoulders shaking, and it finally morphed into loud laughter, with tears rolling down her cheeks and with the spasms making her clutch her stomach.

Other diners turned to look at her with amusement in their eyes, wondering what the joke was.

The joke, she wanted to tell them, was her relationship.

‘Why are you laughing so loudly?’ he hissed at her. ‘People are looking at us. I am sure that they think something is wrong with you’.

Bella reached into her bag, brought out her white handkerchief and wiped the tears from her eyes. Some of her mascara stained it, but she really didn’t mind.

‘Mike’ she started. ‘I can see that you do not recognize how absurd this situation is. I honestly think we should take a break, to think about if this relationship is what we really want’.

‘What? Are you breaking up with me?’ he asked, incensed.

‘Well…yes, I think we should break up’.

Mike shook his head, looking at her with pity. He beckoned at a hovering waiter to bring their bill. He paid with his card, and stood up, looking down at her.

‘I hope you know what you are doing; I’m the best thing to have happened to you. You can find your own way home’. And with those words, dripping with venom, Mike left her in the restaurant.

By now, the other diners were making a show of acting like they had not witnessed the dramatic exchange.

Bella tried to assess how she felt at that moment. She only felt relief.

She would take a taxi home, but first, she would finish her chicken.

After all, the chicken was too tasty to waste.

 

© Ivie M. Eke 2016.

When You Wake Up (Part 4).

photo: pinterest.com

Ameh watched Muri from the corner of her eye; she observed that his face was in ‘sincere mode’ as he listened with rapt attention to what Dr. Okonta, their marriage counselor, was saying. She thought about reaching out to pinch his neck, just to see if his expression would change. It didn’t seem like the right thing to do at a counseling session though.

No, neck-pinching would not go with the mellow set-up of the counseling practice located in the Abuja suburb of Maitama. Dr. Mildred Okonta, their counselor, came highly recommended, but Ameh looked forward to admiring the sophisticated decor of her office than to the counseling session itself.

So far, they’d had two sessions with Dr. Okonta, where Muri had participated actively, and she had responded in monotones. Since the discovery of Muri’s continued affair with his ex-girlfriend, and his suggestion for marriage counseling, Ameh had existed on autopilot. Her life over the next few weeks felt like she was ticking-off an imaginary checklist: cook meals, have sex, go to work.

‘I think it would be best if I had the next session with just Ameh’, Dr. Okonta. The words startled Ameh, making her come back from her reverie; she had not been listening to what was being discussed. She had been admiring a vase on a side table, which was a very fetching shade of peach.

She refocused her attention on Dr. Okonta, a nice-looking gray-haired lady who gave her ‘School-Principal’ vibes with her tortoiseshell glasses, pale gray suit and sensible black shoes. She felt Muri staring at her, obviously worried but she did not make eye-contact with him.

Ameh shrugged. ‘If you think that is necessary’ she responded.

‘I think it is very necessary. I have found that clients often feel free to express themselves when their partner is not in the same room’. Ameh shrugged again, saying nothing.

The counselor closed her notebook. ‘This was a good session. Ameh, please choose an appointment date with my receptionist on your way out’. With a smile, she stood up and walked to the door; Ameh and Muri followed suit.

***

Ameh was back at the counselor’s office a week later. She chatted with Ndi, Dr Okonta’s receptionist, a very pleasant lady who was proof that Nigerian customer service stereotypes of unfriendliness and hostility had its exceptions.

Eventually she was ushered into the counselor’s office, who greeted her with a polite smile and handshake.

After they sat down opposite each other, Dr. Okonta asked, ‘why did you marry husband?’

The bluntness of the question made Ameh smile, but she took it in stride. For what she and Muri had paid for the sessions, there was no time for chit-chat.

‘I married him because he asked me to marry him’ she shrugged.

‘Did you love him?’

‘Oh, yes, I loved him’ Ameh responded, looking surprised by the question. ‘I loved him, but I had so many doubts about the relationship. I said yes because I had other things to consider’.

‘What things?’ the counselor asked.

‘I am the first child of my parents-the first of three daughters. I was almost 30. My parents had been praying for me. The timing was right. I wasn’t convinced that Muri had moved on from his ex-girlfriend. But he asked me to marry him, and I said yes. It was that simple’. Now that she had said the words, Ameh knew that the situation had been far from simple.

The counselor scribbled in her notebook for some moments, which gave Ameh time to admire the colourful rug beneath her feet.

‘How well do you get along with his family?’

‘I get along with his father, step-mother and half-sister really well. I do not get along with his mother’ Ameh smiled wryly.

‘Could you expand on that?’ the counselor asked.

‘She has never liked me-I was not her preferred choice as a wife for her son. She has always found fault with me.

Once, about 6 months into my marriage, I came back home in the middle of the day from a work trip and met her in our house. She had hired professional cleaners to clean the house “thoroughly”. I had smiled and told her thanks, but later on, when Muri got back from work, I told him not to let her into our house ever again. Pretty dramatic words, I’ll admit, but there’s been a lot of tension between us since then-and of course, let’s not forget that I am yet to produce a child’.

Ameh closed her eyes and took a deep breath. ‘The marriage hasn’t been a great one’.

***

Later, as Ameh drove home, she thought about Dr. Okonta’s words. They had been matter-of-fact and straightforward. She had told the counselor that she could not make up her mind whether or not she wanted to end the marriage. Dr. Okonta had told Ameh that she would need to decide what conditions had to exist in her marriage for her to make the decision to stay.

As she parked her car in front of her house, she glanced at her watch and saw that it was almost 7.30pm. She switched off the engine. Muri’s car was parked beside hers and the lights were on in the house, so she knew he was home.

She had been sitting in the car for about 10 minutes when the front door opened, and Muri peered out at her. Ameh wondered if she should restart her car, reverse and drive away to an unknown destination.

Muri walked towards her, looking relaxed in a white t-shirt and black joggers with flip flops. He stopped by her window, and they stared at each other for a moment.

Eventually, she picked up her bag, removed her keys from the ignition and opened the door, with Muri stepping aside for her to come out.

Before she could speak, Muri drew her close to him in an embrace. They stood that way for a while, silently.

‘Things will be different now, babe. I promise’ Muri said into her hair as he held her.

For the first time in a long time, Ameh believed him.

She stepped back from his embrace, took his hand, and they walked into the house.

 

©Ivie M. Eke 2016

Read part 1 here!

Read part 2 here!

Read part 3 here!

 

When You Wake Up (Part 3).

when you wake up 3

Photo: weheartit.com

Read Part 1 Here!

Read Part 2 Here!

The next Monday, Muri walked into Evergreen restaurant during his lunch break; it was 12.30pm. He was dreading this meeting, but it was long-overdue. He took responsibility for his part in the potential breakdown of his marriage, and he knew that if he didn’t want to lose Ameh, he had to take drastic and decisive action.

He removed his jacket and left it in his car before he walked into the restaurant, giving a quick greeting to the security man at the entrance.

He saw the two people who he was meeting with seated at a table at the back corner of the restaurant. There were only a handful of customers in the restaurant at that time.

Muri got to the table, pulled out a chair, and sat down in front of his mother and Vera.

His mother was dressed in her trademark style of colourful kaftan and head-tie with flashy gold jewelry, and Vera was dressed in a black trouser suit with accompanying long hair extensions; obviously she was on her lunch break just as he was.

‘My own, how are you?’ his mother asked him with a concerned look on her face. Vera said nothing; she just smiled at him expectantly. Subtle jazz music played in the background from hidden speakers.

‘I’m fine Mum. Thanks for meeting with me. I need to talk with both of you. I need to put an end to this situation’. Muri turned to look at his mother. ‘Mum, Vera and I will never get married. I am married to Ameh, and I intend to stay married to her’.

His mother scoffed at him. ‘You can’t be serious’. ‘Oh, I am very serious’ he countered.

At that point, a waiter approached the table with some menus to take their order, but sensing the heat of their conversation, retreated back to the bar to wait until he was needed.

‘Ma’ Vera interjected. ‘I’m sorry but I agree with Muri. I can’t go along with this any more. I know how much you wanted Muri and I to have a relationship that would end in marriage. It is not fair to his wife what we have been doing’.

The tension at the table was palpable. ‘I simply want my son to be married to a woman of good pedigree who can actually bear children for him’ Muri’s mum declared.

Muri thought of leaving the restaurant at that moment-he was fed up. He however resisted the urge to do so.

‘Besides Ma’ Vera continued. ‘I have met someone. A nice man who is not married’. She smiled sadly. ‘I can not keep up this charade anymore. He is based in Lagos and I intend to join him there. I think this would be the best for everyone’. Muri breathed a sigh of relief but kept his expression neutral.

He turned his attention again to his mother. ‘Mum, I want you to be a part of my life-you know this. But if you can not treat my wife with courtesy, then our relationship will not work. Ameh’s parents treat me with so much love and respect; I do not see why you can not do the same for her’. His mother stared into the distance, saying nothing.

Muri turned to Vera. ‘I’m very happy for you’. She smiled. ‘Thank you’.

He stood up, moved close to his mother and gave her a peck on her cheek. She turned to look at him, an unreadable expression on her face. ‘Goodbye Mum’.

Muri waved at Vera, and went back to work, leaving the two women to think over his words.

***

All of his life, Muri had been his mother’s fixation. He was her prize in the ‘war’ against his father when their marriage broke down.

His goal in life right from his childhood was to please his mother. Every good grade, every sports prize, every accolade were things he had ultimately attained for her.

His father had remarried, and Muri often spent time with him, his step-mother and his half sister. He was a reluctant diplomat, engaging in fostering peaceful mediation between his divided family.

Even when his mother had orchestrated a relationship between himself and Vera, the daughter of a wealthy couple who were his mother’s friends, he had gone along with it. They had both been studying at the University of Abuja at the time, and it had been convenient. The relationship broke down several times because even though they liked each other, they were simply not compatible.

When he had met Ameh at a friend’s party some years after he had started working full time, everything suddenly made sense. He had stared at her for a long time before he eventually approached her. ‘Your eyes are so beautiful’ were the words which he had first uttered to her. Her smile at his words were like a cold drink of water-it calmed his insides. He had been in the midst of one of his many breakups with Vera, so he did not think twice about asking Ameh out.

At age 32, this would be the first time that Muri had ever gone against his mother’s wishes. She had cried, saying that Vera was of class and wealth, unlike this strange person whom he had introduced to her. Muri had remained resolute, telling her that Ameh was the one who actually made him happy. His mother had relented, and made an effort to be (slightly) pleasant to Ameh during the wedding planning process.

About a year into Muri’s marriage, his mother had burst in again, telling him that Vera would have been a better choice for him. They were yet to have children, and he, against his better judgement, started a relationship with Vera again.

***

When Muri got back to work, he sat for a long time, staring at the wall. He picked up his mobile phone, scrolled through his recent call list, and dialed ‘Baby’.

‘Hello?’ Ameh answered. There was a new wariness in his wife’s voice, which made him sad.

‘Babe, hope you’re fine. I was just wondering how we should go about looking for a marriage counselor’.

‘I actually just got us a referral to see one. The counselor has a practice at the medical centre near Jabi Lake’.

‘Oh, great. Can we talk more about it when we get home?’

‘Sure’. There was a slight pause in the conversation.

‘Okay, babe. Enjoy your day’. ‘Thanks. You too’.

They ended the call, with so many words left unspoken.

©Ivie M.Eke 2016.

When you wake up (Part 2).

when you wake up 2

Photo: weheartit.com

Muri stretched and yawned as he opened his eyes. He rubbed them and sat up, glancing at the bed-side clock.

It was 6:15 am.

He switched on the light above the bed. He had to get up to go to the gym for his Saturday morning work-out session.

Just as it registered in his mind that Ameh was not in bed with him, he noticed that she was seated in front of the dressing mirror.

She had her back to him, but she was staring at him though the mirror.

Slightly startled, Muri asked, ‘Babe, is everything okay? Why are you up so early?’

She did not respond. She simply stared back at him.

Baffled, he pushed the bed covers away, and he just placed his feet on the floor when Ameh spoke.

‘For how long have you been seeing Vera again?’

Oh Shit.

How did she…?

What the…?

Who told her…?

Half-formed questions flooded Muri’s mind, making his mouth heavy.

By now, Ameh had turned and was now facing him, looking at him expectantly.

Time paused.

Ameh waited.

Muri sighed.

‘I had a drink with her after my meeting yesterday. That was it. Babe, you have to believe me’.

‘Well, considering that you have already had an affair with her since we’ve been married, I guess that I should give you a medal of honour’.

‘Babe…’ Muri began to speak, but Ameh raised her hand, making him to stop mid-sentence.

‘Do you want to go back to her?’

‘What?’ Muri looked shocked. ‘No! I love you, you know this Babe’.

Ameh stood up, smoothing down her nightgown. ‘I don’t know what to think anymore’.

She turned and began to walk out of the room.

Her hand was on the door handle when Muri said ‘I forgave you for James’.

Ameh recoiled from the door as though she had been struck.

‘What did you just say?!’ She turned and walked back into the room and was now standing in front of him. Muri was silent where he was still seated on the bed, his head bowed.

‘That was when we broke up. I had a fling and I told you about it when you wanted us to reconcile. We were not even married when that happened’.

‘But…’

‘And’, Ameh continued, ‘you think because you ‘forgave me’, I should be haunted by the presence of your ex-girlfriend throughout our married life?’ She was livid now, her arms akimbo, her nostrils flaring.

Muri raised his head; he had a remorseful look on his face.

‘I’m sorry Babe’ he said as he stood up. Ameh took a step backwards, away from him. ‘I’m sorry’ he said again. ‘I should not have mentioned him’.

They stood facing each other, silently.

Ameh closed her eyes, her breathing still coming in sharp bursts, her fists clenched into balls. She barely remembered the fling. She had broken up with Muri when he said he still had feelings for Vera. She had only mentioned it to him when he came back shortly afterwards, wanting to start the relationship again. She had told him so that he would leave her alone, but he had persisted, saying that it didn’t matter to him.

Ameh suddenly felt exhausted. She took a few steps forward and sat down heavily on the bed. The sleep which had eluded her hours before suddenly weighed heavily on her body.

‘It’s too much Muri’ she said wearily. ‘Two years of marriage-no baby, your affairs, your mother’. Ameh closed her eyes and shook her head. She felt like crying but the situation seemed too pathetic and unworthy of her tears.

By now, Muri looked worried. All thoughts of going to the gym were removed from his mind. His apologies seemed to have no effect on his wife. He had never really been worried about his marriage until this particular moment.

He sat down beside her on the bed, and warily took her hand.

She did not remove her hand from his own hand, but hers lay limply in his, like a wet rag.

‘Let’s go and see a Marriage Counselor. Babe, please don’t give up on us. Can we try? Can we see a Counselor together?’

Ameh was quiet for a while, and the silence hung in the air.

Her mind was empty. She did not want to be in the same place as he was. She wanted to be as far away from him and their marriage as possible.

Eventually, she looked at him and spoke quietly, without any conviction.

‘Okay’.

 
© Ivie M. Eke 2016