Tomorrow, it will be six months since you moved out of the house and began a new story. You do not look like it, like the gaunt man who came into this neighbourhood. The barber points this out while he shapes your hair. The clipper purrs as it trims off chunks of black strands, strands so black they remind you of the relaxer she bought you at the unisex salon.
You won the relaxer on a bet – she argued unisex meant something that related to a single sex, you insisted it referred to a characteristic that was not gender based. When she realized you were right, she rounded her lips into an o and dragged you into the salon.
It was there that you met her, the other one, the one who zoomed into your life, like, zoomed, the way a car zooms off after dropping a passenger. She had a soft face and walked with a smooth gait. She wore heels that clicked as she led you towards the men’s section, her jean trousers defining melanin legs. She seemed to linger on you, even when the madam howled at her for keeping another customer waiting.
You did not fall in love there. It would have been predictable. True, you mulled her over for a couple of days, while you watched the news at a quarter to nine, while you showered and trimmed your stubble, while you swept through your closet for a matching tie to the patterned shirt, while you prepared slides for your presentation at work on Friday, while you discussed your Saturday beach trip with your wife, the one who bought the relaxer, you thought about her.
But soon, you forgot. She slipped into the back of your mind like every other event that holds your attention of some while, but eventually fades into the region reserved for flippant incidents. She slipped there and you forgot about her.
At work, you nailed the presentation and got ovations from the Head of Human Resources. She thought you were a bright young man, with a gleaming future, one so bright the stars were jealous. You smiled at the compliment and turned down her offer for dinner. You had a wife, a wife who would be pregnant with your firstborn soon, you could not afford this philandering that was being thrown in your face. You did not say these, expectedly. You only smiled and said, Ha, I would be busy all weekend.
She did not believe you, but she believed your smile.
Later, you would wonder if you should have taken her offer, if maybe you had gone on with the dinner, your life would still be travelling a straight path, not a detour.
She fell sick on Saturday, your wife. It was sudden and surprising at once.. She curled up in bed, her eyes watery and unable to hold your gaze. You sliced your concern and held it up for her to see, and she worked up a grin.
I’ll be fine, I just need to rest.
You sure it’s nothing more? It’s not influenza?
I’ll be fine, really. We will have to cancel beach.
It’s alright. We can always do another Saturday.
You made tea with a pint of milk, served her in bed. She said no to bread, sipped three gulps of tea. You fed her the sedative and pain reliever and the other one whose function you did not know, then watched her sleep. She would wake up refreshed and with the vigour of an eight-year-old – she was a nurse and she knew her stuffs.
You passed time watching TV – reruns of the last year’s NBA Playoffs, a family sitcom. You cleared the backlog of emails you had and laughed at memes on your church’s men’s group. Your sister called around noon and gave updates on her Master’s programme, asked how your beach trip was going.
Oh. Something wrong with Ada?
Oh. Hope it’s not…
It’s not. She’s not going to miscarry again.
Oh. Okay. Sorry.
When Ada woke, the sun had mellowed. You sat her in a chair on the balcony and caressed her face with kisses. Smothered her until you could feel her teats get taut. She was tired, she said. You nodded. She ran a finger through her hair and voiced her worry that she would attend service tomorrow with an unkempt hairdo. You suggested she pack it into a bun. Yeah, she said, but she would need her moistening cream, would you help her get it at the salon?
That was how you met her again.
At the salon, you hesitated before going in. You hadn’t thought of her in a while, had forgotten she existed, the way one forgets the gateman at the office until the next morning, or until there’s a newsflash claiming said gateman was a suspect in a robbery. You swallowed and told yourself everything would be alright, maybe you didn’t have it under control, but if you could survive the Head of HR, you could survive anyone.
She was not in when you entered. You made your order and paid in cash. Don’t worry about the balance, you said to the attendant.
Outside, the air smelled different. You thought it smelt of freedom, of escaping a trap. Later, you would think it was you savouring your last seconds of freedom.
You were at the car when you heard the clicks. Click, click, click. You could place those clicks even in your dreams. Heck, you could even describe the stilettos – bold red, the heels three inches long, with an open end that revealed nurtured toes, manicured toenails, succulent skin, longing, longing, longing.
Was it the devil? Was it you? Was it lust? Was it fate? You did not know. Only that you turned around and called at her.
She stopped. Her eyes narrowed on you and lit up with recognition. She glanced over her shoulders then came forward to you. There was a sign of tentativeness, and you wished the hesitation had been prolonged. She flashed a smile – revealing a careful dentition – and offered her hand for a handshake.
Hello. Good evening. What brings you here this time?
I needed to get this. You tossed the cream up.
That’s for a female. Your wife isn’t here.
It’s not what you think, you said. There was no side-chick. Your wife was tired and you thought to help her. She smiled at you and said that was so nice of you, most men she knew wouldn’t do that. Soon, you would ask her what type of men she knew, and she would tell you they were different from you.
She offered suggestions on how to apply the cream so Ada could achieve a glowing look. You thanked her and asked for her contact. Was she shocked? You cannot say for certain, but she took your phone and punched in her number.
That week, you mulled over her again. But you could not discard her, like you would your gateman. You thought perhaps it was because you were spending too much time at work, so you went home earlier and left home later. You drove Ada to work twice and picked her when she was done. You ate at a Chinese restaurant on Wednesday and sang Karaoke on Friday night. It rained at midnight, you woke to pull down the blinds. Ada did not stir. You slid in bed and thought about her.
The first time you called her, it was a mistake. It’d been a month, and you were almost forgetting her. She did not pick, and did not ring you up to ask why you called her. Two days later, you ran into her. Your conversation should have turned awkward, but it did not.
How are you?
I’m fine. I can’t believe we’re meeting again.
Yes. You called me once, right?
Huh. Yes. You made a mistake here, not admitting the call had been a mistake.
I’m sorry I couldn’t return the call.
It’s fine. I understand. You were probably busy with work.
I was. So, could we meet someday?
Why? Why? Why? You did not ask. Sure. Give me a call?
And so it started.
The second time you called, you were sitting in a restaurant bubbling with Friday’s midday rush hour. Ada was at home – her boss had ordered her, after her first trimester, that she needed to rest more.
She came in a short gown, bedazzling you. You swallowed as she spotted you. She flashed those set of teeth again when she sat. You’d ordered wine, but now you were worried it would spill on her sequinned white outfit, so you asked if she didn’t mind water.
I can handle wine, she said.
You talked. You talked away the afternoon. You talked till you were worried your throats would be empty, then you talked until words returned to your lips. What did you talk about? Everything. Why she was working as an assistant at a salon, though a degree certificate was wasting in her cabinet. Why she was not going to sleep with someone to get a job. Why being involved in politics was sickening. The pros and cons of stock investments. Basketball or Soccer. Pizza or Shawarma. Duplex or Storey buildings. You lived in a duplex, and you were having the life of it.
When she asked after Ada, you shot down a glass of wine.
We are here.
What? What do you mean by that?
This was inevitable, right?
Why we are here, meeting in a restaurant.
She slid her hands across the table and fondled your fingers. I can handle myself.
I don’t understand.
Or you don’t want to admit you understand? You want to sleep with me. Your wife doesn’t have to know, okay? And, having a child isn’t on my bucket list.
Why do we have to do this?
Because we both want it, she said.
You would think about it. You said you would call her. You called her on Saturday and drove to her neighbourhood. You met some blocks from her apartment. She wore sweatpants with blue stripes. You run well, you told her when you caught up with her, but she did not smile. Dusk cast orange hues on the trees and the sidewalk.
She wanted to know what your answer was. You swallowed and asked if she could slow down, give it a few weeks? She didn’t give a response. You asked where she was headed. Yoga, she said. You didn’t know she did yoga, you said. She told you, you don’t know a lot of things about me.
You exchanged texts over the week. She ranted about her boss, the woman was too shrewd, it was a wonder customers weren’t fleeing. You talked about the merger your firm was considering – how it would favour you if it pulled through. You asked if she could pray along.
I would try, she said.
That weekend, Ada suffered a miscarriage. You woke to sounds at midnight, and you thought it was raining. You were frozen for some seconds, but the consistencies of her groans snapped you out. Blood had flowed unto her leg. You carried her out of the room, past the living room that felt so artless, so suddenly artless, into the sedan.
You called the hospital as you drove. They were waiting when you got into the hospital and an orderly held you back as she was wheeled in. You paced the hallway, your fingers fisted. The orderly held you by the shoulder and hinted you needed a walk, a friend to talk to, something, anything.
You barrelled down the hallway and waited at the car. Some minutes before five am, the doctor said the pregnancy was lost. But Ada is fine, she said. You chewed the words over and over – but Ada is fine – as though that was a consolation. You wanted to see your wife, the doctor said she’d been sedated and would not wake till noon, earliest. You would wait, but the doctor said you needed a break, was there anyone you could call?
Her. You did not think twice. You hit her up.
Hey. Groggy voice.
Hi…I’m sorry if I woke you. Can I…don’t worry.
Hey, what happened?
You sniffed. Ada.
She jogged to the hospital – it was a ten-minute walk, and she didn’t want you to risk driving. You sat in your car and told her everything – you were angry, but you did not know who to be angry at. She listened, not interrupting once, then handed you a bottle of water she’d brought along. Dawn cracked and she suggested you come over to her place.
You informed the doctor you’d be back soon and left. She gave you directions and played a track by Enya as you drove. Her apartment was a two-bedroom flat on the first floor.
You stay in a storey-building, you said. She nodded.
Inside, she made tea while you waited at the entrance.
You like flowers, you said. She nodded. You tried to name them – the hibiscus sitting in a pot by the kitchen sink, the chrysanthemum in a holder on the living room’s table. She asked how your heart was, and you said, I don’t know.
How did you get to kissing? It happened. It was going to happen anyway, so she spilling tea on you only aided it. Ouch, she said, and rushed to the kitchen. She padded at the stain with a foam and you laughed, said, And here I was, afraid I would be the one to spill wine on your faultless gown the other day.
She stopped and looked into your eyes. You moved for the kiss. It was slow and measured and deliberate. It was buttery and peppery and appetizing. It was filled with desire and concern and longing and questions and answers and maybes.
You broke the kiss.
I’m sorry, you said.
Me too, she said.
I’m sorry, you said.
I love my wife.
You did not meet Ada at the hospital. The doctor said she’d asked to be discharged, flagged down a cab. You wanted to charge at the doctor, but there was something else in her eyes, something that had you breaking speed limits as you drove home, worried Ada might harm herself.
The house was quiet when you arrived.
You glanced back. She was sitting in the kitchen, on a stool, her phone in her hands. Her face was too bright.
Ada, what happened?
Where are you coming from?
The hospital. Where else did you think? Why didn’t you wait for me to return?
She stretched her phone at you. Your first breath froze. Your second breath rolled out of your tongue in a dying hiss. Your third breath made you gasp.
Ada. Ada, how did you get this?
It was this morning, yes?
Yes, you wanted to scream. Yes, you were pensive, you needed to talk to someone, she was the only one who you could think of. But you said none of this.
How long has this been on?
What do you mean? I’ve never been to her house until…
Until this morning? How long were you there? Did she show you her bed? Did you find her beautiful?
I… Nothing happened, Ada. Not…thing.
But you kissed.
You exhaled and looked at her – there was a resignation in her eyes. Later, when your sister asked why you left, why you didn’t explain everything, you told her, it would have been of no use. One of us would have had to leave. You would tell your sister reconciliation was impossible, because of all the days you should have teased an affair, it was the day Ada miscarried a second time.
Was it guilt? No. Was it ill-fate? Maybe.
The clipper whirs to a silence, and you swivel in the seat. All done, the barber says. You pay him and tell him to keep the change. He says thanks, then says if you are less busy tomorrow, there’s a bash happening at his place, and you are very welcome to attend.
Thanks bro, you say.
So see you tomorrow?
You step out the door and walk to your flat. It is only when your apartment falls into view that you remember you never responded to the barber’s question.
is an associate editor at Praxis Mag Online. He lives in Lagos and is currently studying Chemistry. He was shortlisted for the 2017 edition of Okike Prize for Literature in prose category, and his works have appeared on Brittle paper, Kalahari Review, and Praxis Mag Online. He won the 2018 Quramo Writer’s Prize. When he is not writing or reading, he keeps up with basketball and posts writing bits on Instagram @elumike_works.