Abuja Dusk (Photo credit: Jeff Attaway)
Dusk’s New Dawn
By Veronica Nkwocha
Dapper. He stood out like a mannequin had just come to life, its perfect proportions in a fluid movement that made her want to dance to his rhythm. She spied from the corner of her eyes and saw he was wearing the ‘Oswald Boateng’ that had caught her eye at the last fashion event she attended in Ikoyi; where perfectly coiffed women walked nose in the air, their handbags dangling delicately from wrists upturned.
He stood at the doorway of the Hilton, Abuja and she realised in a slight panic that he was probably waiting for his driver. She had only a few moments to make her move. She stood up from the comfortable chair at the lounge and dropped her braids from its band shaking them loose. She tugged her blouse as she walked towards him and was pleased that her jade beads nestled perfectly just above the cleavage, hinting not obvious.
She stood next to him at the crowded entrance and pretended she was waiting for her car, then stretched looking around the corner. She stumbled as though her six inch heels had caught where the marble joined. He reached out to break her fall and her heart winked at his chivalry.
“I beg your pardon” he said apologising as he let go of her waist. Her eyes would do the rest. They looked into his, wide and imploring.
“So, so sorry, I shouldn’t have worn these sandals”, she said delicately angling her feet. She had never been prouder of the lady who did her pedicure. The sandals were ornamented with the same jade beads in a yellow rope twist, a thin line encircled as if she was wearing an anklet.
“Bingo”, she whispered silently.
“Hi, I’m Uzoma.”
“Pleased to meet you”, they exchanged, smiling.
It seemed like years ago. That day three years ago when he couldn’t stop looking at her. Her caramel skin soft as silk he almost reached out and touched it. They parted, him with a vice like grip on her bb pin number. He memorised it.
He was surrounded by mannequins fitting their garments to show their best features when she walked in the next day bearing sushi from Uptown Asian Cuisine; their shared love discovered on that long phone call when they couldn’t stop chatting. They had lunch in his studio, he moved the clutter so she could sit and he was glad she didn’t mind.
Their love story began, a gentle drift. A lovingly crafted paper boat set to sail on calm waters floating tenderly away from the beach, both of them oblivious to the oncoming sogginess.
“Oh Mary”, he whispered.
She was the sassy and sparkly diamond that lit up his life from a darkening limbo when she interjected herself into it, her jade pendant drawing him in to her heady sweetness.
He sat on the bench fleeing from another argument, puffed on the inside filled up with her constant dribble; “cloying, needy and self-righteous to boot”, he muttered.
He didn’t very much care for her preening perfection anymore. He sat in the garden staring at nothing, his appearance was of one fixated on something afar off, his gaze and his back, rigid. He exhaled allowing the garden and setting sun to wash over him, their beauty tempering his insides and calming the annoyance that he had allowed consume him earlier. The evening breeze felt cool, their caress softened his thoughts and his eyes smarted with unshed tears; he was sorry for hurting her and he would forgive her again. And again, as always. But it left him empty inside.
They fought over the most mundane things now; whether the newscaster’s blouse was purple or lilac, whether the Governor of a particular state was worse in his stealing of public funds than his predecessor, whether he was falling out of love with her because he didn’t notice her new hairstyle.
He would rather stay in his study, a tiny building at the back of their garden creating ‘masterpieces’, designing clothes and visualising fabrics doing things that only he could make them do. He won the ‘most likely to succeed’ at design school after all. Or be at the orphanage on the other side of town, sharing his skills with the army of eager children gently encouraging them which he did unfailingly once a week.
He would much prefer to hang out with his best mates whom he had known from his ‘A Level’ days when he was fresh out of Nigeria exploring London and then graduating from university five years later. They spent the subsequent three years battling to break into the fashion world as the next big thing. The days when Claudette who was first his best friend and then his fiancée, Japheth and O’Neal and him would pub hop and attend fashion soirees and tease their innards with strange recipes from a hundred restaurants. They would traipse Paris savouring the food and allow themselves get steeped in the language, Claudie urging them on to perfection.
He remembered those days as the most he had laughed, everything excited them; they were on the brink of something new and fresh, suffused with hope. But Claudette had died of stomach cancer. It was sudden and quick and in his brokenness, he had thought to move away from everything that reminded him of her and moved back home to Abuja as one of a large wave of returnees. He had invested the pay-out from her life insurance in a smart studio and show room hoping to ride the tide of the burgeoning entertainment industry and capital city oil wealth but it had petered away. A gaping hole of overheads ate away at the substance until there was nothing left, leaving him a shell of his former boisterous self.
Mary’s face had the pinched look of extreme disappointment. ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ was her current most favourite phrase. Her friends would laugh at one of her many jokes peppered with the phrase but for her it had a deeper meaning. Uzoma. She kept the pretence of a happy thriving home but hated the inside. Nothing was ever right lately, she couldn’t put her finger on it. As though something big was about to happen. Maybe it was the increasing number of fights or the silences and the emptiness on his side of the bed night after night. His excuse for holing away in the study was always another inspiration for designs that died a putative thread in an unending maze.
‘What was he up to, how did she get into this mess?’ The ‘why’ was like a tail that just kept tagging along, wagging and nudging her mind into a niggling that carried on unabated, she became a detective prying through his things. She didn’t like what she found.
Uzoma was planning to leave her. Not only was he a failure and a disappointment, he actually had the gall to shame her. How else would one explain the letter accepting him into a program with a designer in France? He knew very well she couldn’t afford to resign her top job and leave Nigeria for the time it would take for him to complete the program, and in a country where she didn’t even speak the language.
For a moment she paused enraged at his lack of feeling, his disappearing into a world she just couldn’t enter. It happened constantly, he would lapse into French when angry and hold monologues. Once he ignored her and carried on for at least five minutes speaking to himself. She gave him her back and was initially bent over in anger over the piano stool. Then she thought to record his litany on her phone.
She took the recording to a friend’s friend who spoke French and the translation broke her heart. “Why won’t she leave me alone? Let me be. Go on with you pretentious ways and leave me to my failures ‘madam image over substance’.”
What saddened her the most was his ungratefulness, ‘Image over substance’? He was the one without substance she fumed. She had married him when all he had were his good looks, a talent in creative design and ties to a rich uncle who couldn’t be bothered to have a relationship with them. If only she had known his business was on its death throes. All she got was a fancy wedding, the uncle’s famous last name which had all her friends swooning in envy and that was it! No connections or contacts or even further visits to or from the government Minister. They had been forgotten by Uzoma’s late father’s older brother in a land of pedigrees and cronyisms. She had married beneath her station blinded by love she fumed, and then she was contrite seconds later, a shamefaced smallness for being so shallow.
Still she thought, rekindling her anger, she should be the one seeking to extricate herself from the mess. She would be better off without him, carry on without the sad puppy look Uzoma wore she was sure, to annoy her. She lit up with expectation. If he left for France, it would be the perfect excuse to still have the air of a respectable married woman without the appendage of duty that weighed her down. It had chipped away at her initial obsessive love until there was almost nothing left to cling to, leaving her empty.
“Uzoma”, she called as she hurried to the garden.
He turned to look at her. She stopped suddenly transfixed by the sunset, she put her hand on his shoulder to steady herself. He put his hands over hers and he rose from the bench and drew her to him. He cuddled her close. She looked at him as the light bathed his face and she felt his pain. He sighed.
‘This man’, she thought to herself, there was something about him that melted her insides. She wanted to wipe his hurt away, to make things better. He didn’t speak of it but she saw it with sudden clarity as he drank in the glow of evening.
She put her head on his shoulder and they stood until the sun sank slowly from sight, the orange and gold hues embraced white brilliant clouds lingering for a while and then fading into greys and a deepening dark blue.
They walked into the house and sat, knit together.
“Mary, I know I haven’t been easy to live with. I suppose in failing, I have allowed myself stay down and hurt you in the process. Thank you so much for holding us together. For working so hard for both of us. All I ask is that you bear with me a little longer inugo? Please my love?”
“You know what honey, what are we if not imperfect? Yes, I’ve been upset, confused, hurt by your withdrawal. I’ve said things in anger and have been focused more on the things that are wrong in our relationship rather than see how we can work through this.” She said clutching at the ring of hope she heard in his voice.
“Here’s my surprise. I acted on impulse and applied for a program in France and was accepted but I turned it down. I also sent in a portfolio for the remaking of the bestselling movie ‘King Ramses Temple’ and it’s a shoe-in to my amazement. So we will be busy in preparation for the shoot which starts in six months. It’s a dream come true.”
“That’s fantastic, I’m happy for you. Happy that you are getting the recognition you deserve cos you’ve worked hard for this. I do love you Uzoma.”
“I love you my angel”, he kissed her, his breath grazing against the jade beads nestling in the dark.