The grating sound of the alarm was all she could hear.
She glanced at it, 5:30AM.
She turned it off and looked up at the ceiling. Another day, another journey.
She knew she had to get out of bed but her body was unwilling, the pains of the stress of the previous day still lingered raw beneath her skin.
The soft snoring of her husband broke her out of her reverie, she turned on her side to look at him, and he was fast asleep. She couldn’t remember when he came to bed yesterday night or was it the early hours of the new day. She was always too tired to wait up for him nowadays.
She got out of bed and headed towards the bathroom, mentally running through her plans for the day; it almost felt like routine to her now to do this.
She stepped inside and shut the door gently behind her so that her husband wouldn’t be disturbed by her morning preparations. When they were newly married, the door was always open; she would leave it wide enough for him to see her get ready. She smiled faintly as she remembered how he used to enjoy watching her. Now though, he complained that her morning rituals woke him up before schedule. The smile faded away.
She pulled off her night gown and threw it towards the pile of clothes at the corner. When she looked up in the mirror, her reflection gazed back at her with tired eyes.
She still looked good, she thought.
A bit more weight and a few stretch marks that just newly appeared, but she ignored them. Having children didn’t change her much physically but it had taken a toll on her mentally and emotionally.
“To be twenty and young again…” she sighed to her doppelganger in the mirror.
She stepped into the shower and turned the water on. For a minute she let the water cascade down her body, relishing the soothing effect it gave her as she stood underneath it. In much earlier times, her husband Desmond would have been in here with her, washing her hair and body. She sighed again, reining in her thoughts. No use remembering the past.
She had her bath quickly and stepped out with no time to waste. Thankfully, she had sorted out what she wanted to wear the night before. She dressed up and put her makeup on, all the while Desmond was still asleep, unaware of her activities in the bedroom. His clothes were in a pile at the foot of the bed. Probably didn’t even have his bath.
She took her bag and left towards the sitting room, the maid was already up and in the kitchen preparing breakfast.
“Cynthia.” she called out.
“Ma!” Cynthia rushed out of the kitchen.
“Good Morning Ma, how was your night?”
“Good Morning dear, it was fine, thank you,” She replied. “Make sure you wake up the kids at 6:15, and make sure they finish their breakfast before they leave for school.”
Cynthia nodded back to her as she listed out what she wanted the young girl to do when she was out, occasionally interjecting with “Yes Ma” when it was necessary.
“I’ll get to the market this evening to get a few things, just bring out the pepper and meat from the freezer, maybe around three.”
“No problem ma, are you not eating this morning?” Cynthia asked.
“No, not this morning, I’ll get something to eat in the office.” She replied as she headed out the door
“Okay ma, bye bye ma.”
As she was driven to work, she checked her emails and messages. Today was the financial audit of the company she worked for, so it was going to be a busy day. She had spent the last few weeks making sure her accounts were in order and nothing was amiss.
Thank God she had Cynthia, she thought. How would she cope without the extra help? Before the kids came, her life was more balanced, less stressful than it was now. These days, she felt it was all just too much; work, the children, her husband, and commitments in church even, it was hard not to feel like she was being pulled in different directions.
“That’s the plight of a modern day woman in Nigeria,” her friend Timi once said to her.
There was a story running on the radio station the driver was listening to. Something about a wife taking her husband to court over emotional abuse, with the various talking heads debating whether the woman was right or wrong. One of the debaters was mouthing off about how such things shouldn’t happen in Nigeria, in Africa even. She cringed when she heard this. She hated this. The blatant disregard of her opinion or her choice to carry out an action just because she was a woman and married to a man. The debate continued with callers chiming in with their own take on the subject; everyone it seemed had something to say.
Luckily the driver managed to avoid the early morning traffic. The car pulled up to the front of the office building. She climbed out hurriedly and stepped into the behemoth of glass, steel and concrete.
A quick flurry of ‘Hello’s to the staff present before she stepped into the elevator. The doors were about to close when a hand stopped them and forced them open. Yomi slid in casually and smiled at her upon realizing it was she inside the elevator.
“Good morning Ronke, lucky me seeing you this morning.” He said.
“Morning Yomi, how so?”
“You know I usually don’t get in this early.”
“Oh yeah, don’t you live across town?” She asked.
“Nope. Ikeja area, not so far from here. I just don’t get up early. No one to wake me up.” He replied.
She laughed at that, he was somewhat right, he had no wife to wake him up and if she were to believe the office gossip, he wasn’t involved with anyone. Not that it was her business anyway, just one of the numerous things Timi told her during lunch.
They engaged in a bit of chit chat as the lift continued upwards, talking about the usual things; family, past weekend activities, the current rise in the price of fuel and its unnatural but very common scarcity.
The elevator stopped at their floor, they stepped out to the corridor laughing, reminiscing over something that happened in the office at last year’s audit.
‘’Would you be interested in having lunch with me today?” He asked.
“I really don’t know yet…don’t know how busy I’ll be today.”
“I guess we’ll see how the day goes then.” He said before heading to his office.
“Alright then. Have a nice day.” She said before she went into hers. She wondered if he could tell she was nervous.
Just as she entered her office, the first of many emails came through. Before long, she was swamped with work; the auditors requesting for the necessary files and a meeting with the departmental heads following after.
Occasionally during the day, she caught sight of Yomi, sometimes she caught him staring at her, and the others were utterly random. She could not shake the feeling that he was watching her whenever she came out of her office and passed his.
Timi had told her during lunch once that some of the office gossip among the lady folk revolved around her.
“They think he likes you.” Timi had said, placing down her drink.
“Are they alright?” She responded, sipping from hers. “Abi they have forgotten I’m married?”
“They think he likes you and that you probably do too. They’re just waiting to catch you guys doing something,” She added, playing with her lunch with her fork.
“They’re always talking rubbish. I don’t know why you hang out with them.” Ronke said annoyed.
“To hear stuff like this, of course.” Timi winked at her and laughed.
Ronke had never before that day thought Yomi had an interest in her. He was always so friendly and nice towards her – to every one even. After what Timi said, she began to notice the subtle things she never took notice of – the way he sometimes looked at her when he thought she was unaware, the times he came to drop files he had no business with in her office that most often led to long conversations.
She had to admit to herself, she enjoyed the attention he showed to her, it made her feel special, and that was a feeling she had not experienced in a long time. She had gotten used to his frequent and so called “checking up on her” routine. She did not mind it. After all, he was really a nice man. A handsome one too.
That was until the past week. She had stepped out of her office to grab a file from the File room when she overheard two of the junior staff discussing about both of them.
“Ngozi told me she saw the two of them having lunch at that restaurant down the road.” The one called Shade had said.
“It’s either him or that Timi woman she spends her lunch with,” The other girl replied. Ronke could not remember her name.
“Ngozi said the way they were laughing, anyone who saw them would think they’re a couple,” Shade replied as they both girls headed towards the elevator.
“A married woman like her should know better, but the man is fine sha.”
“So it’s now a crime to be married and eat lunch with someone that is not your husband? Why is Ngozi always spying on people? That girl is so jobless.”
Both girls continued on their way, still discussing about her. Ronke came out from the door she had been behind. So that was what was being said about her in the office. For the rest of the week, she tried to avoid Yomi as much as possible, declining his invitations to lunch on the pretext that she was busy or already had plans with Timi. He didn’t seem to mind or notice she was acting differently towards him. At least that was what she thought. She had no idea what was going on in his mind.
The audit ran through most of the day. Always the same set of auditors from the audit company – a group of men in their fifties in navy blue plaid suits, all wearing glasses and looking like they all shared the same womb.
She was at her desk working on a memo when her phone pinged with a message, it was from Timi.
Free for lunch today? The text read.
I don’t think so. Already ordered something. She texted back.
I’m going with Tunde and that girl with the afro from HR. You’ve bailed on me again.
Not my fault. Boss asked me to work on a memo for him. He likes disturbing me with this nonsense! She texted back.
Leaving already. BYE! Timi replied, the rest of the message a series of emojis that Ronke did not understand.
As she dropped her phone back on the table, the photo of her family caught her eye, the smiling faces of the girls and the bemused face of Desmond immortalized on film. He had not called her yet today; maybe he was busy at work. She wished she had seen the girls this morning. She disliked not being with them in the morning, not getting them ready for school, and preparing breakfast for them. She did not want to miss any moment of them growing up at all. She decided to get them something as an apology for not being around this morning when they woke up.
She had her lunch in her office. After she was done, she went back to work. Better to wrap up this memo now and forget it, she thought.
Ronke looked up at her wall clock in the office. 3:45PM.
It was almost time for her to leave. She had to get to the market before heading home. She cleared her desk, and packed the files she needed, placed them in her bag and left her office and headed towards the elevator. The elevator doors opened and she stepped inside while checking her phone for messages. Only when she was inside, did she realize she wasn’t alone. Yomi was inside with her also. He had an odd look on his face which quickly changed to a smile before she could decipher what it meant.
“I called you during lunch hour,” He said to her. “Went straight to voicemail.”
“I’m sorry. I was busy at the time,” She said to him.
“Yeah. You’ve surely been busy a lot these past few days.” Was that sarcasm from him, she asked herself inwardly?
“It’s really not my fault.”
He smiled at her again, the odd look briefly came back before it was quickly hidden away again. She culled her thoughts together, anticipating the next thing he was going to say.
“If I didn’t know any better, I would have said you were avoiding me.” He said nonchalantly.
“Avoiding you? I’ve just being really busy. Even Timi has been complaining she hardly sees me nowadays.”
He still had the smile on his face but there it felt like a lie. Like a mask. It was in his eyes. They knew the truth and made no attempt to hide it. She tried to make her face as expressionless as possible.
Slowly, he moved towards her. She held her breath as he crossed the space between them. He stood right in front of here; she could smell his perfume as it infiltrated her nostrils.
“There’s no reason to lie. I know why you’ve been avoiding me–”
“Let me finish please. I know it’s because of what’s being said about us in the office.” He said.
She wanted to deflect. To say some small untruth. His eyes dared her to. She sighed.
“I just don’t feel comfortable with some of the things they’re saying,” Ronke managed to say as she turned her face away from them.
He held her face in his hand and turned it towards his so that she could look into his eyes. His face was expressionless but his eyes told her so much. Her right hand inched up of its own accord and placed itself on his chest, just above his heart. She could feel it beating, a steady beat in contrast to the maddening one hers did within her.
As he was about to say something, the doors of the elevator opened. They were in the lobby already. She broke free of his grasp and stepped out of the lift. No one was in the lobby, no one had seen them. He came close to her again. She placed her hand on his chest, trying to push him away. He was so strong and she was losing her senses, being in such close proximity with him.
‘Please don’t come any closer,” She begged.
“Is that something you really want?”
“Please… Don’t make things more complicated than they already are.”
He came towards her, brushing aside the hand she held out to stop him.
“You say one thing with your mouth but your eyes say something else,” he said, stroking a finger across her face.
“Please,” she begged her voice no more than a whisper.
He backed her into a wall at the corner, out of sight of the lobby; she offered no resistance.
“Please don’t.” she whispered again.
“I’m not doing anything you don’t want me to do.” he said, his voice like a soft breeze.
He held up her face again. His eyes were so expressive; they drew her into the abyss of their dark beauty. His face was so close to hers, their lips almost touching. She wanted to push him back; she wanted to tell she couldn’t do it and yet she made no move. All she could do was close her eyes.
Her phone rang. She jolted back to reality and gently pushed him away.
“I’m sorry,” she said to him before turning away. He tried to take her hand but she dodged him and started walking towards the lobby entrance. He ran up to her and turned her to him.
“Please let me go. I don’t want this.” she said to him.
“What do you think I want from you?” he asked
“I don’t know.”
She removed herself from his grip and turned back towards the entrance. She walked out of the building, afraid to glance back. She could not be drawn to his orbit again. Her car was already out front, so she climbed into the back seat. She saw him running towards the car but he couldn’t make it before the driver zoomed off. The car cruised out of the office compound into the streets of Lagos, leaving him behind. At least he could not follow her. She checked her phone and saw the missed call. It was Desmond. He sent a text also.
Hey. I’ll be home late today. See you when I get back.
Alright. I’ll leave dinner in the microwave for you. Love you, she texted back.
As the car drove along, she replayed everything that just happened. She tried not to think of what would have happened if her phone didn’t ring at the precise moment it did. If he had kissed her, would she have pushed him away or kissed him back? She did not know the answer to that question; she did not know what she would’ve done. Everything was just so confusing. She texted Timi to fix a lunch date tomorrow, she had to tell her what had happened today between her and Yomi. What was she going to do when next she saw him in the office, she could not avoid him forever. At least no one was there to see them today. It could have been much worse.
Ronke walked around the market, a multitude of other patrons moving around to mark things off their own lists. She had bought most of the things she wanted. Timi always made fun of her going to the market; she could not understand why anyone would go through the stress. She complained it was too dirty and crowded every time. Ronke had laughed at that when she heard it.
Ronke had given up a lot of things after she got married but she couldn’t give up the market. Sure she didn’t like how crowded or how dirty it was but she liked being there. It reminded her of her past. The days before the money, marriage and kids.
Here she was like everyone else and yet different from everyone. The traders and market women called out to come and buy their wares, exhibiting a visage of friendliness they only showed to potential customers. Ronke checked her list and saw the last thing she needed to buy were tomatoes.
She bought the tomatoes after a bit of haggling with the seller. The price of everything was up; everyone complained about it, even the traders themselves. She walked back to where the car was parked. She absorbed everything that happened around her. The cacophony of colors, sounds, and smells. The complete disorder of everything. No one here cared about the other person by their side or the people around them. Everyone lived within their own thoughts and world, a world no one else was privy to.
She moved through the crowd, navigating the human sea. She sidestepped the potholes and obstructions along the way. Her driver, William saw her coming and started the car. She put the things she had bought into the boot and entered the car.
“William. How’s the family?” she asked as he drove.
“Madam. We thank God. They are fine,”
“You told me last week your wife was pregnant again right?”
“Yes ma. This is the last one abeg. I don’t want to overdo and put myself in trouble.”
They both laughed at that. Ronke liked him a lot; he was always respectful to her and friendly to everyone else. Her Father-in-law had sent him to her when she bought the car. He was friendly during the interview and drove better than the others she had tested. Sometimes he told him about his arguments with his wife or the neighbor who always diverted water into his compound. She offered him advice when she thought it was necessary.
As soon as they got home, she stepped out of the car and walked into the house. She had to see her babies, she missed them so much. They were in the sitting room watching cartoons. As soon as they saw her they ran to her, she grabbed them both in a bear hug. Cynthia carried the things in the car while she played with the kids.
Her eldest, Juliette, was five and already so grown up. Her younger sister Naya was three, the baby of the house. Juliette took after her, all serious and responsible while Naya took after her Dad, with his carefree way of living life. She played with them, sang with them, and danced with them for a long time before she left to go and prepare dinner.
Ronke and her girls. She liked the thought of that, just the three of them. They ate together while watching cartoons in the sitting room. Afterwards she helped them with their homework and asked them what they had learnt in school during the day. When they were done, she helped them have their bath and brush their teeth. Naya was always so stressful during bath time. As she tucked them into bed, her little one asked;
“Where is Daddy?”
“He’s at work honey. He’s busy,” she replied
“When he comes back, kiss him for me Mommy.”
She kissed both of them goodnight and left their room. She entered hers and shut the door, undressed and put the clothes away. She stepped into the shower; she was so tired and sleepy. Desmond had not called yet. Maybe he’s in a meeting.
She came out of the bathroom and put on her night gown, at the cusp of sleep, she climbed into bed. What a day, she thought. She tried to replay the events of the day in her head but she was asleep in a moment.
Just like the other nights, she did not know when Desmond came to bed.