I always knew I am beautiful. From the time I was three, I had been turning heads. If there was ever an impromptu beauty pageant at a birthday party, I was picked to wear the crown. There was no contest; that was how good I looked. Everybody kind of expected me to turn as I did, after all my mother had been Miss Imo once. She didn’t make it to the Miss Nigeria competition; she had found herself pregnant few months before the deadline for entering the boot camp. She and my father married shortly after, and five months later, I came. I think she loves me best because I was her reminder of her glamorous past. She would look at me and say, ‘you were in my stomach when they flew us to Lagos’. Lagos must have seemed like the center of the universe for an eighteen year old girl who had never been outside Imo State. I digress.
As I was saying, I’m beautiful. I have Chinese face, or so I was told by my taunting mates all through primary and secondary school. Oh, those bad old days – hmmm. I hated school. I would step into the school premises and know that my entire day would be spent choking down tears. My long braids would be pulled by adversaries debating whether it was my real hair or whether I used ‘attachment’. I would be teased for having anya-pussy and termed a witch for it. I was called ‘skeleton’ – I was too thin and too tall. Everyday, after school, I would cry on my mother’s laps and she would remind me that I was the most beautiful being ever created. That I was special. That all those who spoke ill of me would swallow their words soon.
She was wrong.
I am staring at the mirror, looking at my almond eyes – the hazel colour of my pupil – seeing my long straight nose, my full lips, my oval face, my full arched brows, my ample burst, my slim waist, my rounded hips, long manicured fingers, flat stomach. I’m looking at all these, taking them in, and wondering why they haven’t been able to get me a husband. If men are creatures of sight, did someone curse all the ones I meet with blindness?
My cell-phone rings. It is Doris. I assigned Madonna’s ‘Take A Bow’ as the ringtone for when she calls.
“Hi, dear,” picking up the phone, I mumble.
“Yes?” I am tired; I don’t feel like speaking up.
“If you want to talk, talk like a human being naw. Which kain nonsense be dis?” She scolds. Doris works in a bank, and is perpetually irritated. She blames it on the stress she goes through at work.
I sigh. I move from the mirror, and walk towards my bed. I can feel it inviting me to lie down – I am really tired – but the sheet will still smell of his perfume. I can’t handle it now. So I go to the dressing chest once again, and slouch on the stool placed in front of it.
“My dear. You’re not the only one who works, you know. I’ve had a hectic day myself, so don’t use your bad mouth to add to it.”
“Oh, sorry.” Doris is as quick to apologize as she is to take offense. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“It’s okay. Where are you?” A record is blaring at the background. If she is home, it would be a sound-track from a chick-flick. Doris is a sucker for romantic movies.
“I’m in my house.” She lives in Asokoro, at the boys’ quarters of one ex-senator. The one bedroom apartment came tastefully furnished, and she hadn’t had to pay extra for it. I still don’t believe Doris’ claim that nothing went down between she and her landlord.
“Is Oga Senator in town?” I quip. Rather, my best attempt at quipping.
“How would I know? I just pay him his rent, and that’s all that connects us.”
“I hear! Just make sure his wife no pour you hot water o.”
“Which of them? You know he has four. Or is it five sef, I’ve lost count.”
“Hmmm. Matter don bad for you, then. Na all of them go join hand boil the water.” I say and laugh. My laughter sounds a little off to me.
“Abeg joo. By the way, what are you doing this evening?”
“Nothing,” I know what is coming next. Every couple of evenings, Doris calls me up on the same subject.
“Okay. Please eh, I need you to follow me somewhere.”
As always. “Where is it this time? Hilton? Le Meridian? Or Sheraton? Where is it happening this time?”
“You know naw. It’s this client o. My ogas at the office want me to get that account by fire by force.” Doris is a marketer.
“The story of your life.”
“The story of my life o, my sister. So, are you free? Can you come with me? Let him see fine babe, and not disturb me.”
“Ehen? So, he can turn around and start disturbing me.” I am guaranteed to get a complementary card slipped at me each time I went with Doris for her meetings. That was how I met my boyfriend – ex-boyfriend. Then, he stopped me going with Doris, although she doesn’t know that. She thinks I’m too engrossed in my new relationship to spend time with her.
“You tell him you’re not available.”
“You yourself, are you available? Has saying that ever gotten you anywhere?”
“My dear, I’ve vested interest. I can’t say it with strong mouth, mek dem no carry dem millions waka. You know how these things are?”
“I hear you.” But I’m lost in thought, looking around my room.
It is a studio room, big enough to combine as a bedroom and a sitting room. A plywood demarcated the room, to separate where I entertain my sparse visitors and where I sleep. It was my ex who sold the idea of the demarcation to me. He wanted privacy. Most of the time, he would be in the bedroom while I saw my friends and neighbours in the sitting room. He had a lot of say in what happened in my house, my ex. He had, after all, contributed half of the rent and had paid for virtually every other thing in here. I had moved in with only my suitcases, twenty-nine inch television (I have a forty-inch plasma now), mattress and a movable wardrobe. He bought the new television, a bigger mattress and bed-frames (so he’d be comfortable for when he sleeps), a bigger refrigerator, home theater system, and had my curtains professionally done. He made me a big girl: living in an upscale part of Maitama and driving a CRV. I bought the car myself though, a second-hand from Cotonou. He was going to buy me a new one, or so he did. Now I know he wouldn’t have.
“Azunna!” Doris yells, bringing me back to focus.
“What is it?” I’m really tired, I tell myself yet again. I want to lie down. Maybe I should do that, on the sitting room floor. I mopped the tile last weekend, it should still be clean.
“Are you okay?” She is concerned.
“My dear, it’s work o. We are doing our OPR. You know how it can be?” I work as a program assistant with an NGO. Around this time of the year, we prepare our books for the annual operation program review by our funders.
“Eya. Sorry o. Does that mean you won’t come with me this evening?”
Trust Doris to always look out for herself. “I’ll try.” I need the distraction.
“Ha, thank God. If you know how I was praying Sam will release you today eh. The way he colonized you now, I practically have to apply for visa to be able to see you.”
“Good enough for you, you won’t need visa again.”
“Eh? What happened? Did you people fight?”
“We didn’t fight. He said him no do again.”
“Ah ah! Just like that? What happened?”
“Hmm. Doris, it’s a long story. And I don’t have the energy to tell it, please.”
“Okay o. But, Azunna, you and these your relationships. It’s becoming worrisome o. This one is how many months now? Six months, not so? Check o, sure say dem no dey do you dis thing from una village?”
“This Akwa-ibom woman! Everything is juju with you. If the sun rises, na from village dem do am. If e set, na from village.”
“Oya na, stay there. Don’t go and do deliverance. I tell you, there are principalities and powers in high places. You need to fight them! You have to fight your enemies, fire for fire! Come, let’s worship together this Sunday naw.”
“I’m not coming.” Doris is a member of Cherubim and Seraphim. I can remember how scared of her I was the first time I learned of it. I’m past that now. That doesn’t mean that I plan to ever step foot into her church.
“No problem. Just go to any church and book for special binding and casting.”
I hiss. I was in the sitting room now. My memories still haunt me. “Doris abeg, I want to sleep.”
“Okay, sleep. I’ll knock on your door 7.30 sharp. Make sure you’ve dressed o.”
“I hear you.” I look up to the clock that hangs above my TV. The hour hand is on six.
“Shey you have something sexy to wear.”
“All for your client! You are not serious. You want to pimp me to him?”
“You never know. Since Sam has made his exit, you never know.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Okay, it’s not by force. See you by 7.30. Akan is driving us to the place. You know he’s not patient when it comes to waiting for women to dress. So, please eh, be ready and even waiting for us by then.” Akan is her off and on boyfriend. Actually, she is his off and on girlfriend.
“Yes ma.” I end the call, and lie on the floor, letting the phone slip off my palm.
I’m fatigued. I’m hungry. Above all, I’m miserable.