Kachi held the door knob tightly as it turned inside her fist, hoping to seize its sounds in the spaces of her fingers. It didn’t work—the door snapped and clicked and groaned as she tried to push it open gently. She cursed under her breath, using those sharp dirty words her mother would slap her for. The traitor door creaked happily as she tried to close it behind her, the soft of their welcome mat eating up the heel of her shoes. She balanced and bent to slip the first shoe off so she could tip toe over the dark hardwood and sneak into the bathroom. Maybe he would hear the water and just think she’d woken up to pee or something. Pressing her palm against the door, she wobbled as she lifted up a foot, the wine from earlier still winding through her.
“Leave those on.” She stopped, paralyzed by the quick lash of Kemi’s voice in the dark.
“You’re awake,” she managed, as she stood straight again.
“You’re late,” he replied, switching on the lamp he was sitting by. “What happened to being back by eleven?” Dirty yellow light crawled over him, settling in the neat carvings on his cheek. He kept the gouged side of his face in the shadows, out of habit, hiding the hollow curve ran from his temple and broke open his eyebrow. Kachi remembered the morning he told her how he got it, about the riots in Aba thirteen years ago. He’d been caught in a scuffle and the tip of a cutlass had danced a short dance across his face. Kemi had spoken with the sun rising over the shiny tight skin and Kachi watched it reflect off his body and the potholes in his eyes. Now the dim lamp was gutting new holes inside his pupils, and her nerves had gone cold.
“Sorry, Kemi. Ewela iwe. I couldn’t find a cab,” she said, letting her purse drop to the floor. He understood Igbo from all the time he spent in the South, but he refused to speak it. If she was him, she would too. The purse fell by the welcome mat, spilling its handle over her feet. He stood up like an stretching story and motioned with a large graceful hand.
“Remove your coat and don’t lie to me, girl.” His voice curled like shaved slivers of iron. When he spoke English, his accent was castrated. You couldn’t tell where he was from unless you saw him; other immigrants glanced at the lines of his cheeks and automatically greeted him in Yoruba. Her fingers shook as she unzipped the heavy wool and let it crash off her shoulders and around her feet. The dress she’d worn out was short, riding up her bare thighs. Kemi raised an eyebrow at the raw exposure of her legs.
“Where are your stockings?” Kachi felt the catch in her stomach make a pilgrimage to her throat.
“They tore, I had to take them off…” She looked down at her feet as she spoke, wrapping her fingers nervously in the hem of the dress. Kemi strode towards her, the air around him hot like floating coals.
“You had to take off your tights?” She nodded, a tight movement.
“In the winter like this? Pele…” He ran his hand over her thigh, over the chilled flesh, and she gasped as he slid it between her legs. “Well, at least you’re not cold everywhere,” he drawled. Kachi shook as he withdrew his hand, humiliated. Kemi walked around her, inspecting her body, trailing a finger over her belly and the green silk stretched over it. His girlfriend closed her eyes as his breath heated the side of her neck.
“Did he fuck you, baby?” It was like a blow sinking below her diaphragm, evacuating the air from her chest. How did he know! She’d even showered before she left, scrubbing off the salt stains. He chuckled against her skin, air combing the fine hairs on the back of her neck as if he could pluck her thoughts. “You smell like a soap I don’t recognize” he explained. “But you also just look…sated. Well fucked. Was he good?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, words tripping over each other in their speed. He seized a handful of her hair, dislodging pins from her updo. The small pieces of metal clattered to the floor and her neck arched back, hard.
“Don’t lie to me, Kachi. We’re better than that, now.” The way her spine was bending under his hands reminded her of this one night when he spilled hot wax on her back over and over again, telling her in a smoked voice how they had burned down the mosque and how his father never came home that day and how his mother changed his name because they had shared it and she did not want to keep calling for a spirit husband. Kachi had watched the flame glow in the mirror of their headboard as she writhed under his hands, her voice gagged behind her lips. Later that night, he told her the secret name, his name, that one that used to belong to his father. When she said it, the Arabic full as she begged, when she shuddered and called it, he bit into her shoulder and came as hard as a falling building, her blood slick against his teeth and water trembling down his face. Now, he was unzipping her dress and easing it down that same shoulder, running his tongue over the crescent toothy scar.
“Did you call out his name?” he asked her, his fingers pushing into her hip, releasing her hair. Kachi covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head, whimpering.
“Are you sure?” he persisted, pushing the dress past her waist.
“I would never,” she whispered, her voice breaking. The crumpled green stretched past her hips then collapsed at her feet. He knelt down and gently lifted her feet, still wrapped in black leather, one by one, out of the pool of green. Kemi was a large man, solid like quarried stone, but he held her feet like her bones were eggshells, yet with a vague threat. I could crush you, if I decided not to love you anymore.
“I think you are lying to me,” he said gently, rotating her ankle in his palm thoughtfully. “It’s fine if you called out his name. I’m sure it felt good to have him in you. Tell me, though, did you even think of me? Did I enter your mind?” His voice had solidified as he spoke, starting like water and ending like lead. Kachi felt her eyes tear up, her chest flooded as he stood up before her, her body shaking in her underwear.
“Please, Kemi!” she pleaded. “Biko—” He covered her mouth with his mouth and drank in the rest of her sentence with greed.
“Quiet, quiet,” he whispered. “Just tell me this…’ She sniffed and wiped her eyes, smearing black on her fist, and he grinned at her. The new moon dissecting his eyebrow whitened with his smile. “Did you have fun?”
There was a pause as they looked at each other, and then the air adjusted. Kachi’s mouth curved and her spine straightened like a knife as she picked out the remaining pins from her hair, shaking her thick hair down. She brushed stray tears off her cheek and kissed him back, snapping into herself again.
“I always do, love.” She swatted at his arm and smiled at him. “Now stop teasing me! Unless you’re going to follow up…” Her sentence evaporated into a suggestive question mark. He scoffed and threw his arm over her shoulders.
“You must be crazy. After all the fun you’ve already had? You’re insatiable.”
“You love it,” she countered, finally kicking off her shoes.
“Yeye girl,” he said, yawning. “Abeg, let’s go to bed.”
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Post Image: photo of malian singer and model Inna Modja Via
Akwaeke Zara Emezi was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria. She currently lives in Brooklyn, and has been writing since she could write. Her work has been published by Raw Fiction and her first full length manuscript, Somadina, was selected as a finalist for the New Visions Award by Lee and Low Books. Her short fiction is available on her website at www.azemezi.com.
I encountered her through a good friend and have since read many of her writings which I genuinely love. In the coming weeks, I will post other stories by her here on Brittle Paper. One day I will say what I find captivating about her work. Until then, let me know what you think by leaving a comment.