“Whenever Talatu hears Olo’s name, two things happen: first, she calls her a witch; second, she forgets that we three were once childhood best friends and grew up shaping the same sand.”
Isn’t it funny how everything becomes urgent when you have little time to do them? That last project you stayed up all night to complete only because you had a deadline to beat the next day? Having six months to live feels the exact same way.
Talatu is seated beside me, singing along with Sade Adu’s “Sweetest Taboo.” She sounds like she’s swallowed a huge toad. On her right arm are different tattoos, the latest being a sketch of my face next to a quote which reads, Sex is art in motion.
She says this new addition of hers is nothing, and I should think of it as her own way of remembering me when I am gone. The very idea sounds bizarre to me. Why get a tattoo of my face when a super-sized photo can suffice? But hey! We are talking about Talatu here; everything about her is bizarre.
I look out the car window, and for the first time, a lot on the street hits me in a different way. Cancer will do that to you, I guess. Suddenly, everything you think matters doesn’t anymore, and the little things become important. Out there, everything moves in a frenzy, from young peddlers pushing their wares in impatient driver’s faces, to the boisterous shouts of conductors in green and yellow commercial buses.
These are the different faces of people chasing survival in their own little way. The ones who choose to live life despite their circumstances. Yet I wonder as I do these days, what purpose does it serve, if eventually everything we work hard for ends up in the hands of those who never understood the passion that drove us to get it? However, do we relent? This chasing and gaining? Should our fear stop us? I don’t think so. For whatever good we spread in our limited time makes our efforts worthwhile.
I turn to face Talatu. She has finally stopped singing—thank heavens—maybe now would be a good time to tell her what happened yesterday.
“Olohirere came to visit me at the hospital,” I say softly, as though announcing a visit from my ex-husband’s former mistress (now wife) means nothing. But my announcement must mean a lot to Talatu, however, for she slams hard on the brake with a force that flings me towards the windscreen like a rag doll. The only thing that prevents me from flying through the glass is the seat belt fastened across my chest.
“Talatu!” I yell.
Thankfully the road is clear and we have caused no accidents. Talatu’s face beside me does not spare as much as a crease for the road; it turns on me with hawk eyes.
“How on earth did that happen? What did that witch want?” Her lips tighten, and the purple veins around her neck strain against her light skin. Whenever Talatu hears Olo’s name, two things happen: first, she calls her a witch; second, she forgets that we three were once childhood best friends and grew up shaping the same sand. Sometimes, I swear, I cannot remember whose husband Olo slept with; hers or mine?
“She and Maruf are getting a divorce,” I reply.
Talatu’s loud laughter does not startle me. The length however is unexpected. She stops after a while and just when I think she is done, she starts all over again, tiny tears forming at the edge of her eyes.
“Well, isn’t karma a bitch?” she says gleefully when the laughter passes. “But wait o! What did she think would happen if she told you? That you would suddenly get amnesia and forget she fucked your husband?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. It does not matter to me why Olo came; what matters is that she did. I do not tell Talatu this, instead I say, “She mentioned he impregnated her sister too. She said she’s sorry.”
Talatu’s face brightens up again, and though she tries to keep a straight face, the corner of her lips curve in a little grin. Her shoulders begin to shake with poorly constrained mirth till she bursts into another round of laughter that lasts almost a minute. She finally calms down, puts her keys in the ignition and drives off.
For a long time, I blamed Olo alone for my broken marriage. I bought into this idea that Maruf was only a man, and it was in his nature to cheat. So in preparation, I did what most women do: I accepted it as part of his weakness and waited. For, you see, to accept means you are ready for the inevitable. However, the truth is infidelity is a choice. It’s not something written in the skies as inevitable. No forces beyond Maruf’s control pushed him to fuck my friend. There were no charms involved! No spells! Just his itching piece of shit!
We arrive home to find my mother waiting for me on one of the cane chairs placed outside the house. As always, she is impeccably dressed; this time, in a fitted white jumpsuit and yellow courts. Her braids are styled neatly in a bun, and her neck adorned with a teal pearl necklace. I greet and invite her in. Talatu would have greeted her too, but she knows there won’t be a response, so she heads upstairs.
“How are you doing?” she asks as she perches at the edge of the sofa, her spine as straight as a rod and her Chanel purse clutched tightly in her fists. Her eyes take in the sparsely decorated room, artfully avoiding mine.
“Fine, Mother.” From years of experience, I know it’s the only acceptable answer. Details of feelings have after all never been encouraged.
There are a few seconds of awkward silence, then she looks at me with an emotion I can’t quite place. Concern? I wonder, but I am not sure.
“You must come home,” she says. “You should spend time with your family. This is no place for .…” She pauses in mid-sentence as her eyes circle our sitting room with a wrinkled nose, as though she breathed a different air here—stinkier air. She continues: “a Benson. Your friend is not of our social class, she is a nobody! A riff-raff! Come home.” She says the words ‘your friend’ with a pinched expression, deliberately ignoring the fact that Talatu’s family and ours had once been in the same social class.
One year ago, I would have followed her home dutifully. But things are different now, I’m different and her words no longer affect me. “Thank you, Mother, for your sincere concern but I’m fine here –.” For good measure, I add, “With the riff-raff.”
She glares at me for a full second then storms out of the house with her chin raised high, a faint trail of Chanel No. 5 in her wake. I hold no hope that I will see her again. I guess my boldness scares her, but as I said, death changes things.
All my life I lived under my mother’s thumb. She commands, I obey. I studied law because she wanted me to; married Maruf because, somehow, marriage to someone outside my social class was abominable. I stayed married to a cheat for two years because mother wondered what her friends would say if I ended my marriage so soon. Your daughter cannot keep a man! Just imagine: at her age and already divorced!
Yes, I could have stayed and worked on my marriage but Mother never suggested that. She thought it was ludicrous that I complained. “It is what it is,” she would say. “Men will always cheat!”
In retrospect, I guess mother made it easy for me to blame her for my poor life choices. I used her need for control as an excuse not to live my life. However, the more I think of it, the more I realize that nothing but fear held me back; fear that I would fail if I defined my own path; fear of gossips if I divorced my cheating husband just after two years of marriage; fear to stand up to Mother, to stand up for myself; fear that I wasn’t good enough, for, or by, myself.
So instead of doing the ‘unpopular’, I let my mother and society dictate for me. After twenty-six years, I find now that I am no longer afraid. I have cancer. I will die and there is nothing more terrifying than that. Or what more is there to fear?
My only regret is that it took me six months to realize this.
Post image by Vincent Giersch via Upsplash
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