Of all places, Michael takes Erica to The Scissors, the iconic weirdo’s restaurant. Its swing, glass door flings open to an outdoorsy space that traps heat outside. Today, it’s packed full. The warm atmosphere riddles with the waft of cinnamon and garlic, the clinks of forks and knives, Fela’s “Zombie”, and chatter mingled with laughter. Michael and Erica thread past the first table where a beagle puppy rips a chicken wing apart, past a narrow-eyed lady spoon-feeding her cat. He pulls out a chair for her at the next table. Beaming, he goggles at the cat lady and plops down. To his right, a lady and gentleman with halved love tattoos on the side of their necks, budge chess pieces.
Disturbing his observations, Erica taps his palm, “Why this place? It’s our third date here.” He shrugs. “Anything on your mind for dinner?”
“I have no eye for good food. Just choose.”
“Not again,” she says as she wobbles her head. “I have been choosing since our first date. Take the lead. Be the man.”
He sighs. He has been challenged and it paralyzes him. Everything appals him these days, and first on that list is his mum’s failing eyesight. Glaucoma, the doctor diagnosed her. Nothing can be done since it was detected late. Very soon, she will be blind and his next fear—seeing her blind—would tower before him, but he’s not one to noodle over anything. He did his best. He drove her to the best hospital and did something he hadn’t done since he left college—he prayed. All he can do now is to fulfil her wish.
“Fried rice and jollof rice. Mixed,” he says to the waiter and flings the food thought out of his mind. Whatever he picks, she would eat. At the chess table, the gentleman scratches his small beard, his other hand hovering over a bishop. His puffy-cheeked lady smirks and sips from her red wine glass. Beside the chessboard, their plates of rice and stew sit untouched, growing cold. What would he do without all these oddities? On their first date, a dreadlocked guitarist with lots of facial piercings was here, fiddling his strings, and all the while, Michael crooned, bobbing his head, his eyes partly shut. Twice, he widened his eyes, wondering what glued her to the seat. He wanted to ask what she saw in him, or what she had been told that she had agreed to the date. He was an ordinary guy with a six-figure job, a two-bedroom penthouse in his name, and some pocket change. Still, his kind would have to wait in line to see her for two reasons. One, she was born into money, and two, she had the guts to abandon all that money to go make her own. The word on the street is that interested men dropped their dignity just to be around her. Perhaps that’s what held her to her seat, his incuriosity.
The waiter serves them. Michael digs into the rice and pours his Maltina into a glass while Erica twiddles with her spoon. “Do you want me?”
“Do you want me?”
Another challenge. His mother must have told her to ask that, for her impatience was definitely burgeoning. His spoon clangs as it drops on the plate. He should skedaddle out of here and go dive into sleep, so he would be fresh-eyed tomorrow to close the books on the Badmos’s account. The external auditors would be coming next week. As the chief accountant, he would be closing late throughout next week. But then his mother’s wish. Her eyes.
He huffed, goggling at her. “Of course, I want you.”
She sniggers. “Be straight with me. Why are you here?”
“Your mother’s wish?”
A whoop darts from the lady playing chess. “Checkmate,” she yells, throwing her arms into the air. “Drink up!” The gentleman fills his glass with wine and gulps everything. “You will get drunk again, today,” the lady says.
“Weird couple,” Michael blurts.
“Crazy,” Erica says.
When he arrived home after the first date, his mother was lying on her side on the sofa that faced the front door. She had switched off the light and only a fraction of the passage light sneaked into the sitting room. This was her way of warming up to the dark before it would finally consume her.
“How did it go, the date?” she said after he turned on the light. He gasped. She knew that look, she said. It wasn’t a great date. She sat up and patted the sofa she sat on. “Come, sit.” He perched beside her. “Everything is now a shadow,” she said. “I can see you but as an outline, your edges flattened, darkened.” Her palm sloped along his arm. “I don’t have time anymore. Erica is a good girl. I need my grandchildren. When can I see them.” Tears slinked out of her eyes.
He embraced her. “You will see them soon.”
“This is my wish.”
Later that night, he texted Erica, Can we have a date tomorrow?
He held her hand as they trotted into The Scissors on their second date. They settled into their seats, and he asked about her day.
“My day!” She picked up her fork and knife, “I wish you didn’t ask. Wish I could leave everything, the lazy workers. You need to see these girls, always gossiping at the counter. Even eyeing male customers. And God, the customers!” She scrunched up her lips. “Lousy customers. They always want to see me. They say things like, ‘Manager, your meat pie is not brown,’ or ‘Manager, the coke we were served tastes like Pepsi.’ Imagine! Can’t wait to leave.” Tight-lipped, she chewed her goat meat.
“You want to throw away being the manager of⸺”
“No. I want my own. A small place in the G.R.A., where the high and mighty live.” She dropped her fork and knife. Her elbows propped up on the table, she rested her chin on her fists. “You see, the rich don’t complain, they just spend. All I need is to save some more.”
Chewing his meat, he ogled her flaming-red lips. She was beautiful. If only he were another man, he would have made her his. But he wasn’t. He was Michael—forty-five, in love with someone he couldn’t be with outside his bedroom. How long would he keep up with the sneaking around? He didn’t need to be in love to be married. He needed to follow the world’s norms. Get married and see Darey on the side. Every of his kind was doing it.
Don’t always tell the truth. This is his motto. The truth had sprung to stab him the few times it left his mouth. During his final year in secondary school, a girl who had been crushing on him came up to him while he was alone in the class corridor and asked him to be her boyfriend. He laughed and the embarrassed girl asked why he laughed and if she wasn’t beautiful enough for him. He said no. Late that night, she was rushed to the hospital after she slit her wrist.
“You haven’t answered me,” Erica says. “Because of your mother’s wish?”
“What? No.” Michael scratches his head. He has to do this. For his mother. For her eyes. “I like you, and I feel myself falling in love with you.”
“Falling in love with me?”
“We should be together… a couple,” he says, grabbing her fingers. “Marry me.”