My gasp miraculously does not attract the men’s attention, so passionate is their smooch. When I gently close the door, the jamb connects with a soft but audible click that makes me wince.
“Who’s there?” Chidubem calls hoarsely from the other side of the door. No doubt, they have been roused from their embrace by the sound of the door closing.
Not wanting to be caught in the awkward position of being the witness to their indiscretion, I hurriedly tiptoe away from the door, trying not to let my footfalls echo in the hall way. Safely inside the living room, I walk briskly the rest of the way outside to the party.
I look around to see the guests partying and making merry. I spot my people standing in a corner; Mercy is laughing heartily at something Ebuka is saying to her, Mimi is laughing too, while Chinwe is smiling benignly. They are all nursing plates of assorted food items.
Observing them, I suddenly feel all alone. I find myself wishing I am as blissfully ignorant as everyone else is of what is presently going on in one of the numerous rooms in the building.
Mimi spots me and waves me over, drawing the group’s attention to me.
Switching on a smile, which I hope is bright enough to mask the horror that I feel, I walk over to them.
“Go and take food,” Mimi says.
“Yeah, there are lots to eat and drink,” Mercy says, dropping some emphasis on the word ‘lots’.
“I really don’t feel like eating anything,” I say with a little grimace.
“Hmm,” Mercy snorts, rolling her eyes. “Don’t eat o! At least, you won’t say it’s because the food was not enough at Mercy’s birthday.”
“No! It’s not like that…” I protest weakly, startled to find myself feeling more sorry for her, than irritation at her attitude.
“Where is your boyfriend sef?” Chinwe interrupts.
My heart starts to beat a fast tattoo.
“He went to see his friend, Chetanna, off,” Mercy replies.
Of course, I think sardonically, the beating of my heart slowing down to normal.
“He has stayed long o,” Mercy adds. “Maybe I should go check on him.” She turns and makes to move away from us.
“No!” I burst out, more loudly than I mean to, involuntarily reaching out my hand to stay her movement by grasping her arm.
Mercy stares at me with more than mild surprise etched on her face, the same expression that is duplicated on the faces of my other three companions who are also staring at me with some interest.
Smiling brightly to mask the discomfiture I feel at my outburst, I grasp at the first thing that pops into my head: “I mean, stay a little bit longer with us.” Oh God, I did not just say that.
“Huh?” Mercy and Chinwe grunt in unison, their surprise now graduating to mild shock.
“I mean…” I try again, tuning up the wattage of my smile, “you, the birthday girl, is bantering with just us, and that makes us like the popular clique.” I cringe inwardly at how lame I sound, and decide there and then that I could never take on acting as an alternate career.
“Hey baby!” Chidubem coos just then, unwittingly saving me from my lame attempt to save him. He materializes by Mercy’s side and encircles her waist from behind with his arms.
“Sweetie!” Mercy coos back and leans back into him, all smiles and basking in the attention. “You were gone for quite a while.”
“I’m so sorry, baby. I lost track of time, gisting with Cheta. You know how we can be when we start,” he explains, bending to kiss her neck.
Oh I know exactly how you were, I think as the two of them drift away from us. I find myself wondering which emotion should take precedence within me. I do not know if I should be relieved that he didn’t catch me spying on him and Chetanna, or be nauseated that he is probably going to use those same lips that had been claimed by another man to kiss the unsuspecting Mercy, or feel pity for Mercy, who clearly doesn’t deserve my empathy.
“Ouch!” I gasp when I feel a stinging pain on my arm. I turn to glare at Chinwe who has just pinched me. “What did you do that for?”
“You were staring at Chidubem,” she whispers in an amused tone, “as if you too are falling for the money bag.”
“You’re just not serious,” I reply, with a little grimace which I try to hide with a chuckle. “Can we go now, please?”
“Yes oh! I’ve been out for long. Let me go and take care of my son biko,” Mimi pipes up, wiping the chicken grease from her fingers with a tissue. “There’s only so much a help can do for you, you know.” She lifts her clutch purse and calls, “Mercy dear!”
We turn to watch Mercy and Chidubem looking into each other’s eyes and whispering inaudibly – sweet nothings, from the frequent chuckles that they interject the dialogue with.
“Hey!” Mimi calls again, snapping her fingers to rouse them. “You two should chill till your guests are gone, ejoo!”
“Jealousy!” Mercy returns good-naturedly, breaking away from Chidubem’s embrace. Realizing that we are all now holding our handbags and purses, she says, “You’re leaving already?”
“Yeah, we have to leave now,” Chinwe replies.
“You’re not staying for the dance?”
“There’s a dance?” Mimi asks wistfully. I’m sure she wishes she could stay and dance.
“Ehen now! Did you not get the programme of events?” Mercy queries.
“No, we didn’t o!” Mimi replies. She looks close to tears, much to Chinwe’s amusement.
“But we have to leave anyway,” Chinwe says in a firm voice that brooked no arguments. “Happy birthday once again, Mercy.”
“Ok then, your loss,” Mercy says flippantly, taking Chidubem’s hand and making to leave. “Thanks for coming, and collect your souvenirs at the exit.”
I am full of relief as we get into my car, and I begin to drive out of the building, which a part of my brain is beginning to refer to as Sodom and Gomorrah.
“So, what’s your deal?” Chinwe rounds on me immediately we are well away from the house. This time, on the drive home, she is seated beside me, while Mimi and Ebuka are in the backseat.
“Meaning?” I feign ignorance.
“You came back from easing yourself, and started acting like you saw a ghost. So, I ask again, what did you see?”
“You are on your own, biko,” I bite out, making it clear that I am not in the mood for jibber-jabber.
She starts fidgeting with my car stereo, which for some inexplicable reason, I find annoying.
I wonder why you didn’t go to sit with your boyfriend at the back, ashiri gbaka ute, I think sourly, apportioning some blame over the weirdness I feel on her, for insisting that Chidubem is gay. I know it is not her fault, but that awareness doesn’t in anyway make me disengage my mind from what I saw inside that room. It doesn’t put my mind at ease, so it feels better to vent my silent frustration on her.
“Which way are you going?” Mimi pipes up from the back.
“To Nkaiso’s place first to pick Gabby up, then I’ll drop you and Chinwe off.”
“Mba o, no! I can’t wait,” Mimi protests. “Just stop me anywhere here, let me take a bike home. It’s really late.”
“But five minutes ago, you were yearning to dance-dance-dance at Mercy’s party,” Chinwe jibes with a laugh.
“I am not responding to that,” Mimi replies with a laugh of her own.
I pull up to the side of the road, and amidst expressions of goodnight, she gets off.
Soon enough, I get to Nkaiso’s place. Leaving Chinwe and Ebuka in the car, I go up to the house to pick up my baby.
“Mummy, mummy, mummy…” Gabby chants and hops about upon seeing me.
I squat before him, and envelop him in a bear hug.
“How was the party?” Nkaiso enquires.
“Better start feeling unhappy, since you missed it,” I make an attempt at humor, which falls flat on its face. Letting out a heavy sigh, I let go of Gabby, and rise to sit heavily on a sofa.
“What’s the problem?” Nkaiso asks, concern masking her features.
I pause for some time to watch Gabby and Mfon, Nkaiso’s last child, as they play with leggos on the verandah, while the older kids had their attention on some book.
“I need to tell someone what I saw jaré,” I heave, pressing two fingers to my eyes.
“Mmhmm?” Nkaiso urges me on.
“Mercy’s boyfriend is gay,” I blurt out in a low tone.
“Jesus!” she says in a half-scream.
“Oh at the very least, bisexual,” I add.
“How do you know this? Are you sure? Who told you?” she questions with alarm growing in her eyes.
This one is strong oh, I think. Even the imperturbable Nkaiso is rattled.
“I saw them…” I start, proceeding into a brief narration of what I witnessed, tapping from the detail that is still engraved behind my eyes.
“My God, what are you going…” – her expression changes as she observes her kids suddenly rush into the house speedily – “…to do?” she finishes absent-mindedly.
“What is going on?” I ask, mildly startled by the sudden activity of her children. There’s a certain tenseness that has filled the room which I cannot explain.
“Um…er…” she says, her eyes darting from the verandah, where Gabby is standing alone and confused to the door that adjoins the parlour with the inner corridor, through which her children had just disappeared. “Do you want to wait…or maybe, you’ll go now, and I’ll get back to you?”
The option I should take is clear from the tone of her voice.
What is going on? I find myself wondering, for the first time distracted from my thoughts of Mercy’s party.
Aloud I say, “Yes, let me go. Chinwe and Ebuka are even waiting in the car.” I rise and motion for Gabby to come to me
“Ok then, sorry I can’t see you off,” Nkaiso says, walking with me to the front door, which she holds open for me to pass through.
“Not a problem,” I say, walking out with Gabby in my arms, and feeling as though I have just been banished from my friend’s house. It is the second time this is happening, and I am starting not to feel good about it.
It doesn’t help with how I feel when she firmly shuts the door immediately I step through the doorway. No goodbye, no last minute chitchat. This is so unlike Nkaiso.
Once clear of the stair case, I run into a man walking into the stairwell – literally so, seeing as I was walking on auto pilot, my mind mired in a million contemplations.
“Sorry,” I mumble, drawing back and looking up at Nkaiso’s husband. “Oh! Good evening, sir!” I greet cheerily.
“Ada, kee k’imere?” he asks, stopping for a while to exchange pleasantries.
“Adim mma, sir. I’m just coming from your place even.”
“Have you been in the house for long?” he enquires.
“No o, I just came to pick Gabby up…” My voice trails out when I suddenly realize Gabby has not greeted the man. I turn to him and instruct, “Gabby, say ‘good evening sir’.”
Gabby eyes Nkaiso’s husband and, without a word, turns away, circling his small arms around my neck and holding fast.
The two of us share a laugh at Gabby’s antics.
“I think he’s worn out from all that playing,” I say in an effort to excuse my son’s bad behaviour. “He usually doesn’t wait to be told to greet people.”
“I know Gabby now! Gabby is my buddy,” he says, concurring. “Right, Gabby?” He cranes his neck to peer at Gabby’s face.
I turn my body slightly to enable him see Gabby’s face properly. This time, however, my son burrows his face into my neck, making it clear that he wants nothing to do with the man.
Nkaiso’s husband and I laugh briefly again.
“Ok, sir, let me be going,” I say, stepping to the side to let him get into the building.
“Alright, good night,” he greets, before walking past me and taking the steps up, two at a time.
As I walk back to the car, Gabby points at the building and says, “He spoil it.”
“What?” I remove his hands from my neck in other to see his face.
He doesn’t look happy.
“He spoil it, bobo,” he laments again. “He spoil &%$#@…” He continues chattering his reproval over something that Nkaiso’s husband was apparently guilty of. I listen inattentively till I get to the car, and open the back door to strap him in.
“Guu moomin shaa!” he greets cheerily immediately he sees Ebuka, eliciting uproarious laughter from all three adults.
“Honey, it’s ‘good evening’,” I correct gently. “Say ‘good evening, sir’.”
“Ninibin shaa,” he promptly echoes.
“Good evening, big boy!” Ebuka says, raising his palms for a high five, which Gabby enthusiastically responds to. “Correct guy man! Don’t mind all these women that are laughing at you jaré!” Ebuka enthuses.
I start up the car, and soon, we are well on our way home; Chinwe and I are alone with our respective thoughts, while Ebuka engages Gabby in an ABC-and-123 game. I can’t help but notice how good he is with my son. I can’t also help but feel happy for Chinwe. She has clearly landed a good one.
“Our day hasn’t ended o!” Ebuka speaks up from the back seat. “So, Ada, just drop us at New Haven Junction.”
“No wahala,” I say, glancing askance at Chinwe.
We are already close to New Haven junction, so I pull up at a spot away from the place where the buses jostle for passengers.
“Ah wee-wee,” Gabby pipes up then. “Mummy, ah wee-wee!”
“Wee wee it in your diaper joor!” I say, not wanting to get out of the car until I get home.
“This is not good,” Ebuka admonishes lightly. “You are potty-training him, and telling him to wee on himself. That could confuse his brain. Don’t worry, I’ll take him.” He begins to fiddle with Gabby’s car-seater strap.
“No, it’s like this,” I say, leaning back to unclasp the strap.
Soon the two of them are out of the car. I watch through the side mirror, as Ebuka lifts Gabby to the side of the road, and bends to help him pull down his shorts and diaper.
“I feel like I offended you,” Chinwe mutters, drawing my attention to her.
“What? No, no, you did not offend me,” I say. “Why do you say that?”
“Because, you have something on your mind – in fact, you’ve had that something on your mind from the party, and you don’t want to tell me.”
“Okwa ima na i na-agba asiri?” I ask, chuckling to diffuse the tension.
“More like, I’m a sensitive person,” she says with a small smile. “Come on, Ada, tell me already,” she wheedles.
I let out a heavy sigh, before saying, “You were right. Chidubem must be gay, because I saw him making out with Chetanna when I went to ease myself.” And just then, upon belatedly realizing that I never got to ease myself, my bladder suddenly begins to feel heavy. I stifle the urinary urge at once.
“Oh my God, no! Mercy ooo!” Chinwe exclaims, looking genuinely sad.
“Really? You won’t say ‘I told you so’?” I ask, incredulous.
“Why would I say that? Am I such a horrible person?” she asks, a bit hurt.
“But you suspected it first nau!”
“I was only joking then o! I didn’t even want to be right, especially, after seeing them together before we left.”
“Hmmm,” I grunt, not knowing what to say.
“What should we do? Tell her, or let her find out for herself?”
“Find what out?” Ebuka says, opening the car door, poking his head in enough to place Gabby on his seater.
“Nothing,” I say automatically, at once hoping Chinwe will keep this to herself and knowing that it will be the first thing she will tell him immediately they step out of my car.
Written by Adaku J.