“Do you want me to hang up?” Amaka whispered
Nabila nodded like Amaka could see; but as best friends do she somehow got the message and soon Nabila heard the soft click of disconnection. She still kept the phone to her ear because putting it down would mean giving Jamal an answer; and he eagerly awaited one as he had barely flinched from the doorway. When Nabila noticed it, the enjoyment he was deriving from putting her on the spot, her embarrassment ceased to feel appropriate. Her husband was not hurt by her remarks but he intended to milk his disapproval nonetheless. Then the reverse happened. She was hurt that he wasn’t hurt. To her, it was equivalent to not feeling jealousy at the sight of another man with your wife. The Lack of Care; the very same lackadaisical attitude that left her feeling helpless; exhausted at being the only one who gave a damn that they lived like zombies confined to the same tomb. He was still standing there…
“Amaka” Nabila answered tossing her blackberry on the blue sofa. It landed on a pale green scatter cushion
Jamal drained of his former amusement uncrossed his feet and shut the door. He tossed his keys alongside hers in the silver tray and proceeded to walk across the living space to the stairs. Their ritual was about to begin… Jamal would climb up the curved staircase slowly using the banister to hoist himself a little higher; almost like his weight had doubled since he got home. Nabila didn’t want the war dance again. She rushed behind him; her abayah trailing behind like a bridal train.
“Dan Allah. Ka yi hakuri” she apologised. Nabila had never said sorry before and this stopped Jamal in his tracks; he spun 360 and faced her. It had been months since they had stood in such close proximity and Nabila looked at her husband’s full lips; sensual and soft. She wished he would kiss her.
“Apology accepted” he replied and continued upward and out of sight. Nabila leaned on the oak staircase and traced the decorative grooves in the wood grain, ran her fingers along the hand twisted metal that separated the steps from the hand rail. She remembered when Jamal would come back from work and jump her. She would lie on the couch pretending to sleep and he would begin to kiss her, smelling like the vanilla air freshener in his car. Every day the same game, every day the same result. They barely made it upstairs and would have to scurry away like naughty school children when they heard the cook come in the kitchen, prepared to make a late lunch. She did not remember when last that happened. She could cast her mind back but it would only depress her further.
Nabila could not hear it but she knew the shower was turned on now. Her husband was in there, alone, without her. His lynx shower gel making soapy suds; he would leave his wet towel on the bathroom floor too and close the door behind him giving no chance for the steamy room to clear out. She missed having to scold him about that. Now their shower times were so different they may as well have separate wash rooms. At lunch he sat opposite her on their dining table and his hair stood in disorganised curls from the forceful towel drying method he had adopted. Nabila looked on as it dried and the curls magically became discreet. The ridges of his hair cut tapered down to his thin sideburns which slimmed to a very thin goatee shaping his jaw line. Yes, his hair is the first thing she noticed all those years ago, and still was what made her stare. She loved the variations of brown within it: rusty, sandy, bronze, and russet. He hated it and had wanted it dyed black. She loved it; especially in the sunlight. The shades were easily distinguishable then.
The blue Pyrex bowls were trooped out one by one and laid out in beautiful presentation and the cook, as was his way, informed them dinner was in the oven and he would be retiring for the evening. As she did not cook, Nabila utilised a catering service which sent out domestic helps. They were loaned out to her on a monthly basis and arrived an hour before Jamal left for work in the morning. Breakfast was prepared for her as well when she finally woke up and whatever else she decided to munch on. On Jamal’s return from work, ‘late lunch’ would be served, and dinner was kept warm in the oven. As it was, Nabila’s fridge, although alien to her was never short of food. There were bowls of stock juices for speedy stews and soups; sachets of marinating beef and chicken pieces, jugs of kunu, and lemonade and pre-kneaded dough in the pantry. Meat pies, masa, chin-chin, kuli kuli, puff puff, were all produced at her bequest.
Nabila had not asked the name of this cook this time and as he placed his time sheet by the salad bowl for Nabila to sign, she pretended not to see him. I have barely begun my meal she wanted to scream at him. She focused instead on the sardines, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbages, slices of hardboiled eggs and baked beans tossed in mayonnaise. Nabila knew what it meant when the cooks were in such a hurry to leave; he had probably double booked another family. Usually off the books and for half the price; collecting money behind management’s back. As she had no proof, she could not report him but the idea annoyed Nabila and so she ignored him, wasting his time. He waited beside her quietly
“Bring it here” Jamal ordered. The cook handed the sheet to him and Jamal signed it. “Thank you sah.” From the gratitude in his voice Nabila was sure Jamal added on hours the cook had not worked.
“I hope you beat traffic in time” Jamal said with his mouth full
“Ah sah I hope o. I suppose waka before” the cook said
Before his wife could stop him, Jamal reached in his wallet and handed the man a wad of fifty naira notes. “Take okada” he instructed. The man thanked him as he hurriedly ran out of the house. Nabila raised her gaze to her husband; his shoulders were forward, braced for an attack but she could already see how it would play out. Jamal would call her a social snob, insist she knew not of the hardship people less fortunate than themselves went through to put food on the table. Ask her why she cared who made the catering business money and lord it over her that it was not theft but merely a chance to double their earnings. She would accuse him of promoting bribery by encouraging the cooks to go against the rules and facilitating their corruption by chartering them to secondary locations. Why did he have to give the man money? Jamal would start his speech of how it was his money and he gave it to whomever he chose. Nabila didn’t see the point in going down that road today.
“How is work?” she asked
Jamal said nothing but stared at her like she had grown two heads. ‘Another argument averted’ his expression seemed to say. He mumbled a monosyllabic answer and focused on his jollof rice, tearing into the herb baked chicken like he had a deadline to meet. The silence stretched out for a millennia and Nabila began to wish they were arguing, at least he would be speaking to her. That was probably why she picked fights so often, for the minutes they spoke at each other he was forced to acknowledge her presence in the house. Her frustrations were lashed out at him, hidden behind mundane issues like time sheets and petrol for the generator and DSTV channel switching from his base upstairs; switching her Movies for Super Sports or whatever it was called. Nabila was a slow eater and Jamal inhaled his food, so she was just finishing up when he raced upstairs and came back down surrounded by the aura of Davidoff Cool Water. He wore an ecru printed T shirt under a grey slim fit jacket and vintage wash black jeans. Casual class came easy to him.
“Are you going out?” Nabila asked all innocent.
Jamal shook his head at her then, certain a centurion being had taken the place of his wife. As this was his routine most nights he did not understand her question. He did not even bother to nod; as this must surely be the lure of a fight she had spent her day brewing. But merely grabbed his keys and honked the horn for the gates to be opened. She saw the Benz car lights drive out and Nabila stared at her empty house. Her husband could not get away from her fast enough. That was her marriage.
During the weekend Nabila sat waiting in Maitama district for someone who could not help but be late, all the time; no matter the urgency implied. Luckily for her she always had the best excuse available. How do you argue with someone that saves lives? Rabi ran in from the heat and burst through the doors of Hitonia Health Club. Her personality seemed to envelope everyone at once like a giant sheen emanating from her. Right away, everyone greeted her, like an old friend.
“It’s not my fault I’m late” she said heading for Nabila
“Haba Rabi” she scolded although the minute her sister walked in Nabila had forgiven her 40min delay
They hugged briefly and Nabila made to pull away but Rabi rocked her from side to side singing “This is my sorry for 2010 and I ain’t going to mess up again…” Nabila started laughing, of all songs to sing her sister chose the most random.
“It’s okay. Ya isa mana” Nabila feigned annoyance at her clinginess. Rabi giggled her infectious laugh and they sat down for their weekly pamper sessions. The health club was the best spa sanctuary in Abuja. Hitonia was located in Wing C of the Nicon Hilton Hotel and this made a secret haven whose location was privy to a select few. The sisters first stumbled in here by accident after overindulging themselves on Mediterranean dishes at the Zuma restaurant overlooking the water fountain. It started with a pedicure, and then grew to a facial, then an exfoliating body scrub, followed by a 50minute Thai ritual massage. Needless to say Nabila and Rabi became hooked…
“Madam Rabi welcome” their regular beautician greeted them
“Thank you Yemi, see my sister”
“Yes ma. Welcome madam”
“Uh huh” Nabila responded focused on her sister. Rabi looked different now that she could study her up close. “It feels like I haven’t seen you in ages.” Rabi shook off her gold sandals and shook her head pitifully at her cracked heels and peeled red nail varnish, “that is because I had to cancel our last two sessions.” she replied. “I know Yemi” she said to their attendee who could not contain her frown at their sight, “Without you, I would have skin like an alligator.” Yemi giggled and opened up her pouch displaying the tools of her craft. Nabila shook her head; this was why an exclusive health club that had a strict arrive-5mins-before-your-appointment rule could not care less when Rabi showed up almost an hour late.
“But you look good though” Nabila informed her
“Work is tough wallahi. Did you know that being a doctor is hard?”
“I’d heard the rumour”
Rabi sighed. She had just graduated medical school and was an intern at National Hospital Abuja. Nabila let her moan about work; but being Rabi her annoyance didn’t sound genuine. She moaned because that is what she ought to do, because in Nigeria loving your job was unheard of. Yes, she was tired, and barely slept and had fallen behind on her favourite shows but that was life. “Besides, it sounds kind of silly to rush home to watch Grey’s Anatomy when I have real patients that need seeing to.” Nabila shook her head and dipped her feet into the hot scented water Yemi had put down. She thought of the 80+hour weeks Rabi had to put in to fulfil her internship, and her insistence at volunteering once a week at the fertility centre in Nisa Premier Hospital due to her interest to pursue obstetrics and gynaecology “I couldn’t do what you do.” Nabila concluded
“I kill every living plant within ten yards. Oh if I had your green thumbs…I’d create my own Garden of Eden. That would be my talent.” Rabi said as she stared at the cluster of bell shaped dusky blue African lilies in the large rectangular vase. It was true, Rabi could kill a cactus.
“If I had your face I won’t need a talent” Nabila countered
“If I wore your dress size I’d be a model” Rabi said. Her size 14 was beautifully clad in a jersey maxi dress with bands of bright colours running down. She pinched her arms.
“If I had your height, I won’t need these heels” Nabila gestured to her three inch block heels. The Moss green matched her Prada leather tote bag, her feet were so sore she wondered why she bothered
“If I had your feet, I’d be able to wear more heels” Rabi wiggled her size 8 feet in the warm water, causing Yemi to slap her knee to be still. The sisters went on, babbling their short comings to each other and wishing to be more like the other person. As always Nabila had more characteristics in praise of Rabi. Her smarts, her boobs, her nose, her long lashes, her height, wide circle of friends, her personality, her infectious laugh… Rabi couldn’t keep up and Nabila mused that her only ups were her gardening instincts, her skinny frame and the fact that she hardly sweats.
Yemi’s colleague had begun on the sisters’ hair. And she parted the thickness with a huge black comb; having to step back with her arm movements. Neither Nabila nor Rabi had ever relaxed their hair; there was no need besides they preferred the curls. And secretly, they knew it was the only genetic link to one another. The one thing they had both inherited from one parent, mama. Other than that Nabila was the short, dark, skinny sister and Rabi the tall, fair, chubby one. After the wash, they admired their painted toes and laughed at their Martian heads as the foil paper used for the Protein steam made crackling noises underneath the dryer. Nabila looked at her beautiful sister and brought up the taboo topic between them. The issue of her arranged marriage to Alhaji Gidado Tukur.
“You don’t have to marry him”
“I haven’t said yes Nabila”
“But you haven’t said no either”
“I don’t see the reason to”
“How about the fact that he’s a year older than Baba and already has a wife. He has kids our age. He’s a grandfather.”
“That entire aside…” Rabi reasoned
“This is stupid Rabi. You’re an educated woman”
“Exactly. Do you know how long I have left before I obtain my license to practice? Seven years Nabila now tell me which man is going to wait that long. We have known Alhaji Tukur for a long time.” Nabila wanted to add that for the mere fact that he once wiped her runny nose and helped Rabi onto her bicycle; it was disgusting. But her sister was speaking rapidly, denying her a chance to cut in, lest she spoke over her. “Baba is his close friend. He is kind, thoughtful and does not impose archaic rules. His wife spends most of her time in their house in Dubai anyway, she basically lives there. So I will be alone; no one to disturb me. All the kids are grown they won’t give me grief. They know I am not in it for the money. Besides this is merely a guarantee that I will be someone’s wife, he is not carting me off to his house tomorrow.”
Nabila looked at her sister, since mama suggested the match last year it was like every time they discussed this, Rabi had stronger arguments about why it was right.
“You don’t have to do everything mama tells you to”
“I don’t. She wanted me to study law remember”
“And instead you chose medicine. Yay you are a big rebel kenan. Clap for yourself.” Nabila hissed and rolled her eyes for good measure. Rabi got annoyed
“You act like your marriage wasn’t a hook-up as well”
“Because it wasn’t” Nabila spoke as she would to a child who had just made a stupid comment
“Saboda mama didn’t join your hands together, does not mean it was not a convenient social arrangement. You guys barely dated six months before his relatives brought the geyisawa, dowry to our house. It was like they heard you resided in the same university and it was naturally assumed that you would wed.”
“It had nothing to do with us”
“It certainly didn’t. Did Jamal ask you to marry him or did mama call to say his relatives were interested.” Rabi adopted the same tone Nabila had earlier, like she asked the question to a child
“I love Jamal” Nabila smacked her lips together
“Then you are lucky, but I don’t have anyone I feel that strongly about and I need the security of a husband and the freedom to practice my medicine. I am being offered both”
“Mama is just being hypocritical; forcing you into a polygamous home when she herself is Baba’s only wife”
“She wouldn’t have minded if Baba married someone else along the way”
“Yes she would” Nabila answered with absolute certainty. Rabi chose not to argue because she knew it was the truth.
By the time they were lying face down and having essential oils massaged into their skin their conversation had slowed to a halt. Yemi enquired if Rabi was alright, because they were used to Nabila’s standoffishness but non- bubbly Rabi was rare. Nabila didn’t want to fight with her sister; she was tired of fighting as a whole so she utilised her new found apologising technique
“Haba Rabi, let’s not fight. Kinsen I want the best for you ne. I only push it because I think you are making a mistake, Allah”
“I understand you disapprove but when it comes to it I expect my sister’s support.” Rabi summed it up. “To ba komai, no problem” Nabila responded
With that they were chatting away again and occasionally made ooh noises when the tea tree oil was absorbed into tight muscles. They paid the hefty bill and walked out hand in hand scenting like mint tea leaves with shiny exfoliated skin. They proceeded to the Fulani Pool Bar at the other end of the hotel for lunch. With its traditional thatched roofing, mats and statues, the ambience was just as enjoyable as the barbecue a la carte specialities they ordered. As their meal arrived in large calabashes, the head waiter greeted Rabi and Nabila enthusiastically. They were regulars. They ate in beautiful friendship and took in views of the landscaped gardens. In the evening, Nabila escorted Rabi to her car and hugged her goodbye. “Don’t let them kill you in that hospital fa” she begged and as Rabi got in her car, her phone rang. She glanced at it but ignored the call “Hey that could be your future husband calling” Nabila teased. Rabi pulled her nose causing her to yelp, and then got into her car.
She watched Nabila cross the parking lot to her Grand Cherokee; her phone began to ring again. Jordin Sparks was screaming on her ringtone to get armour because love was a battlefield. Rabi couldn’t agree more, still each time the ring tone died down, it started again because Jamal Mujahid would not stop calling. Please stop she pleaded silently, leave me alone, haba you’re married to my sister. Still Jordin sang on…it was as though he was hitting redial repeatedly. A car honked and Rabi looked up to see her sister drive by her slowly, dialling a number. She was sure it was Jamal’s. He must not have picked up his wife’s call because her phone still rang. Nabila waved and drove off. As Rabi put on her seatbelt; a text came in:
Rabi I meant everything I said last night. Please pick up. Jamal
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