Everything changed after Calabar.
I looked over the proofs for the month’s publication, but I wasn’t seeing the beautiful actress who was going to feature on the cover of our magazine. I was seeing a potentially malicious document that threatened to ruin my life.
My assistant was hovering, as usual. She was rail thin, towering over my five-foot 8 frame at her almost six feet. Being an assistant in a fashion magazine was more of an accident, a stepping-stone for her. What she really wanted was a modelling career; I see scores of girls like her every day-hanging around my magazine like vultures and waiting for their big break. She did her work with a complacency that bordered on comatose.
I took off my glasses and stood, discarding the sheets of pictures. ‘I'm going out, Brittany. Postpone all my appointments by three hours.’ She blinked in her slow, puzzled way, watching me as I took my beige tuxedo jacket and put it on over the pink bohemian blouse tucked into a knee-length cream coloured wrap skirt I was wearing.
‘Mrs. Ani...you’re going out?’ The girl had a talent for stating the obvious. The only reason I have not fired her yet was...in fact, what was the reason? It’s not like I need one, her ridiculous name is reason enough. Brittany? Please, give me a break.
I turned to her; my eyes swept her fashionably slim figure swathed in an impossibly tight, black Marc Jacobs sheath dress. How does she breathe in that?
I did not wait around to see her puzzled look mature into disbelief.
Everything changed after Calabar.
Irene is filled with a feverish energy that makes me nervous. It has been almost two years, and yet she has not lost the slightly dazed look she gets whenever we are around each other. It is as if she has not yet recovered.
I haven’t, but I'm not the one trying to have a baby.
I heard footsteps and I looked up. Amaka was walking toward my workshop. Through the frosted glass door, I could see my wife right at her heels, her economical, purposeful steps very familiar. When you’re been with someone for ten years and loved them for fifteen, you get to know them inside and out. I removed my protective goggles and gloves and motioned for them to step into my office next door.
Whenever Irene came to my gallery-which was not very often-she always looked around like she’d stepped into a home for orphaned children: and if you know my wife, you’d know that this is not a piteous look, mind you, it’s more condescension.
She came in and closed the door behind her, effectively dismissing Amaka. She flashed a bright smile at me. ‘I hope I didn’t take you away from your little project, Law.’
I tried not to smile. Nothing that was not big money registered on my beloved’s radar, and understandably so. She has always been in the limelight, and was raised to believe that she is a Princess-and she is, of sorts. Her mother was, and is still, one of the highest grossing actresses of her generation, and her father has served in several ambassadorial capacities for our great nation over two decades and three administrations-one of them military. Irene ran her own fashion magazine, she has several chart-topping music albums and appears in cameo movie roles right from when she was a child.
I, Lawrence Ani, am just an artist. Of course, I am fiercely proud of my wife, she is the light of my life. Yet sometimes...
I have known her since we were teenagers together in secondary school. I loved her from a distance and when we graduated, I thought I would never see her again. Fast-forward years later, and she is at the first exhibition featuring two of my pieces. I was euphoric throughout the night, walking on air and basking in the big break I had been working on for years, and suddenly this vision of loveliness walks up to me and links her arm with mine. It took me a few startled seconds to realise that it was my teenage crush.
We went for a very late dinner that night, and what followed was a whirlwind courtship. Three months later, we were married. Until today, sometimes I wonder what she saw in me that made her walk up to me that night and say hi.
‘It’s okay, honey,’ I dutifully kissed her proffered cheek, ‘I can finish up later. What’s going on? Don’t you have an important meeting today?’ ‘I postponed it,’ she put down her bag and shrugged off her jacket, and I took it from her and hung it on the garment rack in my office. She was halfway through unbuttoning her top before I realised that she was taking off her all clothes. I rushed to close the blinds. ‘Irene! What are you doing?’ ‘We are having sex, babe, try to keep up.’ ‘Are you serious? We can’t...’ ‘Lawrence, we’re trying to have a baby. We have to keep trying!’ ‘This is what I keep saying. Irene, after Calabar, I think it’s too soon...’ ‘I don’t care about Calabar, I just want a child! It’s like you don’t even want this marriage to work.’
I was chagrined, ‘how can you say that? We have been through too much for you to say that I don’t want to be married to you!’
She sank into a cushioned seat, now dressed only in her purple lace chemise, face in her palms, her shoulders shaking.
She knows that gets me. She knows all my buttons.
I started taking off my work overalls.
Oh God, she’s droning on again. Somebody shoot me.
I honestly don’t know why she bothers. We all know she’s miserable. Not that anyone can blame her, after Calabar. Irene and Lawrence are holding on to that marriage by their bloody fingernails-and she doesn’t make things easy for the poor man. I have seen her husband recently, and he has a heart-wrenching, trapped look in his eyes. It is so sad! The worst part is that she will continue to push and push and push him until she breaks the poor sucker. She’s so wrapped up in herself that she doesn’t stop to wonder how the he feels.
None of us will tell her that. We will all coo sympathetically and take her side and tell her how underappreciated she is in her marriage. Nevertheless, we all know the truth. We know Irene. She can be stubborn and driven to the point of single-mindedness, and she doesn’t mind whose head she steps on. She’s self-centred...
‘Hey! You’re not saying anything. What’s up?’ Lizzy tugged on the sleeve of my silk top, one perfectly pencilled-in brow artfully raised. I took a sip of my martini and shrugged, ‘I'm going to sit this one out, Lizzy.’ ‘What does that even mean? Our friend here has issues, it’s our duty to comfort her,’ Ngozi said like she was quoting from the gospel, and Lizzy and Eno nodded in agreement. I sighed wearily and met Irene's eyes. She was looking at me coolly-her signature “you are going to get burned for this” look.
I know that look. We went to the university together and I knew the implications of getting on her bad side. She was the Queen Bee of our little dysfunctional group, and none dared defy her. Seeing as I continuously violated that unwritten rule, we were unlikely friends.
Maybe it’s because I don’t worship her as much as she want to be worshipped. Whatever.
I still didn’t say anything. Wild horses were not dragging any comment on my friend’s marriage from me. Absolutely not! I have enough problems of my own.
They gave up on me and continued the discussion. By now, Eno had launched into a lengthy description of her latest trip to Dubai and Lizzy and Ngozi were enraptured in her adventures. I noticed that Irene was still quiet, and I started to feel sympathetic towards her. Maybe the bitch really was hurting.
I sighed, folding under my own convictions. Me and my bleeding heart. Curses! I leaned over and patted Irene's arm gently, ‘I’m sorry, Rene. I know you want me to be on your side, but I don’t have to say anything for you to know that I am. Always...okay, well, maybe not always,’ I smiled and the corners of her eyes crinkled in response, ‘you know what I mean.’ ‘Thank you, babe. Perhaps sometimes...sometimes I'm selfish. I’ve not even asked how you’ve been coping with your mother-in-law visiting.’ I rolled my eyes, ‘well, let’s just say there’s a reason I'm stocking up on liquid courage,’ I motioned at my almost empty glass. We giggled, drawing the attention of our other friends. ‘Oh, I see you two have made up’, Ngozi said, a bit resentfully. I smiled. ‘Yes, Ngozi, we have.’
Sometimes, these women are real bitches. But when it counts, they are the best allies a woman could have.
My frigging bleeding heart again! Curses!