mys·ter·y (mĭs′tə-rē) n: One whose identity is unknown and who arouses curiosity
I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat of his car, not quite sure where we are headed. We seem to be going somewhere different but I don’t want to ask. Both of us are deep in thought, each keeping to his/her side of the car. I can tell he’s pensive. His fingers are tap-tapping on the steering wheel as he navigates the light afternoon traffic. If I had a dollar for every hangout spot he knows in Lagos, I’d be rich, I think to myself slyly.
We pull into a gravel drive that’s almost invisible from the road and soon come to a stop in a semi-busy car park. It’s lunch time on the Island, but not as many cars as I would expect for the lunch hour. I open the door, not waiting for him to come round as he would usually do. He pauses as he closes his own door, and we share an awkward, silent look. Then he moves towards the entrance to what I soon learn is a restaurant cum bar cum lounge cum chill zone. Again, there’s a view of the lagoon – he obviously loves the water side – so I opt to sit by the water. Menus are brought and he waves the waiter away telling him we’d let him know when we’re ready.
He reaches across the table for my hand and smiles almost painfully.
“I miss you” he says. “I know it seems silly cos it’s just been two days, but I’ve never felt so far away from you. You didn’t come in early this morning and I thought you had decided not to show up today because of me. I kept hoping you would by some miracle come for our daily lessons and it killed me to lie to Mr. Nestor when he asked if I knew why you weren’t there.”
“I was embarrassed Danladi. Still am. This is all new to me and I can’t figure out how to deal with it.”
“Just tell me how I can make it up to you, because by now, you know I’m terribly sorry.”
“Is it so bad that I’m a virgin? That I was…” My voice trails off. Putting it into words kind of hurts. Tears sting the back of my eyes and then I feel one break free and roll down my face.
“Don’t cry baby, please. It’s not bad. I don’t have anything against that. I just didn’t expect that it was the case with you. And now when I think of it, I should have known. You’re so good and so genuine, so trusting, I should have been more patient.”
“I felt like I wasn’t good enough…” I whisper in a teary voice and wipe a finger across my eye. “It seemed like you were wishing you hadn’t gone ahead with it.”
He leaves his seat and gets on his haunches beside me, wiping my face with a gentle hand.
“Never ever think that you’re not good enough Asher. Not on my account or on anybody else’s. You are perfect, you are beautiful and any man would be lucky to call you his own. I would marry you in a heartbeat if I wasn’t already married.”
A small smile forms on my lips. I hold on to those last words and let them bounce around in my head for a bit. He must really care about me a lot for him to have said that, I rationalise. Of course, it didn’t help that I was 23 and very naïve. You see, at that age, marriage wasn’t the next thing on my mind but it was certainly something to be considered. And with Danladi mentioning it like that, there was no way I could have avoided the pretty pictures now forming in my head of me adorned in northern wedding regalia, being joined in blissful matrimony to my handsome northern husband.
I pictured my hands covered in intricate henna patterns and my veil made of the most delicate lace, with a beautiful string of pearls around my neck. He would ride in on a horse, with a turban around his head – wait a minute, was that customary for grooms? I imagine that would be their own version of a knight in shining armour. Anyway, he’d ride in on a horse, or so my daydream said and when the ceremony was over, he’d put me on his horse and we’d ride away into the sunset…
“Earth to Asher…” I feel his breath on my cheek and realise that I had drifted off. “I seem to have lost you there for a bit. Where did you go?” he asks with a hint of that lopsided smile he often has when he’s trying not to laugh at me. I’m even more embarrassed knowing that he would probably freak out if he knew what I had been thinking. I chuckle slightly and shake my head.
“Can we put this behind us Asher? Start off again, on the correct foot this time? I promise not to be an idiot again.”
“Ok.” I answer meekly and let him drop a quick kiss on my lips.
“Danladi!” a strange feminine voice shrieks out with excitement. I look up at the same time Danladi turns around and gets up. A blur of baby pink chiffon floats towards us, and I have to wipe my eyes again for her face to come into focus. She’s beautiful, obviously of northern decent, with luminous fair skin and wisps of curly hair peeking out from underneath her loosely wrapped head scarf. I’m wondering who she is when it occurs to me that Danladi has gone quite still. Could this be her? No way!
She reaches us, gives me a onceover and then leans towards Danladi, planting air kisses on both his cheeks.
“Aisha, how are you?” he says stiffly, struggling to keep her at arm’s length.
“I’m well. You? It’s been a long time.” Her lilting voice with the rich accent sends an unexplainable wave of jealousy through me. She still hasn’t acknowledged my presence, how rude! Who is she even? Not his wife certainly, because I don’t think she would ignore me.
“Yes it has. Didn’t know you were in Lagos. Business?”
Mystery woman chuckles a little too loudly if you ask me, and then breaks into rapid fire Hausa. I hear a few English words here and there, but within a minute, I’m completely lost. And invisible. Danladi’s back is to me and I try to decipher his mood from the tone of his voice. They go on talking for what seems like forever and I’m starting to shift in my seat, feeling out of place. Neither of them has looked in my direction for at least five minutes. I don’t know how much longer this is going to go on for but it’s not pleasant, this third-wheel feeling.
I start to think how unusual it is that in the time we’ve been dating, I haven’t met even one of his friends, or anyone that he knows for that matter. This is the first time we’re running into someone that knows him and it makes me wonder if he’s been careful to avoid familiar faces/places. Can’t be just a coincidence, can it? But then again, I shouldn’t expect him to go around introducing me to people who know he’s married. That would be stupid. The reality of my situation hits me. I’m on the periphery of his life, the fringes. Though he’s managed to make me feel like the centre of his universe, I realise just how little of him I actually know.
Little Miss Aisha finally floats away in her Hausa cloud and Danladi sits down again. He beckons to the waiter and orders drinks without looking at the menu. The waiter goes off and then he looks at me and asks if I would like something to eat.
I’m about to say no when I remember that I didn’t have anything to eat at break time today. “I’ll have something really light” I respond. “Maybe a salad”. And then I wait for him to tell me all about Aisha.
“So, now that we’re starting over…” he continues, picking up the menu, “do you want to catch a movie this weekend?”
My mind’s mouth is ajar. He’s really not going to explain what just happened? I don’t want to have to ask, because I’m afraid of looking like a jealous girlfriend, even though in reality that’s what I am. But I’m dying to know. The least he can do is apologise for ignoring me, I think, furious. But then again, maybe it’s really not so important.
“You don’t have to answer right away, you can let me know before the week is over.” His voice breaks into my thoughts. What was he asking about again? Oh yes. A movie on the weekend.
“Yeah, sure.” I say. “A movie would be nice.” And I force a big happy smile. If he’s going to pretend nothing just happened, then I can do the same.
“Great!” he exclaims with a clap of his hands. “Now, I have an appetite.”
I watch in silence as he places our food orders. The drinks have arrived and we start to make small talk. It’s a little awkward at first, because I’m still peeved about the mystery lady, but we soon get back into our usual groove, sharing jokes and laughing. Lunch arrives and we spend another hour eating and getting back to ‘normal’. Then he drops me off to pick up my car and we share a steamy goodbye kiss. I know then that I’m going to end up in his bed again, and sometime soon. I don’t think I can help myself. Surely, it will be better the next time, I tell myself and then I blush with embarrassment at the boldness of my thoughts. I’m a woman now though, so it must be okay to think ‘womanly’ thoughts, right? Yeah right! The voice in my head responds. Womanly indeed.
That night, I go to bed with thoughts of kisses and passionate embraces and visions of smooth satin sheets, in baby pink… And just before I drift off into sleep, one question pops into my head – Who is Aisha?