Afabwaje Kurian | Fiction
If the women Mrs. Satosi usually invited over could see the mid-afternoon sun filtering through the skylights, as it was now, they would have said, “Kai, this kitchen na helele, o.” Tall, smooth mahogany cabinets reached to the crown molding. The warm-hued backsplash of natural stone had been her decision, and it was this aesthetic selection that received the most praise. Who would have known that such a simple choice was what people most admired? In this newer home—built three years ago after Peter’s promotion—when Mrs. Satosi rinsed banana leaves in her kitchen sink, she could spy on her neighbors through the bay windows that overlooked their connected backyards.
Cradling the phone between shoulder and ear, Mrs. Satosi described the view to her eldest sister Elizabeth while she coned the dark green leaves for moi moi, filling each tapered funnel with a paste of black-eyed beans and corned beef. The middle-aged couple in the house to the right grilled fresh salmon fillets, their portly cat sunbathing on a sling chair, and in the other backyard, bare-chested children in neon swim trunks and inflatable turquoise floats splashed in the pool. Mrs. Satosi knew that despite the grandness of her sister’s palatial three-story house in Abuja, it overlooked a dusty shantytown littered with corroding tin shacks that the government had yet to raze.
“You should see how big our backyard is,” Mrs. Satosi said to Elizabeth. “Remember I was the one who said to Peter to build in this lot? If you saw how much land surrounds us, you wouldn’t believe.”
“We’ll see it when we come,” Elizabeth said. “After the youngest is finished. Did I mention the excellent marks she received on her secondary school exams?”
“That was last month you said? Old news, abi?”
“This month also,” Elizabeth said, and Mrs. Satosi pictured her sister reclined on that ornate sofa of theirs, with the carved frame and rose brocade fabric. Her malformed foot—the result of a childhood accident involving a rusted spoke—propped on pillows, the smaller toes gnarled against the ball of the foot. Elizabeth continued, “We’ve started packing for our visit already.”
“You’ll bring my ogbono seeds and crayfish? The ones here, they’re not as fresh—”
“Yes, o. And we’ll see how well you and Peter have done for yourselves.”
“Your room is waiting,” Mrs. Satosi said.
When her sister asked, “How is Peter doing?” Mrs. Satosi answered, “Fine, you know Peter.”
She did not say her husband had returned from work two days ago and declared he was taking a few days vacation time, an unusual decision since he was the kind of man that worked so much one would think he slept with his briefcase tucked behind his head as a pillow or snug under his feet. To Mrs. Satosi’s surprise and dismay, he was still sleeping deeply this afternoon though he had taken off and slept much of yesterday. If Mrs. Satosi had said that Peter was resting, Elizabeth would have tittered and told Mrs. Satosi that her own husband—big man with all of his real estate investments and ventures in Ibadan, Lagos, and Abuja—never had the luxury of resting.
They ended with insincere promises to call more often prior to the July visit, which would be Elizabeth’s first trip to the US. Mrs. Satosi had done much in preparation for her sister’s arrival. New leather sofas to replace the pilling ones. Hiring contractors to lay down the patio stones, a project Peter had delayed for many months. For the guest bedroom, special furniture had been ordered in a rich dark wood, similar to what Mrs. Satosi had seen in Elizabeth’s house. Mrs. Satosi inspected the bedroom daily, seeing it through her sister’s eyes, sinking her toes into the new plush carpet, the ivory tufts grazing the soles of her feet.
Mrs. Satosi lowered the heat on the banana leaf pods steaming in the pot. Mrs. Omolayo had called Mrs. Satosi almost every week in May and reminded her about cooking moi moi for the graduation party. Mrs. Omolayo was treating her son’s college graduation as one would a wedding. She had dithered between two banquet halls. She asked Mrs. Satosi if guests would be reluctant to drive to the more spacious hall in Baltimore then she wondered if the second option had sufficient space for dancing and buffet tables. Mrs. Satosi did not know how Mrs. Omolayo had ever decided on more significant matters in life like what to prescribe to her patients or whom to marry if she could not select something as uncomplicated as a banquet hall. How Mrs. Omolayo also managed to hold on to such an attractive husband with this indecisiveness, one could only speculate.
As Mrs. Satosi finished coning and filling the second batch of moi moi, her daughters trooped down the stairs in their blue and orange ankara.
“We’re ready,” Melody announced.
“Look at the two of you,” Mrs. Satosi said, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Melody, turn for me. Let me see the style.”
Melody spun so that the pleated skirt of the dress swirled around her slender legs, and her braids swished on her back. Even at this ungainly age of thirteen, her twirl was graceful.
Mrs. Satosi beckoned to Linda who stood by the banister, blowing her nails and sighing, as if her time were better spent elsewhere. Since her sixteenth birthday, she behaved in a manner that distinguished her from Melody, which meant she was petulant half the time or aloof when it came to what she considered childish antics. Mrs. Satosi had never thought it possible to dislike her child, but Linda brought her very close to it, with each new aversion and complaint. Most recently, Linda had cultivated a distaste for egg yolk. Of all things to take a stand against in this life. Mrs. Satosi had lifted the trashcan lid two Saturdays ago and found three completely edible, unctuous yolks separated from their whites, slithering on coffee dregs. All that private school education, and her foolish daughter had thrown away the sweetest part of the eggs in an attempt to make one oyibo omelet.
“How about you, Linda?” Mrs. Satosi said. “How do you like your dress?”
“It’s too big,” Linda said, hands on her waist.
“It suits you. Turn so I can see it well.”
Linda turned reluctantly, as if huge potato sacks were roped to each ankle. As she turned, the scoop neckline of the dress gaped, revealing a yellow polka dot brassiere.
“Have I seen that brassiere before?” Mrs. Satosi asked.
“Yeah.” Linda shrugged. “I bought it a while ago.”
“With whose money?”
“From my birthday.” Linda crossed her arms. “I showed it to you.”
It was alarming to Mrs. Satosi that she had approved of this brassiere with its suggestive yellow polka dots. “You’ll need to cover yourself,” Mrs. Satosi said. “Wear your brown sweater, the one with the white buttons.”
“It’s a cardigan,” Linda said, reexamining her nails, which were painted different colors—two green, two blue, and so on. A glossed pink ring finger on one hand paired with a pink index on the other. Such nonsensical patterning, Mrs. Satosi thought, but she would deal with that later.
“Is Dad coming to the party?” Melody asked. Her words were muffled, having succeeded in unfurling one of the steaming leaves and pinching a morsel of moi moi.
“He’s sleeping,” Linda said. “Again.”
“Your father’s not feeling well,” Mrs. Satosi said. She slapped Melody’s hand from tasting another piece. “Just the three of us will go.”
“Maybe something happened at work.” Linda shrugged.
“Let’s not speculate when we don’t know,” Mrs. Satosi said.
“Shouldn’t you know?” Linda said, in a tone that suggested Mrs. Satosi should be hanged for not knowing the source of her husband’s malaise.
“Watch your mouth, Linda,” Mrs. Satosi said. “The two of you, finish getting dressed. Put on your shoes, and those necklaces I bought for you.”
Linda sighed and trudged upstairs with Melody following behind. Mrs. Satosi thought of Elizabeth’s Nigerian-born children. They were not handsome children. The youngest of the five—with that misshapen sloping forehead and eyes that belonged in a village goat’s head—would never be as beautiful as Linda. Regardless, Mrs. Satosi could never imagine her nephews and nieces speaking to their parents with such disrespectful tones. Americanized, Elizabeth would say, this is what happens in that America.
Mrs. Satosi punctured a banana leaf to check for doneness, and the pungent aroma of crayfish wafted into the air. The knife slid out with only a few specks of moi moi stuck to the thin blade. It would be ready in time for Sola’s graduation party. She could go upstairs and check on her husband because she, too, was worried about Peter. The little discomfort that she used to feel about his position had resurfaced, unsettling her, as if she had swallowed a little brown moth, one that was struggling to fly its way out of her body. But Peter had said not to worry. And she had to remember that the account was closed. Long gone by now. If anything were the matter, she was sure that he would tell her when he was ready.
A no-longer-pregnant Christina Omolayo walked across the banquet hall to give the announcement that dancing would begin after the speeches. She apologized—giggling into the microphone—that they were out of jollof rice, but more was on the way and plenty of fried rice was left. The skirt she donned glittered with miniature silver circles and landed a good six inches short of her knees. Mrs. Satosi thought it was the type of rubbish plastered on mannequins in those teenage stores with the outrageous colors—the stores with posters of young, oyibo girls jumping in the air with horrendously mismatched outfits and purple streaks in their hair.
After everything that had happened to Mrs. Omolayo’s daughter, one would have thought it would shock her into decency, but she continued to wear dresses that clung to her curvaceous frame. Many of the women had spoken about the situation in low tones, while they cooked fufu and egusi in Mrs. Satosi’s kitchen. Look at how an unashamed Christina had waddled around, her belle round and clothing stretched to cover the growing stomach, too concerned about the shade of blue garland for her baby shower instead of concentrating on how to finish her sophomore year at Morgan State.
Mrs. Satosi’s daughters, on the other hand, were presentable in their ankara. Melody, a skinny string from all her swim team practices, with tiny sprigs of baby hair standing at command. Linda had worn her hair swept up and pinned, with the curls loosely framing her face. She had mollified Mrs. Satosi by wearing the brown sweater. Peter had snapped a photograph of the three of them, and Mrs. Satosi had already determined she would print it for Elizabeth. On the back, she would write: Me, Linda (16), and Melody (13). Outside of our home on Midsummer Lane in Laurel, MD. June 12, 2010.
After Christina’s announcement, a round of speeches began about Sola’s achievements. Flanked on both sides by guests that she did not know well, Mrs. Satosi wished again that Peter had come. Her daughters were gone, having searched for their friends as soon as they arrived. Mrs. Satosi traced the gold and white beadings on her handbag, chains of lustrous pearls spiraled down the flap in a pattern identical to the design on her gold shoes. Gifts that Peter had given her for their twentieth anniversary earlier this year. If he were here, he would be greeting people as he usually did, shaking their hands vigorously, joking with them, so that they left him feeling cheerful without knowing why.
While she dressed for the party, Peter had said to her, “Must you go? We’ll be able to talk if you stay.” He had hoisted himself up on his side, leaning on his elbow in their bed.
She had turned from the vanity in annoyance. “Since morning I’ve been here, and it’s now that you’re wanting to talk? They asked me to bring moi moi. What am I to tell them?”
“There’ll be plenty of other food. Haven’t you said so yourself?”
Mrs. Satosi had dusted her face, tapping the powder brush on her forehead and down the bridge of her nose. “The girls won’t want to miss the party.”
“Let Linda take the two of them.”
“Our Linda? Who went and failed her driver’s test twice? I don’t think so.”
Standing to see her full reflection in the bedroom mirror, Mrs. Satosi had draped the blue wrapper across her hips, over her orange and gold-flecked blouse, and tucked in the excess material. She gently adjusted the gold gele, which had fit snugly around her head and cascaded up and out like the blossom of a flower. Peter had studied her from their bed as she dressed. She had had the feeling that he was not really seeing her. The way he had stared at her reminded her of the time she purchased new lingerie after that very surprising dream of hers with Mr. Omolayo.
In her dream, the usually pretentious Mr. Omolayo had caressed her with his large, capable hands, not in the perfunctory manner as Peter tended to these days. Mr. Omolayo’s hands had been firm against her thighs, and his balding head nestled in the softness of her stomach. And how his mouth had explored, the pressure and sweetness of it, sending such pleasure rippling through her body, that Mrs. Satosi had woken with renewed purpose and, quivering from the memory, decided to shop for new lingerie. A saleswoman persuaded her to buy a magenta leopard-patterned number with mystifying straps that contorted into different designs. She had worn it for Peter, and his eyes had flashed over. He had stretched, yawning long and wide resembling their neighbor’s cat. “It’s nice,” he said, before returning to the documents on their bed.
Yes, this was how her husband had looked at her while she dressed for Sola’s party. Like their neighbor’s fat, gray cat.
Awaiting the final speeches, Mrs. Satosi neatly folded her shawl on her lap. At the head table in front of the parquet dance floor, Mr. Omolayo sat in the center, wearing an orange agbada with blue embroidery. Mrs. Satosi’s dream had been months ago, and it was still strange seeing Mr. Omolayo at functions or when he came to the house. He worked with Peter in the same healthcare firm, and they had taken a liking to each other so the Omolayos often visited their home. After her dream, it was quite a while before Mrs. Satosi could look at Mr. Omolayo without flushing when she offered him a cup of black tea. Sola sat next to his father at the head table, dressed smartly in a gray suit. Mrs. Satosi remembered him as a boy, how he used to run through their house in his filthy tennis shoes with the useless red flickering lights. Here he was, graduate of one of the finest universities in the United States, the one with the black and orange colors.
The speeches were coming to a close, which was a relief since the microphone was fading in and out, and the speakers squealing periodically. Mr. Omolayo rose to give the final speech.
“That Mr. Omolayo can talk, o,” said the woman to Mrs. Satosi’s right. The woman reached for the puff puff platter on the table. “The man would carry on even if nobody was here.”
“He’s happy for his son,” Mrs. Satosi said.
The woman laughed. “Madam, my ear go fall off by the time the man finishes.”
“It won’t be too long,” Mrs. Satosi said, defensively. “I’m sure of it.”
It was long. Nearly thirty minutes for what should have been five, and throughout, Mr. Omolayo managing to make it sound as if Sola were receiving a Presidential medal instead of simply graduating from college. The applause was scattered when his speech ended, and the woman leaned into Mrs. Satosi and muttered, “God dey, o,” and bit into another puff puff.
Once Mr. Omolayo reclaimed his seat at the head table, the music started, triggering a loud scraping noise as several guests pushed back their chairs and headed to the dance floor. From the corner of her eye, Mrs. Satosi glimpsed Mrs. Omolayo approaching. Mrs. Omolayo always appeared hurriedly dressed, snatched out of her home before she could take a final look in a mirror. Her blue gele tilted to the side and did not cover her ears as it ought. Her lipstick was a pink matte, but she had forgotten to press her lips together to evenly distribute the color.
“Thank you for coming.” Mrs. Omolayo stretched her arms open to Mrs. Satosi. “You’re looking good. Every time I see you, bah? These your shoes, they’re very fine.”
“Peter bought them for me,” Mrs. Satosi said.
“Very beautiful,” Mrs. Omolayo said. She glanced around. “Everything has turned out well, no? You don’t think it’s too much?”
Mrs. Satosi considered the vastness of the banquet hall and how the amber wooden floors shone under the chandeliers. She thought about the heap of meat pies, suya, fried rice and egusi soup, such an overabundance that the custodian had lugged in three additional tables.
“It’s not too much,” Mrs. Satosi said. “After all, it’s a celebration.”
Mrs. Omolayo chuckled. “That’s what my husband says. It’s not every day someone graduates from an Ivy League.” Mrs. Omolayo clasped Mrs. Satosi’s hands. “To tell you the truth, I’m surprised you were able to come tonight, even bringing your moi moi.”
“Why wouldn’t we come?” Mrs. Satosi said, feeling the weight of Mrs. Omolayo’s hand. “It’s Sola’s graduation.”
Mrs. Omolayo lowered her voice. “Is Peter here as well?”
“No, but he sends his regards.”
“We understand. My husband says they never would have seen it coming in Peter’s division. I imagine he’s still taking in all that happened.”
“What of Peter’s division?”
Surprise swept Mrs. Omolayo’s face. “Do you not know?”
“Oh, I know,” Mrs. Satosi said, quickly. “About the reorganization? Everybody knows.”
Mrs. Omolayo frowned. “Not exactly, dear,” she said, patting Mrs. Satosi’s hands. “But I don’t want to be here gossiping. I don’t know what I would do if I were you. You’re stronger than me, sef. I’ve often said this. If you need anything from me and my husband, please don’t hesitate.”
Mrs. Omolayo sailed on to the next table, and Mrs. Satosi settled back down in her chair, the arch of it edging into her flesh. Surely, her husband would have let her know if a critical situation had happened at his work. But why was Mrs. Omolayo surprised that she was able to come? How had she known Peter could not? And how dare Mrs. Omolayo suggest that they would ever need anything from them.
Mrs. Satosi touched her neck, in the spot behind her earlobe, where she had applied her perfume. Her fingers moistened with perspiration. It was so hot in this godforsaken hall. These people dancing and adding to the unbearable humidity in the room, with their bubas, George, lace, and silk. These roughhousing children running around and ducking under tables. This woman next to her snacking on puff puff like a cud-chewing cow. Mrs. Satosi’s thighs were smothered under her wrapper, melding together, it seemed. Sweat droplets trickled down her sides, dampening the fabric of her blouse. She was panicking. And for what? She would call Peter and ask him directly what had happened.
The woman from earlier eyed her. “Madam, what’s the matter with you?”
“What do you mean?” Mrs. Satosi said. “I’m fine.”
“You look like you wan give birth,” the woman said. “Here, drink this kunu.”
Mrs. Satosi shook her head. The last thing she needed was the sweet, peppery drink sloshing about in her stomach. She stood. “I said I’m fine,” she said, but the woman had turned to speak to someone else and was no longer paying attention.
It was dark outside, a balmy evening with a breeze that temporarily dried the beads of sweat on Mrs. Satosi’s neck. From the back doors where she stood, a poorly lit trail curved to the right towards the parking lot. Another cobblestone path, with tall evergreens bordering its sides, led to a solitary bench. This is where she could call Peter. She suddenly felt the pinch of her shoes and the tightness of the thin bands that looped around her ankles. As she walked carefully down the path, Mrs. Satosi heard a boy’s voice muffled from behind the evergreens.
“You’ll make everyone wonder where I’ve gone,” the boy said.
His voice was familiar to Mrs. Satosi. Before Mrs. Satosi could place his voice, she heard a girl’s flirtatious giggle. It was how Christina had giggled into the microphone earlier in the night about the jollof rice being finished. Mrs. Satosi could not hear their voices anymore, but the sound of kissing began. On any other night, Mrs. Satosi would have disrupted the twosome with an exaggerated clearing of her throat. But this was not an ordinary night. She could not think properly. Her husband was withholding information, and she wondered if the situation had to do with what she had asked of him several years ago.
She hurried down the path leading to the bench, fumbling for her phone in the darkness. “Peter,” she said, breathlessly, when he answered. “Can you hear me?”
“Is something the matter?” Peter asked. “How’s the party?”
“I talked to Mrs. Omolayo.” Mrs. Satosi could still see Mrs. Omolayo’s crudely drawn black brows and hear her voice, how she had said, “Did you not know?” as she took in Mrs. Satosi’s ignorance. “Peter, are you there? I said I talked to Mrs. Omolayo.”
Peter spoke again, and any trace of cheeriness was lost. “How’s she doing?”
“She asked me about your work. She knows something. How does she know?”
“Her husband must have told her.”
“What happened, Peter? Why won’t you tell me?”
“I asked you to stay. You did not, so we’ll discuss it when you get home.”
“It’s not what I think it is, Peter. Is that it?”
The silence startled her. He had hung up. Mrs. Satosi inhaled sharply to try and remove the pain of his refusal and the sharpness in his tone. It must have been a challenging week for Peter. That was it. A missed and profitable opportunity that he should have seized. This was what it had to be. Because what he had taken for the family, it had happened so long ago that she refused to believe that it was only now that it would be discovered. After all his promotions, after he had risen to such a prominent position.
Five years ago, Mrs. Satosi’s sister had raved about the luxury housing developments in Maitama District. Mrs. Satosi laughed at the idea of expensive quarters in Abuja, but then she had visited Elizabeth in Nigeria and seen the lavishness of the sturdy three-story home, the expansive kitchen, the washer and dryer, the spacious balcony, the drivers that ferried Elizabeth’s family around Abuja. They had toured the children’s expensive schools with these drivers. Elizabeth hobbling on her one strong foot, arm in arm with Mrs. Satosi, showed all of this to them. Mrs. Satosi, sitting in her sister’s parlor of silk drapes and brocade couches, could not reconcile how her sister’s family lived better than she and Peter did in America. So she had asked Peter to go ahead with opening the account so that they could put their daughters in private schools and eventually move out of their one-level two-bedroom residence in New Carrollton. She assured him that his firm would not notice. He could have refused, but he had not. He considered it for several days. He had even suggested that she apply for work to bring in additional income, and Mrs. Satosi had said if Elizabeth did not need to work, why should she? If her sister’s husband, whom no one had thought would amount to much, had amounted to very much in Nigeria, then what excuse was there for Peter? In the end, Peter had not refused her. Now, she did not feel the same elation that she had felt the day he had come home from work and told her that it was done, and what had been done had been done for her.
The dance floor in the banquet hall was a sea of colors, and the women’s geles rose like sequined origami above the crowd. Before reaching her table, Mrs. Satosi went around to different tables, greeting each person that she knew, asking after their husbands, children, and mothers. If they knew or had heard about Peter, they would see that she was in control. They would see that she was not falling apart. Melody was sitting at the table with one of her friends when Mrs. Satosi returned. The two of them whispered, scrolling through their phones, the screens lighting their faces in the darkness. If they noticed her presence, they gave no indication. Mrs. Satosi inquired about Linda, and Melody dragged her attention from the screen long enough to say that Linda was dancing. A few more minutes and Mrs. Satosi would be able to tell them that it was time to go home. Sufficient time had passed so that their departure would not be interpreted as rude, and Mrs. Omolayo would not think that the situation, whatever it might be, was serious. Saying this to herself, Mrs. Satosi did not know how she would drive her daughters home, with how her fingers and legs were feeling, spongy as the egg crate foam that she and Peter had once used on their old mattress.
Mrs. Satosi felt something dreadful welling inside of her, weighty and slow moving. As Mr. and Mrs. Omolayo danced, several guests encircled them, pressing gifts of dollar bills to the perspiration on their foreheads. Young girls, who might have been Sola’s little cousins or the daughters of family friends, rushed to pick up the money that fluttered to the ground, collecting them in woven baskets for the family. Mrs. Omolayo held on to her wrapper, and Mr. Omolayo danced close to her, with the ease of a man who had danced many a time with his wife. A coterie of teenage girls congregated in one fiercely guarded corner, and Mrs. Satosi saw her daughter, Linda, among the group. The other girls looked ill at ease, yanking on their ordinary skirts and dresses, standing with the awkward posture of teenagers. Linda stood much taller, in her brown sweater, confident, and without the self-consciousness of her friends.
Mrs. Satosi’s daughters chatted nonstop on the drive home. Though Linda sat in the passenger seat, Mrs. Satosi only overheard snippets of their conversation. She heard them laughing about pop singers with bizarre names and dreaming up stage personas for themselves. Usually Mrs. Satosi enjoyed these times, when the girls spoke amicably instead of bickering, but their voices were unusual to her this night, like their voices were traveling to her from deep underground, from a tunnel somewhere under the Beltway. It was as if she had other people’s children in the car with her.
“Linda,” Mrs. Satosi said, after parking inside the garage. “Stay here.”
“In the car?” Linda said.
“What about me?” Melody asked.
“Go,” Mrs. Satosi said. “Take the food with you.”
Melody left, carrying the foil-covered Styrofoam plates, and Mrs. Satosi turned to her oldest daughter. Slowly, she began to pick bits of grass and crushed leaves that were clinging to the sweater she had asked Linda to wear. The aroma of the shrimp fried rice that Melody had taken into the house was trapped in the car with them along with that saccharine smell of Linda’s, one of her body splashes with names like Honeysuckle Breeze and Brown Sugar Mist. Plucking the detritus off Linda’s sweater, Mrs. Satosi allowed the silence to expand, until she felt Linda stiffen.
She finally spoke. “Linda, how did this happen, this dirt on your sweater?”
Linda said, “I must’ve dropped it on the ground.”
“Is that so?”
Linda shrugged. “I can’t remember.”
“While you were with that boy, that Sola?”
“I wasn’t with Sola.”
“In those bushes.”
“I wasn’t there,” her daughter said, staring out the window. There was nothing to behold in the garage, and the side of Linda’s head, smug and knowing, possibly thinking her mother naïve and out of touch, infuriated Mrs. Satosi.
“Don’t lie to me, Linda. I’ll ask you again and if you don’t answer me—”
“Talking,” Linda said. “We were talking.”
Linda was quiet a moment. “School.”
“Talking about school with that stupid boy?”
“He’s not stupid. He went to Princeton.”
Mrs. Satosi’s palm landed hard on Linda’s mouth. Mrs. Satosi moved to strike her a second time, and Linda lifted an arm to block her face. Mrs. Satosi pushed Linda’s elbow down so forcefully that Linda cried out, “We didn’t do anything!”
Mrs. Satosi struck her a third time and another and another. She had worked hard to raise respectable children, and it had been destroyed by the unpredictability of teenage hormones. That stupid Sola had sat at the head table appearing upright and worthy of his Ivy League status when the truth was that he was no longer respectable Sola, but Sola who rolled around in bushes with girls. Not just any girl. Her own honeysuckle-scented daughter was the one who had allowed him to unbutton her sweater and unhook her polka-dotted brassiere with his obnoxious Princetonian hands. Had he also reached under the flare of her improperly fitting dress? Mrs. Satosi could not bear to think of her daughter pleasured, entwined on the ground with the Omolayos’ son, encircled by evergreens, like two animals in heat.
“Get out of this car,” Mrs. Satosi said.
“I’m bleeding,” Linda said, running her tongue along the bruised rim of her lower lip.
“I said get out.”
Mrs. Satosi’s hands shook, and she was surprised by how depleted she felt by the exchange. She had lost some of the strength she needed to go inside and face her husband. She watched as Linda stumbled across the garage towards the door leading to the kitchen, where Peter might be seated now, eating the moi moi and the akamu she had prepared for him before leaving. Many years ago, after attending a function together, she and Peter would have returned in high spirits. While their daughters slept, they would have sat closely on the couch, his agbada similar in color and pattern to her blouse. They would have picked at cold bits of roasted croaker, reliving the funny parts of the night, laughing and shushing each other. They would have talked freely about an aggressive woman muscling through the buffet line or chuckled over a speech that went on so long that an elderly man fell asleep with his fork stabbing the air.
The door leading to the kitchen opened again, and Mrs. Satosi looked up. Her husband walked down the three wooden steps into the garage. He could have taken the three steps in one easy stride, but he walked down steadily, purposefully, his hand gripping the handrail. Soon, he was at the driver’s side, thumping the window, smudging the glass with his knuckles. “What happened to Linda?” he said, his brow creased.
Mrs. Satosi closed her eyes. She imagined Linda upstairs, dabbing her swollen lip with a soft cotton ball, the red-streaked fibers catching on the cut from Mrs. Satosi’s ring; Linda undressing, removing the sweater, her fondled body more womanly, having ripened like fruit in a matter of hours.
Mrs. Satosi exhaled, and Peter knocked again. “Are you hearing me?” he asked.
He reached to open the car door, and Mrs. Satosi locked the doors in one swift motion. All four locks bolted into place so that he could not tell her what she already feared she knew: That he had been fired. That he had never closed the account those years ago. That there had been an investigation, and there would be talks of charges and court.
Her hands trembled in her lap. She knew that he would blame her for this. He would say that she had forced his hand, and this was why he had continued using the account. Was it her fault that Linda’s private school tuition had skyrocketed? Then three years ago, they had needed funds for the closing costs on this house. Yes, she was the one who had asked for a new home, but Peter, too, had selected the neighborhood and the architectural style. Was it her fault that they had needed to purchase new furniture for Elizabeth’s visit? Elizabeth. How could Elizabeth come now? Warmth surged through Mrs. Satosi’s body, and she felt an overwhelming urge to fling open the car doors.
She had not closed the main garage door, so the timed garage lights were still on. She knew that the neighbors across the street could see them. From that distance, they would not be able to hear Peter calling her name, but they would see his figure, his fingers struggling futilely with the driver’s door handle. Perhaps they would see the stark shadow of her gold gele. It would not be gold from that distance; it would be a black silhouette above the headrest. The neighbors would cluck and shake their heads. Marital dispute, they would say. But what did that matter now?
Mrs. Satosi was aware that her husband was watching her. He was no longer knocking on the window or working the handle. He stood aside—puzzled, defeated.
“Margaret,” he said, finally. “Come inside.”
But Mrs. Satosi did not move. She remained in the car, waiting until the garage lights switched off, waiting until she could no longer see her husband standing in the darkness.
Afabwaje Kurian is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently at work on her first novel. Her stories, which have been published in The Bare Life Review, Callaloo, Nat. Brut., Joyland, with forthcoming work in McSweeney’s, explore themes of race, identity, colorism, and spirituality within the African Diaspora.