Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Sharon Ogugu
My liking for white people has always dangled between indifference and tolerance. Then my adopted sister went ahead and got married to one and I realized how ordinary they actually are. As would be expected, we met his family and he met ours. That right there marked the start of my troubles.
I am not one to make friends easily. I have been described as snobbish and standoffish for as long as I can remember and it has never bothered me. I enjoy my own company, I like the sound of my own voice and I think life is too short to worry about everyone and their varying opinions of you. Also, one cannot be too careful about new associations. They are often time-consuming, needy and difficult to shake off. There is also the assumption that their opinions deserve room among your top priorities. Frankly, I would not rather walk around feeling indebted.
Having developed a steady pattern of saying the most inappropriate things in the presence of company, I had managed to beat my little sister’s record of bad behaviour. Stacey got her tongue pierced soon after getting a tattoo of a dragon covering the entire length of her back. We were all relieved that what we had labelled as her dark spells failed to leave her maimed or dead. Neither of us remembers when she stopped drinking and started painting and sketching in. She would eventually spend more time at home with our obviously relieved mother. From my own perspective, the rearing of our older sister and brother was rather uneventful. They were both dull, politically correct, straight jacketed and family-oriented characters. Three days ago, six of the eight family members of my new family showed up for a dinner we had all been forced to help prepare. All I could think of was getting home. Kate appeared genuinely happy, with her new catch by her side, so I decided to play nice and talk to her new brother-in-law.
Nothing irritates me more than a foreigner choosing to over-analyse the state of my country’s socio-political affairs when he has only visited the said country twice, for a little under two weeks each time, in all his adult life. Add fatigue from unwelcome chores and an afternoon spent exclusively in the company of my family and you have a situation begging to turn into a messy exchange. Kate met my flash of irritation with a look that begged for patience. For a moment, the offender’s bubbling receded into the background. I raised my glass at her to indicate that I would not be rude.
“Forgive Carl. He is running short on brain tonight.”
The nicely tanned redhead who was speaking to me was Carl’s wife. She too had spent her life under the shadowy reputation of a cold fish, I would later learn.
“Power or capacity?”
She smiled and asked Carl to let us chat. He left immediately, seeming more relieved to be rid of me than I was to have him directed elsewhere.
“Is there a difference?”
“You’re the American. You tell me.”
She pulled out what looked like a pen and asked me to walk out with her, only it sounded more like she was telling me to do it rather than making a request. Outside, she sucked on the end of her pen and blew out flavoured white smoke.
“That stuff will kill you.”
I sipped on my third glass of Pinot and realized how light I was starting to feel.
“Why would you care?”
“I don’t. It’s just a thing that people say.”
“Anyway this is just grape flavoured fluid and fake smoke. No nicotine.”
She passed the contraption over. In no time at all, I was making smoke rings with the device which made its way back and forth between us.
“You have such full lips.”
She looked at me and bit her lower lip.
“I can never tell whether that’s a compliment.”
“Would you know how to take it if it were?”
“I’m not sure. It sort of comes with being black.”
“I hated mine for so long I forgot when I came to accept them. They’re so thin.”
“At least you don’t have to wash your hair every few weeks if you want to keep it long.”
“But your Afro looks so effortlessly done.”
“And when did any woman do anything and not make it look as if it were completely effortless?”
My glass was empty. I placed it in a flower pot.
“Not saying ‘African woman’. The general assumption is that the rest of us have it easy all the time. And for saying that.”
“It isn’t said enough. Although you do get to enjoy washing machines and dish washers and strollers and vacuum cleaners.”
“There’s that. But we don’t have the other women in our lives hovering over us with open arms.”
“Why do we try so hard?”
“We’re hardwired to accept hardship as a true mark of womanhood. It’s not real if it doesn’t hurt.”
“Or exhaust. Or consume completely.”
“Isn’t that precisely what men do to us?”
She was not even trying to hide her misery. From the light cast by the security lamps lining the fence I could see the dankness of her mood.
“How did you two happen?”
“College. We were both young. Then, I thought it sexy that he was so earnest and trusting. Now he’s the optimist and I’m the realist and I’m not ready to go through all that readjusting and compromising with someone else.”
“He seems genuine. That should mean something.”
“My opinions still count for something.”
Her voice mellowed slightly. I was relieved.
“You should date a Nigerian for a month.”
“I did. Six months. Turned out I’m white all the way in. The sex, though… That was something else.”
“No monkey business, huh?”
We burst out laughing and laughed so hard that we sank to the ground and remained seated.
“Kate says you have another house in the compound.”
“What the Brits made us call the servants’ quarters. Yes. Let me show you, curious American.”
“Lead the way, sunshine.”
I tapped a switch. One of the wall brackets lit up.
“Playing tour guide is a little beneath me. Me being black and all.”
She had already disappeared into the darkness somewhere in one of the rooms at the end of the corridor. Lights went on and off every few seconds. Then it was all dark again.
“You have a vibe.”
She was standing in an unlit section of the living room when she said this. Then she started to circle me, a lot like a vulture would something it would take its time to devour; a surprise tactic saved for men who had mistakenly assumed me to be the gullible college girl they could stir with bloated ideas and fruity alcoholic drinks.
“I’ve been told.”
“I’m quite fond of you, Angie.”
“I fond you too, Amber.”
I made a face.
She stopped moving.
“What are you playing at?”
“I want to kiss you.”
“You want to kill me? I can’t tell why, because I thought we’d hit it off and… You’re quite something… Guess I read you wrong.”
I could not believe how flustered I was. My efforts at covering up what had been said showed too desperately, making me even more uneasy. Standing a few feet away, Amber appeared surprised by the suddenness of her admission. It was easy for me to relate to her predicament.
“Funny thing is you’re not repulsed by the thought, are you?”
“I’m not a white girl. Sorry. I leave that to Katy Perry and her adoring fans. I… How do I say this delicately? I don’t swing that way.”
“I’m not a lesbian, Angie.”
“Yet here we are.”
“Here we are.”
I did not resist or pull away when she slipped her hand on to the small of my back. Neither did I stop her when she stroked my cheek, yet I have never let anyone touch my face and get away without a good smacking. She bit her lower lip and forced her gaze elsewhere. I almost ran out of breath and lost balance when we kissed. We sat on the floor, her skirt pulled up over her deathly pale thighs which were perched over my own. She groaned when I gently kneaded her waist and that sound made me want to do it over and over again. When the initial excitement had abated, she sat wrapped in a cavity I had created about my torso with my arms around her.
“I knew there was something about you.”
“Nah! That was all you. We need to get back in there, though.”
I helped her up and straightened out both our outfits.
“And we’re related so…”
“Honey, this is Africa. We don’t swim with sharks or keep pet tigers or make out with our in-laws on the night we’ve met them.”
She turned off the lights and walked out of the house while I shut the door. Carl was walking down the pavement towards us.
“Here comes your reality.”
“Who says it has to be one way?”
“It does. You’re married. And women always seek out the more difficult options offered to them, remember?”
Carl stopped just as I was about to walk away. Although I did not look back, I knew that I would meet her again; only this time, we would not have to worry about company.