Lipstick

We arrived a little late at the wedding. Not because we were heeding the “Ghana man time.” My friend Kofi and I had to travel from very far to be there. It was a long journey and a tiresome one at that, to travel from Asamankese to the Volta region. First trudging through a very rugged road and then taking a ferry to cross a lake into Volta to continue. But we arrived to find the ceremony at its most important part.

Getting there at 11:20am, under a blazing sun and in a three piece sweating our gentleness away, we had just made it in time to witness the exchange of vows between the couples. The man of God had given the instruction to the groom to unveil his bride and then to plant the kiss on her lips following the order,” you may now kiss your bride.”

We stood behind the congregation to witness this sacred act which to my disappointment, the groom seemed to fail, although not miserably. I surmised how that he could have let the kiss linger like a sustained piano note till it faded. Alas, what we witnessed was rather like a quick pull on a guitar string that its player replaces his finger to cut short the resonating note. I cast a discomfited look at my buddy who stood beside me with a grin on his face and I reckon he was in retrospect of when he had had his a year ago.

He was married and I wasn’t. His gold wedding ring gleaming from his finger, I pulled him by the wrist to pull him out of the seemingly trance to register my dissatisfaction with the kiss. “Do better then when you have yours,” he said with a grin and turned to watch the couple again.

At 28, he had become the CEO of his father’s businesses. Standing 5′ 6, dark, large and smart with a handsome face to match, I looked like a dwarf beside him. To crown his success was his wife Abena, whom he described as his dream come true.

Raised as the second and an only daughter from quite a well to do family, Abena was the compliment to Kofi’s dignified demeanor, both in grace and height.Though, he beat her slightly in the latter. Beautiful without a shadow of a doubt, it was only an overly over protective and despairingly jealous nature she possessed like a bona fide authority of a local ruler that I couldn’t fathom.Here was a woman who could take her husband through series of questions upon every business trip he returns from. Not strange or out of place. But that she could go sniffing through his stuff for proof or evidence was odd. As he confides in me, he has on occasions had to explain some hair strands that naughtily got stuck to his shirt from a party he’d been to, even with her.

I on my part had sometimes been filled in by the wife herself as she would complain to me, as the best friend of her husband, on the littlest of worries arising from supposed change in attitude of her husband, which were no changes after all. They’d only begun to live together and there were new things she’d learn of him which were perfectly normal. In all such conversations, I’d had to remain quiet and like an obedient child to his mother, listen and assure her of my looking out for him for her. I dared not disagree. I would lose her confidence in me as her husband’s best and truest friend, and then I’d lose those after church Sunday palm soup and fufu.

We stepped out of the church to meet some of the friends who had come before us and had also stepped out to get a breather.  We shook hands with the guys. The ladies unhesitatingly spread their arms wide to welcome us into their bulging bosoms for a warm embrace, like it was customary. But they didn’t ward off my friend. They particularly warmed up to him and I have to concede, the guy can turn ladies’ head about, even married.

Maybe, that is why his wife is so in secured. Perhaps for fear that women would easily fall for him, and that one slip from him would lead to series of it, she better play the bodyguard lest she loses him. But that is as far as women’s trust for men goes. Not that Kofi is any saint, but at least I know my childhood friend is human and a man who wouldn’t betray his gem. To avert any childish suspicion from his wife when we should return, I thought to look out for him, as I have countlessly promised Abena. To prevent hair strands from getting too friendly or taking them off of him before we got back.

I was still somewhat lost in my moments of admiration for him when I suddenly remembered to warn him that he watches out for the lipsticks. But my good idea just came too late. Like remembering to give a warning but failing just in the nick of time to deliver. For just then, a lady came up that let her lip collide with his neck leaving a red smear at the collar of his shirt.  If it had been a car that had had such impact, Kofi’s would have been dented to warrant much money to repair. But it was too late. The deed was done to leave a red smear there.

To have prevented that dent of a lipstick would’ve saved both of us a lot of explanation and on my part, the pain of seeing myself tortured for answers I would’ve already given a hundred times over. And then watch my friend take a lecture from a sullen wife how he ought to be careful with other women who out of jealousy may be out there to jeopardize their beautiful relationship.She apologized but that could neither wash away that stain which now shone from the collar of Kofi’s shirt like a bizarrely miss attached clerical, nor the inevitable query we’d receive from his wife when we got home. I could almost envisage what would transpire when we got back. “How do we know that it’s not a ploy on the part of the girl whose lipstick it was to cause a stir in our marriage,” she may say. “She must have done it on purpose to get me to fight with him and only God knows what would happen next,” she may add.

I had often wondered how Kofi could put up with his wife. He always looked to appear content and satisfied. But this unusualness had compelled me to break the boundary of sacred respect for personal matters to ask him what special magic he possessed to be able to put it all under control. He loves her, is what he says and only feels sorry for her and for her over acting.

Kofi isn’t the kind to give his wife reason to behave this way. For his honesty I could vouch for him on any day. To me, she is the one always coming with rakes, spade and axe to break mole hills and heap them up into mountains.

So,with a collar smeared red with lipstick, and a best friend who still was bracing up to face a worried wife of his friend, we began our journey back home after the wedding. Kofi was calm, sitting behind the steering wheel, unperturbed but I was. I feared for my head more than he did his. Or that I feared for his too.  He kept assuring me to not worry with such easiness I was amazed.  We hadn’t even gone through how he and I were to convince his wife to believe what was already the apparent truth, I thought.  But his calmness, on the contrary, suggested that he knew well enough how to convince his wife if it came to it. I began to cool down.

We pulled up in front of his apartment to see Abena his wife just coming from her car with her purse in hand. Kofi turned to me, “She is returning from going to visit her aunty. The reason she couldn’t go with us.” He finished saying, giving me another reassuring look that all was going to be well.

We rolled up the glasses and got out of the car. Abena had stopped just outside of the apartment seeing us coming. Dark brown. Braided hair in bun. She wore a blue straight dress made of satin with a black belt at her waist to compliment the black shoes she wore with heels that would’ve made it more apparent, her height greatly surpassing mine had we stood any close.

Kofi walked up to his wife to kiss her welcome when she backed off throwing her head far behind, avoiding his lips. As she did so, the forefinger of her right hand came just on top of the red stain on Kofi’s collar. She took a long worried look at him and a stern one at me and stomped for the front door into the apartment.

Her eyes had taken a clean scan of her man before he even got close. Had she even missed that stain, and was not acting extremely ignorant, her reputation of having those catlike eyes and sniffing nature of a dog would have been doubted. But even this act proved again her prowess in assessment.

Kofi and I quickly followed behind her into the apartment. Why she hadn’t said anything out there though was a mystery yet to be unraveled.

As I walked just behind the busted hubby, the worrisome wife let out a cry of inquiries, albeit not unsuspected. But the questions and revision of past lectures of how her man ought to be careful were more directed at me than to Kofi. She actually was bellowing things like, “I knew it. I knew this would happen. I should have gone with you but then aunty wanted to see me. Look at that stain like nobody was watching you.” But she meant, “why hadn’t I protected, prevented, warned, reminded, at least make sure Kofi didn’t go as close to any lady as I went with him to the wedding.”

“If this is how girls of affluent families behave,” I sneered at the rain of complaints under hushed murmurs, “then I’m not getting one for myself.”

I could neither defend myself nor throw in some words of vindication for my friend. The torrent of questions was more than my capacity to keep up. It was like being pestered with pebbles and having nothing to shield myself except some helpless arms.

Kofi had stood silent all the while, perhaps rummaging through his mind how to cool her down before we could reason with her. He spoke and called her name, interrupting her then.  She responded with a voice almost equal to that of a child trying to talk through crying as a tear tore down her cheek, brown with the makeup she had on.

“The lipstick on your lower lip seems to me fainter than your upper lip. And it wasn’t so when leaving this morning. Have you noticed?” Kofi asked.

I couldn’t well understand what was happening at the moment. But then it all began to add up and I couldn’t still believe it. When did the man I know turn to be Sherlock Holmes?

I took a closer look at Abena as her chin rose from her chest from looking down when she had begun to sob. Our eyes crashed but mine quickly fell to look down her lower lip. I let my eyebrows up with my mouth forming a little “O.” The sound that followed it couldn’t have been mistaken too. Truly, the lipstick there had lost pretty much of its density. Not quite proportional to the upper one, I observed.

“Yeah I have noticed but it’s nothing. I smeared it on my aunt’s husband’s shirt when he hugged me.” Abena began to explain, sounding unapologetic and unrepentant. There is nothing to repent of. It’s only her in-law.

“Yeah I know.  It’s nothing,” Kofi said, “so would you believe me if I say what I have on my neck is from just a hug of a harmless friend?”

I saw what was coming. It was going to be a long evening of silly debate between husband and wife. And of how they should trust each other. How they both ought to feel safe and not worry of any foe anywhere. And above all, how they love each other. I wasn’t the one to stay and come between such fine arguments. More harder was to pick sides in such instances.

In the brief silence I rubbed my hand against Kofi’s shoulder. “See you on Monday,” I said and stepped out. I would hear about the rest at work I thought.

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Pride & Confidence (Short story)

She said she never felt “pursued” enough. She was a proud woman, in her late twenties, who deserved at least that privilege to be shown and made to feel worthy to be desired and, in her own words, pursued. With her, he never did enough to pull the strings to ever make it any plain that he had any interest in her. It was somewhere during the previous year that they met at a function and became friends. Between the 13 months that separated then until now, she could not recall, at any time, by his actions or words, that spoke of his love for her. A woman’s pride lies in her being wooed and courted. In feeling her worth in the ways a man tries just to win her heart. She abhored ever having to feel cheap because she let her heart out to a man who did less to win her.

She vaguely remembered what she had heard before, it was in a movie, she recalled, to find a man who’d make a fool out of himself just to win her heart and she’d find a love for a lifetime. Afi wasn’t asking for fools for husbands. She couldn’t bear to see a man make a mess to impress her like she saw in movies. She even regarded that saying as unrealistic at the time albeit with a pint of truth. All she wanted was not a fabulous way of her man professing his love in extreme ways unimaginable but that little relentless effort. A succinct constant profession, not only by mouth, of his love for her. This she felt would have sufficed.

She cast her eyes off him to rest on the glass table that stood in the middle of the room. Sitting on the edge of the couch in a white casual satin dress. A grand chandelier hung right above the living room. The light emitting from this sparkled the room. Everything else in the room was bright and beautiful except the sombre silence that invaded the room with the last statement escaping her mouth. She sat on the edge of the couch, with her head still a little bowed and arms clamped and resting on her knees.

“You know,” Kofi began to say, letting his eyes rest on her and quickly reverting his gaze as hers rose from the table she’d been staring to meet his. “I thought I was the only one who felt it. And that you could have no interest in me. Many times I wondered if ever you thought of me. Not as the friend we are but something deeper. Lord knows the countless times I dream of waking up and realizing you were mine.”

He paused for a moment and looked up. For the first time their eyes met but it was as if in a duel that required lovers to maim each other. As if the gaze were the barrels of guns, each found it difficult to hold a little much longer. In his mind he remembered how he had longed for this moment before. This moment where he could look deep in her eyes. Those dark dainty eyes of hers and see her smile like she always did when a little shy. It meant the world to him. But to look in those subliming eyes at this moment was suicide. It chocked him.

“And you say that I didn’t ever make my intentions clear,” he continued, sounding a little coarse, “well yeah I could agree. Maybe I was afraid. Maybe I was not sure. Not that I was unsure of what I felt for you. But I was unsure if you felt the same way”
“But you could’ve told me!” She cut in sharply, looking bemused.
“Yeah I could have told you and what benefit would that have served? Perhaps, as I know now, it would have done us a lot better but then you, you……….”

She peered at him, with raised eyebrows and head tilting a little to the left. “Ahuh, go on.” She said, with an urge in her sulky voice to make him finish his statement.

“You never gave me the reason to believe.” He said finally, rising from the couch where he had been sitting all along.

He was tall and handsome. A little past thirty. The grey T-Shirt he wore over a pair of dark jeans drew the muscles over his shoulders. His chest looked to be bulging, aligning nicely with his flat torso. Her eyes followed him as he made his way towards the other end of the couch, walked around it to stand behind it. She still sat. Moving only little. Her hands now folded up her breast. She kept her gaze at him.

“Can you please explain by….by that?”

She sounded coarse. Hardly getting the words out. It stung to know that she was partly to blame.

“No! Forget it.” He said. “Tomorrow is a big day and I don’t wanna ruin it for you, for us”
“I know. But it cannot be any messed up than it is right now so can you please tell me?”
“I don’t wanna…”
“But you have to. If you wish me well then you have to”
“OK. OK. I will.” He succumbed.

The apprehension that hung in the air was palpable. Sadness reeked and chocked the two of them. He looked sullen and morose. She felt forlorn and dejected. He sighed, tears stood at the brink of her eyes. When he began to speak, she bowed her head again but listened.

“All along I had prayed for that chance. I believed it wasn’t far of and I could reach for it anytime soon. I reveled in the sweet conversations we had. Day, night and there, there was a ray of hope. But then you recoiled. Not once. I became aware of this and couldn’t understand this roller coaster mood I was being put through. It never help build hope in me to ever make a confession and any confidence I had was weakened by this.”

He explained, with the last sentence sounding fainter than he had began, the lumps created down his throat stifling every word that passed there. Such that it was not with ease he let these words out.

What followed next was a deathly silence that pervaded the room. The clock’s ticktock, was louder in the silence. Lost in and tossed in the moment, a void penetrated into the room, into their minds. The clock’s continued ticktock seemed to be the only thing that remained to remind them of time. As it struck 4 pm, she was the first to break the silence.With a squeaky voice she piped,

“so what are you asking me to?”
“I’m not asking you to do anything,”he said, leaning backward against the wall and looking downward. “Even if I could I wouldn’t. And you shouldn’t do anything too, even if I asked.”

It is unsavory, enough, to lose love late and realize it has always been there in the waiting but to do so on an eve of a wedding was fatal, to say the least.

The door bell rang. Afi, having sat through the whole conversation got up to open the door. She welcomed her mother in, still looking sullen but managed to straighten her face, to hide her sadness. She helped her mother with the basket she was holding as she walked through the door into the room. “I can see you have company. ” She said, taking a seat in the process.

“Maa akwaaba.” Kofi said abruptly, with a well worked grin, from the wall where he’d been standing.
“Oh won’t you have a seat?” She inquired.
“Oh no thank you. I’m just leaving. I was sent to deliver this bouquet. ” He said pointing to a bouquet lying on the table.
“Ok. And why would Nana sent you?” She asked teasingly.
“Because the groom cannot see the bride on the day prior to his wedding. Besides, Kofi is the best-man.” Afi helped to satisfy her mother’s curiosity. But her own words cut like steel. Kofi took a look at her. Without a word he made for the door. She couldn’t move. She watched as he disappeared through the doors.