” You should come and meet Mr X, he said he has a friend for you Omalicha nwa*.” she says pulling my cheeks.
” but… but he’s like 45 years old, that is gross!” I reply, applying lipstick and missing the curve of my lip. I reach over her hands to get baby wipes.
” You don’t have to have sex with him, you’re a head case, he’ll admire your craziness”. She replied lightly, passing me the wipes , and fixing the back of my dress.
I place my lipstick on the sink, and we stare at our reflections in the mirror. Every time she pouts her red lips, her eyes are slanted, the heavy strokes of eyeliner that adorned her eyelids, made it impossible to see her iris. She turns around, adjusts her brassiere, fidgets with the hook, mutters ” fuck it” and removes.
” We look good”
” Yeah we do, I’m not sure how you’re going to prance around in your Ashawo cloth though. we’ll find you someone tonight for sure.”
” I’m not doing that” I say ignoring her.
” As always, you need to live a little ”
” I’m living just fine” I reply innocently.
” Alright, you don’t know what you’re missing. “She replies. ” Here’s $40 for you’re cab home. leave the key under the mat when you get back.”
She was luckier than most women I knew. They came to her easy. Men slid towards her in bars buying drinks for her and friends, us, when she asked. They paid for tickets to Dubai, Mombasa, Lagos , when she needed it to, and when she came back in the middle of semester, her suitcases magically filled with designer pieces from around the globe, she passed each of us a gift item and said things like ” oh here’s one, I didn’t ask for it so you can have it, he bought it for me in Paris.. totally ugly”. School vacations were episodes of ” Carmen San Diego”, we never knew where she was. So waiting was the game we played, and each return brought back stories of lives women lived in their 30’s with men who had money, families and no moral obligations. Men were toys that came to her easy, so she treated them as such. Wound clocks, let batteries run empty, misplaced limbs or stored them away until they were needed, when boredom came knocking. When she was stranded in train stations, refusing to take a taxi home, they picked up on the first call, arrived with prompt and took her home without stepping foot in her apartment if she asked for it. They bought her rooms in expensive hotels when she experienced flight delays, paid for a car she drove us around in our Sophmore year of college . Deposited money in her account when she had “run dry” and paid for her phone bills monthly. Proof of their adoration arrived in the post office in sixes and sevens, giant brown boxes, addressed to her college dorm from different addresses globally on valentines day, and when it was her birthday, she needed four of us to follow her to the other end of campus to assist with these things she called unnecessary flattery”.
At a point I envied her. If Gary Marshall wanted to re-direct Pretty Woman , she would have made the perfect Nigerian Julia Roberts, except she was not a hooker. We were the same age, had played on the same veranda in her family house in Victoria Island and sat in the same car on wedding convoys to Owerri. We attended the same nursery and primary school, unbearably separated in secondary school and reunited in University. She had always been ahead in every thing, and I trailed after her, content in being her shadow, living life vicariously through her bravado . These memories seem surreal now. My college room door bounding open at 4am , the smell of her perfume trailing after her, while she recounted memorable nights spent at The Standard Hotel, Ganservoot, The W, wining and dining with men who had children at home. The day she picked me up from class in her new Honda Prius 2011, we squealed in the back seat, as she sped down I-80 East, nodding our heads to ” Gongo Aso” and she would scream at the top our lungs ” All I want is cash and fun!”. She was eternal then, a timeless woman stored in the body of a 20 year old.
There were stories of her, sleeping with men who had families, wives who drove passed our college dorm waiting for her to come home from class in our sophomore year. At a wedding , a popular Lagos socialite had loudly threatened to pour acid on her face when she had gone back home for Christmas . Her parents had asked her to clean up her act “stop disgracing the family” and sentenced her to a year in our family house in Connecticut. Where judgment was nailed numerous times to her cross, she proudly wore the crown and insisted :
” I’m just having fun”. And I believed her, because it was true. In a truly justified world, her face would have been grotesque, ruined by numerous acid baths showered on her by mistreated wives. Our shared apartment would be stormed by angry Nigerian housewives ten years our age, asking her to leave their husbands alone. She would have been pregnant, dropped out of school and started a small business on the Island in Lagos selling imported clothes or hair extensions like some of the other girls we knew. Karma would have been a bitch and ” shown her pepper”. But this was a morally ambivalent universe. She finished every semester with a 4.0 GPA, of which she would smile and say ” So Mr X is going to pay me $5000 if I do well this semester” and true to his word, Mr X would wire the proposed sum on the day, right after her screen capturing her course grades and sending them to him with a winky smiley face. There were no repercussions for her actions. The summers she did not spend traveling the globe as a “companion”, she interned with Big four firms, and on our graduation she already had an employment letter stuffed in her Chanel Purse. The year spent in London, studying for her Msc., I accompanied her to Paris, where I lived a life I watched people experience in movies and television. She baited me countless times, ” I have someone for you to meet” ” Mr London has a friend he wants you to meet, we can double date” and me, with my heavy cross of morality had turned down several offers. I did not want to wreck homes, I was afraid of the repercussions, I did not want to be “that woman”. She would whisk her hand in my direction and reply “You don’t know what you ‘re missing !” and true to God I did not.
What had it been truly worth? And what was the lesson here? I pondered this as I crossed Christopher street on a warm summer day, eager to meet someone she had described over the phone as “the love of her life”. I had not returned to Nigeria as she had, another four year separation meant that she had grown again, become someone else, another creature that I would not have the time to know or explore. This time she had moved back to the U.S , was situated in a nice apartment in SoHo, where normal people like me did not live, and was to be engaged to an investment banker she met on her way to Amsterdam to meet another Mr X. My life had carried on dully without her, and there had been days I wondered if we were wrong, all of us, the ones who otherized women like her, shamed them, turned our noses up in disapproval at those who used their sexuality to forge a life of excitement and comfort. I did not feel like a winner, nor did I feel like a loser.
Now I knew that if I were given the chance to do it all over, to sit on her bed listening to her talk to a man thirty times her age, her raspy voice crooning him on speakerphone, while me with my advertised innocence stuffed my mouth in my pillow, laughing at the ridiculousness of these men who could not decipher, youthful curiosity and restless from love, perhaps I might have. I might have skipped classes on Friday, adorned my feet with heels and sat in chartered taxi cabs that would take us to city, where we would wine and dine with men who would wire us money for this company. I would have disregarded all the judgment, brushed my shoulder off , letting the chips of abuses reigned at me on social media, private numbers that stalked her phone, children who pleaded with her to leave their fathers alone, and sat beside her, morality and dignity aside, driving a fairly used Honda Prius down a random U.S highway , laughing at those other women, the ones who had no idea they were missing out. It was a morally ambivalent universe after all.