By Hannah Onoguwe
“Is it paining you?”
It was what Halima, the girl who braided her hair, always asked, especially when beginning to weave from the tiny hairs at her hairline. Many times she would answer in the affirmative, but Halima would only say in pidgin English, without sparing the hairs, “Sorry, Aunty. Make we catch all of them, make e fine well-well.” So with a wince she would hold on to the part of the hair that had been woven to lessen the pull, press it down tightly and bear it. Yes, the hair would turn out beautifully, much more so after the two or three days it took for the tension of ‘new’ hair to wear off.
However, the current situation bore no resemblance to a hair braiding appointment. She almost giggled at the disparity. The next moment though, she was almost sad; she wasn’t supposed to be amused, was she? Shouldn’t she be in the beginning throes of ecstasy? At the very least, she felt she should be more preoccupied with the task at hand.
She looked up at the man above her. He had stilled when she didn’t answer immediately and in the low light of the room she could make out the anxiety that furrowed his damp brow. She took a second to run her gaze over his face, with the unfamiliar passion that made the angular lines of his handsome face so different from the one she was more accustomed to: the attentive, sometimes bland one of her driver.
“No, Kenneth. It’s not.” Bidemi attempted a reassuring smile, but feared it might not be very convincing. The lights must have been on her side, though, because after looking down at her quizzically, he continued his back and forth motions, and she let out an encouraging sound. Hopefully, one of mounting passion.
No, it wasn’t ‘paining’ her. In fact, she couldn’t say it hurt at all. For that, she supposed she should be thankful. Being a 39-year-old virgin, she had kind of expected she would be screaming her head off right about now; a couple of her friends’ deflowering tales had raised the hair on the back of her neck. She was aware that one or two had embellished for effect, but somehow she hadn’t been able to shake the apprehension. But maybe age had just slackened her hymen — made it shrivel and drop right off, who knew? It must have grown tired of waiting and thought it had better get to it….
She didn’t feel any real shame. She had known Kenneth as a member of her church — one of the ushers — for quite a while now, over two years. Being one of the deacons in her church, she had been placed as a supervisor of that department. When Kenneth had approached her for a job, like many others had over the years, knowing of course that she worked in a bank, she had been only a little irritated. She had been surprised at the fact that he could boast of only a WAEC certificate. She had been even more surprised that the clean-looking young man’s English wasn’t as smooth as his appearance had led her to believe. He had grown up in Lagos, and had told her the classic tale of being from a poor background, the firstborn who had sacrificed so his siblings could go to school. Since she couldn’t realistically expect him to occupy any position at the bank, unless that of driver, which was handled straight from the head office in Lagos, she had suggested that he come and work for her at home, washing her clothes, cleaning, and other odd jobs. He even proved to be great at cooking. Discovering he drove well, every now and then over the weekends he did some shopping for her or took her where she needed to go. He had turned out to be almost indispensable.
Bidemi hadn’t set out to marry him, no. It was only when her 39th birthday had rolled around that it had struck her — more forcefully this time, that if she didn’t set her life in motion, she would end up a real hardened, lonely spinster. For some reason that day her girlfriends were either away with their husbands or on some work-related assignment. In fact, Tessie, who had married before graduating from the university, was out of the country attending her daughter’s high school graduation from an American university. All they could do was call to wish her a happy birthday. But there was Kenneth, who had miraculously known, standing at her door that Saturday afternoon, with a cheap card and a small box of chocolates. Working with her, he had caught on to the fact that she loved chocolate and bought her some. She had been amazed and touched. And that was when the idea had been born.