The painting

DAY 13

“Hold out your hand.”

“Why?” She asked.

“Do you trust me?” He asked.

She hesitated. “Yes?”

“Seems like a half-hearted yes to me.” He smiled a half-smile. It wasn’t really a smile; a corner of his lips simply curled up when he was seriously contemplating something.

They were standing in front of the easel holding the white 8 x 10 canvas in his small basement studio. The walls and shelves were lined with completed and near-completed paintings of different sizes. Some were commissioned paintings for clients, others were inspired works he hoped to eventually sell or gift out or keep. The air from the vents in the ceiling was cool but the smell of oil paint and acrylic hung heavy. There were several humming sounds from the refrigerator, the dehumidifier and the air vents that combined to fill the studio with a low, comfortable drone. The studio had no windows, but it was well lit with bright white lights. Nate had his palette in one hand, brush in the other.

“It is a half-hearted yes.” She replied.

He nodded. “I’ll never hurt you. You know that, right?”

Silence.

“Cécile?”

Silence. She held out her hand. Her fingers trembled as her arm hung in the air, palm open. She looked away, fighting back the tears.

She felt something cold on her palm. Nate had placed a paint brush in her hand. He closed her fingers over the handle of the brush.

“What?” She gasped and turned to face him. “No. Nate, you know I can’t.”

“I know you can do anything you set your mind to.” He let her hand go. “I’ll go grab us some coffee. How does that sound?”

“I don’t want to do this.”

“I won’t hurt you Cécile.” He whispered. “Just try. Take the palette.”

“I haven’t done this since….”

“You are an artist Cécile.”

She took the palette from him and struggled to wrap her fingers around it. Nate watched. As soon as she had the palette well positioned, he gave her shoulder a soft squeeze and left.

Nate returned with two cups of steaming coffee and placed them on the small table that served as a dining table located in a corner of the studio. He had been gone for a long time, about an hour. She knew his prolonged absence was deliberate because the coffee shop was only a block away from the studio. He walked up to the canvas.

“Well done Cécile.” He smiled. This time, the sides of his eyes crinkled, revealing soft lines. He was thrilled.

She smiled too. “It’s a branch.” She said. On the canvas was a long, bent, brown line.

“Yes, I can see that.” He replied, still staring at the painting. “Would you like to continue?”

“I think I’m done for now. The coffee smells so good.”

“Very well.” They walked to the dining table and sat.

The heat from the coffee cup felt good against her fingers. Her spirit was lifted. “Thank you for letting me do this.”

“You have to promise me something.” He said, as his eyes danced in mischief.

“What?”

He sipped his coffee. “You have to finish it.”

“What?” She almost dropped the Styrofoam coffee cup.

“Hey, Cécile,” He whispered. “You can take as long as you want. No pressure. OK?” He sipped again, “It’s just that you had an idea, some inspiration when you started. I want to see what it was. My studio is your studio.”

She nodded. Painting for the first time since the diagnosis felt good. Painting that bent line, even though it took an hour, made her feel better than she had felt in a long time. She’d try to finish the painting.

DAY 25

His phone rang while he was having cold cereal for breakfast in his studio. “Hello?”

“Nate? James here.”

“Mr. Oliver? How can I help you?”

“Yes.” A pause, “Cécile won’t be coming to the studio today.”

Nate’s heart skipped a beat, but he responded coolly. “Is she alright? She was doing much better yesterday.”

“Yes. She is just fine. My wife and I need to attend an important function today. I’m sorry she didn’t let you know earlier. You know how she forgets things these days. It’s…it’s the disease.”

Silence.

“Err, I’ll drop her off tomorrow,” James continued.

“That’s alright. Have a good—”

“Oh, Nate?”

“Yes, Mr. Oliver?”

“I want to thank you for helping my wife. Her mood has improved since she started painting at your studio. She never uses her studio here at the house anymore, but I know how much she loved to paint before the disease.”

“Cécile is an artist.” His jaw was clenched and his eyes were slits, but his voice gave nothing away.

“Yes, yes. Well, till tomorrow.” James hung up.

Nate hated the way James said the word ‘disease,’ as if his wife was dirty and could contaminate anything she touched. He knew James stopped appreciating Cécile’s artistry and berated her feeble attempts at painting soon after the diagnosis. There wasn’t any money to be made from her work since she could no longer brandish a brush with the dexterity she once had. The constant criticism from her husband led her to vow never to paint again. He also knew James only took Cécile out to events when he knew he could use his wife’s illness to garner favor from potential clients. James was scum. He was using his wife’s illness to his advantage, and he dumped her at the studio the rest of the time so that he wouldn’t have to deal with her.

Nate had lost his appetite. He left the unfinished bowl of cereal on the table and walked to the tall stool which stood in front of a painting he was yet to finish. Picking up his palette and brush, he continued where he had left off.

DAY 26

Cécile continuously wept for what seemed like an eternity. She lay on the hardwood floor of Nate’s studio, her short yellow gown stained with the paint she had accidentally brushed on herself several times while trying to finish her artwork. Her tremors had worsened and she was frustrated. Nate sat on the floor next to her, a box of tissue in his hands. He didn’t say a word. Somehow, he knew there was something else causing her to cry this hard for this long besides an inability to paint. She took another tissue, blew her nose and dumped it on the pile that had accumulated on the floor next to her. When she sat up, her eyes were bloodshot. She breathed in deeply and shakily exhaled.

“I’m so sorry, Nate. I feel embarrassed.”

“Nonsense.” His hand reached for her face. He cupped her chin, then gently brushed away a tear from her right cheek with his thumb. “Tell me about yesterday.”

Her eyes filled with tears again. “It was awful. I didn’t want to go. He threatened to stop bringing me here if I didn’t go with him. I need him to bring me here. I can’t drive anymore.”

Nate nodded.

“I couldn’t hold the wine glass. I couldn’t handle a spoon! It’s worsening Nate, and yesterday, he seemed to really enjoy my embarrassment. Everyone was staring at me like I was a freak.” The tears flowed down her face. Nate wiped them away with a tissue. “And now, I can’t seem to handle a paint brush.” She continued. “I thought doing this would give me a sense of hope. Now it fills me with dread. I’m afraid to do anything with my hands.”

He moved closer and embraced her. She fell on his shoulders and sobbed. “Shhhhh. It’s alright Cécile.” He whispered as he patted her back. “There are good days and bad days. You’ve been having a couple of bad days. It’ll be OK.”

“I can’t paint.”

“Of course, you can.” He replied. “Look at this!” He released her from his embrace and they both gazed at the 8 x 10 canvas where she had painted an Oak tree with reddish-brown leaves. Above the tree was a clear blue sky and below were fallen branches and leaves on a carpet of green grass. “You did that in under 2 weeks. You can paint. It is beautiful.”

“It’s not even finished.” She whispered.

“Then you’ll finish it. No pressure, remember?”

She nodded. “Thank you, Nate.”

“Feeling better?” He asked. “Does coffee sound good?”

“Yes, please.” She replied. He helped her to her feet. “Look at my dress! What a mess.”

“It’s the dress of an artist.” He responded as he helped her sit at the dining table. “Although it looks like we may have to get you to finally wear an apron.” He smiled. “You think you’ll be ok by yourself while I go and get coffee?”

She nodded.

“Good.” He replied. “No more attempts at painting today.” He said before walking out.

DAY 43

“What is THAT on your wrist Cécile?” Nate asked. He was furious; she could tell from the tone of his voice. She turned away from her painting to look at him. His eyes brimmed with tears. His jaw was clenched. His breathing was labored. He looked like he was in actual physical pain. She knew he knew what was on her wrist.

“It’s nothing.” She replied and returned her gaze to the canvas.

He made a guttural sound, turned around and stormed out of the studio, banging the door shut behind him.

DAY 47

He had not seen Cécile in 4 days, and with each day that passed without a word from James, he grew increasingly irate. Was she alright? Was she very ill? Should he call James? James had insisted on Nate having both the house phone number and his cell phone number in case something happened to Cécile while she was in the studio. Nate had come close to hitting the call button several times in the past few days but always decided against it. It was now four days and he couldn’t bear the silence anymore. Her painting was still up on the easel, complete except for a few small details. He had not been able to take it down since the last time she was here, the day he saw the red scar across her wrist. The day she had refused to tell him what happened to her. He was almost certain James had hurt her. He didn’t think Cécile’s condition had progressed to the point where she would hurt herself trying to do something.

He picked up his cell phone and dialed James’ mobile number. After gazing at the number for four days, he knew it from memory. This time, he hit the call button. It rang five times and as he was about to give up and hang up someone picked up.

“Nate?” James sounded cold.

“Mr. Oliver?”

“If you’re calling to ask about my wife, I’m surprised you haven’t gotten the message after all this time. She won’t be visiting your studio anymore.” He spat.

James had emphasized the words ‘my wife.’ Nate immediately knew something wasn’t right. “She isn’t done with her painting, Mr. Oliver.” Nate’s voice matched James’ in coldness.

“She is now.”

“Don’t keep her away from something that gives her so much joy. She doesn’t deserve that. You know this.”

“I can do whatever the hell I want!”

Nate paused. His heart was racing. He was hoping James hadn’t done anything stupid. “How is she?” He asked.

“Now, why would that concern you Nate?”

“She’s my friend. I have a right to know.”

“Right?” He scoffed. “You have the right? Let me warn you, never call this number or my home phone again. Henceforth, you do not know my wife. You understand me?”

“I saw the scar on her wrist, Mr. Oliver. If you try to hurt her—”

James had hung up.

Nate was livid. He let out a loud growl that rose from the pit of his stomach. In anger, he threw his phone across the room. It fell on the hardwood floor but remained intact. He stood from the dining chair and paced his studio. What happened? Did Cécile tell James something to upset him? He groaned. He had to see Cécile. He missed her scent. Ever since she began visiting his studio, he couldn’t get enough of her scent. It smelled of jasmine and wild orange and it filled his studio. He missed her smile and the soft skin of her cheeks. He missed holding her hand and guiding them over the canvas as he painted, his steady fingers over her quivering ones. He missed sharing coffee with her, and their many conversations. He missed staring into the deep brown circles that were her eyes or stroking her curly hair when she was tired. He missed seeing the longing in her eyes when she had to leave or hearing her say the words I don’t want to go. He knew what his feelings for Cécile were. He wanted to protect her, to care for her, to love on her. She didn’t deserve to be with James. He was a selfish, deceitful piece of filth. He never loved her, only her art. Before they were married, and while he worked as her manager, he fell in love with the money she made from her paintings, so he charmed his way into her heart. With her present condition, he had no use for her except as a puppet for his egocentric needs. She deserved care, not heartbreak or disdain. Nate shook his head. The more he thought about what might have transpired between James and Cécile, the more he couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that James was responsible for that scar and worse, he may have hurt her again. He needed to see Cécile. He had to.

DAY 49

Nate knew where James and Cécile lived. She had described it in detail severally, including how to get there. As he sat in the back of the taxi on its way to the Oliver home, he had a knot in his stomach. He knew James wouldn’t be home at this time. James now worked at an insurance firm owned by a friend who took pity on him after he had to quit his job as Cécile’s agent following her diagnosis. Nate also knew that James and Cécile lived alone. The thought of Cécile alone in the house with her tremors sent an angry shiver down Nate’s spine. He would get her out of that house, then call the police and have James arrested for neglect and abuse.

As the taxi neared the house, Nate knew it had to be the right one. He recognized the remains of the tulip patch Cécile had planted and tended before her diagnosis prevented her from gardening. He noticed the classic French window on the side of the building. Drapes covered the glass, but he knew behind the glass was Cecile’s studio. The front yard had a picket fence around it, and he remembered Cécile mentioning that theirs was the only fenced house in the neighborhood. He ordered the taxi to stop and paid the driver. The fence had a small gate that opened to a red brick path towards the front door. He knocked twice on the front door and waited. Soon, he heard the shuffling of feet as they slowly approached. He heard the knob turn very slowly and his anticipation rose as the door began to swing inward.

As soon as he saw her, he bit his lower lip and resisted the urge to curse. He almost couldn’t recognize the woman standing before him. She had large bags under her eyes, a cut on her forehead, her curls were unkempt and she looked like she had been starved for days. Cécile let out a soft moan and fell on Nate. As he wrapped his arms around her he noticed how cold she was. She couldn’t lift her arms and he could feel the persistent quivering of her right hand. Without thinking, he lifted her and walked into the house. He gently placed her on the couch in the living room and stroked her curls. His face twisted in anguish as he held her shaking hand.

“Cécile,” his voice broke, “What can I do? Tell me what I can do. How could he leave you like this?”

“My medicine,” she whispered

“Where are they? Tell me and I’ll get them!”

“James took them. I can’t find them. I’ve been searching for four days.”

“Shit! Shit! He hid your drugs? Is he crazy?”

She tried to sit up on the couch but Nate was not going to allow it. “No, Cécile. Please lay down.” He sniffed and blinked back tears. “What do we do? I have to get you to a hospital. Have you eaten?” He could already guess the answer to that question.

Cécile shook her head. “He emptied the fridge and pantry.” She sighed, “He’s punishing me.”

“FOR WHAT?” Nate shouted. He was finding it increasingly harder to control his rage.

“I asked for a divorce, Nate. I…think I want to be with you.”

Nate froze as her words echoed in his head. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft, and the tears he had been fighting back were falling down his face. “Cécile,” He whispered, wrapping her trembling fingers with his, “I love you. I’ve loved you since that fine evening you walked into my studio asking if you could watch me paint. I’ve watched you gain confidence in your ability to paint again. I know you are strong despite this illness. I know you deserve better. I won’t hurt you. I promise.” As he spoke he felt her hand go limp in his. The trembling stopped and her eyes rolled shut. “Cécile? Cécile?” He shook her. She didn’t respond. “No, no!” He retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and dialed emergency services. As he waited for someone to pick up he prayed she would be OK, that she only fainted, that the worst had not happened. An operator picked and he quickly described the situation and their location. As he waited for an ambulance to arrive, he lay on the couch next to her, held her as tightly as he could and wept.

DAY 50

“She’s my goddamn wife! Let me see my wife!” James could be heard arguing with the police outside Cécile’s hospital room. He was finally ushered into the room, hands in cuffs and two officers on either side of him. “You will regret this Cécile,” He shouted at her, “You know I didn’t mean no harm. It was just to teach you a little lesson is all. You’re still my wife!” His gaze turned to Nate who was sitting next to Cecile’s bed and his face burned with anger as he watched Nate place his hand over Cécile’s and gently caress her arm.

“She’s sedated, Mr. Oliver. She can’t hear your yelling.” Nate said calmly. “Count yourself lucky she’s still alive. You would have had more trouble on your hands otherwise.”

“Arrest this man too! He broke into my home!” James shouted. A doctor rushed into the room and asked the officers to escort James out as he was disturbing the hospital with his yelling. He followed reluctantly as the officers led him out of the premises into the waiting police car.

DAY 73

“I’m finished!” Cécile giggled. She let the paint brush fall to the floor. “You can turn around now.”

Nate turned to face the canvas. He smiled as he beheld the finished painting of the Oak tree. “it’s beautiful, Cécile,” He whispered.

“How much do you think it will sell for?”

“Sell? We’re keeping this one sweetheart. It’s too special to sell. We’ll mount it up on the wall over the fireplace.” He walked over and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I’m so proud of you.”

“I can’t believe I did this. I never thought I would do this again.”

“I told you to trust me.”

“And I did.”

He smiled, “And you did.”

“I don’t regret it.”

“You have made me one happy man.” He turned her stool around to face him, then slowly leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on her lips.

oak

Image credit: Pinterest

Of Layers and Pain

“Die.”

“Die!”

“Die. Die. Die. Die!”

I placed both palms over my ears and closed my eyes as if that would stop me from hearing it.

“Hahahahahahaha. Die!”

I shook my head. “No!” I replied.

Silence.

It seemed my firm reply had shut the voice up. Slowly, I moved my hands away from my head and opened my eyes. I was still in my bedroom; still seated cross-legged on my bed. The unopened bottle of pills still lay in front of me. I took a deep breath.

“You know dying is better than living, right?”

“Aaaaarrrrgh!” I shouted. My hands flew to my ears again. “Leave me alone!”

The voice chuckled. “Why?” It asked. “I’m your only friend. I’m the only one who cares. Do you really want me to leave?”

I jumped from the bed and rushed out of my bedroom, down the stairs and into the kitchen. I turned the faucet and washed my face in the sink, then wiped it with a paper towel. I was panting. I looked out the window above the sink and saw through our overgrown lawn the house across the road from ours. Mr. and Mrs. Sunders and their three children Maya, Sarah, and Justin lived there. Mrs. Sunders was out on their lawn playing with her three toddlers. They looked happy. Justin was the youngest, and the love his older sisters had for the little chap was obvious as they played. I looked down into the sink, blinking away the tears that had formed in my eyes.

The voice was no more. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. I won’t kill myself. Not yet. I thought.

“You should.” It was the voice again.

This time, I decided to engage it.

“Why?” I whispered as I walked back to my bedroom.

“No one will notice. No one cares.” It responded.

“And how will killing myself solve anything?”

It chuckled, “You will be happier. You will finally rest.”

I opened my bedroom door, walked to the bed and lay down. “I feel like I need to stick around to protect mom,” I said.

Another chuckle, “She couldn’t care less. She’s far gone now. Why do you think she won’t leave Jeremy? Why do you think she won’t press charges?”

I sighed.

“You know I’m right.” It coaxed.

“You are,” I replied.

My mother and I constantly fought because she continued to allow Jeremy hurt her and treat her like shit. Even after he murdered my little brother Promise in a fit of rage by repeatedly slamming his head against the bathroom wall and later claimed it was an accident, she believed him. She didn’t report to the police. She said she was in love and that Jeremy was her soul mate. During one of our fights, she threw a kitchen knife in my direction as she screamed obscenities at me. The knife grazed my neck. An inch closer and I would have been dead. That day, she called me a mistake. She called my late father a weakling; she said Jeremy was strong; that Jeremy would not die on her like my wimp of a father, who died of Malaria shortly after returning from a brief working trip to Malawi. She said she hated me. I no longer existed to her. She spat at me and warned that if I didn’t quit bothering her about Jeremy, she would throw me out of the house. I couldn’t believe my own mother had thrown a knife at me. I was only trying to protect her from a monster. She was the only family I had left. That day, over a month ago, was the day we had our last major fight. It was the day I started hearing the voice.

I heard the door slam shut downstairs. Someone had just walked into the house. I sat up abruptly and my eyes flew to the round clock hanging on my wall. It was 4:12 pm. I sighed, relieved. It could not be Jeremy, probably mom. I never knew where she went these days. She would just up and leave the house once Jeremy was gone to his truck-driving job for the paint company ColorWorld. She would not return till early evening to make dinner for him. I didn’t matter of course. I had to care for myself. The time Jeremy arrived from work at nine and mom didn’t have dinner ready yet because she had been sick all day and slow to finish, he unleashed his rage on her and almost killed her. I tried to intervene and ended up with the wide scar on my upper arm where he twisted it so hard, it broke. My mother woke the next day with one eye swollen shut and bruises all over her body. She did not go to the hospital, and she did not send me to the hospital either. She tied my broken arm in a tourniquet and applied cold compress to her wounds. She fed me with Ibuprofen pills till I was almost numb. I couldn’t believe she was going to let everything slide. The voice, which had started as a whisper, became louder and more frequent.

I could hear clattering sounds coming from the kitchen and I knew for sure that it was mom who had returned. Before Jeremy, whenever she returned from work, she would call out my name, or Promise’s name, to know if we were home from school. We would run downstairs and engulf her in a hug. Now, she didn’t call. The voice was right. If I killed myself, she wouldn’t care. These days, she didn’t care if I was alive or dead anyway. She had thrown a knife at me. My life meant nothing to her.

I walked down the stairs into the kitchen. Mom was by the sink; in the same spot I had been standing and washing my face just minutes ago. Her head was bent and I could hear her quietly weeping. What has happened now? I thought. I looked over to the stovetop. Something was cooking. It smelled like potatoes. She was obviously in the process of making dinner. I was afraid to walk up to her, but something drew me. I took a step forward and she raised her head. She turned around to face me and I swallowed a gasp. Her eyes were darkened from her mascara running. They left black marks on her face where her tears had run. I took a good look at her. We had not seen much of each other lately although we lived in the same building. I did my best to avoid her since the last fight we had. She looked terrible. Her eyes were hollow sockets and she had wrinkles all over her face. She looked seventy when she was only thirty-eight. She was gaunt, her thin neck extending from her very visible collarbones. Her arms were skinny and covered in light purple scars in different places.

“W—would you like dinner?” She stammered. “I’m m—making mashed potatoes.”

My head spun. I could not believe what I had just heard, but I slowly nodded a yes. Mother had not asked me if I wanted to eat in a long time. “Why are you crying?” I whispered hoarsely. My mouth was dry.

Fresh tears ran down her face. “J—Jeremy died.”

This time, I couldn’t hold back the gasp, “What?”

“His truck was in an accident.” Mom replied. “He died instantly. I just identified his body at the morgue.” A pause. “Would you—would you like dinner? Would you?” She asked again. Her eyes, bloodshot and brimming with fresh tears, were pleading. They were apologetic. They showed regret. They were penitent.

I knew she was trying to say how sorry she was, but she couldn’t mouth the words. I saw it all in her eyes, in her offer to make me dinner, in her tears, and then I knew. I knew that if I had killed myself today someone would have cared. She would have cared. Relief washed all over me and tears brimmed in my eyes as I whispered, “Yes, mom. I’d like dinner very much.”

She smiled, nodded, then turned around and began sobbing. I watched her for a few minutes, wiping my own tears with the back of my palm. My mother was still in there somewhere, buried deep within the shell whose shoulders were now shaking vigorously. All hope was not lost. I turned around and walked back up the stairs to my bedroom, leaving her to grieve.

Once inside my bedroom, I closed the door and rested my back on it, let out a deep breath and whispered to the voice, “I knew I shouldn’t have killed myself today.”

Silence.

“Are you there?”

Silence.

I smiled. “Well, goodbye then.”

I walked to the bed, lay down and soon drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Chitchat

When Pamela walked into the restaurant, she was fuming. She had an ugly scowl on her face and as she sat next to her friends Noel and Pat, they could hear her panting.

Ah ah, Pam Pam, what is wrong? Noel asked.

Pamela sighed, obviously trying to calm herself. “Please, I need a drink before I talk. Order me two bottles of Harp immediately.”

Noel quickly motioned for the waiter and placed the order. Soon enough, the young man reappeared carrying a tray on which sat two sweating, ice-cold bottles of Harp lager and a tall glass.  After filling the glass tumbler, he walked away. Pamela grabbed the open bottle instead and took a long swig, swallowing as gulp after gulp hit the back of her throat. Noel and Pat watched in awe.

“Will you talk to us or what?” Pat was getting impatient.

Pamela sighed again, “My dear, don’t mind that useless Oluchi girl. I just finished pounding her before I left the house to meet up with you guys.”

“Oluchi? You mean your house-help?” Noel asked.

“Who else?”

“And why did you pound her? What did she do? Is that why you stormed in here breathing like you just carried ten bags of rice up a flight of stairs?” Pat asked, laughing.

“Pato, stop laughing, it’s not a funny matter.” Pamela insisted, “I have been looking for an opportunity to give her a lasting scar. The useless idiot! Can you believe that the rat I brought from the village is now looking good because she has seen good food to eat and good clothes to wear and is enjoying air-conditioner in my house? She now earns a salary and can buy body cream. Her complexion now glows. In my house!”

“But you have not told us what she did,” Noel said and took a sip of her malt drink.

“It is a long story.”

“We have time Pam Pam,” Pat replied, looking amused.

“Well, it all began two weeks ago.” Pamela started, then took another long swig from the bottle before she continued, “I don’t know where the sudden affection came from, but my husband insisted that Oluchi should get a raise.”

Pat and Noel burst out laughing. Pat especially laughed so hard that she almost knocked down her glass of beer.

“And what is so funny?” Pamela shouted. “What kind of friends are these sef?”

“No, no, Pam, take it easy,” Noel responded. “We are only laughing because you overreacted. So what if your husband asked you to give Oluchi a salary raise? You should have simply said no and that would be the end of it.”

“Hmm, wait let me finish before you conclude that I overreacted.” Pamela said, “I said no. Why should I give her a raise? Raise for what? What does she do that deserves a raise? I already pay her for the work she does in the house including caring for the kids. So, I told my husband no. He then said that if we will not give her a raise, we should make plans to send her to school, after all, she had been with us for 4 years and was yet to be enrolled in secondary school.

I asked him for the rationale behind his thoughts and he said that since our kids have started school and Oluchi spends most of her mornings and afternoons at home doing nothing, enrolling her in JSS 1 would be a good idea, and if we did not want her in school, it was only fair that we pay her more. He even had the nerve to say that her clothes deserved changing because most of them were old and torn.”

“But didn’t you once tell us that you purposefully underpay her so that she won’t have too much to spend?” Noel asked.

“Of course.” It was Pamela’s turn to laugh. “See this Noel o! So you expect me to pay her well so that she will glow even more, and no longer wear the rags I give her? She already eats in my house and lives with me. I shouldn’t even be paying her but my husband won’t hear of that. I even suspect he likes her.”

“So continue to the part that made you pounce on her.” Pat said.

“Yes. Imagine my shock when I came back today and found new clothes on Oluchi’s bed, and a wad of money next to the clothes. I immediately asked her where they came from and she said, ‘daddy came home early and gave them to me. He went to the supermarket and will be back shortly.’ My blood boiled and I gave her the hottest slap of her life. Now, I have no doubt that that fool has been seducing my husband. How can he buy her clothes and give her money after we argued about it two weeks ago and my no was final? Who brought her from the village? Was it not me? What is his business what I do with her? I beat her black and blue. I even put pepper in her eyes and I made sure I left marks all over her body, especially on her face, let me see the face she will use to seduce my husband again.” Another long drink from the bottle, and opening the second bottle with her teeth, she gulped that one down too.

“You did well,” Pat said. “In fact, I need to order you another beer. Those house-helps can be so useless. That’s how I caught mine massaging my husband’s feet in our bedroom. In her defense, all she could say was that my husband had asked her to do it. The stupid man even agreed to it and was trying to stop me from beating her. Thank God the girls were sleeping over at their friends’ place, I beat both the useless man and the stupid girl. The next day, she was out of my house and my husband was apologizing like a puppy. Hahaha.”

“Yes o.” Pamela replied, “When my husband returns from the so-called supermarket to see his lover battered and bruised, he will know not to play with fire. Is that not so Noel?”

Noel hissed, “I don’t know, because I don’t have such issues since my help is a boy, not a girl.”

“Well, that’s because you have 4 boys and no girl child. It’s convenient to get a male house-help. I can’t risk doing that since I have girls; not with all the news of rape and child molestation going around these days.” Pat said.

“But aren’t boys worse? They steal when no one is around. Can boys actually look after children as well as girls?” Pamela asked.

“Akpan is a good boy.” Noel answered. “We have never had problems with him. We don’t send him to school but we pay him well. He has never stolen from us.”

“Well, pray he does not. I don’t trust male house-helps. I’d rather get a girl and give her a lesson if she tries rubbish.” Pamela replied, “Anyway, that’s it o. I’ve finally succeeded in damaging her fair skin. It was getting too much. She was starting to look too good for comfort, even in tattered clothes.”

“Are you going to send her away?” Pat asked Pamela.

“For what? She will stay with me, scars and all. My husband will see what he has caused. Rubbish! Imagine buying clothes and giving money. Not while I’m still alive.” Pamela finished her second bottle before finally draining the glass. “I have to go. It was nice chatting with you ladies. Let’s do this again next Tuesday?”

“Next Tuesday. Come with an update on Oluchi.” Pat said, smiling. “Pam Pam! You no gree o.”

“I have to go too,” Noel got up. “See you next Tuesday.” She walked away briskly, feeling uncomfortable.

Pamela and Pat paid for their drinks, and walked out of the restaurant, happy that they had been able to chitchat for a few minutes.