Over The Balcony – 2

At the end of this story, there’s an opportunity for you to do something great. Please read the instructions for the opportunity.

“Thank you for the book. I like it.”

“You too thank you for all the books you have been giving me.”

“So, do you like Texture of Air?”
“That guy tried. Alabi, he wrote things I can read, I enjoyed it. Plus, he praised Iwo, and Ilike that. My mother is from Iwo.”

“Oh yes, he is from Iwo.”
“See.”

She picked the book which was sitting on her thigh and opened it to a page. “Draw your stool nearer, I want to show you where I liked most. The way he set the words.”
He drew nearer and realized it was the closest he had been to her. Her hijab was touching the stool. Then her phone beeped. She picked the phone, leaving the book in the hands of Ibrahim.

It was her daughters. They asked if they could spend two weeks more. She knew her parents would spoil them. They would play around in the dirt. Eat, eat and eat. They would sleep whenever they wanted. And watched tons of TV. She knew. And her parents too wouldn’t let them leave so fast. They missed their grandchildren.
I dream
as the butterfly blows colours
which fly, swaying rainbow style

their friction caress my spirit
with the descant of lavender
of pure misk

of your hair creamed
plaited with care, precise
rounding of rows

The music from the butterfly’s wings
does not soothe by chance
like your smile

“Ehn, ehn you see that? I like the way he wrote it. It’s like he was talking about me.” She laughed“Wait, do you write poems too?”
“Hum, not really. I’m more of a story writer. I write short stories and will soon be writing novels.”
“Like Adichie, abi?”
“No, like myself.” He was defensive.
“Oh, I get it. You don’t want to be like any other person but yourself.”
“Something like that.” He mumbled.
“Write me a story then.”
He nodded.
“Who do you think writes better, Adichie or the woman who wrote that book you gave me before it. Erm, the book with a white cover like this, erm, Every good Thing Will Come?
“O you mean Everything Good Will Come? That’s Seffi Atta.”
“Yes, that one. Who is better?”
“I don’t like to compare writers. Everyone sees things differently. They’re both fine writers.”
“Hmnn… writers.”
“Who do you prefer?”
“Didn’t you just say not to compare?”
He forced a laughter. “I am just curious.”
“I like Seffi Atta.”
“Why?”
“She doesn’t say everything, you know.”
He knew what she meant. “What do you mean?”
“Erm, erm. She is, you know, somehow a little conservative. She doesn’t write every, you know.”
“But she does, now. I mean the Igbo boyfriend, now.
She was feeling uncomfortable so she diverted the attention to the food she burnt earlier in the morning.
“You mean you slept off while waiting for the food to be ready?”
They were laughing. If someone walking by saw them, the person would think of them as siblings — such warmth.

***
The room was pitch black. She stretched her hand, feeling the other side of the bed, but instead touched her cell phone. She pressed a key. It was eleven fifty nine pm, in two minutes Monday will come. She sat up on the bed, and felt a knot in her chest. It felt like she was merely floating, like too tired to swim, but one way or the other, still a float. Her eyes were shut as she the memory returned. She was at the balcony when Ibrahim came over as usual.

They were discussing Kate Chopin’s The Storm when the blowing wind grew stronger, and the clouds covered the sky. A shop owner, opposite their house, had shouted to her apprentice to do quick in getting the merchandise into the safety of the kiosk, and two school boys had worn their backpacks under their nylon pullovers. They were discussing Claris’ infidelity, and was so much into it, that it didn’t occur to them that the rain was coming down in sheets until a loud thunder stroke. Ibrahim cringed, while Umm Rumaysah jumped up in fright. Then they went inside the living room. Umm Rumaysah made hot tea and served herself and Ibrahim in small, porcelain cups. They continued their discussion over books.
Finish your tea, and join me.

Umm Rumaysah stood, and began towards her room.
Ibrahim was flabbergasted. He dropped the cup and it shattered, a piece bounced up, hit his hand, and pierced him. Blood streamed out. It was his loud “Ouch” that made Umm Rumaysah rushed back to the living room, her hijab half in place. She was now in an abayah, a slim fit one, one which she always wore an overall hijab on top.

Now, regaining back his senses, he realized he was reading in what was not there. The woman, who was as her auntie’s age mate, had said, Finish your tea, I’m coming, not the dirtiness his mind was leading him to believe.

She knelt before him and held his hands, she had to. She applied rubbing alcohol on the cut and cleaned it. In the middle of the bandaging, she looked up to see how he was doing, and when their eyes met, Ibrahim smiled. It was a long time since she was last smiled at. She kept on in silence, and then, she felt warmth around her left hip. It was Ibrahim’s other hand. She pretended she didn’t feel his hand. She finished up with the cut, went to the sink by the dining room and washed her hands. When she returned to the sitting room her eyes were molten ore, and face was on steam. She placed her hands akimbo and said, “You should go now!”

***

She sat on the red praying mat, after her morning adhkar. She supported her chin with a fist and listened to the rain as it fell in drops on the roofing sheet. She remembered their conversations over her loneliness. She would say he couldn’t understand, and he would argue that it wasn’t rocket science. He had been her friend, her library. Her companion in that gigantic apartment of hers. When a rat had threatened her in the kitchen, she had ran next door and called him. When the pumping machine stopped working, he had helped in fetching three buckets of water.

At a time when she was all alone, God had sent this young man to banish away her loneliness and opened her to the world of novels. But now, he was gone. His papers came through last week, and he departed last night. She walked to the kitchen and was making herself a cup of hot tea when her cell phone rang. It was an international number.
“Hello, Salaam alaykum.”
“Hey, wa alaykum salam. Americana. How was your journey?”
“Alhamdulillah.”
“Barakallahu feek.”
She asked if he met everyone well. She asked how his flight went. Then when an awkward silence ensued, she talked about the story.
“And thanks for the story. I enjoyed it. So I am Umm Rumaysah, abi?”
He laughed a little.
“You changed Rodiyah to Rumaysah, ehn Ilyas ? You these writers sha.”
“You’re not mad at me, right?”
“Ahn-ahn, of course not. I didn’t know you will write a story like that when I told you to write a story for me.”

There was a pause from both of them. She wanted to ask why he decided to write that story. She wanted to ask if he had felt anything towards her like Ibrahim did for Umm Rumaysah. She wanted to ask if he thought she was that lonely. She wanted to know why he ended the story that way. But she did not.

“OK, then. Alright, I just said I should call you that I am now here. I know you will be worried. I will call you later, and we can talk more. Now, I need to call my sister in Gambia.”

“No problem. Thanks for calling.”

The call came to an end, just as this story comes to an end with tears in her eyes, and smile on her face.

Please help feed children in poverty. Help Siddiqah Street Kitchen, and Allah will reward you. 😙

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