If You See Another Day

Tiny is out of breath. It has nothing to do with the ghost of her mother riding with her in the back of the taxi she’s in, though it probably should. The taxi crawls through Friday afternoon traffic. Tiny watches the dashboard clock blink as if its sole purpose is to remind her just how late she is. It’s annoying, but—now that she thinks of it—not quite as annoying as her mother’s ghost. She doesn’t even know if her mother is properly dead like a ghost should be, and she doesn’t care. She’s not seen or heard from the bitch since age twelve. She considers if she has mummy issues, decides she doesn’t give a fuck and can’t be bothered about ghosts either. She certainly doesn’t want one hanging around as if they’re tight girlfriends. All she cares about right now is that she’s late.

That I left doesn’t mean I stopped loving you, Tiny, her mother’s ghost says.

Tiny wants to point out that she’s not quite tiny any more, but she waves the ghost away. She has no interest in whatever this ghost has to say. Not now, not ever. It’s too late for explanations. She knows better than to ask the taxi-driver if he can see the ghost too. She’s seen enough supernatural movies to know she’s the only one who’ll see this ghost who’s chosen a body-fitting turquoise blue dress instead of a white gown. Tiny shakes her head. Bitch couldn’t be a proper mother then; can’t even be a proper ghost now. Pathetic.

The taxi stops a few blocks from the shopping mall that houses Tiny’s hairdressing salon. She cranes her neck, sees the traffic is in no hurry to move on. So fucking late, she sighs. And not just for the hairdresser’s. Or the daily room rate. For all her hurry, all her planning, all her precautions, she’s late at a time when money is tighter than the jeans squeezing her ass.

She gets out of the taxi and, squinting from the blinding sun, she walks. She’s mildly surprised when the ghost does not follow. Outside the shopping mall, her nose flares from the reek of damp artificial hair from a three-legged garbage cart leaning against a streetlamp pole. She wrinkles her nose and hurries across the parking square into the salon.

What she wants to do is lie down, stretch out, and sip on a smoothie made of passion fruit, avocado, banana, and water melon. But she’s crazy if she thinks she can get that here. So she says she wants cold water. The head hairdresser smiles to the fridge, brings back a yoghurt-like drink in a pack labelled in some foreign language, says it’s complimentary.

Tiny glares at her. She hates it when people treat her like she’s two instead of twenty-two. Lying and faking smiles when it’s not necessary. It’s one reason why she never goes to church, besides the fact that she never seems to get there early enough. All those phoneys grinning like they’re on top of the world when they’re just as worried about money like everybody else make her want to punch them in the face. She grabs the drink and unscrews the cap. Complimentary. Fuck that. It’ll be truer to say monkeys have wings. At least they do fly from tree to tree. This complimentary will be billed, one way or another.

The drink is cool and soothes her parched throat. Leaves a slight metallic aftertaste, though. She holds up the pack, checks for the expiry date. There’s none. Okay. Where’s the food and drug control number? None. Tiny exhales, tells herself the jinx will be in worrying about the lack of these things when she already has enough wahala.

“Excuse me,” she says to the hairdressers and head to the Ladies’.

Certain things must be done in private. Postinor-2, the medicine she’s about to take, sounds like some Cold War era missile, a relic that can still inflict massive damage. She should have swallowed it earlier if that pervert of a pharmacist hadn’t pissed her off.

When she comes back, the three girls resume work on her long braids. She sucks in more of the cool drink. The heat sweats it out of her.

“Is that AC working?”

In the wall-to-wall mirror, the head hairdresser—who is certainly over thirty—beams at her. “Yes, Aunty.”

Tiny doesn’t believe that the air-conditioning unit is working, but before she can argue her phone starts singing. She digs it out of her pocket. It’s him calling again. Can’t take no for an answer? Have to let him know no means just that.

“Who’s this?” she says.

“Tiny, it’s Izadim. Don’t you have my number?” There’s a pause as if he really expects an answer. Then he says, “I miss you.”

They all say this same lame thing. Then they’re surprised when she doesn’t say it back.

“I used to miss my mother, Izadim. She ran away after my first period. I got over her.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. She didn’t run away with you.”

There’s another pause before he says, “I want to see you.”

See her ass and boobs, he means. Grab and squeeze. Say how pretty and perfect and portable they are. At least he doesn’t sicken her with ‘I-love-yous’ like some of the others. Come to think of it, he doesn’t say much. Big and brooding. Boring even. Still, two years is enough.

“Izadim, I’m going to be very busy for a very long time. Don’t you understand?”

Of course he does. He’s just testing to see if he can talk her back to his bed. It can’t be his money he’s banking on. He might work for super-rich City Dev Com, but he’s certainly not one of the big players who make the big bucks. Still tools around Abuja in a wimpy Peugeot 505 that looks like it might be older than Tiny. How he manages to keep growing chubbier is a mystery though. Carries himself more like forty than the thirty-three he’s supposed to be.

“Is it about the money?” There’s that whine of anxiety in his voice.

Tiny sighs so he can hear. What else is it ever about?

“It’s not about the money,” she lies.

“Then what is it?”

“You put me in serious wahala.” This truth is meaningless to him. She’s the one who betrayed herself. She knew better than to go playing in the rain without a raincoat.

You love him, that’s why, says her mother’s ghost, who’s now inside the mirror but still shiny and vibrant instead of being scary and blurry like a proper ghost. Tiny ignores her.

On the phone, Izadim says, “Wahala? What kind of wahala?”

What kind of loser is he? And what’s the point of talking to him? Isn’t he just another man who’s only after the same damn thing that all men want from women?

“Look, I’m busy, Izadim.”

Tiny disconnects the call, switches off the phone and shoves it back into her pocket. Her fingers brush against her penknife. She wonders for a second if she should go over and stab the fool just to get him off her back. She decides it’s not a stabbing matter and kicks back.

“Aunty, we need two thousand for another attachment,” the head hairdresser says.

Tiny squints at the mirror. Her mother’s ghost is gone. More artificial hair is needed to finish the braids.

She opens her small purse. There’s not much in there. Barely enough left to cover the bill she expects if two thousand is taken out. And it’s a Friday. If she doesn’t get the look right, things might get worse than being harassed for the daily room rate.

If she didn’t have to worry about that, she might be able to manoeuvre, save up, get her own place and start the clothing line she’s long dreamed of: NC 4 NW—naughty clothes for naughty women. Before the copycats come meowing in to rip off the idea, she would have cleaned up and moved up to dressing better behaved and better funded women. Then perhaps a world that worships cash would give her respect, and maybe a man who would stick around for something other than her ass and boobs.

Now wait a minute. The room rate is five thousand. That yeye Izadim owes her fifteen thousand. She must have been high on something stronger than weed when she stupidly let him that last time without getting all the cash up front. Then, conveniently for him, his debit card wouldn’t work. Network problem, he said.

Why she still went back to him after that, she doesn’t know. Wait; she couldn’t possibly have fallen for his quiet game, could she?

Told you you’re in love, her mother’s ghost whispers in Tiny’s ear. And it’s going to be okay, really. He’s not like your father. He’s a man who knows what it means to be a man.

Tiny isn’t listening. She’s thinking of Izadim, thinking how his clinginess is annoying. Does he think she’d mistake that to mean he’s caring? Please. He’s had her enough times, he should move on. The thing now is how to get her money without being slobbered over.

She gives out the cash for the attachment, tells the hairdressers that she’s a university student shouldn’t be taken to mean she doesn’t know how to shine her eyes and bend her ears, that she knows when the canoe enters the river everybody has to become fishermen.

She turns the phone back on and Izadim’s call comes through right away.

“Tiny?” He sounds desperate. “I’ve been calling since we got disconnected.”

Tiny shrugs. Sometimes it’s a blessing the phone services are so unreliable.

“It’s just the usual network problem.”

“I thought as much. So when do we meet?”

Of course, he’s desperate. Probably watching porn right now. He likes that—interracial, girl-on-girl, bubble butt, transsexual and strap-on—dedicated Sunday church-goer that he is.

“Izadim, you know what you did the last time.”

“But I explained. I made a mistake.”

“Stop saying that.” Incomplete money a mistake. Would he try that at a supermarket?

“Okay, I’ll give you the balance.”

“When?” That’s all she wants to know.

“Are you coming?”

And that’s all they ever want to know.

“Do you want me to come?” Stupid question. Does a man want his banana licked?

“Yes, Tiny, yes, right now.”

Is he panting already? The dog. Tiny checks the mirror again. Half of her hair remains undone. It’s taken the girls an hour to get the first half done. She smooths out her T-shirt, pushes aside her platform shoes, crosses her legs. She gestures for more of the cool drink. Might as well enjoy it since she’ll surely pay for it. Who cares about the yeye food and drug control number? Didn’t every person in the country eat and drink stuff before all that nonsense came along?

“Tiny, are you there?”

Tiny sighs. Fuck it.

“Okay, Izadim, wait for me.”

She hangs up. She really didn’t want to see him again. She can’t say how it happened, but maybe she does feel something for the loser. How else can she explain breaking the one rule she never breaks—letting him without a condom that last time? Now here she is more than ten days late. The messiness of it all is so irritating. Senseless self-betrayal.

Even worse, her runaway mother’s ghost resurfaced last night whispering in her ear, just like that night ten years ago. “The blood has come,” the bitch said then. “You’re a woman now. You see that thing between your legs? That thing is the only thing men will ever want from you. Never give it up for free! Be smart; find a man who’ll work all his life just to keep having it, because once a man starts putting his hard banana there, you’ll start having babies.”

The next morning the bitch had disappeared. Ran away to Europe with a white man, Tiny heard from her father, a weak bastard who grieved as if the great love of his life had died, leaving Tiny to care for herself and her two younger siblings for four years until she couldn’t take it anymore and followed the example set by her not-so-loving mother.

When Tiny went to buy the medicine that could save her from the wahala of having a baby, that damned pharmacist tried her with his witching glare, found her guilty and sentenced her to strip for him. Good thing she snatched the medicine and threw the money at him. He wanted to look at her ass, didn’t he? Well, the best view is from the ground where he had to pick the money. Yeye old fool.

Now when she gets to Izadim’s, she’ll stay on the step. It’s good that he doesn’t talk much. She’ll just stick out her hand, collect the money and leave. She has to be in the club when the big spenders come through this evening. Maybe she’ll get lucky and land a mugu wanna-gonna just back from a two-week holiday in the US. Those are the fools that throw money around like they’re some AIDS intervention NGO handing out free condoms.

The hair is almost done when he calls back. “It’s been an hour. Are you really coming?”

Why do they always think she’s lying? So she’s got a pretty face means she’s a liar?

“I said so, didn’t I?”

“Yes, but—”

“Izadim. Wait. I am coming.”

Time to settle the bill. It’s way above what she expected.

“But I’ve braided this style before and it didn’t cost this much.”

“We charge according to the type of attachment and the number of people that work.”

The head hairdresser is squaring up to Tiny. This is what money does. The lack of it automatically equalises everybody.

Okay. So that’s how it is. Right in front of them Tiny digs into her underwear and pulls out her emergency reserve: ten one-thousand naira notes rolled up tightly to fit in just so. She pays up, squeezes her toes into her platforms, wipes off the back of her jeans, and struts off.

“It’s the last time you people will see me here.”

She hisses so they know she means it and leaves the salon.

Outside, there’s a heat wave blowing through. So the air conditioner worked quite fine. Is this the global warming thing, then? Well, now that she’s feeling it, she doesn’t like it. They’d better do something about it; settle whoever has to be settled. There’s nothing money can’t take care of. They just need to figure out the right person to pay to get the job done.

Now where are the taxis? Typical. Abuja taxicabs are never in sight when she needs them, but if she’s out strolling they’ll be all over the place tooting their horns at her as if they’ve been hired to make her deaf.

Two hungry-looking girls amble by. They keep glancing over their shoulders like they’re looking for a taxi. But Tiny knows better. Clingy clothes. ‘Kill them’ heels. Fat handbags. So fucking obvious. It doesn’t matter that Tiny herself relocated from Port Harcourt only six years ago. All she can think about is how every ho in every part of Nigeria now comes to Abuja to hustle. They think the city is flooded with money. They’ve made things so bad some men now expect to get laid if they buy a girl lunch. She should start a union. Abuja for Abuja Chicks Only. AACO. If you’re not a card-carrying member, don’t flaunt your ugly bones in our city. That’ll be something.

Her mother’s ghost reappears by her side. Stop being so judgemental, you’re no saint yourself. When you see another day, just live and let others live—

“Fuck you!” Tiny snaps. Her mother’s ghost dissolves like a proper ghost.

Tiny smooths down her comfortable T-shirt, pats the tiny purse in the back of her jeans. A taxi comes along at last. She does the back and forth over the fare and grudgingly agrees to pay a sum on the high side. She can’t stand around and let the night grow old. Nor does she want to get rated like those out-of-town hoes.

In the cab, she gives Izadim’s cell a quick flash. He calls back right away.

“I’m on my way,” she says.

There’s a sharp intake of breath. “I just left the house.” He still sounds anxious.

“You what?” Of course he can’t be serious.

“I’m in a restaurant. I—”

“So what are you saying?” He’d better not say anything stupid.

“Okay, Tiny, don’t be angry. I’ll just go back now.”

That’s all that matters. She disconnects the call.

When she gets to his place, there’s a new Peugeot 407 sporting City Dev Com’s insignia parked outside. Hmm, so he’s finally retired the 505.

He’s waiting on the step, more anxious than a teenager who can feel it in his banana that he’s finally getting some tonight. His cheeks are so rosy he might as well have borrowed her rouge. And he’s wearing perfume that hints at musk, grapefruit, and something else that she can’t place even though she makes a point of studying classy perfumes. All this to impress her? She inhales deeply. The fragrance is luxurious. Certainly not a cheap knockoff. How nice for him. She’s going to enjoy disappointing him.

At that moment her tummy starts turning and twisting like a hand is squeezing her insides. Her knees buckle. She doubles over and stumbles. Her mother’s ghost reappears but only stands around looking anxious as if she actually cares. The bitch.

Izadim falls over himself trying to help her. She pushes him away. What she needs is to sit down, have some cool water, not his cloying attention. He helps her inside his flat and from the fridge he snatches a table water brand she recognises. She sits back, sips gingerly and studies the label on the see-through plastic bottle. It’s written in English and there’s a food and drug control number. She smiles at that.

Now that she’s feeling better, it’s time to leave. She stands up straight.

Izadim grows all solemn like a preacher. Maybe all those Sunday church excursions do have more than a superficial effect. “Tell me what trouble you’re in first,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter. You can see I’m not feeling too well. Just settle me let me go.”

“You said I’m responsible.”

“And so am I.”

“Come on, Tiny. Just tell me. I’ll drive you—”

“I’m pregnant.” Can’t let him drive her ‘home.’ They must never know she lives in a motel where she pays for her room on a daily basis, making nonsense of her earnings.

“For me?”

“What?” There’s no lump in Tiny’s throat but she imagines there’s one and performs an appropriate swallow. “You think I’d lie about that?” It’s a mere whisper but he’s crushed.

“No, no. I didn’t mean that at all. I mean, I’m surprised. This is wonderful news. You must move in with me right away. We have to register you for antenatal, get to see our parents, sort things out . . . ”

He carries on and on and all Tiny can do is gape at him and tune him out. She knows he doesn’t drink so if he’s drunk it’s not from alcohol. He is positively glowing. She has always shone her eyes around him but she’s never seen him like this before. His eyes sparkle as if he’s already holding the baby in his arms.

I told you he’s different, her mother’s ghost says.

Tiny ignores her, ignores the presumptuousness behind Izadim’s drivel. But wait; if mere news can do this to him, what would the actual event inspire him to do?

“Tiny, I’m thinking if it’s a girl we can give her your name, Sandra. If it’s a boy we can call him Alexander. Still after you. You know, that’ll be a constant reminder of how much I like you. I mean, I’m not talking love, but I think you and me we have something. I’m not going to say ‘special’, but still, something. I mean, I like you and I know you like me . . . ”

Her ears have always been bent forward like a hunting dog’s around him. So how come she’s never heard any of this until now? Has he forgotten what the arrangement has been between the two of them since the Saturday they first met at the club? How is it possible that that never mattered to him?

The world is spinning on her head. She needs to sit down again and think. That is if his over-excited voice would let her.

“ . . . I’m not rich but I just got promoted, and when you finish school . . . ”

Her tummy turns again and she realises what’s happening. Postinor-2 has struck the source of Izadim’s happiness, piercing its fragile membrane with needless aggression. A sickening metallic taste rises from her stomach, fills her mouth. She belches. It reeks of rust mixed with blood and something else she’s never smelt. Maybe this is what fear smells like. The source of Izadim’s joy will soon flush out of her. If he catches on, what are the chances all the excitement would not flush out of him?

She wants to tell him what she’s done and how the student ID she carries doesn’t mean she’ll ever graduate. She thinks how easy it would be to seek forgiveness while he’s still excited about this not-special thing that he thinks they’ve got together. But she needs to be crazier than those out-of-town hoes not to realise that that sort of thoughtless honesty is for losers. How in hell won’t he kick her away if he knew even one tenth of the truth about her?

She fingers her penknife, thinks what she would do to him if he were to raise her hopes only to become another selfish fuck who won’t stick around when uncomfortable reality sets in, or when something as inconvenient as falling in love with someone else happens. She sips some more of the cool water, pulls back a little and lets her brain do what it’s supposed to do.

This pain ravaging her now—like every other consequence of self-betrayal before it—will pass. Izadim doesn’t know about the missile and he will never know. So she glares at her mother’s ghost until it disappears; hushes Izadim and says, yes, she’ll move in. Then she tosses the room rate out of her mind and lets him start in without a condom, because even though she has no interest in being late again, she knows if she sees another day, the first thing she has to do is survive.  

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