STEP 1: LIKE AT FIRST SIGHT
On the day we met, I saw my life
In one sweep, I saw reason
Wrapped in a 36 pounds, big eyed girl
On the day we met, I saw our victories
I read the lines behind your eyes and felt my heartbeat soar
Trapped and stuck in my emotions looking to find a fault.
Suddenly I leapt, starting my life as I would know it.
This is how it works.
You spend Monday to Sunday working over a hot stove giving marching orders to your staff –too much salt, not enough spice, is it supposed to be this bland, do you even have taste buds –throwing pans around, barking out requests coming in from the restaurant, tasting the food once again, chopping, dicing, sweating, feeling like you’re the freaking Master Chef, basking in the chaos and loving every minute of it, all the way from 10:00am to 9:00pm Then all of a sudden, it all goes quiet and you’re alone. Everyone else is gone. You are left standing like the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse in the kitchen you love like a wife. A hot wife. Hahahaha. See what I did there? Nah? Forget it.
It’s perfect. She’s perfect. But then people have started to mention that you spend way too much time with her. Maybe they’re right. It is starting to get kind of awful quiet here in the dead of the night. Was that a noise coming from the pantry? Yes? No? Okay, time to go home.
This is how it works.
Referrals baby! Your one gypsy friend sees the pattern you painted on your room wall in school – it’s a cipher within a cipher; rich blues, greens and yellows that bring out the deep blue wall. The cipher is a math problem you saw somewhere. It’s supposed to be unsolvable. It’s kind of beautiful, theunsolvability, like art. Numbers that just remain there, stagnant, unchanging, immortalized, until one person comes along and sees through it and starts swishing figures, here, there, here, there and boom, it’s solved and pretty. Not beautiful anymore, but still pretty.
Anyway, I digress. This friend of yours sees the pattern and wants you to do the same for her, which you do for free. And then her friend sees it and wants the same thing done for her, then another sees it and wants the same done for her. At some point, Gypsy suggests it’s time you start charging for it. It’s a good thing she does or it probably would never have occurred to you. It feels odd charging for something you love so much. But you do it anyway… your mother didn’t raise a fool.
While other people are applying for jobs, you’re painting. While they are partying, you’re painting. While they are going on dates, you’re painting. And the more you paint, you know what you realize? It’s lovely, this thing that you’re doing, but it isn’t what you really want. Where’s the magic? Where’s the mysticism? Where are the fairies and dragons and Mary’s lamb? Where are the things that make people dream? You have to stop talking like this. This is why people call you weird.
Luckily, everyone and their brother is getting married these days. Opens up the market. You stop painting friends places and start offering to paint their children’s rooms instead. There it is, the humming in your blood is going again. It’s a fun transition. You stop meeting people you’ve known your whole life and start meeting new people, interesting people, terrible people, normal people, creative people… and sometimes, unexpected people.
My sister has one of those bourgeois houses in a bourgeois estate bought by her bourgeois husband. He’s rich. As in rich, rich. The kind of rich that makes the rest of us look bad. We live in the same city but she has to force me to come and visit. Don’t get me wrong, she’s fam, I love her. I would just prefer it if she came to see me in the kitchen and she talked while I cooked.
It feels strange doing nothing. It’s Sunday. I’m stretched out on one of those white lawn chairs you see by pools or the beach, but this one is laid out on the balcony upstairs, facing out at the ocean which is their backyard. Mtcheew. Too freaking rich. There’s a matching lawn chair beside me. My mind immediately pairs them as his and her chairs, and wonders A; whose chair am I sitting on? B; what on earth do they do on these chairs? C; why the hell did I have to picture my sister in any romantic scenario?
As you can imagine, I find it hard to relax on them now.
It’s a nice cool day. Not hot, just sun-behind-the-clouds breezy. The air smells like ocean. You can hear the water. It is probably scary when there is a storm; water churning like the devil is stirring it. But right now it is lapping peacefully, in and out.
The glass sliding door behind me pulls open, I crane my neck around the side of the chair. My sister, Laura, pulls it shut behind her, carrying a red, fruity drink in a sweaty glass on a small tray. She appears at my side, liberates a coaster from the tray, places it on a dainty lawn table and sets the drink down on it smoothly. Our mother would be proud.
I pick it up. Ice cubes jiggle around inside. “Where is your servant?”
She sits in the other chair. Her chair? Shut up brain. “My house helps are downstairs.”
I laugh. “You can’t act high and mighty when you just said house helps, plural.”
Look at us. The Okaro children. Who would have thought? We’ve come far.
Laura and I look a lot alike. Both tall, both fair, both have lots of hair- for her it hangs to her collarbone in fat, natural twists girls like these days. For me, it is hair that is ruthlessly and frequently styled in a crew cut, and a full beard I’ve had long before beard gang became a thing.
“So Jerry, why are you here today? Usually I have to bribe you to come over.”
“It’s not my fault your house is a journey. And don’t call me Jerry. You know it sounds like that stupid MTN ad.”
“I love that ad,” she exclaims.
She changes her tone to mimic the love struck girl in the ad. “Oh, Jeeerry.”
She trills with laughter. I slide further down onto the chair. Laura chatters on about… about what? Our parents? Her friends who are all trying to sleep with her rich husband or her hot brother? Both? I know they just want a man. Her new dream to be a fashion designer?
Does it matter? She talks. I listen to the waves. They come in and out, in and out. I close my eyes. I feel the wind. My phone buzzes in my pocket. I ignore it. Probably my mum. Again. Now I’m languid, floating somewhere in my mind. So this is what rest and family feels like. It’s not bad.
I listen to Rihanna’s ‘Work’ as I sit in traffic on my way to work. Work for work. The symmetry; I love it.
“Sambianna work, work, work, work, work. Sambianna, work, work, work, work, work.”
I sing with the music loud and the windows down, conserving fuel in a crappy economy. As I bob to the music my singing catches the attention of the two young guys in the next car. They exchange amused glances. I ignore them and keep singing like it’s the last day on earth and this is the criteria for survival. Yes, guys, I don’t know the words.
They are in a Peugeot 407. One of them, front passenger seat, smiles at me. He winds down the window. He’s okay, not a head turner but your children wouldn’t be ugly either. His smile takes a turn. You know that leery look that comes over guys; the slow smile, the rubbing of the chin, the shifting of their eyes from your face to your body. Oh God, it looks like he’s about to make traffic conversation. Eww. I wind up quickly and pretend not to notice him waving at me.
Already my mind is forgetting and refocusing on work. I am mentally picturing unfinished patterns on baby Joshua’s wall. I hate unfinished drawings. They sit under my skin like a safety pin pushed just under the first layer, being moved from left to right. I am picturing an animal farm that covers one entire wall. All those colours. All those shapes to fill in. I cannot wait to be laboring over it again.
His mother is one of the good ones. She doesn’t micro-manage. I’ve been working on it for two weeks and she lets me come in, paint, put on my music and forget where I am until it’s time to leave. No rich-witch syndrome. But then her husband is like a million years old. I did hear a story about the rich old guy marrying the middle class pretty young thing. I believe there were memes about it. Like the twist on Iyanya’s Mr. Oreo lyrics that turned it from a love song to; She no come for the body, she come for the money.Hahahahahaha. I have to admit, it is a little funny.
Do I believe it? No. Do I care? No. I don’t see these people outside the commissions they give me. They are a means to an end. I get to paint and I don’t starve. See? The end.
My nephew, Joshua, is chubby and cute. He smells like powder and something you can’t put your finger on but it makes you want to smile. I lug him around, balanced on one arm, telling him what it is like being alive at this point in history.
“Now weird people can become President. When I was a child they used to tell us that if we worked hard we could be President- not in Nigeria, in some other country, but now anyone can be.”
Joshua laughs at that. Even he thinks it’s funny.
I walk down a long hallway in this bastardly big house. I am supposed to be walking him so he doesn’t cry. So far it has been forty-five minutes. We have seen the sea, the kitchen, the living room where my sister is lounging, enjoying her break, and now we are becoming brave, venturing into the innermost parts of the house – if the rumours are to be believed, my brother in law has a secret room where he keeps his secret money calabash. We might soon find it.
I am pretty sure I am lost. I refuse to call my sister for help. That would be too demeaning. I round a corner and hear music coming from one of the rooms further down. What is that? Taylor Swift? My sister’s servants listen to Taylor Swift now? I follow the music to the room. The door is shut. Somehow it feels like I’m intruding. I stand outside it for a moment and decide, what do I care? If I see something I shouldn’t – like a secret mistress my brother-in-law keeps hidden in this ginormous house – I’m going home in an hour anyway.
Quietly and slowly, I push open the door. Joshua is quiet too. I think he’s as fascinated as I am. There, inside the room is a woman. She is standing on a long, low table, painting the top part of the wall at the far end of the room. She’s wearing faded blue jeans and the tightest white top in the world. It stretches across a small back.
I think Laura told me about this. A children’s scene painter for Joshua’s playroom. It sounded like one of those rich people’s thing, but looking at it now I have to admit, it’s pretty freaking cool. The wall looks like a scene lifted from an animated movie.
I walk further into the room. She still hasn’t noticed me. She is slightly bent, delicately painting a tiny detail I can’t see from behind her, paws maybe.
“Hello,” I say. I expect her to start, but she keeps on what she is doing for a moment then slowly uncurls. Yes, that’s what she does, uncurls, from her position and turns to me.
I kind of want to swear right now. She is that pretty. And I was right. That is the tightest top in the world. It’s splattered with all kinds of paint, her jeans too.
She’s kind of chocolatey. Like Twix. Slim face, big eyes, braids that are packed loosely. She’s wearing glasses, but she removes them as if in some strange reverse order, she can look at me better without them.
I want to hear her voice. You know how you have to hear someone talk to know whether or not they are the complete package. Speak, I mentally command.
“Hi,” she says.
Oh jah, she has one of those trembles in her voice, like Willow Smith. No, Willow Smith is a kid, that’s creepy. Like Rihanna when she sings. And she sounds smart. I am obligated to say that or I sound shallow.
We kind of stare at each other. I guess it’s my turn to speak.
Joshua cuts in before me. He spews a load of baby talk. I can’t blame him. I would chance my Uncle for her too.
He is cute. He’s taller than me. He has a nice voice. He is carrying Joshua. What is it about men with babies that goes straight to your ovaries? It’s biological, definitely. Our animal instincts are too busy looking for potential fathers to shut up and let us be great.
We are kind of staring at each other. Me, because I genuinely do not know what to say. He looks a lot like Joshua’s mother, so I’m guessing this is her brother. Older? Younger? It might be my ovaries talking but I seriously hope he is older.
“Hi,” he says again. “I’m Jeremiah.”
Nice name. “Sarah.”
I smile. So does he. My my, he is really cute. He is one of those specimen God must be really proud of. Oh, yes, definitely a child of God.
He moves closer, looking at the wall behind me. I follow his gaze. “You’re the painter? My sister told me about you. You are really good.”
He sounds impressed. If someone thinking your art is amazing doesn’t endear you to them, I don’t know what will.
We talk for like thirty minutes. He tells me he is a chef. It sparks my interest. I ask all kinds of questions about it. His restaurant, where is it? I recognize the name. It’s really big. He looks kind of smug about it.
After about minute thirty, I start to itch to get back to work. My mind starts to wander. I can feel the dry paint on my palms, caking.
“You want to continue working?”
I jerk in surprise. I can’t believe he noticed. So few people do. I feel kind of warm now. On the inside. On the outside. Must be the humidity.
“Yes, I do,” I say honestly.
“Not a problem. Let me leave you. This child’s weight is scary.” He lingers a bit. Dramatic effect?
His gaze is on me. “Can I have your number?”
I eye him for a minute. Oh yeah.