“I love you,” he whispered to her sleeping form and, leaning over her, softly kissed her temple.
He flipped back the duvet and rolled out of bed feet first. He found the carpet slippers, shoved his feet in and headed for the door. He had taken a few steps when his slippers caught in something. He staggered a bit and then braced himself against the door frame, cursing under his breath. He looked down at his feet and saw, by the light streaming in from the hallway, the pair of boxers he had tossed over his head in the heat of passion last night. His vest was not too far away. He covered his mouth with his left hand to muffle his embarrassed chuckle. He looked over his left shoulder at the form lying on the bed, the steady rise and fall of the duvet assured him she had not stirred.
He walked across the hall, past the door to their three-year-old’s bedroom on his left and the door on his right a few steps ahead that led to the living room. He gently turned the handle of the door in front of him and pushed, opening the door slowly so it would not squeak. He made a mental note, just like he had done plenty times before, to grease the door hinges.
He reached around the door frame till he found the light switch up on the wall, and flipped it.
He stood over the toilet bowl for a few seconds until he was done, letting the relief from his bladder course through him, then he reached out and turned the handle to flush. As the water swirled round and round the bowl, his lips curved in a smile as he remembered that chance meeting all those years ago…
They say the day on which one’s life changes begins like any other. This was no different.
A random day three years ago, at a not-so-random hotel – he usually stayed here whenever work took him to Dakar – but still, a random room. His alarm had gone off, rousing him from his short sleep.
Ten minutes later, teeth brushed, face washed, deodorant applied and dressed in a pair of joggers, t-shirt and flip-flops, he let himself out of the door on his way to breakfast.
Although the restaurant was partially full, his regular table was vacant. He was about to sit down when laughter floated across the room to him. He looked up and saw a group at another table. Someone at the table must have said something funny because the girl sitting closest to him at the right side of that table threw her head back and gripped the edge of the table as she laughed. Next to her sat the last person he expected to see there; Dima.
He had met Dima at the same restaurant half a year ago, and although he was a regular at the hotel, he had not seen her again since then, until today. What was more, although they stayed in touch via blackberry messenger, she did not mention that she would be there today.
He walked across the room to the table and stopped just beside Dima where she sat.
“Hello you,” he said to her without a word to any other occupant of the table.
Dima looked up and squealed. He helped her pull back her seat so she could get up.
“Hey babes, look atchu!” She said, breaking the hug to look him over, then hugged him again tighter. “When did you come into town?” She asked.
“Early this morning, about 2am. You?”
“This morning too. 5 o’clock, I think. I decided to stay up for breakfast and then sleep right after that.”
“Makes sense. I hope I see you later. Maybe drinks and some catching up?” He cocked his brow.
“That sounds like a plan. Good to see you again babe.”
He turned and returned to his table. A glass of mango juice had just been placed before him when he saw Dima striding towards him.
“Everything okay?” He asked her when she came up to his table.
“Babe, you have no idea the commotion you caused at the table with your visit.”
“Huh?” With his glass in hand, he returned to her table.
“Hi guys, sorry about my bad manners back there. My brain’s still booting. I am Franque. How’s everyone doing?” He raised his free right hand and waved.
They introduced themselves and, as there wasn’t an extra seat at the table, he took a table for two close by. When Dima joined him, guffaws and catcalls went up round the table.
Halfway through the meal, he went to get some more juice for himself and Dima. When he returned, there was a girl on his seat. Without a word to her, he went and took a vacant seat at the long table.
When Dima was ready to leave, Franque excused himself from the table and walked her to her room where he gave her a hug at the door before returning to the restaurant. As he stepped out of the elevator, he came face to face with the girl from breakfast, the one somebody had referred to as ‘cock blocker’.
“Hey,” he said. “Leaving too?”
“Yea,” she replied.
“Alright then, take care.” He watched her step into the elevator and then he returned to his breakfast.
Later that day he went touring the islands close by with some of Dima’s colleagues. They had a few drinks, visited the slave museum, artists’ cove and walked along the beach, sprayed by the surf as the waves broke on the sand. They caught the last ferry back to the wharf.
As he walked through the hotel doors, his blackberry phone vibrated where it was in his pocket. As he pulled it out, it kept vibrating as messages kept coming in; the phone had automatically connected to the hotel’s WiFi.
Dima: She wouldn’t take no for an ans..
Dima: Hey babe, u aii?
Dima: Babe, I gave B ur pin
The message did not make any sense to him, so he sent her a message of his own.
“Huh? B? Who’s dat?”
And almost immediately a reply came through.
Dima: The girl u met at d elevator..
Ahh. At least he knew the message was not sent to him in error. He scrolled through his other messages till he came to the request from ‘Peanut 101±’, clicked ‘Accept‘, and after checking that she was a contact, sent her a message.
They stayed up most of the night – he in his room and she in hers – exchanging messages, talking about nothing really, just sounding each other out…
When she left the next morning, he was waiting downstairs to bid her farewell and tell her he hoped to see her again soon. He got his wish the next month when she told him she would be in his town for a day.
On that day, it was with some reservation and not a little apprehension that he went to the address she sent him. When he arrived there, he was sent through to see her; she had left word that she was expecting him. They spent most of the night talking, he threw in a massage. It was as they laid there, he reading her short stories he had written, she reciting some poetry, that it happened.
They say most people don’t know when they fall in love, that it just happens. If that is true, then he at least knew when it happened for him: she was sitting up in bed next to him, wearing a sheer black negligee, and he was lying with his head propped up on a pillow, looking up at her as she fought for concentration to finish the poem she was reciting. That was when he fell in love. In retrospect, if he could have said anything to her that night, it would have been “Excuse me while I fall for you.”
Even when she told him of her little girl, he did not balk. The father had bailed but it did not matter. He was going to be all the father little Zandile needed. This love came at a price: they were doomed, it seemed, to be separated from each other. Work and distance meant they could only see each other for one day in a month for the first four months. After that, not at all for a whole year. It was hard. They longed for each other, yearned and physically ached for each other, but every time they thought they had a plan to see each other sorted, something usually came up. The relationship ran on hope, the extent of their love for each other, and their unwavering belief that God did not bring them together in order to keep them apart.
They say when a man says yes, his chi, his personal god, also says yes. More so if they are two people truly in love.
“Do you plan on returning to bed anytime soon?” Her voice startled him.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” he said “I hope I didn’t wake you up.”
“Wake me up? Nah. You really don’t know how many nights I stay up just to watch you as you sleep, do you?” She asked with her eyebrows cocked. She pressed herself against him and hugged him tight around the waist.
“I love you more,” she said into his chest. He sighed deeply and hugged her tight too.
“Thank you for drawing my attention to you that day in Dakar, and no, I love you more.”
“As you should,” she told him. “Come back to bed heart of my blood.”
PS: I see the world has not ended yet, so I can make plans for Christmas.
Hope and second chances, that is what Christmas means to me. Hope for today and tomorrow, and second chances for a clean, fresh start. So, with hope in my heart that things will definitely look up, and a resolve to take a chance on a certain someone, everything is looking so green and red and white and golden to me.
May Christmas fill all your hearts with this same hope, and I hope you do not hesitate to give or take second chances – on life, on love, on living.
God bless us everyone.
I am off to go call M.O.N.C.