Happily Ever After
A story by Onyinye Muomah
- The Living Room
I glided through the door, into the house. Everywhere was bathed in gold by the sun coming in through the curtains – the off white leather settees, the thick off-white rug, the gilded bar stools, the bar mirrors, the bottles of spirit, the walls, the heavily gilded picture frames, the gilded and plastered ceiling, the glass tables with gilded legs, the glossy banisters with gilded rails, the black marble tiles in the hallway, the crystal chandeliers – one in the living room, the other in the hallway…
The whole scene was so surreal – no, ethereal that I was suddenly filled with the most exhilarating impulse, which I went on. I ran into the middle of the huge living room and jumped on the glass center-table which was below the hugest crystal chandelier I had ever seen. I twirled round and round on the table, imagining that I was powerful enough to cause the breeze that made the chandelier dance and sing. I felt so heavenly. What a beautiful room, what a beautiful house…
I stopped suddenly in mid-twirl and found myself facing French doors that led to the backyard. I was entranced by the beautiful, beautiful setting sun that had caused all the gold. Its wonderful rays were reflected in the infinity-shaped backyard pool.
I love pools, I thought as I jumped off the table and ran to the doors. Beautiful, beautiful pool, how I wish I could soak in you.
I have always loved the feel of water on my skin. I longed for the days when I took long baths, just soaked in the tub for hours…
The front door slammed.
I jumped off the table, flew up the three short steps to the dinning area and fled under the dinning table. I giggled helplessly when I noticed that the table had a glass top. I peered through the glided legs of the dinning chairs into the parlour.
Okey came in first, followed by his father-in-law, the famous Chief Callistus Iwedimpa, oil magnet, business mogul, philanthropist and entrepreneur; the third richest man in the country.
The two were followed by Chief’s only son, Jude, the famous wastrel and penetrator of everything that moved. In Port Harcourt, we called him, “Dubai today, Paris tomorrow.”
“I can fly you anywhere, just name it – Dubai today, Paris tomorrow,” he would say to a potential conquest. He pronounced it, “Paree.” Rumour was he swung both ways but preferred muscles to downy hairs
Jude looked grumpy as he flopped into the armchair backing the hallway. Chief chose the settee in front of the dinning area while Okey headed straight for the mini-bar. He half-filled a whisky glass with Grey Goose and immediately downed the drink. He poured another and chugged it. When he poured the third glass, his father-in-law said dryly, ‘It’s not water you know.”
His mother-in-law Chief Mrs. Sarah Iwedimpa, walking into the living room, gave her husband a disapproving look then stopped beside the mini bar to tell Okey, ‘One shouldn’t drink alone. Serve us. Whisky for Chief, red wine for me and brandy for Jude.’
‘No, beer would do just fine,’ Jude said.
As Sarah came to sit beside her husband, Chief asked, ‘Where’s Kene and Callie Junior?’
‘They are upstairs. Kene is putting Baby to sleep.’
Kene was Okey’s wife, my rival, and Callie Junior was their three month old son. I felt such great longing to see the baby that I started to crawl out from under the table but the slam of a door again drove me under it. This time, it was the kitchen door. A woman dressed in a pale blue dress with a white apron over it, a white scarf on her head and white tennis shoes came into the dinning.
She went down the living room steps, greeted everyone in the room one by one and then addressed Sarah. ‘Madam, dinner is ready. Should I serve it?’
‘What did you cook?’
‘Unripe plantain with vegetable stew, Semovita with egusi soup, and rice and beans with chicken stew.’
The maid dutifully went back to the kitchen.
Okey brought the drinks his mother-in-law had ordered to the Iwedimpas, serving each of them from the tray he held. As he placed a can of beer on a stool beside the Jude’s armchair, the tumbler on the tray toppled and fell onto the plush rug.
‘Get a grip of yourself, man,’ Jude snapped. ‘If you can’t handle your drink, you have no business drinking.’
Kene who had just come into the room, smacked her brother’s head as she passed him and went to sit on the other settee backing the French doors. She was tall, bony and dark-skinned with an oblong face. She wore a peplum blouse with puffed short sleeves over a long fish skirt. Skirt and blouse were cut out of the same orange Ankara material. The colour made her seem even darker. She had on a long weave with bangs and her face was carefully made-up to make her look prettier and more attractive than she really was. She glared at Jude as Okey silently picked up the fallen glass and placed it on the stool.
‘I don’t want it. It fell on the floor,’ Jude said.
Calmly, Okey walked back to the mini-bar, brought another glass and placed it on the stool.
‘That was not very nice, Jude,’ Sarah said as Okey walked back to the mini-bar. You could have gone to get the glass yourself. And you, Okey, you don’t have to serve him. You are older than him you know.’
Jude snorted. ‘Older, my ass.’
The kitchen door opened again and a young man dressed in a pale blue short sleeved shirt and matching trousers came out bearing a tray with two covered dishes which he placed on a chest of drawers by the wall. He opened the drawers and started to bring out plates and cutleries. I was now crouching beneath one of the dinning chairs which thankfully were topped with opaque charcoal-coloured glass. It would be difficult crawling out now to find my way upstairs.
In the living room, Jude turned on the huge flat screen TV. Without asking anybody, he turned to a sports channel.
‘Which teams are playing?’ his father feigned interest.
‘It’s there on the screen,’ Jude replied.
Okey was once again behind the mini bar. He looked morosely into his drink. Kene was one of those people with an ‘idiot resting face.’ Her heavy-lidded eyes seemed glazed over while her mouth hung slightly open.
‘Close your mouth, dear,’ her mother said, earning herself a resentful look.
‘Is the food not ready yet?’ Chief called out to the manservant.
‘It is. We are just setting the table,’ the young man replied.
Chief got up and came to sit at one end of the table. Sarah followed him and sat on his left. It was the chair under which I was hiding. I looked at her very fair legs. The dark bruise-like patches around her ankles, made it clear that her pale skin was not at all natural. The story was she had married Chief at sixteen while he was in his late thirties. But thanks to her bleaching, Sarah’s ankles didn’t look like they belonged to a forty-eight year old. Sixty would be anyone’s guess.
Kene followed her parents and sat at the other end of the table opposite her father, her back to the kitchen door. Jude sat on the left of his sister.
‘Okey,’ Kene called out. He dutifully came to the table but as he made to sit on her right, Jude snapped, ‘Find another seat. I want to keep watching the match.’
Okey turned around and came to sit opposite his mother-in-law. For people so intent on opulently displaying their wealth they could have gotten a longer dinning table with more chairs, I thought. From under Sarah’s chair, I peered at Okey through the glass table. I could not see his entire face because of the table mats but I spied his sweaty forehead. I looked towards the end of the table at Kene’s feet. She wore a pair of bejeweled sandals and her toes were painted with clear nail polish.
I moved to the chair beside Sarah. The servants had started serving the food.
‘Did you feed Baby before you put him down to sleep?’ Sarah asked Kene.
‘Callie Junior,’ Chief corrected.
‘Daddy, we are not going to call him that,’ Kene said.
‘No? What are you going to call him?’
‘Okey Junior like we have done in the last three months. Or maybe now that he has been baptised, we will call him David.’
‘Callistus-David,’ Chief stated.
David, I whispered to myself. All this talk about the baby really made me want to see him. I got out from under the chair. Okey had been absentmindedly twirling the contents of his glass but as I stood beside Kene, his head slowly turned towards me. His eyes widened in recognition and when he tried to get up, he fell backwards instead, toppling his chair and landing on his back, his legs raised towards the ceiling.