WOMAN ON A MISSION
TOLU WAS starting to sleep, her svelte shape buried under the soft covers of her bed when her phone rang. “What now?” she said drowsily, pushing the hair from her eyes. The room was dark, but the loud ringtone of her phone reached her from somewhere near. It took a few seconds for her mind to register the small jolts that passed through her body, and she reached for the phone vibrating on the bed. Somewhere in her slumber, it had ended up under her hip.
She sniffed and rubbed her eyes as she tasted the alcohol that still lingered on her tongue and felt the faint drumming of a headache begin at the back of her head. With a frown, she reached down to rub at an itchy spot on her thigh and touched the coarseness of her skirt instead of one of her silky nightdresses. She lifted her head groggily, wondering why she was still in her clothes as she picked up the phone and pressed the answer key.
“Hello,” she said, but there was only silence at the other end of the phone. She dropped the phone back on the bed with a tired hiss and yawned, her mind going back to the date with Bayo. After several glasses of wine at the bar, he had certainly gotten interesting and even made her laugh at his crude jokes. As time passed, and the alcohol rose in her bloodstream, she did not mind his groping under the table during their date.
They decided to call it a day at nine, but not before they shared a clumsy kiss in the back seat of his car. Thinking back to that kiss, Tolu thanked her stars for the dark brown tint of his car windows that kept her from being recognized by the A list personalities she considered friends on the Island. She checked for the time on her phone and saw that she was just a few minutes from midnight. She was just about to climb down from the bed when the phone gave off another vibration in her hand again. She picked the call before the ringtone cut through the silent night for the second time.
“Hey, it’s me,” a familiar voice said at the other end.
Tolu’s frown deepened. “I figured,” she said in a dry tone.
“There is no need to be rude. I know this is a bad time, but I am only calling to drop off some interesting information.”
“Can’t it wait till tomorrow?”
“It can, but you’ll blame me if I wait till tomorrow for this call.”
Tolu’s sleepiness gave way to curiosity. She pushed herself up to a sitting position, and changed the phone to her other ear. Supporting it with her shoulder, she reached one long arm, and searched for the light switch above her bed. She found it and pushed the small switch down.
“So speak,” she said, squinting at the sudden brightness that filled the room, blinding her momentarily. She stretched her cramped muscles and then curled on her side, causing her skirt to bunch around her thighs.
“You don’t sound so pissed off now.”
The voice at the other end chuckled. “Anyway, Marlene is suffering from amnesia.”
Tolu digested those words carefully, trying to understand their meaning. “Hello? Are you still there?” he asked as she rubbed her cheek absentmindedly. “Yes I am, and I am trying to understand the meaning of what you just told me.”
“Well she woke up this morning and could not remember a thing.”
“Are you serious?” Tolu asked, her eyes going round with surprise. He chuckled again in his usual fashion.
“I have never been famous for my jokes, have I?”
“How did you find out about her amnesia?”
“I enjoy certain privileges that you don’t.”
“Yes Judas, remind me again.”
“You are no better sweetheart.”
“Anyway, you better not be playing with me about Marlene suffering from amnesia.”
“I have a serious nature you know,” he said, feigning a hurt tone. Tolu barely paid any attention to his acting. “Does this mean that she cannot remember you, me, her husband, and everyone else?” She asked, her mind already working.
“I don’t know much about amnesia, but according to what I hear, it can do that to people,” he said with a mocking laugh, and she ignored him, feeling excitement at the news she had just received.
“Interesting!” she said, thoughts of sleep far from her mind now. If what she was hearing was true, it meant that fate was on her side now and she could reclaim what was rightfully hers in the first place.
“So what are you going to do?”
“I am thinking about it.” She turned her slim ankle around under the duvet in small circles. “What about you?”
“I am going to see how this new Marlene reacts to my charm.”
“Good luck to you then.”
“Same to you my dear, and remember, if you ever get lonely in the course of your endeavours…”
“No such luck for you,” Tolu said with loud hiss and ended the call.
It was nine minutes after midnight now. She rolled on her back and stretched out on the bed, looking at the ceiling as she quelled the urge to laugh out loud. Partly growing up in her childhood home of Ikoyi with her paternal grandmother who sometimes came to keep an eye on her after months of living with their family friends, she had learned under the spreading canopy of the pear tree in the big compound to fear the strange beings invoked at night when one laughed or whistled.
Now as an adult, she still had an irrational fear of midnight despite her education and worldliness. Still lying in bed, she managed faint giggles as she thought about the opportunity that had been thrown into her lap. Laughter bubbled from inside her, and she cupped her hand over her mouth to contain it, tossing on the bed as she did. Then without warning, the laughter spilled over and she succumbed to it, superstition or not.
TOLU DROVE on the stone driveway, tires spewing gravel in its wake as the uniformed guard pulled the gate shut after her. She parked her car in front of the massive stone white building with two furniture showrooms on the upper and lower floor. She touched one of the icons on the display screen of her CD player and cut short the languorous crooning of Tu face Idibia. The song if love is a crime had been on repeat since she pulled away from the parking lot of her office complex for her lunch break to see her mother whose office furniture company was almost a stone throw away, minus the mad rush of motorists that was part of the Island.
The serenity of Muri Okunola where her mother ran a very successful executive furniture company could easily mislead an observer to think that very little happened in the long winding street, but this was hardly the case. Her mother enjoyed patronage from the various companies crowding the Island, and so did the other silently thriving companies operating on the street.
Looking smart in her green chiffon blouse and carton brown pant trousers, Tolu locked her car, waving hello to one of her mother’s workers who stood at the large glass window of the showroom upstairs. The woman wriggled red painted finger nails in response. Tolu waited till the woman was out of sight to roll her eyes. With one hand in her pocket and a gay spring to her steps, she pushed the glass door open and stepped inside the cool interior of the building. She twisted through gleaming computer desks, office file cabinets, finely polished desks and executive swivel chairs elegantly displayed against a backdrop of burgundy wall paint and green potted plants. She greeted her mother’s other employees, full of smiles for them even though she did not like them as much as she pretended to.
Knocking once on the door of her mother’s office just beside the showroom downstairs, she pushed the door open, and this time her smile was genuine. Her mother Mrs. Williamson was typing away at her laptop as she entered the office. A gregarious woman edging towards sixty, she was a human repertoire of forgotten fashion statements. Fully inheriting most of her Irish mother’s genes, her long straight hair and thin straight nose made her appear more white than bi racial.
“Hello mum,” Tolu said, walking over checkered powder blue rug to the elegant woman at the clustered desk, dropping an affectionate kiss on her perfumed cheek. Her mother beamed at her, heavily made up brows, bright red lipstick and over powdered face hiding what used to be an arresting beauty. Slim fingers weighed down by chunky gold rings poised over the laptop keyboard as her daughter took the opposite chair.
“How was your day?” She asked, squinting at her screen, fast fingers working feverishly again. Tolu shrugged. “Well so far, so good.” After a few more taps at the keyboard, the laptop snapped shut and her mother whipped off her glasses.
“You sound better than the last time we spoke,” she said, giving her daughter a funny look. Tolu nodded with a smile. Two nights earlier, she had snapped at her mother for suggesting that she moved on with her life. Her mother’s offence was implying that Femi was lost to her forever since the separation from his wife didn’t seem too imminent. She could not wait to show her mother just how wrong she had been.
“My day has been simply wonderful.”
“You sound very upbeat today.”
“I received news last night concerning Marlene.”
“What kind of news?”
Tolu leaned closer to her mother, best friend and confidante as if afraid of unwanted ears scattered all over the posh interior of the office with its bleached mahogany conference table in the corner surrounded by leather conference chairs.
“Marlene has forgotten who she is.”
“What do you mean forgotten who she is?”
“She can’t remember a thing.”
Tolu was full of smiles as she waited for her mother’s reaction. “Why are you not saying anything?” she asked, drawing back in puzzlement when her mother did not respond immediately. The older woman busied herself, putting back her glasses in an embossed black case on the table. Pushing the case to the far side of the desk, she relaxed in her chair and clasped her hands over her stomach with a sigh.
“You will have to explain better,” she said with a look of disbelief. “And where did you get such news from?”
“Last night I had a call from a very good friend,” Tolu said, smiling and wriggling her brows. “You know who.”
“Please go on with your story.”
“I heard from this good friend of mine that she woke up yesterday and could not remember who she was, or anyone else for that matter.”
Her mother cocked her head to one side, hazel brown eyes regarding her daughter in disbelief. “I find it hard to believe you. I spoke with Femi’s mother yesterday and she did not mention anything about Marlene suffering from amnesia.”
Tolu leaned back into her chair with a self-satisfied smile. “Maybe she is not aware of what has happened. You know how stubborn and close lipped Femi can be sometimes.”
“And he did not mention anything about the amnesia to you?”
“I thought you said the both of you were closer now and he tells you everything.”
Mrs. Williamson ignored her daughter’s jutting lower lip and drew to her full height. She left her chair and walked round the table. “If what you just told me is true, then luck is on your side,” she said again to calm frayed nerves. Pleasing her only child was her foremost priority.
Tolu nodded, her eyes lighting up as she followed her mother to the water dispenser in the far end of the office. She swung the swivel chair she sat on to face her.
“I wish I could say I feel sorry for that wretched middle class woman.” she said with a contemptuous hiss. “I am so upset at the thought that she is still in Femi’s life.” She flung back the honey brown hair extensions that fell across her blouse with a toss of her head. “Well, at least she will be less of a challenge now.”
Her mother gave a throaty chuckle at her display of indignation, threw back her head and downed the water in the disposable plastic cup she held. Tolu watched her, not really seeing her mother’s turquoise blue skirt and blouse with big puffed sleeves made of traditional Ankara material or her high coiffure streaked with many colours as she began to tap her feet against the floor in calculated rhythm, thinking of revenge.