Sophie sat by the window as she watched the rain bore down mercilessly upon the narrow street that led to her apartment building. She loved rain. Everything about rain. The whispering hum as sheets of water fall to the ground, the often-unanticipated flashes of lightning or the rolls of thunder. She loved it all. She loved how she could lose herself in the rhythmic sound of every drop as it hit the ground. She closed her eyes as her mind wandered far away, and she almost wished never to be disturbed. She was right, because that brief peaceful moment by the window, was one of the few she was going to have that day.
As if sent from hell, her phone rang, startling her out of her peaceful trance. She reluctantly stood up and slowly walked across her living room and into the kitchen where her phone was charging on the kitchen counter.
“Hi! How are you feeling, ready for your big night?” Susan chimed enthusiastically from the other side of the line.
“Hi girl, am fine, I guess,” Sophie replied calmly trying hard to hide the anxiety in her voice.
“You don’t sound excited, anything wrong?” asked Susan.
“No am ok, really, maybe am just tired,” Sophie replied. “I had a late night conference call with some of our clients in New York.”
“Sophie! Do you know how many people would love to have the night you are about to have? Sip down some energy drink, forget work and enjoy yourself, free your mind and have fun!”
“Am ok Sue, don’t worry,” she paused to look at her watch. She was running late. “look I need to start getting ready now.”
“Ok darling. Call me first thing tomorrow, am waiting for the juicy details. Wait! I hope you are not wearing those grandma panties I saw you buy last week.”
“Susan!” Exclaimed Sophie in embarrassment. “What I do with my grandma panties is my business. But don’t worry, they are definitely not being worn tonight.”
“Good, and you had better hide them, cause when I see them again I will personally burn them. Those things should be used for birth control commercials.”
“You are crazy,” said Sophie with a mild chuckle. “Alright, I need to go now. Speak to you later.”
And with that, Sophie dashed into her bedroom and started to bounce through her closet, not knowing exactly what she was looking for. She was a nervous wreck. Almost like the first time she was getting ready for her first date with Jeremy, the man she had now been dating for a little over a year. They had started off roughly, mainly because they looked at the world through different angles. After a disastrous first date, which left them both with a bad taste in the mouth, Jeremy surprisingly called her:
“Look Sophie, I know the date didn’t go as planned, and to be honest, you are the complete opposite of the woman I had imagined I would ever show interest in. You are different from the ones I usually go for. But there is something about you that awakens some high-level curiosity in me. Ever since we met, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. I am not going to lie, I still have some little issue with some of your views of life, and am not promising to change mine completely, but am sure, as you greatly pointed out, we are both adults. We can learn to accept and respect each other’s opinions and values and somehow find a way to live with it. Maybe make a little compromise here and there. Honestly speaking, I would really like to know you more. How about we start a fresh. If it doesn’t work, we both walk away like mature adults. What do you say?”
What girl wouldn’t want to hear that? I mean, that must have taken alot of courage and an intervention from the holy spirit to make him say that.
But of course, at Susan’s request, Sophie made the young lad wait for almost two weeks before giving him her response. To Jeremy’s delight, Sophie finally agreed to give them a second chance. She didnt want to openly admit, but she too found Jeremy very intriguing, even though his typical African male ego clashed with her emancipation. Well, they picked up from where they left, trying hard to accommodate each other’s principles. Arguments and frictions every now and then were inevitable, but they somehow made it work.
Given all that they have been through, anyone would think Sophie had no reason for being so nervous about going for dinner with a man she had been dating for a while now. However, this time she was not only going to have dinner with Jeremy, but also with his first cousin and childhood friend, Kadiatou, commonly referred to by many as Kadi.
Kadi had flown all the way from her home town in Mali to come visit her brother, who lived not far from Jeremy. This would be one of her annual trips to Europe. It was Sophie’s idea to have Kadi join them for dinner that night. Kadi’s brother was out of town for a few days. Sophie thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know Kadi, who seemed to be an important part of Jeremy’s life. She wanted to make this visit special and had even asked for a few free days off from work, put together a small gift basket she thought would please Kadi, made a list of places she wanted to go with her.
For that night, she had made dinner reservations at a very exclusive restaurant. The place was not the kind of restaurant you get a table on impulse. In fact, Sophie had to pull a few strings and called in favors from several people to be able to get a dinner reservation. The place had large mullioned windows, long embroidered curtains, dark walnut tables, flowers on each table, delicate live piano music, flagstone tile floor, lounge area with embroidered couches, oval coffee tables with splendidly proportioned cabriole legs. It was a place where dinner was not just a meal, but a sophisticated event.Sophie wanted the evening to be close to perfect.
That day, Jeremy hurried home from work trying hard not to be late for what he deemed would be a great evening. He took his time trying to look exquisite in an elegant black-tie outfit, after which he set off to go pick Kadi up first, just like he had planned. Then he intended to get Sophie on the way to the restaurant.
It had already started raining by the time he pulled up to the driveway that lead to the apartment building where Kadi was staying for her visit. Being the gentleman that he was, he didn’t want Kadi to get wet while walking to the car. So, he grabbed an umbrella he keeps in the trunk of his car and hurried into the building to pick their special dinner guest up.
“Jeremy! You are here!” Exclaimed Kadi with joy as she hugged her cousin. She was in a very cheerful mood.
“Hey, am great,” replied a puzzled Jeremy who did not understand why Kadi wasn’t already dressed for dinner. She was clad in a t shirt and jogging pants. “Why aren’t you dressed, Sophie is waiting for us,” he asked, looking around, as if expecting to find clues in the apartment.
“I know, but I planned something else for us, come in,” She said with a sly smile as she pulled in her cousin across the living room and into the dining room, which was decorated in an elegant and minimalist kind of way. The room was filled with the sweet smell of Poulet Yassa and rice, a popular West African spicy chicken dish prepared with onions and lemon. The rich aroma of the dish was enough to beckon anyone to divulge. The table had been set for two.
Jeremy was confused. What is going on here? He thought to himself, although he couldn’t help but take in the sweet and delicious aroma.
“What is this ? You know the restaurant has food right?,” he said, barely taking his eyes off the table. “Go get ready! We will be late.”
“Jeremy,” said Kadi before starting to serve food on an empty plate.
“Wait, what are you doing? ” Jeremy stretched out his hands in protest.
“I prepared your favorite dish, which I thought you deserve after a tough day at work,” Kadi replied ignoring Jeremy’s protest. He just stood there not really knowing what to do.
“We can eat and catch up just like old times, instead of going out. And the best part is, we get to skype with your mother back at home, who is waiting for our call by the way. I told her i was meeting you today. She wants you to speak with Aminata. Can you imagine that wonderful girl travelled two hours just to make aunty her favorite soup? She sounded so excited when your mother told her you two were going to skype tonight. ” Kadi paused as if waiting for the effect of what she said to sink in. “And when are you going to finally invite that amazing girl to come visit you?”
Kadi placed the plate of food on the table in front of an empty chair and signaled to Jeremy to take a seat.
Jeremy didn’t move. Aminata’s name was the last thing he had wanted to hear that night. It took him a few second to react, as he took his eyes off the well-arranged dining table to look at his cousin in disbelief. His eyes widened in bewilderment, his mouth wide agape as if he had seen a ghost. He could not believe what he had just heard. A mixture of both anger and confusion started to boil deep in his system, as hot as lava. It churned within, hungry for an eruption. He didn’t know whether to shout, scream or walk out.
Aminata was a girl who lived with her family in a village not far from Mali’s capital, Bamako, where Jeremy grew up. Her family had been friends with Jeremy’s family for decades. Ever since Jeremy could remember, his family had been trying to hook him up with Aminata. He thought his trip to Europe to pursue his studies in medicine would change everything, but he was wrong. To his family, Aminata was the best suited mate for the handsome and successful doctor, as she perfectly fitted their understanding of a “true, traditional African woman.” She was considered by many a sweet, beautiful, humble and hardworking woman. She would spend her days working on her family’s farm where they grew fresh vegetables for sale. Aside from the farm, the market, religious functions and the occasional visit to relatives, she was barely to be seen anywhere else. Her shyness, obedience and submissive nature made her a viable candidate to several suitors, but her family had “reserved” her for Jeremy, a wish she was ready to fulfil without question. Although Jeremy considered Aminata to be attractive and a woman with desirable qualities, he had never really taken a romantic interest in her, an opinion he had expressed to his family time and again. That is why he was not amused that his family would attempt such a distasteful act knowing very well he was in a serious relationship with Sophie. Well, at least he didnt expect it from Kadi.
The surprising turn of events was that Jeremy generally preferred the Aminatas of the society, until he met Sophie, a woman who had turned his world upside down, questioned his values and kept him on his toes. I mean, she was beautiful, smart, confident, opinionated but very lovable.
Sophie, perceived to be modern-day and ‘Europeanized’ woman in the eyes of Jeremy’s family, was feared to be a threat to Jeremy and Aminata’s wishful betrothal. However, Jeremy kept this from his girlfriend in a bid to protect her feelings.
There is this stipulation that an African woman can enjoy her rights but only within certain limits. The line is drawn when a conservative community starts to feel threatened. The woman will then be said to be enjoying rights to the point of becoming ‘un-African’. This, even though many still do not have a clear understanding of what it means to be African. Their perceptions, beliefs and moral thermometers are measured and sometimes ultered by the various social constructs of the societies they are brought up in.
For example, some time back across East Africa, several men expressed their displeasure with the rate at which women are moving towards ‘empowerment’ by stripping naked those whose dressing they deemed ‘indecent’ or ‘un-African’. In Uganda, Ethics Minister Simon Lolokodo openly expressed that it is natural to rape women and for men to ‘discipline’ women who ‘irritate’ them with the way they dress.
Although some African societies are slowly evolving from their strict patriarchal structure, it is not unusual for some to still accept men marrying child brides, men being physically violent to their partners and openly having affairs. Decades of campaigns to empower and change the discernment of the girl child continue to transform societies across the continent, although the pace is slow. This has led to women like Sophie being largely considered to be ‘different’ and are met with resistance, especially from some fellow women who see it as a threat to their identity.
“So, my girlfriend is sitting in her apartment waiting for me to show up with you, after she has gone to great lengths to make this night special for you, and you pull such a thing? Do you know how many hours that woman spent pestering me trying to find out what you like, and how she could bond with you? If you didn’t want to honor her dinner invitation you would have said so, instead of doing this!” Said Jeremy in a slightly raised angry voice. He was now breathing heavily from his efforts to remain calm.
“Would you have come here if I had told you what i was upto? No. You barely answer Aminata’s calls or messages, you rarely talk to her family even though you know what is at stake here. This was the only way I could get you to do the right thing.”
“What right thing!” Shouted Jeremy.
“Come on, we all know you are not going anywhere with that modern-day woman who has been corrupted by the European culture. Why should I waste my time getting to know Sophie when at the end of the day you will end up with a girl from home? You all do that! Living in Europe doesnt change anything. You know it is your duty as a man to uphold and continue our family’s legacy, our culture, our language. That’s who we are. Besides, Sophie comes from the opposite end of the continent. You know very well that that is not acceptable, she is not good for you, she ……”
“Don’t be a hypocrite!” Interrupted Jeremy. “Look at you sitting on your high horse pretending to be the virgin Mary, ever ready to criticize women like Sophie. If your family was to find out what you do when you come here to visit, won’t they be shocked? Do they know all the things you do in private when nobody is looking?”
“I told you those things in confidence as my friend. Don’t you dare use that against me!” Kadi’s voice was now trembling with a mixture of emotions. That comment got her off guard. “Am sorry if I wasn’t brought up like Sophie, I wasn’t given the option of choice. Yes, every now and then I yearn to find out how that feels like, to be free , to be able to speak mind as a woman, to be open, to be able to do forbidden things like drink in public without being patronized. To wear whatever i want without being judged. To have an opinion. But all these belong in a distant fantasy world that i get to visit every once in a while. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t cherish the values of our family. Those conservative values are all I know Jeremy! That is all I know! They give me a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, they are who i have to be and I will fight to protect them….”
“Are you listening to yourself?” Asked Jeremy burying his face in his hands. He didn’t expect this. “You are not making sense!”
“What happened to you? Ever since that Sophie girl came into your life you have lost your ways. What African man wouldn’t want a woman like Aminata! She will do anything you ask her, she will not “stress” you at all, she is beautiful and obedient, kind and loving. What more do you want!”
“I never even for once said there was anything wrong with Aminata.” Said Jeremy pacing up and down. “I have nothing against Aminata…I just…”
“You just what!” Exclaimed Kadi.
“What do you want to hear from me?” Asked a very agitated Jeremy.” I am just….”
Kadi’s phone, which was lying on the dining table, started to ring, bringing the heated argument to a sudden halt. The tension in the room was so sharp it could have cut through glass. They both knew who that was.
“That’s your mother. This is your chance to set the record straight. If Sophie is the one, tell your mother and Aminata. So we stop kidding ourselves that you care about where you came from.” Said Kadi as she took a long deep breath, trying to compose herself as she stretched her hand towards Jeremy to hand him the phone.
“Here, tell them Sophie is the one.”
Jeremy suddenly felt hot, his mouth went dry and he could feel his palms get sweaty. He wanted to reach out for the phone, but his hands felt as heavy as lead, he couldn’t lift them. Why couldn’t he do it?
He couldn’t take it anymore. Without warning, he swiftly turned to head to the front door.
“Jeremy!” Shouted Kadi, which made Jeremey to briefly stop. “You couldn’t do it! You know it doesn’t have to be Aminata, but both of us know it won’t be something far from it.”
Jeremy grabbed his umbrella, flung the door open and stormed into the rain.
Kadi followed him to the door, phone still ringing in her hand. “If you really love that girl like you say you do you will end it. Don’t waste her time!” Kadi tried to shout through the rain, hoping her cousin had caught every word. And with that she got back inside and banged the door behind her.
What is taking them so long? Thought Sophie to herself as she impatiently walked up and down her apartment. In a bid to distract herself from her nervousness, she went back to her bedroom to have one last glance of her look for the evening. From her smile, one could tell that she loved what she saw through her full body mirror. She was wearing a blue, sleeveless, long, satin evening gown that accentuated her hour-glass figure. She knew she looked gorgeous. She powdered her nose one last time and headed back to the living room. For the third time, she tried Jeremy’s cell phone but to no avail. This got her even more worried. They were late for their dinner reservation by almost half an hour now. So, she called Susan, who encouraged her to drive to Jeremy’s cousin’s place to find out what was going on.
Sophie grabbed her car keys. Just as she was about to head out, the door flung open and a somewhat agitated Jeremy walked in. He briefly stepped out to leave the umbrella by the door outside, trying not to get the apartment floor wet.
“What happened?” Asked Sophie as she threw herself in his arms. “Wait, where is Kadi?”
“She won’t be joining us tonight.” His mind was still a surging perplexity. If it was up to him, he would go somewhere far away and just sit, do nothing and hope all that happened that night was a dream.
“Why, what happened? Is she feeling ok?” Asked Sophie secretly hoping it was not what she thought it was.
“Look I don’t want to to talk to about it now.” Replied Jeremy.
Sophie was now sure it was what she thought it was. She could feel her heart sink with disappointment. She knew something was up, but she also knew that trying to get Jeremy to talk when he was in this kind of mood would be like crashing water, pointless. She wasn’t in a mood to argue, and was just glad that her man was ok and that nothing fatal had happened.
“Ok.” She said with a sigh. “Will we be seeing her before she flies back? I have her gift basket. It would be a shame if she didn’t receive it.”
“Yeah, I really wouldn’t worry about that if I were you…”
“Look baby…I haven’t seen you all week, are we going to stand here and talk about Kadi, or are we going to try make it to our dinner?” He said , while reaching for her hands.
“Ok, you win. Let’s go.” So, Sophie grabbed her purse and coat.
But just as they were going to walk through the door, Jeremy stopped and turned to face Sophie.
“I am sorry the evening didn’t turn out as you had planned. I appreciate the effort you have put.”
“Oh, its ok, on the bright side we get some alone time.”
Jeremy cupped her face in his hands and looked straight into her eyes….and it suddenly dawned on him, that all the beauty of the universe, could not even begin to compete with this simple thing, the thing he saw in her eyes every time he looked into them: passion. This overpowered all the rules, regulations and any desire to be accepted anywhere else but in the eyes of the one who had captured his heart. He remembered how every time she smiled or laughed, he couldn’t help but smile along too, even if it was just inwardly. There were many times she drove him so crazy with her stubbornness that he would feel like hitting his head against the wall. But the moments when her presence would warm him up like the summer rays were countless, priceless and ones he never wanted to lose, at least not any time soon.
“By the way, about the trip we were planning to take next month …” he almost whispered as he kissed her gently on the lips. He could feel his pulse fasten. He was suddenly nervous. Why was he nervous?
“Oh yea, I have been thinking about that, we could go to Paris, Prague, or Athens.” replied Sophie, who was secretly wondering why they were discussing trips at that moment. I mean, she was hungry.
“Bamako….” Said Jeremy in a soft voice almost as if he wasn’t sure. He paused. He couldn’t believe what he had just said.
“Sorry?” Asked a dumb-founded Sophie, slightly pulling away from Jeremy. Had she heard right?
“I said, we are going to Bamako.” Said Jeremy as he pulled Sophie back into his arms. This time his voice was firm.
Sophie’s heart was pounding real hard. She tried to say something, but no voice came out. It was as if something was stuck in her throat.
They stood at the door for a while, in each other’s arms, lost in their emotions. All that could be heard was the sound of the rain pounding on the ground outside……
Facebook: Philly Susan Yambo