Nneka immediately screamed ‘Jesus!’ and rushed over to hold Civir’s hands and inspect her arms for any injuries. She then knelt down to inspect Civir’s feet. “Eyaa…. The thing injured your leg,” she said in dismay. She got up quickly to get some medical aid from the barman even though Civir would rather she ignored it as it was only a little scratch.
“Mimi, where have you been hiding her? She is such a sweetheart!” Erica said.
“Yes ooo. See how concerned she was about my injury. She is a good person,” Civir added.
Anna was unfazed by the show of love by a stranger. She couldn’t trust Nneka because she was too nice. Her response was too sudden for a stranger. “How did you guys meet?” She asked Mimi.
“We met some two weeks ago at an empowerment workshop.”
“Who approached whom?” asked Anna.
“Anna!” the other ladies chorused. Just then Nneka returned with a blue rectangular box but Anna wouldn’t let her tend to Civir’s wound.
“She has been my friend since university. Let me,” she said, snatching the box from Nneka. Civir looked quizzically at her, but she just proceeded to wipe the scratch with cotton wool dipped in iodine. Civir bit her lip and tugged into the sofa as the hot colourless liquid touched the scratch. Nneka sat by the side watching with great attention and apologizing for the pain Civir was going through. Anna looked threateningly at her. There was something uncaring in Nneka’s care, something concerning about her concern. She would unravel it someday, if not that night, on some other day. Anna refused Nneka’s plea to return the first aid box and asked for directions instead. Civir got up hastily and followed her to the bar where she returned the box and pulled her over to the balcony outside. It was important that Anna’s newfound rivalry didn’t hamper Mimi’s big night especially since Anna was the sole member, planner and executioner of the central planning committee of the night.
“I am just saying that you should let things slide. Just let Mimi have a great night,” Civir was saying.
“That girl is fake! I don’t even understand why I am the only one who is seeing it,” Anna said.
“Can we tackle this another time when it isn’t Mimi’s party?”
“Hmmmm…. I will try. But my eyes are on her,” a reluctant Anna said.
Civir grimaced, “I need a promise of good behaviour.”
“What is your own sef? Okay, I promise that I won’t do anything crazy. Satisfied?” Civir nodded and turned to look at the view. Uncountable skyscrapers shrouded in darkness and loneliness. Buildings that were so crowded during the day. Buildings people killed to erect and enter. Buildings that birthed billions upon billions of money. Buildings of and for the rich and powerful. These powerful buildings were nothing but lonely layers of stone and glass at night. The yellow and fluorescent bulbs and few security guards their only company.
“Don’t you feel lonely sometimes?” Civir asked. Anna was quiet for a few seconds. The question had been so sudden. She never really thought of loneliness.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I mean…. Loneliness isn’t really a choice for me right now.” Civir knew that she couldn’t ask for an explanation – she knew the explanation. A young career woman in Lagos couldn’t feel lonely. Loneliness led to a longing – that desire to fill the blank space in a life that looked so wholesome. That desire led to desperation. Desperation led to terrible choices. Terrible choices a woman couldn’t afford to make. A man could be forgiven for those, but not a woman – it was a one-way traffic for her, a slippery slope.
“Is that why you….”
“Yes! That is one of the reasons. Why get my heart broken when I could get what I want from whomever I want whenever I want it?”
“Don’t you think that will scare prospective suitors away?”
“I want a man,” Anna said, turning to Civir. “A man is confident that he can get what no other man has gotten. He doesn’t run away at the first hint of trouble. If anything, my lifestyle will help me find the right person for me.”
“But you aren’t growing any younger.”
“My life is mine. It is not about a man. My happiness is defined by me and nobody else. If a man happens, fine, but I couldn’t care less if he doesn’t because I don’t need a man to be a human being. I just need me!” Anna said and walked inside.
Civir stood on the balcony for a few more minutes. She tried to remember what happiness had meant to her before her marriage. Prior to her call to bar, she had always strived for that wig and gown. She always wanted to feel that toxic feeling of having somebody’s life in your hands. The hunger to get your version of justice for your client. The pure enjoyment of debating in an official capacity while many pairs of adoring eyes gazed on. She wanted to be a part of that seriousness she always felt when she entered a courtroom. She wanted a judge to look at her from his high chair with his glasses sitting royally on his nose. She got the job upon graduation. She loved the job. She was successful at the job. She had even won a couple of high profile cases that had ended at the Supreme Court after just four years of legal practice. She was happy and couldn’t wait to wake up every morning. The butterflies she felt in her stomach whenever she appeared in court. She particularly enjoyed the disbelief and shame on the faces of some of her male and elderly opponents when the judge hit the gavel in her favour. The shame that a woman, a young woman the same age as those they took to bars late at night, had defeated them in court. She loved her life. But her mother was adamant that she had to tie the knot soon, “Doocivir wan wam, my daughter, nobody likes a woman with a smart mouth, especially an old woman with a smart mouth. If you don’t marry now, you may never marry.” She had said.
She had practised for one year after her marriage. It wasn’t until after she got pregnant that Luter suggested that it would be best for their child and the family if she became a full-time Mum. He was making enough money to sustain the family, he said. She had wanted to tell him that it wasn’t about the money. That it was bigger than that. That it was about her dream, her goal in life. That it was about her passion. But she didn’t. She couldn’t because her mother had told her that it was selfish for a woman to choose her job over her family. She had suggested that she would hire a nanny, or take one of their many relatives to Lagos to help with the child and housework. But her mother was adamant and even appalled by what her own daughter was saying. She didn’t raise her like that, she had said. “What is your job as a wife if you can’t even raise your own child and take care of your home?” she had asked. So she gave up her career for her family.
“You can return to us when you are ready,” her Chamber Head had told her. When Bemsen was a couple of years old, she made to go back but Luter wouldn’t have it. When he was sure that she would return anyway, he told her mother who rushed over to tame the lion that was her daughter. “Why do you have to go back to work where all those men will be looking at you? Besides, this system is working very well for the both of you, why fix what hasn’t been broken?” Her mother had said. She won eventually, but not this battle. Civir had insisted on doing something as she was always bored at home. So, to calm the storm, Luter had agreed to set up a boutique for her. She didn’t like selling clothes so she hired help and retired to being a housewife. She had worked so long at loving her new job that she actually believed that she loved it. But when people asked questions like Mimi asked earlier; or said things like Anna just said; or people she had worked with ran into her at the market or boutique buying or selling, she couldn’t help but feel a pang of shame, and guilt.
It was her life. She had made the choices and at this point, she just couldn’t care whether there were the best choices for her or not. She had redefined her happiness but somehow felt like it still evaded her.
Stay tuned for [Chapter 4] Next Friday; meanwhile enjoy your weekend!…