How Old are You Now?

Episode 2: The Future is Yesterday

By Nenye

“I am pregnant,” I say to Stanley in the cinema. It’s a little silly, right? I drive my lover all the way to Filmhouse in Lekki just to tell him that I am pregnant, while the credits are rolling, while he is wiping his eyes because the movie is Infinity Wars and every diehard enthusiast of the Marvel franchise sheds a tear or two for their fallen heroes after seeing the film.

I might have kept if for later, this news, but here he is, a grown man, slouching like a petulant child because of a movie, and anger simmers through my body. Anger or disgust? With Stanley I can never tell.

“Fuck!” He swears under his breath.

I roll my eyes. We are waiting for the Post-credit scenes, because that is what you do when you go to watch a Marvel movie, and I hear the collective sighs from the audience around us.

Stanley leans towards me: “But Muna, what happened to the pills?”

Yea, you Idiot. What happened to the pills?

I ignore the voice in my head and giggle out loud: “Don’t you believe in miracles? It had to be God’s doing. We can even name our child Immaculate.”

I try to make out the angles of his stricken face in the poorly lit hall; his eyes squinted like they are when he is frustrated.

“It is not funny,” Stanley whispers, but I am laughing still. What is he going to do now? Suggest an abortion? I am not a child. I can care for this baby all by myself!

“Why are you telling me this?” Stanley asks with a sigh.

Why? “Wrong question, Stan.”

“You know I am not ready for this Baby Daddy shit. Why would you do this to me?” Stanley is speaking through clenched teeth. People are already casting glances at us.

It is my turn to sigh now, “Look, I could give you a full lecture on how people make babies, but I would be wasting my time. I am pregnant, okay? I don’t expect you to support me, but I just thought you would be pleased at the news that your sperm can make something.”

“That is such a fucked up thing to say, Muna,” Stanley replies in a voice too low and too quiet to be Stanley’s.

“Well, fuck you Stanley!” I stand. I had not meant to be loud. I pick my purse and as I make my way out, I hear him say, “You are such a bitter woman.” The words are like pins digging their way through my back, paralysing me briefly. Still, I will my legs to move, and I head out the hall.

Bitter Woman. I am a little unsteady on the feet as my eyes adjust to the light in the waiting hall.

I had meant what I said to Stanley, about taking full responsibility for the child, but still, I am not sure who I am angrier at, myself, who is not at all ready for a child, or Stanley, who was only an elixir for my lonely days. Why did I stare at my bottle of pills, toss it aside, and curl up in a blanket that night? Why didn’t I take the damned pills?

You know why, Muna. You were a scared twenty-nine year old going on thirty and your biological clock was whipping you across the face.

I need a drink, so I walk over to the counter and ask for Five Alive Fruit juice. Time to start practicing the “No Alcohol” rule now there is a child on the way, right?

Mon Dieu!  Muna!” The voice is low and sultry, unfamiliar. I turn around and see her, but I do not recognize her.

“Hey, it’s been ages Girl! Remember me?”

She is a tall shapely woman with a visible baby bump and large eyes dominating her small face. Her skin is a brown, well-oiled affair, the kind that attracts hundreds of hearts on Instagram and comments like: Melanin Dripping or Hot Chocolate, the kind of woman that I imagine would post pictures of herself on social media looking somewhere far away with a dreamy smile and claim she did not even know when the photo was taken.

You are such a bitter woman, Stanley had said.

I stare at her, blink, and then stare again. No way! “Ufuoma from Accounting?”

She smiles widely. White teeth a stark contrast against her dark brown skin. “Yea! I was afraid you didn’t recognize me anymore!” There is a French lilt to her voice now.

I laugh nervously as I move in for a hug. “Wow!” Wow!

Ah Merde!” she cusses in French, giggling when her belly bumps against mine awkwardly. “Pregnant women always give the worst hugs.”

I smile, still in awe. “Wow, Ufuoma. Where have you been? You just disappeared after Convocation!”

She pushes some strands of her weave behind her ear and looks around us. “This is hardly the place for a conversation. Should we go upstairs? I hear the barbecued chicken there is literally to die for!”

I hesitate. Where is Stanley? I must have missed him on his way out of the hall.

She pulls my hand, misreading my hesitation: “Don’t worry, It is my treat!” and before I can utter another word, I am walking towards the stairs, my drink forgotten, my thoughts drowning in her chatter, a flurry of English words fighting their way out of a French accent that is as inconsistent as it is mystifying.

**

While we wait for our chicken, Ufuoma picks her purse and excuses herself to use the Ladies’ because, “Gosh her back hurts and Nigerian Waiters have a terrible habit of keeping their customers waiting and she badly needs to pee-pee!”

I remember Ufuoma vaguely from University, a timid bespectacled girl with extraordinarily protruding calves. We used to call her “Ufuoma Yam Legs” then, in voices low enough for her not to hear but loud enough for her to look back and be able to tell that we were talking about her.

Once, in 300 level, we found ourselves in the same group for an Assignment and she had tried to be friends with me, asking if she could hitch a ride home with me and my friends after classes.

On the days we let her join us, the rides home would be more silent than usual, with the car windows wound down and our faces tilted in the direction of the breeze so we would not feel obligated to make small talk, and largely because Ufuoma did not appear to own a deodorant, or use one for that matter.

I barely recognize this woman, her calves hidden beneath her red cotton dress with the slit down the front, but there is something in her mannerisms that I remember, and I know that it is truly Ufuoma. I whip out my phone and quickly look her up on Facebook. Now Mrs.Ufuoma Moreau: Wife, Mother, Fashion Blogger, Business Mogul, Awesome Human. Her page is adorned with photos of two beautiful olive-skinned boys between 5 and 8. Her husband is a French Pilot called Bernard. There are several photos of her in silhouette, holding a teacup by the window or staring at her laptop in full concentration. She tells us that her husband takes the best pictures in her captions, and there is a twinge inside me. An unnamed feeling that tightens my belly as a wave of nausea courses through my body. A feeling that is so irrational I am ashamed.

Ufuoma is back, smelling like fresh flowers, that disarming smile on her perfect face. As if on cue, the waiter arrives with a platter of Barbecued chicken wings, potato chips and pepper sauce. The man is flustered as he straightens to take our drink orders.

“Water for me, please,” I say in a loud voice because he is not looking at me.

Ufuoma cocks her head to the side and puckers her lips as she blinks up at him in a coy fashion. “Eh Bien. I am craving wine so bad. You have something good enough for a pregnant woman, yes?”

After the waiter leaves, she leans forward and whispers in a conspiratorial tone, “My husband cannot know that I am drinking wine. He will have a fit!”

I laugh. She laughs. I pick up a piece of chicken and stuff my mouth with it as I proceed to grasping disjointed pieces of her life, told in between mouthfuls of chicken and chips.

She travelled to France to do her Masters on scholarship and shortly after, her blog was birthed. She met her husband, the pilot, on Tinder, Could I believe it? He is the most adorable person on the planet, after her kids of course. She lives with her family in France but visits Nigeria often because she cannot separate herself from the Ankara fabrics and the food! Her first son is taking violin lessons and the other one wants to be an Astronaut. Do I know that her husband is perpetually stunned to find that she never leaves any hair ‘down there?’ The French have a gazillion stereotypes about Black girls and it’s so fucking crazy right? Do I mind her swearing? Nigerians are too conservative. She is very sorry.

There is a small silence just then, before Ufuoma leans back in her chair and sighs, “Ah! This chicken is delicious!”

“Yes,” I agree, even though I think they could have done without at least half the spices they used in it.

She leans forward again and asks, “What about you, Muna? How is life? Whatever happened to that fine boyfriend of yours back then in school?”

I shrug, “Everything is going on just fine, Ufuoma. I haven’t heard from him in a while.”

“You married, yes?”

“No.”

There is another awkward silence. She downs her glass of wine in one gulp.

“You should subscribe to my blog, Muna. I could text you the link or something, yes?”

“Sure.”

“And France? Planning on visiting soon?”

“That sounds exciting.”

We finish our meal in silence, and when the bill comes, she swipes her card against the machine with a, “Your chicken is absolutely fucking good! Tres bien! Merci beaucoup!” and a bunch of shiny naira notes for a generous cash tip. On our way out, she offers to drop me off with her Uber and I say I brought my car. She pauses, then glances sideways and says with her voice lowered, “You changed a lot, Muna. Sure you are okay?”

I do not answer. Instead I smile again and mumble something about how I need to leave now because I have to pick a friend up on my way home.

She stretches her phone towards me, “Drop everything; Emails, phone numbers, social media handles. Let’s keep in touch, please.”

“Okay,” I respond, taking the phone.

***

I come home to find that Stanley’s shirt is no longer hanging on the nail by my dresser. His shoes are gone too. I take off every piece of clothing on my body and leave them on the floor beside my bed, crawling into the warmth of my blanket, my cocoon. I make a mental note to drop the sheets off at the Dry Cleaner’s on my way to work tomorrow; they smell like they have been soaked in Stanley’s perfume. Music from my neighbour’s filters in through my open windows – Smile for me by Simi, and something in Simi’s child-like voice takes me back to a time so far back that it all seems surreal now, as though it had happened to someone else. I see his face too, stark and raw.

My life is unravelling in stories and memories so strong that I have to catch my breath beneath its crushing force, and then, all of a sudden, my phone is ringing, shrill and jarring. It is my Doctor.

“Hi Muna, I am just calling to confirm your appointment on Friday at 6pm.”

I pause, collecting my thoughts.

“Muna?”

“Yes, Doctor. I will see you on Friday. Also, if you don’t mind me asking, what are your policies on abortion?”

My Doctor gasps in surprise, and there is a short silence.

Here, in the stillness of this room, in the pause before my Doctor finally speaks, I become nineteen again.

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