Ayorkor stared at her abdomen, tucked well into her waist trainer, excitement and fear lining her face all at the same time. This decision, the one she was bracing herself to voice out at Jone’s return, after what will be their last dinner, will change her life forever.
She pressed hard on the cylinder regulator and pulled it off. She wiped her wet hands with the napkin and exhaled, allowing a grateful smile barely form on her lips. She was done with dinner. She checked the kitchen clock. Jones will be home in a few minutes. She crossed the kitchen and shut the door that led outside. Strong winds with cold breeze met and caressed her face. July this year seemed to be carrying the leftover of June’s winds.
Ayorkor chuckled then hurried to wash down, to get off the smell of fried chicken and onions. And to get ready for her announcement. She rushed into the spacious bedroom, untied the curtains and closed the louvre blades, leaving them slanted slightly rather than flatly closed. She stared at the room for a full minute, her brown eyes sad.
What was she doing here? Cooking, cleaning, being a wife to a man she isn’t married to? She sat for another minute before sliding off her long dress and staring at herself in the mirror. She looked younger still, a bit older than her 25 years but she was young. Young enough to be out with friends if she still had some on a Friday night like this. She stared at her lips, touching them as if apologizing for loaning them too soon without a proper first kiss. That’s what the preacher woman called it – cohabitation is loaning out yourself with no proper interest. Laughter had soared through the auditorium. And she was glad, glad she went. Next, she held her stomach and abdomen with both hands, like one would protecting it from a gunshot and quickly walked into the bathroom. Looking at herself like she did became a daily routine since she started thinking of leaving because of the pretty boy growing inside her. But what will Jones say – to the baby and her leaving? How could she tell him she was leaving? Not coming back again at all?
She covered her cut hair with a shower cap. She wondered what Jones will say about it too, once she told him what has been on her heart these 4 weeks. She questioned herself, her eyes steady on her image from the other side of the mirror overlooking the sink. Did she cut it to signify the fresh start she’s hoping for from tonight? Maybe. Or she cut it to convince herself if she left someone else besides Jones will want her – that she still was young and beautiful? She raised her face to the shower and let the drops of water beat it and run down her beautiful skin – one of the reasons she traded her freedom 7 years ago. Her skin was a middle ground between tanned and deep dark chocolate.
“You look like chocolate.”
Jones had laughed at the resort where she did her first runway.
“More like shining cocoa beans?”
She added a remark of her own and laughed. She couldn’t be blamed. She was just a child, excited to be getting attention from the big names in the industry and foolishly willing to do anything it took to be in their list for job referrals. And she did everything.
Jones’ deep voice sounded to the bathroom. She shook inside and stepped onto the floor to shut the door. It went halfway and stopped.
“I’m showering. Give me 5 minutes.”
She shouted her ribs out, exhaled and stood by the tiled wall to catch her breath. She hoped Jones didn’t hear the fear in her voice. And she hoped he wouldn’t walk in on her. She quickly gave the door a sudden push and slammed it shut. Supposed Jones had noticed the weirdness she showed around him, he’ll be snooping around for some answers. Not that Jones was a man like that.
All these 7 years he’d been a perfect gentleman, never forced himself on her. She hasn’t witnessed even one of the horrors of living unmarried with a man. The rape, beatings, starvation. Leaving hence was harder. Just thinking about it brings back to her the first day she decided to take an elevator to Jone’s office, six floors up the Tower house in Accra Central. Her hands were numb, her feet was wobbly and her mouth dried up. She stood there pretending she was waiting on someone rather than getting on. Then an old girlfriend from high school came by, coming to get on the elevator too. Ayorkor let a giggle out. They got on together, she purposely giving the friend the lead and looking intently what she did. Should it not have been the chat and that they were headed to the same floor, she’d have never been an elevator-preferred girl as she is now.
Elevator preferred huh.
She went under the shower again and took longer than she thought. The water was cool against her body, dropping gently like it was washing away all the shame she’d walked to the front of the auditorium with. The shame wasn’t here now. Memory of it was. She’d lived the 7 years like a rebel. Doing what felt good, eating what tasted good, buying what looked good, just simply existing. Her only drive to live safe was Jones. He wouldn’t let her get on a drug at all. Despite he had friends who traded in it. And she was just going to pack out of his life? But she had to.
“You have to Ayor.”
She stared at her bulging tummy. Five months under a waist trainer.
“I didn’t plan to hurt you sweetie.”
A tear trickled down unto her naval, almost disappearing because of the bump.
“Babe, it’s taking a while. Should I join you in there maybe?”
Jone’s words hit Ayorkor’s present emotions away. She grabbed her towel and started drying. She imagined he walking in, right now probably, stumbling on her with her abdomen like it was about exploding. He could pass out. How betrayed will he be thinking she asked for a separate room these two months to hide that she’s pregnant? That she stopped taking her monthly pills and found out one morning she was a month into hosting another human and wanted to tell him but the thrill of feeling another’s heartbeat and a conversation with a stranger in traffic didn’t allow her. Her mouth instantly felt sour.
“I’m almost dried up. Why not start setting the meal hun.”
Jones yawned and shuffled towards the kitchen. He was tired and hoping to retire to bed early after telling Ayorkor about the new job he’s secured for her. He smiled. Her world will churn. Then her bony cheeks will rise into the most adorable smile he’s ever seen. He was sure he loved her. So he had made up his mind the whole week it is time to move the relationship on and he wanted to tell her that too. Forgive his procrastinating self, he couldn’t make any dinner arrangements to celebrate.
Ayorkor glanced at the ceiling and run out of the shower. She shut the door to her room, another new thing and hurried to her dresser.
“5 minutes madam. You have 5 minutes.”
She repeated the mantra to herself and after pulling a black bodicon dress down her head, she paused and studied the mirror. Her tummy looked just beautiful. She caught her throat tightening. Her breath was being taken away. Her eyes stung.
“Not now. No emotion now.”
She willed herself, brushed under her eyes and after about a minute of struggling she fastened on the trainers. Then the door was pushed open. Ayorkor exhaled.
She searched Jone’s eyes.
He hugged her and kissed her passionately on the cheeks. He was drawn to her in all her ways. He sat on the bed staring at her slipping her feet into her flip-flops. Some days he wondered if he wasn’t obsessed. He’d wash her feet every single second should it take that to show how deeply he cared for her. He swung his feet an inch further and propped back to relax, his two palms holding him up.
Ayorkor spritzed on her favorite Chris Adams and looked at Jones, Jones Quaye. He was 6 feet, broad, dark and handsome. The pretty giant is what the industry calls him. He wears his hair short and grows the famous goat’s beard. Seven years ago, she signed up for a free modelling job, so she could get some exposure. He was one of the big names, still is, and was beginning to go commercial with female clothes. She was assigned to him. After the show, they were in love despite the twenty years age gap and now, she owes him life – all of hers. She stared at his almost black pupils and walked over to him.
“Right on time today. Less traffic?”
“Yes and I missed my Ayorkor Naa Nortey.”
Jones held her to his lap, almost lifting her. She cuddled against him, her five feet eight slim self looking somewhat tiny.
Jones named his clothing line for females, Ayorks after her, a year into their relationship and three years consecutive, it is the more successful of his two clothing. His first, JoQuaye is the third wanted men’s fashion clothing in Ghana. She stole a look at his eyes. His love for her felt like an ocean bursting out through. And that’s what has her trapped all these years. How could she hurt, betray his love and walk out on him because she’s been stealing and attending church on some occasions though they both pledged not to be bound by religion and got saved and felt with every passing minute what they have is true but wrong? She shifted, feeling a rough surface from his pocket against her butt.
Is there anything he didn’t smile because of?
Ayorkor smiled some.
“No. I think we’re letting our dinner go cold.”
She said and got up.
“I forgot I set it. Shall we?”
Jones was almost for the door.
“Yes.” Ayorkor took his hand and heard water drip from the bathroom. “After I close the tap tight enough, I’ll be out.”
“Okay. I’ll get the fish and banku into the microwave.”
Jones was out. Ayorkor stormed into the bathroom and gave the door a light push. Her eyes were moistening. Thank God she heard that water drip. She needed the space. For a while on Jone’s lap, she was certain she’d burst out into tears. She looked at her reflection, her shower cap was still on.
You have to do this.
She set her view straight ahead, her hands holding desperately to the sink.
“I’m going out there to throw away the life I’ve known because I believe that’s what you want. Lord, I’m counting on you.”
She sniffed once, twice and smiled. The rays of the dying sun streamed gently into the bathroom. At eighteen she gave herself to Jones and knew his love. She hoped at twenty-five, tonight, no matter how crazy things go, he’ll know she’ll still love him.
“I’m coming Jones.”
Ayorkor lifted her voice good enough and responded to Jones’ call. Waiting on food wasn’t a thing for men. She walked out of the bedroom, her shower cap off and her face bold. It was hard being asked to choose between two loves but she knew choosing will actually be loving the two right. She didn’t fully understand but she knew.“Thank goodness. I was hoping the food won’t have to go cold again.”
Jones, kissed Ayorkor and pulled the chair back for her. They were seated at the dining room area – one and half the size of the hall, partitioned with curtains from it. The place looked like a VIP enclosement at a restaurant. The cold weather lended a hand to the setting, Marry You was playing in the background. Ayorkor smiled, guilt rising through her. Jones made every meal tasty to eat every day. It was always a special occasion for him – sitting down with her at the table for dinner. Sometimes, like today, she wondered how it’d be like married to Jones. And yet, she knew she won’t get marriage with him. They were together but now in two worlds – very different worlds – apart. Jones smiled, his eyes widening, taking notice of her haircut. A grin formed on his lips, one of his eyebrows lifted in curiosity.
Ayorkor did a bow and laughed.
“After shopping, I saw a barber with this pretty black American lady with a haircut displayed in his glass window. I thought she looked prettier than me so I got the look.”
She started serving the food, dishing the green grinded kpakposhito and cleaning a spoon to fetch the black shito.
“Prettier than you?”
Jones raised both eyebrows.
“You can’t believe it right. She was. I think it’s her lips. They’re this sort of curve, you should see it.”
“Oh. I see.”
Jones laughed then quietened down.
She lifted her face to him. His eyes were intense, as if holding on to the moment. His lips seemed heavy with words she didn’t know if she was ready for.
How easy is tonight going to be Lord?.
She just looked at him, at Jones.
His eyes were glued on her. She could see all the love they shared soaring in the moment.
“There’s no woman prettier than you. I want to remind you of that and that I love you deeply every day.”
She sat and nodded. Tears dropping before she could catch them.
“I am …”
Her words got lost, her throat choked with the tears.
“You are sweetheart.”
Jones leaned forward and kissed her.
“I’ll continue dishing.”
And he did as Ayorkor thought through how she was going to get around telling Jones her plan.
What if it kills him?
Looking at him dish food out so willingly for a woman he wasn’t bound to, looking at the way he loved her more than even the words he got around saying, she was sure should she say anything, her words will cut and leave a deep wound that can’t be healed. And perhaps that’s why she feels obligated to show him her growing abdomen soon and pack out – so she hurt doesn’t go any deeper than she’s already imagining it.
“What are you thinking of.”
Jones put a thumb size of fish into his mouth.
Ayorkor smiled, cleaned her eyes and started eating.
Jones chewed on another thumb size of Tilapia after dipping it into the pepper.
“If you weren’t a model, we should set you up in the food business.”
“A banku and tilapia joint?”
“Not only banku and tilapia. Your Kenkey is better than Kenkey Boutique’s.”
Ayorkor laughed, choking on her food. She gulped down a glass of water Jones poured her and sat still a while. She sat back. She should say something soon. Now even. Sitting through the meal to the end will make her loose her courage. Jone’s eyes, his lips moving delicately as he chewed on the fish, those things attracts her in ways unexplainable. There wasn’t a possibility not to want him sitting and having him look at her as he did.
Ayorkor dropped the banku she had in her hands and licked her fingers.
Jones mumbled, looking up briefly and scooping more pepper and onions on his banku to swallow. He took some more fish with pepper and looked up briefly and took another bite of fish with onion and shito.
“Ayorkor go on.”
Ayorkor cleared her throat and licked her lips.
“Jones, I want to leave.”
“Jones, I said I want to leave you…us…this relationship.”
“And I said okay and…” Jones sat up, blinked and eyed Ayorkor. His eyes questioned her, a puzzling look slowly forming on his face. His eyebrows were raised. “Ayorkor, what did you say?”
Ayorkor sat quiet, her eyes distant.
Jones held her chin and lifted it up, peering into her eyes. He wished he could reach the depths of her soul. He wanted to get past the cloud of hurt and guilt and what else he didn’t know that had clouded her eyes to be able to read in between her lines. She has said she wanted to leave. Leave him.
“Ayorkor, you want to leave. I mean you were fine when I came. We are having a great meal. I told you I love you and you said you were thinking of me. Everything is so fine and now you just want to leave?”
“I…Jones I have things we haven’t talked about.”
“Then we can.”
Jones washed his hands and took hers.
“We can talk. We always talk. We’ve been great.”
Ayorkor hesitated, sighed and looked Jones in the face.
“I’m changed. Ayorkor is no longer the model you know. I’m religious now…I’m Christian.”
Jones held her gaze and bit on his lips. He loved her. That is what matters. A religious person or not, they could live together and work life out. He was religious too, believes there is God. He was not a fan of the commitment, of having to stick with one set of beliefs and see those of others as second hand. And he wasn’t going to let her go. Ayorkor is home. She’s the reason he beats traffic – why he refuses one night stands with girls in clubs. Ayorkor has given him this stable life; breakfast, work, home, dinner, TV with a warm skin cuddled against his. He squeezed her hands. He won’t lose her to faith, religion, however those in it called it.
“We will work it out. I have friends, non-religious like me, who still believe there’s God and have lived so many years together.”
His words came out as desperate as he felt.
“Jones, being Christian is why I need to leave. I can’t live with someone I’m not married to.”
“Then marry me Ayorkor.”
Jones felt for his pocked and brought out the box, he held up a ring.
“Jones, we can’t.”
Ayorkor shook her head at him. Her eyes were red and sad with an apology.
“Why honey? Why?”
Hints of frustration lined his voice.
Ayorkor used her free hand to take Jones’ hands off hers and pushed her chair back. She stood and in a minute, she was in her underwear, her trainers off. Her abdomen pushed out. She smiled with teary eyes and allowed her eyes linger down on her abdomen.
“This is the other thing Jones. I’m five months now. I found out and wanted to tell you but I couldn’t. I met this lady in traffic, saw her playing with her baby and I just couldn’t tell you. You said you didn’t want babies and I realized after I missed one pill and found out I was expecting that I want babies. And I’m 25 already and…”
Her tears clamped her words. She stood in the middle of the dining room, hot tears streaming down her cheeks, stinging her eyes. And Jones sat and said nothing. She kept her head bowed. She couldn’t dare look at him, at his face. She was afraid of what they’ll say to her. After two minutes or three, she swept her palms over her cheeks and inhaled.
“I still love you Jones. Forgive me for keeping the pregnancy from you and lying to you on so many occasions. Before the third month, it wasn’t quite out and I often explained my morning sickness away but I asked for the guest room for the night these two months because it started showing and I couldn’t sleep in trainers.”
Ayorkor glanced briefly at him. His head was on the table, where his plate of food was. He wasn’t looking at her all this time? Was he that hurt? So much so that he can’t bear to see her face, to look at the words falling out her lips? She looked away, fresh tears escaping her eyes.
She called his name. He lifted up his head, his beard looking damp with tears.
“I can’t Ayor. And I can’t let you go too.”
He walked to the door, turned the security locks, stayed there a while and took away the keys.
“The baby may have to go. You owe me this much.”
Jones walked away, his eyes fiery with pain and resolve all in a go.
Ayorkor called after him and sat on the floor. He didn’t want the baby and didn’t want her to go too. Ayorkor broke down in tears, her head on her laps. How was she supposed to leave when she was imprisoned in Jones’ heart and his world.
“Help me Lord. Please.”
Ayorkor’s sobs got louder. And Jones was standing by the door from the hall to the bedrooms. He had walked away but couldn’t go to his room. In a few minutes, he was kneeling by Ayorkor’s side, his own heart breaking. He loved her. He loved this woman with everything. He looked forward to being with her as the Ghanaian mother looks forward to the rainy season after a very harsh harmattan. He gently slipped on her dress.
“Ayorkor I can’t let you go.”
He said and kissed her cut hair, hugging her crouched body like a small boy would his favorite ball to his chest.
“I did everything for you Ayor. Do this for me.”
His voice came out as if he was having some tears of his own caught in his throat. He sat and hugged her back to him and then he took to kissing around her neck, his breath heavy with passion. Then slowly, everything became aggressive – Jones was tearing at Ayorkor’s clothes.
She fought his arm off her chest and held the torn pieces together.
“Jones please not this way.”
Ayorkor steadied herself to get up but Jones hands were firmed around her shoulder, ready to turn her to him.
She screamed his name but it was late. His ears couldn’t hear anything but his own loud desires. Jones hurled Ayorkor up amidst shouts and large sobs and threw her on the bed in the guest room.
“I miss you.”
He said and climbed up unto her.
“I miss us.”
Jones ripped her dress down her body further and laid gently beside her, a painful laughter filling the room from Jones.
“There was never us. She chose a clot of blood over me. There was never us.”
Jones laughed again and then cupped Ayorkor’s face with his two hands, lifting up his body slightly. A scratch forming long and slow on her left cheek.
“Ayorkor please tell me there was us. Say the late night desserts and movies was true. Say Vodka and fruit punch craze on those first three years was us. Ayorkor tell me you love me, you love Jones.”
Ayorkor kept silent. Horror and shame filled every nerve in her body. She could never tell next what Jones may do. Perhaps cut out the baby or rape her or handcuff her. She saw the blur edges of the metallic holes they made on every bed in the house for fastening the handcuff chains. They bought handcuffs when they wanted to play masochists.
“She’s saying nothing.”
Jones took her lips, his beard dancing around the corners of Ayorkor’s mouth.
“This is what I want. Pure love. Pure passion. You are that for me Ayorkor.”
He lay his head on her chest and stayed like that for a while and then he left the room without a word. Ayorkor listened to him turn the knob to the storeroom. It was the last room on the other side of the house. Jones choose that room because it was the farthest from the hall and the safest thus for keeping of anything. Money, paint, knifes, handcuffs, guns. Guns. Jones has owned a gun since the first day she packed in. Jones could also decide to use his gun.
Ayorkor heard her own heartbeat, rising and falling to the music of fear beginning to occupy her heart. All the scenes of news reports of cohabitation gone bad flashed before her. There were cases of the woman being locked up months without end and found dead later or found barely alive by suspecting neighbours.
Lord, I’m going to die for you so soon?
Ayorkor whispered and kept her eyes on the white ceiling; it staring back at her cold and faint.
“No. Ayor. I am not going to kill you. How could I?”
Jones held up the handcuff and swung it.
“I remembered we could do something fun.”
Ayorkor’s eyes pleaded with Jones’. She stared into them. A certain coldness had settled where she used to spot his tenderness.
“I won’t hurt you.”
Jones said and forced the cuff unto Ayorkor’s wrist.
“I won’t hurt you Hun.”
Jones crawled unto the bed from across Ayorkor and laid his head back unto her chest.
“Babe. We are fine. Like this.”
“We are not Jones. You’re not fine. This isn’t you.”
Ayorkor screamed then stared at his hair, her fear for herself slowly dissipating by fear for Jones. She knew Jones so well that she couldn’t recognize who she was talking to now. Yes they have fought several times – days when she was too tired to be bothered for sex, nights when she’s come late from one show or another and Jones have seen some random guys drop her off rather than she coming in her car – but Jones never forced his way, lifted a finger or sought to punish her in anyway. Whatever she had done, she had always done it for love.
“If you’ll take the cuffs off me, Jones we can sit and talk like adults.”
“And afterwards you’ll leave.”
“Eventually, I’ll have to. Yes.”
“And you’ll keep my baby too.”
“Yes Jones. I’ll keep our baby.”
“And you’ll leave me desiring the lady I’ve lived with all of my life but can’t have any longer.”
“I’ll be your friend Jones. I’ll call, visit at the office. I’ll…”
Jones lifted himself up, off Ayorkor’s chest and sat up straight. His features looking darker. The room was getting darker. He could hardly see Ayorkor’s face. He wouldn’t at all should the light from the kitchen be off.
“I don’t want to be friends.”
Jones’ tone was calmed, his demeanour more civil than what Ayorkor had witnessed over the just past 30 minutes.
“I want Ayorkor Kotey for a wife…” His voice was getting intense and sad. Jones hesitated for a minute. “… I want to be your husband…”
His voice trailed off into silent tears. He climbed off the bed and unlocked the cuff. He helped Ayorkor sit up and stood by her.
“I loved you. I love you but I’m not religious and I don’t want babies. And I wasn’t willing to marry before you came into my life but I finally bought the ring…”
“And you owe me this much. But you’re not my hostage. You can go.”
“Jones I’m so sorry…”
“I’m not for loving you. I’m taking a drive.”
Ayorkor nodded and watched Jones go. And listened to his footsteps, the door bang, the car’s sound till it died out. She stared at the handcuff on her wrist. She slipped it off still studying it. Seven years of loving a man the wrong way almost turned him into a monster.
She got off the bed, walked to their bedroom and took her handbag – the only one she’s owned for two years. She slipped into a different dress and slipper. She hanged her bag on her shoulders, stared at herself full face and then down at her tummy, out of trainers for the fight time this time in two months.
She smiled and after three full minutes started to sob, the sound of sudden raindrops outside drowning her heavy wail. It felt like a bitter victory. Here she was her baby free, her heart ready for a new life and there somewhere in this cold night, Jones will be squinting over a Vodka or in the bed of another woman as he was used to before her. She allowed the tears wash down her soul.
She was going to leave with nothing more than what she wore and the money she earned working. She was also going to try to keep her promise of friendship to him. And she will leave with Jones’ loving care forever etched in her heart. It was love, love shown wrongly. But it was love she will be willing to throw herself into all over again the right way, God’s way. It was love that showed her the shadow of God’s tender love for her, the love she’s said yes to now and won’t turn back whatever becomes.
If Ayorkor could walk away from Jones, she can anything, no matter the pain because nothing will be more painful than the cutting away she was feeling in her chest right now. And because nothing was more peaceful and reassuring than the joy that was forming deep in her soul, waiting to burst forth after these tears.
Note: Being away from here for two weeks feels like eternity. I miss this place and you who make it worth coming to so so much. To explain my absence, I was at a faith retreat and just when I was bouncing back to the real world, the three sisiters attacked me -cold, cough and sore throat. The biggest realisation to hit me besides that I’ve missed you terribly and can’t live off virtual a long time, is to prepare content for days like the past few days. I’m recuperating now and here’s the lengthiest post I think I’ll ever put up. Enjoy trapped and when you make it to the end of it (because I believe in you and trust you will) let me know your thoughts definitely.
©M’afua Awo Twumwaah