Hollow

At 9:50pm, when Henry turned the locks right and the doors of his Banana Island apartment opened, his thoughts were clear red wavy pulses,  each bump directing him towards his possibly sleeping fiancé upstairs. He took off his shoes under the comic sketch his artist sister made of him, and insisted on hanging so it…

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At 9:50pm, when Henry turned the locks right and the doors of his Banana Island apartment opened, his thoughts were clear red wavy pulses,  each bump directing him towards his possibly sleeping fiancé upstairs. He took off his shoes under the comic sketch his artist sister made of him, and insisted on hanging so it was the first thing anyone who walked into the living room saw. A displaced head over a stick neck and prominent horn-rimmed glasses that masked beady eyes, done in charcoal and lead.

He walked past it and the mahogany dining table, and past the shelf containing Don Julio, Hennessey and a few bottles of Brunello’s and Chianti’s, into the kitchen. He opened his fridge and poured himself a glass of water which he gulped quickly. He leaned on the countertop for a few seconds, scanning the newly renovated kitchen in its black and grey, the crock pots and machines that ensured they would eat nothing fried now. Then he sighed and went out the other exit door that led to the living room. He removed his jacket, placing it on the couch, put his briefcase beside it and walked into the unlit bedroom.

The red pulse in his head flattened and disappeared into a single arrow pointing downwards as he turned on the lights and saw Arin. She lay sleeping, naked except for the cover cloth over her waist.  Her nipples were sharp and matched the color of the headboard. Henry sat beside and kissed her hair. It smelled like lemon and honey. She sighed.

“I’m sorry I woke you”, he whispered. Arin responded with a silent stare.  Henry ignored the mild fission of irritation that went through him and reached for her arm.

“Arin?”

She sat up raising her head up to face him, their nose tips almost touching. Those brown eyes he used to see in his dreams when they’d first met. The ones that widened and flattened before her irises disappeared every time she came.

Now, there was no trace of anything, not even dilated pupils to signal anger. They just stared at him, unfocused, autopilot fiancée on duty.

He said her name again. He barely reached the second syllable when she spoke softly.

“Take your clothes off.”

“Arin-”

“Please.” She closed her eyes and moved closer to him, rubbing her chest on his shirt and nuzzling his neck.

“God. You smell good”, she purred.

She took his hand and put his fingers inside her mouth, swirling tongue and saliva along his index and middle finger before bringing them out and guiding them downward. She closed her eyes and slid them in. One, two. He gasped.

“Shit, Arin.”

She removed his belt. He pushed his pants downwards and the rest of the cloth covering her slipped off. She straddled him. They looked at each other and she closed her eyes as he pushed deep inside her and she raised her hips to meet his.

This hadn’t changed. Even on days like this when she seemed to have genuinely misplaced herself, the sex had remained great. He enjoyed that part about Arin. She cried sometimes, but he preferred to think of it as evidence of her overwhelming love and connection to him.

After, he told her he loved her. She removed his hand from her body and moved to the furthest corner of the bed where she curled up facing away from him. He growled and went to sleep.

***

Arin was awake when Henry’s alarm went off. They shared breakfast sitting opposite each other on wooden chairs and a sleek metal table with silver finishing. She’d fixed breakfast so he did the dishes. As he rinsed, she said “I’m going to see my parents. Maybe stay with them for some days.”

“Yeah? Good. Might help with your mood?”

She ignored the hot flash that zipped through her.

“Sure.”

“See?” He said. “You’re only talking about them and already you’re one sardonic comment above the past few days.”

“You irk me.”

He laughed. “That’s my girl.” He dried his hands and walked towards her kissing her on the cheek. She pursed her lips.

“One more for the road? You can do it.”

She stared and he stared back, first with smiling eyes, then with waiting ones, and finally with resignation. He released her hand and broke eye contact. He said goodbye and left.

“Bye”, she whispered.

Why am I this way?

Two hours later she was on a plane to Abuja replaying last night in her head. The sex helped but she’d left the house and the world had landed on the same spot she was standing. It obliterated her presence and everything happy she’d felt indoors disappeared into a cloudy filter that rested where her brain and heart should have been.

***

The first time she told Henry, they were in Brussels in the summer, eating fries at in a half empty restaurant. After a day of bumping into innumerable tourist bodies, she was ready to escape her own. She’d ignored him for most of the day, responding in monosyllables. After going through the length of the Magritte museum, and on the way to the comic one, she stopped and demanded food. He walked around different streets pointing at fine dining options till she’d stopped and calmly told him “I just want fucking fries”. So they went to a shop and while they waited for their fries, she relayed the doctor’s diagnosis.

“I figured something unusual was going on there. I just thought you were neurotic or something.”

She poked her meal till the plastic fork broke punching till the word ‘neurotic’ would disappear with the food going down her mouth. He father used the word in that same dismissive tone.

“Are you on medication?”

“I tried, for a semester in university, and I was the happiest girl alive. I hated it.”

Henry picked two fries and pressed them into her hands.

“Happy Valentine’s day.”

She laughed, the first genuine giggle in two days.

***

Arin dropped her things on the bed. She had not told Henry she was going to an empty house. Her parents were away. What she wanted was the silence that covered the street she lived. She wanted to feed the stray chickens around, pluck greens for the rabbits and chase them around to trap one. It took all her concentration to catch one furry bastard. Afterwards, she would exfoliate and soak in a tub, counting her blessings before the water turned cold and matched her insides.

“I have a good man.”

“My parents are still together.”

“I love my job.”

“I’m reasonably attractive.”

“I don’t have real world problems.”

She left the bathroom crying and tucked herself into bed feeling like a wasted record on loop. As she drifted off to sleep, she whispered to the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, hope you enjoyed today’s spectacular. Tomorrow, we begin again.”

***

At work, Henry spent the day going through assorted scientific nonsenses. It was his fiancee’s description of his career, which always made him laugh. The smile disappeared when he remembered how she was in the morning. It returned when Hajara brought him one of her artisanal sandwiches for lunch.

“You like it?”, she asked

“Ahh, yes o. Your sandwiches are the best part of my working days.”

Hajara laughed. Henry thought she was really pretty. He could get into her perfectly structured face, the way her neck curved into beautiful arms and shoulders. Or the way her million dollar ass looked, arched up in the air on the office table, and her laugh when he slapped and watched it jiggle, but he settled for really pretty. It felt the most honest.

She reached out and touched his knee “You seem a little sad today.”

He smiled. “Do I?”

“Yes. I can always tell”

“It’s nothing.”

“Henryyyy…”

He took a big bite of his sandwich.

“Okay. I’ll come over tonight and fix dinner.”

He opened his mouth to speak.

“Or just drink some wine…” Hajara continued “Or ditch both options.”

Henry paused before finally responding.

“Yeah. Sounds good.”

“I know. I know you, Henry”

She left and Henry watched, appreciating the way her hips swung.

Great girl. All that ass and brains with compassion to boot.

***

In the evening, he left the office early, stopped by the gym then the supermarket and went home with pasta, carrots, tomato sauce, cheese and two bottles of wine. He went upstairs to shower and the doorbell rang as he took his clothes off. He put a towel on and went to open the door with a smile. Arin walked in and kissed him.

“Help me with these.” On the floor were big grocery bags.

“Arin,” he said, “you’re—”

“Back. I decided not to stay. Were you expecting someone else?”

He turned to carry the bags. When he faced her, he was smiling “No, not at all.”

She paced and pulled her hair as she watched him put the groceries where they belonged. Henry turned to face her when he finished.

“You’re doing it again.”

She laughed and looked down before taking her hands out of her hair.

“Yeah…”

She walked towards her fiancé.

“Henry…”

She flattened her palms on his chest. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” She moved them till they were holding his face. Brown eyes looked straight at her. Arin looked down, putting her hands in her face.

“It’s getting really bad, isn’t it?”

Henry nodded.

“Maybe we should talk about seeing a psychologist.”

She looked down again.

“Yeah, maybe.”

He took her hands. “Only if you want to.”

“I want to. For us. I’m so tired of this listless bullshit. God – even my head is tired. I don’t want to keep pushing you out. Everyone else, not you.”

“That’s sweet. And too much pressure. I feel like I’m the one or something”, he joked.

Arin smiled briefly and said “I’m serious. This isn’t something that happens on purpose. I don’t even – ”

“-realize what you’ve been doing till it’s over?”, he added, smiling.

“Yeah…”, she sighed.

He kissed her nose. “Okay. I’m going to put something on and we can make a big meal and I can pretend to listen to how your trip went.”

She kissed him. “Okay”

Arin fiddled  with kitchen equipment and food while Henry went upstairs to take a shower, scrubbing happily and thinking about makeup sex. When he returned downstairs, the doorbell rang again.

“Can you get it? I’m on the phone.” Arin called from the balcony.

Hajara was at the door. He’d forgotten. She smiled and pushed inside. Henry blocked the space with his body.

“Look-”, he started.

Arin walked into the living room. “Hey hey. Office fiancée! It’s been too  long, girl.”

“Hi Henry… Hi Arin…”

“Henry, will you stop standing in her way and let your work fiancée come inside?” Arin motioned to the still figures in the doorway. He moved and she walked in.

“Hajara. What brings you to our part of town?” Henry asked

“I was in the neighbourhood and I remembered I had some news to give Henry.”

Henry faced Arin. “Upstairs office chatter. Boring stuff.”

“And that required wine?” Arin asked. She gestured to the bottle Hajara held.

“No… Umm… no. I got that for myself, to take – umm – home. Might as well open it now.” She laughed

“Good idea!” Arin said. “I’ll get glasses and pour. You guys can use the study. Dinner will be ready soon. Hajjy, please stay? I insist.”

Hajara smiled. “Yes, of course.”

Henry and Hajara went to the study where Henry’s irises turned a cloudy apologetic white and Hajara’s remained clear and impassive.

“She surprised me”, he whispered.

“Enough not to send a text and cancel, I see.”

“Hajjy…”

After ten minutes, they went back to the kitchen where Henry helped his fiancée arrange and serve dinner and Hajara complimented the renovation.

“This table, it’s so chic.”

They smiled and said thanks. Dinner was brief. Afterwards, Hajara left and Henry did the dishes. Arin disposed of the wine bottles.

“So, how long have you guys been fucking?”

Henry opened his mouth to respond and Arin raised her hand to stop him.

“Nigga. If you even try to lie…”

She walked to the living room and Henry followed. He beckoned to her to sit beside him and she responded with a snap of her fingers.

“Answer, sir.”

“Once”, he said. “Before I proposed.”

Arin looked at Henry the way he’d remembered and missed whenever she went on her loops. A kind of disarming assessment that made him feel as if he would lose all his powers if he tried to break eye contact. He broke contact and put his head down.

“Three times. That’s the truth.”

Arin closed her eyes and stood up.

“Why?”

She’s hot? He thought

“I don’t really have a good answer, Arin.”

She started to pace in circular motions around the living room, pulling her fingers one after the other. Henry watched with one half of his body on his seat, the other leaning out, and followed the movements of his fiancee.  Arin sat on the floor, her back turned to him.

She sighed. “I could end it now. We haven’t set a wedding date. It would be clean. Set us both free. I mean you already think I’m crazy and I know you’re a dog so—“

“Arin. I don’t think you’re crazy. I love you.”

“When you proposed to me, you said you hoped I would choose you because you’d chosen me since the first time we met. Was that true?”

“Arin-“

“Was it fucking true?”

He rubbed his face.

“Arin the first time we met I thought you were beautiful, and you held conversation like no woman I’d ever met.”

“So you didn’t choose me.”

Her face had acquired a sad texture and as Henry looked at her, he felt his body becoming smaller as his organs began twisting uncomfortably inside him.

“Not in a technical sense, but as I got to know I did choose you. Really.”

“Henry.” She paused again “My whole life, there have been rich boys, interesting boys, funny boys, cute boys. They liked me just fine, treated me well. Till I got moody. Suddenly, I wasn’t the mysterious girl with the sexy stare and hot brain anymore. I was… I was hollow. Nobody wants to marry someone hollow on the inside. Only you did.”

Henry decided to risk his discomfort and moved from the chair to sit beside his fiancée, who had stopped pacing. Her face was in her hands. She was crying.

“You’re not dama-”

“God – even my fucking father couldn’t stand me on those days. He left me to myself. Mother…” She laughed bitterly. “God. Mother. She told me to pray more. Henry, you have been the only one who stayed.”

“I want to stay.” He reached out to touch her and his fingers stopped a breath’s length away from her shoulder. “If you’ll let me. I’m sorry Arin.”

She stood up.

“I fucked someone too, Henry.”

He was silent, listening to her cries increase and his heart peeling slowly from his chest.

She turned around to face him.

“Does it hurt?”

He took heavy breaths. Suddenly. His face felt suffocating, as if his features were too small to contain the emotions coming from his head and his chest. A growl escaped from his throat. She was a bitch, a cheating cuntish whore, she was his fiancée to-be, she was insane, he was a cheating bastard, she loved him, he loved her.

He closed his eyes tightly as he pushed out the words.

“Who?”

“It’s not important. It’s just… Henry, that’s not all. The guy, he umm… He passed something to me.”

Now, it was Henry’s turn to stand.

Arin continued.

“I’m not sure how potent it is but I was slipping your medication in your office workout shake. Tell Hajara to see a doctor.”

“Arin!”

Her name scraped so hard past his throat as he cried out, he could almost taste blood on his tongue.

She touched his chin and raised his face to hers. She reached downwards and peeled the yellow diamond off her finger before putting it in his palms.

“Please let Hajara get tested. Her husband too.”

Arin reached for Henry’s phone and he froze. While she requested an Uber, his body remained stiff – the only sign of life, his blinking and heavy breaths. As she packed a few things from the room, he rocked back and forth on his chair.

The Uber arrived and Arin slid out the door. Neither of them looked at the other. The refrigerator hummed, the television flashed the news and Henry breathed loudly. His phone broke the stillness. Finally, he peeked at it.

It was midnight. An alarm for February 14th. His screen flashed: “Don’t fuck it up this year.”

Responses

  1. Ufuomaee
    I’d like to think that Arin lied, and that she didn’t actually sleep with anyone else, or pass across a disease, but only said that to hurt him back, and scare him and Hajara, and also perhaps, screw up Hajara’s home with a confession of her unfaithfulness. I don’t know why, but I think that’s sweeter revenge 🙂

    Nice one! I liked the take on mental illness…

  2. mr smith
    Madam writer for your mind abi? lol
    it was interesting, it was crazy, it was sad. Good job and keep writing abeg. Thumbs up TNC I’ve seen some v.boring one’s tbh but stuff like this make up for them.

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