“Her glance is that of the fabled basilisk, her voice a siren’s voice …”
Dec 24th, 2009
Leonard straightened his red bow-tie with one hand as he rang the doorbell with the other. He had underarm a bottle of La Fagianella, the best red wine he could find at the convenience store down his street. It was Christmas Eve, the major supermarkets would be full; jostling with people in their most festive moods, and he didn’t care to go through the stress of joining the long queues that would form at cash registers. The door opened a few moments later and a maid dressed in a smart uniform led him in. The magnificence of the mansion took him by surprise and he sucked in a sharp breath. The maid led him to the ballroom, where the Christmas party was taking place. His boss was standing right at the centre, by his beautiful half-Italian wife, giving out firm handshakes and pecks and hugs to the various guests. He smiled when he saw Leonard, shook his hand, thumped his back playfully and beckoned to a maid nearby to take the wine from him. His biracial wife did not even bother to look at Leonard twice.
Feeling very awkward, he walked away from his boss who had turned his attention to other guests and walked to the table where snacks were laid out. He picked up a small ornamental plate, which no doubt cost a ridiculous amount, and helped himself to the small chops. He took a glass of wine from a waiter passing by and went to sit alone in an empty corner, grateful that he had found a spot to hide and observe, like the wallflower he was.
Guinevere frowned as she took a sip of champagne from the glass she had held for almost an hour. These parties bored her, this lifestyle bored her. She looked across the vast room at her husband, fifteen years older than her. This was his world, she was merely living in it. She suppressed a mild yawn and decided to find someone young to talk to. She swept her gaze around the room carefully and finally spotted a young man seated beside a flight of stairs, obviously trying to be invisible. She smiled and headed towards him. He was handsome but not David Beckham handsome. He was Adam Sandler handsome, in a shy goofy way. He looked confused as she sat beside him on the couch instead of going up the stairs like the other people who came his way. She had a smug smile on her face, knowing what her presence around men did. She wasn’t just beautiful, she was strikingly beautiful. She had distinctive features, a pointed nose, big eyes that made people feel like she could see through them and the full lips always covered in blood red lipstick. She was tall and imposing, confident in the way she walked, head held high, moving her slender body with supple breasts swaying ever so slightly as she walked.
She looked at the man, sized him up and said, “Hello” with a subtle laughter in her voice, a laughter that mocked him.
Stuttering, he replied, “Uhm hey. Nice party right?”
“You don’t seem to be enjoying it,” she paused and sipped from her glass, frowning, “and neither am I. Boring lot!” She said “boring” with an emphatic drawl.
Leonard laughed. An uneasy laugh.
“I’m Leonard. I’m an employee of the host.”
“Call me Gwen,” she replied.
“It’s my first time here. My boss sort of instructed me to come. This isn’t normally my scene.” He blurted it all out even though she hadn’t asked.
He amused her. His nervousness made her laugh. She was used to men falling over themselves and losing composure around her but this felt different.
“It’s not my scene either. It’s my third year attending. They organize these parties annually, you know?”
“Oh! Wow. Then you must know the hosts well?”
She made an incomprehensible sound absentmindedly. She looked across the room and saw her husband looking around for her; time to go, she thought with relief. A younger man went to exchange pleasantries with her husband and he replied rather too loudly. Guinevere reckoned that he had had a lot to drink. Maybe too much.
“He’s too loud,” Leonard said startling her out of her thoughts.
“Mr Osiso. The man you’re staring at. He’s always loud.” He was frowning deeply.
She turned to him fully, feigning indifference. “You know him very well?”
“No. He’s my boss’ boss. He comes to our office once in a while and he is always so loud. Talking to everyone in that superior tone that sounds like shouting. I don’t like him.”
Guinevere laughed and replied, “that’s a rather rude thing to say about someone who can make you jobless with the snap of a finger, don’t you think?”
She stood up to leave and he eagerly stood along, “I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch your name.”
She replied in her most curt tone, “Guinevere. Mrs Guinevere Osiso.” And walked away.
Leonard watched with a constriction in his throat as she walked to Mr Osiso, kissed his lips lightly, held his hand as they walked out together. She looked so imposing, so elegant, so powerful. He was so sure he had lost his job. She would tell her husband what he had said. He drank what was left of his wine and left the party without saying goodbye to the hosts. He drove home with an empty feeling. Not empty from the fear of losing his job, but of never seeing Guinevere again.
“… with her voice she enchants, with her beauty she deprives of reasoning …”
Dec 24th, 2010
Leonard dabbed at the beads of sweat that had formed on his forehead as he waited at his boss’ door to be let in. All year long he had impatiently waited for the Christmas party with a sense of longing and dread. Mr Osiso had come to his office several times and each time he imagined Guinevere would come with him and point him out and he would be fired. But he never saw her, not once, all year long. So he hoped she would attend the Christmas party this year. When his boss had given him the invitation card, he had told him it was okay not to come, but Leonard had already bought the expensive wine he was clutching at that moment, weeks earlier, in readiness for the party.
A burly doorman let him in and he went straight into the ballroom. The decoration had been changed. It looked even more stately and luxurious, but he paid little mind to the details of the room. As soon as he had exchanged pleasantries with his boss and handed them the bottle of expensive white wine, he stood, spanning the vast hall with his eyes, but Guinevere wasn’t there. She was the kind of woman whose presence announced itself. You didn’t have to look around a room to find Guinevere. Her presence was distinguished, it found you.
Disappointed, he took a glass of wine and went to mingle with his colleagues.
It was an hour to midnight and some of the guests had started leaving. Leonard felt something like a choke in his throat, the kind he felt whenever he was holding back tears. He let out a snort, amused at his stupidity and excused himself to the gents. He was washing his hands at the sink when a man-servant came in and handed him a note. He opened it with hands trembling from excitement.
“I’ve been watching you look for me. You’re cute. Meet me at the Cupid statue in the garden behind the main house. You know who.”
He put the note in his chest pocket, looked in the mirror, patted his hair and walked out of the bathroom.
Guinevere sat on a chair facing the statue. She hated these parties her husband dragged her to. He never wanted to come alone, insisting on taking her with him and showing her to everyone like some kind of trophy. She loved being a trophy wife, but these parties were tiresome. That was why she had written that note to the young man. She had forgotten his name even though she thought about him occasionally throughout the year. She had been genuinely offended when he insulted her husband the previous year, but had laughed at the outrageousness of her anger the next morning. She was curious about him, the way one was curious about a baby or a cat. However, she wasn’t going to get involved with him, she assured herself. He was the kind to fall in love with her and get himself in trouble.
Even from behind, Leonard thought, approaching Guinevere silently, she looked like what whoever had created the word “stunning” had in mind. He suddenly felt very conscious of his own average looks. She heard him approach and stood up to face him. She had on a long turquoise-blue dress that reached her feet, with a slit in the front that climbed all the way to her thighs. She was effortlessly sexy even with her face looking tired. She held her silver heels in her hand and walked towards him barefooted. Leonard thought she had the most beautiful feet he had ever seen.
She stopped right in front of him, looking into his eyes, she smiled and said, “I caught you looking for me.”
Leonard smiled as well and replied, “yes.”
She walked back to where she had been sitting, still smiling and he followed her. She sat down and he sat beside her. She shifted in the seat, facing him and crossing one leg, revealing spotless, smooth dark thighs. Her dark skin shone even in the dark, like she polished it everyday. She reminded him of the pictures of women referred to as “Nubian Queens” that he had seen with flawless dark skin like hers. She ought to be immortalized and worshipped.
“What are you thinking?” She asked.
“That you have really beautiful skin,” he replied sheepishly.
“Oh! Yes,” she said in a tone that made him feel like she was disappointed at his uninteresting train of thought.
“You weren’t in the ballroom, how did you see me?” he asked, eager to change the topic.
She smiled. “I was in the ‘big boys’ room. And there are TVs that show footage from the security cameras there. Those men were going on and on about stocks and shares. I had to get away.”
“Oh! So I guess you aren’t enjoying the party this year again?” he asked.
She shook her head smiling and they both laughed.
“You know, you can actually just stay home instead,” he continued.
Guinevere laughed again. She did that a lot. Short but hearty and infectious bouts of laughter.
“I only attend because my husband can’t attend alone, he needs his woman you know,” she finally replied.
“Ah yes! The husband. You seem so young, yet …” his voice trailed off. He hadn’t completely thought the sentence through before beginning and now he wished he had said something else.
She threw her head back and laughed. A rich laughter, oozing of confidence.
“You’re wondering why I’m married to someone so much older than me. It’s just 15 years,” she shrugged, “he makes me laugh and he gives me everything I need. I’m comfortable.”
“Are you happy?” he blurted out before he could stop himself.
“Yes. I have everything I want.”
He was going to push on the subject but she spoke first.
“Listen! They’re counting down,” she said with an animated excitement in her eyes.
Later, he would realize that in that moment, he had fallen in love with her.
He heard the faint voices of the guests at the party.
“… Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Merry Christmas!”
She looked at him piercingly and said, “you’re supposed to kiss me at midnight.”
And he did.
Leonard wasn’t sure whether the explosions were from the fireworks going off in the compound or in his head, but as he kissed her, the world around him exploded. She was a woman who took, who kissed eagerly and explored his mouth, searching for secret spots and finding all of them. She placed her hands on his chest while they kissed and he was certain she felt his heart beating wildly. Leonard grabbed her waist possessively and kissed her deeper. In that moment, she was his and relished it. She was the first to pull away, smiling.
“Well, that was …” She was searching for the word.
“It was magical,” he offered, almost too eagerly.
Guinevere smiled and used her finger to trace the outline of Leonard’s lips and for a second he thought she was going to kiss him again, but she didn’t. She wore her shoes, stood to leave and said, “I have to get back now. You be good.”
Her face had lost the childlike excitement it had just minutes ago and now she just looked expressionless. She patted his back and walked away before he could object, with the poise of a queen.
By the time Leonard could gather his wits and go back into the ballroom, Mr and Mrs Osiso were saying their goodbyes. She didn’t even give him as much as a glance as she strutted off with her hands around her husband’s upper arm.
“… voice and sight alike, deal destruction and death.”
Dec 24th, 2011
Guinevere glanced eagerly at the great door of the ballroom as yet another couple made their way in, into a flurry of fake smiles and firm handshakes. She scoffed. Where on earth was that young man, she thought for the umpteenth time. Her husband had left her to stand in a circle of the other moguls present to discuss their highly charitable deeds. She had thought about the young man while she dressed up that evening. She still felt aroused whenever she remembered the passionate kiss they had shared the year before and how it took all her willpower to overcome the urge to let him take her there and then. Why hadn’t she bothered to remember his name? She chided herself and decided she would ask him today and never forget it.
But an hour to midnight and the stream of guests coming into the hall had thinned out, and he still hadn’t come through. She looked around the room, searching, maybe he had come in from the side door, but she was certain she would have seen him if he were in the room. She walked around the ballroom , careful enough to appear as though she was casually looking around and not desperately searching for someone. She stood by the flight of stairs where they had first met and just stared blankly at the dance-floor, not really seeing.
“Looking for someone?” her husband whispered in her ear.
His voice startled her. She hadn’t seen him come over.
“Huh? What. No,” she laughed nervously. “I’m just looking at what the women are wearing, to see if anyone outdid me,” she winked.
“Then I’m sure you’ve noticed you’re the most beautiful woman in the room,” he replied jovially, kissed her and walked back to his circle.
Guinevere sighed. Her husband was a good man, he loved her almost to the point of obsession and made sure she had all she needed, but the age gap had begun to tell on her and she was getting bored. All the exotic vacations in the world could not fill the void she was starting to feel in her life. She had crossed a line and kissed someone else exactly a year ago and the kiss had haunted her year round. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with or to him, but she had to see him.
She turned once more to the door and sipped from her glass of champagne.
When it was almost 12 midnight, Guinevere slipped outside careful not to let her husband notice her, and walked to the garden where she had invited ‘him’ out to the previous year. Of course it looked different, the hosts redecorated their entire estate every year – she had thought that a ridiculous waste of money when she was told. She sat on a kissing chair hugging herself. The weather was cold and a cool breeze enveloped her, causing her skin to develop goosebumps. She heard footsteps approaching and for a moment she held her breath, willing it to be the person she hoped it was. But it was just one of the night guards, patrolling. He flashed a smile at her in greeting and moved on. She stayed on until after the countdown before she went back into the party,
It was 2 a.m. and it was time to go. Guinevere said her goodbyes with apparent disinterest. She was nursing her disappointment over what’s-his-name not showing up. At some point, she considered walking to the group of men she had seen him with the previous year and asking about him, but how could she when she didn’t even know his name.
After kissing and hugging the last couple that mattered to her husband, they both walked outside to their waiting car.
Guinevere was sitting beside her husband in the back seat of their Range Rover, staring out the window as the chauffeur sped through the night. Fireworks were going off in different places and as they exploded she was reminded of that kiss. She unconsciously touched her lips.
Mr Osiso, as always, had drunk more than was necessary and was a tad tipsy.
“Gwen,” he said.
“Hmmm,” she replied absently.
He took her right hand in his bigger left palm, and held it there. It felt warm and a soft sigh escaped from her lips. He cleared his throat and said in a very serious voice:
“Everything I do, I do for us, for our love. I hope you understand.”
Gwen looked at him, confused at first and then realization set in. She withdrew her hand from his grip, which suddenly felt cold and turned back to the window. The thought nagging at the corner of her mind all night now took centre stage, and she knew. Her insecure, obsessive husband had got wind of her involvement with the lad and he had made sure she would never see him again. Whether he had got him transferred, fired, hurt, or worse; she was sure she would never see the young man again.
She sighed again.
About the author
Phidelia Imiegha, enjoys writing stories and listening to music. She is currently participating in the 2015 Farafina creative writing workshop. She tweets at @thephidelia_.