Change of Reaction- Flash Fiction by Monique Kwachou
Happy Valentine’s Day to all followers of my Musings! And *coughs* wishing you a great start to the introspective Lenten period.
This month, I’m doing a throwback to last year when a piece of flash fiction I wrote was published by Brittle Paper in an anthology titled Love Stories from Africa. This version of the story has been slightly edited, I hope you enjoy!
You step back, admiring the dinner table now set for two with your best dish set. You move to the room to make sure everything you have bought for the romantic weekend is set.
It was in Lower-sixth that you first contemplated what you would do if your husband cheated on you. On that sticky afternoon, your classmate, Bessem, had returned from Commercial Avenue with a Nigerian magazine. Even though she had claimed that she hadn’t seen any American magazine your group usually chipped in to buy and pore over, you and your other friends, Sandra, Laura, and Eposi had suspected that Bessem, being the Nollywood addict she was, had bought the magazine because her favourite Nigerian actresses, Stella Damasus, Genevieve Nnaji and Omotola Jalade were on the cover page, advertising a film, Games Men Play.
The magazine wasn’t bad. It was just as glossy as the American ones and contained similar information. There were tips on how to lose weight, which you had all heard Bessem read, even as she paused regularly to take a bite from a loaf of bread dripping with chocolate paste. There were glamorous pictures from celebrity events, an advice column on what to do when your love is not of the same faith as you, a quiz to determine what kind of lover you are, based on your favourite colour, and the vox-pop section which asked women to imagine what they would do if they found out their husband was having an affair.
You remember it exactly. After reading the responses featured in the magazine, you had each taken turns. Bessem had sighed, she was from a polygamous home and couldn’t be bothered, she claimed. As long as she was financially comfortable, the man could go and live with his mistress, just as her dad had moved to the house he had rented for his second wife. Eposi rebuked it in the exaggerated way of Pentecostal Christians. “That shall not be my portion oooo! Not all men cheat. I’ll give my man all that he needs, what will he go looking for outside?”
You all had laughed, aware of the implausibility of satisfying a man completely even at that age. Laura mentioned ‘facing the homewrecker,’ and Sandra reminded her that it was the husband who had made vows and promises. When Laura had turned on her demanding her response, Sandra had said it would depend on how much she felt betrayed. “But I could actually hurt the man, like pour hot water on his genitals”. You had all burst into fits of laughter, clapping your hands as you imagined it. When it was your turn, you had said you would simply divorce the man. Cheating meant he wanted someone else. Why would you hold on to someone who wanted someone else? If you truly loved him, you would let him go. You were undoubtedly high on Harlequin-type love at that time.
Here you are now, on a Friday night, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, waiting for your husband to return from his business trip. You have sent the kids to his mother for the weekend. You have cooked his favorite meals and planned a romantic weekend escapade. You bought him a watch similar to the one he had admired on your boss’ wrist at the office party you both attended just after
New Year. You are determined to make it his best Valentine weekend ever.
You have planned all this, knowing the trip he is returning from wasn’t quite a business trip. Knowing he is cheating, knowing exactly who he is cheating with- she has flaunted pictures of them both on social media. Those Instagram pictures of “boo” where boos features aren’t fully visible to all. But certainly recognizable to the woman who is married to boo. Who has in turns licked him from top to bottom and wiped him down on his sickbed.
You look at yourself in the mirror, assessing the way the lingerie you plan to strip out of for him later looks on you. You avoid looking at your face. Lowering your eyes out of shame and fear that your 37 year-old self will see the reflection of what used to be a self-confident 17 year-old Lower-sixth girl mockingly asking: Is this your reaction?