The sounds of cutlery clinking against plates rang through the medium-sized dining room.
Happy chatter and laughter echoed through its warm gray walls.
Colorful dishes adorned the long marble tabletop, filling the air with a sweet aroma.
Kayla put a little bit of everything on her plate, determined to fill her stomach with the dishes she missed from her mother’s kitchen.
She chewed away, watching the chatter going around the table. Mrs. Esther was laughing at something Kayla’s father was saying. Kayla’s mother sat, scolding the maid over her shoulders, for allowing the meat overcook while she had gone up to take a bath.
Her brother and two male cousins were throwing jokes at each other. Mrs. Esther’s daughters were laughing along with the boys, the oldest of the girls covered a hand over her mouth as she laughed heartily.
Kayla glanced down at her phone, there was no message notification from Franklin. She refreshed her WhatsApp messages and texts, still nothing.
“Expecting something?” Mrs. Esther whispered, nudging her arm. “You’ve been checking your phone all evening”
Kayla shrugged, shaking her head at her aunt. “No, not really” she lied.
She chuckled. “Yes Aunty,” and she turned her phone upside down. “I’m fine”.
Kayla’s father cleared his throat, rising to his feet. Everyone turned their attention to the man who had touched each of their lives in one way or the other.
“M nwaanyi mara mma” He started to say, a wide grin plastered across his face. “For twenty-five years, I have watched you grow into a beautiful and brilliant young woman. Your mother and I are very proud of you…”
Mrs. Okoli exchanged happy glances between her husband and her daughter.
“You’ve always been a very good and brilliant girl. Now that you’ve gotten your degree and a good job, your mother and I are hoping that by this time next year, we would not only be celebrating your birthday, but we would be planning a wedding as well”
“Amen!” The Family chorused in agreement.
He raised his glass. “Happy birthday Ada”
“Happy birthday Ada” her mother added.
“Happy birthday Kay” a cousin said.
“Kay happy birthday,” said another cousin.
He stretched forward his hand and clinked his glass against his wife’s’. Then he went around the table, clinking with the rest of the family members, each person rising to their feet, as he came to them.
Kayla smiled gratefully. “Thank you, daddy, thank you, mum. Thanks, aunty, thanks to everyone, I’m very grateful…”
“Bring the husband o!” her Aunty interrupted, causing a roar of laughter around the table.
“I will,” she said, laughing too. “Daddy, can I be excused?”
“Have you had enough to eat?”
“Ah! yes, mummy, more than enough” she lightly patted her stomach.
“You are excused then,” her father said.
Kayla collected her phone from the table and walked out of the dining room, the voices of her family growing faint as she distanced herself away from them.
She made her way into the kitchen and took the back door out of the house. She walked on and sat on the staircase that led down to the open area of the house.
She looked at her phone. He still hadn’t texted.
She clasped her hands together in her thighs and sat quietly, thinking of him.
A warm touch to her shoulder startled her, she turned quickly to see her aunty standing behind her
“I thought I might find you here,” Mrs. Esther said.
“Aunty,” she greeted calmly. Relieved, she returned her gaze to her front.
Mrs. Esther lowered herself next to her.
“Come here,” she said, pulling her closer.
Kayla responded by sending her arms around her aunty’s waist then, resting her head against her left shoulder.
Mrs. Esther was the older sister of her mother. Kayla had always been very close to her as the woman was very fond of her.
“My boyfriend didn’t call me. The man I love didn’t call me on my birthday”
A smile ran across Mrs. Esther’s lips. She rubbed Kayla’s arm understandingly. “I’m sure there is some explanation…”
“It’s not just about the birthday aunty, it’s everything”
“Ada, every relationship has issues. I’m sure you two would…”
Mrs. Esther’s hand stopped. Kayla withdrew from her embrace and wrapped her arms across herself. She looked away into the night, giving her Aunty time to process the disappointment she was certain she now felt over her.
Seconds passed and she turned her head to hold her aunty’s gaze. With tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, she slowly said, “I love him, aunty, I am in love with him”.
“I can see that,” Mrs.Esther replied, breaking her silence, “Come here.” she invited.
“Come on” she encouraged, and Kayla shifted, leaning her head back on her shoulder.
They sat in silence, with nothing but the distant voices of the people inside the house escaping to their ears.
“He is not going to leave his wife Ada” she finally said. Then paused, before continuing,
“He may be unhappy but most African men would rather remain in an unhappy marriage than leave. Even if he leaves her, would you really want to be with a man who could do that to his family, to his kids? Shouldn’t that scare you? shouldn’t that make you wonder what other selfish decisions he can take? It is not heroic Ada, it is not even romantic.”
Kayla lay still.
“It’s like a circus. It is exciting, it is exhilarating, but it leads to nowhere and you will be the one at the losing end. He has his family already, even if his wife found out, she would forgive him and stay with him because that is what most women do, that is what Society expects the woman to do. But if he leaves you, you would have to pick up the pieces of your life, one after the other and start all over again. Age wouldn’t be on your side either and that might make you settle for just anyone.”
She lifted Kayla’s chin with her finger and stared into her niece’s small brown eyes.
“This is the time to build a life with someone that can make an honest woman out of you Ada, someone you don’t have to hide to be with, someone you don’t have to miss every night because he is going home into the arms of another woman.”
“…What if, I can’t stop?” Kayla asked helplessly.
“Then you would always be the other woman. Eventually, he might let you keep a pregnancy, get you a nice place but you will spend your entire life waiting on him, putting up with his excuses on why he can’t be with you when you want him to be, like today for instance. You would live in hiding because you cannot boldly admit to being his mistress” Mrs. Esther shrugged, letting go of her chin. “Is that going to be good enough for you?”
Kayla shook her head, her eyes stung. “It is so hard” she admitted, as warm tears escaped her eyes and ran freely down her cheeks.
“I know. But you must end it. You have to find a way” Mrs. Esther rose to her feet, dusting her behind. “I will go and take the girls home now, call me tomorrow okay?”
Kayla wiped at her cheeks. “Okay aunty, thank you.”
Kayla listened as her aunty walked away and shut the door after herself.
Just that moment, her phone chimed in her hand. She looked down at the screen, it was Franklin.
She quickly looked over her shoulder, confirming that her aunt was gone and that there was no one else in sight, she slid the button to answer.
“Hey, babe. Happy birthday. Hello?” He said again when she didn’t respond.
“You’re only just calling…” She remarked wryly. “It’s 8 pm”
“I know, I’m so sorry. My son wasn’t feeling too well, we had to take him to the hospital”
“You could have at least sent in a text”
“I know, I’m sorry but my wife was there…”
“Of course, your wife,” she muttered under her breath.
“How would she have known that you were texting me anyway?. It takes two seconds to text someone. You could have given me the heads up, so I knew you were in a tight position”
“Kay let’s not argue, It’s your birthday, I don’t want to ruin it”
“You kinda already did”
“I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you. I’ll come to your place tomorrow”
“And then what? we’ll have sex, we’ll makeup and three days after, I’ll have to wait in line again? I’m really tired of being your mistress Frank…”
“Don’t call yourself that, don’t you dare insult what we share. You know what you mean to me.”
“I love you and you know that. This is hard for me too Kay. You think I don’t want to be dedicated to my marriage? to be the loyal man that my wife somehow believes that I am? You think I don’t want to be an honorable man? whatever the heck that even means? But I can’t stop – what I have with you, all that we share, I don’t want to stop. We are in this together. Together Kay”
She shook her head in tears as if he could see her.
“I’m coming over tomorrow. Please let me see you”
“I’m not at my place,” she sniffed. “I came home. My parents have this thing where they hold a dinner on each of our birthdays”
“I will come to you tomorrow then”
“This is not right…” she stated, remembering her aunt’s advice
“Please, don’t shut me out. Let me make it up to you. We’ll drive down together, we’ll have lunch at your favorite restaurant, and you’ll get to see the gifts that I bought for you”
“You bought me gifts?”
“Of course I bought your gifts. They’ve been sitting in my office a month before now. I made plans, It just wasn’t convenient. I’m really sorry babe”
“I’ll let you know when I take off”
“I love you, I’m sorry”
“I’ll text you a meeting point”
“Okay, bye for now”. He dropped the call and Kayla heaved in relief.
She relaxed her head against the rails of the stairs.
The air suddenly felt cooler.
She shut her eyes and let herself enjoy the cool breeze as it blew gracefully over her face and through her hair.
And then, she smiled.