“See this lazy child. When I was your age I wouldn’t dare be in bed while the sun was shining.”
Rosemary groaned. “Is this how somebody greets people in the morning?” she thought to herself as she dug herself deeper into her comforters. The dull thuds of her mothers slaps landed on her thighs and backs haphazardly as she tried to focus on sleep.
“Do you know *slap* your mates *slap* have already *slap* fetched water *slap* from the well *slap*?”
The only well Rosemary had seen was the one in the middle of her father’s compound in the village, and even then her family members never let her fetch water. It was her mothers favourite way of letting her know she had overslept, even though the sun had barely woken up itself.
She imagined her best friends, Mankah and Lumsi, carrying buckets on their heads. Lumsi trekking in her designer heels and Mankah with her numerous complaints.
The three had met in elementary school at a meeting for Cameroonians living in Abidjan and had been inseperable ever since. That is, before Rosemary left.
The image made her giggle. Unfortunately, Rosemary made the mistake of letting the laughter escape from her lips. Angered by this, her mothers slaps grew in intensity.
“Oh, so you think what I am saying is a joke. Are we now age mates that you can laugh with me?” Rosemary and her mother, Sita, were in a tug of war with the covers. Rosemary clinging on using her legs to wrap around the covers as her mother used all her force to drag the comforter back.
“Ok Mummy, sorry, sorry. I’m up. I’m up. Sorry.” She pleaded as she scrambled off the bed. Her mother, realizing that dragging was of no use switched tactics and was now attempting to slap the bare parts of Rosemarys skin not covered by the blanket. The two faced each other on opposite sides of the bed; panting heavily from their wrestling match.
“Look look look, just look at this,” Sita, Rosemary’s mother, gestured towards the three open suitcases on the floor. An ocean of clothes spilled out from the sides and onto the floor.
“You’ve been here for two good days and you still have not unpacked your things. If I come back to this room and these things are not arranged properly…” Sita’s eyes turned into slits in her face, focusing on Rosemary for two seconds before she kissed her teeth and left the room. It was the look Rosemary had feared the most since childhood. The one that said “I will deal with you.”
.She waited for Sita to leave her room before she went back into her bed to check her phone.
No new messages.
“What did I expect” she asked herself. All her friends in Canada were asleep and she wasn’t as close to her friends here as she used to be. She scrolled through her contacts trying to determine who she was close enough with to message out of the blue. It wasn’t until she had scrolled through the list three times that she worked up the nerve to message Lumsi.
Lumsi jumped up. The banging of pots and crashing plates had startled her from sleep. She got up from bed, tied her wrappa and made her way toward the kitchen.
“Lumsicoco, sorry did I wake you?”
Lumsi said nothing. She stared at her father’s bloodshot eyes and tried to ignore the sour smell of alcohol intruding her nostrils. White spit formed at the corners of his mouth, and bubbled when he spoke.
Her father’s early morning drunken fumbles had become her daily alarm clock. It was one of the only two things she could count on her dad for. She set the kettle, and brought out two mugs from the counters.
“I don’t want too much sugar in my tea.”
She had been making her father’s tea for ten years. It was once a ritual they shared in the morning. Exhanging ideas and opinions, gossiping and just sitting in silence enjoying each other’s company. The ritual remained but their relationship had slowly changed for the worst over the last two years after her mothers death. She sat at the table as her father silently stared her down, barely blinking. She knew if she looked at him for too long he would mistake it as an invitation for conversation. She kept her eyes busy by shifting between him, the clock and the kettle until the discomfort was too much and she got up to get her phone in her room.
“Any plans today? I ran into Aunty Sita yesterday and she told me Rosemary is back in town.”
“Have you talked to her?”
“That’s strange, I thought she was your best friend. Did you two fight?”
She could tell from his arched eyebrows that he wanted to ask more, but he knew there was no point. She hadn’t confided in her father in years. She missed the friendship she had with him but that was a long time ago. The only constant was the nicknames he refused to stop calling her.
Lumsi scrolled mindlessly through her phone. It was too early for anything interesting to happen on her social media feeds. She bounced from app to app until her phone vibrated notifying her she got a text.
“guy i just got back to abidjan. lets chill its been a minute- rosemary”
Lumsi locked her phone and redirected her focus towards making tea. She hadn’t spoken to Rosemary in months. They had tried to keep in contact when Rosemary went of to Canada for boarding school in January, but life got in the way and the communication slowly stopped.
In truth, Lumsi had slowly been trying to distance herself from Rosemary ever since they had learnt she would be leaving. The move had happened so abruptly and Lumsi couldn’t help but be jealous. They had only talked through Instagram comments when one of the two posted a picture and now they barely liked one another pictures. Lumsi had grown tired of all the pictures showcasing Rosemary’s lavish life in Canada. Friends, concerts, cars, boys; Rosemary had it all, meanwhile Lumsi was stuck in Ivory Coast.
“Coco, the kettle is ready.”
She shook her self back into reality and making tea for her and her father. They drank in silence. She watched him sip slowly and sigh with his whole body. She could tell he was aching from the alcohol. His shrunken frame swam in his disheveled, oversized suit. He always looked so fragile when he was hungover.
She reluctanlty picked up her phone, reading the message over and over. She went up the chat and read their old messages. Fights, laughs, advice; just 7 months ago they had been inseparable yet Lumsi felt as though it had been an old memory from a past life.
She finished her cup of tea. Cleared the table and washed the plates. Then sent her reply: “yeah its been a while. lets meet up at mankahs then go to get niems?”.
Mankah checked the time on her alarm clock.
She tried to ignore the buzzing of her phone but the persistent caller only called again when the phone dropped.
“Ooooo C’est qui ca? Ofcourse it’s Lumsi, of fucking course. Just when the sleep was getting sweet.”
She rolled her eyes and let out an irritated sigh before answering the FaceTime call.
“Lumsi, I hope you’re dying that you’re FaceTiming me at this hour.”
“Goodmorning to you too.” Lumsi replied in a sarcastically sweet tone.
“What has the morning done that your saying it’s good? Only ungodly news can have you calling me at this ungodly hour.”
“Sis, it’s 11am.”
Manakah sat up and put on her glasses.
“Jesus, this scarf is giving me a headache.”
She unwrapped her headscarf revealing cleanly parted bantu knots underneath.
Lumsi snorted. “Looking like one Calabar witch.”
“Wow. At 11am? You no dey fear God? Abeg did you called me to insult me ou bien? I will just hang up and go back to sleep. No be by force.” She clicked her tongue to emphasized her annoyance and followed it with a grin. Both girls burst into laughter.
“Mankah please I’m too tired to laugh right now.”
Mankah was fluent in Camtalk. The mixture of pidgin, French and English that was second nature to almost all Cameroonians. Despite her parents efforts, she spoke like this in all social situations. This was unlike most people who reverted back to speaking English or French and softening their accents to be more palatable to western ears.
“You know I love you. Anyways, guess who messaged me this morning?”
“Muhammed?” Mankah responded deviously. She enjoyed teasing her friends about the boy who had been pursuing her since the beginning of the school year.
“Abeg abeg abeg, be serious. I don’t like that guy.”
“Sis if I were you I would try to like him ooo. Chai Lumsi, correct millionaire dey follow you and you’re doing nyanga? Wehh Papa God oo, forgive her for she knows not what she does. You dey here dey form ‘money isn’t everything’. Infact, when hunger comes na love go satisfy your beleh.” Before Mankah could continue, Lumsi cut her off.
“He is not the first to have money and he won’t be the last. Anyways auntie, your friend Rosemary texted me to meet so I told her we would come to your place then go for neims at rue de Jardins.”
They had been on the phone for 30 minutes and Lumsi was just getting to the point of why she called. This was typical for a conversation with Mankah.
“Because my house is general market or town center to be doing rendez vous at.”
Lumsi smiled, Mankah was a character and she had gotten used to her dramatic ways. Mankah had a sharp tongue and was always prepared to give her opinion, warranted or not.
“You’re the only one that lives without parents. Oh and si tu m’aime, you will make me puff puff. Bisous.”
“Your head like puff puff.” Mankah retorted as she hung up. She rolled out of bed and went to the kitchen to make puff puff mix.
“Papa, je sort. I’m going to Mankah’s house, I’ll be back soon.”
“Wait, do you have your key and enough money I may be home late today. ”
Maybe and will be had become synonymous for her father. She wondered why her dad forced the pretend act like she hadn’t been cleaning up after him on the days he did decide to sleep at home. Lumsi stared at the 15,000 francs in her wallet. More than enough to cover for her and all her friends.
“I have my keys, but my funds are low.”
“Here.” He patted his pant pockets searching and pulled out an old thick wallet with a clasp that struggled to stay shut. It had been a gift from his wife and he refused to buy a new one even though it was peeling and faded.
He handed her 2 crisp 10,000 notes. Before thinking it over and handing her another one for good measure.
“Thanks.” Lumsi smiled to herself as she stuffed the bills into her wallet. Money was the glue to their relationship nowadays. Lumsi’s cup was never full when it came to taking her father’s money and his pockets were never empty; that she could always count on. They weren’t as rich as her friends but Lumsi’s closets were packed with only the latest and most expensive clothes. “Consultation gifts for being a shitty father” she thought to herself.
She locked the apartment door, and made her way downstairs to hail a taxi.
” I wish we had a driver.” She muttered to herself as her avoided the same muddy puddles she avoided every time made the 10 minute walk to the main road.
“Auntie we don arrive.” Paul, the driver, said softly as he shook her shoulder to wake her from sleep. A slim built man with a handle bar moustache and red veined eyes that popped out of his eyeball sockets and made him look constantly surprised.
Rosemary opened her eyes and looked at her surroundings. The car was now parked infront of a large green gate in a residential area.
“Paul, i have told you to stop calling me Auntie.” She said without looking over her shoulder.
Paul rubbed his head and gave a goofy grin displaying a window of stained teeth and oversized dark gums.
Rosemary let out of a puff of air as she smiled in defeat. She had been trying to convince him to call her Rosemary since she arrived with no luck. It made her uncomfortable everytime. She shook her head and unplugged her iPhone from the cars charger port. Purposely gathering her her things one by one to give her time to calm her nerves. She was excited to see her friends but scared everything would be different and awkward and uncomfortable.
Paul honked the car to signal the gateman to open.
“Na who?” A dark figure emerged from a smaller door by the gate. Sweat beads rolled down his face. Light danced on his forehead causing white beaming streaks. His tank top revealed his toned arms and Rosemary could tell he was in good shape. He walked closer squinting his eyes as he tried to make out the passengers of the car. In a flash, he began to run toward the with a wide smile. It was Ngwa, Manakah’s older brother but he looked different…. She could feel her cheeks warming but stopped herself, “friend’s brothers are off-limits” she reminded herself.
“WOW! Rosemary is that you? You’re a big woman now. How is Canada?” he greeted her with a hug so strong it knocked the air out of her.
“Hi Ngwa, Canada is fine. Very cold.” It was the same reply she had been giving for the last few days. Everything was fine; Canada, school, studies. That was the expected answer, so it was the answer she gave, but in truth she was relieved to be back.
“That’s good. Come in Mankah is making puff puff.” She said goodbye to her driver and followed him back into the compund. He opened the gate and let her go through.
The door led to a small pathway way that opened up into a roundabout garden. On the left was a whole wall of fruit trees and a kennel and enough space to build another house. The right served as a parking space and lead to the swimming pool at the back.
“Wow, I forgot how massive this place is.” She turned back and caught Ngwa eyeing her body. He quickly made eye contact attempting to brush it off and smirked. She smiled back, signaling that he’d been caught but she didn’t mind.
“Not much bigger than yours. Although it does feel huge now that mom and dad are in Yaounde. This way to the kitchen.”
“Everything looks the same.”
“It hasn’t been that long. Only 9 months or so.”
“Feels like a lifeftime.”
“I know what you mean. The kitchen is right there, Lumsi and Mankah are already in there.
“Thanks.” She pushed the door and the aroma of fried dough hit her.
“ROSEMARY! Hm, everybody come and see a Canadian babe.” Mankah leaped at her and gave her a hug. She grabbed Rosemary’s hand and began to twirl her.
“So you have shape now? Which man has pounded your yam because when you left here you were looking like stockfish. Now u don grow bobee, na wow oo” Mankah winked at Rosemary as she playfully pinched her breast.
“Ohhhh, laisse mes seins. Mankah leave me alone.” Rosemary joked as she softly pushed Mankah away and crossed her arms over her chest. She noticed the added weight in Mankah’s cheeks and how her clothes hugged her tighter than before,especially her pants. Her natural hair created a halo effect, framing her oval face.
“Mankah you no well.” Lumsi got up from the seat where she had been watching everything and walked over to Rosemary. Lumsi looked exactly the same as if no time had passed. Her hair was braided in her signature faux locs, her face was beat, and she was dressed for a magazine shoot. Lumsi had a slim, stern face with an everpresent vein running down her forehead. Her gapped smile brought comfort to Rosemary. When they were in school together, Lumsi would often slither her tongue betwenn her teeth behind her teachers back to get Rosemary to smile.
“Ignore her madness. It’s good to have you back. Come sit. Tell us everything. How was abroad?” She gave Rosemary a quick hug before pulling her over to the kitchen island to sit.
“Yes ooo, how was Canada? I hope you have kept my own husband for me there because I don tire for these Ivorian men and their own palava.” Mankah interjected as she squeezed dough into the hot oil with her hand to create balls of puff puff. “You just went to Canada to enjoy life and left us here for sun to beat our backs. Infact what did you bring for me?”
“Ha! Which enjoyment? A place where I can be eating bread for 5 days when I don’t have money.” Rosemary could fake her love for Canada for the adults in her life, but when it came to her friends she felt no need to lie.
She reached into her bag to pull out the things she had gotten. A few tops, some jeans, jewellery, makeup and two pairs of shoes.
“This is for you, and Lumsi this is your own.” She handed each of them their gifts and sat back to watch their reactions.
“Chanel? Fenty? Levels don change.” Mankah started strutting around the kitchen with he things draped on her. “Everbody must hear word. My own Chanel is imported from Canada. All you Agigas donnies, every Neke and Bumburry nigga, I rebuke you. Big girl like me rocking Chanel and you want to chat. You no fear?”
“See somebody. CEO’s daughter, my foot!” Lumsi snarked as she waved her hand up and down in Mankahs direction.
All three of them burst out laughing.
Lumsi quickly glanced through her own gifts before thanking Rosemary. Next time it will be me buying the gifts, she told herself.
“Mankah is the puff puff ready?”They turned towards the door were Ngwa stood.
“See, nobody should disturb me right now. Ngwa, let me just tell you, this puff puff is not in your destiny.”
“Thats fine, I’ll share with Rosemary since she didn’t buy me a gift.” He feigned a pout then flashed his dimpled smile at Rosemary.
Lumsi caught herself staring. If you had told her 5 years ago she would have a huge crush on Ngwa she would have laughed in your face and told you to seek help. But puberty had been good to him and she, like many other girls had noticed. The two had become really close over the year, with everything that she had been going through and she had caught feelings.
Ngwa walked over and sat next to Rosemary. Everything he did was smooth and intimidating. The cigarette behind his ear dropped and Lumsi quickly picked it up and set it in front of him.
‘Thanks” he said, not taking his eyes of Rosemary.
Feeling ignored Lumsi made her way over to Mankah at the stove, still watching Rosemary and Ngwa interact.
Jealousy bit her stomach. She always felt second when Rosemary was around. The worst part was Rosemary didn’t even mean to do it, she was just everybody’s first choice.
“So it’s only Mankah that you know?” His eyebrows were raised as he made a mocked inquisitive look.
“Ngwa, its not like that now. You sef.”
“You sef.” he mimicked her slightly Americanized accent. “Don’t worry yo, you’ll make it up to me.”
“How?” It was an innocent but loaded question. Their eyes locked into one another’s. They both knew it was only a matter of time.
“I’ll think of something.” He winked and squeezed her thigh before getting up, lighting his cigarette and walking out.
“Hey! It’s not because mum and dad aren’t here that you should turn this place into your personal traphouse.” Mankah flung her slipper at him, driving him out.
“Bye Ngwa” Lumsi replied.
Ngwa looked at her, and nodded in her direction before repeating “Bye Rose” and walking out.
Rosemary tried to stop herself from blushing before turning back to her friends. She caught Lumsi eyeing her and quickly changed the topic. She wasn’t ready for the two of them to already have tension in their relationship. Rosemary hoped it would be different now.
“But guys how have you been, gist me.”
“Well sis, our dear friend Lumsi has a boyfriend named Muhammed.”
Lumsi slapped Mankah’s arms. “Say that thing again.”
Mankah threw her head back in laughter as she scratched the spot Lumsi hit.
“Sorry, i mean she has an admirer slash soon to be boyfriend named Muhammed.” Mankah picked a flower from a vase and presented it to Lumsi. ” ‘ello. I sink u arr very bootiful” she said in a thick Ivorian accent. “can i ‘ave ur numero?”
Lumsi swatted Mankah away with the flower, almost knocking her into the pot of hot oil.
“Small joke, and you want to disfigure me? Sorry madam.”
“Good for you.”
Rosemary watched their interactions feeling slightly left out. This was the first she had hear of any Muhammed.
“He’s not my boyfriend. I would tell you about Mankah but I don’t even know how many men this one has in her roster at the moment.”
“Boyfriend, ke? Please these ones are just time passers.”
“I see you haven’t changed.” said Rosemary. Rosemary had always envied Mankah’s spirit. She truly did not care about people’s opinions and had no regard for normal behaviour in social settings. She said and did what she wanted without hesitation. Unlike Rosemary who went through scenario A-Z before attempting something. Mankah had been the first to lose her virginity, and like Eve brought the apple to Adam, Mankah opened Lumsi and Rosemary’s eyes to the world of men and all things taboo.
*draft over..tbc..im tired as f and idk where this story is going tee bee (h)aych*