Posted April 23, 2009on:
Béatrice woke at sunrise. She yawned, stretched and sat up on the couch. She smoothed down her rumpled and sweat-drenched blouse, and looked left and right for Mémé; for anyone, around the well lit reception. There was nobody, she could only hear whirring sounds of the ineffective air-conditioner and ceiling fans. She flopped back on the couch supine, yawned again and glanced at her wristwatch: 5:48 a.m. Exhausted but sleepless, her dry eyes began to gaze at the white ceiling.
Where was everybody? Mémé was probably in Eva’s room, unless something terrible had occurred, but what about the clinic’s staff? Did something terrible happen to Eva and all had dispersed? What about Dr. Aka? Surely he had gone home, but what if Eva had died? Surely he couldn’t be at home this hour lying beside his wife.
Or, had they taken Eva’s body to the morgue, and Dr. Aka was now supervising the extraction of the foetus since it was forbidden to bury a pregnant woman pregnant? If this was the case, then where would Mémé be, killed herself or about to? God, Eva dead? It would be doom for the entire family. Why then did Dr. Aka bring her here from the university hospital if he was going to surrender without fighting for Eva’s soul?
Eva, Eva, oh! What a life, what an end? Eva was badly recompensed by nature. She ought not to go like this. A girl, although born into a debauched-ridded society, was able to repulse every lure of adolescent spree with her spiritual and moral disciplines taught her by the church and our strict father before his death.
Eva had had an opportunity to pursue her destiny in the U.S. but death interfered. Her cheeriest dream of getting married as a virgin was aborted at age 18 by a deceitful saintly devil. Her secondary education was halted by papa’s death. And finally, finally, Denzel who appeared to her as an angel sent from heaven, impregnating her and disappearing into the sunset. My little sister didn’t really deserve all these events. If somebody in the family deserved such sufferings, herself or Josiane should be the victims, and not Eva. She wasn’t as rotten as them.
A car revved to a halt outside. Béatrice leapt across the hall to the glass window. Standing on her toes, she twitched the brocade curtains and craned her neck to see who was in the car: a couple, an illegal one seemingly because the lady appeared far younger than her companion. Béatrice’s intuition defined her to be the man’s mistress, or a girlfriend. She watched them advance towards the passage leading to the staircase of the four-storey clinic building. A married man whose wife had probably travelled far, was here about to relish this fresh sweetie, hm-m, men! Béatrice thought shaking her head as she walked back to sit on the couch.
Béatrice remained quiet with her thoughts and was about to go to the Patients Room to see for herself what had happened but suddenly remembered her 10:00 a.m. date with the Italian. She needed to vacate this place and its uncertainties soon before other things entangled her here.
She took two steps towards the door that led to the Patients Room. Lifting a third step, she dropped it, stationed herself and stared vaguely at the floor. She returned to the couch to pursue deeper thinking. This was seemingly the best hour to sneak out. She had seen nobody and nobody had seen her. She had not been informed about anything. Therefore, she presumed nothing had happened, and so was free to act as an innocent.
Béatrice considered that her strongest argument as to her absence would be that she had been abandoned. A 26-year-old girl was mature enough to be informed of any eventuality. She snapped her fingers and smiled to herself as she sat up. But the smile soon shaded into a sharp frown. Another thought had struck her. If Mémé wasn’t here, she might have run home to announce the bad news; and by now Josiane would be wailing wildly and might have sent someone down to the clinic to pick her. Goodness! But why would Mémé not have told her before leaving the clinic? So many questions, but if it was true that Mémé was at home seeking her, then it would be a great handicap if she was found and told the news. No excuse under heaven would pave a way to Yamoussoukro with her white man.
Still sitting on the couch, she edged forward worriedly to occupy a slim space on the edge. She folded her arms tightly across her abdomen and raised her head to gaze at the wall clock. Each second that clicked by corresponded with her heartbeat. Time was running, her soul was burning. She needed a solution fast before she was held down or pulled away inescapably.
She held her breath, looked at the ceiling and stood up. Her eyes roved around the reception for some seconds, then she snapped her fingers again, this time louder, and started towards the exit. She turned the key and pulled the heavy red-wood door open to her destiny.
Outside, she waved down a lone taxi and leapt inside; and without asking her destination, the taxi driver accelerated punching the start button on the counter. This was an attitude of trust Abidjan taxi drivers reserved only for white-skinned passengers. They believed every white passenger was always rich enough to pay whatever fare the counter read. So no need hurrying to ask for destination; they would indicate it once they were comfortably seated.
In his rear-view mirror, the taxi driver glimpsed his passenger’s pretty face darkened with apprehension, and before he could finish asking “where is your destination?” she interrupted in a peppery tone, “Speed faster, I’m getting late. Just keep straight.”
Five minutes later, Beatrice told the driver to park alongside a dry-cleaner’s shop and wait. She hastened into the shop looking stealthily to her left and right. In a jiffy, she emerged with a big plastic bag bloated with pressed clothes. The driver reversed and faced where they had just come from, an eye on his counter.
Now in front of a beauty salon, Béatrice paid her fare and scuttled inside to be pampered. She confided to the chief aesthetician, who was also the owner of the salon, that she was readying herself for a date with her first white man and wanted to be shown how best to appear. Her hair was the most important feature, to be dealt with first.
Under a hairdryer, Béatrice was simultaneously manicured by two of the salon’s apprentices. She checked the time: 9:15 a.m., only 45 more minutes to prepare to make a seal with a bright destiny. She enjoyed the warmth that was pouring upon her body. She was being charged nicely for her mission.
The difference between valiant winners and effete cowards is that both prepare before battle day but only the former try to execute; the latter dread execution. Béatrice reminded herself mentally almost pounding her chest. Sure, she wouldn’t be a coward. She was planning right now and she would surely, surely, execute as well.
“I’ve chosen what you’re going to wear from the clothes you’ve brought in,” the aesthetician, who’d introduced herself simply as Sali, said in a raised voice, in order for Béatrice to hear her from under the dryer.
Béatrice watched the 30-something Sali mince pass into her little office after speaking. Her perfume smelt of money; her skin was exquisitely brown – so much care and cash must have been invested in it. She was tall; near six feet – a woman’s height most suitors are afraid of. Her oval face had a small pointed nose. Her eyelashes were smoothly dark and naturally pencilled. Her legs were lovely straight in her blue stretch jeans. Her arms were long, slim and looked fleshy. Béatrice admitted mentally that the lady who had just spoken to her was beautiful – a thing she hardly ever admitted about others.
Béatrice never saw any woman as more beautiful than herself. Even a Miss World wasn’t more beautiful. She loved this attitude as much as she hated it. Assuming herself to be the most beautiful woman on earth gave her a certain internal strength to combat every twinge of an inferiority complex. But it also ignited an empty jealousy in her against any girl she was convinced would beat her in beauty.
But a jealous spirit for this beautician would do her no good now. She needed her service and nothing more. Beatrice judged her age more precisely to be between 33 and 35 and wondered how her boobs were still strong and firm in her red sweater like that of a sweet sixteen. She wished they were on her chest.
Béatrice had wanted her boobs to remain as the Creator had created them, but her precocious sexual activities, childbearing and men’s constant manipulation; had made her once pointed pears fallen and badly depreciated in value. But thanks to luck that her date was with a white man. She had heard that white men don’t mind how firm or weak be your breasts, unlike black men who could x-ray the size, strength, succulence, a half mile away and judge whether you would be presentable in the bedroom or not.
With 20 minutes to go, Béatrice’s hair, fingernails, toenails and face had all been thoroughly touched and she was now in Sali’s office dressing up under her supervision.
“You’re perfectly okay like this. See girl, white men are simple and easily pleased. I believe he’ll appreciate you this way,” she said as Béatrice preened herself before a full-length mirror. She was satisfied with her smooth face; her hair – long bouncy curls falling beyond nape; and her nails – beautifully manicured with a silver varnish. But the casual clothes imposed by Sali made her wary.
Sali had suggested she appeared as simple as possible: a pair of blue jeans, black high-heeled sandals and a black button-down silk blouse with flared sleeves; to be accessorized with a set of gold-plated ear-rings and necklace. No wristwatch.
Béatrice had wanted to be gorgeous and elegant being a first date, but this beauty veteran was imposing ultimate simplicity.
“Girl, you’re okay like this for a white man. He’ll appreciate you, believe me. Don’t worry,” assured Sali. “And as I said, don’t wear perfume. Simply use antiperspirant. White men love to smell you natural. It arouses them more than perfumes. Look, I’ve gone out with 11 white men, so I know what I’m telling you girl…They like being touched and stroked. Just be spontaneous and he’ll fall for you. Okay, hurry up now, you’ve got less than ten minutes. White men hate lateness.”
After paying for the service, Béatrice scooped her bag, spun on her feet to face the exit and started away. At the doorway, Sali stopped her, “Wait girl! There’s one more thing for you.” Béatrice turned, walked back and offered her ears.
“Before you go to bed with him, drink several glasses of cold water,” her whisper made Béatrice frown worriedly. Noticing, she continued, “Just do what I said and you’ll see how effective your body will be during, well…Good luck.” She opened her arms for a hug and Béatrice ran into them, and then released herself.
When Béatrice alighted from the taxi that brought her to Hotel Ibis along Boulevard Giscard d’Estaing, she oozed confidence, there was 5 minutes left, so she looked around the entrance to check if her man was earlier than scheduled, but he was not there. She sought a spot and stood out singly. Impulsively, she glanced at her wrist for an indication of time but soon realised her wristwatch was deeply hidden in her bag. Once again she began to puzzle over why Sali banned her from putting on a watch. Was it to make the white man sympathize with her as a poor girl? Or to appear timeless, meaning totally at his mercy? Or, what?
A car horn blared and she saw the conspicuous white face of the European in the back seat of a Mitsubishi Pajero. He was smiling impressively at her. Béatrice reckoned he was smiling because of her look and her punctuality.
The driver, cutely dressed in a formal red tie across a well-tucked white long-sleeved shirt, descended from the high vehicle to carry Béatrice’s weightless plastic bag as she tried elegantly to enter the car to join her man.
“You look lovely Béatrice, and you’re punctual,” the white man commended as he took her left hand to admire her fingers.
“Thank you, sir!” Béatrice said smiling and leaning towards him for a kiss. He kissed her oily lips which Sali had plumped with a colourless lipstick. He leaned back and began to lick his lips. The driver zoomed off.
Although excited but hungry, Béatrice wasn’t going to show a sign of either. She nodded slowly to the jazz music playing on the car stereo. As they sped away, she noticed how her man was peeking at her intermittently, but she shammed innocence to the anticipation.
He flipped over to a middle page of the news magazine he had pretended to be reading and seemed to be concentrating on an article about politics on the Black Continent. He became so absorbed in his reading that he almost forgot the woman by his side, until he realised she had yawned.
“Are you hungry?” the half-bald Italian with a droopy moustache asked in a husky baritone.
“No, not really; I’m tired and a bit sleepy,” Béatrice said, with a less candid smile.
“What hindered you from resting?”
“I was in a clinic all night. A female friend of mine was hospitalised,” she lied calmly.
“A friend of yours?…What was her problem?…She had abortion?”
“No-o, not that; she’s pregnant and…”
“Wanted to get rid of the unwanted child, right?”
The driver grinned within limits. Béatrice forced a sheepish smile at her man who continued reading.
“That your sick friend, she’s married?” he asked, his eyes still reading.
“Then who pumped her stomach?”
The driver soothed a chuckle; Béatrice frowned at her host confusedly and then took some time before responding.
“I don’t know, it’s her problem.”
“Then she’s not your friend and you shouldn’t have given up a whole night for her.”
Béatrice dropped her head in embarrassment. “She’s a childhood friend. We’ve parted ways for long. I don’t know how she leads her life now with men.”
“But you knew where and when she broke her virginity being a childhood friend,” he said turning over another page.
She scowled at him silently and said turning away, “I’m not supposed to know that even if we were born on the same day.”
“I see…But don’t tell me you never met one or two of her ex-boyfriends and she yours.”
“We’re friends, just friends.” The lie was easier than the truth.
“Just no good friends…Did you attend same primary school, had a common bath, exchanged pants?” he queried, closing his magazine and turning to Béatrice.
She looked up, closed her eyes lightly and said, “We were friends, just friends, mister,” coldness in her voice.