UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
UCHECHUKWU PETER UMEZURIKE
Something About the Way She Laughs
‘Diobi,’ she whispers his name in that affectionate drawl that makes his breath quicken in rhapsody, brushing her face against his stomach.
Yet his whole body is unmoved, rod-straight. Before, her fingers would kindle the titillating heat that bloomed in the heady days of their relationship, that inflamed two weeks ago, and he would push her on to the bed with the hunger of a lion.
He doesn’t feel like entering her this night because of the girl who often stops by to see his secretary for job openings. He has never noticed her until she laughed that afternoon.
He’s heard the laughs of other girls’. But hers is purely different; there is something about the way she laughs; something ethereal to it; something…
Hoping he might find that elusive word, he heaved himself halfway out of his swivel chair, but he didn’t get a clear view of her because she was sitting opposite his secretary whose desk was next to his office, so he picked up a memo he didn’t really need, and strode out of his air-conditioned office, with a severe look on his face, as if to shush both of them for being exuberant in the workplace.
She was still laughing when he came out into the general office, and turned back sharply into the office like someone who had forgotten to grab some other document. But he’d seen her face; he wasn’t charmed by her egg-shaped face. Her laughter was what charmed him right away.
Now he tries to fathom what it is about that laughter, which has been echoing in his head, which trailed him just yesterday when he left office for home and Mary Jane appeared, and sidled up to him on the couch, and cooed, ‘Honey, give me head. I am horny.’
He was used to her vulgarity. But for the first time since they’ve been dating, he noted how gross she sounded. He felt dirty, let down with himself – for believing ultimate gratification is that cascade between the legs of every girl you take to bed.
Discreetly, he nudged her away. She stared at him, and when she tried to coax him to lie down on the couch so she could massage his shoulders, he told her bluntly to let him be. She crept to the other end of the couch and bowed her head. That night, seeing Mary Jane was at the edge of tears, he gathered her in his arms then helped her on to the crest of pleasure; all that time she panted and moaned his mind focused on that jobless girl’s laughter.
Now Mary Jane’s busy hands so distract him. His zipper is already undone, and her face grazes over his pubic hairs, and he imagines she might actually bite him.
He draws back in fright. She regards him in confusion. Then her red lips part as if to scold him, but she reaches out a hand.
He inches away further until his back leans against the wall. Mary Jane looks at him, more scandalized than confused. She doesn’t know she has just showed him how twisted and empty his life was, that she’d never be the one to straighten and fill it up.
Those were days he was stirred by the swell of her round hips. Just as he’d been moved by the flare of Nikki’s large boobs, by the way Keziah’s ass wiggled tight and wild anytime she is on jeans. He was aroused, like the rest of his drinking buddies, by the physical.
Now, he wonders if he would be able to stay around any of the girls long enough when the swell had shrunken, when the largeness turned into hollow bags, when the tightness felt like a weathered hair-band.
Mary Jane accuses him with furious eyes. She has seen through him. She can tell he is bad at pretending: he’d make a monkey of himself if he opens his mouth to sweet-talk her.
At this point, tact is pointless. Truth, as bitter as always, remains the honest option. Still unable to bare his mind, he shies away from her accusation. He fixes his gaze at the bedside lamp which glows with the color of egg yolk.
The girl’s face is an egg, oval and ordinary. And her skin might just be as fragile as the yolk. He wants to know her more than he has ever known any girl. He’s known a lot of girls. He collects lovers with the same ease and penchant he exhibits for pricey ties.
Although he has since cut down on the number of girls, he allows himself the pleasure of a philanderer, every once in a while. Funny enough, none of the girls have confronted him, even though they suspect…
‘You have someone else,’ Mary Jane says. Disappointment twists her face like agony.
He falls quiet and ponders why she still tolerates a man who has grown inexplicably cold – who has never expressed even a hint of a marriage proposal to her.
No good looks, just that he keeps a high-paying job as a manager in ABC Transport, drives a BMW, occupies a three bedroom apartment in World Bank Estate, and uses Old Spice and CK perfumes.
They don’t cling to him like a lifeline because they like his big knobby nose and wide black lips, but for the luxury his life offers. It’s clear his relationship with them is built on airs and deceit.
‘There’s someone, right?’ Mary Jane blurts out. ‘That’s why you’ve been acting odd lately.’
He remembers her saying, ‘You won’t marry a girl like me,’ and he had asked why, and she’d replied, ‘I just feel it. Your type wants a homely girl.’ He’d laughed it off, while assuring her that she was wrong. Now, he can’t bring himself to look into her eyes.
He nods, though.
She puts a hand over her chest, like she can feel the echo of her heart shattering in pieces.
The silence fills him with a cold sweat this sultry night. Guilt stabs through him, but his mind is flipping the girl’s phone number over and again.
Just around midday, he asked his secretary for the girl’s contact. He wonders if she might have called the girl to say, ‘Be warned. He’s a skirt-chaser, my boss, you hear?’
If he still remembers clearly, the girl’s makeup was spare – though her cheeks glowed like bronze – as if anything more cosmetic than that would put a blot on her natural features.
He is ready to open an account for her, pull every available string so she can get a job, just to hear her laugh again. Strange though, he’s yet to decipher what fascinates him about her laughter.
He turns his attention to Mary Jane.
‘I ask, how long has this been going on?’
About four or five days, he almost replies, but realizes it would sound ludicrous. She will think he’s making fun of her being ditched.
Naked and silent, she clambers out of the bed and retrieves her clothes from the floor. She waddles into the bathroom. It takes a long moment before she stumbles out, fully dressed in her one-shouldered halter and Capri pants and heeled sandals.
She must have shed some tears while fumbling with her dress. He wants to feel pity, but he feels an awkwardness that makes him imagine stupid things.
Like now she looks sexy, but he thinks she evokes the stark image of one of those girls who nightly struts along Garden Park, trying to entice a passer-by.
She walks away.
He wants to call out to her, say, I. Am. Sorry, but his mouth is parched, and so he scratches his head. She stops at the door. Tears are welling up in her eyes again, he can tell, even though she has her back to him. Her hand clutching the small red hand bag is veined and pulsing.
He raises a hand but she is out of the door, out of his life, without tantrums. His hand drops.
He replays this incident; this time he inserts the images of the remaining girls and hopes they will not fly into a rage and threaten to find the girl who has turned him against them.
He snatches his cell phone off the bedside table and suddenly feels tense. Can I settle for her laugh alone? Wouldn’t she lose it someday and I’d have nothing to hold on to?
His fingers hover over the keypad. He fears she would hang up as soon as he hears her voice. He doesn’t trust his secretary, somehow; still he has never been one to evade risk.
‘This is crazy.’ He sighs.
Anyway, what he just needs is a chance to tell her that he has never been more certain about anyone in his life. If she is willing to give him that chance and hear him out, he’s more than ready to stick to her, forever.
The phone rings, rings.
Just as he decides not to redial her number, she says, ‘Hello,’ in a cheery tone, and his heart begins to pound. That’s when he realizes that her laugh reminds him of the tranquil rush of the spring behind the secondary school in Okigwe where he taught during NYSC.
And for once he is putting his life in the hands of a girl with a laugh as sparkling and soothing as a waterfall.
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike has been published in Underground Voices, Eclectica, Word riot, and Fiction on the Web, etc. He is currently a participant of the 2008 International Writing Program, USA.
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