My dear lover,
I do not see what the problem is for you to agitate so. For a week now, you have been bombarding me with text messages, WhatsApp messages, Facebook messages, emails, phone calls. Hey, technology is good.
You tell me I’m not worth your love, that I’m not the respectful girl you thought I was. Oh shame! You tell me I don’t even have the decency to reply to your messages, or return your phone calls. Ahi! But aren’t you the one who told me not to send you messages that could be misconstrued otherwise? Or not to call you because you didn’t want your wife to find out about us? So why the barrage of self-pitying messages with the hint of macho behaviour?
In each of your messages, you tell me about the things you bought for me. The ready-to-wear clothes, sourced all the way from Europe and not the cheap crap found on the streets of Abidjan. You talk to me about the phones you bought for me. The computer you bought for me. The week-ends away to Grand-Bassam and Assinie. The money spent in restaurants. The pocket monies. And the big one: the beauty salon you gave me. And your point is??? Should I fall on my knees and lick your shoes?
You tell me I was nothing when you met me. That I was a poverty-stricken girl. That you got me out of my precarious neighbourhood and washed me clean.
“Water washes but money makes clean and I’m the one who’s made you clean,” you tell me.
You tell me that without you, I would still be in my hole going out with ‘men of no consequence who think that because they have given you a miserly 5,000 Francs, they have given you a fortune!’ You tell me that the day I treated you like an undesirable on the doorstep of your studio –
“Yes, my studio because I’m the one who pays the bill.”
Do you know, I love your text messages! Those brackets you open to specify something. I read your messages and think, hey, long-long schooling is good hein. Who puts brackets, and semi-colons, and colons in text messages?
You tell me about that day you came to give me 100,000 Francs. Oh! Pity I didn’t let the money hypnotise me and lie on my back for you to walk on me like you’ve always done. Because walking on me, you’ve done your fair bit of it hein! Obviously figuratively. That’s why you’ve never realised it. That’s why my opinion never mattered to you. You wanted me to be the woman who was seen and not heard unless she was moaning under you, giving a performance Akissi Delta would be proud of. In fact, I have decided that I have obtained a Master’s Degree in Orgasm Fakery at your university. That’s what a four-year university study after the Baccalaureate comes to, right? But I won’t be obtaining a Doctorate in that shit, I have decided.
You used to love all that fakery hein? The vagina that would rhythmically contract around your cock. The shaking of my body. The panting. Really??? You really thought that your participation consisting in wordlessly shoving my head down your lap before mounting me as soon as you got hard would make me see all the stars I pretended to be seeing. Hey! I know about your confidence, but hey! Baby, it is called love-making for a reason. Why do you think I never made too much noise when after that hasty ‘performance’ – and I call it that because as you know, I don’t have the extensive vocabulary that your long-long studies gave you – but why do you think I always let you leave without insisting too much that you stay? Oh yes, because I’m understanding. Hum, men of your ilk will believe anything. No, my dear, let me tell you, as soon as you took that corridor that led to the stairs, I was back in that bed and getting myself off.
I don’t know where you have been all this week to suddenly have the time to text me so much. Oh, and do you think I will just have to respond if you descend into vulgarity? “Fine! If that’s how you want to play it. But you will be running after me in this Abidjan. Just don’t be thinking I’ll be giving you the time of day. I have fucked you already so I no longer have any need for you.”
Hey? Because I haven’t fucked you also? Literally, I have. Or did I not get on top? In fact, if we want to look at it that way, I fucked you more than you fucked me. And if it is figuratively too, well.
I actually don’t know what is hurting you more. That you, Mr Big Boss, with so many letters behind your name that one needs to breathe halfway through, could be had by a girl with just a Baccalaureate to her name. But there you go. Or maybe you are hurting so because you love me. There is no shame in admitting that that might be the case. You can’t stay four years with someone for who you have no feeling whatsoever.
I’m not ashamed to admit it; I loved you. After some time. My heart used to tear every time you left. Yes, despite the crap love-making. I read the messages between you and her once. You know that time you forgot your phone at my house? That was when I did it. Because I had been intrigued by how your eyes twinkled and by how your laughter sounded genuine the rare times you spoke with her in my presence.
I transferred your SIM to my phone – you think that locking your phone with a PIN code is the height of technological security or something? My heart bled when I read the jokey exchanges between the two of you, the flirtatious conversations, the downright dirty texts, the passionate love declarations. But I loved you, despite it all, until, little by little, your little put-downs started to leave their marks.
“You’re stupid! No wonder you didn’t go far in school,” you would say because I didn’t master the fine points of something. And what good thing? Côte d’Ivoire’s politics!
You think I cared for your ADO, Bédié, Gbagbo and all that group the way you did? You think I was interested in what liberalism was and what socialism was? All that interested me was for peace in my country so that the big shot women of Abidjan could carry on flocking to my salon for their manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, waxing, make-up; anything else, I wasn’t interested in. It is you the so-called intellectuals who brought war in this country with your socialism, liberalism, colonial pact, eligibility condition, Ivoirité… And when you started the fire, you fucked off to Ghana and Dakar while your children went to Paris to the same white people you had lambasted here. And the rest of us had to stay in the hell you created and watch our fathers – my father! – get shot. That’s why I had to stop school, dearest, and not because I was thick. Or because I don’t like to wallow in self-pity???
It might have dawned on you already that I’m not as thick as you thought I was. And if I were thick, what would that have made you? You were the one who managed to be convinced with a blow-job to let my name be on the deeds of the salon.
Maybe you got ensconced in the view that I was thick because you never came to the salon. I’m actually glad you never came there, because I would have hated for my staff to have seen you behave as the Monsieur who owned the joint.
You say I latched on to you because I saw you as the proverbial milking cow. Oh yes? And what if I did? Perhaps you thought I would be some wide-eye girl who thought that all her Christmasses had come at once because she was being taken out to those posh restaurants of Plateau. Don’t think you’re God on earth hein. Those restaurants, I knew I would be eating in them. Granted, I didn’t think it would be at the age of 25. But don’t think that before you, I hadn’t had the ‘chance’ to leave Yopougon to go to Plateau, or Cocody.
I’m not teaching you anything by saying that if you need any administrative document done in this Abidjan, not to say Côte d’Ivoire, Plateau will have to figure in your itinerary. And I have friends who went to university, so I sometimes accompanied them to Cocody for registration. I just chose not to go to university, or to go to one of the many schools sprouting in Abidjan to waste my time doing a BTS with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. I didn’t have the money either, and Abidjan is as hard as a rock, so I wasn’t going to waste my time on illusion. As a matter of fact, my school-friends with whom I sat the Baccalaureate, despite their Bac + 2, and + 3, and + 4, they are looking for a job; any job. I wanted a salon; that’s why I went to learn beauty. But you never asked me any of these things. You decided to transpose on me your skewed thinking. You thought I was like every other young Ivorian, desperate to work in a bureau, even if in that office, they would be doing a mind-numbing job. You thought that my greatest ambition in life was to be able to say, ‘Je suis une assistante de direction’, a secretary. That’s why you told me you had an acquaintance who might have a secretarial position going. You think I didn’t know it was just baga-baga. Say something like that and I would think my saviour had come and I would have no choice but be your little plaything, sleep with you because the offer of a job was dangling on the line. Or you think because I asked you, once in a while, about the job, which you always promised me you would talk to your friend about, but which you no doubt never did, that I was desperate? The same way you saw me coming, the same way I also saw you coming. I knew that if I played the long game with you, I would win big. And I did hein.
Why do you think I didn’t want you renting me a studio so soon after we got together? Do you think that at 25 years of age, I was happy being in that poky two-bed rental apartment living there with my mother, my two younger brothers and my younger sister? Do you think I felt any good when on the rare occasions I asked a 1,000 Francs or a 2,000 Francs of my mother, her response was, “Those boyfriends of yours, what do they give you? Or do you sleep with them for nothing?” As if I had introduced even one boyfriend to her for her to be multiplying them.
Or do you think I felt any good when my mother looked at me pityingly, thinking I was weak because my so-called boyfriends didn’t show their faces at home, and didn’t even support the family, unlike my sister’s, who slid sometime a little 5,000 Francs to my mother? Or send my sister home with a 5kgs bag of rice? Yes, because Maman didn’t really care for them showing their faces at home; it was all about what they brought along when they came.
So, I won’t lie. It was a breath of fresh air when you stopped your car at that traffic light and trotted out the chat-up line that had been done to death by every Ivorian man, “Mademoiselle, you’re charming.”
When you asked if I had time to share a drink with you, of course I said yes. When you asked that lady to do a poulet braisé, my mouth watered. Chicken wasn’t something that was often eaten in my house and when it was, it was a miracle to get a decent piece, and there, I were about to eat as many pieces of it as I fancied. I smiled when after giving out the order, you asked me if I actually wanted it barbecued. Maybe you thought the smile was a smile of shyness. Ha! I couldn’t have cared less if the chicken was barbecued, stewed, skewered or whichever way they do it in this Abidjan. I would be eating chicken!
I didn’t actually think I would end up winning the jackpot with you. Yes, you looked like a man of consequence, but a man who shags outside is a man who shags outside, man of consequence or man of no-consequence. I thought we would end up eating out in maquis, you would give me a 5,000 Francs here, a 10,000 Francs there, but nothing more beyond that.
But then you started making noise about renting me a studio, in Cocody or Riviera – certainly not Yopougon because that was too far out of your way – and I thought to myself, “Girl, you have found your gaou.”
As surprised as you might be to hear this, I had started to fall in love with you. Yes, I know.
Surprising hein? I had started to see that behind your crass language, your constant feeling me up as if I was your property – and in case that’s what you’re thinking, get that out of your head right now! But yes, despite your lack of finesse, I knew I had gotten the best out of the bunch. Still, I couldn’t let love blind me. You yourself know, love is not what we eat. And even if love was what we ate, I wasn’t going to break that bread with you. You were never going to make me your Mrs, so why was I gonna take upon me unnecessary sacrifices? The best I could have hoped for with you is that I might have graduated from a studio to a villa, become a grande dame in this Abidjan, had a child by you, but then what? That was what would have suited you, but who told you I came into this life to get crumbs? Because that was where you were heading, weren’t you? What I wanted wasn’t going to figure.
You gave me a hint of it when I mentioned my job and you told me to leave the job.
“What good job are you doing anyway? I’ll give you 50,000 every month and pay the rent and the bills.”
Any other girl would have snapped the offer. The kind of girl you wanted me to be and the kind of girl you thought I was would have snapped your fingers off. But remember, the long game… I knew I held you by the cojones. You didn’t want to come to mine. Of course, you never said it in so many words. You are a clever man, but birds of the same feathers flock together, so I heard you. In any case, darling of my heart, I also didn’t want you coming to mine. You don’t introduce any old man to your family, however informal the introduction might be. Was I gonna go far with you? So let me give you a dose of reality check.
You may have thought that my questions along the lines of, “When are you gonna come to mine?” were because I wanted to be further ensconced with you so you decided to baga-baga me with that tired line of, “We have all the time for things like that, don’t you think?”
Hahahaha! Let me laugh, my dear. I had no desire of doing any ensconcing with you. But men like you like your ‘serious’ girls. You play the field with a girl you have no intention of being ‘serious’ with, yet you have expectations of her being ‘serious’. She needs to respect your boring, sexist friends. You want the girl to always be smiling. You want her to have a soft voice. You want her to never contradict you. You want her to never say no to your advances and do ‘things’ to you, ‘things’ you never specify. Be a whore but not too much of a whore otherwise you will say, “Where did you learn things like that?” Oh, and you want her to cook. Yes, cooking is the great skill by which you judge a girl.
You know, when I say I saw you coming, I really saw you coming hein. And I knew that if I bid my time, you would crack. Hotel rooms are not cheap, and you were always on the lookout for people who might know you. Abidjan is big but Abidjan is small, and the world in which you move is quite small. That’s what I relied on: you cracking and having no choice but to pay for my training in one of those posh beauty schools in Plateau and get me a studio in Angré. And I used the same technique – a good dose of patience and a few well-placed tears – to get the salon out of you. From then on, the death knell sounded on our relationship.
A year to make my salon thrive and make it the place to go to in Abidjan, and another year to start work on the exit strategy.
Hum, hum, ponder and ponder well. You think I put up with your mean comments and your moodiness and your crap love-making because love was so in my teeth. Be serious!
I’m off to Togo tonight. I’ve been contracted to do the makeup for the Miss Togo elections. I’ll drop this letter with your watchman on my way to the airport. Yes, of course, I know where you live. Just sit there and think you were the only clever one. So this is what I suggest, don’t do anything funny. Let me not come back and not be able to get back in my studio. You want to stop paying the rent? Do so. Let me not come back and find that my salon has been vandalised. I will point the finger at you.
I know you can worm your way out if I go to the police, so should anything happen to me, or to my salon, your wife will know about us. You know how your types of intellectual, feminist wives know all about their rights and can actually enforce them. It is with the rest of us that you can flex your muscles. Obviously, me, I’m not in that ‘rest of us’ group. I know the way to those NGOs of women’s rights and you know how people at those NGOs think that every African woman is powerless and defenceless against the weight of patriarchy. Hum.
So, darling, in the same way you say you fucked me and have no more use for me, so it is the same on my end. After all, it is only a stupid person who needs a spare wheel well after it has done what it was intended to do.
Edwige-Renée DRO is an Ivorian writer. In December 2013, after more than a decade in England, she made the decision to return to Côte d’Ivoire because she couldn’t be safely ensconced abroad and pretend to be contributing to the development of her country.
Edwige has had a number of short stories published on platforms like African Writers and in magazines like Prufrock, Prima, Ankara Press Valentine’s Day anthology. She is also a laureate of the Africa39 project, a project which selected 39 of the best writers under the age of 40 from sub-Sahara Africa.
Edwige is this year’s PEN International New Voices award winner and was shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship 2014. As well as being a writer, Edwige works as a translator. She worked on the translation of Les Cités Fantastiques (The Fantastic Cities) a coffee-book featuring some poems and paintings by Werewere Liking.
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