He was waiting at the Laundromat again today. Just like Annette knew he would be. Just like he had been last Thursday; and the Thursday before that.Thursdays were the only day Annette could do laundry. Her weekends were taken up by the rowdy children she looked after for the extra bit of cash their parents paid her. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, she had to work, massaging Miss Lydia’s pale limbs, limbs that had done nothing but be appendages to the rest of her body these past 50 something years.
Sometimes during the nights Annette had to work, Miss Lydia would ask her to read to her. Annette did it even though she knew that the 20 dollars she was paid per hour didn’t cover this task. But she had always loved books. Even as a child in Ogwashi-uku, while her age mates ran around playing tag and other games, Annette had preferred to read the worn books the Priest gave her after Sunday Mass.Back then, her name wasn’t Annette. Everyone called her ‘Ebele’. Only the Priest ever seemed to remember her baptismal name ‘Anne’. One time he had told about the saint she was named after. It had made Annette smile to know she shared a name with someone so important. ‘Ebele’ was so ordinary. No one important was ever named Ebele. Anne was the kind of name the authors she wanted to be like bore; Anne Frank, Anne Rice…
After hearing the story, she had gone around the village insisting everyone called her ‘Anne’. Her parents had laughed and acquiesced; her friends laughed too but went on calling her ‘Ebele’. When she had come to America, the agency that had helped her with papers and settling down had insisted on a ‘more exotic name’ and ‘Annette’ was the only one of the numerous names they plied her with that she could identify with. ’Annette’ could pass for an author, better than ‘Ebele’ or ‘Lakisha’ ever could.
Adam was different from the other men Annette had met in the city. For one, he did laundry every week. And he always folded his clothes after they were dry. His nails were always well groomed and he smelled clean all the time.
When Annette had first come to America, the only place she could find work was in a college town. She had gotten used to college male students with their long untidy hair and dirty jeans. They always seemed lost; like branches uprooted from their mother tree and grafted into a place that would never be home; no matter how many new friends they made or how many cans of beer they consumed to drown the pain.
The first time she noticed Adam was when Miss Lydia let her borrow Pride and Prejudice. She had been reading the book while waiting for her clothes to dry when she noticed the man that kept giving her furtive looks. Fear had gripped Annette’s heart as she looked around and realized she was alone with him. What if he was a serial killer; just like the ones she had read about in all those Dean Koontz and Harlan Coben books.
She had gotten up to fold her dry clothes when she heard him behind her. His accent was different from all those college boys that thought they could score with the pretty African girl that cleaned their dorms. He opened his mouth and Annette knew she would never need to fear this one.
‘My mother made me read all of Jane Austen’s books.’ He said and that had been the beginning.
He told her his name the next Thursday. He had never asked hers and she had never volunteered. His accent was different because he had grown up in Canada, he told her. They talked about books and their dreams. His was to travel the world. He was tired of visiting famous places only through his books. Hers was to write a book someday. She told him about Cyprian Ekwensi, how his books always seemed real to her, like things that really happened, like people that really existed. She told him about the characters in Jaguar Nana and he asked if these people were her friends, she spoke about them so lovingly, he said. Annette had laughed long and hard at that.
Thursdays were the only days she really laughed.
Today, he was wearing a red shirt. She smiled at him. He smiled back and without saying anything took her basket and emptied it into the machine. A few minutes later, they were deep in conversation about the book he had lent her last Thursday, John Irving’s The Water Method Man.He waited for her while she folded her things. His clothes were already folded.
‘I brought you something.’ He said, looking at her with those eyes that reminded her of the blue skies of her childhood.
‘Another book? ‘She asked smiling, ‘I haven’t even finished the one you gave me last week.’
He smiled shyly and quickly bent his head to look at something that had suddenly caught his interest on the white tiled floor of the Laundromat. Annette stopped folding her clothes. Something told her that this had less to do with any book that was already written and more with the pages of the book that Annette dreamed she would write someday.
He reached for his laundry basket and lifted out a wrapped box he had carefully hidden in the clothes.
She took the box from his soft hands and opened it. She had to sit down then because she knew that if she continued standing she might fall.
‘Oh Adam.’ she whispered as she stared at what lay in her laps.
‘You don’t like it?’
‘You didn’t have to…’ She said, ‘Thank you, thank you so much…’
It has been a while since anyone had given her anything. He waited till she had blown her nose and then they both started to laugh like children caught in an act.
‘Thank you Adam. Daalu O…’
‘Daalu…’ He said and she laughed at his intonation.
Annette knew then that this man would become a major character in the book she would start to write that very night. She could write about him and the empty pages of the book he had just given her would fill up fast. Brown hair that was the same color as her skin; pale hands that would cup her breasts so perfectly, eyes that were indigo pools she could drown her dark fears in…
He held the door for her as they left the Laundromat. He was walking to his car when he heard her yell out to him. He turned around and started walking towards her, one hand cupped around his ear to catch the words the wind threatened to steal away from her lips.
‘What did you say?’ He yelled back at her.
She hesitated for one spilt second but then there was no need to yell anymore, he was standing right in front of her.
‘Ebele, my name is Ebele.’ She said again, this time without yelling.
‘Ebele..?’ He asked.
‘Ebele’ She answered.
‘Ebele, Ebele, Ebele…’ He said, testing every syllable till it sounded right.
He laughed then and waved goodbye. Adam and Ebele, he thought to himself as he walked back, a beginning as good as any. He couldn’t wait to read her first chapter.
Song of the day: Shola Allyson – Imoore