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Plain Black

 

They agree to meet at a Starbucks. The busiest one in that part of the city. At least by Nneamaka’s estimation. Here they can sit in a corner and be largely ignored by the caffeine desiring inhabitants of Manhattan.

They choose a place neither of them frequents.  Ifeanyi lives in Lagos anyhow so it could have been anywhere in America and it won’t have mattered. Still Nneamaka is careful to choose a Starbucks a few hours away from the city he chooses to base out of on his visits to the US. For her own part, she lives and works in Fairfield,CT. Manhattan is her once in a month escape from the suburbia. There are only two Starbucks stores in Fairfield CT. Combined, they could never dream of the foot traffic of this Manhattan store.

“You don’t look one day over 18,” He tells her after the silence of taking her in.

He has always been a charmer while she has never quite learned to be immune to his charms so she blushes at his compliment for a moment.

“How is the baby?” He asks her.

“He is well. Bonding with his father at the moment. At least I hope that is what they are doing”

The baby is a miracle child, born after 7 years of marriage.

“You? How is your wife? How are the children?”

She knows he has twins. She sometimes stalks his social media savvy wife on Instagram. A few weeks ago, the attention seeking woman had posted a photo of their 5 year old twin girls in matching polka dot dresses and purple umbrellas. Her caption for the Instagram post had been ‘Lagos is raining but it can’t rain on our parade’ #InstaTwins #Blessed #YummyBabies #IyaIbeji #TedBakerKids #Fashionistas

Before the baby, Nneamaka had thought Ifeanyi’s wife insensitive and uncouth. What kind of woman paraded her life on social media like that? Talking about “pepper dem” and “God win” and all what not.

Then she became a mother herself and took a million photos of her own child. Yes, she wasn’t a serial poster on Instagram and Facebook like Ifeanyi’s wife but still… Only yesterday she had wielded out her phone at Walmart to show her favorite checkout girl the baby’s latest photos while the other people in line gave her the death stare.

“Soma and Soto are well.” Ifeanyi answers. He says nothing about his wife and a foolish flame of hope flutters in Nneamaka’s heart.

It is foolish because she would never leave Greg. Even if when they made love, she sometimes had to close her eyes and imagine it was Ifeanyi before she could climax. Even if he had the worst jokes, jokes so bad even her easily amused father thought them bad. Even if he smelled funny half the time. Even if she caught her heart beating furiously every time someone said the name ‘Ifeanyi’ in her hearing.

When he had called her out of the blue two days ago, she had almost fainted. It had been ten years since she last saw him.

“What is your son’s name?” He asks now.

“Nathan. For his grandfather.”

“Strong name. No Ibo names? ”

The store is bright with winter sun yet there is no need for sunglasses in here but Nneamaka has left hers on. For moments like this that she had foreseen.

“I named him Ify.” She answers, turning her head away to watch the people on the streets.  “My parents named him Tobechukwu and Chima.”

Back when their love was not a shameful thing, back when they had not understood the vagaries of culture and the Osu tradition, he had been her “Ify”. Now she has found a replacement in her son.

When she is brave enough to finally look at his face, she is surprised at the pool of tears that have formed in each. Her sunglasses have let her get away with the sadness in hers.

She takes her right hand out of the leather gloves Greg gave her for Christmas last year and reaches for Ify’s left hand.

They stay that way for a while, watching the people of Manhattan order their coffee.

Once in a while, someone comes along and places an order for plain black. None of that tongue twisting nonsense. None of those bourgeois flavors that no one really knows what they mean. Just plain black coffee.

Ifeanyi will leave his wife in a year and a half. He will never remarry. Good Ibo wives are hard to find for an Osu, an outcast.

Nneamaka will stay with Greg, a man that will never fully understand her but loves her irrespective. A man that will never appreciate her ofe nsala or know how to respond when she forgets herself and greets him ‘kedu?’ A man that is a second choice but still the father of her child, of her Ify.

Like life, there is no perfect coffee. There is good and there is great. If you play your cards right, you might make good. Great is not guaranteed but good is within reach of everyone. So find a Starbucks at the very least and get some good plain coffee.

 

Song of the day: The Upper Room – So Will I

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