Mark was wearing nail polish the first time I saw him. I remember joking about it and teasing him, saying the nail polish made him come off as someone battling identity crisis or something. He laughed it off saying his notorious nephews had kept badgering him to apply it. And that it really didn’t matter because it was colorless anyway.
Madam had sent me to the shop to get bread and spreads. I was new in town. A split road led to the shopping centre so I had to ask for directions. There was a building in sight, a retail shop for boda boda spare parts. That is when I saw Mark. He was at the counter writing things and numbers on a book.
His red gums and white teeth were all I could see as he explained that the way to the shopping center was the opposite road and that the one he was on lead to a river. He even offered to see me off to the center, saying it was not a big deal and that he could leave his friend Festo at the counter. Festo was also the handy-man who replaced the boda boda parts for clients at an extra fee.
The next day, I couldn’t wait to be sent to the shops. And the next one: just so I could see Mark’s red gums and white teeth again. Until he finally asked for my number. Then the texting began. Long calls and random giggles. During one of the calls, I asked him what he does to keep his teeth so white.
He said, “Charcoal is the secret. You have to blacken it to whiten it, baby.”
I felt the butterfly effect every time he called me ‘baby’. After a month of going to the shopping center even when I did not really need to, Madam noticed that I would suddenly disappear without an explanation for long periods of time. She even noted that my output had become poor. I apologized and tried to lay low for a while.
The next time I went to ‘the shop’, I told Mark about the incident. What he
said next shocked me though.
“Move in with me,” a smile was playing on his lips. “You could take care of
the shop because I have noticed that you are so good in Math.”
I was taken aback. Not only because I had known Mark for a short while, but also because deep inside, I wanted to move in with him. Immediately even. We planned the exit strategy together. He came by the following Friday night on a bajaj and left with my bags. So, when I would leave the next day empty-handed and no one would have a clue.
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They noticed later of course. Probably after Madam’s little boy had pooped and ‘someone’ was needed to clean it up. Also read as house help. Or house manager. Of all my managerial activities in that house, I hated managing the boy’s poop. Madam did too. I’m almost certain, since she would do anything to avoid cleaning him up.
Mark was lovely. He knew the right words to say when my mother began calling back to back. I did not want to talk to her because I suspect she had been told I had moved in with a man. I would get upset because answering the call meant arguing with her and not answering the calls meant procrastinating the arguing. But then Mark somehow made me calm whenever he would rub my palms and say, “Everything will be fine, you’ll see.”
Then I became heavy with child. Enters Mark Junior. We had been living in a small room at the back of the shop, but the space was only adequate for two people. Three was a crowd. The issue was deliberated upon by Mark and his family. Then they decided that it was best for the baby and I to go live with his mother back in their home while Mark took care of the business.
I did not fancy the idea. One thing I did not know then is that when you marry a man, you marry their family too. I wasn’t aware of what I had signed up for. Remember that my mother and I were at loggerheads. Which means that when I found out that Mark was cheating on me, I still couldn’t leave. He had been seen ferrying girls into the back of the shop.
I had not yet caught him red-handed, but I hated the thought of him showing those red gums to another girl. I hated thinking that he could be telling other girls that charcoal does the magic and that he was calling them ‘baby’.
Ps: This is ending soon. I promise.