The last four months with Adrian would always be remembered as the mango months, coined from the first time they had sex. He had the morning shift at The Roastery.
After, the plan was to hunt for African Artifacts at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead Heath in the afternoon. Adrian’s scepticism was summarily dismissed with a, “Me, let me tell you, our first vice president had the largest privately held collection of African Artefacts and it started with one piece he bought in London when they’d come to negotiate our freedom.” That she’d never finished Joseph Murumbi’s biography and that the veracity of the statement wasn’t something she’d swear her life on was beside the point.
“I think you’re reaching to imagine you’ll find valuable but underpriced African artifacts in Hampstead Heath,” Adrian countered mildly. But her excitement was like the common cold run amok on a primary school playground. Highly infectious and highly contagious so that you were helpless but to be a part of whatever scheme, however implausible it was.
It was getting late. Having spent the better part of the morning trying to tame her hair into two French braids she was feeling the weight of her unproductivity. Hair had never been her strong point and she could never get the braids to lie flat without thick strands of hair sticking out.
Getting up to actively shoo away the introspective mood she eyed the ripe mango in the cracked wooden fruit bowl she had bought on her last holiday back home.
She sliced off each end of the fruit lengthways, cutting square patterns through them, and leaned over the sink to eat so that any juice that dripped would go down the sink.
Nigella Lawson had once said that the best place to eat a mango was in the bath or failing that, over the sink.
She couldn’t have agreed more and ever since hearing that pearl of wisdom had taken to eating her mangoes in this way except when she was back home when she’d sit on the grass with her legs wide apart and eat the mangoes leaning forward in between her legs to let the juices drip down on to the grass.
Just as she was polishing off the last of the mango the doorbell rang. Sticky fingers and cheeks rinsed and a few futile hair tucks later, she was at the intercom.
Buzzing Adrian in she opened the door and leaned on its frame waiting for him to jog up the two floors. Not for the first time she caught herself wondering what she was doing. Not in the immediate sense but long term. With Adrian.
What the future held and how her immediate choices could and would either positively or adversely affect this future were a Rubik of thoughts that she never stopped turning over. They were imbued in her even before she had grasped a solid understanding of the concepts of choice, future and consequence.
They had met a year and a half ago but he once told her that the first time he’d noticed her was further back a few months before they first spoke. The serendipitous location was the checkout at the Sainsbury on Kentish town road opposite the station. “You smiled. I remember that.”
She had tried to cast her mind to that January but couldn’t even get past the week before.
“You probably don’t remember but I was shocked, yeah. I knew that second you weren’t a Londoner. You were too free with your smiles you know that?”
“Hey, a delivery came in and I had to help unload it.” Adrian explained his lateness.
She moved aside allowing him to enter the dark coolness of her hallway.
“That’s fine, I managed to get stuff done.” She waved her hand expansively as an expression of the sheer amount of “stuff” she had done. Adrian walked in and turned around to look at her as she closed the door. “Stuff?” he squinted incredulously.
“Oh fine! I was wrestling with my hair. It literally took the whole morning to get it into these two braids and it still looks untidy.”
Adrian moved closer as if to inspect her braids. She had her back to the door, her hand still lightly placed on the doorknob.
“Nope. Looks good to me.” By now he was standing a breath away from her. He looked into her eyes and she felt a tug in the pit of her stomach. He drew her closer to him and leaving the door eagerly, she pressed against him.
“I like your eyes you know.” She whispered as she traced his face with her fingers.
“I know, you tell me every time,” Adrian’s eyes crinkled with suppressed laughter.
They liked this. The suspended moments before they kissed. They would watch each others eyes, letting the electricity around them swirl faster and faster, building momentum reaching higher and higher until finally one of them would lean in and pull the other in.
Adrian licked the corner between her lower lip and upper lip. “You taste like mangoes.”
“Mangoes –.’ Adrian smiled against her lips.
“Oh…I just ate one. I was waiting – and I – I love mangoes.” She shrugged a little unsure of why it mattered that she tasted like mangoes.
“Well I like it. The mango taste I mean.” By now Adrian had pushed her up against the door and was kissing her mouth, her face, her neck, as he declared his approval of her mango taste.
She locked her hands around his neck, arching backwards, pulling him with her. It wasn’t the first time they’d been here. It was this way most days until the weight of 22 years of Protestant Education would victoriously win over the longing to give in.
Today, maybe it was the humidity, or the plane ticket home that had checked into her inbox that morning, either way she’d run out of strength to push hard in the name of chastity.
She didn’t know how to tell him. He’d think she’d given up, hadn’t looked hard enough for jobs. “There’s four more months on your visa for Christ’s sake, you still have time to look!” he’d probably reason.
“Your cheeks also taste like mangoes” he added, enjoying the discovery.
‘They, they, go everywhere and -’ she trailed off. Ignoring every last verse that sprung to her mind she knelt down. If she wasn’t going to be brave enough to tell him about the ticket she was at least going to make their last four months every kind of memorable, especially this kind.
‘Adrian. I – we’re going to be late.’
‘Very late. In fact, I’d venture to say we may not make it.’
She woke up first. Adrian lay behind her, bed sheets bunched around his waist.
Here she was, 22-years old, from a good God-fearing family lying in bed naked with a white man’s arm around her waist. The scandal this story would create back home!
Turning to wake Adrian up she halted, hand mid air, breathing constricted, a tag as if her heart had caught at a snug and could not for its own life resume beating in a regular fashion. There it was again, the asphyxiating reminder of the ticket.
Up until last year it had never crossed her mind that staying was an option. She knew the drill. Companies weren’t hiring international students, sponsoring their visas cost a fortune.
Then came Adrian, and with him came his belief that love would somehow conquer against the finality of a student visa on its last lap.
Their relationship was tinged with the sure promise of an end. With her ticket home finally booked the end had taken on a life of it’s own, complete with a day of the month and time.
She stood outside the arrivals terminal squinting into the glaring sun hearing her name drugged out in a high pitched scream as her step brother, Mworia, came hurtling towards her as fast as his chubby five-year old legs could take him. She made for him forgetting her luggage trolley behind her and her swollen mid-section before her.
As children we love to play a game with our mothers: “The wouldyoulovemeif” game. Today’s was a hybrid of the “what if” game but the stakes are raised, there’s something deeply valuable and impossibly binary to lose — the tangible and intangible love of a mother.
It gives us the same adrenaline rush as say, playing near an open fire. We submit all situations that would warrant a “wouldyoulovemeif” to their patient and bemused smiling answers and they assure us, upon everything that, “yes I would love you even if…”
It was in her mother’s eyes as she set Mworia down and straightened to retrieve her trolley that she finally found the cut off point of “wouldyoulovemeif” for her mum.
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