It’s my day off  and I couldn’t be happier. At least, I get to have a break from that crime scene. I’m getting ready for an appointment with my hairdresser. I need to get new braids though I wish I could get a haircut instead. Unfortunately, my mother will never allow me to step foot in her house if I try it. I’m staring into the mirror and I don’t like what I see. There are bags under my eyes and I totally blame my mother for it. Last night, she vowed not to let me sleep until we found her gold earrings which I had actually stolen and sold a year ago. I want to confess but I don’t have the courage to since I have spent the money and used what was left to buy her the handbag she now carries everywhere. She would definitely curse me to death if she ever finds out. It was the only treasure she had. Who knows, I might get her diamonds when I finally marry the wealthy man of dreams.

From my house to the hairdresser’s is quite a distance. I have to travel thirty minutes to get there. There are four hairdressing salons around my house, but none meets my expectations. I once braided my hair in one of those salons and almost committed suicide after I unbraided and realised I had lost half of my bounteous hair and even became bald at the edges. I have enquired about others in town and their rates are exorbitant. Could you imagine a particular hair salon charges eighty cedis for braids? How do they expect me to get home after paying that outrageous amount? That’s why I have resorted to visiting my current hairdresser whose salon is the soothing shade of a huge mango tree, decorated with one long wooden table, where all her tools and hair products are being displayed. Yet I meet a long queue no matter the time I go.

 The taxi cannot get me to the exact location so I alight and begin to walk briskly. I get startled when a woman raises a bucket in my direction. But then she pours its content into the huge gutter I’m currently passing by. The stench from the gutter instantly gives me a headache. I stretch my neck and slightly look into it. My goodness! I wish I could unsee what I just saw. The mixture of black stagnant water and plastic waste makes me nauseate. Yet there is a kenkey vendor located right under the nose of the gutter and a long queue of buyers with some already eating and licking their fingers, on the long wooden table and benches provided. No wonder cholera and malaria are on the rise because people are literally eating these diseases.

 I meet a queue of ten people at the hairdresser’s and she gives me a nod and a smile as soon she spots me. I look at all the people awaiting their turn and conclude I wouldn’t be going home today. I might as well call my mother to inform her.

I glance at the lady whose hair the hairdresser is currently braiding and instantly panic. The resemblance is so grave. If I hadn’t known Emefa was in jail, I would have been convinced she was the one. Though I really don’t care, I wonder how she is coping. Detective Nimo, whom I am now acquainted with, told me why she was arrested. She’s as guilty as I am, only that she became my accomplice unknowingly. According to the detective, the manager’s attack was due to an allergy and his wife had confirmed that he was allergic to shrimps. We all at the restaurant knew this because the manager himself had vaguely mentioned it once. And since most of our dishes are prepared with shrimps, mostly powdered, the manager’s lunch was always prepared separately without shrimps and Emefa was the only person he had assigned to serve him food. He didn’t trust anyone, especially me. On the day of his death, one of my favourite customers had visited and was so ravenous that he kept pressuring me to serve him the jollof rice he had ordered else he was going to a different restaurant that would meet his demands quickly. I couldn’t let that happen, this was a man who could easily give a tip of two hundred cedis or more without thinking twice. I rushed back to the kitchen for the fifth time to check on the food and fortunately for me, it was ready and had already been served. But then there were two plates of jollof rice at the counter and the cook, whom I presumed served the food, was in a deep conversation with another. So without asking, I picked one of the plates and almost ran into Emefa at the kitchen entrance. She looked so swamped that she didn’t even notice me. As I moved further, I faintly heard the cook telling her the food on the counter was the manager’s.  

I had forgotten all this until the detective mentioned the allergy. There is no doubt that the food I had taken for my customer belonged to the manager. The cook who had prepared the manager’s food swore she added no shrimp and accused Emefa of switching it with another. The manager’s wife who is an unforgiving woman made sure Emefa was arrested and according to the detective, the woman had wanted to come and witness the arrest but was stopped because of the ruckus she would have raised.

Well, it was indeliberate on my part to take the manager’s food, but I’m glad I killed two birds with one stone. Both he and Emefa were such a nuisance to me. I hope she never gets out.

There are barely any customers today, it’s as though they have gone on strike. I wouldn’t have reported to work at 8 a.m. if I knew business would be this slow. I got home very late from the salon yesterday and could barely sleep due to the excessive pain in my braids. Nevertheless, my punctuality has saved me from any potential trouble with Mr. Carl.

A customer walks in and I rush to take his order. I soon realise it’s Richard, my ex-boyfriend or maybe ex-fiancé would be appropriate because we almost got married. He’s wealthy, just like any other man I have ever dated, and just like all my relationships, it ended abruptly. I wonder why I’m so unlucky. People I’m much prettier than are all getting married but I keep falling into the hands of the sons of Pharaoh. My only hope is that I never meet Pharaoh himself. And I wonder why all these men complain about me being arrogant and self-centered. One even had the audacity to call me a gold digger just because I accepted his proposal three years after he bought me a car. Like who wouldn’t accept it? And he even had the nerve to take the car back after that. I have really suffered in the hands of men but my heart was never broken until I met Richard.

He was the only man I ever introduced to my mother. She never liked him though. She kept complaining about our age difference. I ignored her. I saw nothing wrong with marrying a man who was twenty years older than I was. Everything went on well between us until I found out he had a wife and two children. Dating a married man has never been a problem for me. But dating a man whom I wasn’t aware had a wife and almost even got married to, was a taboo for me. The image of my mother wailing and rolling on the floor when I informed her is still lucid in my mind and her insult that I am a shame and disappointment to her pierced through my heart and even though I wish to, I can never forget those words. And that’s why I will despise Richard for the rest of my life.

“ Abe Abe, my woman. It’s been a while. Ah-ah, why are you stretching your neck like an ostrich?” he asks jovially as though we are still on amicable terms or probably just spoke a day before, meanwhile, the last time I saw him was three months ago when he had the effrontery to bring his wife for lunch, in this same restaurant I work. His presence is more agonizing than the braids transforming me into an Ostrich.

“ What can I get you?”, I snap.

“ Just make the choice for me, you always make the right choices, you know”, he says. I order yam with kontomire stew, his favourite, which is ready in less than fifteen minutes. I serve him and make to walk away but he holds my hand and pulls me back.

“ Please sit, I really need to talk to you”, he says.

“ I’m working. My boss will fire me if I do”

“ Don’t worry, I will handle your boss. What happened to customer satisfaction anyway?”. I glance around to see if Carl is anywhere in sight before I pull the chair opposite Richard and sit.

“ Make it quick,” I say.

“ Listen, Abe, I’m sincerely sorry for all the pain I have caused. I didn’t mean to hurt you. It’s just that things got complicated and out of control. I was about to get a divorce at the time and that’s why I never mentioned her”, he says. I stare at him unblinking and a recall of him with his wife in the restaurant three months ago, invades my mind. No one will ever believe those two were going through a divorce especially when they were holding hands, laughing heartily to the disturbance of other customers and even exchanging the food they had ordered individually. And now he sits here to tell me he was about to divorce her, wow!  I say nothing but continue to listen to the nincompoop who thinks I’m dumb.

“ I wanted to come earlier but I couldn’t, you know because of my wife’s death”, he says in a mumble. I notice the sadness in his voice, and his eyes were getting teary.

“ I heard and I’m sorry about that. How are the children holding up?” I ask.

“ It hasn’t been easy, but they are getting better. They are getting used to the fact that their mother will never return” he says and I nod in agreement and tap his hand gently. I feel sorry for his wife’s death. I sincerely do. I heard she died from poison or something.  Richard takes a bite from the yam and chews it like he has no appetite. He definitely didn’t come here out of hunger.

“ You know, life goes on and that’s why I want us to get back together. I promise to marry you this time”, he drops his fork and says to me earnestly. I can see he read my gestures wrongly, what a clown. I stare at him as though I’m taking his offer into consideration. He smiles nervously, awaiting my answer.

Oh, I now remember what his wife died from. It was food poisoning. Yes, only that Richard doesn’t know I poisoned that food. It wasn’t meant for her actually, that’s why I find it so absurd that she exchanged Richard’s food with hers. Well, poisons are not out of stock in the market and that’s why Richard is swallowing it under my watch. He too will join his wife soon. And like his wife’s death, no one will trace it back to this restaurant. It takes hours or even days to take effect; he would have eaten a hundred things by then. I’m not trying to be atrocious; I just don’t like being taken for a fool. I hate nonsense!

I smile back at Richard and reply, “ Sure, I would love to get back with you”.

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah


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