THE SKIN OF OTHER WOMEN
by Chukwuebuka Ibeh Leonard
The skin of other women – First Runner-up of the 2018 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)
She would wait for him to come home from football practice, to have a quick bath and come downstairs for dinner together, to lead her to the bedroom and make love to her swiftly and ferociously before she tells him she’s leaving. She plans to make it undetailed, a simple, self-explanatory sentence. I’m leaving, Nedu. She pictures his expression; impassive, as though uncomprehending. He would tilt his head sideways to get a good view of her face and then pull the covers up as though she had not spoken. And she would smile and say nothing.
But when he comes home, smiling and smelling faintly of alcohol, she finds her voice is gone. The routine follows it’s course, except in place of a break-up, she tells him her name; Kamnelechukwu. He tilts his head to watch her face, his eyes a question, and she knows she is supposed to smile and brush it aside, but instead she sits up and repeats her name. It’s Kamnelechukwu, she says, not Ngozi, not Bisi, not Maria. She would appreciate it if
He is different, her man. She had known that the first time she saw him, at the club in GRA where they both sat facing each other at a corner of the dimly-lit bar. She watched the strippers twirling on the pole with startling expertise, declining offers from eager, bright-eyed men, offering her to buy her a drink. She had been in the process of turning down one of such offers -the insufferable man would not take a direct no for an answer- when she looked up, bored, and saw him for the first time. His features were striking; chocolate skin and oval face with lips curved slightly to the side in what could have been a smile, but it was his eyes that particularly got her attention, something about the directness of his stare that was disconcerting, and made her -strangely- shy. He did not look away when she met his gaze squarely and arched her brows for an explanation of sorts. She smiled at him already think of the best polite way to shut the man in front of her. It had to be the alcohol getting to her. The bar was getting too hot and her vision slightly blurred, and on cue, she stepped out for a smoke knowing he would follow her, and he did. They stood side by side on the veranda, quietly overlooking the still, serene pool in front of them. He reached out to touch her face, running his fingers over her lower lips and it did not occur to her to stop him. She did not stop him too when he took the cigarette from her fingers and held it in between his. She expected him to take a long drag from it and probably puff the smoke on her face, but he held it mid-air for seconds before he tossed it into the pool. She would later come to learn that he was allergic to cigarette smoke, but that night she thought him, of all things, brave, and a little rude. It did not stop her from typing her number into his phone, did not stop her from letting him drive her home and kissing him in the car in front
The first time he called her by another name, she was not sure what she felt. It had been six months since they started dating, a few weeks since she moved into his apartment, and she had never had cause to question his fidelity, and yet he had called her by another name. She waited for him to realize his grave error and be horrified, to stutter in his attempts at justification and end up confessing and apologizing. But he sat there smiling at her, totally at ease with himself, and it took her a moment to realize it was not a mistake. He genuinely thought she was someone else. And so when he called her by a different name the next time, she knew it wasn’t just his tongue slipping, and to her surprise, she replied.
It was the same way she would come to accept him, his flaws and his idiosyncrasies; same way she would listen to him go on and on about things they had done in the last six years ago even though they had barely been together for two years. It was the same way she indulged him when he talked about using cuffs and whips during sex even though she longed to tell him that the mere idea of using those eliminated the intent of the act in itself, which was
Her friends think he is erratic, unstable, psychotic? But she knows he’s fine. He just needs someone who gets him. When they see a man who’s bipolar at best and outright crazy at worse, she sees a man who’s broken and easily misunderstood in a world that thrives on convention; a man who’s stuck between two selves, a man who needs saving.