“To lose one may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.”
– Oscar Wilde
Following the collapse of the road between Yaoundé and Douala on October 21, 2016, and the derailment of a train a few hours later, Njassep, a young man who had never taken vows before any man or deity, lost two wives and a daughter. When telling this undoing to strangers at a bar, he would refuse to use the word accident. He would say that an accident, like falling in love, is an expression that fails to convey responsibility.
He learned more about the woman in his house from her blog page than he did from her mouth. It was there that he had read about the challenges she’d faced growing up without a father. That day, he had liked the post with a heart just like her followers and returned home to hug her and kiss her forehead. He was seated now in his car, in the parking lot at his workplace, laughing at a hide-my-ID post on her blog—about an unidentified woman who claimed to have been charmed by a married man and was asking readers for advice on how to break free—when the breaking news appeared on his timeline. Around a locality called Matomb, a chunk of road had collapsed overnight. In a featured picture, the rear wheels of a white van hung in the empty air while the front ones desperately clung onto one side of the broken tar.
An engineer himself, Njassep understood that every road which was not properly cared for could give way at any moment. But he was a Kumbaya singer too, the species of a patriot who believed you either praised every public doing or held your bitterness in for the sake of the country’s peace of mind. And so, the reporter’s text furrowed his brows. How could this dude write: the two-lane path that many call a highway, and declare on the world wide web that his own country’s main economic cities were paralyzed and isolated from one another? To ignore the water currents that appeared to fill the trench in the picture, to not highlight the heavy downpour of the past days and instead decry the dilapidation of other roads in the country was at best, to wash dirty linen in the face of the world, and at worse, media instrumentalization. No one was dead or injured even, so why the fuss? A text box beckoned, Write a comment… and he rushed there to perform patriotic duties.
Njassep: Journalism that politicizes natural disasters, a shame!
Soon after, he perceived an immediate threat from that broken road. Where public shortcomings were to be swallowed by every citizen, a compromise of his weekend plans was out of the question. He texted Mina, recalling that for the last two years since the Intercity Train Campaign had been launched, she must have mentioned more than once her desire to travel by train. There it was, her silver lining.
“Hi babe, seen the news? Want to catch that train to Douala instead? Bill on me.”
He left the house early and returned very late, if at all. When he stepped out on that Friday morning, little Kelly tugged his hand and said she missed him. He stooped to look at her eye to eye, whispered a few candy promises, and she confessed to being on a mission. To her mother, Céline, the understanding woman who never complained about his improvised work trips out of town and whole weekends spent away from them, this beautiful woman who lived with him, who cooked and cleaned, and only lay in bed with him following his schedule as though employed to do so, he said he was only a few tasks and good impressions away from promotion at his workplace. Sometimes, he wondered if her silence meant belief. She must have known promotions didn’t come with every month’s salary. It had not been long since he had returned from work hopping like a toddler and flaunting his first promotion, the one he said really made his engineering degree more than just a piece of paper. If she suspected these were sweet lies told to temper bitter truths, he wouldn’t know. Because, as usual, she stood by the door and her lips drew the plain smile that he believed was taught to her in premarital counselling.
In turn, he looked at her and filled in the blank spaces: more money on the table, more food for her to cook, more furniture to buy and beautify the house! She must have been happy, contented, he thought, the only feelings he expected from those who bathed in his bounties. He brushed his cheek against hers and walked away.
He was the first at the office. The occupancy sensors flashed on the lights as he walked through the corridorsand later dimmed them in his wake without his manual intervention. And as he had so often done before, he made a mental note to film the ceiling and show all detractors of the republic he knew, how this public company was championing smart energy technology on national soil, how a bright future was underway.
Mina had not replied yet. He looked at his text now and regretted mentioning the bill. The thriving barrister would find that insulting. How much is a train ticket? She would ask with an eye-rolling emoji, and later to his face. The question marks were useless too, well, courteous only. He knew she would come. She had never turned down an opportunity to spend the weekend with him. She would be in the parking lot before he closed from work. She never came in to sit in the waiting area or the cafeteria, despite his insistence, because she said even the air in public offices was corrupt. He didn’t mind that Mina said such things, as long as she said them in confidence. He would wait for his colleagues to leave, the closest ones especially, the ones who knew he housed another woman, the ones who had congratulated him when little Kelly was born, the ones who called Céline our wife whenever they came over to eat what he advertised as divine Achu. He would wait for them to leave before going to meet Mina.
That Friday morning was unusually cold and the central AC in the workspace was not helping. Shivers crept up his legs and arms, the needle of the clock ticked softly, and he drowsed to repay Nature for the hours of rest he owed his bed. But even in his wildest dreams, Njassep never spent an extra hour in his house, around Céline. Instead, he saw himself with Mina, in his car, in the parking lot. She wore her seatbelt and eyed him. And with the toss of his debit card, they were at a beach, making up for the life his own parents had shattered, the future they had swept away and buried deep in all sorts of biases. They lay side by side in a hammock—him in shorts that the woman in his house would clean come Monday, Mina in a swimming suit she must have bought on her way to meet him—she said things he couldn’t hear and slapped his arms and chest tenderly when he didn’t respond. But he looked at her and all he noticed was how her chest bounced twice every time she chuckled. They breathed the marine breeze to one another and let their bodies replay the freedom of teenage love. And then a huge trench appeared between them, and from the rowdy water currents that filled it, a deep voice asked him to stop seeing her. He was holding out his hand, and she was floating away. His feet wouldn’t move, and the voice only got louder.
“Leave that woman alone,” Kimbi said over Njassep’s shoulder, squinting at the text on his phone screen.
The workspace was noisy. A few other colleagues had arrived, too. He wiped his lower lip and returned their greetings.
“Guy, why didn’t you wake me up?” he whispered.
“I just did,” Kimbi replied, laughing in his cubicle.
Kimbi was more than a colleague. They had both attended the same secondary school—the one where he first met Mina—and then the same university. He and Kimbi had become close, bound together by the implied friendship between two people who have too much dirt on one another to be at loggerheads. Since the day Kimbi had found out that he had resumed seeing Mina, whenever Kimbi mentioned the woman and child in his house, Njassep argued that Kelly was not his kin; that she and her mother were only his to care for.
It had been over two years since he took Céline into his house. It happened around a time when his parents wanted him to settle with a woman who was: from his tribe, not too short, not too busy, kowtowing to them, with good dentition, not too loud, everything Mina was not. Mina had taken some time off from their relationship to think. In the meantime, he wandered from one university party to another and tried his luck with women, like a drunkard who sought the way into his apartment by turning his key in all the doors of his building floor.
And one morning, the woman he saw in his bed when he woke was Céline. She was laying on her side, head on her palm, and elbow on the pillow. At the sight of her belly already bulging in her T-shirt, his hangover morphed into gesticulation. She laughed and asked him to relax in Ghomala, his mother tongue. She was pregnant with Kelly at the time, not from him, but from a man who would neither be a father nor a husband nor anything else really, one of those insemination spirits.
Throughout the weeks that followed, she cooked, and cleaned, and went away but returned, and they satisfied one another, and she stayed and stayed, and very soon, his parents knew her. They welcomed Kelly with grandparent pride and planned wedding ceremonies that he kept postponing. Professional solicitations, wrong period, his guys were not around, family loss, something always made him push to next December.
He enjoyed the care with which Céline filled his belly and adorned his walls, and the promises of fatherhood that baby Kelly’s cries brought under his roof. However, when he and Céline lay on one another and she said she loved him, he felt like the moon around the sun, unable to give anything beyond an attempted reflection of the light he received. To him, marrying her seemed merely sacrificial; conditioning of himself to fit into his parents’ box. When Mina returned and said she wanted him to fight for her, it seemed like Céline had never existed.
It was the fifteenth hour of the day. Mina would not answer any of Njassep’s calls. He imagined her in a seventy-seater at a bus station in Yaoundé, or on one side of the broken road at Matomb, waiting for the announced roadwork to be complete and for traffic to resume. Her latest text, several hours earlier, Leaving soon, had not mentioned the train specifically. He hoped that she’d gone to the airport to catch the single quotidian flight, and then cursed himself for mentioning the train and not the plane, and for insisting to meet her for the weekend at all. He scrolled down and read without taking anything in, his eyes moving too fast along the several browser windows that all announced the derailment of the Intercity 152 at Eseka.
Kimbi offered him a glass of water.
“Just a minute,” Njassep said, phone gummed on his ear, tone still ringing, “she could pick anytime.” The news pages posted live updates; photos packed with people, some seated on travel bags, others laid out on the green beside a deep ravine. A video showed civilians pulling dangling bodies from an upside-down wagon. The visible portion of the railway hosted four tumbled wagons laid along and across twisted rails, the space between them filled by metal springs, train wheels and other pieces he assumed were metal parts too, although a few of them were covered in torn clothing, stretched into minced and red edges. Kimbi placed the sweating glass beside Njassep’s laptop, and the latter felt a sudden need to urinate.
When Njassep returned from the bathroom, he packed up everything on his desk and entreated Kimbi to cover for him. Kimbiʼs face held a mix of blame and wishful thinking.
Céline didn’t answer his calls, either. Neither on her mobile nor on the CT phone in his house. But he didn’t break a sweat over this. He knew why she didn’t pick up. She only ever left him hanging while she was working on her blog page. She said talking while blogging clouded her opinion and compromised her word game. He had always found this shocking, almost disgraceful; that a fellow engineering graduate would play with words on her socials and speak of it without a glimpse of remorse. Yet whenever Kimbi or anyone else praised her blog at work, he chipped in a word or two with a patronizing tone, as though everything she wrote had been deliberated upon with him beforehand.
He imagined her now seated behind the desktop in his living room, clicking on the keyboard. She wouldn’t answer his call until she had posted the hot gist. He went to her blog. And when the post appeared, he heaved a sigh, then a sneer.
Céline’s Questions: A Historical Carelessness with Human Lives?
What was so urgent in Douala that over thirteen hundred lives were allowed to board a train meant for 655, where were the officers who say a categorical ‘NO MORE OPENINGS’ when we go to drop our CVs? Was the number of wagons almost doubled to show that we can mitigate the collapsed ‘highway’? Why did the latest Intercity train Ad not mention that those trains’ brakes were worn out? Who ignored the driver’s red flag, why do we keep failing our people?
In his travel diary Voyage au Congo, André Gide decries the mortality of our forefathers at railway construction sites (under the whip of the same foreign hands whose negligence has cost us our brothers and sisters today) with the question: ‘to how many new deaths shall the colony owe its future wellbeing?’ That was about ninety years ago. Neo-colony, how far?
What was so urgent? Indeed. The questions weighed in his chest as he read them. Their political undertones, too. He did not recognize Céline in those words. The outspokenness. She’d always commented on issues with the kind of vainness and excitement that he believed sought only to draw clout. He judged this post too righteous and not rightful, not sympathetic enough. And it sickened him. Because she knew his position on these matters. That it was disloyal for anyone in his entourage to throw stones at the hands that filled his bank account. He had never said it to her, but now he thought of housing her and her daughter as an immense favour, one for which she was being ungrateful. He wanted to wear his senior patriot chevrons and tell her to post candles and RIP captions like everyone else or shut the fuck up and stick to her hide-my-ID posts about hopeless relationships and to-cook-or-not-to-cook feminism. But when she answered his call, she spoke first.
“Sorry, I was sharing my opinion on the sad events with my lovely readers,” she said, and although he still hated that she spoke of her opinion as if it were something her readers couldn’t do without, something which if absent would leave the internet incomplete, her ever apologetic tone soothed him. At the mere sound of her voice, Céline reminded him of the shield she represented. The silent, subservient missing rib that held his house together and kept his parents and relatives from prying into those unending out-of-town missions, his absences from family meetings, and perhaps once again pulling him away from Mina. He was a man with a woman and a child in his house, and a job that put food on the table, enough to plug every mouth around.
“How is work?” she asked.
“Very busy,” he said, “your post…”
“Busy of course, what was I thinking?” she said hastily, “I’ve readied your bag for the weekend.”
“Thank you,” he paused, trying to fabricate the specificities of the weekend’s mission. “I won’t need the bag,” he said.
“Oh, you won’t be spending the weekend there?”
“I will call. Bye,” he said. Something was off with Céline, he knew. But still, Mina was his priority.
The train station in Douala was packed and noisy. Travellers at the departure gates threatened to burn down the buildings if their prepaid tickets were not refunded. Njassep looked at them with condemning eyes. Those who stood at the arrival gates kept asking when the train from Yaoundé would come. He imagined the latter were acquaintances of the Intercity 152 passengers. Despite the gruesome images now everywhere on the internet, many of them chose to believe the national midday news’ announcement that there had not been any derailment.
“People are sharing pictures from an accident in Bangladesh,” one woman said to her bench mate while breastfeeding her child. “If there was anything, my husband would have called by now.”
Njassep stopped beside this woman for a while, noticing how the baby sucked obliviously, how its tiny fingers fiddled the air as though playing a guitar. He imagined this woman’s husband, a man in his early thirties maybe, lying on a stretcher and requesting that the medical personnel call his wife. He wondered who he would ask to call if it were him. He mumbled to the woman that her husband would be fine, then rushed through the crowd gauging every light-skinned, short-haired lady with a thick chest, although Mina had never stepped into town without texting him: Arrived.
At the outskirts of Douala, private cars turned on their hazard lights and sped away as though loaded with cash on transit. Going to Eseka, admitting that Mina could be there, seemed defeatist, like he didn’t care enough to wish her better. He pulled up on the roadside and imagined her calling him from the parking lot of his office now; making a fuss and finding his worry patronizing, saying she was an adult as much as he was, capable of sorting herself out. He wished. And then he considered her family; the parents and siblings to whom he had never introduced himself. Were they worried? Did they know?
Three opep drivers beckoned about the roadside and squeezed travellers into ready-to-go buses. Njassep neared them to enquire on the status of the roadworks. One driver was taking the relatives of victims to Eseka, another planned to wait at Matomb until the road to Yaoundé reopened, and the last asked him if he was new to the country, to think the road would be fixed in hours. While he spared some of his time to decorate that last one as a national naysayer, his umpteenth call to Mina’s number went through.
The voice was alien, manly. The speaker, in Eseka, had noticed her phone ringing beside their luggage, amidst the rubble on the railway. Njassep asked in a half scolding cry if the speaker had seen her. The speaker negated. Njassep got on the road immediately.
When Mina had returned during their break to request that Njassep fight for their union, asking what his plan was, he’d suggested that their only way out was to conceive a child— that his parents would never let their grandchild be a bastard. From then on, they had lain together almost every weekend, switching between seaside treats at the foot of Mount Fako and desert recollections up north. But the good news he awaited never came.
It was a Sunday; the day Mina had found out that he was living with another woman. And, if she had known earlier, it was on that day that he had known she did. He was seated on the far edge of the hotel bed, hunched over his phone, texting Céline about the tediousness of that weekend’s mission when Mina’s head helicoptered over him.
“Maybe this woman really loves you,” Mina had said. And he had flung his phone away and sung monologues of promises, and oaths, about the nothingness of his relationship with Céline before the law, the Church, and both their traditions. Mina had responded that little Kelly needed a father, that he had to be that father, as though she didn’t believe his tale of the drunk lad who once took an already pregnant lady to his house for nothing more than a one-night stand. He had insisted anyway. He had sworn that his parents would forget Céline the very minute they knew Kelly was not his.
Mina had started asking him, aloud, what they really were, and why she had to prove anything to his parents at all. She often asked these things shortly before their weekends were over. Yet, every other Friday, he found her in the parking lot, and when she couldn’t make it, she found him at the foot of the stairs of the law firm where she practised in Yaoundé. She never refused to get in his car, she never pushed him away, and to him that meant she wanted to keep trying.
The sky was a dull yellow when he made it into the train station at Eseka. The faint bulbs atop sparse electric poles barely attenuated the shadows that threatened to cover the site. While he honked around, flaunting his blue double-cabin pickup, a man ran up to his window, holding out a phone that Njassep recognized and nodding forcefully.
The man jumped in the truck and began to narrate the horrific experience, as seen from a window seat, on the rearmost row of one of the wagons. Perhaps Mina had been sitting there too. Her phone and the man’s luggage had ended their course several meters away from where the man’s wagon now lay. Njassep’s attention shifted to the cars that sirened out of the station, he requested to be guided to the nearby hospital.
The front lawn was covered with people, some in the recovery position, others with hands bound to red ropes that curled up to blood pouches hoisted on tree branches or benevolent fingers. The one-floor hospital building was overburdened. Its corridor, narrow, windowless, old with peeling walls, was crowded and smelled of panic and clinical spirit. Amidst the cries and screams from the rooms and the nearby morgue, he watched a tearful amputee scream curses into a reporter’s camera and call out the government for accountability; all of Njassep’s rehearsed Kumbaya tunes dissolved in his throat. He stood on tiptoes and peeped across the doorposts, stopping furtively, struggling to only notice enough detail for elimination. Male. Elderly. Baby. Dark and skinny. Was it even reasonable to think that Mina would have found a bed in this meagre place if she were amongst the hundreds of wounded passengers?
The man in Njassep’s wake, still holding Mina’s phone, suggested that they return to the train station and look for her in the crowds. There were many passengers there, the man explained, who waited only for a means to reach Douala. If her phone was near his luggage, if she had sat near him, she must have been safe, too. The continuous use of conditional made his conclusive tone void. Was the man honestly trying to help, or just arguing his side of the agreement—to be driven to Douala? Njassep looked at him intently. Mature, smartly dressed, and impatient. Perhaps to return to his family?
“Who is she?” the man asked when Njassep’s shoulders slumped.
He replied without hesitation, “My wife.”
They did return to the station. But while the man neared the crowds of people that begged bendskins to drive them to the closest agglomeration, Njassep strolled towards the rubble and sleeping wagons. In the black of the night, the phone lights of the people who spoke inaudibly from the ravine a few meters ahead looked like fireflies. He walked to the rear window of a wagon and peeped inside. A bunch of bobolo and fresh plums, wrapped in a cloth with a double knot, were strangled between two seats. He imagined the owner, perhaps a parent, bargaining for those through the train’s window for their kids back home. He imagined this owner seated beside a beautiful lady with only a handbag that contained a dark gown, a white wig, and plenty of naughty accessories. For whom? Was it so urgent? His joints seemed to melt as he stepped away. At the lawn beside the ravine, he crashed on bare ground and the starred sky disappeared.
White, day. Dusty.
Silhouettes roamed about the station. A train was announced. Everything slowed down. Against the last window of every wagon was Mina, her left hand fisted around the window knob, her right pointed at him.
Yellow, dusk. Dim.
At the last wagon, he stepped closer, and the train sped. Faster as he neared. Loud, whirring and squealing. She held her arms in a cradle position. He ran and ran, but the train was gone. She was gone.
Black, night. Dark.
He woke in his bed, a wet towel on his forehead, Céline seated at his feet, an aproned woman with a stethoscope standing at his bedside. His parents were there. Kimbi, too.
“He’s fine,” the woman said, “a few more hours of rest will do.”
“What happened?” he sat up, pulled the blanket to cover his bare chest.
“Céline said you collapsed on a mission and Kimbi drove you home,” his mother replied. “Do you ever think about what would become of Kelly if something happened to you?”
His car keys and his phone were on the bedside table. The shoes he had worn on Friday on the floor by the bed, their soles stained with the oily mud of the rails. Of course, he had not fallen at work. Nor had he been with Kimbi. Céline looked at him and smiled the way she always smiled when his parents were around. At the lunch table, he sat next to her and bowed as though intimidated by the walls of his own house. He ate little and said no more than formalities. Enjoy your meal. Thanks.
“It’s quite sad that the first route was only speedily patched after an accident had happened on the other,” Kimbi said.
“They had to be patient,” Njassep’s father, and lead vocalist for the Kumbaya choir, replied before declaring that all rants against the government were misplaced and would obey gravity. “Who sees an overcrowded train and goes ahead to board it?”
As usual, Céline said nothing. But Njassep now knew that her silence didn’t mean that she had nothing to say, or that she knew nothing about the subject.
After his parents had left, he told Kimbi where he’d gone, what had happened, and Kimbi attested knowing nothing more than what Njassep had confessed.
“It’s high time you sit down and talk to our wife, man,” Kimbi said before leaving.
All his efforts to make conversation were vain. At dinner, she dressed the table for two, only.
“Won’t you join us?” he asked after sitting down with little Kelly.
“She and I eat alone all the time,” Céline replied from behind the desktop, continuing to fill the air with keyboard clicks.
Celine got up from the desk and walked to the parlour where he was sitting. She pulled the blinds closed and moved about like someone who knew she was being observed, then strolled to the kitchen before settling on another sofa, her left hand balancing a full plate on the centre table. He looked at her meal imagining that if clout were a dish, it would be five soya sticks, a head of roasted fish, lots of dodo, and pepper sauce. And if it were a TV program, it would be a telenovela. He picked up his phone to read her blog post.
Céline’s Questions: Roads or Cemeteries?
They’ve placed containers in the trench and poured some ground for everyone to move on with their lives. See you at the next trench? Why are potholes announced by signboard warnings, ‘Many died here,’ what about fixing? They will build a monument along the railway, a tombstone. Are our roads cemeteries?
The death toll keeps rising. Shall the tombstone confess that, because not all passengers had tickets, we can’t tell how many have gone? A survivor said he couldn’t tell how many full bodies birthed the torn parts he saw; how do we then tell? A mother screamed that she couldn’t find Mina, her daughter, a sister, who boarded the Intercity 152. Where is Mina? On her way back, in the statistics, or forever lost in the discrepancy between official records and reality?
He was breathing fast when he raised his eyes to find her staring back at him.
“Did you buy a new phone?” she asked.
“The man who dropped you—the elderly man—not Kimbi…” she paused to suck on a fishbone… “he said there was a phone in your pocket. The phone where he found your number, not the one he used to call me.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“Is there anything else he had to say?”
“I guess he would have said it if there was.”
She said nothing more, until he pressed his fists on the sofa to stand.
“He left a note.”
She summoned Kelly. The little girl ran to her room, almost stumbling, and returned holding out a tiny piece of paper like it was a school report she was proud of.
It said: Don’t worry anymore, your wife is fine.
Njassep stood. “Did the man write this?” he asked, noticing how the letters were coarsely carved.
“He said it and we wrote it down, so we never forget.”
“I wrote it, Papa,” little Kelly said.
He found Mina’s phone in his pocket, deducing from the deactivated SIM card that her number had been recovered. But he only heard from her once. Njassep called and texted, but Mina replied that his wife was fine, and that he needed not bother her anymore. And when he started listing prospects of what they could be, where they could go, she blocked him.
At home more, he noticed Céline—how she held a book, the way that she read to little Kelly. Perhaps she had wanted and even asked for this dear little girl to be enrolled in school at the start of the current academic year a month earlier? He wished he could remember. The open box of hand tools in her cupboard made him wonder if the laundry line at his veranda had really been fixed by the landlord’s technician as he had assumed. He noticed all these and whenever he lay in bed and watched her boots and helmet on the opposite shelf, it now bothered him that so much dust had settled on them.
One night, after singing little Kelly to sleep, he considered calling Mina with an unknown number. While Céline slept, he picked up her phone, watching her. She looked as though she was so overwhelmed by housewifery that her chest would barely rise and fall with her breath. Before he dialled the fifth digit, Célineʼs call history suggested Minaʼs name and number. He dropped the phone.
Njassep spent more time digging through Célineʼs blog. He nodded when he found an old post that said falling in love was overrated, that you stepped into love, deliberately, and endured it.
Over the next few days, while they watched the news and he knew he had her attention, he blew up his patriotic filter and repeated the concurring opinions he had read from comments under her posts: that emergency response in the country was wanting, that it was deplorable that public infrastructure reeked of neglect while competent state-trained engineers remained unemployed, etc. And then he monitored her face for a reaction.
Today, after a heavy breakfast, Njassep slumbered on the couch and dreamt he was at his workplace. He was walking across the corridor, towards the exit, and Mina was walking ahead, beckoning him to follow. The lights did not flash on their own as usual, she was the light. Her white wig shone so brightly it made her black gown appear polished. The gown fell from her shoulders down her body and spread over the floor like a pool of dark water. She dragged herself across the parking lot and leaned on his car, beside another silhouette. The two women held hands, giggling and cackling.
“Papa,” a mellifluous voice called.
Njassep woke. Kelly stood on the carpet holding his hand.
“It’s just a bad dream,” she said, then she ran to the kitchen and returned with a napkin. “You’re sweating, Papa.” She reached out to wipe his face. “Mama needs help, she’s in the kitchen crying.”
In the kitchen, Céline surrendered her knife and looked pointedly at half an onion bulb on a chopping board.
“I made a new friend,” she announced when Njassep took over and started cutting.
“There’s a new hide-my-ID post on my blog,” she said. “You might want to read it.” Céline slid her phone onto the marbled counter so he could see it.
Ask Céline: Hide-my-ID Feedback
I spent years of my life begging a man who cannot run a home to marry me. I wrote about it some days ago and you guys advised me. Still, I could not resist this man oh. Forgive me queens, I was charmed. *laughing emoji* I almost lost my life in that train accident because of that man. *crying emoji* But that life is behind me now. Céline is a queen. *crown + heart emojis*
“You know the good side of this hide-my-ID thing?” she asked.
His eyes went to her face but he kept cutting.
“Careful, Papa. Cut slow like Mama,” little Kelly said. He focused on the chopping board anew.
“That it helps people?” he replied. The bulb of onion was now in pieces but still, he cut.
“That, too, but even better is that the person who hides the ID gets to see it in the first place,” she said. “When this lady wrote that morning, I wasn’t sure, so I researched her. Then I reached out in person. She was so stubborn, stuck with this man. But I have been there, she was in love, you know. Until she almost wasted her life. And then she reached out to me again. We’re friends now.”
Where is she now?”
Célineʼs eyes shifted to his hands, and he bowed to look, too. Blood was diffusing into the pile of chopped onions.
“Who?” she asked without agitation, pulling his hand to the sink.
“Who were you talking about?”
She laughed. “My friend. Yes. My friend.” Her eyes closed as she stretched her head to the left and right as though her neck were in pain. “Well, I didn’t stalk her enough to know her whereabouts,” she said while holding his wounded finger under the water.
“Kelly and I are leaving today.”
“You heard me. I have been raising her well on my own.”
“You don’t have to. Mina is the past.”
“Oh, you know my friend?”
“Céline, I can love you.”
She laughed cynically. “You can?”
Later, to the strangers at the bar, he would say that what tore his heart the most was seeing little Kelly walking away. But, when the taxi came to pick her and Céline up, he stood there. He just stood there.
About the Author:
Ngansop A. Roy is a Cameroonian engineer and writer living in the U.A.E. He was longlisted for the Afritondo Short Story Prize 2021. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Shallow Tales Review, the Kalahari Review, the Afritondo 2021 anthology: The Hope, The Prayer, The Anthem, and the NaiWA 2021 Anthology. He is a Nairobi Writing Academy scholar.
Feature image by lenahelfinger/pixabay