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BN Prose: Dusk After Dusk by Titilayo Olurin

“Hello.”

Silence.

“Hello?”

Some more silence.

You are surprisingly calm and quiet, listening to the quick, shallow breathing of the woman at the other end of the line. You could hear loud and clear as her breath comes in short and sharp gasps. You wait, anxious, desperate to hear something, anything, a voice, some words. Nothing. You hear only breathing, and it gives away nothing.

“Hello?” You wait.

Is she tired, frustrated, angry? Is she thinking of what to say? Is she playing around with the words in her head, wondering if they make any sense? Is she opening her mouth, right at this moment, trying to say something? Are words failing her? Is she waiting for the words to form on her lips?

“Hello?” You utter louder now.

Maybe she will get tired of this cat and mouse game and hurl accusations at you. Maybe she will go on a tirade about what a horrible person you are. Maybe she will scold you like she would her kids and ask what your mother thinks about your choices or if you even have a mother. You wait, holding your breath and letting these thoughts swim gently at the back of your mind like a fish in its deserving water.

Still, nothing. You wonder if she is judging you, thinking you have nothing else to offer but your body. Maybe she has made up her mind about you, has decided that you are a witch, a prostitute, the devil’s incarnate.

You wait, hoping that this torment will end.

You picture her thin lips forming a taut line on her face. Her face with a curved nose and large eyes so distinct they look like an alien on a different planet – just as you have seen in her Instagram photos. You imagine her thick, well-defined brows on perfect ivory brown skin furrowing into a knot. Perhaps a few beads of sweat are starting to form on them, too. You envision this woman’s fingers – long and slender – curled tightly around her phone, probably one of the latest iPhones.

You wait, not sure what you will do if she says everything you’ve imagined to blurt out.

But soon there is a beep and the phone goes dead. You sigh, tired. She calls at dusk, like a monster seeking blood, and it is the third time this week that she has tortured you so. You do not know why, but you are sure it is her. You do not know how she has your number, but you are convinced that she does. You think you know her, this woman whose privacy you have invaded repeatedly. You have checked her out on LinkedIn, stalked her on Instagram, and joined the groups she belongs to on Facebook. You have envied her, hated her, pitied her, even admired her.

You wait. You sit on the floor of your room, with your back against the wall, your knees folded to your chest and your arms wrapped tightly around them; you begin to rock your body back and forth. The phone is still in your right hand, and when you look down at it, you notice the crack on the screen for the first time. You wonder if she will call back. You hope she does not.

She does. The sun has set again, and dusk is beginning to cast shadows on your window curtains when your phone rings. It has been two nights, and you have almost forgotten about her. Almost.

You hear the fussing of a toddler in the background. Her daughter. Is she hungry, or does she need to sleep? Her mother’s sharp “Shhh!” invades your thoughts. You imagine the little one, thumb in mouth, eyes wide and tear-stained, a sob caught in her throat, staring in confusion at her mother.

Gboyega stirs on the bed beside you but does not wake. You turn to watch him sleep, his bare chest rising and falling in rhythm with his light snoring, a hand lazily holding the soft cover cloth over his groin and the other strewn across the bed. You smile, resisting the urge to lean over and kiss him. This is one of those few nights he does not jet off like a madman in pursuit of something. So, you want to cherish this moment.

“Come here!” he suddenly says in a breathy voice, like he knows what you are thinking. He is awake now and squints his sleepy eyes at you.

Quickly, you switch off your phone, place it on the bedside table and snuggle up to him. He wraps his arms around you, his fingers gently stroking your naked arms, his chin resting on your head which you have placed on his chest. You close your eyes and let out a soft grunt, as you snuggle closer, allowing yourself to be enveloped by his sweet musky smell. But you almost as soon feel a pang of guilt. You should end this, whatever this is.

What was it he said to you that day you finally exchanged phone numbers at the office, weeks after you started talking? “I wish I met you before I met my wife.” Was it? Since then, it’s been six months of sneaking around. The game is up. He is the reason this woman calls. Oh, the incessant but empty phone calls! Should you tell him about them? Your mind is in a whirlwind, and you try to remember when the calls started.

It was that Friday night at the mall. You had both agreed to go along with colleagues from the office for a movie and drinks. There was Iris from the HR department, also Ikechukwu from IT, as well as Tina from Marketing. Gboyega had thought nothing of you two going with them. No one would suspect a thing, he said. But you both forgot yourselves and broke away from the group, walking with your hands entwined, smiling into each other’s eyes.

They took one look at you and they knew. Not your colleagues but the couple who hollered Gboyega’s name as soon as they spotted you both going up the escalator. His fretful and hasty attempts to untwine his fingers from yours or the awkward introductions, you as a colleague and they as neighbours – nosy neighbours, he forgot to add – could not change a thing. How could he not know that their tongues would wag?

Now she calls. The wife. Dusk after dusk, she calls to let you listen to the loathing in her voice, even though she does not speak. She makes it clear that you are a bad person, even though she does not breathe a word. You hear her questioning you, blaming you for her marital woes even though she is silent. You know it is her. You have no doubt. You know why she calls. Why you always pick is what you do not know.

***

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