I like to tell stories about nameless people who live pseudo-mundane lives. Simply because there are days in everyone’s life where they feel boring and uninteresting. Where the most fascinating thing you do is change clothes, and climb right back into bed. Days when nobody says your name yet you are not any less a person. Or relevant. This is a short story about a girl who goes somewhere. But nowhere particularly special. She does some things, but nothing particularly earth shattering.
She walked quickly through the small apartment as she checked to make sure the clasp of her worn watch was properly fastened. Another crack on her favourite timepiece could not be afforded, which prompted her to make a mental note – for the fifteenth time – to pass by the repair shop during her lunch break to have it checked out. As she bent over to check the contents of her handbag, her extra long dark braids fell forward, temporarily blinding her. She cursed as she fumbled with the hair-tie which she kept permanently fixed to her wrist for moments such as this. She tied up the inconveniently long hair with much effort, made another mental note to never get braids this long ever again, then went back to her task. After ensuring everything she needed was in the bag, she practically sprinted out of the house to the waiting carpoolers, three floors down, barefoot, bright yellow heels in hand.
This was her routine. Wake up on time, dilly-dally, cue up a playlist for the day and eventually dash out to her lift of perpetually annoyed travel mates, whom she would further annoy by applying her make up in the car in between begging the driver not to drive too fast for fear of poking her eye out with her mascara wand, and yelling for more volume. And as usual, after half an hour of navigating traffic, they parked in the musty basement of their building, which to be honest, needed to be abandoned before they all were buried alive beneath it one day. Whilst the rest of the passengers disembarked (yes, it is a car not an aeroplane, but when 8 people exit a soccer-mom’s car in relative order, it counts as disembarking), she crouched to buckle each shoe, starting with the left and finishing with the right. When she was done, she straightened up and admired her latest purchase and the way the strappy sandals complimented her bright blue toenails. She strutted (because in 12 centimetre platforms, one can only strut) towards the elevator and squeezed in just as the doors eased shut. As she psyched herself up for the day ahead by imagining a large gin and dry lemon waiting for her at her pit-stop before she headed home, she was vaguely aware of the chatter behind her as well as of the kaleidoscope of smells ranging from what had to be green tea to the driver’s pungent cologne.
The day flew by and before she knew it, she was the waving goodbye to the last of her colleagues from behind a precariously balanced stack of hard cover files filled with manuscripts. She felt across her desk for her now cold cup of coffee and took a careful sip of the awful stuff before turning another page in the book she was busy editing. She scrunched up her face at the futuristic descriptions and forced her mind to imagine barcodes emblazoned onto forearms and struggled to reconcile the use of medieval English with the robot-esque voices now speaking in her head. She glanced at the watch on her wrist and shut down her computer. She softly padded, heels now abandoned beneath her table, to the windows which overlooked a sparkly skyline, and further, the nothingness of the ocean in the night. A light sheen covered the ground below and she immediately regretted her choice of outfit. She focused her eyes on her dim reflection in the glass. The braids she had fought with earlier now fell in an elegant waterfall around her shoulders and down her back. Her black eyes stared back at her underneath layers of mascara, and her pouty lips still bore the telltale signs of the dark plum shade she’d applied in the car that morning. The predominantly red ankara dress she had had made in a kiosk in Ghana by a chatty fellow named Francis, touched her in all the right places without telling too many of her secrets. It fell down to below her knees in a subtle ball gown style. She reached up to the top button which gave the dress some modesty, hesitated for a second, then shook off the uncertainty and unbuttoned it. And then the next one. She reached into her left pocket and pulled out her lipstick and re-coated her lips, then squinted at the girl in the window to make sure she looked presentable.
Satisfied, she walked back to her desk and checked her handbag again before putting her shoes back on and ignoring the slight pain she felt from traipsing to and from the printer and kitchen and bathroom. She did a quick sweep of the office and turned the alarm on before locking the door behind her. She double checked it as though she had not just turned the key in the lock. As she waited for the elevator to make its way up to the 11th floor, she hummed Grandma’s Hands to herself in a bid to calm the rising nerves. Negro spirituals were for some reason, what her childhood sounded like, despite growing up on the outskirts of middle class suburbia in a landlocked country. The unfriendly grouch who sat at the eyesore of a security desk on the well-lit ground floor every week night, rubbed his face vigorously as the ding signalling the elevator’s arrival sounded. The sleep practically fell from his tired eyes as he caught sight of her – all hair and red dress and train of pitch black hair peppered with tiny golden haircuffs. He grunted a greeting and she waved a twinkling goodbye, the light catching the rings adorning her fingers, positive she could see the saliva drip from his mouth.
When she arrived at her destination, she pushed with practised strength against the massive wooden door that marked the entrance to a hidden basement bar, three blocks from her office building. She stood at the top of the stairs to collect herself after running like she was being chased by screaming banshees through the old neighbourhood, teeming with gentrification masked as development. Every corner had an artisanal restaurant which charged too much for too little and forced those who worked in the 5 block radius to carry food to their spaces of work or forfeit their housing. Or both. And if one didn’t watch where one was walking, one could easily find oneself faceplanted after tripping over rubble or an abandoned tool. She took one last deep breath, sniffed her armpits and stepped onto the narrow staircase, shut the door, and made her descent towards the large room at the bottom, careful not to snag her dress on the splintered bannister. The walls on either side were lined with gold and black art deco wall paper which reeked of old cigarettes and reminded her of old movies set in the 1920s.
She pursed her lips and added extra swing to her hips as she pushed through a set of swinging doors and was met with exactly what she expected – Miguel on just the right volume, brown beautiful bodies either swaying to the music, carrying on around tables and velvet-lined couches, milling around at the bar or yelling orders at the friendly (and equally beautiful) bartenders dressed to the nines behind the bar. Her skin pimpled with goose bumps when she recognised a white, hand-stitched Prada purse thrown without caution, onto the floor beside one of the couches closest to her. She resisted every urge to seek out the big brown eyes that belonged to its owner and continued on her trek to the bar.
Fortune smiled upon her and she grabbed the remaining free barstool and dragged it to the far end of the wooden bar. She plonked herself on its shaped seat and dangled her handbag over the damp bar-top. It was quickly taken from her by the youngest of the barmen – a Turkish fellow with an unlikely Mohawk and the thickest eyelashes she had ever encountered. He deposited it under the bar and immediately busied himself with her usual order. She risked what she thought was a discrete glance and the owner of the Prada bag and allowed her eyes to drink in the neatly done high-bun, faux fur jacket and the newly manicured hands which moved as she regaled her group with what must have been an entertaining story. She shifted her gaze back to the barman before she got caught gawking and took a healthy chug of the gin. She leaned over the bar and picked up an extra slice of lemon, plopped it into her drink and nodded at the DJ booth, signalling the short, bearded artist to raise the volume and get the party started.
He started playing one of her favourite mixes – an old school vibe featuring Craig David in his prime and the newer sounds of GoldLink and Xavier Omar. The crowd shook out of the lazy energy that had gripped it and a few “whoop-whoops” were heard as some migrated towards the middle of the room to what had long been designated as the dance floor. She now sat with her back to the bar and her yellow heels swinging. She sipped her drink and gazed out at the show, feeling like a puppet master- controlling her puppets from the sidelines with the music she knew they loved so well.
The night progressed without a hitch and she even sent one of the bouncers home early. As she pressed the brown envelope filled with his wages into his giant palm, she giggled and kissed his cheek. He whispered sexy French things into her ear and she swatted at his behind as he walked off. It was easy to be disarmed by the hulking man – looks and height, married with charm and dreadlocks that looked like the gods themselves twisted them whilst he slept. She was still staring at his back as he swaggered away when she felt someone press up against hers and her skin came alive again at the familiar Burberry scent. She didn’t turn, but rather, leaned into the warmth and started moving to the music. After a brief hesitation, Burberry and heat joined her and two songs turned into four. Hands on the waist and light kisses rained on shoulders. Eventually, they turned to face each other and join the dancers in the middle in sing-shouting the lyrics to a Rihanna tune.
As the song seamlessly merged with another, she noticed a slight change in her dance partner’s energy and followed her gaze to the balcony door where two men stood to one side. One wore a fitted, grey three-piece suit that could probably pay to keep the lights on in her apartment for a month, easily. He had the haircut to go with it, and the beautifully maintained beard to go with it. The other wore a white shirt and loosened tie with dark slim-fit pants. His black brogues complimented the look nicely and the matching black tie almost brought out the blackness of his eyes even more. She let out the breath she forgot she was holding when there was a clearing of a throat beside her. She had the grace to blush and offered an awkward smile as an apology. They continued dancing, but not alone for too long. The duo from the door had placed their glasses down and joined them and she was positive there was a connection she was missing.
More gin and slick RnB led to more dancing and eventually, a corner set up with a bottle of Bollinger- the last one to be precise. The clientele was more whiskey and wine than champagne. She silently thanked the universe for preserving this one last one as she made her way back to the table after kissing the Turk too enthusiastically on the cheek when he announced that there was indeed a bottle available. She popped the cork to a rather loud celebration from the threesome facing her. They clinked glasses and made increasingly more salacious toasts with each sip. The bar was emptying as closing time drew near and the music softened. The lights got brighter to discourage exactly what they were trying to accomplish – chasing sunrise in the seats they occupied. The DJ signalled to her this time, indicating that he was ready for his envelope. She excused herself and handled her business. After the last of the staff had clocked out and the floor was gleaming, she paused and watched the corner table argue over what could only be something to do with where they were heading from here. She rubbed her lips together to check her lipstick and satisfied that she still looked good, she crouched to unbuckle her shoes. Leaving them where she removed them, she settled back into the chair she had curled up in before- in between Dark Tie and Burberry.
The sun had begun its ascent into the sky and first rays were peeking in through the open balcony doors. The empty bottle now stood upside down in the ice-bucket next to similarly empty whiskey glasses and champagne flutes. The gentlemen stood up to make their exit. Grey Suit pulled Burberry aside and after a brief exchange, they turned to her and the other one with looks of expectation on their faces. She unfolded herself from her seat and slowly stepped towards Dark Tie. On the tips of her toes, mentally cursing the loss of the height her heels gave her, she kissed him with a kiss she knew he wouldn’t forget and one that she knew would guarantee that Burberry would be here again tomorrow night and perhaps finally allow her to give her the same. As she pulled away, she chuckled softly at the look of what could have been shock or satisfaction on his face. She gave the remaining two a quick hug and cheek peck each and made a beeline for the exit. She motioned for them to follow her as if they wouldn’t know to do just that. At the top of the steps, she turned the key in the door and shoved hard.
Final goodbyes said and after a coy refusal to give her number, she ran downstairs, unfastened and refastened her watch, secured the windows and doors, double-checked the locked the safe, collected her belongings and made her way back up to wait for her requested ride home. All the while planning her outfit for the coming night because, Friday nights like these always led to the kind of Saturday nights which always led to the kind of stories aunties whisper to each other on Sunday afternoons, in deserted car parks after church, where they asked for forgiveness for their sins.