SEP 15, 2022
The priest's monotone drone was becoming unbearable. Johari, now uncomfortable on the pew, started trembling, his morning dose long consumed. His youngest daughter softly placed her hand over his shaking palm, motioning to her mother, who was far too engrossed by the priest. Realising the situation, she slipped a tiny bottle of water into his hand. Johari, absent-minded, had not realised his shakes had started again. He carefully slipped the cap off and took a discrete swig. To the curious onlooker, he was an old, parched man, but, the water was medicated, an old nurse's trick. He counted down the forty-five seconds it would take to kick in. The warmth emerged from within him, calming his shivers. The service needed to end.
His youngest daughter, Adea, was scouting the congregation, seeking familiar faces. She loathed Sunday sermons that robbed her mind of her favourite hedonistic vulgarities, leaving her bored senseless. She saw her cousin, who, bored as well, was browsing people, weighing in the scandalous fashion faux pas she could see. Adea knew that her cousin sat across the aisle would be steaming in envy at what she considered her perfect outfit. She loved to rile her cousin with such petty things.
After the sermon, they stood outside the church, exchanging pleasantries with other congregants. For Adea, this was a calculated moment to shut down her rivals, notably her cousin, but there were some others that needed to feel her heat. She took the opportunity to show off her provocative blue batik stretch dress, with revealing shoulders, that hugged her voluptuous frame, slightly obscene for the occasion. Messages and pictures regarding this outfit were already circulating across the country.
Her elder sister, Eshe, preferred a more conservative western pants suit, that hid her femininity. Tall, with an athletic tone, she presented a headstrong demeanour. For their own sanity, people preferred to avoid her, knowing that she could be abrasive with an absolutely low tolerance for foolishness and idle talk.
With fatherly prudence, Johari herded his family to the awaiting cars. All eyes were on them, eager hands reaching out to shake his, knowing that they would later seek him for favours. He loved this moment when he could freely wield a bit of soft power in front of this audience. The crowd made way for them, giving them room to walk on by. Except for this time, those that shook his hand seemed a lot more cautious, with some shunning him with a casual wave, courtesy of a small scandal he was involved in. This irked his beautiful wife, Nea. Revered for her business acumen, and popular for her dazzling fabric outfits that were the envy of any occasion, she expected respect. To the world, Johari had the most beautiful life.
With the spectacle done, affirming their perceived status in their society, they quietly rode home. Johari sat next to his wife as their motorcade drove upwards into the hills. He felt glam, considering that his life was now loitering precariously over the horizon. As the car hummed along, he felt a bit of introspection eating at him again. Secretly, he regretted marrying his wife. While she had brought him two beautiful daughters and had turned their house into a home, adding colour to his mundane life, she had also come with three suitcases. One for her ceremonial outfits, one for her day-to-day outfits, and one for her drama. When he was younger, he had convinced himself that he had attracted the most beautiful nurse in the country, something he now lived to regret, a tale he would mull loudly in his afterlife. He had conveniently let her manage the sham that was their marriage.
In all reality, Nea was the one that drew Johari, recognising him for his potential when he was a small fry in the government. With her guidance, he would rise up the ranks, and neutralise his competition, while amassing a fortune in the process, sometimes through dubious means, but it did not matter. They were eons ahead of their peers. As with many other African countries, theirs was not immune from the freely available scandals that enriched overnight, with barely any consequence, except for some jealous eye-poking at church. It would wash eventually. It always did.
At the estate Johari built for his wife, she became the grand hostess, humorously guiding them to the gazebo that overlooked the ocean, where Sunday lunch would be served. For Nea, this was her moment to shine, while flexing in front of her brood, rapping knuckles when necessary.
Adea, sat across from her mother, working on her phone, organising the remainder of her weekend. Her mother at first ignored her, but suddenly felt provoked by the flagrant rule-breaking on her table.
“Adea,” Nea snapped, “no phones at the table. What did I say?”
She slit her eyes, radiating murder, but Adea, a renowned provocateur, discourteously ignored her.
“One sec,” she countered, unbothered. She was making plans.
Tap. . . tap . . . tap. . . She was searching for a contact, someone she could vent to, a confidant. As she scrolled through her contacts, she came across Jabali's name. Goosebumps crawled up the small of her back. Her insatiable mind involuntarily sped to its dark recesses. She liked him, preferred being with him, he was fun, not selfish, but he never wanted to commit to her, or anybody for that matter. Also, his mysterious ways seemed sexy, and with his discretion, she valued him. He would do.
Tap. . . tap. . . tap. . . “need to see you” tap. . . tap. . . tap. . . “🍆”. . . tap. . . tap. . . tap. . . “tonight.”
“Adea!” Nea snapped again, louder.
“OK. Fine.” She dropped it into her bag, rolling her eyes.
Silently, at the head of the table, Johari sat inattentively. Since his prognosis, he had become contemplative, trying to figure out how long he had to go. Seventy-six. Respectable. He had eaten his fair share of meat, and never cared much for alcohol, but his friends had struck him with their smoking ways, as they sat in dark smoky haunts plotting their rackets. The passive fumes had got to him and were now killing him. Tired of his domestic life, unmarried daughters, stubborn wife, and scandals, he would have gladly driven himself to the mortuary, if it would end his suffering.
Eshe, wanting to speed things along, offered to say Grace, irritating her mother who would have preferred to say the prayer at her table. She unwillingly joined in, scouring at her daughter. Nea served her husband, pretending to be the dutiful wife she wasn't, showing her daughters how she treated their father, who silently ate with a wry smile, humoured by this comedic sparring between mother and daughters.
In between small bites of her food, Nea recited the carefully curated story of her life that week. Nobody listened. Adea was daydreaming about her potential liaison later that evening, Eshe, about how she would browbeat someone who had irritated her and Johari about the scandal his President has assured him would not come back to haunt him.
Johari, amused at how easily he had been absolved of the scandal, had selected a more direct approach to escape scrutiny. He had cut the president in on the deal. That had taken much of the heat off himself. He only needed one of his co-conspirators to croak before him, so that they could heap the blame on them, but by the look of things, death's hand was shadowing him. His name and his legacy would be tarnished if he did not find a scapegoat before his demise.
As the lunch played itself out, the drama quietly abated, the meal and the warm ocean breeze sedating them. The mood lightened up, Johari told his war stories, and they all partook in the afternoon cocktails, some semblance of kinship finally appearing. The sun finally set, freeing Eshe and Adea of their obligation. They were finally free to leave. Adea excused herself first.
Tap. . . tap. . . tap. . . “heading home” tap. . . tap. . . tap. . . 🚙. . . tap. . . tap. . . tap. . . 'SEND'.
“OK. See you soon.” Jabali was in.
Adea sped off into the dusk, leaving a combative Eshe to continue roiling her mother. It would get heated. Adea would have to miss the juicy drama. She had bigger fish to fry.