Elsie stood hands akimbo before the two-seater leather divan in her office and stared at the ivory-coloured lace mini dress that she laid out on it. The pair of same-coloured stiletto pumps that he had got with the dress stood on the carpeted floor at the foot of the seat. She had been staring at the ensemble for more than a quarter hour, her brows knitted in confusion and worry.
She sighed and plumped down into the space beside the dress, allowing herself to sink into the softness and coolness of the seat. She knew the dress quite well; it was the exact type that her favourite Hollywood act had worn to the Oscars earlier in the year and she had become obsessed with it for a very long time. Elsie wished she knew what he was up to; she wondered what he was planning and why he still wanted to be with her after what she had done. The thought had come to her mind that maybe he wanted to give her a break-up treat or maybe he had something really horrible and embarrassing planned for her during the dinner. She was tempted to call him and cancel. She yearned to talk to Ezinne. She would have helped her sort through her worries and fears and they would have come to the best conclusion on what she should do. The tears returned; the same tears that had not been far from her eyes in the previous lots-of-days.
Ezinne. They hadn’t set eyes on each other not to talk of saying a word since the Saturday morning her friend left her room, wounded. She had wanted to speed-dial her number so many times in the days that had gone by but she didn’t know what she was going to say to her. She couldn’t blame her friend anyway; she didn’t not have any right to, she was the one that was to be blamed and she was doing a great job at it all by herself.
Elsie wished she could roll back the hands of time and do things differently so she could fix everything, she wished she hadn’t had a late night in the office, she wished she had told the security not to allow Obinna up into her office, everything would have been different and remained perfect. She had longed for the return of Kamal and planned a thousand-one things to do – all her plans came to zilch.
The clock chimed. It was five o’clock. She had practically spent the last hour of the day doing nothing but brooding over a dress and dinner – too short a time to do so, she thought. She pushed herself to her feet, took another half-minute look at the dress and then went into the bathroom. She stripped herself of her clothing and stepped into the minuscule bath, pulled a shower cap over her hair, turned on the tap and let the ice cold water from the shower run over her body. A soothing relief came with the flow.
Kamal got out of the car just as she stepped out of the main door to the building. The air his nose sucked into his lungs almost choked him as he caught a full view of the woman he had spent the last half-decade of his life loving. He knew he wasn’t looking bad himself; he had picked the best of his tuxedos for the night but, he thought she looked like royalty. He walked over to the passenger side of the car and opened the door just as she got to his side.
He looked her over – her dreads were swept into a tight bun just behind her right ear, her ample lips covered in a thick coat of red colour, the ivory dress stood out on her caramel-coloured skin – she looked like a princess devoid a tiara.
“You look amazing”
She tried to force a smile. “Thank you”
She got into the car and he shut the door after her. Elsie rubbed her hands together vigorously and hummed a low tune in a bid to stop the trembling in her hands and the thudding of her heart.
“You’re cold?” He asked as he settled into the driver’s seat.
She shook her head and made another attempt at a smile.
He started the engine and drove the automobile out of the premises.
It took them another half hour through the closing-hour traffic to get to their destination. Throughout the journey, they never said a word to each other; the silence which unknown to both of them, ate them up deep within. Kamal’s attempt at a joke at the beginning of the travel had been received with a very shallow laughter from Elsie and both had thought it best to just keep mum.
“You know Mr. K, for a while, I was beginning to fear you guys had split up!” Quadri, the ever-smiling doorman at La Grande said, as the couple climbed up the flight of stairs to the entrance.
Kamal smiled broadly, drawing Elsie closer to himself by her waist.
“Naaah man! I was only out of town a while, that’s all”
Quadri placed his palm on his chest and sighed dramatically. “Thank God! If you guys broke up, all my hopes on love would be shattered. I see dozens of couples come in here every day but none of them are as in love with each other as you”
Elsie’s heart skipped a beat and she wanted to apologize to Quadri on the shattering of his love hopes but again, she said nothing.
Kamal patted the doorman on the shoulder warmly, his smile slightly faded. “Thanks Quadri”
He pulled the glass door open and bowed slightly as they walked in.
“It’s good to see you again, Miss Elsie”
After clearing reservations, they were soon settled at one of the tables in a beautiful corner of the restaurant.
“It’s great to be back here, great to be back home”
Elsie shifted her gaze from the purse she had placed on the table and tried to make herself look into Kamal’s eyes. She failed. She tried to smile, as she settled for the emptiness right above his head. She wished she could be bold enough to take just one look at him and telling him how dapper she thought he looked.
A waiter came to their table and as usual, being the one who had a better taste when it came to culinary, Kamal placed their orders.
When he was sure the waiter was out of earshot, Kamal leaned into the table and rested his elbows on it, arms folded.
“You’ve barely said two words to me”
Oh, really! I can’t find even a word to say. Elsie thought.
She faked a clearing of the throat and shifted uneasily in her chair. She didn’t know what to say to him, his being nice was killing her faster than a terminal disease.
“Elsie?” Her name in his voice sounded like Yanni on the piano.
He reached out to touch her hand on the table but she took it off before he could.
“Your silence is eating me up. I’ve been gone for months and I thought you’d want to say everything and anything to me by the time I got back”
“I’m sorry” she blurted.
Kamal knotted his eyebrows as he sipped his banana smoothie.
It was the turn of Elsie’s brows to knot in confusion, fear and worry. She summoned all of the courage left in her, which equaled nada, and took a glance at his face. She almost screamed in shock – his face was as soft and blank as could be. There was nothing to give away a hint of hidden anger or hatred or hurt.
“Who are you?”
He gave a short laugh. “What do you mean who am I?”
“Please, just say what’s on your mind, I beg of you. I know I’ve hurt you and I am deeply sorry but I want you to…”
He cut in. “Say something about it?”
She nodded, her hands trembling.
Kamal bowed his head for several seconds and when he raised it, Elsie actually shrieked before she could help it. His eyes were suddenly watery and bloodshot and his lips turned down at the corners as if he had tasted bile.
He shook his head vehemently. “Don’t let me say anything Elsie. I don’t want to say anything”
Her tears poured on the dish of Pasta that had just been set before her.
“Please say something, I beg of you”
He shook his head again. “I don’t want to say what you want me to say”
She sniffed hard. “Then say what you want to say, I want you to say what you want to say”
A tear found its way out of his eye and slipped down his left cheek. Kamal wiped it off with the back of his palm and moved on to the edge of his chair.
“Marry me, Elsie”
For a second, she thought she had died and gone to heaven. She knew only God could say something like that to her in her present situation.
Kamal dipped his hand into the inner pocket of his jacket and produced the most velvety scarlet box Elsie had ever seen. She gasped when he opened it and turned it to face her; the giant solitaire caught the light and shone like the sunrise.
“Elsie, I want you to marry me”
She went dumb. Numb.
Kamal went down on his knee by the table and he let the tears fall. They had created a little scene and half a dozen pairs of eyes were on them.
“I know you want me to say that I am hurt and heartbroken and maybe that we should take a break but I don’t; I don’t want to say all of that to you. Instead, I want you to marry me Elsie, I know you never meant to hurt me and what happened was not a deliberate act, so I forgive you and my heart overwhelms with deeper love for you for being truthful with me and telling me what happened”
Elsie’s frame vibrated as her tears poured.
“It could have been me, it could have been me in your shoes and I could have been the one that messed up and you would have forgiven me, wouldn’t you? So, why can’t I go on to do the same for you?”
He turned her chair so she could face him and took her trembling hands in his.
“Please marry me Elsie and let us put all of these behind us. I still want to spend the rest of my life loving you, please give me that chance”
He lifted her face with his palm and for the first time in a long time, their eyes locked in a soulful embrace. He leaned into her and caught her lips in his.
Elsie’s head thudded like a thousand generals in a march past. She pushed him away, breaking the kiss, grabbed her purse and made out of the restaurant half-walking, half-running.
It took Kamal a few seconds to recover but he was soon on her heels.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, a thousand eyes now on them.
“I can’t marry you Kamal!”
“But, why? I thought you wanted this, to be my wife!”
“Yes, when I thought I worth it”
“You still do. I still love you”
She laughed sadly. “You know, I’ve always known that you are not the regular guy, I just didn’t know this much”
Kamal caught her by the arm as she began to turn away.
“Kamal, maybe you have forgiven me but, I could never forgive myself!”
She let her eyes run over his from.
“If there ever were any man too good, you are he and, of you, I am undeserving”
She yanked her arm out of his grip and ran towards the parking lot.
She sighted a cab, opened the door and jumped in the rear seat.
The startled driver looked back at her.
“Just drive, please!” she yelled through her tears.
Ezinne threw an over-sized T-shirt on and mumbled and grumbled as she went on to answer the door. It was almost ten o’clock and she told herself that whoever was at her door had better have a very good explanation for coming so late or else, she wouldn’t let them in. It was Obinna that used to come over late at night but of course, he had no cause to come over anymore; not after she had broken up with him and her traitor of a friend had gone ahead to sleep with him.
She stabbed me right in the back! Ezinne thought as she got to the door.
“Who is it?”
The reply was a thin voice, one she had heard too many times not to recognize even if she were going deaf.
The traitor! What did she want?
“What do you want?”
She didn’t hear any words, she thought she heard cries instead.
Ezinne wanted to turn away and go back to what she was doing but she told herself to open the door and amuse herself with whatever act her ex-friend had put up. She undid the bolt, turned the key in the lock and opened the door. The sight of her the woman she had shared almost every moment with in years sitting on the ground, a mess of hair and tears, put a sword through her heart.
“What?” Ezinne stood arms akimbo, trying to conceal the emotion in her voice.
Elsie sobbed on. Her bare shoulders trembled.
“You won’t talk?”
“Kamal asked me to marry him”
Ezinne suddenly felt dizzy. She grabbed the door post to steady herself.
“Good for you”
Elsie shook her head. “I said no”
“You did what?!”
Elsie wailed. She wanted to talk but she wailed instead. The words only formed in her head, not in her mouth. Her voice was lost. She gathered the last of the strength that was gradually ebbing away in her body and took a hold of her friend’s ankle.
“Ezinne… I need you…” her voice was practically a whisper.
Ezinne went down in a squat beside her friend. Her heart thawed gradually and its fluid flowed from her eyes. They must have been there for several minutes, the silence and tears wrapping their cold arms around them, before she finally grabbed her friend by the waist and lifted her to her feet.
“You hurt me Elsie. I was pretty mad at you but, I can’t let you go through all of these alone”
Author’s Note: …and so, Pierced finally comes to an end. I’m dying to hear your comments on the story… Trust me, I didn’t know it was going to go like this, Elsie and Kamal caught me by surprise too… Thanks for reading, I couldn’t have had a story without you guys.
So until next Friday…