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“What do you think of this one, then?” I’m standing in front of the mirror, turning on each side to see how best it fits. The dress hugs my torso perfectly, but I think it looks a bit funny at the hip area; I don’t have much to fill it up, I’ll be honest. The yellow colour might be a bit too bright for my complexion, though? I turn around a bit more, hoping he would notice the flattering illusion bateau neckline on my chest.

Adam is relaxed on the bed behind me, right leg crossed casually over the left, a sports magazine propped high to cover his face. I watch him through the mirror, observing his statuesque physique till my heart clouds over with warmth. It’s me he chose. Me.

“Adam?”

“Hm?” He uncrosses his legs and moves up, but his eyes never leave the page.

“What do you think of this dress? You said I should change the first one, and I have.”

“Yeah, it’s fine. You look fine.”

The warmth dissipates. There’s a small lump in my chest now, instead. “How can you tell? You didn’t look at me.”

He sets the book on the bedside table with exaggerated care and looks up. A faint smile creeps onto his face, but it leaves as quickly as it came. “What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

He lifts his right hand and makes a long gesture at me, moving from my head to my feet. There’s a strange look on his face. It looks like displeasure, but I can’t accept that it is.

“The dress, you mean?” I smile and twirl around. “Isn’t it beautiful? Look at the bodi–”

“Honey, no.” He gets up and walks towards me. “I don’t think this cleavage will sit well with my mother. I’m taking home my prospective wife, not some whore.” He walks past me and leaves the room.

The smile that hugged my face before fights to stay, but my muscles refuse. After a long moment of battle, it finally gives in, making way for the corners of my lips to turn downward, and for the waterfall behind my eyes to break free. The word ‘prospective’ rings different perceived meanings in my head. Prospective… Prospective? What does that even mean?

“Prospective,” I mutter as I look long and hard at myself in the mirror. I don’t like the way the word rolled off my tongue. It sounds offensive, somewhat? I’m overthinking this? It’s a good word, is it not? The colour of the dress looks more revolting against my dark skin tone now.

What was I thinking? He’s right. This dress is ugly. It hugs my body a bit tighter than before, a sickening vomit-yellow. I can’t breathe.

I heave a sigh and point my chin up high again. “Adam’s right. Silly me.” A small giggle escapes my throat, and I try to feel its warmth. “I’m beautiful. I deserve a more flattering dress. This one’s not it.”

I wipe the tears off my face quickly and reach for the zip on my side. A forced smile tugs at my lips as I pry the fabric off my body and step out of the garment. Tossing the dress onto the bed, I turn towards the wardrobe by the door.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be walking around naked so often?” That’s Adam, leaning against the entrance, wine glass in hand. Blasé.

I feel my face grow hot, and my knees go weak. And it is not until the façade falls off, and I fall to the ground do I realise that his words cut deeper than I allowed myself to accept.


***


The cold wind shows no mercy on my face as the Chevrolet bounds past the buildings down our street. I force a calm composure as I stifle the cough that crawls up my throat. With the rising spread of the flu these days, everyone’s being more careful in their ways. More paranoid, might I clarify.

From the corner of my eye, I watch Adam as he sits behind the chauffeur. He glances everywhere else but in my direction. The space between our bodies in the backseat is not bigger than the void in my chest, I’m certain. He looks almost uncomfortable leaning so close to the door. I blink back the tears in my eyes and look out the window.

The sun is setting behind the tall apartment buildings. It does a poor job of hiding behind the chain of edifices, because its fiery red handiwork is splayed across the entire sky. I’d have liked to believe it’s just around 6 p.m., but the sun goes home late around here.

A rough hand lightly touches mine. I flinch. Adam’s eyes grow slightly wide, and he draws his hand away as I do same. His shoulders fall. He inches towards me, a warm look on his face like nearly never before. He runs his fingers along my arm, as if trying to play Midas against the goose bumps on my skin.

“Rose…”

My first instinct is to panic. But, why? Adam’s harmless. Yeah. Of course. Harmless. Another nervous giggle. “Yes, Adam?”

“I’m sorry… I feel like I didn’t talk gently to you before.” His voice quivers with the timidity of a little boy. A genuine little boy.

My heart warms up instantly. “Adam, it’s okay, really. I know it’s not your fault, yeah?”

He moves closer and puts his arms around me. He buries his face in my neck and rocks his body against mine. “I’m sorry, Rose. I love you. I just want the time with my parents to be perfect. I’m so sorry.”

I move his head away a small distance and cup his face in my hands. His brown eyes glisten against the new-born moonlight. He chose me. Me.

A sad smile spreads across his face, and he pouts his mouth for a kiss. Something within me holds me back. But, why? Come on, Rose. He did nothing wrong, did he? Yes, right. I lean in.

“We’ve arrived, sir.”

Adam jumps back abruptly, brushing his tuxedo as though he just rose from dirt. “Okay, thank you.”

I settle back in my seat and heave another sigh. Dear God.

The Hanks Mansion stands obnoxiously high before us. Its large windows embellish its magnificent body with a royal blue, holding a condescending candle to the moonlit sky.

I knew Adam’s parents were wealthy. Comfortable, I liked to say. But I didn’t know it was like this. Oh, God. What am I doing?

My hands break a sweat within the silk gloves. My stomach knots up as I look down at my outfit again. Some ridiculous costume this is. While I was on the floor sobbing some hours before, Adam did nothing but pace about the room. He picked up his phone, yelled a few orders, and there was a knock on the door before I could sniff again.

“Here, Rose,” he smiled as he brought a black box in from outside, “I got you something.” He picked out a gaudy organza evening dress and beckoned for me to come closer. As he helped me put it on in front of the mirror, all I could focus on was which emotion would finally win my heart over: distaste or love for it. Love wins, I convinced myself as I helped him get ready for the party.

“This is the one?” A petite lady rushes towards us. Her heavy makeup does a good job to give the impression of youthfulness, but her age shines through, nonetheless. I notice the gold jewellery on her neck, and on her fingers, and on her wrists, and, just about everywhere else. This is a bit blinding. But, I guess I like it. Yes, I do. Adam introduces her as his mother, just as his father also comes to welcome us.

The guests at the Hanks’ end-of-year party are people I’d only imagine seeing on the television, or in those magazines for the elite. I make an effort to follow odd conversations; about oil investments, and stocks, and corruption romanticised.

“That’s a nice dress, Rose,” Adam’s mother offers, a proud look on her face. Nods and grunts of approval follow her statement. Adam touches my thigh under the table. I smile sweetly and thank everyone.

Adam walks to the centre of the room and clinks his champagne glass. The room turns silent as the first-born son of the Hanks family takes the spotlight to crack bad jokes, and give a short speech about the year’s work at the family business. When the applause dies down, he clears his throat and adds that he has one more thing to say.

“Earlier this year, I met someone who has radically changed my outlook on things. Growing up, Dad always told me I’ll take my diabolic ways to the grave.” He pauses, and glances shyly in my direction. I feel the crowd’s eyes boring through my skin.

The room begins to feel overly warm. I fan myself with the dinner brochures, hoping that it is not what I think it is. I can’t hear a thing. Gears are reeling inside my brain. Nothing strange is happening, Rose. Just, breathe.

“…and so tonight is the night I ask.” Adam is kneeling in front of me, a something-carat diamond ring in his hand. “Will you marry me?”

The air around me stops moving. Time is passing by like it’s lost the energy in its legs. I don’t know how long I’ve been staring at him for. Silent. This is nice. But this is not what I want. Is it? It is? It is. Yes, I think it is. But, Rose… No. Yes? I don’t know.

A strange emotion fills Adam’s eyes. It’s almost… begging. Yet, foreboding? “Rose, will you be my wife?”

The audience’s impatience is palpable now. I can’t disappoint Adam. A smile stretches across my face, not exactly by my will. Adam chose me. Me. I jump off my seat and fall into his warm embrace. I feel safe. I’m happy. But, am I?

The noise in the room grows louder, until I can’t hear my own thoughts. My musings drown in the applause. And into the night.

***


“You think you’re so indecisive, but I know you,” my sister says. She pats my head cheekily and turns on the television. News about the flu hits the screen. She hisses as she flicks through channels, only to see more news on death tolls. “Is this all they talk about now?”

“Ann, what do you mean?”

She shoots her usual “are you dumb?” look my way. “The flu? Are you in this co –”

“No. You said you know me?”

Her face is blank for a few moments. Then, realisation occupies it. “Oh… What I mean is, you’ve already made your decision.”

She laughs as the creases on my face grow deeper. The sound of a car engine grows louder outside. Ma. Rushed footsteps from behind the house indicate that the mice sense the cat’s arrival.

“Ah, these houseboys,” Ann mutters and walks outside.

“Ma…”

My mother spreads her arms out wide as she sees me. She looks older than the last time I saw her. Her facial skin appears thinner, and her eyes look tired. I run to hug her, sobbing immediately my face gets buried in her arms.

“My baby…”

“Yes, Ma?”

A grave look occupies her face. “What are you wearing?”

A loud laugh pierces the room. Ann. Ma starts to laugh too, clearly unable to hold her amusement in any longer. More tears stream down my face, and I fall onto my knees. My sister is still laughing, but my mother panics and kneels next to me. She hugs me and rocks my body till I stop crying.

“What’s wrong?”

“Adam.”

Ma rolls her eyes. She asks if he forced me to wear the dress, and if that’s why I have come running to her.

“Yes… No. Yes… I don’t know,” I sob. I… I actually don’t know. I narrate what happened last night to her. She only nods as I speak, punctuating my rant occasionally with assuring exclamations.

“You don’t want to marry him, Rose,” Ma says.

“What? Course I do. Adam is my life!”

“No, you don’t. You think you’re confused, but you’re not.”

“Same thing I said!” Ann interjects.   

My mother sighs and cups my face in her hands. The same way I do Adam… “Rose, you’re not yourself around him. And it kills me to see it. All this… performance.”

I jerk my head away from her reach and stand up. The pain in my chest feels different now. It feels cold. Like anger. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Ma. Adam chose me. Me!”

“That’s the problem. This isn’t love. Someone who makes you feel like this?”

“Only time I’m letting myself feel like this is after a bad haircut, sis,” Ann chuckles and walks away.

“Say one more stupid thing and I’ll break your neck!” I yell after her. Ma rubs my shoulders gently and whispers for me to stay calm.

“I have told you before, Rose, but I think I need to say it again. I understand how much work you’re putting into this relationship,” my mother sighs and looks long into my eyes, “but if you ask me, I think you should step out before it’s too late.”

I shake my head and search for my phone to order a taxi. As I put on my shoes, Ma stands transfixed in the same position I left her, worry lines accentuating the wrinkles on her face.

Our eyes meet as I walk towards the door. “Exactly why I didn’t ask you.” 


***

I love him. I do. Right? Yes, I do.

The hot afternoon sun heats up the glass body of the elevator as I move towards our apartment. The first time Adam took me to his space in these Heights, I couldn’t bear the sight of the city through the transparent elevator walls. Lifts on the outside of the building? These people are crazy.

“Where have you been?” Adam demands at the door.

“Let me in, please?”

“No, where have you been?”

I raise my hands, flustered. “I thought I told you?”

“Yes, but what took you so long? You went somewhere else after I dropped you at your mother’s last night.” His voice is a bit too loud now. He stands in the doorway, arms-folded, the faint smell of whiskey on his breath.

I push his shoulder playfully. “No games now, honey. I’m really tired. Can I come in, please?”

He steps aside and pulls me in, slamming the door behind me. A searing pain shoots across my chest at the sound. I try to explain how long I had to wait for Ma to arrive. My stubborn boyfriend wants to hear none of it.

He looks long and hard at me for almost a minute. Then, his face softens, as if an invisible angel just shot an arrow of good feelings at his heart. He walks towards me and envelopes me in a hug, muttering comforting words that sound more for him than for me.

“Rose?”

“Adam?”

“Last night. You didn’t give me an answer.”

My breath stops short for a moment. The hug is beginning to suffocate me. Breathe.

He pulls away from the hug and looks into my eyes. “Did you?”

“I didn’t,” I admit, but I can’t look at him.

“That’s okay. You were shy. But you love me, right? I know that.” He grips my shoulders tightly and shakes my body as he says this. The sad smile from yesterday is on his face again.

You love him, Rose. Right? “Yes, I do.” Right. That’s it. You do… Do I?

“So we’re getting married. The wedding planner will be calling you today.” He claps his hands excitedly and walks to the kitchen. To pour himself another drink, I presume.

As I watch the curls on the back of his head, and the graceful physique that I have grown subservient to, I curse myself and the voices in my head that tell me the truth; I can never make my decision.

To leave, or not to leave; that is the question.


March 21, 2020 01:27

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4 comments

Lilian Mbithe
11:00 Aug 20, 2020

I loved reading this. The way you used vivid description is amazing.

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22:45 Aug 20, 2020

Really appreciate this Lilian ❤❤

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Cyan Villanueva
22:20 Mar 25, 2020

This is an incredible story! You captured the feeling of indecisiveness so well.

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22:39 Mar 25, 2020

Thanks so much!

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