I knew you were laying in wait for me again that day, watching from a distance, analysing my every move. I can only imagine your glee as I drove past him – you were probably excited at the prospect of me being knocked to my knees again, slipping as I naïvely slithered towards the invisibly marked danger zone.
You knew that day was like the others as I drove the 30-minute journey to Grandma’s home. I slowed down at the narrow junction that branched onto a one-way street, proceeding cautiously over the speed bumps. It was a 20-miles-per-hour driving zone, but I slowed further to 15. The orange bricked terraced houses that lined the streets boasted their vigour despite their age. Pristine evergreen foliage decorated the outskirts of each block, adding a hint of spring even during the harshest winter months. I made a mental note of the alleys that separated each five-house block. They were oddly placed, probably for the convenience of the architect, but at the peril of the residents who were left with no choice but to endure the sight of another block only a few metres from their front door.
‘Block one, block two,’ I muttered just above a whisper as I passed the blocks before Saleem’s, paying particular attention to the road ahead. I stole a rushed glance in the direction of his house, taking care to keep my head still – not the slightest indication of where my eyes strayed.
It would be unacceptable to be seen looking at him if he were to be watching out of his window the moment I drove by. His was the one at the very top of the three-floored house, the one facing the street. The lace curtains that skirted the windows were those his mother had picked from Clapham’s bustling market. Laced flowers danced in an elegant pattern, with a fine stitch of leaves above. I’d skimmed my fingers over the edges once, intertwining them between my fingers in a smooth drawn out motion. Then, I wondered what had made his mother choose such an elaborate design for someone she knew would pay no attention to it. Saleem had no care for such, but she had bought it all the same.
When I had passed his house there were no obvious signs of him. I continued to scan the almost deserted street in the hope that he would be strolling along it lazily, so that I may catch a glimpse of him. Every tall man with even a hint of his airbrushed brown skin caused my heart to thump. My hands would develop pinpricked beads of sweat as I gripped the steering wheel tighter, pretending not to look.
Grandma is such a sweet lady, ladled with jokes that could lift the spirits of the most depressed. I visited her once a fortnight to keep her company and renew her supply of groceries. I had always insisted that I visit her once a week – you suggested that idea – but Grandma refused, lamenting about how bad she feels for dragging me out each week.
“You don’t drag me out, Ma,” I said, sat on a low wooden stool. I preferred the stool to her spongy cream sofa, I liked to look up into her eyes. I stroked the back of her hand with my right hand while she clasped onto my other. Each row of aged skin on her honey-basked hand told a different story of her seventy years previous. “I enjoy the time I spend with you.”
“Ah, my child. You are so good to me.”
“How is that, Ma? Is it not my duty to the mother who bore my mother? I love coming to see you.”
I had to keep seeing her.
“Maymuno, you are a precious gift wrapped in your scarf. Look at you.” There were no mirrors in her spacious living room, but she guided her hand along my face in soft wispy strokes as if to illustrate her thoughts.
“I remember when your Mama was to deliver you. I told her to stay at home, that I could deliver you myself as I delivered your cousins Tawfiq and Abbas. She bluntly refused. ‘I want my child to be safe, Mama, I’ve waited too long to have her. I can’t now lose her in this Nigerian heat.’ See, you were precious before you were even born, Maymuno.”
I blushed silently, and my heart thanked the One who Created me with a mellow brown complexion.
“Thank you, Ma, your words are too kind. I wish to live up to the way you think of me.”
“Yes, Maymuno, stay precious. Do not allow any man to peck at your heart. Keep it whole and devoted to Allah. When a man pecks away at you, he’ll not return the pieces he stole, so let him earn it in a noble way.”
She reached down and held my chin, lifting it slightly to examine my face; it was as if she was searching for any blemishes that may ruin my value.
“Yes, Ma,” I whispered. I felt exposed, faint with anxiety. It was as though she had cross examined my heart – like she knew of the secrets that I kept there, wrapped with guilt and bundled to the bottom. She had a way of reaching to the depths of my conscious although I worked hard to ensure my tongue and actions wore the perfect mask.