They waited for the sound of his steps to disappear, before climbing to the twelfth floor. Because of the open-plan, glass-partition layout, they spied the trio of directors in the meeting room beyond Mr. Cartwright’s office. The marketing director, a tall woman who’d once epitomised The Global Look and consequently assumed a hard manner in order to be taken at more than face value, gestured at the operations director - a bespectacled elder, said to have two wives and eleven children. The sales director, a stocky Nigerian man as slithery with words as the evangelical preacher on Christian-Hope FM, stroked his blue-black, well-groomed beard. Sitting around a table surprisingly denuded of paper, the directors raised their heads in her direction. By the time Doreen lifted her lips in the semblance of a smile, they’d turned away.
“They’re probably talking about me.”
Philo stopped to study them. “Bet you the woman is having an affair with the beard. Over the table they’re leaning away from each other, but look at the way they’ve angled their hips...”
“All you think about is sex!”
“You try too hard not to think about it.”
“It’s going to kill you. Like it killed…”
Philo’s eyes lit with anger. “You’re so wrapped up in correctness. You think we chose this?”
“Well, your lifestyle is certainly conducive to....”
“Tera mos! I don’t have to justify my behaviour.” Give me a break.
Yes, you do, Doreen thought, close to spitting the bitterness - you have a duty to me, to us, to read the posters, to heed the messages on TV for God’s sake. We all do. She scowled at Philo.
Philo fingered the scarf around her neck, and bit her lower lip, her shiny, unblinking face absorbing the unspoken blows, not denying. She suddenly seemed so young - the baby who closed Mama’s womb, the little girl who teased Baba, the one who called Doreen when she was in pain. Doreen wanted to relent, mumble something understanding, something like, ‘Accidents happen. Or condoms fail. Or emotions overwhelm’. But the ugly inside stopped her.
Philo sighed. “You can get tired of treating your partner as a dangerous weapon.”
“Dori,” Philo said, “One in five is HIV positive. But you never ever think it will happen to you.”
Doreen sneered at the stupidity of this.
“Yawa, my sister, you are hard.” Philo touched Doreen’s shoulder. “But you know what? You’re the one in danger.”
Doreen shrugged her off. “From what?”
Philo shook her head at Doreen, as though she were a fool not to see it.
“Where is the toilet?” she finally asked.
Philo walked off.Doreen glanced at the directors again, tried to see them through Philo’s eyes. Mr. Cartwright popped into the room with them, brandishing his file. The directors listened to him, each shaking their head or squinting or stroking a beard, gravely, like a trio of village elders determining a land case. Feeling foolish, Doreen dragged her feet to Cartwright’s office.
Per Contra Spring 2007