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The Talk

by

Coffie O. Lore





Smashwords Edition Copyright 2018 Coffie O. Lore

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The Talk

When I drive into her neighborhood, my heart pounds like a drum. A bass line and some synths, and you’d have a decent bop. Happens every time, like a proximity alert; I cross the invisible lines that mark her territory, that delineate her domain, and my very blood knows.

My reactions to her have always been…visceral.

I pull into the parking lot outside her apartment building, and gravel crunches beneath my dated sedan as I slow it to a crawl. Most days there’s ample parking here, but not Tuesdays. Tuesdays the Chapel-in-the-Bushes-Down-the-Hill holds a prayer service and the congregation parks shiny SUVs in every available space.

I stop to message her.

I’m here.

Then I turn a tight one-eighty and park in front of the walkway so that I’m right in place when she comes out.

She promised she would be ready this time. That tonight, I wouldn’t have to wait as long as I usually do. I presume that means five minutes. At most, ten.

She messages back.

Okay. I’m coming.

I know what that means. With a sigh, I turn off the engine and set my seat back for the wait. Nearly half an hour later, she finally saunters out of the building. She has a way of walking, my Akosua. She steps with a gracious reluctance, as though the Outside does not deserve her, and the wind is unworthy. Her eyes are always glued to the ground, like her presence beneath the stars is a beneficence and a mercy. And she wears a shawl every night, tucking her arms beneath them and exuding, for that reason, the air of a brooding monk. I have made fun of her eccentricities in the past. Then, it was easy to mistake her demeanor for timidity. These days, I know better. Her behavior lends her an unearthly quality, and I am drawn to strange.

Wordlessly, she opens the door and slips into the passenger seat. Wordlessly, I spark the car and pull us out. Wordlessly, we drive.

I’m not sure where we’re going yet, and I sense that she can tell. But she is seldom fussy about where our little nighttime drives take us. Unless they involve food, then she must listen to her innermost voices and divine her cravings. Tonight, the only agenda is The Talk. Much depends on this Talk. It is a casting of cowries for things to come.

Suddenly, I have an idea of where I could take her. Only five minutes from here. Up the main street and onto a wide dirt road between two rows of houses. A lawn, patchy with savanna grass and drenched in marigold from a solitary lamppost. I have driven past the area several times before on my way to Elsewhere, and a flickering recall assures me it will be quiet. Private.

I find the place and park on the lawn, at the edge of the light’s reach. As soon as my engine is off, I recline my seat, close my eyes and breathe a deep sigh. I’ve been anxious about tonight and there is solace in the darkness. And the silence. She still hasn’t said a word and I am still gathering mine. This Talk was my idea, after all. She is waiting for me to say something, to lead the way, to—

I feel her move and I open my eyes in surprise.

Akosua is climbing into the backseat.

“Wh-what are you doing?” I stammer.

I was hoping to break the silence with something more elegant. She ignores my question and settles in, resting her back against the door and stretching her legs across the seat. Dwindling lamplight filters through the rear window in muted gold, falling unevenly across her shapely frame. But like every single thing I have ever seen her in, she wears the light impeccably. It is a veil over her lips, and a robe across her limbs. It is a crown upon her dreadlocks, their stray filaments burning white atop her head like sun-fire.

She looks at me. “Come.”

I’m confused.

“Come to the back?” I ask, before I can stop myself.

Two dumb questions in less than thirty seconds. That has to be some kind of record.

She smiles at me from the light and gloom. Smile No. 3. Akosua has three kinds of smiles, you see. Smirking and grinning are numbers 1 and 2. This is my least favorite one, the one that doesn’t quite meet her eyes. She pats the space between her knees and says, “You can sit here. You’ll fit.”

I doubt it, but I clamber over the centre console to her. At first I’m not sure what’s happening. We are a tangle of limbs and I’m trying not to bump my forehead into hers. But her fingers find my waist and she turns me to face the other way, settling me down between her legs, pulling me back against her chest. Her arms slip out from behind to wrap around me. Her legs cradle mine. She’s breathing on my neck and it feels weird.

I can’t help it—I laugh. This is absurd even for her. “What are we doing right now?” I ask, and this time it feels like a fair question.

“I’m holding you.”

“Yes, but…” I begin and stop. Of course, I was going to ask why. But that would fly in the face of everything I know about her. Why does Akosua do anything?

“You said we needed to talk. Let’s talk.”

“I can’t even see your face.”

“You need to see my face to talk?”

“No, but…” And again, I stop.

“I can hear you fine like this. I prefer it even,” she says, burying her face into my neck. Now her breaths are sweeping across my chest and down my shirt. They tickle. “Please talk.”

“Um…”

“Hmm?”

“I eh…”

“I’m listening.”

“Dammit Akosua,” I mutter.

I can feel her lips against my skin breaking into a smile. “Why, what have I done?”

“Now I don’t even know how to start.”

“Is that so?” she says softly. She’s pressing her face even harder into the side of my neck, and I’m not entirely sure, but it’s beginning to feel suspiciously like kissing. A wet pop, and now I know I’m not imagining it. My heart quickens.

“Stop,” I breathe, as I pull my head to the side, divorcing my skin from her lips.

She goes still. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s just…you always do this.”

“Always do what?”

“Distract from hard conversations. Distract from this conversation. Every time I’ve tried to have it with you, you’ve found a way to turn it into…into this.”

Her body has stiffened around me. She doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then again: “Sorry. Talk. I’m listening.”

I sigh.

“Really,” she adds. “I am.”

The car descends into absolute silence as I take a minute to sort through my thoughts. But there is a myriad of them, and they tumble through my consciousness like luggage down a flight of stairs.

Suddenly, it is six months before and I am back at lunch with an old friend, listening with barely concealed skepticism as he makes a proposition. In trying to get closer to this woman he knows from bible study, he has invited her to a ‘group hang’ at a local art festival. Except, there is no ‘group hang’. Not yet. This is where I come in. But I don’t want to be a third wheel to his clumsy courtship, so I’m leaning towards a hard no. “Come on,” he begs. “You won’t be alone, I promise. I’m bringing somebody along for you too. You’ll like her. She enjoys reading, and movies, and music, just like you.” And eighty per cent of Facebook, I counter. But then, I say yes just so he’ll shut up. Sometimes I wonder how different things would have been if I hadn’t. I am the first to arrive at the festival, followed by my friend, and then the woman he’s trying to date. The mystery girl is late. I’ve never met her before, never seen so much as a picture. But I’m looking out for her anyway, like I expect to be able to pick her out of the sea of strangers. And that is exactly what happens. I pick her out clean. One glance her way, and somehow I know.

I just know.

“You know how nobody really likes labels anymore because they put too much pressure on a relationship or whatever?” I say in an almost-whisper.

Silence.Then: “Mm.”

“Yeah, I don’t really get that.”

“I see.”

“Labels are important. I’ve always thought so. They’re about more than just giving the situation a name. Labels are like—” I struggle to find a fitting analogy. “Those canisters spies spray into a room so they can see the lasers.”

“That’s…specific.”

“They make the boundaries visible. They make the rules clear.”

“I see,” she says again. Her chest hums against my back.

“And—” I pause uncertainly here. “I think you’re overthinking this a little.”

“Oh?” Her tone is even, gentle. “How so?”

“I’m not asking you to marry me.”

I may not be able to see her face, but I can sense the smile in her voice. “I never said you were. How would that even work?”

“I’m not asking you to be my girlfriend either.”

Akosua is silent.

“Not saying I’m opposed to the idea, of course. What I am asking for is…an idea of what we’re doing here.”

Again, she says nothing.

“For example,” I continue, “if you only wanted to do like a friends with benefits thing, I’d understand. I mean, it’s not ideal, but I’d understand.”

“Is that what you want?” she asks.

“I literally just said it wasn’t ideal, so no, that’s not what I want.”

“I think…” She stops. “I think that’s maybe where we’re having an issue. You say you’d be fine if only I told you what this was. I say it’s the quickest way to make us both unhappy.”

“Sorry, but I disagree.”

Her hand moves up from my midriff to my face, her fingers tracing butterfly trails along my chin. “I see you every other day. Sometimes we go out to eat. Sometimes we talk into the night. Sometimes we don’t say a word to each other and being in each other’s orbit is enough. You’ve met my mother—”

“Accidentally,” I chime in. Her mother has found us, on occasion, talking in the parking lot on her way home from church.

“Meeting is meeting.”

“Is it though?”

“My point is,” she says, softly shushing me. “Even if we labeled this thing, what would we do that we aren’t already? What exactly would change? Why does it matter at all, if the value is the same?”

“I don’t know,” I murmur. “For one thing, I’d be able to introduce you as my girlfriend.”

This time, the silence that falls between us is tense.

Finally, she murmurs back, “You know that’s not true.”

“Wow, you really think I wouldn’t?”

I feel her shrug. “Maybe to a few people. But only a few. The same few who already know there’s something between us. So there’s zero difference. You just want the title.” Her voice is beginning to betray her impatience.

I pull out of her arms, twisting awkwardly around till her nose is inches away from mine. “And why is that so bad?”

“Because titles, like labels, are empty.” She drops her gaze. “You already know how I feel about you.”

“Don’t do that.”

“I think that’s what matters. I think it should be enough.”

She lifts her eyes again quite suddenly, and my breath catches in my chest. There is a glint of lamplight in her left iris, and I am staring at a lone star in a black sea.

“And what if it isn’t?” I whisper. “Enough?”

She watches me intensely, as if searching for the answer to my own question in the back of my eyes. Her mouth brushes against mine when she speaks again, her breath a sultry wind caressing my lips. “How could it not?”

The lamppost winks out as our street, along with the entire neighborhood, is plunged into darkness. A blackout. A blindness. A license.

Akosua kisses me. Her lips are eager upon impact, yielding like velvet, quivering with every breath. When I don’t respond, she stops. Her mouth lingers against mine in the dark. Burning. Tender. Slowly, almost reverently, she runs her upper lip along my lower lip. Again and again. Velvet evolves into satin as our lips grow slicker, and then I cannot tell where my mouth ends and hers begins. I know what this is. She’s doing it again. It’s almost like she can’t help herself. Or maybe, she’s really that afraid. Of this. Of us. And everything we could become. There’s a takeaway in here somewhere, but my head is in another galaxy and I’m stupid.

I kiss her back. Softly once. Harder the next time, drawing a moan from her that ignites a fire in my chest. I’m turning my body over, moving her to lie on her back so I can be on top of her. Her hands are grasping at my hair so she can pull me in. My breathing quickens as I feel her legs wrap around my waist, as our kissing deepens still, as her form melds into mine. I am angular and spare, but she is curvature and abundance. Her suppleness embraces me into its own, her skin is electric to the touch.

It is an eternity before I realize I’ve been holding my breath. When I sigh, our winds tangle and the heat in my chest blazes through my veins. Her arms climb to cross around my neck, our lips so fused that with every turn of her head, our noses brush. She’s pressing her whole body up against me and my fingers find her hips to help her. We are trembling with hunger and drenched in sin, her mouth thus far a fiery cleft with a road that leads only to damnation. But then—she opens her mouth. She parts those same lips, and they are a celestial gate. Her tongue slips through, I buckle at its anointing, my soul wrenches free.

There is something deeply erotic about the dark. How it robs you of one sense and heightens the others. I am acutely aware of the smell of her. Cocoa butter on her skin, lavender behind her ears, a nutty blend of oils in her hair. There is the sound of our kissing, and the metronome it lays. Her panting is a ballad, her every moan a crescendo. Am I imagining the thumps of her racing heart? Is that the very rush of her blood, or is it all in my head? I can feel every vibration in her body. Her muscles are wound with bridled desire, which should terrify me. Because if she is in control now, what will she do, who will we become, when her levees break. My head wants me to slow down. But the fire wants the flood.

I am drunk on the sweetness of her tongue, the salt on her neck, the bitterness on her chest where she must have applied one last dab of perfume. My lips travel back up, reluctantly, as my fingers stay clear of where they have not received clear sanction. She, however, waits for no such thing. I feel her unbuttoning my shirt from the bottom up, and when she splays her fingers across my stomach, I gasp against her mouth. She takes the opportunity to nibble, then tug on my bottom lip.

“Take it off,” she breathes.

“Hm?”

“Take it all off.” Her hands are fumbling with the buttons on my jeans.

Mine or yours, I want to ask, but I go with my preferred option and start undoing her blouse.

The lights sweep in so suddenly that it takes me three whole seconds to realize what’s happening. Three seconds we could not spare. A pick-up truck has skidded round to the front of our car, the red and blue lights atop its roof flashing through clouds of dust. The doors to the truck were opened even before it came to a complete stop, and there are men jumping out and yelling into the night. Their uniforms say they’re police. Their silhouettes say they have guns. One of them is already trying to open the driver’s door.

My heart is in my throat.

Fuck!” one of us cries—I’m not sure which—as we untangle. I have no time to wonder. I’m frantically doing up my shirt; she’s trying to smooth down her hair.

They are pounding on our doors, passing torchlights over our windows. I thank every god on the face of the Earth that I got my windows tinted last Christmas. “Stay here,” I whisper shakily to Akosua, as I scramble back into the driver’s seat. We’re caught in a hail storm, the pounding is so vicious. The car is practically shaking, and I know I already have half a dozen dents by now. I take a deep breath.

I open the door.

A hand darts in and yanks me out. I am slammed against the side of the car and held there by the front of my shirt. They’re waving torches in my eyes, blinding me. Someone is barking spittle into my face. Another smacks me upside the head. I am too terrified to resist the abuse. My ears are only just beginning to make out their words.

“We dey knock, you no dey hear?! We dey knock, you no dey hear?! Stupid boy!”

“I-I heard you,” I stutter. “I was just afraid. I didn’t know you were police.”

‘So the police lights are there for decoration eh?’ another one snaps in Akan. ‘Don’t annoy me.

“Sorry,” I murmur.

“Sorry for yourself!”

My eyes are beginning to adjust to the sharp contrasts of light and shadow. I count four officers. No, five. There is another coming around into view. A heavyset man, the only one without a weapon. Maybe a corporal or a sergeant or something. Either way, he looks like he’s in charge. He puts his hand to his mouth, and at first I think he’s yawning. But as he draws closer, I realize that he’s chewing. He puts his hand to his mouth again, leaning his head back, and chews some more. My best guess would be peanuts.

He comes to stand before me, between two others with assault rifles slung across their chests.

‘Small boy,’ he says in Akan. ‘But why have you parked here in the darkness like this? Are you a witch?’

One of the tricks I’ve learned over the years? Never engage with the Ghanaian police in a local language. Not when you’re in trouble.

“I can’t speak Twi,” I say, uttering my words as flatly as I can because like bloodhounds, they can smell fear.

“Why can’t you speak Twi?” their leader says in English. “You were not born here?”

“I was born in the States.” A lie.

“Where are your parents from?”

“Somewhere in the Volta Region. I don’t remember the name of the village.” A half-truth.

“So what? You’re here for school?”

“I’m a personal assistant at the British Council.” A calculated falsehood. It places me in a modest position of privilege, a believable one. Potential access to influence. Now, I might know some powerful people. I might even be able to cause trouble for him.

I sense his hesitation. Then: “Bring your license.”

“It’s in my wallet,” I say to the officer holding me so that he’ll let me go. I take my wallet out of my pocket and try to keep my hand from shaking as I hand the card over.

The senior officer borrows one of the torches to shine on my license, squinting hard at the poor printing. He looks up to stare at me. Then he looks back down at the card, and I know why he’s confused. “Ah,” he says, coming closer. He runs his light up and down my body to appraise me—the hoodie, the low-top sneakers, the close-cropped hair dyed desert sand.

Here we go.

“You’re a female?” he asks. Murmuring breaks out between his officers, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes at the word ‘female’.

“Yes,” I say. “I’m a woman.”

A cold breeze blows through, and I’m not sure if it’s why the hairs on my neck are bristling, or if it is because of the ire seeping into the senior officer’s eyes. I thought by now I would be used to this. The indignation of the conservative, the exasperation of the ignorant at my being. As if by self-expression alone, I am seeking to trick them, on a mission to make fools out of them. If they didn’t trust me before, they definitely don’t trust me now.

The senior officer pulls me away. “Search the car.”

My heart sinks with the weight of a dying star. I need to get ahead of this.

“My sister is in the back seat,” I say quickly, as two officers throw the doors open.

They notice Akosua almost immediately. There is cackling as they pull her out of one darkness and into another. They don’t handle her as roughly as me though. Her femininity is more obvious. For this alone, I’m grateful for the biases of my countrymen.

An officer stands her next to me while his colleague rummages every available compartment in the car. “Are you alright?” I whisper. I notice she’s nursing her wrist, so I try to take the affected hand. She flinches away from me.

“So this girl is your cousin?” the senior officer asks.

“Sister,” I correct.

He grins, and I blink back with practiced nonchalance. I always feared I would find myself in this situation someday. My lies are carved into the tip of my tongue. I will not be tripped up.

“Sister,” he repeats, as he glares at the both of us. “You don’t look alike to me at all.”

“Mm, they look a little alike,” the officer who’d been holding me before remarks. His superior shoots him an icy glare and he withers.

“Same mother,” I say. “Different fathers.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Then I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Do you know what I think?” the senior officer says, shining his torch into my face again. “I think you’re some of those bad girls. Instead of getting boyfriends, then you’ll be eating each other. Am I lying? Tell the truth.”

His every word is a hammer to my spine, and I am trying not to buckle. “It’s not true.” A stab at composure, but a quiver slips through. Dammit.

“I’m not talking to you again.” He’s looking directly at Akosua now. “Is it not the truth? When we came, you were doing things in the car, eh?”

“We weren’t doing anything!” I snap.

“Heh! Shut up!” One of the officers makes as if to hit me with the butt of his rifle and I recoil.

Curious, how darkness can go from blue to black in an instant, the eroticism of it bled dry with the injection of the wrong person. The hyper-awareness is no longer a blessing. I see the sheen of sweat on his forehead, the determination in his eyes. Even from here, I smell the peanuts on his breath. And the alcohol. I hear the silence. It warns of an empty street and threatens the abuse of power. If they cross any lines tonight, our only witnesses will be the stars.

That scares the shit out of me.

The senior officer has closed the distance between himself and Akosua, and is staring intently at her. Her head is down, her arms tucked underneath her shawl. Her resting state. Except, I sense something stirring within her, and now I am wary.

The senior officer is practically stepping on Akosua’s feet. ‘Talk,’ he says, switching back to Akan. ‘Or you too you don’t speak Twi?’

Akosua finally lifts her head.

“First Corinthians chapter six, verses nine and ten. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God,” she drones. “Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Her words ring clear like a bell in the night. I am stunned. The officers appear to be as astonished at her rambling as me, if not more.

“Eh,” says the senior officer. “What are you—”

“Leviticus eighteen twenty-two. Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. It is detestable in the Lord’s sight. Romans one, verses twenty-six and twenty seven. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts—”

“Alright.”

“Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones—”

“I said it’s okay.”

“In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another—”

“I said stop! You don’t hear?”

It’s like she’s been possessed: “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

If you say one more word eh!

But it seems that Akosua is done anyway, and an uneasy silence has settled over our gathering. Half the officers look unnerved, and their leader scowls at her. “What is your problem? Why are you quoting the bible at me?”

“We are good Christian women,” Akosua says, through gritted teeth. “We go to church every Sunday. I am engaged and she has a boyfriend. Please don’t insult us with ungodly accusations. Not even as a joke. Not even.” She looks down again.

The senior officer turns back to me, and lifts his brow. I only have the presence of mind to shrug, although that dying star has collapsed into a black hole. The things she said echo into the recesses of my brain.

“You,” he says, startling me. “Give us something small for petrol.”

That’s code for bribery. I have never felt so relieved at the prospect of petty corruption. I open my wallet again and hand him a fifty.

“Go home,” are his last words to us, as he and his men get back into their truck.

Neither of us respond. We just stand there as the vehicle pulls back and speeds off, swerving onto the main road.

We stay in the darkness for far longer than we need to.

*

The drive back to Akosua’s apartment building is as silent as the one before. And in the short time it takes us to arrive there, my relief has mutated into anger. Anger at the situation, and anger at myself for letting it happen.

When we arrive, I don’t turn into the parking lot, slowing to a stop on the shoulder of the road instead. I don’t even turn off the engine. I only turn to look at her.

She is staring outside her window, arms folded, knees lifted into the fetal position. Her shoulders are shaking, her whole body shuddering. She’s crying. And I understand. I would be crying too, if I wasn’t so furious. I reach out to comfort her.

She rolls over to face me, and…laughs. I pull my hand back in shock. She’s laughing. And her laughter is graduating into a full bellied cackle. “Heh,” she croaks, between gasps for air. “Ghana police yɛ fokin.

I try to join in her laughter at first, but hers is irrepressible, and I watch as it drags for a full, uncomfortable minute. Then she sighs and looks at me.

“Selasi,” she breathes.

“Akosua.”

She stares at the empty space between us, ruminating on her next words. “Those things I said back there…” she finally says, selecting each word with care. “You know I didn’t mean them, right?”

A beat. “Which ones?” I ask. “Those that denied what we are before you kissed me, or the scriptures condemning who we are after you did?”

She smiles, but it is a weak offering. Smile No. 3. “You know which,” she says. Leaning over, she kisses me on the cheek. “Take care,” she whispers.

With a shut of the door, she is gone.

The power in the neighborhood returns, as I shift my car out of park to begin my lonely way home. I am less confused than I would like to be. When she said ‘you know which’, the truth was I didn’t. I still don’t. And it is possibly the source of the shredding in my heart, and the closing-in of my lungs. My eyes are stinging. Tears are falling. Street lights blur into a sea of dazzling bokeh. I need to pull over. I need to breathe. I leave the engine running as I stagger out of my seat and fall back against the side of my car, sliding down to the ground. I bawl into my palms like I’m mourning a death. Because I am. Deep down, I know her non-answer is answer enough.

And nothing matters anymore.

THE END



About the Author

Coffie O. Lore writes Fantasy and Sci-fi, although he will occasionally dabble in comedy and romance. When he is not writing, he is reading, watching anime, or scouring the Internet for new music. He is a copywriter and creative strategist in Accra, Ghana.



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