The Inklings: Chapter 4

Syafika thought she was madly in love. She was definitely behaving crazily. She’d made a cake for the only person who made her want to go to work – Anthony. Then she told him she’d made the cake because he was leaving, but what she really wanted him to understand was that she loved him and didn’t want him to leave.

After lunch the people at work gathered to eat the cake. Anthony gave a short speech, taking the opportunity to thank everybody and give compliments. He thanked Syafika for the cake and everybody agreed that it was one of the best chocolate cakes they’d tasted. Someone even asked Syafika for the recipe.

Still, when Syafika walked home, she carried the empty cake container unenthusiastically. The day had been such an anticlimax. In her dreams Anthony was much more impressed by the cake and had begged her to come to Adelaide with him. In reality Syafika had listened to Anthony announce that his girlfriend was pregnant. Everybody clapped, but all Syafika could hear was “girlfriend”. What girlfriend? Syafika had been so convinced that the love she felt for Anthony meant that he had to be for her. She’d never heard anything about his girlfriend and she’d never considered that he might not be single. She felt even more stupid and left out when it seemed that everyone else knew about Anthony’s girlfriend.

As Syafika walked back through the park she realized that it was raining again, and that she had left her umbrella at work, but she didn’t care that she was getting rained on. She didn’t know how she would care about anything anymore. Then, just to make things worse, she realized that she was such a small part of the world that it didn’t matter what she felt anyway.

It didn’t help that when Syafika got home her cousin Ousman was there, with her aunt Binta. Syafika’s Mum Rose was still at the beauty salon. She went there weekly and her appointments always went twice as long as they were supposed to. Syafika’s father Festus would always say that Rose was having an affair with her beautician. Syafika loved her father but not when he said things like that, because she wasn’t really sure whether he was serious or not.

Binta was cooking dinner when Syafika came into the kitchen. Binta always did things like that. Rose was so disorganized and Binta was so much the opposite that Binta couldn’t bear to be in their house unless she was allowed to do some cooking, cleaning or organizing. Rose didn’t care. She had told Binta to come for dinner and then hadn’t made any attempt to have anything ready on time. Syafika preferred Binta’s cooking to her mother’s and would have been pleased to see her in the kitchen if it didn’t mean that Ousman would also be there.

Nobody believed Syafika when she said she hated Ousman. He was a 10 year old boy and everyone thought he was cute, with his curly hair, big eyes and round cheeks. He was also incredibly precocious, which was the reason Syafika hated him. Ousman thought he was smarter than her. How dare a 10 year old think that! Ousman was also very good at arguing and his confidence made it look like he knew much more about things than he really did. He was determined to argue with Syafika whenever he saw her.

“Hey Syaf!” said Ousman when he saw her. “Did you read the article in the paper today about how corrupt your government department is? Have you been taking bribes at work?”

Syafika put the dirty cake plate on the kitchen bench and walked to her room without answering Ousman, but he didn’t give up that easily and followed her down the hallway.

Syafika slammed her bedroom door and moved her bed in front of it to prevent Ousman from coming in. “What a little shit!” she muttered as she dialled her friend Fanta’s number.

“Fantaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I’m dying!” said Syafika when Fanta answered. Of course Fanta said she’d come over straight away.

Fanta had just got back from her holiday that morning, but Syafika had been so obsessed with Anthony for the past month that she hadn’t even realized that Fanta was away. Fanta has sent Syafika a postcard, but it was still in a mail bag in another country and would arrive in a few days time. In their last conversation Fanta had told Syafika to keep away from Anthony and so Syafika had been avoiding Fanta. She only remembered Fanta now because she needed her.

Rose had just got back from the beauty salon when Fanta arrived and Binta was about to serve dinner. Syafika was still sulking in her room, and Ousman was sitting on the floor outside her door, reading the paper. Rose asked Fanta to stay for dinner and stormed up the corridor to get Syafika. Rose only got really angry with Syafika when she was sulking. She picked Ousman up by the elbow and propelled him down the corridor in the direction of the dining room. “Syafika!” she yelled through the door. “Stop being so childish and come and have dinner. You can sulk in your room as much as you like afterwards. Fanta is here.”

Rose heard Syafika’s bed being pushed away from the door and knew Syafika was coming so she went to start putting plates on the table.

Syafika was confused when Fanta greeted her with a present and even more confused when she opened it and saw it was a painting of some trees. Her aunt Binta was far more interested in the painting than Syafika. Syafika didn’t even listen as Fanta explained to Binta where she’d got the painting. Fanta’s voice was a faint “blah blah blah” in the background of Syafika’s thoughts. She was thinking about Anthony, of course. It was only when Fanta mentioned love that Syafika tuned back into the conversation. “He said you needed respect and trust as well as love to marry someone” said Fanta as she finished her story.

Festus thought it was his turn to say something. “Where’s Amanda tonight then?” he demanded. Amanda was Syafika’s 16 year old sister. She was a difficult teenager. When Amanda was fourteen her parents had discovered that she’d been sneaking out at night. Festus was so angry that he installed a bolt on the outside of Amanda’s bedroom door and locked her into her room for the night. The next morning he found her lying outside on the concrete driveway with a broken leg – she’d tried to escape in the middle of the night by jumping out of her third floor bedroom window. This really scared Festus, especially as he only found Amanda when he was about to reverse the car over her. It scared him so much that from then on he decided to let Amanda sort herself and now she was allowed to go wherever she wanted whenever she wanted.

Rose had also given up on Amanda. When beauty treatments and shopping hadn’t cured her Rose had started to treat Amanda like an invalid. Amanda didn’t seem to mind this, perhaps because it meant that her mother did everything she asked. Amanda stopped eating with the family and got Rose to bring her food to her bedroom. She also stopped going to school and spent most of the day sleeping.

As her older sister, maybe Syafika would have helped Amanda more, but Syafika just thought that Amanda was being selfish and needed to grow up. She started to ignore Amanda completely, which was pretty easy because Amanda rarely came out of her room during the hours when Syafika was awake.

After Festus’ comment the room was quiet for a while. Then Ousman, who had been reading the paper while eating, began to laugh at an article he’d found and started reading it aloud for everyone else’s benefit. Syafika thought she’d eaten enough to be able to leave the table and took Fanta with her.

“What happened?” asked Fanta, when they were safely in Syafika’s room, with the bed in front of the door.

“You are always right Fanta, but this time I’m glad I didn’t listen to you” said Syafika, and she started crying. Fanta sat down on the bed next to Syafika, and although she knew what must have happened, she asked “What happened?”

“You remember how I told you about Anthony?” asked Syafika. Of course Fanta remembered. Syafika hadn’t had anything else on her mind for months. Fanta nodded and Syafika continued.

“I didn’t stop thinking about him, like you said I should. I stopped talking to you instead. You must be angry. I haven’t called you for weeks – although you didn’t call me either!”

Fanta didn’t say anything, so Syafika continued.

“When I called you today, it was because I was feeling really empty” said Syafika, and tears started to flow. “Anthony is leaving, but that’s not the really bad thing, the really had thing is that he has a girlfriend and she is pregnant!”

“Syafika, did anything happen between you and Anthony?” asked Fanta.

“No” said Syafika.

“Well, that’s good then.” said Fanta. “And it is good that he is leaving – it will make it easier for you to get over him.”

“So you are happy that he didn’t even notice I existed? I knew you would be like this” said Syafika. She was getting angry, but it wasn’t really with Fanta. Fanta always got straight to the heart of things, and Syafika was angry with herself because she could see how stupid she’d been. For months she’d been telling Fanta every detail she knew about Anthony. Fanta had heard about every word Anthony had ever said to Syafika (except for the ten or so in the past month). Fanta knew what Anthony wore, when his birthday was and what he liked to eat for lunch. Syafika talked about Anthony like he was her husband.

“Maybe I should start stalking Anthony and his girlfriend. I could try to scare her away from him. Maybe she is the one who wants to leave, not him. If I get rid of her then maybe he will stay and I will still be able to see him at work.” said Syafika.

Fanta gave Syafika her most disapproving look, until she realized that Syafika was trying to hide a smirk. At least Syafika wasn’t taking this all too seriously. That was what Fanta liked best about Syafika. Syafika may have loved drama, but she could also laugh at herself when she went too far.

“At least now I know what it is like to love someone.” Said Syafika

Fanta didn’t say anything. She didn’t think she was experienced enough in love to be able to tell Syafika that she thought what Syafika felt for Anthony was more like obsession than love.

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