Syafika woke up early and spent an hour trying to decide whether she should call Fanta or not. She wanted to tell her about what had happened last night, but to properly explain she would have to tell Fanta how she’d made up the story about Vincent. In the end Syafika decided she would call Fanta. She needed to tell someone and she didn’t have anyone else who would listen, except her Mum. Rose would listen attentively to any of Syafika’s stories about men because she was keen to marry her off, but Syafika wasn’t ready to cope with that amount of attention from her mother so early in the morning.
Fanta didn’t answer the phone. Syafika wasn’t prepared for Fanta not being available – she needed her! So when Syafika got to Fanta’s answering machine the only message she could manage to leave was a kind of wailing sound. Syafika hopped back in bed and was trying to go back to sleep when she heard the doorbell ring. Then she heard the voices of her Aunt Binta and Ousman.
“Noooo!” said Syafika. “I can’t cope with them right now!”
A couple of minutes later there was a soft knock on Syafika’s bedroom door and Ousman said “Syafika? Are you awake?”
“Ohhh. I hate him!” said Syafika under her breath as she got out of bed, pushed it in front of the door and started getting dressed. Ousman started turning the door handle and rattling the door.
“Syafika?” said Ousman. “Can I please talk to you?”
“Go away” said Syafika
There was a sighing sound and then silence. “That’s strange” thought Syafika. She was in a hurry to see whether Ousman really had gone away or was just tricking her. She put her hair up in a clip without brushing it, moved the bed away from the door and looked out. Ousman really wasn’t there. She could hear Rose and her Mum in the kitchen so she went there.
Ousman was sitting silently at the kitchen table, with his head hung. Syafika had to check twice to make sure that he wasn’t reading something, but he really was just sitting there doing nothing.
Rose was pretending to listen to Binta while really giving her attention to choosing which tea to put in the pot. There were several tea canisters in the cupboard, all identical and all contained a different kind of tea. Of course there were no labels to let you know what was in each canister. You had to open them and sniff the contents to find out. “Mmmmm….. really?” said Rose, but what she was thinking was “Good – French Earl Grey. I never get sick of that smell”. She started scooping tea leaves into a large pot.
“You don’t sound very concerned!” complained Binta.
“Well…“ said Rose, struggling to think of something suitable to say “It wasn’t that bad was it?”
“Rose! He is only ten and he is already skipping school. At least Amanda waited until she was fourteen!” exclaimed Binta.
“Ousman always has been precocious” said Syafika. She knew it was a nasty thing to say but she couldn’t help it. She found it amusing that Ousman had done something naughty. Usually it was her or Amanda that was the bad one and in those instances Aunt Binta seemed to relish having a better behaved, smarter child. Binta had made Ousman her project. She began teaching him to read when he was only two years old and at age three he was learning algebra. When he did something well Binta felt she deserved some of the credit. Syafika thought that Binta should also take some of the blame when Ousman wasn’t good.
“Why did you wag school?” Syafika asked Ousman
“I wasn’t hanging out at the shops or something. I was at uni” complained Ousman
“What were you doing at uni?” asked Syafika, although she expected she wouldn’t like to hear the answer.
“I was at a maths lecture” said Ousman
“I knew it!” thought Syafika “I knew he’d have been doing something that would make me hate him more”. She couldn’t help shaking her head and Ousman noticed
“What?” asked Ousman “Don’t you believe me? The lecturer said I could sit in on the lectures and even go to the tutorials.” He looked at Syafika as he said this and she could see that he’d been crying.
“Ousman! Why didn’t you tell me this?” asked Binta. “Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted to go to maths lectures? Why didn’t you tell your teacher?”
“I don’t know” said Ousman, hanging his head again briefly and then looking at his watch. “Aunt Rose, may I please watch the 9 am news on TV?” he asked.
“Ok” said Rose and Ousman ran off to the lounge room.
Rose gave Syafika two cups of tea and asked her to go and make sure Ousman was ok. Syafika did as her mother asked, without complaining. For the first time ever she felt sorry for Ousman. It was the way he had looked at her with those red-rimmed eyes that had made her feel that way. Syafika was surprised with herself. She rarely felt pity for anyone, let alone someone she didn’t like.
Ousman was sitting in front of the TV. There was a story on about some crisis somewhere. There was talk of massacres and rapes and lots of refugees. Ousman was struggling to watch through tears, wiping his eyes on his sleeves and sniffling. If she hadn’t suspected that Ousman was probably just crying because he didn’t like his Mum being angry with him she would have thought he really felt sympathy for the people he was seeing on TV, although Syafika doubted that Ousman understood the news he loved to follow. How could a ten year old understand what was going on in the world when most adults didn’t?
Syafika discreetly put down Ousman’s cup of tea on the coffee table and took a sip of hers. She was wondering whether she should leave him alone when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it” said Syafika. Her heart was fluttering as she rushed to the front door, but it was just Fanta.
Straight away Syafika forgot about Ousman and remembered herself. “Guess what happened to me last night!” she said to Fanta.
“What?” asked Fanta.
“Well, it’s a long story. Let’s go to my room” said Syafika.
“Ok” said Syafika, as she closed her bedroom door. “First I have to tell you something that will make you angry, but then I’ll get to the good part” and Syafika confessed to Fanta about having made up stories about having a boyfriend called Vincent and then pretending she had broken up with Vincent to cover her distress at Anthony leaving.
“You idiot!” said Fanta. “You expected Anthony to get down on his knee and tell you he loved you when you had been telling people that you already had a boyfriend!”
“I didn’t tell Anthony that, just a couple of my friends! They probably didn’t tell him anything about me” said Syafika, but she didn’t sound very convinced. She hadn’t thought about that before. She just assumed that Anthony would know they were meant to be together.
“So what happened next then?” said Fanta angrily. She wanted to get to the “good” part because she hoped that would make her less angry.
“Don’t be angry!” said Syafika. “I knew you would be angry, and that’s why I’ve had to keep this to myself for so long. You are so judgmental. That makes my life hard sometimes. You are supposed to have sympathy for me because nobody else would” said Syafika. She was sounding close to crying and so Fanta stopped being so angry.
“Ha ha ha” said Fanta.
“What?” asked Syafika. She was annoyed – she hated being laughed at.
“Well, I was thinking that if you had to make up a boyfriend, I didn’t think you’d create an accountant called Vincent. Why didn’t you tell your work friends you had a boyfriend called Fabio who was a model?” said Fanta.
“Yeah, yeah” said Syafika. “Next time I tell lies I’ll think them through more carefully first. Perhaps you can help me.”
“Or, you could tell the truth!” said Fanta
“Anyway…” said Syafika and she continued telling her story. Syafika told Fanta about the night before and how she had become separated from her friends.
“Did they come back?” asked Fanta
“No, thank goodness!” said Syafika
“Why?” asked Fanta
“Can’t you guess?” said Syafika
“Because you liked talking to the stranger too much?” asked Fanta
“No, well yes, but also because of his name. Guess what his name was?” said Syafika
“Ha ha. Not Vincent?” said Fanta
“Yes!” said Syafika.
When Fanta stopped laughing she asked “So what are you going to tell your friends at work now? That you met another Vincent, or that you got back together?”
“I don’t know!” said Syafika. “I hadn’t thought about that yet.”
“Hey, what happened with this Vincent? Any kisses?” said Fanta.
“Maybe” said Syafika
“Really?” said Fanta.
“Just one” said Syafika. Her face had gone red.
“So what happens now? Have you arranged to see each other again? When can I meet him?” asked Fanta
“We are going to see a movie today” said Syafika. “I don’t think I should introduce him to my friends yet. Isn’t that a bit soon?” asked Syafika
“What movie are you going to?” asked Ousman as he burst into the room.
“Ousman! Have you been eavesdropping outside my door?” asked Syafika. She was furious. “Get out!”
“I just wanted to say hello to Fanta before I left. Mum says we are going home now” said Ousman
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” said Syafika and she pushed Ousman out of the door.
“You should be nicer to him” Fanta told Syafika. “He just wants to be your friend”
“That’s too bad. I don’t want to be his friend. He is so rude and annoying” said Syafika
“He’s only ten” said Fanta. “I don’t think he has many friends. I bet he thinks a lot of you”
“How would you know?” said Syafika. “You’ve only seen him a few times. You don’t know what it is like to have to compete with him”
“I guess not” answered Fanta, sounding a bit bored. “Anyway, when you meet Vincent today can I follow you from a distance so I get to see him?”
“Sure, and why don’t you bring Ousman along too” said Syafika, shaking her head.