Afua’s head jerked back, hitting the metal pole behind the seat. Her eyes opened and darted around the cramped train. Everyone was engrossed in reading a newspaper, on an iPad or on the phone. She sighed and shifted in her seat.
“You know, there’s a remedy for that.”
The speaker’s breath brushed her neck. The smell of alcohol instantly dispersed into the air and Afua’s nostrils. She turned around to look into the roving eyes of the man regular train riders going downtown knew as Larry. He had been absent for a few weeks.
Afua turned back in her seat and looked straight ahead.
“Energy drink!” He screamed into her ears.
“Oh goodness!” The lady seated beside Afua shouted and jumped up to follow Afua who was already at the door. There went the chime, and the train doors opened.
Someone called behind her. Afua waved, not looking back, thankful this was her actual stop. She would not have minded walking a few more blocks just to get away from Larry. Poor Larry. Once a successful real estate agent, he was now living off unemployment checks. He had his good days, but when he got frustrated, he lashed out with words and objects. Afua did not want to find out what type of day he was having.
She stepped on the escalator and rode up slowly.
“Miss, I hope he didn’t hurt you?”
Afua smiled as the lady seated beside her on the train stopped on her way up the escalators.
“He just caught me unawares. How about you?”
She shook her graying blonde hair and placed a hand on her chest. “I almost had a heart attack! Brings back bad memories of how my husband used to shout at me before hitting!”
“Sorry to hear that -”
“No need to be sorry my dear. I put a stop to that after ten years. See!” She pulled back the hair at her neck, revealing a scar running up to the back of her ear. Afua jerked back, sucking in her breath.
“You bet I did! Have a good day now!” She flashed pearly whites and walked up the stairs in her four-inch heels.
The one-block walk to the office was not without its usual sights. In the Starbucks window sat lover boy and girl cuddling as usual with just one cup of coffee between them and two laptops opened. They lived there. Mr. Wall Street brushed by her in his custom-made suit talking nonstop on his phone. Afua had overheard him talking about buying and selling stocks once and labeled him Mr. Wall Street. For all she knew he was an intern who just liked trading and dressing well.
She glanced at her watch. It was 8:20am exactly. The commuter bus stopped in front of her building, the tall brick building with tinted windows. Amor Fashion Magazine, where Afua worked as a columnist, occupied all but three of the twenty floors.
“Hey darling, how are you?”
She felt a tap on her shoulders.
“Oh, I didn’t see you get off the bus!” Afua exclaimed, falling into step with the tall man in the off-white V-neck sweater with a tie peeking out.
“I barely made it in! Lalah was at it again this morning.”
“Really? Why can’t she let up?”
Daniel pulled the door open for Afua to enter. They were met by Lucas’s smiling face in his over-the-top multicolored cardigan and patterned bow tie.
“Children, welcome! It’s about time too. Your boss lady just went by a few minutes ago!” He called in his nasal tones from behind the receptionist counter.
“What?! Sureeka’s here so early?” Daniel pushed his glasses up. He did that when he was excited or upset which happened too frequently of late.
Afua grabbed his hand and ran for the open elevators. They got on just as it closed.
“I haven’t finished the write-up yet. She expected it on her desk first thing this morning.”
“Relax Daniel. She doesn’t normally get in until 11am. Maybe she has an early meeting.” Afua tried to reassure him but he was already panicking. He dropped her hand and held on tight to his messenger bag. He stepped out the moment the doors opened.
“Oh, pardon my manners.” He mumbled, stepping back to let Afua by.
She smiled and patted his arm.
“Trust me Daniel, she must be here for an early meeting.”
They walked by the empty cubicles. The light in Sureeka’s office was on. They entered the shared office across from hers.
They glanced at each other.
Good luck! Afua mouthed.
The door closed behind him. It didn’t matter. Sureeka’s shrieks and Daniel’s muffled apologies could still be heard. Afua turned on her monitor and was soon staring at a familiar face. Her eyes fell on the same face in several picture frames on her desk. The door opened and closed.
“I didn’t ask you to close it Daniel. Afua, come in here!”
She sighed and got up. It was one of those days. Daniel sat in his seat, smiling sheepishly.
“It’s just practice for when I get home.”
“Not funny Daniel. She shouldn’t speak to anyone that way,” Afua muttered and walked by.
The head of thick wavy hair was lowered when she entered. Afua stood and took in her former friend and colleague, now boss lady. Her once- fitting Valentino dress hung on her. Afua sat down in one of the chairs across from Sureeka’s desk as she looked up. She dabbed quickly at her cheek.
“Is something wrong Suree?”
Her gray eyes melted for a second.
“You can tell me.”
Sureeka hissed and pulled herself closer to the desk.
“There is nothing wrong Afua.” Her voice could freeze water instantly. Flinging back her hand, she pointed to the calendar behind her. “Now, tell me, how many days before we go to print?”
‘So where is your write-up on the fashion show?” Did it bypass me?” She raised her hands. The diamond ring flashed conspicuously as she waved back and forth.
Afua shook her head.
“Suree, but I told you yesterday I’d get it to you latest tomorrow. I’m working on it –“
“Be quiet! And stop calling me Suree! We are no longer in college.”
Sureeka’s hands hit the desk as she got up. Afua shrieked and jumped out of the chair. It fell to the ground and Afua on top of it.
“Afua, are you alright? Oh God!” Sureeka ran around the desk, in tears.
Daniel dashed in and fell to the floor beside her.
“Afua! What happened? What did you do to her?” He demanded from Sureeka.
She sobbed into her palms.
“I’m calling Human resources the minute they get in!” Daniel said, taking hold of Afua’s hands to pull her up.
“Please Daniel!” Sureeka shouted, grabbing his hand. He shrugged it off and helped Afua to stand.
‘I will! The way your treat everyone around here is despicable!”
“No, you can’t –” Afua said, hands shaking.
Daniel stopped midway from picking up the chair.
He straightened up and put the chair in place.
Afua and Sureeka looked at each other.
“Daniel, I am fine. Please, a moment with Sureeka?”
He looked from one to the other.
“OK, I will leave you two. But if I hear another sound, I will be calling Human resources and security.”
“Th…Thank you!” Sureeka said as he closed the door behind him. “Come, sit. I am so sorry! I didn’t mean it. You know that!” She pulled the other chair beside Afua and took her hand.
“It’s been really rough lately Afua.” She whispered. Afua looked up.
Sureeka nodded and dabbed at her face. Afua took it and gasped.
Afua touched her cheek, hands shaking. Sureeka’s foundation had washed off her face, revealing a dark bruise.
“You told me he stopped.”
Sureeka sniffed and slumped into the chair.
“I thought so too. Then I was promoted, and you know how that went – late nights, taking work home. I had no time for him –“
“But that’s no excuse!”
“I don’t know what to do! Sometimes he’s so caring, other times-”
“He will do it again and again! You must leave.”
Sureeka shook her head slowly. A brief knock on the door brought both to their feet. She patted down hair and dress.
A red head appeared behind the door.
“Are you ready for your nine o’clock?”
“Of course Samantha, good morning.” Sureeka smiled
Samantha’s eyes widened.
“Oh, good morning. I…I’ll take them to the conference room.” She glanced at Afua before retreating.
“Enough Afua!” Sureeka whispered. “I will deal with this. I am sorry for lashing out at you but this is my problem and Ib’s. We will deal with it.”
Her eyes were the familiar icy gray again.
“Sure. I’ll get my write-up to you before leaving today.”
Afua closed the door behind her and walked back to her office. Daniel looked up from his monitor.
“What was that about?”
“It’s a female thing,” Afua said, looking up. “I think.”
His brow came up.
“I can’t talk about it. She told me in confidence.” Afua put her hands over her mouth and continued in a hushed voice. “Just like you tell me about Lalah’s shouting and throwing things at you in confidence.”
He turned his attention to the monitor. Sureeka came out of her office and waved at staff coming in. They paused in their tracks, unsure of this new Sureeka.
“Samantha, please get me coffee!” She called, cat walking to the conference room.
“Let’s see how long that lasts.” Daniel muttered, typing away.
The phone rang on Afua’s desk. The number appeared on the small screen
“That’s my cell number!” She shouted and picked up the receiver. “Who is this? Did you find my phone? I didn’t even know I lost it.”
There was silence.
“Did you think I wouldn’t know how to get you? Leaving your phone carelessly around!”
His slurred speech made her skin crawl. She glanced at Daniel who seemed intent on finishing his write-up.
“I will call you back!” She whispered.
“Don’t you dare!”
She dropped the receiver and turned to her monitor. The phone rang again. This time she pulled the cord from the wall.
Daniel looked up.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes of course.” She smiled and began typing.
The train ride home was shorter than Afua hoped. Her legs dragged as she walked the two blocks to the apartment complex in the quiet neighborhood she had called home for the past five years. Terry, her neighbor’s teenage son, was standing outside his door when she got to the second floor.
“Terry, what are you doing out here? There’s no soccer today?”
“No Miss Afua. It’s Wednesday, remember?”
“Oh yeah! So why are you outside?”
He scratched his head.
“Oh no Terry! You lost your keys again?”
He shoved his hand in his pockets and looked down. “I think I left it in my room this morning.”
“This is the last time I open the door without your mom knowing.”
“Thanks Miss. Afua! This is the very last time, I promise!”
“Sure.” She muttered, already searching through her bunch of keys. Terry’s mom and Afua had exchanged their extra keys just for this very reason, incase either of them ever lost their keys or was locked out. Terry moved aside as she approached and turned the key in the lock.
“Thanks Miss! And please, no word to my mom?” He batted his eyes at her, reminding her of the ten-year old boy she had first met years ago.
“Be good Terry,” Afua called to him as she turned to her door. The hallway was dark and quiet as she closed the door behind her. She sidestepped the stool she knew was beside the door to the guest restroom. The ticking clock sounded very loud in the quiet. The key rattled in her hand. She steadied it with the other hand as she walked into the living room and pulled back the shades.
“And why would you do that?!” the voice growled from the recliner.
Afua began walking backwards.
The figure sat up, revealing the face that had haunted her all day.
“I didn’t see you there Larry.”
“Of course you didn’t, always caught up in your own world.”
“Larry, please, not today!”
He got up, still in his rumpled clothes from two nights ago. Her first sight of him on the train that morning had her almost weeping with relief. In two strides, he was glowering down at her.
“Why did you not answer when I called you on the train? I was shouting ‘Miss, Miss! come get your phone. Why did you drop the phone on me when I called you at work?”
His hands were on her neck. Afua shook her head as the tears streamed down her face.
“You feel you’re too good for an unemployed free loader huh?”
“Larry, please stop! Stop doing this!” She whispered.
His breath stunk from days of drinking. He released her and stepped back, his face crumbling into a watery mesh of skin and tears.
“Why do you make me do this Afua? You know I love you!” He fell to the carpet, sobbing.
Afua sank to the carpet beside him.
“I love you too Larry. But you know I’m not complaining. We have enough money to get by.” She put her arms around him and kissed his bushy head. “Don’t worry; you’ll get a job soon.” She whispered and kissed his temple. He stiffened in her arms and raised his head, eyes flashing.
“How dare you rub my lack of a job in my face once more? Do you remember what happened the last time you did that?”
The punch had her flying across the room into the table in the hallway, shattering the glass frame of the picture they had taken in Las Vegas.
“Oh God” Afua muttered. She tried to get up, but the pain in her hip was unbearable.
“Miss Afua! Miss Afua!”
The front door shook from the heavy banging.
“Terry?” The glass cut into her palms as she crawled to the door.
“Don’t let him in Afua! This is none of his business!” He was getting up. Afua scrambled up and ran for the door just as it opened. Terry held the key.
“Miss, are you alright?”
Afua grabbed his arm and stepped out. Her front tooth felt loose and blood trickled from her mouth.
“Boy, you get out of here while I settle this with my woman!” Larry shouted from within.
“Thank you Terry, but I have to go back in. I don’t want him to get into trouble.”
Terry shook his head, holding on to her.
“No miss. Mom said next time this happened not to let you go back in there and to call the police.”
“What? Did you do that Terry? Did you call the police?”
The faint sound of sirens pierced the quiet evening.
Nike Campbell-Fatoki © 2014
Nike Campbell-Fatoki is an author and producer. She is the author of Thread of Gold Beads, a historical fiction novel published in November 2012 recently adapted to a stage play in the Washington DC area on October 4, 2014. Nike is an advocate for domestic violence victims. She is presently working on her second book, a collection of contemporary short stories dealing with societal issues.