The Get Together | Aisha Oredola | Fiction

Her fingers searched her blue suede bag slowly until they rested on the familiar object. She let out a sigh and sucked slightly on her bottom lip. The inhaler was there. Relief washed over her. The one time she forgot her inhaler, her panic attack nearly killed her before any asthma triggers. She had heard awful stories of asthmatics who did not have their inhalers with them during an attack and lost their lives, or almost did. She even witnessed one. This woman would’ve lost her life if not for a certain decision Yusra made. To forgive. To be kind.

Yusra had been diagnosed with asthma since her early teenage years. She had accepted the obstacle but wouldn’t let it block her path. She was too young to die, right?

The living room was spacious and easily hid her tall frame. The corner served her well. She tapped on the Twitter app and scrolled through some tweets. She could’ve found an excuse for this get-together. Why did she have to tick that to-do list?

“You’re just standing there.” Sefe, tall and square shouldered, pulled her by her hand and dragged her to the other side of the living room where their friends had gathered.

“Sefe…”

“No, it’s a get together, not a get apart.”

Yusra resisted the urge to roll her eyes. It wasn’t Sefe’s fault, really. The blame was on her over demanding list and the resilient woman in her that had decided to strictly follow her to-do list. She had written a lot of ‘breaking the comfort zone’ things to do this month and this was the seventh on her list – attend the get together event. Although it’s been ten good years, Yusra still felt like melting into the walls as she and Sefe walked towards the other women. All of them attended the same university.

“Yusra? You’ve changed a lot!” Uju screamed.

Yusra knew Uju was just being scornful, so she smiled and said, “People change a lot and that’s the whole idea. Well, you, Uju, haven’t changed one bit.”

Uju loved that line. She flipped her hair to the side and crossed her legs before taking a sip of her Chapman. “Thanks, girl.”

There were only thirteen ladies and eleven men, Yusra noted. The ones who made it to this get-together. Some were out of the country, others were too busy or just uninterested. The men moved to the living room to watch a football match. The women were seated, standing, walking here and there, serving drinks and small chops or chatting with one another. Sefe pulled Yusra to sit next to her as the women started their discussion – one Yusra dreaded.

After several minutes, it was Yasmin’s turn to talk. She yapped about her husband, children and the new car her husband bought her. How her degree in Law did nothing much for her but her beauty hijacked a rich man, although way older, who lavishes money on her. Yusra yawned, she was a lie detective and uncertified psychology expert. Yasmin was lying and hiding huge details of her perfect life. This is why she hated events like this one. Everyone wanted to present perfect versions of their lives. It made no sense that logical thinking adults would want to do this. After Yasmin was done, Shalewa was next. She said a lot of things that didn’t add up. She wasn’t so good at constructing the perfect life like Yasmin and her voice shook with nervousness. After several minutes, Cassandra fake-sneezed, tittered, then laughed. Aliyah’s high pitched voice followed as she too bent over, laughing. Damore joined and all the women cackled.

Yusra clenched her teeth as she watched Shalewa get up, shame-faced, and ask for directions to the restroom. Sefe, who wasn’t laughing, gave her directions. Shalewa nodded timidly and walked away. As she left, the women roared in laughter. Yusra folded her arms and wondered what was so funny. Yes, Shalewa was bad at lying but why disgrace a grown woman like that? She hated this about most women, their collective effort to shame their kind. She got up and walked away.

In the ladies’ bathroom, Shalewa stared at her reflection in the mirror and big balls of tears rolled down her face. Sensing that someone had entered the bathroom, she blinked quickly and wiped her face with her long pretty fingers.

“You don’t have to feel so bad.” Yusra managed to say, for lack of words.

“My husband is very broke and jobless. We are really struggling. Only Cassandra knows this and yet everyone laughed like they were privy to the whole thing. I’m sure she snitched.”

“Shalewa, I am so…”

“She lent me some money a few weeks ago. I thought she was being nice. I didn’t know my private affairs had become such a thing of comedy.”

Instinctively, Yusra fell silent and let her speak.

“Everyone was saying such good things about themselves in the past ten years. I… I just… I had to paint a presentable picture too.”

The sobbing started again and Yusra walked up to Shalewa and embraced her as she cried bitterly.

“It’s okay to cry, really.”

“I didn’t even want to come,” Shalewa said in between sobs.

When Yusra was sure Shalewa was done crying, she helped her clean up her face. “We will do something now. We will go back there and when it is my turn to speak, I will do something.”

“Yusra, right now, I just want to go home to my husband and kids. I didn’t even want to come but Cassandra talked me into it.”

After a smile and enough reassurance, Shalewa gave in to Yusra. Both women walked back to the circle. Uju’s voice was getting louder and louder as the girls got closer. Uju was talking about the glories and wonders in her life with dramatic gesticulations. She had their attention so much that no one looked their way until they found their seats.

When Uju was done, Morewa smirked at Yusra.

“How about you, Yusra? Tell us about yourself. We need updates!” Morewa smiled shamelessly, obviously eager for details.

One look at Shalewa and Yusra knew the woman was strong. She was holding herself together so this had to be good. Yusra dropped the spring roll for the samosa and took a bite. It was good, Chinyere had always been good in the kitchen. They shared a room in their second year and she even learned some Igbo dishes from the eager cook.

“Yusra!” Sefe tapped her back to the spotlight.

“Sorry” Her mouth was full and she had to cover it with her palm.

“How are you? What’s up? What’s new with you?” Morewa repeated, hurriedly now.

“Fine. Fine. As most of you know, I got married very early. Immediately after my first two years in the law firm, I got married to a guy I met there.”

Yusra swallowed hard and took some gulps from her bottled water. She was going to revisit and relive her traumatic chapters to prove a point to these women. It was not her nature to talk so much but these ladies had to know that life is hard and real and our stories do not have to be filtered or sieved for show off. Why do we have to please people and pretend to be perfect? Yusra wanted to say everything: the good and ugly.

“He divorced me only three years after our wedding because I caught him cheating and he wouldn’t own up to it. He had gotten another woman pregnant and wanted to marry her. It was easy for him to do, he had already called me barren.”

Sefe nudged her. She wanted her to shut her loose mouth and talk about the enviable parts of her life. How she earned a lot from her practise, the assets she owned, the businesses and investments too. She had twins now from another marriage and her husband is the heir to a fortune. But Yusra resisted. She would tell these women things they should hear, things that even Sefe might not know.

“Five years after the university and I thought I was ruined. No husband. No child. Nothing. I was divorced, living with my parents again. My asthma attacks were consistent and for a long time, I thought God was angry with me. What did I do wrong? I would spread my prayer mat at midnight and pray and cry and sleep off there until dawn.”

Yasmin shifted on her seat. Chinyere put on her glasses. Cassandra’s eyes bounced from one face to another. Shalewa listened quietly. Sefe shook her head. Uju, Aaliyah, Morewa, and others looked from one face to another in silence, they weren’t expecting this. Yusra was spraying the atmosphere of bubbling spirits black.

“One time, I just kept fasting. I tied my problems and hung them on my neck like a pendant. I stopped working, lost so much weight, lost my original skin shade and had to deal with seeing pictures of my ex-husband and his wife on social media. I would speak to myself for days. I would try to revive two dead babies by whispering strange things to my flat tummy. Two miscarriages in my first marriage and I thought it was over for me.”

“I had plenty of tests done in about three hospitals to please my mother and the doctors said nothing was wrong with me. So one day, I decided that the solution was to be patient and let that phase wear off.”

Having a to-do list became a habit for Yusra. In her small notepad, she wrote fun and challenging activities that would keep her mind busy. She got a detailed cookbook and made new meals. She read books of different genres, memorized and recited her Quran, took long walks alone, journaled everyday, wrote at least five things she was grateful for each day, spent less, exercised daily, interacted more and just did simple things that made her happy.

She wanted to love herself. Without hate, without comparisons, without tying her soul to a man because whoever he was, he would come.

“Three years after my divorce, I was at a supermarket when a lady with her cart swiftly walked past me. She had intentionally pushed me and my whole side hit a stand holding toiletries. Some rolls of toiletries fell and I had to confront her.”

The woman was her ex-husband’s wife’s sister but Yusra had no idea. She asked the woman to apologize but she hissed, rained insults on her, and blamed her for a lot of things Yusra didn’t understand. Apparently, she had seen pictures of Yusra and Yusra was the witch killing her sister’s children.

“One pregnancy now, gone with the wind. Another, delivered but still-born. What has my sister done to you that you want her to be barren like you are?” Her loud voice, her screams, her restlessness and remarkable energy in cursing attracted other customers and Yusra wanted to turn into gas.

Her right hand threatened to move. The fighter in her would beat this stranger up and leave her unconscious. How dare she? All she wanted was an apology for the attack. She pursed her lips and with all the courage she summoned, walked away. Conflicting thoughts seared her mind. How was it that Qasim had ended up with another woman who would also have issues with childbearing? Issues like miscarriage and similar? It was sad. She was wronged but it was still sad. No matter how unfortunate it was, this woman’s sister had no right to shame her publicly like this. A few steps ahead of this woman and Yusra heard her gasp. A familiar sound. It was an asthma attack. She didn’t think too deep before digging for her own inhaler and rushing to help. She saved her life.

“I would’ve walked away as revenge for the embarrassment the lady caused me. No one would know I could help. But I didn’t. I’ve learned to place kindness over animosity.” She paused for effect. Perhaps that would sink into Cassandra’s head and the rest of them. She glanced over at Shalewa and smiled back. “That’s by the way. I met my husband through her. He was her boss then. Long story but who would’ve thought that a simple act of kindness would win me a friend and then a husband? I really didn’t plan for it.”

The women weren’t expecting Yusra’s story. Silence cloaked the living room again except for occasional grunts and complaints by the men watching football.

“I’m married now. I got married and I have twins! I’m so grateful to Allah. Oh and if you were wondering, my husband’s wife has her own child now too. He wronged me but I leave him to God.”

The women were humbled. They could either feel the originality of Yusra’s story or relate with her pain.

“My life has been a mix of good and bad. I don’t want to portray myself as the perfect woman with the perfect life. I mean everyone here has struggles, obvious or hidden.”

Sefe smiled slowly and clapped her hands little by little until it was continuous and Chinyere joined, Shalewa too, then Morewa and the others. Yasmin clapped last.

Sefe stood, grinning. “We are women. We should be kind to one another and not carry placards of ‘I’m doing better than you.’ This life isn’t a competition and people have it hard. We should be safe spaces for ourselves.” Then she added, “Thank you, Yusra.”

It was time for refreshments again. The atmosphere of the get together had changed. Yusra saw Cassandra place a hand on Shalewa’s shoulder. One could see the remorse written on her face. The two talked for a while with Cassandra avoiding her gaze. One thing led to the other and Shalewa received hugs from each one of them. They ate, talked, laughed and thought it would be uninterrupted until the men rushed to the table and snatched what their hands could of the small chops, leaving the women to laugh again[1] .

Yusra sat on her bed and pulled her notepad from under her pillow, she ticked the ‘attend the get together event’ box with fulfilment. Yusuf walked in then, satisfaction in his eyes. Their one-year-old twins were miraculously asleep and this gave them the freedom to appreciate one another without interruption. He asked how the get-together was and she narrated it all to him. He had picked her up, had asked before, had in fact heard most of it on their drive home but he listened again with glee.


Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

Aisha Oredola

Aisha Oredola is a Creative Writer, a graduate of Cell Biology and Genetics and a Masters student of Public Health. 
Her literary works have appeared in the Kalahari Review, Fitrah Review, Brigitte Poisson Poetry Chapbook, Quills Journal, Freedom Magazine, Panacea e-library and have been widely anthologized. She writes to enlighten others and change the narrative.She won the 2020 Panacea Nigeria Essay and Short Story Contest, was longlisted for the 2019 Collins Elesiro Prize and her poetry was Shortlisted for the Ramadan Writing Contest 2019. 
Social media: @Aish_dols

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