I think it is my neighbor and I open the door in my nightgown – sans brassier – and hairnet in tow and, low and behold, it is Nicholas Bowling at my door looking strange and unsure with flowers in his hand. I recognize the black and white nylon wrapping immediately; they are one of ours. He bought me Marks and Spenser’s flowers. Dear God.
Marvis is watching Eastenders in the living room and she is shouting, “Who is it? Maggie! Who is it?” And the whole house smells of the ofada rice she has just warmed in the microwave and I am totally confused.
“Is this a bad time?” Nicholas asks. “I… can always come back?”
First, first, I want to ask him how he found where I live. But now Marvis has come to the door, with her half-eaten plate of ofada, in her bum shorts and cropped tank top, peering over my shoulder at the white man standing at our door.
“Who be this?” She mutters.
Until then, I had not mentioned Nicholas to her; I had not wanted to face the humiliation of explaining how he never called back after one date because he discovered I was fat – she would have told me she had been begging me to lose weight for yearssss and now see where it had gotten me.
“My friend,” I respond, eyes still on Nicholas.
“Okay o.” Marvis struts back to the living room; I hear her turn the television off and walk into her bedroom, hear the door open and shut.
“I can… always come back…” Nicholas repeats.
“Come in.” I shift behind the door as I open it wider. “Living room is to your right. Give me a second.”
I rush into my bedroom; whip a bra on, lotion my face, lose the hairnet, hope my hair doesn’t smell like fried food or vegetable oil, the entire time wondering how on earth he found my flat. I wear leggings and a blouse; I want to change my mind about the leggings – wear something less revealing of my cellulite and amble flesh – but I stick with the leggings; na fat I fat, I no kill person.
Out in the living room, Nicholas is looking around at the small clustered space – the flat-screen television taking up half the span of one wall; the rusty radiator that runs the length of another wall; Marvis’ things piled up on a table in one end, packs of hair extensions, flat iron, jar of combs; my stuff on the other end, books, old newspapers and magazines; the only sofa in the living room, faded black leather, leaning against the window, which he seats on; the aged brown and cream patterned wallpaper, peeling and folding at the edges; thinned and worn brown carpet.
I lean against the doorframe.
“How did you find me?” I ask.
He still has the flowers in his hands – white roses browning at their tips. He shows them to me. “I got these for you.”
“Pretty,” I say.
But I don’t reach to get them, so he places them on his lap.
“How did you find me?” I repeat.
“Do you not like flowers?” He asks. “Or is it the roses? You a chocolate kind of woman?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, it does.”
I hear Marvis’ bedroom door creak open, which is directly opposite the door of the living room. I turn and her door is open a crack, her eyes and lips are showing through the gap – she’s smiling a creepy kind of smile. I turn back to Nicholas.
“Are you not going to answer my question?” I ask.
He sighs. “Faridah. She told me.”
That explains the Marks and Spenser’s flowers.
“And how did you find her?” I ask.
“Do you really want to know?”
“I’ll email you the chart then, the one I drew up with M and S stores, shifts and days of the week.”
It sounds like he’s speaking gibberish. He stands up and walks to me, hands me the flowers.
“I came to say I’m sorry, terribly sorry, for being… an asshole all those months ago.”
I take the flowers, hear Marvis’ door shut behind me.
“Faridah says… you should be soft, not so guarded.” He smirks.
I look up at him, noticing for the first time how tall he is.
“Don’t listen to anything Faridah says,” I say.
“Well, it got me here.”
He’s smiling now and I smile back. He lifts a hand and rests it on my arm, slowly.
His voice is low when he says, “All I want is another date, Maggie. And I promise I’ll do better this time.”
You promise yourself that people are not worth the ache and tears, and when this one doesn’t call you after one date, it further proves to you that you can survive – live and die – on your own. But now, here he is, standing in your small living room with dying flowers in his hands; he sought you and found you and is begging you for another bloody chance.
What do you do now?