A Life in Pieces


A lady fondles with her toenails. She has a nail clipper in her right hand. She is seated on the couch beside what looks like a display of nail ware. There is nail polish, nail file, nail scissors, nail varnish, nail bar and others without names yet. She just finished doing her fingernails before she decided to do her toenails as well. Unlike many other girls her age, she does not understand the logic behind pedicures, especially for people always in closed shoes like herself. Vanity, she sighs before flicking her little toenail. She reaches out to the nail file and surgically evens out the edge. It comes naturally to her, you would think she does this professionally.


She is all alone as she always is at the end of a usual work day. She likes this time of the day where she can turn on a hot shower and cook a decent meal alone and away from the sticky fingers of the world. Today in the office, the manager asked her to stay behind after a client’s meeting. They had just sealed a huge deal and this would mean a lot for the company that was initially on the verge of cessation. The manager was pleased. However, she had noticed a behaviour that was unsuitable for the company from the lady. The way she bites her nails when in such an important meeting like a small girl. The way she chews her fingernails that often gave her the appearance of being mildly stupid rather than excessively smart – the manager said.


“Could there be anything that could be done about this behaviour because it looks really unprofessional?” enquires the manager in a mocking yet worried tone.


So when she came home today, she decided to take the first step towards becoming a better person. She did a manicure. She trimmed her nails nicely, flattened the edges using a file and then painted vanish and colour over them nicely like they were pieces of canvases in an art gallery. This way, she thought, she would feel the pinch of spoiling her nails any time she was about to put her fingers in her mouth.


Her phone, carelessly placed next to her nail ware vibrates again for the umpteenth time. It must be one of the suitors – she ponders soundlessly to herself. She still cannot get her mind off the manager’s concern. She had never noticed that she fed on her nails anytime she was nervous. Actually, she was well aware she did that, but she had never thought it to have any dire consequences. She wonders whether any of her suitors had ever noticed that about her. She was always nervous around men. Do men notice such things? Do they care about such things? Would any man candidly declare that he was not interested in a second date because she nibbled on her nails when a date question about her childhood was posed to her? She would never know.


She does not have many old memories but she once knew a boy during her early years in school. The boy was always playing with his pen. It was not so much as playing as it was a skill. He would rotate the pen easily on his fingers as he spoke, or read, or stared at something, or any other time he was holding a pen. She once asked him why he did that and he had said it helped him put his thoughts in order, especially during a test. One day in a business class, the very first they ever took, the teacher demanded that no one would be allowed to cause a distraction during the class by fiddling with their pens or papers or anything really. The boy could not help it, he was caught barely five minutes after the warning and punished thoroughly. As he went back to his seat, humiliated and in pain, she had thought to herself how unfortunate it was that people felt the need repel the simple things that set each human apart from the rest.


She lets out another low sigh, more like despair that brings her back to reality as she places her nail clipper on the couch and picks her phone. She draws it closer to her face and disinterestedly goes through the many messages that had been coming into her phone.


Are you home tonight? – A message from a suitor reads.

Would you like to have supper with me tonight before you sleep? – Another message below that one.

I will send a car to come get you – The last message reads.


The lady does not bother to send a message back or lock her phone. She leaves the phone hanging on to the conversation screen and walks to the kitchen thinking of excuses to tell and avoid leaving the house. Something happens when she gets to the kitchen that makes her change her mind, there is nothing to eat and her nails are too neat to prepare anything. Her stomach grumbles with this discovery as if demanding a speedy treat. She remembers a story her mother always told her and her sister when they were young. She used to say, that one day, the hands decided that they worked too hard for the whole body and got nothing in return. According to the hands, the stomach just sat around all day doing nothing, at least the legs moved around but even the head was always idle. One day, the hands and the legs went on a strike and refused to strive. The stomach got no food and therefore never processed energy for the head or the legs or the hands. Together they all wasted away until they were vanquished by hunger. Her mother told them this story as a lesson for unity. The reasons the three of them had to stick together and watch out for each other. Her mother and her sister were long dead now, she was all alone left to brace the world on her own.


She brushes this thought aside and resolves to go on a date with the suitor. It would be better than lying there saddened by things that had happened long in the past.


Sounds nice. I would love to have supper with you tonight, – she replies politely with a glassy smile and a glaring sense of unreality, then instantly begins digging into her closet for a decent dress and pair of matching underwear.


A big car arrives, a few words are spoken between the lady and the driver and in no time she arrives to find the suitor well into his first drink. He stands up, hugs her warmly and cautiously, with terrified politeness and then pulls her chair.


“You look beautiful tonight,” he says, “I like what you have done with your nails.” he continues.


“Did you not like them before?” She casually interrupts and he stammers something that is supposed to be a response. He knows clearly he has stepped into uncharted territory and had to get away fast.


“I took the liberty to order a meal I like very much, I hope you like it as well,” he says and the lady’s stomach grumbles some more like an insolent, naughty teenager. She is about to put a finger in her mouth but then she stops midway and stares at the new colour on her nails. They look really nice, she ruminates. She hopes that she would not forget and start chewing them.


The suitor wants to know how her day at work was. She tells him of the big business client they closed in the office that day but then she avoids the issue of the nails. The first glass of wine settles into her stomach, and the second one is well underway when she amounts enough guts and asks…


“Can I ask you a question?” The suitor looks at her longingly unaware of the burden about to be unleashed to him.


“Yes, anything”, he offers as the food is placed on the table. He cannot help thinking about how good she looks tonight. She has this neck piece that plays in between her glistening breasts every time she moves. What he does not know is that this neck piece was a gift from another suitor, not long ago. He does not need to know that, does he? Since her arrival, he has remained distracted by this valley between her breasts. It has held him captive in a lock he cannot untangle himself.


He does not even notice when he grabs the table knife on this right hand like a pen and effortlessly starts to rotate it between his fingers over and over. The knife swirls easily without falling only stopping when he is about to take a bite from his plate. He notices what he has been doing because the lady seems shocked and intrigued by it.


“I am sorry”, he apologizes, “I have to stop doing that when I am nervous”, he continues, “I was once punished thoroughly when I was young for doing the same with a pen but I can never stop.”


The lady is dumbfounded, how could it be! A solemn atmosphere hangs around them. The question she had hoped to ask vanishes from her lips like a vampire in daylight. It appears as if her eyes have been opened. She looks at the suitor carefully and seriously for the first time. How can it be! A voice rings in her head over and over.


“So, what did you want to ask me before you were rudely interrupted by my annoying fiddling fingers?” The suitor enquires.


“Nothing, forget about it”, she says, “I like your coat, I have always found navy blue suits irresistible” she continues hoping that that was a distraction enough. Oddly, that is true, he did look good. She convulsively clutches her fork and knife firmly with her hands, every bad thing that had happened to her is concentrated in the plaintive voice of her own thoughts.


After that, the supper is pretty much in silence. The suitor talks but the lady doesn’t. He is not so much a suitor now to her, he is a friend. Even her eyes warm up to him. She wants to be held by him in his arms. She wants to found a pact of togetherness with her suitor like her mother had taught, stick together and watch out for each other. It is as if she is in a delirium, absorbed by the power he suddenly has on her. She doesn’t even notice when tears freely start to trickle down her face.


She wants to tell the suitor that she is tired of being alone. That the loneliness and estrangement cut deeper and deeper into her wounds emaciating her daily. She wants to feel comforted when she tells him that she too chews her fingernails in meetings and dates when she is nervous. How she feels like her job is to observe other people be happy. She wants to say all these things but when she opens her mouth, her voice is shaky and inaudible. She cannot speak and if she can what will she say? She is surprised and ashamed of herself by how close she was to the tipping point. She walked around in colourful dresses and nice hair closing deals and smiling to strangers unaware of her proximity to the edge.


The suitor looks alarmed.


Then it happens, the suitor pulls back his chair and crosses over to where she is seated, he goes down on his knees such that they are both the same height. The entire restaurant seems amused by this scene but neither of the two has any fucks left to give. He holds her in his arms in a tight warm hug and lets her tears freely flow on his nice navy blue coat.


It will be okay, I am here now.


No words need to be spoken beyond that. Tonight, an imperfection of life has brought two souls together in a tight unbreakable embrace like two fitting pieces of a puzzle.



Feature Image from the project Bloom by Mukiri Gitiri.



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