Annette couldn’t believe how incredibly bored she was. She really hated these types of events, especially when they separated her from the only person who gave her any sort of spark. She watched from the dinner table as Mr. Prah was giggling foolishly with men whom had worked long ago. They at least had had the self-respect to retire long ago and let a new generation take over their duties at the import and shipping company that Mr. Prah owned; but Mr. Prah himself refused to…until now. It was as though the man enjoyed being a relic in a self-constructed tomb. Her boredom soon turned to shame as she saw Mr. Prah pulled one of his closer colleagues aside and point at her with the same hand he had fingered her with just an hour before. Both men were doubled over in laughter while the other patted Mr. Prah on the back.
Annette turned her attention to the expensive crystal place settings on the dinner table, just she would have something to focus on. In the past when she had tried to engage other couples who came to company dinners, the women would have nothing to do with her and the men dared not. There was a rumor that she was a gold-digger and that consorting with Mr. Prah’s younger and very attractive wife –even casually – would only get you fired. Neither her reputation nor the consequences of making her acquaintance was attractive to anyone. They interpreted her reclusive nature to be aloof and she was left alone and therefore felt very alone. She drank her wine sullenly and thought of Sophia.
The gown she was wearing was her creation. Sophia Ike was an established couturier who was renowned for her skill at mixing Nigerian and Western lace to create exciting garments. She had a small, but very influential client base, and was so sought after that she could pick and choose who wore her designs – and they were instantly recognizable.
“My clothing isn’t for everyone,” Sophia once said in a magazine interview, “my garments are not for the masses. Only very special woman are suited for my designs.”
And it was true. The women who wore an Ike original were picked for the clothes, not the other way round. This made men like Mr. Prah want to get their hands on these clothes with such ferocity that it only added to the mystique of the brand. Sophia Ike fed into this frenzy by turning away any number of high potential profile clients a few times a year. It was a mad strategy that turned out to be nothing short of brilliant.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get his wife seen for a fitting three years ago, Kwame Prah eventually gave up, telling Annette it was impossible. When she complained, he told her that she was welcome to try if she felt she could do better. He was done. After all she had suffered in her life, Annette refused to accept this and marched into Sophia Ike’s studio one afternoon, demanding a fitting. It was bold and uncharacteristic of her, but something alien in her compelled her compulsion.
“I want to see Ms. Ike,” Annette said loudly to her assistant that fateful Thursday afternoon.
“I’m afraid you can’t without an appointment, and I’m going to have to ask you to leave if you don’t have one,” replied the impeccably dressed waif.
The commotion summoned Sophia from her back office, where she looked Annette over carefully.
“What’s all this noise?” she demanded in her thick accent.
Upon seeing the icon, Annette froze. The boldness that came upon her so suddenly abandoned her just as quickly. Annette was struck by how beautiful she was, and how despite her reputation for being a bitch, looked very kind. Sophia assessed Annette very quickly as well. She saw a woman who was elegant and demure…and clearly did not know her own self-worth. She saw in Annette a woman who had never been loved, at least not properly.
“And what is your name madam?” Sophia asked coolly.
“Annette. Annette Prah,” she stammered. “I – I’m sorry to bust in like this…”
Sophia cut her off.
“Esi, don’t take any more appointments for the next two hours. I’m going to fit Ms. Prah.”
Annette was overjoyed. She had taken a step and by pure luck it had worked! She reached out to shake Sophia Ike’s hand.
“Oh thank you!”
As their palms met she felt something strange well up inside her – almost like a volt of power surging between the two women. Her heart beat a little faster and her tongue lost moisture. Unable to speak further, she dutifully followed Sophia into her fitting room.
The room was more of a boudoir, painted dusty rose and white with art from all over Africa. There were twelve to fourteen mannequins clothed in Sophia’s coveted apparel, each very different from the next. Masks and paintings, many that looked like they were purchased from street vendors just outside hung all over the walls. Sophia Ike was proving to be a confusing character indeed.
“You’ll have to take off your clothes,” Sophia said without looking at Annette.
She picked up a measuring tape and some chalk. When Annette was disrobed, Sophia measured her, running her hands between her thighs, the small of her back and over her shoulders.
“My fittings are very intimate, which is why I don’t do them with everyone,” she explained. “Any tailor can throw together some material based on inches and centimeters, but MY clothes are living, breathing garments. Just like the wearer, they have a story. I want to make sure that the stories of the wearer and my clothes are compatible. Do you understand?”
Sophia stopped her exploration of Annette’s curves and looked deeply into her almond colored eyes.
“I need to see your nipples.”
“Take off your bra. How else will I know if this material matches your skin?”
Annette did as she was told. Clad only in her black thong, she felt oddly secure. As harsh as Sophia was, she felt safe in her presence. She drew a deep breath when Sophia stood behind her and cupped her breasts, thumbing her now taunt nipples rhythmically. She swallowed deeply before she spoke next.
“Is this part of this fitting process?” she asked, unsure that she should.
“No,” Sophia admitted. “This I am doing for my own pleasure…and for yours.”
The pair were facing mirror that covered the broadest wall of the fitting room. Amazed, Annette watched Sophia’s soft brown hand plunge into her waistband of her panties and steadied herself as her fingers merged with the wetness of her clitoris. Sophia was nibbling at on her back, causing the blood to rush to the surface of her caramel colored skin. She stopped to make eye contact with Annette who was looking at their joint reflection in the mirror and orgasming for the first time in her life.
“A penny for your thoughts?”
“Eh? Oh…Victor. Hi! How are you?”
Victor bore a striking resemblance to his father, although not quite as piggish. He was Kwame Prah’s youngest son, and at age 40 was one of Annette’s three stepchildren. Incidentally, he had also been her senior at the same boarding school.
Victor had always fancied Annette, and wondered why she never returned his affections. When his father had come to visit him at school, always insisting on bringing something for Annette, he thought the old man was just being kind. He never could have imagined that his aged father would marry the woman he had hoped to ask one day.
“I’m well,” said Victor settling in next to her at the dinner table. “The old man seems to be really enjoying himself.”
“Yes. Yes he does look happy.”
Annette was relieved to have a break in her thoughts. Victor was one of the few people kind enough to speak to her in the world Mr. Prah had carved out for her.
“I wonder what convinced him to give up work now?” Victor mused aloud.
Annette had wondered the same thing. It was very unlike Mr. Prah to lose the reins of power. There was an ulterior motive to it, she was sure.
“Perhaps we’re about to find out. He’s getting up to the podium now.”
As the applause from the guest died down, Mr. Prah thanked them for coming and croaked on about how he had built the company from carrying items on his own head to the massive logistics conglomerate that it was today. It was a story that Annette had heard a thousand times, and could recount it nearly verbatim. What Mr. Prah said next was a complete diversion from his usual spiel.
“My wife and I have decided to set our sights elsewhere in Africa, and will spend the next year touring several countries looking for new potential on the continent. So you see friends, this is not the end of my journey as a businessman, but merely the beginning of a new chapter of the book of my life.”
He smiled smugly at Annette who was frozen in terror in her seat.
He knew; he knew.