‘Yes, Josephine, like Bonaparte’s wife.’
‘I don’t look like a Josephine?’
‘Josephines are not so bold.’ He literally bared his teeth or it could have been the bad lighting.
‘Then you haven’t met this Josephine.’
‘Mark,’ he stretched his arm, ‘not my real name.’ The man called Mark seized her palm as if weighing the options the night was going to give and she did not mind. She did not mind at all.
Josephine removed her pins and watched Mark appreciate the full mane tumbling softly across her fair bare shoulders. She crossed her legs at the knee not at the ankles as her mother had taught her. Jos, her mother would say, men appreciate ladylike women and ladylike women don’t cross their legs at the knee. That’s too bold, she would go on, you’ll seem like you want to scissor their egos right between your legs. She smiled as she pictured her mother’s face and Mark smiled right back sharing a secret joke he had no idea about. He signaled the waiter not taking her eyes off hers, a kind of brown meeting her pale ones. She really wanted to ask what she saw in her pale pools but that would be too intrusive. They were not lovers under a blue moon basking in the whispered promises of a lifetime together. So she smiled and sipped her beer and hoped Mark’s ego was not too big to be scissorred between her legs. Our Josephine, Josie, was conceived on a hot December afternoon when the mango trees were pregnant with so much yellow they seemed to compete with the sun. Josephine was also born each month, whichever day she chose. She could be a Gemini this night, fiery and bold, or maybe a Virgo, relentless and smooth. She smiled, Gemini it is.
‘So…Josie, may I call you that?’
She touched his cheek, feeling the wonderful stubble of this stranger and shook her head.
‘No, Mark. Let’s call me Josephine.’
Mark stood and she stood with him, a hand balancing lightly on his chest. He tucked a hair behind her right ear and she didn’t like it. But she did like it so much that’s why she didn’t like it. Mark looked like the guy who’d dance with her all night, tuck errant hairs behind her ear and she’d lay her heart like a banquet before him. This was a night of acceptance, no, not for her. She did accept herself every day; it was now Mark’s turn to do that. She was not so lucky before.
‘You are very fair.’
‘Yes I am.’
‘You could almost pass for a mzungu.’
‘I suppose I could.’
‘And your eyes…they dance so much they make me dizzy.’ Josephine stepped back and took a good look at him with her dancing pale eyes.
Then let’s dance and be dizzy together. And Mark twirled her around which actually made her dizzy and did not complain when her hair got into his open laughing mouth.
A ray of soft sunshine on her right foot woke her. Her mother loved to say that that was her lucky foot. That if she stepped out of bed on that foot, everything would bow to her. She would be a goddess to her fates. None of it made sense but her mother was a wise woman and she knew what she was talking about most times.
‘I am actually Mark,’ Mark spoke from the open doorway.
‘Morning actual Mark.’ Josie smiled and shifted because the sun was now hurting her eyes as she looked up at him. Her sunglasses were right there on the table but she did not pick them up. Wow, he was really dark. The kind her sister called good black. The kind, she claimed, God walked all over His earth just looking for the right clay. Actual Mark was holding out a cup of coffee.
‘I knew of a woman back home. Maybe she’s still alive but maybe her hatred killed her. Made her heart so black she couldn’t breathe and killed her dead. This woman hated people like you, sorry, I don’t mean to offend you…called them breathing curses. Claimed they brought on bad luck.’
‘None taken,’ she offered. ‘And I knew that kind of woman. She gave birth to a light skinned baby with dancing pupils and threw her right into the forest. She was told it was a curse but for all her education and sophistication she still did this despicable thing. You see this very sunburnt right foot? Yeah, that was how my other mother found me. She just saw a small foot sticking out of a baby basket on a hot December afternoon and called me Josie.’ He touched that foot and Josie suddenly sprung out of bed her throat tightly parched. Her jeans suddenly seemed too tight. They were not getting past her ankles and her throat was now throbbing so badly. And that’s when it happened, a dam broke. Mark just started laughing. His shoulders shook so hard the coffee joined him. She joined in with her half worn jeans and laughed along with him. The misplaced mirror at the far corner reflected just two people caught in mirthful laughter. One very dark, the good black, the other one, very light with dancing pupils.
*Mzungu- white person
BY ESTHER MUSEMBI