Writings / Fiction

A Drop of Coffee

Sifa Asani Gowon

This is a bad idea, she told herself. Maybe you should forget it and walk away while you still can. The pride in her rose to the fore, the taste of it metallic in her mouth. Meeting him was a last ditch effort to get things right- right for her and for Nadyezhda.
She rubbed her palms on her silk skirt, whether to smooth out imaginary wrinkles or wipe the sweat off, she was unsure. Her right eye was starting to twitch; an annoying effect of nervousness and one she had tried vainly to erase. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Relax Salima, she told herself, it is unpleasant but it must be done.

She walked into the Marhaba, a quaint little Arab restaurant located in one of the crannies of Abuja. As she entered she spotted him immediately. He cut a rather fine figure sitting alone at one of the tables, holding a cup of what appeared to be coffee in between his hands, gazing down into the dark contents of the mug as though trying to pry some secret out of it.

And secrets I will squeeze out today, young man, she thought as she slowly wove her way past the maze of chairs and tables, most of them occupied. It was lunch hour and workers from the nearby bank had come in and the atmosphere had the heavy drone of a million conversations. As if on cue he looked up, his eyes meeting hers, his pupils appearing somewhat magnified through the lens of his understated glasses. Those eyes had depth, she had to admit, and right now they spoke of wariness and caution. Yes, her Nadyezhda had taste, at least in the external, she thought wryly. Well done girl, you got yourself a pretty one.

She found herself in front of him as he slowly got up – out of respect or in a bid to intimidate she couldn’t tell. He was tall, with his chest squarely at her nose. But she would not be cowed, oh no. She had faced more formidable adversaries in her lifetime, all forty-six years of it. She drew herself up as she looked him squarely in the eye.

“Mr Patrick … how gracious of you to agree to meet me,’ she drawled in what she hoped was her most superior tone.

“I got the feeling I had very little choice in the matter,” he quipped, his speech clipped and precise, his accent evoking the best ‘breeding’ and education. That puzzled her. “Please, won’t you have a seat?” he offered, pulling a chair out for her. She nodded and sank down. She looked around, as though searching for a familiar face, hoping to avoid anyone she knew. He leaned against the back of his chair, silent and allowing her to uncurl within. He understood her, he really did. He also had an idea of why she was here and what she would say to him.

“Would you like a cup of coffee? The Turkish coffee is among the best I have had.” He began with niceties, she thought, even though it was evident he was impatient to get on with the conversation. She mumbled her affirmation and he nodded at a waiter who came, took the order and left. Once again he sat quietly, his hands together loosely in front of him, leaning forward slightly this time, his eyes level with hers. For a moment she almost lost her courage but then she gritted her teeth and set to it.

“You know why I am here,” She said.

“I know this is about the one and only thing that connects us, Ma’am.”



“The fact that we already differ in what we call her is already an indication of the direction this conversation is likely to take, Mr Patrick,” she said.

“Not unless you choose for it to be so, ma’am. And please call me Jude.”


“Short for Judah. My father had an affinity for the tribes of Israel. Named us after each one but I guess my mother was averse to giving birth to all 12 tribes so he had to stop at Tribe Number 5.” The corners of his eyes crinkled in merriment and obvious fondness as he spoke of his parents. That was another thing Salima was eager to discover- his roots…or lack thereof.

“Your father,” she said, more to herself than to him. She noticed him look at her with a trace of suspicion. Ah yes, she thought; I like that he’s uneasy- it gives me the advantage.

“Who are you, Mr Patrick, and what exactly do you want from my daughter?” she asked, her tone frosty and blunt. Jude didn’t flinch.

“I am a man who loves her. I want nothing…and everything from her.” Salima made a clucking sound in her throat. Love? What did this young upstart know about love? Did love as he thought he knew it even exist?

“What makes you think you deserve anything from her?”

“I don’t”, he said, shaking his head slightly. “Nadya is a gift, everything about her is a gift and what she chooses to give I would gladly take…with my deepest gratitude.”

Salima felt her temper rising. How dared he? What did he propose to take from her beloved daughter, this enigmatic stranger?

“What do you know of gifts? Have you ever held an only child in your arms and watched her grow into the most graceful of creatures: so much potential, so much to offer and to be offered in return? Only to have her throw it all away on some…static dreamer?” she spat. Jude raised his eyebrows in surprise, perplexed and yet somewhat understanding of the vitriol leveled at him by Nadya’s mother.

“Static dreamer? Wow,” he said quietly. “I’ve been called a lot of things, some by my own father but I don’t think I’ve ever been described that way before. Why do I get the feeling that’s not a good thing in your eyes?” He would let her speak, let her spill out all the venom and lay herself bare.

“I have spent my life raising Nadyezhda up to become a strong, self sufficient woman. I taught her all she knows. And in the midst of her strength I taught her to bow only to a force superior to her and submit herself to a man her equal. And her equal is… is… a man who can give her everything.”

“Such as?”

“Such as a good quality of life. Yes, call it materialistic but I call it insurance. I’m not about to see my daughter throw away the better part of her life on some idealist, some utopian dreamer who will woo her with poetry and long winded discussions on how wonderful life could be, his head in the clouds while my daughter…” She could no longer go on, the bitterness nearly choking her, her throat constricting and her eyes smarting with dangerously unshed tears. Jude cocked his head to the side ever so slightly, his eyes soft and perceptive.

“This is not about me, is it? This is about you and your disappointment in life and love, isn’t it?” His voice was so soft it barely carried across the din of humanity in the little restaurant but what he said could have as well been shouted on the rooftops by megaphone, so clear were his words to her. She closed her eyes, shame filling every fiber of her body, furious at herself for having exposed her pain to this man.

“Ma’am…I promise you I am not a touch-and-go person in Nadya’s life. I’ll stay for as long as she wants me to.”

“What have you to offer her?” Salima asked, this time with less venom. Indeed a hint of pleading had entered the conversation as she saw strength in his silence, a resolve that she had not reckoned to encounter.

“More than empty words,’ he said. Salima bowed her head, images and words whizzing past her head, twenty-five years worth. Lies. Disillusionment. Burdens. Nadyezhda’s father.

He had been just like this Jude, he had. Young, handsome and charming. And she had fallen for it- oh, how mightily she had fallen. And collapsed under the burden of her disenchantment. “He’s weaving a spell around you,” her dear mother had told her. “ What are his pretty words worth? When you look at him like that… has love-blinded you so much to the truth of what he is?” No, she had protested, he loved her, wanted her, would love her forever. Love would see them through. Love conquers all, she insisted. And she had gone ahead. She had paid dearly for her presumption. The only bright spot in the eye of the storm was Nadyezhda. Her hope, her ray of sunlight. And now her hope was about to fly away, in love with this man.

“I’m sorry for your pain,” he said.

She couldn’t stop the tear the rolled down her cheek. She hurriedly flicked her wrist up, wiping it away and turned angry eyes at him, narrowing them in her fury, less at him and more at her life.

“You have no idea…” she began. Then she stopped to gather herself before continuing. “A man can drain a woman until she becomes a shell of her former self- all vitality and sparkle gone. His words can reel her in and she doesn’t realize it, her heart full of love. He can lure her with promises that he has no intention of keeping, or even if he does, no spine to stand the trials that keeping them requires. I spent decades of my life being systematically emptied of all I held dear, all my dreams.” He sat still, looking at her with kindness, not saying a word. Oh, he pitied her, did he? Well, he would have an earful of tripe then, enough to scare him away from Nadyezhda. Salima was ready and willing to sacrifice her dignity and self-respect at the altar that was her love for her only daughter.

“Nadyezhda’s father never laid a hand on me in violence, he never said a cruel word. But his inaction was violence enough for me. I defended my family as he retreated. I held my family up when he shrunk back in weakness. Finances, activities, education… you name it, I did it. He just…sat back. And slowly what I thought was idealism revealed itself to be only inefficacy and an unwillingness to battle life’s trials. He was simply bewildered by all that marriage and fatherhood brought and preferred to shrink from reality rather than confront it.”

There was silence then, perhaps not in the physical sense, but between them there was a moment of peace. She felt as though for a microsecond their spirits had united in a single moment of pain and understanding.

“I am not her father,” he said quietly.

“You are a man,” Salima countered, shaking her head slowly. “And as such I don’t trust you.”

“Men are different.”

“In packaging and a few minor details, perhaps. But essentially you are all made of the same stuff. You are strong but weak, sincere but liars, loving but cruel.”

“You’ve let your experience become your ideology.”

“I have had no other choice.”

“I love her.”

“He loved me. Besides…I don’t want my daughter to give up who she is for what you want her to be. I don’t want her reshaping and realigning her life to suit you or the path you have chosen.”

“What makes you think I want her to be anything other than who she is? And if we choose to commit to one another, I don’t think it would be fair for one of us only to decide which direction we go. That should be a choice made jointly, don’t you think?”

“Fine and noble words, young man. But where are you headed? What do you have to give?”

“I will give her the best.”

“What do you have?”

“If you are worried about finances then I assure you that’s not a problem. You know me as Judah Patrick. Those are my first and middle names. My surname is Thomason.” Her eyes widened in surprise.

“That Thomason? The shipping magnate…”

“The very same.”

“But…why would  you…?”

“Give up the surname? Its amazing how a ‘good’ name can easily become a shackle in one’s life. I just decided to…shed it for some time. My father was not amused of course: called me all sorts of names, threatened me with disinheritance and all.”

She was speechless. And she felt more than a little foolish.

“ Does Nadyezhda know?” she asked. He shook his head slowly.

“Why?” she asked. He shrugged.

“It didn’t seem important at the time.”

“Not important?.. How…?”

He leaned forward again, his eyes boring into her as though he could see right through her and this time it was not kindness that radiated through them- it was suspicion and hardness. She felt like a moth about to be dissected. His jaw had clenched as he spoke.

“So now do you feel better knowing that I can afford to buy her Shimanski diamonds, Christian Louboutin shoes, Chanel clothing? Take her on holidays around the world? Live in posh, gated communities? Does that work for you, ma’am?” Shame filled her- this time not for what she had said, but what she had exposed her priorities to be.

“Are you willing to sell your daughter out for all that you didn’t get? Is she your ultimate revenge on life and on your husband?”

“I have never put a price on my daughter- she’s priceless. Do not take what I have said out of context. I only want the best for her.”

“You want what you assume is the best for her. I am in no way saying that she should not be taken care of- that would be foolish. If I were to be given a chance I would do so with pleasure and out of duty, if she’ll have me. But you seem to lump what I feel for her into some ‘failed, utopian’ corner. Some men actually speak both with their hearts and senses.”

“Hardly.” There was an air of finality and defeat in her tone, as she compressed all her angst into that one word.

“Then you have been unfortunate enough not to have met a man with enough strength and resolve in him to show you that love is more than a word; it is an entire lifestyle, a decision and a state of existence.”

There it was – the condemnation for her own failure; her inability to have changed the direction of her own marriage. She knew she had a part to play in the death of love- yes, Nadya’s father had chipped away at it but in more ways than one she had delivered the coup de grace. And she didn’t trust in anyone or anything enough to allow her daughter suffer the same fate. It was a love borne out of despair; Salima’s feeble attempt to build something from the ashes of her poor choices.

“ Oh GOD…” she said.

“How much exactly do you know about Him?” he said, chuckling mirthlessly. “You know what? In the short time I spent with Nadya, I think I got to know more about Him from her than you taught her or had perhaps intended for her to know. After all, GOD represents the Ultimate Patriarchy, no? Just another male figure…”

Salima sat silently.

“Nadya told me how much she loves you and her father, how much she admires you. But, she said, she noticed how restless and bitter you are about life and how she wished she could avoid that. She said she wanted peace. And so she found GOD…and led me to Him.” Salima couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her face as she pressed a fist to her mouth to stop from crying out in pain.

“I don’t think you quite know just how strong she is. She doesn’t need saving from anyone, least of all me. When I met Nadya she already knew herself, she didn’t need me to tell her who or what to be. She was…is sure of who she is and who she wants to be…and Whom she intends to serve.”

“I can see you are not ready to let go of her… and you have far more than I can ever offer…” Salima said. Jude slowly shook his head.

“This isn’t a war, Ma’am. “

“Isn’t it, Judah?” she hissed.

“You can never lose Nadya because you’re her mother and she loves you. We can both love her and have her in our lives in different contexts – there’s more than enough of her to go around.”

“Then I suppose there’s nothing more to say. Thank you for your time,” she said, rising up to her feet, unable to stay a minute longer and watch herself fight a battle she had already lost long before she had stepped foot into the café. She turned to call the waiter and Jude stopped her, insisting on paying the bill.

“After all, it would be churlish of me to allow a Nadya’s mother to pay,” he said. She nodded curtly and turned to leave. His voice stopped her in her tracks.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. I am not your enemy.”

“We’ll see about that,” she said calmly. Once again her throat clogged up and she struggled not to cry. She walked away, not looking back.

Jude watched her walk away, her back ramrod straight, head held high. He didn’t dislike the woman; indeed there was much about her that he saw in Nadya- the ferocious determination and fierce love. But he was sad for her. He had made an enemy of her simply for loving her daughter. He knew enough not to take it personally; she would have been the same with anyone else.

He sighed and got up, feeling as though he had gotten the wind knocked out of him. It was going to be a drawn out struggle… but he had the distinct feeling he would emerge the victor. And win over Nadya’s mother, besides.

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