by Cheryl S. Ntumy
I knew when he’d leave. Down to the second, down to the sigh on his lips, the way his fingers would lift off my hip and come to rest on my braids, the familiar pattern of strokes against my scalp. Through our hazy silence I could hear raised voices outside the shuttle, announcing the miners’ lunch break. The shuttle rocked on the ragged terrain of the asteroid, like a dinghy on a restless lake. His breathing had slid out of post-coital calm and put its boots on, set to go stomping all over my dignity again. I knew the words he’d say. “I hate to do this, but . . .” Man, I could make a living betting on his script. Anger coiled in my gut, tight and leaden. If he hated to do it, why did he? My anger turned rancid, and I fought the urge to spit it up. “Yeah,” I said, stretching. “It’s late. You should go.” That was me, Ms. Cool. I didn’t care that he was always leaving me for her. Why would I? I was an engineer with my own team. There were stories galaxy-wide about how I had changed the mining game. I had my own comcast and everything, with four billion followers. What did I need him for? “I’m sorry.” He reached for me as I removed myself from the tangle of our bodies. “No problem.” Just as long as he didn’t cut his feet on the fragments of my self-respect littering the floor. I’d sweep them up after he left. Not now. Not while he could see. I got dressed like I was late for a meeting, shimmying into sexy, lacy things that felt silly now, covering them with denim armour. He took his time. For someone who “really had to go” it always struck me how leisurely he put his clothes back on. Maybe he didn’t want to leave. Maybe he just felt obligated because she was so goddamn demanding— “Don’t be angry.” “I’m not.” I kissed him to prove my case. It didn’t work. He reached for my hand, pulled me onto his lap. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in my ear. I let him hold me for a minute, indulging his guilt, then pushed his arms away and got to my feet. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” “I’m busy tomorrow.” “All day?” “Yes.” No, but damn it, I had some pride. “I can’t do the day after. She has her—” “I know.” How could I forget her weekly check-up? God, she was so high maintenance. He made the usual excuses as he put on his boots. “It’s just that I can’t leave her alone. She’s vulnerable right now. If something happened while I was gone . . .” I refrained from rolling my eyes. What about me? I could fall into a hole or something. I could damage my spacesuit and asphyxiate. I’d broken my arm once on a mining job. He sighed. “This would be so much easier if you just came with me. I’d show you off to each other.” He grabbed me from behind and nuzzled my neck. Only a man would say something so stupid and then try to seduce me into accepting it. I pulled away and opened the shuttle door. The corridor yawned before me, stretching out across the asteroid to the main campus. He stood up to grab his shirt and I caught a glimpse of her tattooed on his shoulder. For the thousandth time I loathed myself for getting into this position. I was better than this. But he was all sultry eyes and long fingers, crooked smile and easy tears, and I was only human. He came to the door, pulling his shirt on, eyes pleading. “One night. Just the three of us.” “Bye.” But I was tempted. God, he was good. “I swear, you’ll love it. You’ll never come back.” “No!” “Why? What are you afraid of?” He stared into my eyes, mining me for answers. “Your suit is over there.” I pointed at the shelf beside the door. With a weary sigh, he picked it up and put it on, watching me the entire time. “If you give her a chance, you might love her as much as I do.” Yes, that would be perfect. Then we’d both worship her and she and I would worship him and who, exactly, would worship me? “Please.” He touched my cheek. “You don’t know how long I’ve dreamed about having my girls together.” Greedy bastard. I pushed him through the door. “You love her more than me.” His eyes widened. “That’s not fair. I know I spend more time on her—” “More time, more money.” “Yes, but that doesn’t mean . . . Jesus!” He turned away, then turned back to me. “You’re so unreasonable!” “You’re so selfish,” I replied, slamming the door in his face. I went to the window. I could see her in the distance, standing outside the campus like a gold goddess, waiting for our man. Beautiful, but gaudy. Her lines swooped and curved in too many places, she was too shiny—from all the time he spent polishing her flawless surfaces—and she broke down at the slightest provocation. Diva. I watched him exit the campus and run to her. He never ran to me. Her ramp slid down to welcome him, a chrome tongue licking him off the asteroid. I pictured him stroking her hull, whispering sweet everythings. One of these days she would take him off this asteroid and I’d never see him again. He could leave me anytime, but he’d never leave her. She was home. I turned away from the window, looked at the wreckage of me on the floor, took a deep breath and started to put myself back together.
Cheryl S. Ntumy is a Ghanaian writer of short fiction and novels of speculative fiction, young adult fiction and romance. Her work has appeared in FIYAH Literary Magazine, Apex Magazine, Will This be a Problem, and Botswana Women Write, among others. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Nommo Award for African Speculative Fiction, the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize, and the Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship. She is part of the Sauútiverse Collective and a member of Petlo Literary Arts, an organisation that develops and promotes creative writing in Botswana.