An excerpt from Worse Either Way by N/A Oparah
He didn’t tell you he still lived with his mother until you walked in on her in the bathroom. She had on a black, silk bonnet and a fluffy, cotton robe with floral patterns that matched the curtains you’d earlier made fun of him for. She nodded to you via her reflection in the mirror then spat out the suds of her toothpaste. Her lips had an outline of white on them, a speckle on her chin, when she turned to greet you.
“Good morning hun, what’s your name?”
You were sure this was wrong. You looked her up and down, taking inventory of her lines and folds,hoping, that instead of a mother, this was another woman he’d brought home that same night. Called her a taxi cab that followed behind you both. Fucked her when he went to the bathroom those two times and then again after you fell asleep. That would make more sense to you: two, one-night stands in the same night. More than living with mommy. You were older than him too, by much less, sure, but maybe he had and you are just a less extreme instance of his preferences.
You hadn’t thought to ask him if he lived with his mother. This was his response to your confusion when you reentered his bedroom. This was true.
You wanted to argue with him but you could hear his mother fumbling around in the kitchen. You didn’t want her to think you were the sort of woman who both slept with near strangers immediately and argued with them first thing in the morning. You began to dress.
“You don’t want to stay?”
You’ve never felt no so clearly. The answer sprung from every part of you. Your lips let the word slip like deliverance. “No.”
“You sure?” There was a knock on the bedroom door. “You all almost done in there? Grandma’s coming back soon. You need to wash those sheets in time.”
You swung your head towards him and mouthed, “grandma?”
He was putting on basketball shorts over baby blue boxers. He shrugged his shoulders a bit.
You started to wonder if this was even his house at all. If you remembered correctly, it was a two bedroom apartment in the middle of a neighborhood you wouldn’t visit on purpose. He saw your confusion and interrupted.
“I’m usually on the couch. This is my gran’s room, the other is my mom’s.”
“Can you walk me out? I don’t want to run into your mom alone.” Each word came out slowly, you were trying not to curse.
He nodded and stood, still drunk. The morning hadn’t sobered him like you.
You could see the front door. Its three blockades: one door chain, one knob key lock, one cylinder night latch, between you and exit.
Only the chain was left to undo when she called you over.
“Stay, come eat.” “No,” said everything in you again, this time perfecting the harmonies, increasing the volume. “I really have to….” “Come on, just for a bit,” he suggested, betraying.“I’m sorry, but I…”
You could see he was now intentionally fumbling with the chain. Postponing your escape. He scooted the cylinder along the plane subtly back and forth so it never found its opening at the end.
His mother arrived behind you and placed both hands on your shoulders. Her hair was now out in a thick black bob and instead of a robe, she wore a pajama set that also matched her robe and the blinds.
“Take a seat,” she said putting you in one.
There was a bowl for eggs, a plate of bacon, and a tupperware condensing on the side from the heat of fresh pancakes. The table was in a small clearing between the kitchen and living room. From where she placed you, you could see almost all of the apartment. You now noticed how many family photos and old people things were hanging around the house.
“Help yourself,” she ordered.
You sat with your hands in your lap as this man and his mom began to eat. They turned on the tv in the next room and watched it from the dining table. Their conversation splattered between commentary on the episode of Love Island (they’d both seen the episode at least once), his grandmother’s imminent return and wellbeing, and updates from their weekends.
You could see the food in each of their mouths as they talked. The yellows and browns mixing together, finding refuge between teeth and on the upper line of lip. His mother allowed several crumbs to return to the table half chewed.
“Are you one of those girls who don’t eat on dates?” His mother laughed out the question, adding a small sphere of half-processed egg to the pancake she stacked on your plate.
He answered for you, “Nah… she eat.” He winked at you. They erupted.
You were stone.
You forced yourself to swallow four bites of egg before leaving and promised yourself you’d never let yourself be in that position again. That was the first of forty-two times you made that promise.
Ngozi Oparah is a queer, first-generation Nigerian-American writer. Her other work has appeared in Madwomen in the Attic, QXotc, Five:2:One, Fictional International, A Velvet Giant, and other journals. Ngozi has received residencies in writing, art, and narrative media from Can Serrat in El Bruc, Spain and Proyecto Lingüistico Quetzalteco in Xela, Guatemala. Ngozi holds an MFA in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts and a B.S. in Neuroscience & Philosophy from Duke University. She is the Director of Community Programs at StoryCenter, a digital storytelling non-profit in Berkeley, CA. She is studying towards a PhD at Loughborough University in Creative Arts and Design in the UK.
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