The Neighborhood Mirror
Max Lobe (1986) was born in Douala, Cameroon, and now lives in Switzerland. His first novel, 39 Rue de Berne, which portrays a gay man was awarded with the 2014 Prix du Roman des Romands. Lobes writing often focus on issues such as illegal immigration, sexual identities in traditional societies and postcolonial theory. In Lobe’s native country Cameroon homosexuality is considered illegal and could give up to five years in prison.
This morning Angy is sitting in front of Mimi, her beautiful mirror. She hardly ever leaves the tiny room where she lives, down amongst the rubbish at the far end of the shantytown. She’s got a tube of foundation in one hand and an old makeup brush in the other. Usually, if she spends a lot of time with Mimi, it’s so she can find all the ingrown hairs on her chin and then cover them up the best she can. But this morning she wants to cry out to Mimi that her heart is broken, chop-chopped in pieces, kebabbed like bits of suya meat they sell on the side of the road.
She wants to tell her that she’s hurting, right there, just between her boobs. By the way, what does Mimi think of her boobs? Even Pamela Anderson must cover up pronto when Angy shows off her boobies. She asks Mimi to look how big they are, like a couple of huge papayas. She tries to hitch up her bra again, then, shit! It’s fallen out! Hey, here’s a thing, just one boob… Not bad, she thinks. Now she looks like the wife of the neighbourhood chief. Poor thing! Losing a breast to that filthy illness. And the biggest of the two as well, Angy thinks. Maybe now the chief’s wife has to do what Angy does and stick in a couple of sponges.
How come Mimi didn’t know that? There can’t be a fishwife in the whole neighbourhood who hasn’t blabbed about it. It’s the number one subject of gossip in every palm wine bar in town. Angy gets a searing pain in her chest when she remembers the sound of those drunkards yesterday shouting,
‘ At last! It’s about time Thomas (her beloved Thomy) became a real man.’
That’s how she found out that he’d been round to see Ndumba’s parents. He’s going to marry her. To prove what? And to who, anyway? That he’s a real man?
‘Real man, my arse,’ she curses, tightly gripping her make-up brush.
And yet, she seems to remember, she had given him everything, on a plate. The money she’d sweated her arse off for. Food. And then that as well. Where was Ndumba when Thomas came tiptoeing round to her place like you’d think he was a little kitten coming to make himself at home? She always opened the door to him. When she said she might be asleep already, she’d leave the door ajar. Where was Miss Ndumba when Thomas turned up out of nowhere in the middle of the night looking for a bit of that? She’d given him the lot – front and back, cock, lock, stock and barrel. Was there anywhere he hadn’t managed to put his dick? Hadn’t she got herself into every position under the sun to satisfy him, her secret man, her night-time battery?
He called her Shaolin. And when he called her that, it was because he wanted a new position. And always full contact. He hated the rubbers used by white men, supposed to protect against disease. His legs were all over the place, doing the splits, one here, one right over there. He twisted her, bent her over and laid her out like you’d think she was just his plaything, his object. All that was left then was the hole, the muffled sound of constant to and fro, to and fro, then a spasm, the silent moan of pleasure. Then he’d fall asleep in her strong muscular arms, his head on her hairy chest, now free of the fake boobs. When it was like that, Angy was certain, Thomas was hers.
A tear trickles down her cheek. Angy wipes it away with her finger. She sighs, head bent low. She says to Mimi, her beloved mirror,
‘ Tell me, I am the most beautiful woman in this part of town.’
Then she smiles. Mimi is such a liar. When she lies, she’s like the politicians you see debating on the telly. How can Mimi swear blind that Angy is the best looking woman in the neighbourhood when she can see plain as day that the skin there, there on her chin, isn’t silky-smooth at all. She must be able to see that it’s rough and prickly like you’d think it was one of those metal pads for scouring cooking pots. Angy remembers when she was little her mother always asked her to scrub the bottom of the pots that had been sitting on the wood fire all night. Her mother had gone to the other side now. It was other people looking at her that killed her. No mother could put up with that. The son she had brought so painfully into the world, by the feeble light of a hurricane lamp, had now become Angy. Nine months of pregnancy for nothing.
This morning she had sent a text to Thomas. She couldn’t stand it any longer. Since she’d heard the news, it was as if her whole body had melted like it was margarine in the sun. She had said: I love you.
He hadn’t had the balls to reply.
How come Miss Ndumba hasn’t worked out that her fiancé doesn’t like pussy? It’s not exactly rocket science! That’s not his thing. And Angy knows Thomas definitely doesn’t go for love handles. And Miss Ndumba has got way too many. She’s like a bloody hippopotamus! Think of all the gymnastics he has to go through, the mountains of blubber he has to scale to get to Miss Ndumba’s hole. Angy thinks she might even feel a bit sorry for him.
‘Ohhh Mimi!’ she cries, ‘Look it’s that hair again!’ The same wretched hair she’s always plucking out and each time it grows back stronger and more ingrown than ever. And here’s Mimi is trying to tell her that she, Angy, is the most beautiful woman in town – no way!
She applies another layer of foundation. Then another. Gotta cover it all up. She can’t go out like that, looking like a little village slut. Not her. She’s an independent woman. And what if she was to go out and bump into her Thomy on the way? Come to think of it, has he even seen her in daylight?
She doesn’t know where the shouting came from suddenly. She just heard a noise like you’d think it was a lion roaring.
‘Enough is enough. We’re sick of having that filthy depso* living here. Not in this neighbourhood!’ The ear-splitting noise that followed was a sign of the violence to come. More shouting, then another voice, then a whole chorus of voices,
‘Enough is enough!’
She gets up to stand watch by the window of her room. The crowd is out there. Very close. Wielding Machetes and sticks. The hatred is tangible. She can see one man in the crowd quite clearly. Her Thomy. He even steps forward, in front of the crowd. He’s leading the revolt. He shouts, ‘He’s gonna regret the day he was born! He dares send me love messages. Does he think I’m like him? No, me, I’m a real man! I’m gettin’ married soon. Ndumba, she’s my woman. That’s how it’s gonna be. End of! ’
Angy drops her brush. ‘Mimi! Did you hear that?’
What to save? What to take with me? Go, but where? Suddenly, she misses her mother. If she’d been there, she might’ve defended her. A mother always protects her young. But her mother had decided to free herself of that chore. One spoon of poison and that was it. She left Angy alone to face the world. She didn’t even teach her how to protect herself from the sting of venom and insult before she went. She didn’t tell her that she’d always live in the dark amongst the rubbish, waiting, just waiting. For a loved one. Thomas. Oh Thomy, how could you?
She gathers all her makeup together. And Mimi, she’ll take Mimi… She goes towards the door to leave, escape, flee. It’s too late. A stone has just shattered the plywood wall of her room. Another even bigger stone splits open her forehead. She feels like a cockroach in a henhouse. Whatever you do, my love, they’ll peck you to bits like you were a worm.
She opens her eyes wide, but can no longer see. No longer hear. She holds up her mirror. Smiling, her mouth covered in blood, she asks,
‘Tell me Mimi, I am the most beautiful woman in this part of town, aren’t I? Mimi? Mimi? Can you hear me?’
*Translator’s note: depso - Cameroon slang for a homosexual