THERE comes a time in a woman’s life when she has to decide who to settle with and make a go for him. Laila was once briefly engaged to her childhood sweetheart who took off with one of her close friends. Now approaching 30, she’s been involved with Joseph, a photographer who runs his own studio. “He specialises in society events and sells photographs to most of these society magazines,” explained Laila. ‘He’d taken so much time and money setting up his business that he didn’t give marriage a thought until he was convinced he could look after a prospective family.
“Thanks to his job, he took me on a few society events that gave me a peep into the world of the other half—and how they live. It was at one of these events, a society wedding, that I meet Taofik. A strictly-by-invitation event, Joseph has wangled a card from one of the organisers, and that was how I found myself sitting at this table with beautifully dressed guests. I wasn’t bad looking myself. Thanks to the lady I worked with who recently passed to me a few of her clothes, I matched what most of the women were wearing and my freshly fixed hair attachment shone.
“The wedding reception was straight out of the pages of a magazine. The bride wore an obviously expensive gown and the wedding train was not disappointing. ‘I could get used to this,’ I thought, sipping a glass of cold wine. By the time the meals arrived, I was already charged up and chatting with a couple of men on my table. At first, I didn’t notice Taofik who was seated at the table next to mine but as the evening wore on, we ended up sitting next to each other. ‘Are you related to any of the celebrants?’ he asked seriously. I shook my head and took a closer look at him. He was smart and courteous—and handsome to boot. The groom and I work in a big legal firm. I’m a solicitor,’ he offered.
“l nodded calmly as if it was nothing to me that he was a high-flying lawyer. He went on to tell me he was working hard towards being made a partner of the firm and my heart started thumping. I might be onto something good here, I thought to myself. I could tell he liked what he saw too as he couldn’t take his eyes off me and kept filling my glass. But would his interest last when he discovered what I did for a living? That I was a sales assistant to a boss who ran her shop from home? So when he asked what I did, I blurted out, I worked for a businesswoman as her PA. She has an office in her house. There was no need to let on my job entails—no typing or telephoning—just persuading grumpy customers to buy enough stuffs so I could get paid at the end of the month.
“I’d arranged to go home with one of my friends as Joseph would have to take some photographs to clients’ offices that very day. When Taofik asked if I had my own transport, I shook my head and he offered to give me a lift. But I told him I’d already arranged for transport. If he took me home, he would realise I was obviously beneath him. I was already regretting the half truth about what I did. After all, I worked very hard and was earning an honest living.
“As we left the venue, he asked me out and I agreed. One date led to another and each time I saw him, I fell for him a bit more. And that was even before I saw his flashy jeep and ultramodern flat. If I’d owned up straightaway about deceiving him, I could have made a joke of it. But every time I was about to tell him, I thought about how successful he was and the words stuck firmly in my throat. I lived in fear of him phoning to say he’d meet me from work, so I kept a smart skirt, top and pair of heels there, just in case…. I even added to my lies that I lived in a flat when all I had was a one-room apartment.
“Then out of the blues, he wanted to know what I thought of marriage. Both of us weren’t getting younger, he said, and the earlier we set plans for a wedding rolling, the easier it would be for us to save for it. Part of me was walking on air, glad he thought we had a future together. But part of me panicked. From where would I get money for a fancy wedding? A few months later, he wanted to know how much rent I paid. By this time, he’d assumed I lived in one of my boss’s flats where he’d picked me up from work a few times. If he could arrange for us to buy a government flat, the rent on my flat combined with our salaries and the rent from his fancy pad, should be enough for us to afford the mortgage.
“That brought me down to earth. I don’t have a fancy ‘salary’—just cash payments that barely covered my rent and food. There was no way I could take on any mortgage! I blustered some excuse about how we shouldn’t rush things, but a few months later, Taofik is now suggesting we go and check out some estate agents his office uses from time to time. If I refuse, he’ll wonder why. But if I go, my secret will be revealed as soon as we meet his lawyer friends.
“I really love Taofik, but our whole relationship is built on sand. I can’t keep up this pretence any longer. At first, I was ashamed to admit what I did for a living. But now, I really have something to cringe about—all the cowardly lies I’ve told. I’m scared stiff they’re going to cost me the man of my dreams. All those posh life-styles, fancy parties and generous cash gifts will end. And as for Joseph, the way I treated him when I landed Taofik, he would be a price fool if he as much as looked at me.”