Africa Writes have teamed up with Jacaranda Books to bring you a delightful monthly read from the publisher’s Twenty in 2020 releases. In July we are spotlighting If I Don’t Have You by Sareeta Domingo.
Here’s a short blurb: A #TwentyIn2020 romance that beautifully centres vulnerability while exploring the limits of love at first sight. Ren is an Afro-Brazilian filmmaker recovering from an affair of betrayals, while Kayla is a Black British artist and journalist. Thrown together during an interview for Ren’s latest film, they are struck by an irrevocable force.
If you’d like a 10% discount, head over to Jacaranda’s website and use the code ‘AWNEWS‘ to claim it! Jacaranda Books successfully crowdfunded with Knights Of and Spread the Word to support inclusive independent publishers hit worst by the COVID-19 economic crisis. You can read more about their Inclusive Indies campaign here. #InclusiveIndies
October 7 2016 6:13 AM (EDT)
To: Ren Morgan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Kayla Joseph <email@example.com>
You still won’t answer your phone, so this is all I’ve got.
The thing I can’t help thinking is—if this was real, if you really understood me or wanted to try, then you’d at least listen to me. You’d let me explain properly. Honestly, it really hurts me that you won’t. So maybe you were wrong about this thing between us meaning anything at all.
I don’t want to believe that.
You’re hurt too, I understand that, but you said we’d have time and that’s obviously not true either. Maybe regret is all we’ll really have. Is it wrong to hope we’ll share that, at least?
I didn’t tell you the whole story because I didn’t want this to end, and now it’s way past that.
I know I’ve been calling all night, but I promise I’ll leave you alone now. It probably is better if we just draw a line under it all. You left without a goodbye and to be honest, I’m not sure if I’d be able to cope with you actually saying it.
I’m sorry, Ren.
I’ve been staring into light so much today it’s inevitable that darkness is starting to crowd the edges of my vision. The blaze of the sun outside has long since given way to hard slices of rain, pounding against the windows. I let my eyes crumple closed for a moment, sighing at the glare of orange behind my eyelids. I’ve been daydreaming about sleep for the last three hours. Night’s beginning to fall and it feels like I’ve been in this hotel room half my lifetime, talking endlessly into camera lenses and without any real meaning.
Ione walks over to me, tossing her hair over one shoulder as she glances at her tablet with a burgundy-lipped smile, and that look in her eyes that’s always there now—a certain knowing. She reaches over and squeezes my shoulder, kneading for a moment, then she releases. It did kind of feel good, but her smile says she’s got me figured out: that she’s certain I wouldn’t be able to resist if she ever decided to stake a claim on me again. She’s probably right, even if it would be less about sex than having a warm body next to me afterwards. I’ve only recently begun to admit I’m such a sap.
‘How many more?’ I ask.
‘Almost done, just one more. And to be honest, she’s some new online-print, so I can just blow her off if you want? I think she’s already been in with Jeff and Elena.’
I shrug and tuck my hair behind my ears. It’s in-between, getting long enough to brush my collar. I’m never sure which suits me better, short or long. I’ll just let it grow until it’s distracting. ‘No, it’s cool. What’s one more, huh?’
‘Spoken like a true pro. Hit all the angles—right, Mr Director?’ She winks at me, making her false lashes flap like a crow’s wing. I smile back even though I barely found the quip funny. Did she mean it seductively, an ego stroke? Or sarcasm? Hope not. ‘Like I said, her site is pretty new, but it’s consistently top ten amongst eighteen to thirties. All publicity is good publicity, and other clichés,’ Ione adds. Striding around me, the points of her heels sinking into the deep pile of the carpet, she adjusts the poster on its easel behind me.
Good publicity? I’m not sure our leading man booking a stay in a holding cell really counts, but so far people seem to be buying the “man-flu” excuse the studio put out today. And there is, of course, that other story, which everyone wants to bring up with me even all these months down the line. God, if only it was just a story, not actual and painful and way too embarrassingly real. I torture myself with another flash of memory, but manage to push it away to the dull ache in the back of my mind. Later, when I’m alone again, I know it will all force its way back to the surface anyway.
‘Just a words site, right? No filming?’ I ask, and Ione nods, smirking a little at my phraseology probably. ‘Then can we…?’ I shield my eyes dramatically, and gesture to the lights and reflectors set up for the TV and YouTube channels, still casting their semi-flattering illumination on the tired crevices of my face, my three-day beard. If all the on-camera interviews are done then surely they can be switched off.
‘Oh right, sure. Let me get, uh, was his name Pete? I’ll be right back. Shall I send her in?’
I shrug again, but then draw in a long breath and straighten up in the armchair. ‘Yup, send her in.’
Ione holds up two manicured fingers to indicate she’ll be back shortly, then hustles out of the suite. I hear her voice in the hallway, fast and clipped, talking to the final journalist. Then there’s a muffled knock, and the door slowly begins to open.
‘Hello… Mr Morgan?’
A bare shoulder appears, smooth and deep brown as mahogany. A face follows—eyebrows arched and curious; wide eyes not only dark in colour but like they’re holding a weight of intelligence; high, sharp cheekbones; lips full and expressive, only a fraction paler than that gorgeous skin which looks like it’s lit from within.
Is this that sappy part of my brain again, or is she one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen?
She nudges the door the rest of the way open with her shoulder, and I see why—her hands are laden. A leather backpack hangs off the other shoulder, and she’s clutching a notepad, a cell phone and the strap of what looks like a Polaroid camera case in one hand, and an over-filled, half-eaten salmon and cream cheese bagel in the other. A bottle of the “artisanal” water the hotel insists on is clamped underneath one armpit. I should help her, but I’ve become immobile.
‘Sorry, I, uh, I seem to have overburdened myself…’ she murmurs, trying to look past the lighting set-up to see me. Her voice sounds like it’s floating on a cushion of smoke, light but husky. I still sit, mute. She makes her way over to the skinny-legged designer chair set opposite me and dumps most of her stuff on the floor beside it. She exhales and flips back her tangle of long, skinny dreadlocks, licks her lips and wipes cautiously around her mouth with her free fingers. She puts the half-eaten bagel down in its napkin on a nearby side table, then she smoothes her hand slowly down her thigh, which is clad in tight black denim, before holding it out to me. I swallow.
‘To murder and create,’ she says, looking at me expectantly.
‘Kayla Joseph, To Murder and Create?’ She sounds more hesitant now. ‘Sorry, it’s my website—did that publicity woman—?’
‘Oh. Yes! I’m… I’m pathetically behind the times. I should know that. Have a seat, Kayla, good to meet you. I’m Ren Morgan.’
‘Ren. Right.’ She smiles slowly at me like I’d answered an unasked question and shakes my hand, the myriad rings on her fingers clacking softly together. It’s rare I feel the implied insecurity of not using my given name in everyday life, but what do you know? It’s sneaking up on me now. As she sits down, the lights prevent me from being able to see her properly any more, and I frown at the door, hoping Ione finds the guy soon.
‘Wow, those are seriously bright, aren’t they?’ she says, her voice disembodied now as she sits in the shadows. I think she sounds British?
‘Yeah, someone’s coming to deal with them. Can I get you— You already have some refreshments, I guess?’ I laugh self-consciously, hearing myself sounding like a Grade A moron. [end of excerpt].
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Image of Sareeta Domingo: Abi Oshodi Photography