At 5:30 in the morning, my ears and eyes don’t function properly. It is far too early by several hours. I try to go back to sleep, but at the same time need to keep pushing or else the boyfriend is late for his bus to work. One eye on the clock, the other closed, the blanket tucked under my chin, I pretend.
He stands by the door, and I know that he looks at me in the mirror. I can feel his eyes searching my face. Still, I pretend. If I don’t, he will start talking. Too early!
Whatever he says, I cannot fully hear it, the AC is too noisy.
‘What?’ I growl.
He repeats the word, and I still don’t catch it and it slowly dawns on me that he is not speaking English.
At 5:33 in the morning, I have very little patience.
‘What?” I say, a little harsher than I need to.
He turns, a warm smile playing around his lips.
He says that word, ‘oyimbo,’ again and again and again; it turns into a sing song as he hop-dances towards the bed. He towers over me, chanting ‘o-yim-bo, o-yim-bo,’ smiling now broadly, teasing, playing, mocking me.
I know that word. It’s his language, and it means ‘white woman.’
It is 5:36 and two can play at that game. I no longer can pretend.
In my best German (he does not know the difference, but somehow it matters to me), I tell him ‘schwarzer Mann’ (black man).
He knows the meaning of the words.
He turns back to the mirror and checks the stubble of his head hair. He needs another close shave soon. He is very particular about this.
‘Are you mocking me for my colour?’ His voice low, but I am awake enough to hear now.
‘Are you mocking me?’ I reply.
He giggles and I know what he is going to say next.
‘You are turning Nigerian!’
‘I am not. Schwarzer Mann.’
‘God has made me this way.’ He stands away from the door with its pasted-on mirror, turns under the glaring light of the bulb like a pleased child with a new outfit.
‘What colour is God?’ I ask.
‘Like me!’ He shows off his arms and points at his face. Through half closed eyelids, I see the white of his eyes shine, his teeth shimmery between the full set of his dark lips.
‘But I am a child of God as well!’
‘So?’ He challenges me.
And I know that he knows my answer.
‘God is a zebra.’
‘God is not a zebra! How can God be a zebra?’
‘Well, if you are made in His image, and I am made in His image, then God is both black and white. Therefore, God is a zebra!’
It is 5:42, and I stand behind him in front of the mirror. I wrestle with my pyjama shirt and bare my arms. From behind I grab him around the shoulders, put my arms across his naked upper body.
Between the pale whiteness of my skin, his darkness shines through. In the reflection of the mirror, there are black and white stripes. And for just the tiniest of moments, the zebra reflects back at us.