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"The Three of Us" (Putnam's), a wickedly comic debut novel by British-Nigerian writer Ore Agbaje-Williams, presents a day in the lives of a husband and wife, and the wife's best friend, whose respective narrations offer very different takes on the sturdiness of the marriage.
Read an excerpt below.
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Temi comes over at twelve. She brings along the wine and the Kettle Chips I asked her to bring, as well as a packet of cigarettes. She called when she was at the till to ask if I needed a lighter, because the woman who was serving her had asked the same question. I could tell she had the phone in between her shoulder and her chin because I could hear her coat rustling. I said no to the lighter, because we had matches at home, but also because I knew I wouldn't end up smoking, not if my husband would be able to smell it on me.
She was late, I knew she would be. She told me she would get here by eleven but it was eleven forty-five when she called me from the shop. I knew she would be late before that, though, because she always is. It's her thing. She's the only person I let come to anything late. That's what happens when you're best friends. You let things slide. Besides, today we were supposed to have been in another country, acting like we didn't speak English and wearing sunglasses indoors, and it's my fault we're not—something that she reminded me of when she informed me this morning that she would be coming over. I haven't seen her in almost a month so I can't really justify complaining. So anyway, she arrives at twelve. She gets out of the car mid-story, like she'd started telling it the moment she saw me approaching from the front door and just thought I'd pick up what I'd missed as she told the rest of it. She was talking about someone, I didn't know who.
It was someone who'd been sending her links to cat videos on YouTube. She said she didn't even know people still watched cat videos on YouTube, and I agreed, I thought we'd moved on to TikTok and Instagram for stuff like that. Anyway, she continued, I asked him to stop. I said, When have you ever known me to be a cat person? By then we've moved into the house, hugged, and she's kicked off her shoes at the front door. We go to the kitchen and open the wine, and she does what she usually does, downs one glass first and then slowly sips the next. I don't ask if she is planning to sober up and drive home later because I assume she'll be leaving her car and calling an Uber like she always does.
He said he thought the videos were funny, that I would like them because they're funny videos, that I don't need to like cats in order to enjoy them. I eat the Kettle Chips as she talks, letting them soften a little on my tongue before I chew them because the crunch will get in the way of me hearing what Temi is saying, and she hates repeating herself. I know that. I watched the videos, she says. They're quite funny. And since we won't be doing como se dice I'm seeing him on Tuesday. I have to clarify which person this is. She's seeing a few different guys and she gives them nicknames rather than calling them by their real names. If I tell you their names you'll get attached, she says. There's No Homo, who at dinner complimented a waiter's cuff links and followed it by saying No Homo and then laughing, by himself, but whom Temi finds funny even though she is laughing at him and not with him. Then there's TTM (Talks Too Much), the one who provides sad and lengthy monologues whenever Temi asks him a simple question like, Where's your shirt from? or Would you like to share a starter? She only went out with him twice. After things fizzled out she messaged him to ask the name of the restaurant they'd been to and he sent her four paragraphs. So now they text platonically and she sends me the screenshots. Maybe we'll read through the new ones later. There's also Woman, so called because she discovered that's how he referred to her among his friends. She was tricked into meeting them on their second date when he invited her to have a picnic in the park but neglected to mention that his friends and family would be there. It was his birthday party.
This one, though, she's not told me about before—or at least I don't remember him. I did, she says when I tell her he doesn't ring a bell. She uses her arm to demonstrate how tall he is (about a foot taller than she is apparently) and puts her hand between her legs and knocks her knees together, hops from foot to foot. Oh. It all comes back to me. Desperate for the Loo? Yes! See I knew you'd remember. She swivels the packet of crisps toward herself. Now, I don't think he's boyfriend material, which is a problem, because of course I have the weddings coming up, so I need to keep him within striking distance, you know? I nod, take a large swig of wine, and try the wine-tasting thing my husband was showing me on his phone the other day. Speaking of which, Temi says, where's yours?
From "The Three of Us" by Ore Agbaje-Williams. Copyright © 2023 by Ore Agbaje-Williams. Published by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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