In The Three of Us, the short, sharp, hilarious and addictive debut novel from Ore Agbaje-Williams, tensions between a husband, wife and her best friend bubble – until it all threatens to boil over.
Set over the course of a single day and told from each of their perspectives, it's a playful read you'll be dying to talk about with friends, loved ones, colleagues – maybe even strangers?
In the extract below, we meet The Wife as she introduces her best friend (and husband's mortal enemy), Temi...
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 cómo 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 cufflinks and followed it by saying No Homo and then laughing, by himself, but who Temi finds funny even though she is laughing at him and not with him. Then there’s TTM (Talk 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 to ask him 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 amongst 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 towards herself. Now, I don’t think he’s boyfriend material, which is a problem, because of course I have the wed- dings coming up, so I need to keep him within striking dis- tance, 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?
I met Temi when I was eleven. We were at the same secondary school, although by Year 10 she’d moved up a year, that’s how intelligent she is. We both had the big rucksacks, the fresh braids with no colour because our school was strict about that, even though the white girls who went to the Caribbean on their summer holidays were allowed a single limp braid with coloured thread in it.
Temi accidentally bumped into me when we were getting changed after PE, and my deodorant slipped out of my hand and on to the floor. I picked it up and there was hair and some other unknown material stuck to it. It was organic because my mother had recently read about the link between deodorant and cancer somewhere and made my sisters and me throw away our old ones. The organic ones were seven pounds each and I knew she’d be angry if I came home and told her it was ruined. Temi grimaced as she peered over my shoulder to see what she’d done. Sorry yeah, she said, maybe just rinse it in the sink and it will come off?
Even though it was an idiotic solution (because I was never going to let anything that had touched the floor anywhere near my body again), I appreciated the attempt at one, and said thanks. I was the last to leave the changing room because I wanted to sniff my armpits to see what the damage was and she came back in to look for something just as I was doing it. She laughed and fished a spray deodorant out of her rucksack and held it out to me. It was the first time someone persuaded me to do something I had been told was wrong. Obviously that was the most innocent ‘bad’ thing I could have done at that age. But when you have the fear of your mother guiding you, there isn’t a lot you’re willing to do in the first place.
After that we very naturally became friends. We ate lunch together, texted each other every day with the little credit we were allowed, studied for tests and exams together, and even our mothers became friends in a way, trading tips for how to talk your way out of a parking ticket and cursing about our fathers in Yoruba when they thought we couldn’t understand. There are a few years between my sisters and me, and we have never been close. But Temi and me, we spent a lot of time together during those years, and we’ve been best friends ever since. She is probably the only person in my life who has never wanted something from me, only for me.