The walls are deep green. The chairs and tables are dark iron wrought. It gave me the feeling of eating out in a lawn. He has gone for junk too; meat pie but with a bottle of Lacasera.
As I sat there, sipping my drink and looked into his cool fresh face, I wanted to scream, you murdered it! You slay it in a cold blooded-bright afternoon. You sniffed the life out of it. Oh Andrew but you murdered it. It was young and beautiful and fresh, you held its tender neck and squeezed the life out, as tender as a young deer which galloped at the river bank, though the feet uncertain and the eyes yet not shrewd. You shot it straight in the heart. I wanted to crash my bottle and yell at him but instead I picked up my chilled kunnu haya, sip and gave him a slim smile. He smiled back, mouth full, “You speak with your mum?” he asked.
“All the time,” “I never believed you could stay whole year back after Uni, you always run home to mum every opportunity back then.” He said with a smiled. That stung but I chuckled. Brought out my stick and poke “Your pretty little sisters? Are guys checking them out yet?” He screwed his face, “that is not funny’’ “I am not joking. They are like what now? Fourteen… Fifteen? They are big girls now.” “I think ama go buy a gun, I will shoot people’s leg,” he delivered as a matter of fact. I chuckled. “No you won’t. I took a bite of my meat pie. “Don’t be scared, either you like it or not, one day someone is going to thoroughly make out with your sisters boobs and you will be happy about it” I took more sip of my drink, smiled into his eyes and put a lid on the rage in my head. Because if I let loose, we will end the lunch with him turned upside down, while I grab his leg and use his head to mop the restaurant floor. And that’s not cool, that is not what trendy sophisticated elite do, they don’t use each other’s head to mop restaurant’s floor. His big eyes roamed all over me without guise, something I have learnt to get use to; I have added more weight in all the right places, which look good on me and his eyes, unpretentious are on those curves.
On that day, among the students of STA 101 class, in my very first year in the University of Jos; I had felt the eyes first. When I turned, I met with huge crystal clear white balls that could x-ray through one’s bones to the deepest part of the soul.
Even as our eyes met, he didn’t blink, he didn’t look away. He stood in the middle of the crowd as people pushed past him.
In that few seconds, I took in enough of his frame; chubby, average height, powdery dark, full lips, bushy brow, thick lashes and very handsome in that pretty way.
The next day, as I bent over my desk, head buried in my graph book, I felt a hand touched my shoulder.
He tried to make little talks, to get close, to get friendly.
After then, he followed me around like a puppy dog. Rather importunate at first but he was witty and he made me laughed. At twenty six, his college ruddiness has turned into broad shoulder with ripped muscles. Half into the day’s work, his shirt, folded to his elbows, revealed sinewy arms and big broad hands. He looked trendy in crisp black shirt and grey trousers. “I quit smoking, I quit taking weed too.” He delivered, as elated as a child showing a new gift to a friend. I nodded my head, that automatic illogical bobbles of a programmed robot. Bite into my meat pie. “I’m serious, I did.” I looked at his face. “That’s good news,” my voice sounded placid, I wondered why it is important for me to know…really.
He pointed the butt of his drink towards the wristwatch and the gold slim bracelet in my hand. “Those are nice,’’ he said. I smile. “Thank you.” I work now; I can afford to splurge, to dessert the life of second hand jeans and sandals for expensive fitted shirts, lycra skirts and high heels. His face went serious “You look good, you always look good. How do you do that?” “Aha, you used to make fun of my shoes.” He chuckled.
He stared at me with such kindness, with such love and longing. There is something in it just more than carnal pining. There is a soft trembling tenderness.
And I do not get it.
I had thought before that I know what it meant when he looked at me. But then maybe I don’t, maybe I am living a life of illusion. But I do know what I saw in his eyes, they were kindness and love like I have never seen before or I thought I knew.
Somehow we both know that time is short now, and very soon there will be no room for a quick lunch grabs together anymore. In three days time I will be out of Jos for good. I didn’t tell him that. I got the job of my dream in Lagos and I have no plan to inform him as well. This may be the last time we will see each other. When Andrew and I started dating, my heart didn’t lurch, and there was no butterfly. What I had was serene, pure and peaceful. I could take a deep breath, rested my head on it, and leave all the noise, the dust and the madness behind.
The day I realized I am deep in love with Andrew; I was staring at his shoe.
He had let himself into my room with a spare key while I was away. When I got home his shoes were at the door.
My heart did double rapid beats. And I could feel the first flap of the butterfly wings. The world stopped, at that instant. I had always thought that phrase was just an embellishment of figments word. But in point of fact, that day, the world did stop. It was both dramatic and spectacular feeling; the oddness and anomaly of that moment when everything just froze in space.
And that’s me standing there, with a giant butterfly fluttering around in my belly, as I stared at the shoes of the man I had had sex with for over six months and it wasn’t even a fine shoe for that matter. It was old loafers covered in brown dust.
I fell in I love; I became a fool, and got dump.
I had this fear that he could cheat and hurt me. His assurance was no help; my antenna could not stop picking signals.
His movement became sketchy, I got more suspicious.
I got low. So low I waded in the mud. I checked his phone, wanted to know where he is, what he’s doing when he’s not with me.
We began to have issues.
He was never a good fighter. I nagged, he pouted. I whined, while he sulked. I nagged the more; I nagged him until he turned purple. He would stay in a corner; that space between his eyes creased into two ridges as he peered at me, brooding. But then after a while he’d do something sweet, like massaged my legs.
He would do it so gently until all tensions melted away. Or he would come behind me where I am cooking, slipped his hand round my waist and nuzzled my neck. Or he’d do something ridiculous like carry my very pink, very feminine bag all the way from school.
He would do many things to dissolve the tension; to end any fight between us, but what he would never do is talk about it. I don’t get why anyone would sit at a corner and moped and never want to talk about it, I had never wanted anything more in my life. One day, he’d snapped. Andrew never screamed at me. But that day he’d shouted. He’d said ‘You don’t want peace, you never want peace.’ He had called me obsessive possessive neurotic insecure girlfriend. I screamed back. ‘No matter what is going on with us we’ll find a way to figure it out.’ He had said. He called the next day and said he thinks we should give each other a break. ‘Are we not answerable to each other?’ I implored. He said ‘Babe, I have been trying to be answerable to my mum since the day I was born and could not master it yet. Why would I be answerable to you?’ I had no reply to that. We did figure it out, but separately. And it took me five months. Five months of which I almost got flooded away in my own tears. I even cried in my sleep. You’d think the worst thing that can happen in a relationship is to be dumped by someone you love. No, the worst thing is when the one who dumped you still wants to remain friend.
He still called, he still comes to my house, and he still wanted to hold me like we are a couple.
In class he would stay at the back and stare at me until my bones liquefied.
I asked that we talk; he said we have nothing to talk about. I asked that he stops calling but he would call any way. I refused to pick his calls, but he’d just call again and again. I tried to laugh, to play it easy but I couldn’t tell if he’s a friend or a lover. He wanted to gist and laugh about other things but not talk about the relationship.
I told him to not come to my place and slammed the door on his face; he would show up another day. I stopped talking to him on the street; he’d come over and hug me. I was split in two. Whenever he holds me, I know how easy it would be, for us to fall unto each other and into routines of steamy sex. And I don’t want that, not with someone who dumped me.
His touch was like fire to my blood stream. I put it under control by getting mad. Our relationship became a spout of laughter that we try to suppress and fight that ends quickly. The frustrations of it just make me cry more.
He wanted me to be not too much of this and just little bit of that. To be little, insignificant parts of everything; to fade between thin line.
Since when I was little, when my mama held my hand to draw my first line; I have always loved to draw it in bold colours now, I have a vague image of this line that is grey and crooked with a mysterious warp at a junction where someone took a wrong cut and got lost. One day, I asked him forthrightly what he wanted. He said he just wants to be in my life. I should please not push him away. I don’t know what that is, or even if I am strong enough to do that. So I told him, it is too much of a thing to ask. For you to just be in my life undefined.
I wanted to do more than just move on. I wanted to forgive him. If not for anything else, in respect to beautiful things we once have. And anger easily dies, when there are no expectations. When I graduated, I got a job with SECAP, an NGO organization advocating for peace on the Plateau. He got a job, few blocks away from my workplace. The first time he came to my office and asked that we grab lunch. I’d oblige, in part because its lunch and was famished,
Since then, once a week, we would end up at Chinosgrand, eating junks, trying too hard to keep our dignity and make sure no matter what it means it never gets out of hand His phone beeps. He shifted and removed it from his pocket. “Oh,” he groaned, “this bank, always charge me for stuffs I don’t understand” “Liar,” I said with a smile, “or you are buying weed online.” He smile, then chuckled, a deep rumbling sound, “Buying weed online with my debit card.” He repeated and then shook his head with the ridiculousness of that. “You are imagining things.” His grin has broadened now. Lips stretches, gap teeth reveals. Fear pinches my breath; I wanted to ask, what does it mean? Seated here and having lunch with Andrew. I no longer afford myself the luxury that it could mean anything important.
Instead I smile back at him. Rage and fear are energy you spend on what you still have hoped for. The fact that, ten months after we broke up, he’d repeated he never left and that I pushed him away. The fact that I believed him and blamed myself. The fact that he had confessed to me in one of similar day over lunch that there was actually someone before we broke up. And that sudden, outstanding realization that I’m not a total neurotic obsessive girlfriend after all and that he did cheat.
The fact he couldn’t connect the two; his cheating which led to the tension in our relationship. And the fact that I kept quiet looking at him just because I was too stunned and that I surprise myself by acting cool with soft smile and without a word continue to sip my drink.
Which one is worst? A neurotic insecure girlfriend, who was right? Or pristine-cool, and collective friend, who was wrong? Sometime I lose trace of which one I am. He left his phone and peeped affectionately inside my half opened bag, lying droop on the table. With smile on his face, “You never change,” he murmured, dreamily. I don’t know if I should take that as a complement or as an offence. “I can’t stop to marvel why women have the need to carry big bags.” “Stop looking inside my bag.” I chastised. His smile broadens. Then the smile stops, just vanish. He looked up at me, big white eyes stunned. I saw in his hand was a packet of shaving stick I bought yesterday that I had dumped inside my bag and forgot there. “You want to shave?” He whispered, his eyes round in his head, “which part do you want to shave? Of course he knows I have no hairs on my legs “Jesus H Christ!” I exclaimed as I took my bag from him. His eyes went flabbergasted, shocked even as his mouth parted in astonishment. “What!” I couldn’t imagine what I have done now to cause such frightening reaction?
He lifted his two hands wide then drops it beside him in frustration “Did Jesus have a middle name now?” “Oh…” I frown at the space, as if I could see the words typed out in front of me. And it was my turn to be surprise. “You have never heard me say that before?” “No!” “Really?” we were talking in a high pitch voice now. “Yeah…what… How can you give a middle name to Jesus?” “I think it means something like…” I pause, frowned. He frowned deeper
The seriousness on his face make me chuckled.
His lips wrinkled as smile broke the corner of his mouth.
And we laughed at the absurdity of our conversation It could be easy for us to fall into that routine that rhymes, laughing too much over every silly thing. And it wasn’t right. I could see his fear. And I understand. Its creeps up on his face right now, creased his brow, created a painful nostalgia. I know the lunch has rounded up at this stage. And I know what he’d do next. He would touch my hand gently or pull me into his arm for a hug. I have finished my meat pie anyway and I was just sipping my drink. I picked out my phone from inside my bag and checked the time it was 1: 45. I corked my drink, dropped it inside my bag. Pushed back my chair and stood up. He rounded the table and came to stand beside me. He touched me on the shoulder lightly as I zipped my bag.
I have learned several skills to avoid his hugs if I don’t want it. I was ready to pull back, to guide his hands away and make my message clear. But instead I swivel out of the hand that reached out to me, in innocence and subtlety, that sleek way when you pretended that you are turning away.
He gripped my elbow and pulled me back against his chest. His hand circled my waist before I could protest.
I froze, breath seize, muscle taut. And I remember, how when we were still lovers, he’d whispered to me to relax and I’d realize I had frozen. He hadn’t said anything right now but I became conscious of how stiff my muscles were. It was so wired I thought it could snap. I practically wasn’t breathing.
Then it occurs to me how ridiculous this is. I am a twenty six years old girl in the arm of a big strong man I might never see again or hold again. Why can’t I enjoy it? The world will not end.
I took a deliberate deep breath and relax every inch of my muscle. I let my hand circle round him. He folded me deeper into his chest. Clasps me the way a child would clutch a teddy bear. One of his big palms lay on my back, holding me in place.
He has bended to my height, face buried in my neck, so that we touched cheek to cheek. His skin hot, his heavy breaths warmed on my neck, each inhalation slow and deliberate like he was drawing me in. Not saying anything, we held on to each for several long minute. Not letting go just stood there oblivious of all the people seated round us, having lunch. I can deal with bullshit guys, I can deal with jackass. But this…I never know how to deal with.
Who are you lying to?
Yourself? Or your friends?
I wanted to ask. But I have chosen my answer. After all I’m a woman; I would rather go home and paint my toes than want to know the truth. May be I am scared too but it is just that we are both scared of different things. But one thing I know is that, I do not want to be with a man who is scared to love me.
Because you see, the famous love heroes of the time past have too small penises that is why they write their names forever in history and in our hearts. Our modern day guys carry their assets on their head, with gold plate tag on it. When we unwind, I turned away first and walked not looking back.
Every time we met and parted I had known there is going to be a last time.
The lunch with Andrew and everything involved always ends on the lunch table.
I walked fast paced. Out in the open, the sun was glaring. I slipped on my sunshade. Walked up the road, then cross the busy highway, I looked up and saw him coming. He is following me. He always does that.
He follows me to get taxi, Even when I do not slow down my steps because I was angry or in haste or I obviously do not need it, he will follow me nevertheless. I almost forgot he used to do that. He was about to cross the road when I flagged down a Keke Napep. He paused, few feet away, looking at me. I looked up straight at him for one last moment.
He lifted his hand and wave. I waved back. With deliberate slowness we stood there waving at each other. It looks final. His eyes were pained, but there is smile on his lips. I smile too. I shared the back of the auto rickshaw with a young banker, prissy and clean-cut in dark suit, a mother laden with two babies, umbrella, bags and too many loads.
The traffic was slow and lumbering. The construction workers had barricaded off one lane which pitch all the vehicles together into a single path. Inch by inch, in hoot and tootle we dragged through Bukuru Road.
The gridlock snaked to infinity. Tolerance was as bristle as dry leaves.
By the time we got to Kanzego junction. The local rowdy have gathered wild. Decided they’ve had enough. They knocked the barricade down and took it apart. A young police officer clutched his gun and tried to keep his calm. He watched them make shreds of the barricade and bits by bits lifted the pieces off the road.
A soldier would have given them thorough trounced. I was once scoured by soldier before. Two hundred level in the university, with a natural Inclination to break curfew. I went to watch Champions League final with my friends when we got caught, we were combed into fine strands.
They make us hopped like frog.
Walked like lizard and crawled like snake.
When one of them asked me if I am human, I told him I am crayfish. Like water sputtered through a rusted tap, vehicles flows into the newly opened road. Crunched gravels splintered and puff of dust billowed like an angry dark ghost in a nightmare.
I rested my head on the iron panel and watch the side walk. People exhibit their goods under the shade of the River Redgum trees, used baby toys, plastics chairs, stuffs teddy, bicycles. Fairly used cloths for sale were also hung on trees branches.
Young children, not above the age of twelve choose to peddle theirs by zinging between vehicles. What they sell range from plantain chips to windscreen wiper, phone chargers and chocolate bars.
They would run after cars and pushed it against the door glass or they’d shove it through the window into your face and beg you until you buy it out of sheer irritation.
A group of shirtless men dig the side of the road to line in telecommunication cables. Sweat glittered off their backs in the hot sun.
Sunflower is in full bloom, yellow petals on green grasses spread down the gentle slope and beyond.
I was still holding my phone in my hand when a message came in. It’s Andrew. I read it. “I was young; I wanted to catch fun to know what it feels like out there.
It was stupid and I was wrong. There is nothing out there that
I don’t already have with you. You have been inscribed
Into the wall of my heart. I can’t stop thinking about you.” My eyes stings, I read it once more. But there will be no tears. There was a time I would have paid millions of naira to hear him say that. But I know this driver won’t stop now and the girl at the passenger seat will not look back.
I stared through the window; far off I could see the hills; the first rain had softened the brown jagged surface and brought in sprinkles of green grasses. Thin foil of cloud drifted from behind the hills making its way to the top.
In the next few hours, this sun shining like madness will be swallowed up in overcast and there will be heavy rain. But I have learn that no matter how dark the cloud is the sun will shine again.
That night as the rain continued to drizzle. I put on my favourite night gown; a red satin and chiffon baby doll, with sparkly beads and ribbon. I snuggled under the blanket. Watched the movie; Crazy, Stupid, Love and laughed so hard until I fell asleep.