MAXINE

I put my arm around Max and my hand landed on a breast. I half expected her to slap my hand away, instead she ground into me, soft buttocks molded into the curve of my groin. I lifted myself onto one arm, the other still resting on her breast pulled her gently towards me and she turned. I was poised over her unable to see her face but I could tell she wanted me like I wanted her, but I also knew something was wrong. There was a niggling in the back of my mind as I dropped my face towards hers. My breath was shaky and my heart thundering hooves of racehorses.

Then I woke up.

My hardness was pressing into Max’s lower back. Somehow during the night we had moved against each other, not forming the perfect spoon. Our legs entwined.

I freed my legs gently, trying not to wake her. Her sigh was loud in the night, and the rustle of her shirt louder as she snuggled closer to me. I reached between us and tucked my turgidity between my thighs.

“Hey you,” I whispered. “I wanna go pee.”

Why did I say that?

“Oh-kay,” a thick coating of sleep over the whispered word.

I padded across the parlour, making my way to the toilet. My right small toe connected with something hard and I swallowed the yelp as pain shot up to my brain and back.

When I was done I closed the toilet lid and sat on it, my head in my hands.

Max and I have been friends for over ten years, I think.

The first time I heard her voice I fell in love. It was a Rock program on radio. I liked how she told stories with her selection of songs and that was what drew me in. I wondered who the presenter was.

When she spoke, she sounded like someone took sunlight and wrapped it in soft coarse clay, and when she laughed it was like the clay split and let out bursts of yellow beam, warm and bright, like children tumbling in the grass or butterflies flitting from flower to flower.

My cousin worked at the radio station and, when he came home that evening, I told him I was in love.

“Tell Maxine the Dark Phoenix that your coz is in love with her.”

He gave me a strange look but didn’t say a word.

I started listening out for her, catching her Rock program every week. Then I found out she had a night show which she anchored with a male presenter. It was a battle of the sexes type program and they complemented each other very well.

I nursed my crush until one day I went to visit my cousin at work. He invited me into the studio, tapped lightly on the glass partition behind which sat a a lady with headphones on. When she turned towards the tapping sound my cousin said, “Bobo meet Maxine, Maxine meet Bobo,” and walked out leaving me standing there.

She grinned at me, her pearly white teeth in stark contrast with her dark skin, and gave me a thumbs up. She cued some music, switched off her microphone and came out of the booth.

She stood a head shorter than me, a head of glistening cornrows. Her eyes slanted up in the corners, giving her an oriental look.

“So you are Nonso’s cousin?” she said.

I took her small soft hand in mine and was surprised by her grip. She led me to a couch against the studio wall where I sat while she returned to finish the program.

We spent that evening on another sofa in a room across from the studio talking about whatever popped into our heads.

When, at 10pm, she said she had to go because she had an early day the next day, I wondered where the time had gone. I visited her at work three more times that week – I didn’t need my cousin to take me anymore – and at least twice a week before I left for school a month later. She was at our door early the next day to escort me to the bus park.

The other passengers teased me about her, saying she was reluctant to let me go, especially since it was Valentine’s day.

I told them she wasn’t my girlfriend. It turned out she was in a relationship with a colleague – the guy on the night show with her.

When he left her for the GM’s niece, I was the one she called. I dropped everything and rushed to her side.

She said her life was over, I was afraid she would do something drastic. I held her through the night, her frame curled into a tight ball, small tremors wracked her body and my back hurt from prolonged sitting, but I held on and talked her down

Graduation came and went, and NYSC came calling.

One evening before I left for my final clearance in school Nonso, my cousin came with a message from Maxine.

“She say make you no fall for her, say e no go end well.”

Just like that.

I didn’t know if I was more embarrassed that she called me out on my feelings, or angry that she felt I wasn’t good enough for her.

I left for youth service camp prepared to forget her, but when on the day I left camp I got a mail from her congratulating me on my passing out from orientation camp. She wanted to know why we didn’t see before I left for camp.

All the resentment I felt just drained out of me like so much pus. I didn’t hurt anymore – I didn’t realise I was hurting before.

We exchanged mails frequently and had gotten into a rhythm when she told me she was dating Nonso.

I went and did it. She wrote.

It was like a kick to my gut, but I was more concerned about her.

Are you sure that is what you want? Or is this a result of a random cold lonely night? Does he make you happy?

She wrote back that he made her happy and that sex with him was great so her nights weren’t so bad anymore.

I didn’t visit Lagos once during my youth service, and when I returned home six months post NYSC, it was to meet her in tears.

My cousin broke up with her and her world imploded.

Many nights I would stay on the phone to listen to her cry until she quietened, and on the days I saw her my shoulder and chest would be soaked through.

Our friendship survived two more heartbreaks, and she had watched me fall in and then out of love over and over again.

In all that time I never thought of her again as more than a friend.

So this dream threw me.

“Bobo is everything okay?” her voice came through the door followed by gentle knocking.

“I’m good. Just finishing up. Or do you want to come help me hold it?”

“Don’t be silly,” there was no awkwardness is her laugh.

If she felt me pressing into her, she definitely didn’t think anything about it.

I splashed some water on my face and combed my fingers through my hair.

Maxine must have been leaning against the door because when I pulled it open, she tumbled into my arms.

LIKE RIDING A BICYCLE

After the phone conversation with Cynthia I called Maxine. I listened to her callback tune till the call dropped and then I sent her a message.

Guess who’s single again? Clue: you guys are best buds 😀

One hour later she calls me back.

“Hello Bobo, sorry I was in a meeting and my phone was on silent. How are you?”

“I’m good dear. At least I think I am, which is weird.”

“How so?” she asked.

“Well, for someone who just got dumped… chai! I got dumped sha.”

We laughed about that.

“But really, for someone whose relationship just ended, I am calm and it’s kinda scary.”

“There’s no question of whether you loved Cynthia, even the blind could see.” she said. “I guess in some way you already figured out things were over since December, and the month that passed before she told you probably prepared you mentally for the eventuality.”

“I guess…” I wasn’t sure that was it.

“See, I am in a very good place and can’t let you be in a funk yourself or drag me down with you. What are you doing this weekend?”

“What’s this week…” my insides lurched.

At the turn of the year I didn’t see myself spending Valentine’s alone, but that reality just hit home.

“I guess I’ll just stay home, away from all the lovers having a blast.”

“Don’t be like that. How about we go see Deadpool on Saturday?”

That cheered me up instantly.

“Why not?”

On Saturday I got to the cinema one hour before the showing time. I had planned for us to get a bite before the movie, but characteristically, Maxine was running late.

A girl’s gotta be fashionably late… even for her buddy.

She had sent when I sent her an *rme*.

I went over to the game station to kill the time with a few games of FIFA. I was standing there beside the escalators trying to get the attendant’s attention when someone tumbled off the steps and bumped into me.

“Sorry,” a voice said as hands held my shoulder and side for balance.

I turned around to see who it was.

She stood at about 5ft5 or 6, dressed in a v-neck t-shirt over blue jeans that hugged her around the hips. She had on a pair of red Converse sneakers. A long weave framed her oval face, her arched brows outlined in the way that has become popular.

“Usually I don’t meet girls like this, but for you I’ll bite.” I said, sticking out my hand.

There was a pause and I thought she didn’t get it, but then she put her hand in mine. Warm soft skin brushed briefly against my palm and then was gone.

“I’m Bobo,” I said steering her away.

“Pearl.”

What kind of name is Pearl?

“What movie are you here to see?” I asked as she walked with me towards the ticket stand.

“Ride Along 2, and you?”

“I’m here to see Deadpool.”

“Maybe I should see that…”

“Maybe you should. I’m waiting for a friend though.”

Why did I say that?

“Oh.” Her bright red lips formed a perfect O.

“What are you doing seeing a movie by yourself?” I asked her.

“It’s something I do to treat myself every weekend. Work is hectic Monday to Friday, so Saturday I get my hair and nails done, then catch a movie or do something fun.”

“Maybe I’ll see you next Saturday then, and be your plus one.” I looked away as I said that.

“I don’t normally come here, but I was in the neighbourhood and decided on this one.”

“Well then, if you give me your number I can call to find out where we’ll be seeing the movie next week.”

There was a moment when I thought she was going to say something nasty, but instead she held out her hand, palm up.

I didn’t need a second invitation. I slipped my phone out of my pocket and into her hand.

She punched in her digits and pressed call.

“I’ll run off to see my movie now. Have fun watching Deadpool, and maybe we’ll see next week.”

I watched her walk away, a smile on my lips.

“Who was that?” Max’s voice behind me startled me. I hadn’t heard her walk up to me.

“How much did you hear?” I asked.

“All I needed to hear.” We hugged each other and she brushed her lips against my cheek.

“Keep doing that,” I said, “and I won’t be responsible for whatever happens.”

“What will happen?”

“Let’s just say konji is worrying me and you’re not helping with your ashewo moves.”

“You’re such a razzite.”

We bought our tickets, popcorn and sodas and went to see our movie.

After the movie I dropped her off at her place and she invited me in.

She microwaved dinner and served it with a bottle of wine.

“Do you really have to go home?” Max asked after dinner.

“Yes, actually.” I said, “but I fear I might be too drunk to drive.” I giggled. I am a happy drunk.

We had polished off the first bottle of wine and were at the bottom of the second bottle. I emptied the bottle into my glass and took a swallow.

When that bottle was finished Max opened a third. We sat on the living room carpet talking about all sorts of stuff, watching TV and drinking wine.

I had a vague recollection of Max saying she was sleepy and I said I was too. She stretched out in front of the TV and I looked down at her sleeping form and wondered why we never took things to the next level. I tried to picture what it would feel like, but the shutters of my brain were coming down without my permission. I stretched out beside Max.

GOODBYE

“Hey Bobo, everything okay?” Osime, my colleague asked.

“I’m good o, just a little tired.” I stretched and feigned a yawn.

“You’ve been acting strangely the last few weeks,” she said, “and these last few days you’ve worn a long face.”

“What are you now, the behaviour police?”

“Control yourself, my friend.”

“Don’t call me your friend, my friend.” I threw back, quoting someone from The Village Headmaster plays.

We laughed.

“So I’ve been thinking,” I said after a while.

“Bobo thinking? That can’t be good.” she teased.

“Olodo. Anyway, I was wondering what it meant if a girl suddenly stopped talking to her boyfriend.”

“Wait. What?” She swung her swivel chair to face me. “Cynthia stopped talking to you?”

“Why are you like this?” I asked. “It’s a hypothetical question jare.”

“Okay o,” the look on her face said she wasn’t buying it. “Suddenly stopped talking to him how? Did they fight? Did she catch him cheating?”

“Let us say he didn’t cheat,” I saw Osime raise a brow.

Idiot.

“He didn’t cheat, or do anything wrong as far as one can say while dealing with a woman…”

“What do you mean by ‘as far as one can say while dealing with a woman’?”

“You know how you women are, tackling a guy for not doing something, then tackling him for doing the same thing.” I said. “Aaanyway, she wouldn’t take his calls, then became unreachable, then blocked him on social media, then lost his number – or her phone, depending on who you ask.”

“There must have been a sign he either missed or refused to see.” Osime said. “People don’t do that kind of about-face. Especially not women. Did he try to talk with her?”

Not really.

“He tried, but it didn’t go far.”

“Well, I would advise the person – hypothetically of course – to call her and have it out with her. Sit with her and look her in the face while they try to hash things out.”

“Okay.” I said. “So what are your plans for Sunday?” I changed the subject.

“Sunday? Church nau.”

“And after church?”

“I dunno… get some rest and then prepare for work I guess.”

“No valentine plans?”

“Don’t I need a bobo for that?”

“Aha. You have a Bobo right here.” I leaned back in my chair.

“So someone will come and bathe me with acid, abi?”

***

“Hello, how are you?” I asked. I was trying to keep my voice cool, but my heart was racing. I cleared my throat and rubbed sweaty palm on my pants.

“I’m good Bobo, thank you. You?”

“I’ve been better. Before I dialled your number I had these things I wanted to say, and how I was going to say them. But I heard your voice and everything’s gone.” I chuckled, but it sounded too loud, and wrong. ”

Get a grip.

“Really?”

“You can’t say you haven’t noticed something is off between us. We used to be impatient to talk with each other, and then we’d talk for hours. Now we just manage to say a few words and that’s it.”

“I know what you mean, and to be honest it’s you not me.”

You won’t get any argument from me.

“When we started six months ago, in my head it was a friends with benefit type situation. You seemed to be on board with it. But lately I see the way you look at me, how your eyes linger as if you’re making memories to take with you until we see again. I hear the things you don’t say about a future together and it scares me. I’m not scared for me, I am scared and worried for you.

“I get a sense that you’re dipping all of you into me, but there’s no depth to me and you’ll wind up disappointed and maybe resentful. I don’t want that to happen to us.”

“So you’re saying…”

“Shhh… let me say this.” She cut me off. “I am not in the market for love, at least not just yet, and it would be selfish of me to let you give your love to me with nothing to give you in return. I tried to caution you a few times, but each time I opened my mouth to speak I saw how happy you were and I stopped my mouth. Kept my truth to myself. December – and the loss of my phone – presented me with a coward’s choice and I took it. Why wouldn’t you just go? Stay gone?”

The words she said flayed me and flayed me anew.

A part of me registered it must hurt her to bare herself to me this way, but another part reminded me of the time I lied about my genotype to get out of a relationship.

I held the girl’s face then, looked at her with such earnestness and lied about being AS. She was AS too, and although she wanted to take that chance with me, I let the twin pools that were my eyes convince her this was the best decision. She probably didn’t see past the murky brown depths of my pupils. She let me hold her, kiss her forehead and release her.

Whether I believed what she was saying or not, I stopped listening, waiting for her to finish.

I clenched my jaw and raked my fingers through my hair, the phone warm against my ear.

When she was done I told her I understood, thanked her for her honesty and assured her I valued our friendship that much too. We said goodbye, and I swear I could hear the finality in this one, and then I hung up.

HEDGING BETS

Block Brown Sugar? Blocked contacts will no longer be able to call or send you messages.

I hesitated.

Cancel.

– There’s a program in Lagos for single professionals that you may like. Here’s the link, see if it’s something you’ll like to attend.

I attached a link to ProConnect, hit send, and then blocked her.

The next morning at work my phone rang. The number didn’t look familiar, and neither did the caller’s voice.

“Hello, good morning ma’am.”

“It’s me.”

“Sorry?”

“Bobo, it’s me.”

She didn’t have to say her name. Brown Sugar.

“Hey, how’re you?”

“I just read your blog.”

Oh shit.

“So you used our conversation, everything I told you, in your blog?”

“It’s not my blog, it’s a friend’s blog and I write for her.” I said, as if the technicality mattered.

“Because what I write about is basically my life, my friends find themselves subjects of my research.”

Stop talking.

“You’re a horrible person, and I don’t want to talk to you ever again.”

“See…” I heard a click, and she was gone.

I slumped back in my seat, dragging my hands down my face.

“What is it again Bobo?” Osime asked.

Again?” I asked. “If someone hears you now they’ll think my wahala is plenty,” I smiled at her.

“Sorry oh.”

“It’s woman palaver, but I’ll be fine.”

“If you say so.”

– Guys, you won’t believe what just happened. So I sent Brown Sugar a link to ProConnect yesterday. The plan was for her to go on the blog and check out the details, hopefully she’d find a guy there. What I didn’t factor in was that she would read beyond the post the link took her too. Worst part – or best part – depending, is that I published a post yesterday evening and I clean forgot.

– See gbege! Wale said.

– Gbege no be small. She called me this morning and said she didn’t want to talk to me ever again.

– That works for you nau, Scar said. I think I should start a blog purely for burning bridges.

– Why are you foolitch like this? I asked him.

– Bobo that means you’re a marked man. When we go out I’ll remember to stand far from you.

– What? I was confused.

– Ah, I should stand with you so that when she fingers you to her boys, I’ll chop beating with you?

– Fingers? Hmmm… *phases out of chatroom* Phantom said.

– *smh* better come back here.

– Bobo you know she will come back for you, right? Wale asked.

– Nah men, bridge successfully burned.

– You think? Let’s wait and see.

– She either wants you so much more now, or she completely hates you. Both extremes of emotion that need to be expressed and can land her in your bed sometime in the future.

– The grey areas, Scar said.

– Grey’s anatomy -__-

Before I closed for work, I got a mail notifying me of a training in Abuja scheduled for the next week.

“Hey Osime, see this mail I got about a training in Abuja, did you get it too?” I asked.

“What mail? Let me see… Nah,” she said, “I’m not scheduled for it.”

“Okay. I was hoping we’d be going together, but don’t worry, I’ll have enough fun for both of us, and tell you about it.”

“Bobo the training isn’t till Monday…”

“Ehn, but I’ll be leaving town on Sunday.”

“You still have two working days till then. I’ll make sure you do more than your share of work before you leave.”

“Na so.”

***

– Hey you

– Hello stranger

– You still in Abuja?

– Yea

– How’ve you been?

– So so

– Maybe I’ll finally see you next week. A movie perhaps.

– You in Abuja?

– Should be by Monday.

– Cool

– I’ll keep you posted

– Alright then.

***

Brrr… Brrr…

I listened to the phone ring.

“Hello?” an out of breath voice answered.

“I love your new tips.”

“Do you really?”

“I loooove them. Blonde tips suit you.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Guess where it’s bringing me?”

“Please say Abuja.”

“As long as I live to see Monday, I should wake up in Abuja.”

“When do you arrive?”

“Sunday evening.”

“Yay. I’m super excited. What are you coming to Abuja for? How long will you be in town? Have you made plans for your trip?”

“I’ll confirm all of that to you as soon as I get the full details, but I should be in Abuja for a week.”

***

– Hey, I see you have the same struggle as me

– huh?

– Your DP. These days I’m stuck on what to write.

– Ah, you and me both.

– How’ve you been tho?

– I’ve stopped referring to myself as a writer. The writer’s block has been going on for too long.

– How are you dealing with the fuel situation?

– I think it’s a little more severe in Lagos.

– Lucky y’all.

– I’ll be in Abuja in a couple days, maybe I’ll see you then.

– Let me know when you get in and we’ll work out whatever.

– Cool.

With three possible dates lined up, I knew my stay in Abuja was not going to be boring. Sunday could not come soon enough.

My flight was for 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, but I was at the airport by 11:30. I walked to the check-in counter, my mind already in Abuja. When the check-in agent told me my flight had been cancelled, it took me a moment to understand what she was saying.

“No,” I told her, “I’m on the 2pm flight.”

“Yes sir, the flight has been cancelled.”

“What time is your next flight?”

“Go up there,” she pointed to their ticket desk, “and reschedule your flight.”

– Flight’s a little delayed. Let you know when I get in.

When the aircraft door finally shut at 8:52pm, I was too exhausted to fret. I just wanted to get to the hotel and sleep.


 

11210412_1645943602303608_3404844139118064004_n

RAMBLINGS

I’m sorry, but who is this?

I read the message again, composing and rejecting replies in my head.

– I’m sorry, message sent in error.

– lol. Bobo you are so cute; sometimes. I was just teasing you.

Of course I know it’s you. Even if I deleted it, I doubt I’ll forget your number anytime soon.

The contrast between how gutted I felt only moments before, and the way my heart leapt, in that instance told me everything I needed to know: I had to let Keme go.

My stomach was not built for this ping-pong of emotions. If I carried on like this, I was sure to get ulcers.

I have to free Keme. Just not yet.

– I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I just thought of you this morning. No, not just this morning.

I think about you a lot. Should I be telling you this?

What is wrong with me?

– lol. Like I told you, you’re cute.

***

“Woah,” Phantom exclaimed, “you go fear nau.”

Scar pursed his lips and whistled.

It was evening and we were at Wale’s place for some FIFA 15. I told them about my day and the conversations I had with Brown Sugar and Keme, I even showed them the chats.

When Wale read out “Like I told you, you’re cute”, they erupted in laughter. I managed a tight smile.

“Make una see my life o.” I said.

“Personally,” Sly said, “I think you’re going about it all wrong.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You have no business still talking with what’s-her-face, and you had absolutely no business messaging Keme. Not after she told you not to…”

“But she messaged me two w…”

“In a moment of emotional weakness to tell you of a death.”

“Ehn, this was my own moment of weakness nau.”

“The reason why you’re ‘so cute’.”

“Fuck you.”

“Touchy, are we?” Wale guffawed.

They were right. I knew they were right, but it irked to hear them treating my fuck up.

“Waka.” I splayed the fingers of my right hand in his face.

We all laughed. The moment passed.

“But guy leave play,” Sly said, “all these girls wey you dey track…”

“Na dem dey track me…”

“…wey you dey track up and down. these days, wetin be your plans?”

“How do you mean?”

“See you have to, at some point, decide what you want in a woman.”

“Mehn, relationships are hard; being single is harder sha.” I said.

“I tell you,” Scar said. “Sometimes I imagine a relationship based on love, respect and what have you, but then I meet a girl and I am reminded how devilish they are.”

“Some are more devilish than others.” Wale said. “It’s just to hope that when you enter a relationship it’s with someone whose devil you can tolerate in average doses.”

“There is such a one?” Scar raised his brow.

“I once knew a girl who was the gentlest soul I ever met…” Wale said.

“So how come you’re not with her?” Scar cut him short.

“Guy calm down nau. She was divorced, well, separated at the time. And with a kid. We got serious and everything, and I didn’t mind that she had a kid. The boy and I bonded well. That’s how after a year the girl threatened to slit her wrists.”

“I know this story!” I interjected. “I remember her.”

“Correct,” Wale gave me a thumbs up, “exactly. Her. So, as I was talking go, she threatened to slit her wrists. Why? That I wasn’t jealous enough about her, so I didn’t love her.”

“Ehn?” Scar asked.

Phantom and Sly who had returned to their game of football set their pads down and turned towards Wale.

“She said that when she went out for hours I didn’t call to ask where she was and what she was up to. And that when boys called her phone, I didn’t display any signs of envy.”

“Wait first,” Sly said, “and if she kill herself wetin go happen?”

“She say e mean say I no love her and if I no love her, she no fit continue this life. Guys, una for see me that day.”

“Una dey see craze person?” Sly asked no one in particular.

“Any idea where we were when she threatened to take her life? My house!”

“Omo mehn, police for carry you your leg no go touch ground.” Phantom said.

“I sofry beg her, pet her until she gree go back her papa house naim I call her brother report am. Na dia relationship end.” Wale said.

“And this was a girl that, until this happened, I kicked myself for not making a move on the day Wale and I saw her.” I said.

“Wo, this thing called relationship is try-your-luck,” Sly said. “I just thank god for my wife. For now.”

“Maybe her own craze still dey boot,” I said and we all laughed.

My phone beeped, it was a message from Brown Sugar.

– Hey Bobo

I rolled my eyes.

“Guess who just remembered me?” I asked them. “Brown Sugar,” I said without waiting for answers.

– Hey, what’s up?

– Hw r u? I’m ok. Jst hr

– I’m good o.

– Wat r u up to?

– Not a lot. Hanging with my boys

– Ur bz?

– What are you up to?

– Grt tanx. U dnt want me to c u, oya introduce me to a fine/nice frend of urs. Cus I knw it’s cus ur dating.

“Shey you see what I was telling you about the type of girls you attract?” Sly asked after reading the message.

“Abi your head dey touch? No be here we dey person send me message?”

– Are you back in Lagos? I asked her.

– If I am will u c me? Last tym u dodged.

– Looooooooooooool! I dodged? Oh my days.

– Yea u dodged.

“Dude, end this chat and block her. You’re the one encouraging this… this… I dunno sef.” Even Wale was irritated.

“Remember that video of DJ Khalid? Girl you smart?” Phantom asked.

“Yeah?”

“When I saw it I thought the guy was just an asshole. Like, is it supposed to be a breakthrough to find a smart girl? But lately, after meeting a certain girl, I realised that could actually be the case.” He threw his hands up in the air. “This particular girl was only interested in music videos and Coldstone ice cream.”

“Hmph,” Sly sighed.

“She struggles at every other common sense thing besides watching music videos and eating ice-cream from Coldstone.”

“There are girls like that nau,” Wale said. “There are certain girls a common friend met when he was serving in Uyo…”

That was met with coughing and cat calls.

“… all those girls were interested in were indomie and dick. According to our common friend, that is.”

“Before nko?” Scar asked.

“Is that worse?” I asked.

“Actually, no difference. Na like custard and pap.” Wale said.

“Shebi you people have one ProConnect something the blog you write for is doing? Guy register, at least you might find a single professional…” Sly said with a wink.

“Or a professional single.” Scar finished.

“Una no well.” I scrolled through the options menu and selected Block contact.


instagram _ proconnect _ single in gidi _ mona bellucci

 

CURIOUS

– What’s the job?

– It’s a marketing position.

That gave me pause. I guess I could do some marketing, but I wasn’t one to do the song and dance required to convince someone they wanted my product or service, so on principle, I shied away from applying for such jobs.

– I don’t think I’m cut out for marketing, tbh. I’m a customer service person.

– But there’s nothing to it. I work for an oil servicing company and what I do isn’t much different from what you do.

– But I don’t even know the first thing about oil and gas.

– I see you’re set on being a Debbie Downer, don’t let me stop you.

– It’s not like that…

– It’s alright Bobo, I just thought you could use the job, its perks and the change of scenery.

– Wait, what? Change of scenery?

– Yea, it’s an Abuja based opening and you’d be required to move to Abuja.

– Whoa! I hadn’t even considered that. When is the interview?

– It’s tomorrow. If you’re interested I could talk to my boss and squeeze you in.

– It’s short notice 😦

I have to ask for time off work, book my flights and sort out accommodation in Abuja,

– You could stay with me, you know?

I didn’t know. Hell, I don’t even know you.

– And tell your boyfriend what?

I fished.

– Pffft. He’ll understand.

Wait. So there is a boyfriend?

– Oh well, maybe I’ll just pass up this one. Next time perhaps.

– Okay then.

***

– Hi Bobo

– Hey

I was chatting with a couple of people and, as chats sometimes went, there were lapses between chats so that when a new message came in, I either responded off the cuff, or read previous chats for background.

I woke up to messages from Brown Sugar, seemingly out of the blue. We exchanged a few messages while I chatted with Cynthia, my brother and the guys from Camelot.

– Do u hav a frend in Abj dear?

– Two or three, why?

– Single?

I checked to confirm who the message was. Even though with the shortened words I had a vague idea, the reference to Abuja confused me a little.

– The guys are married. The lady isn’t.

I was immediately wary.

– Ok tnx

No sistah, you’re not getting off that easily.

– Why do you ask?

– Wud hv loved to meet 1. I nid to b laid dear.

Bobo you had to chase that nut down the burrow.

– I’m sori, I wasn’t tinkin.

I won’t judge.

I waited till I got to work before replying her.

– I can imagine. Really, I can. I get those urges too.

– Ur 1 guy I really want 2 hav.

I pulled at my collar, heat creeping up my neck. I looked round The Shop, tilting my phone close to my chest as if to shield the conversation from prying eyes.

Osime sat there at her station punching keys. The clack of her keyboard and the soft hum of the air-conditioner the only sounds in The Shop.

– Let me hav u soon pls, Brown Sugar typed.

How did we get from wanting to meet my friends to wanting to shag me? And so quickly too. I’ve got to end this convo. But which kain half gist will I now be taking to the guys?

– We have to be in the same city first

– Am in Abj now, cum to mii

Just like that? I almost laughed out.

– Gotta sort out the logistics of it.

– Hmm… u dnt want me ryt?

– How could you even say that?

– It’s tru. Look at last tym.

Last time haunts me on some nights.

– I’m offering my body to u, y dnt u take it

That triggered a P-Square song in my head.

Take eet, take eet, alhaji

– Bobo

– Wats wrong wit u?

– Y do u do mi lyk dis?

– How? I finally answered.

– U abandon me in bw chats

– I’m at work!!! I paused before hitting the send button and deleted the exclamation marks.

– I run away frm guys, I’m on to u n ur messing me up?

I scrolled back up to the start of the chat to work out how we got here.

I’m sorry if I led you on. If? Really? But I think we both want different things. Time was when all of this might have been cool, but I’m over that now. I’m looking for a focused relationship, something you may not be prepared or equipped (yet) to give. How about we try for friendship?

– Wat? Ur not serious. Just lemme stay here. I regret nowin u Bobo. Gudby!!!!

“Gudby”? Bridge burned.

I set my phone down, leaned back in my chair and let the sigh out slowly.

“Bobo is everything okay?” Osime asked me.

“Why would you ask?”

“There’s just something about you since the last customer left.”

“Let’s just say I have rounded a corner and come face to face with something I’ve always known I’d have to do.”

“Care to share?” she asked?

“Don’t you have a report to prepare?”

“Sorry o.” she raised her hands in the air and released a long drawn out hiss.

I rubbed my palms, reached for my phone and scrolled through my contacts list. I stopped when I got to ‘K’.

I composed and deleted a couple of messages before settling on this one.

– Hey, just thought about you and decided to say hi.

– I’m sorry, but who is this?

I blinked. Hard.

Didn’t she just message me two weeks ago? Why would Keme ask “who is this?”


 

proconnect _ single in gidi _ mona bellucci

MAN DOWN

‘Hey bae.’

I heard the voice like it was coming from one end of a really long tunnel.

Bae. Bae. Bae. Bae. The word echoed.

‘Bae.’

The urgency in the voice woke me up. When I moved, the depressions in the mattress felt alien to my body. I looked round and the lilac walls were unfamiliar to me.

‘Please, I have a favour to ask you.’

I looked at the owner of the voice leaning over my supine form and, with her frame blocking out the light from the table, she looked vaguely familiar. I shut my eyes for a moment to adjust to the poor light, and when I opened them, the smiling face brought memories of yesterday back.

***

‘I, brother Sylvester, take you…’

Scar jabbed me in the rib.

“Brother Sylvester”,’ he guffawed.

‘Behave yourself,’ I whispered, rubbing my side.

‘But e funny nau.’ He insisted. ‘So when you marry, you sef go be “Brother Bobo”?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ I said. ‘Na so dem dey take marry?’

‘Shhh…’ Wale chastised us, and we fell silent.

Our friend Sly was actually doing this; he was really getting married. I felt a little something in the pit of my stomach. Not envy, just a kind of sadness. I guess Scar’s jibe touched something inside of me.

I enjoyed my current single status, but sometimes I caught myself wondering if there wasn’t more to life than days at work, evenings with my boys and nights spent alone.

‘Guy, look who’s here.’

‘Dude, you gotta stop with the jabs. You nor sabi say na only bone bone you be? Go dey take your bone chook person.’

‘No cuss me o,’ Scar raised his hands as if to ward off a blow.

‘Who you say…’ My throat constricted and my mouth went dry. I followed Scar’s gaze and although her back was turned to us – she was sitting a few seats in front and to the right of us – I recognised herself.

‘How did I not see this happening? And why did Sly not give me a heads-up?’

Keme and Ronke, Sly’s wife… wife?… were friends, so it only stood to reason that she would be invited to the wedding.

‘Oh well, I’ll just be cool to her. I’m sure we can be friends.’

‘Hi Bobo,’ the husky voice I know so well made me jump.

We were standing outside the church, waiting to take photos with the couple. So far I had done my best to avoid Keme. The first time I tried to go over and say hello, my stomach knotted up and my heart beat faster. I decided it would be a good idea to stay out of her way. But it would seem she sought me out.

‘Oh, hi there.’ I said. ‘I didn’t see you. How are you? You look so beautiful in this gown. You’ve always looked good in lilac.’ I wasn’t sure whether to hug her or shake her hand.

Keme just stood there, a half smile on her face.

‘It’s so good to see you again,’ she said. I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. ‘I’ll see you at the reception,’ she said, ‘and there’s no need to avoid me.’ She patted my cheek softly and smiled sweetly before walking away.

‘Oh no she didn’t. Talking to me like a recalcitrant child, complete with the cheek pat.’ I didn’t know if I should be angry or insulted.

***

‘What?’ I looked at the guys at my table who all seemed to be looking at a spot above my head. They had knowing smiles on their faces.

‘Running out on a girl like that… not cool.’

I whipped round to see the girl from the Bachelor’s eve two days ago standing behind me, both arms on her hips. I shot up from my seat, a smile at the ready.

‘Hey you,’ I let my smile slip a little, ‘about the other day, I’m sorry. I had a family emergency and had to run off. Would’ve left you a message, but I didn’t have your number. Still don’t.’

‘It’s alright, I was just upset cos I really enjoyed talking with you and didn’t want the night to end just then.’

‘Oh.’ I had nothing to say to that. ‘See,’ I took her hand, ‘how about you join my friends and I?’ I pulled back the seat next to mine and guided her onto it. I raised my head to see Keme looking at me from across the room. I could not make out the look on her face, but I doubt it was wild joy.

‘Shit.’ I muttered.

I do not remember the rest of. The reception because I kept the drinks chasing each other down my system. I must have been really wasted because I have no recollection of leaving the wedding, but waking up on this strange bed in this even stranger room meant I must have left at some point…

WE BEGIN

Bobo, where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you.

One sure way of getting my guard up was to start a conversation with a question.

Happy New Year to you too. I replied, trying to figure out what Rolayo’s message might mean. We hadn’t spoken since my break up with Keme a month ago.

Abi belle don enter?’ I wondered. ‘E nor go funny o.’ I could feel my trepidation.

Sorry, happy new year jare. Forgive my manners. Where have you been?

Any better? I asked, not relaxing. I didn’t want to get blind-sided by whatever news she had.

Depends on where you are and if you’re interested in what I have to say.

Go ahead. My phone keyboard clicked as I typed to keep up with the permutations my brain was doing.

What I want to tell you is very hush-hush. Please I don’t want it getting out o, because it’s still work in the pipeline.

My stomach knotted. Cloak and dagger was not my thing.

You know you can trust me to keep my mouth shut. Why else would you seek me out?

Okay. So, my HoD wants to set up a small unit and wants me to head it. It’s still Customer Service, but a parallel unit to service certain clients. Will you be interested in working with me?

I had a series of smart remarks I could have made about working under her and servicing clients, but I held my tongue.

CS is kuku something I like. Working with you should be fun. Can I take some days to think about it though?

Okay, she replied. Sometime next week?

Fine.

Take care.

Cheers.

I was still contemplating what the job might be, and what it might mean for me when someone banged on my door.

‘Who is it?’ I called out.

‘It’s me,’ my sixteen-year-old nephew’s gruff voice answered.

‘I’m coming.’ I groaned as I got off the ground where I had been lying.

Since the holidays, my siblings’ kids have been staying at mine. I like to think it’s because I’m the favourite uncle, though some might argue that it’s because they can do as they please at mine.

Whatever. They sha came and stayed at mine which is more than can be said for siblings.

We were all sprawled, some on the floor, some in the chairs, watching Arrow off my PS3 when I got a message from Wale.

Dude ‘sup?

I’m aii. How ya end?

My end dey jare. A friend of mine is having this party somewhere in the GRA, wanna come?

When is this party?

Tonight.

I thought about it for a moment. There was really nothing I was doing at home.

Okay, what time?

She said any time from 5pm.

I checked my watch, it was already 4pm.

Why didn’t you say she was a she? Shey her friends will come? I made my way to the bathroom.

You’re such a man whore. You don hear ‘she’ now, your body wake up.

Ehen nau. Before nko? I asked.

Thirty minutes later, I was dressed and out of the house. The plan was to meet up at Wale’s and then go together since he knew the celebrant and I didn’t. I parked my car at his, then rode with him first to Goodies to pick up a few drinks since it was a Bring your own Bottle type party.

The venue was in a part of the GRA we were not familiar with, but after taking two wrong turns, we decided to try Google maps.

We walked in through the gate and someone directed us to the back of the house. Wale and I walked along a cobbled path and ducked to avoid a low hanging arch, then we turned a corner and my eyes fell on the spread before me: drinks, small chops, an actual swimming pool with water and girls. Plenty girls clad in bum shorts and shirts, loose-fitting gowns, tank tops and tights, bikini tops and ultra mini bum shorts.

Wale and I exchanged a look.

Now, this is how you want to start a new year.’

SOMETHING

‘How can I make my stupidity up to you?’ I asked Zandile when I saw her in the hotel lobby two days later.

‘Mr. Nkiti it was nothing,’ she said. ‘I behaved most ‘unprofessionally’. I should be the one offering to make it up to you, but even that sounds inappropriate to my ears.’

‘When do you knock off?’ I asked.

‘About 6pm.’

‘Wanna go out for a drink then?’

‘A drink? Maybe.’

‘I’ll check back around 6 then,’ I smiled.

‘No don’t,’ she said quickly. I’ll call your room.’ She smiled her dimpled smile and exposed pointy canines.

I walked on clouds for the rest of the day, everything soft and cushy. And slow. I must have checked the time fifteen hundred times before finally seeing the minute hand crawl hesitantly to point the hour.

‘Any minute now,’ I thought. My stomach was queasy, my heartbeat irregular. There was a whirring sound, and then a click.

6:00.

I tucked my shirt into my jeans, brushed down the front with my palms and looked in the mirror.

I pulled the shirt tail out and rolled the sleeves, one eye on the phone.

6:04.

I sat on the bed. Got up and paced the room. Walked into the toilet, zipper undone and standing over the bowl but nothing came out. I hurried back to the room – I was there alone, the others had gone out without me. The only sounds were from the central air-conditioning system and the tick-tick of the desk clock.

6:13

I sat back on the bed, a heaviness coming to rest in my stomach. I kicked off my sneakers and crawled under the duvet. I reached for the phone.

What number do I call? Should I ask for her by name? Will that get her in trouble? If she knew she didn’t want to go out for drinks why post me nau?

The shrill ringing of the phone woke me up. I knocked the phone over, then pulled up the receiver.

‘Hello?’

‘Sorry I got held up. Done now. Meet me up at Village Walk. You know Village Walk, right?’

I was instantly awake and rolling out of bed.

‘See you in 5 minutes.’

It was dark outside the window. How long did I sleep for? When did I fall asleep? I looked at the clock: 9:23.

***

Drinks led to dinner, and dinner led to a walk around Sandton Mall. We talked about random stuff, laughed at a lot of inconsequential things, and generally had fun.

At the maxi rank I gave Zandile a briefed hug, feeling her warmth through the fabric of both our clothes. I allowed the warmth envelope me and stay with me all the way to the hotel.

I played the evening back in my mind and could not remember exactly how it went, just how it felt. It felt good.

The next evening we went out for drinks again. Just drinks this time. The rest of the Knights of Camelot teased me about my “SA chic” to no end.

On the third evening, coming in from lunch, I ran into Tshepi in the hotel lobby.

‘Hello you, how have you been?’ I asked her, excited to see her again after so long.

‘I’m okay.’ Her response was cool and she cast a furtive look around.

I didn’t want to get her into trouble with her bosses so I let her go.

When I met up with Zandile that evening, I mentioned running into Tshepi, and the temperature in the bar dropped a few degrees.

Now, I had to get to the end of this mystery as it hit me that Tshepi’s behaviour earlier was probably not work related, but me related.

***

‘Why didn’t you tell me you were dating Zandile?’

‘What?’

‘Zandile. She says you’re her man.’

For a moment I forgot we were at the movies and drew attention to us with my laughter.

After waylaying her and threatening to keep calling the front desk asking to speak with her, I got Tshepi to agree to go see a movie with me.

The cinema was less than half full so we were able to take the seats at the back – away from the rest of the movie goers.

‘Zandile and I have only gone out for dinner and a few drinks.’

‘Well, that’s not what she’s suggesting.’ Tshepi said. ‘At the hotel’s Christmas event she called me to a corner and asked if I knew Bobo. I asked who that was and she said the Nigerian. I told her I know a group of Nigerian guys were staying with us at the hotel, but I didn’t care about them enough to know their names individually. A lie, of course. But I could not tell her I knew you.

‘Well, she said “I know you know him, but whatever. Just stay clear of him, he’s my man.”‘

‘When was this party of yours?’

She told me. It was the night we first had dinner. So, even before we had dinner, Zandile had already branded me “her man”, and she didn’t come back to the hotel to drop? Na wa o.

For the rest of my stay I avoided Zandile and Tshepi altogether. No one has time for drama like that.

On our last night, the guys decided to go out hard on the town. Wale called up a friend who came to get us. We started the evening at NewCafe taking shots and drinking flaming sambucas, then we went to Capitol where we learnt that it was Gays’ night in the club. We walked down the road to Moloko, another nightclub, and partied till 3am.

As we left Moloko, inebriated and exhilarated, a bit of shoving started between Scar and Phantom. Scar crashed into me, driving me onto the road where a car missed me by whiskers.

The screech of tires and the realisation that I almost just died sobered ed me up a little.

The car door was thrown open and out stepped the driver. She was shouting cusses at us and raised her index finger at me.

How dare she? She who was driving down the road like a crazed human being, well above the speed limit? Indignation coursed through me.

‘Keep it moving bra,’ Wale’s friend held me by the elbow, ‘she might be packing.’

‘Parking?’ I looked at him, residual alcohol fumes getting in the way of comprehension.

‘Packing bra, like heat.’ he held his index and middle fingers out together in a horizontal line.

‘You mean…’ all the alcohol was gone from my system and a cold breeze blew on the back of my neck.

‘Guy make we dey go o.’ Someone said and I didn’t even argue.

***

‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Murtala Mohammed International airport, Lagos.’

I heard the flight attendant’s announcement and I smiled. Clearly I didn’t have to travel outside of Nigeria to confirm that there are a lot of crazy women. The difference was, I could speak the language of the Nigerian crazies.

So it was two days to Christmas and I was still single, but if the passengers I saw checking in for this flight was anything to go by, it was only a matter of time before I snagged me an IJGB. Come to think of it, I just got back too.

BLONDIE

You’re not from around here, are you?’

I squinted at the name badge pinned to her off-white satin blouse.

‘No Zandile, I am not.’

***

My boss has a suite at a hotel in SA, what do you say we go there this Christmas? Wale posted in Camelot, a BBM group I belonged to.

I perked up a bit, but then thoughts of the logistics hit and threw a damper on things for me.

Following my break up with Keme and Max’s attempt to hook me up in a bid to get my mind off the break up, I decided a vacation was what I needed. But where to go to was a problem.

Earlier in the year we had planned a vacation together and now, every vacation spot I thought of reminded me of her. Besides, I would have to go alone, and that was not a prospect I looked forward to.

When Wale mentioned South Africa, although Keme and I had talked about going there, I didn’t mind since I would be going with friends.

Guy, isn’t it rather short notice? Not all of us have dual citizenship like you. There’s a thing called visa that some of us have to apply for. I said.

Bobo don’t mind the hediot. Scar, so called for his leonine head, gaunt frame and scar from a childhood injury that split his left eyebrow in two, said. He will just be making suggestions without checking guys’ schedule. Well, I’m free for the period, so it’s fine.

Another reason we called him Scar was his slinky nature reminiscent of the character ‘Scar’ in the Lion King animation.

Make una no vex o. Na as my Boss say hin no dey travel this Christmas atink say e for good if guys go flex SA small. We all go soon begin marry. Let’s go have one last hurrah.

That na for una wey wan marry. I countered. Me, na the single life get me.

This drew loooools from the rest of the gang.

Look, Bobo I know a guy who knows someone who can arrange visas for peole who need it.

And the phantom appears! Scar said in response to the new participant.

Okaka was first called ‘Phantom’ instead of his preferred ‘Kaka’ by me. I also gave Scar his name. Kaka would disappear for days and weeks, not participating in any conversations, then one day out of the blue, he would pop up.

Scar hafar nah? Kilon pop? When are we looking at for this getaway? Phantom asked.

Whatever we do, we have to be back before 27th o. I jeje told them. My leave was for two weeks terminating on the 28th, but I wanted to be back with one day to spare – just in case.

It took us the next two days to firm up arrangements; accommodation, the most important had been taken care of by Wale so that left visa application for me and Phantom, and tickets for the six of us going from Camelot.

***

When we arrived O. R. Thambo airport, Johannesburg that morning, we packed ourselves into two maxis, as their regular taxi cabs are called, and made our way to the Sandton Hilton hotel.

Scar, Phantom and Etim wanted breakfast, but after going through the in-room menu, decided breakfast was too expensive.

I wanted to sleep – I stayed up for most of the flight and now could feel my system shutting down. Wale, Olisa and Oladele wanted to sleep too, so we agreed to nap for three hours before going out in search of food.

The next three days passed in a whirl of activities: window shopping and movies at the Sandton City mall during the day – complete with photo sessions at Nelson Mandela square – and club hopping at night.

We got back to the hotel on the fourth day after an evening at the movies – I was with Wale – and I stopped at the reception desk to chat with Tshepi, the jovial receptionist. Tshepi wasn’t there, and in her place was a smallish lady. The thick lens glasses perched on her pinched nose gave her an owlish look.

‘Good evening,’ I said. ‘Please is Tshepi working tonight?’

‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ she asked, not answering my question.

‘No Zandile, I am not. Tshepi, is she working tonight?’

‘Where are you from then?’

‘I’m from Nigeria.’

‘You don’t sound Nigerian.’

‘How do Nigerians sound?’ I’d heard that before, and the answer never varied.

‘Afriken Magic.’ she said with a smile that dimpled her cheeks.

‘So tell me, is Tshepi not on duty?’

‘Look at this man,’ she turned to Wale, her accent more pronounced. ‘A sister is trying to get with him and he’s busy asking about another woman.’

All I could say was ‘Oh,’ with a stupid look on my face.