FROM THE OTHER SIDE

First off, let me apologise for disappearing for so long. I assure you there is a valid reason…or maybe there isn’t…anyway

I am back writing now, and while this is not all that matters, it is such a big deal for me. I hadn’t written anything since the last post I shared here, making conscious efforts to avoid any occasion of writing. I’m sure it’s the stress of that avoidance that has caused the few grey hairs I saw recently.

I would have carried on avoiding this writing that won’t let me be, but two seemingly random things happened recently that made me do a rethink.

I met Timiebix for the first time. It was my birthday and I had a few friends over for drinks, barbeque – I was grilling, and conversation – an intimate affair. It turned out we had a few mutual friends and one of them invited her.

When we got introduced her name sounded familiar, and it all came together when I learned she wrote for SIG. I remembered her name from the comments section back when I wrote and was pleased to see her.

I walked up to her later, hoping she didn’t think I was going to hit on her.

“I hear you write for Single in Gidi,” I said, knowing it sounded like a pickup line.

“Yes.”

“I used to write for SIG too.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Were you the guy in customer serv…”

“Bobo? Guilty.”

“What happened to you? Why did you stop writing?” She looked across the room to her friend who had invited her. “You got married.” Not a question.

I shrugged.

We talked some more, then I had to go tend the barbecue.

Before I left her she told me to write again, and like many who had asked me before her, I told her I would.

“I will write again someday. The writing won’t let me be.”

Three days later I got a notification on Telegram – Mz Gidi had just joined. We chatted and played catch up. It reminded me of the times we spent discussing my posts in the past and talking about the randomest things. It was a good feeling.

I am not superstitious, but I considered it a sign of sorts.

I really should write again.

I thought about it for a few more days, reluctant to get started especially considering that the site is Single in Gidi and I am neither single nor in Gidi. But I concluded that since you walked with me while I was back on the shelf, maybe you wouldn’t mind walking with me as I try to navigate life on the other side.

K FOR KARMA

“Hey Bobo, this one you’re excited like this share the news nau.” My colleague turned to me.

“Osime I see your work is not enough for you. You must chook mouth in anything Bobo.” I replied. “Abeg face your work.”

“Abeg no vex.” She raised her hands in surrender before turning to face her monitor.”

“Maxine and I are going to the AMVCA tomorrow.” I told her.

“I’m jealous.” She made a face. “Do you have extra tickets?”

“So you can be a third wheel? Park well.”

“I hate you.”

A customer walked in just then.

“Good morning sir,” I welcomed him. “How may we help you?”

“I’m just looking around,” he said doing just that.

I walked to him, standing a few paces away.

“That’s fine sir, but if you have any questions I’m right here for you.”

I was still walking on clouds, my smile wide. My mind was on my exchange with Osime and my date with Max.

“Do you like what you do?” He turned to me and asked.

I was thrown. I took a moment to process what his question might mean, my smile masking the cogs spinning in my head.

“I actually do sir.” If he was a mystery shopper – someone from the office or sent by the office to check on us – I wouldn’t let him leave thinking otherwise.

He nodded, as if checking off a box in his mind.

“What part of it do you like?”

Definitely a mystery shopper.

“The people. I’m a people person and being able to resolve customer issues is big for me. Even if they don’t have complaints, being able to treat each person who walks through the door as an individual, a person, makes me happy. I hope it makes them feel happy too.”

That sounded rehearsed. But then it kind of was. Thank you Hollywood.

“Walk with me,” he said walking further into the shop. I followed, careful to maintain the space between us. “I agree with you,” he said. “I had observed how warm and eager to help you were on my last two visits here. The first time I thought perhaps it was because the customer was a woman…”

It probably was.

“… but the second time you were patient with me when I tried to give you a hard time. That was about a month ago. I didn’t renew my data plan in order to roll over my unused data. I was out of the country at the time and, while one part of me understood there was nothing you could do about it, I took my frustration out on you. You just stood there and smiled, apologised and then activated another plan.” He stopped in front of some Samsung phones, and I was preparing to turn it down when he reached in his coat pocket and pulled out a business card.

The disappointment hit my stomach with a thud that surprised me.

“Call me on Monday morning.”

“Yes sir,” I picked the card from between his index and middle fingers.

He turned and walked back into the departure hall of the airport.

I read the name on the card. Ikem Nsirim.

***

No, not today! What is this life sef? You cannot just sleep and wake up, no, your body must show you who is boss.

These thoughts and more ran through my mind as I lay in bed on Saturday morning.

When I felt that funny sensation in the part of my nose/mouth connect I can only refer to as the back of my nose, I decided to self medicate to forestall the cold it promised to bring.

The tablet of Actifed I swallowed with tepid water swam down my throat and knocked me out.

Even as the shutters in my brain and behind my eyes wound down, I let myself smile because I had gotten a jump on things, so I was good. I would wake up the next day and it would be a memory.

Wrong.

The first sign was the small irritation I felt that morning when I swallowed. I hacked to clear my throat, and that was when the coughing started.

I rolled out of bed and padded to the kitchen in search of water. It turned out I used the last satchet of not-cold water the night before. I turned to the fridge.

Heading back to the room I caught a glimpse of the navy blue Tuxedo from Sly’s wedding where I set it out for my date with Max.

Max!

I dialled her number and she picked on the first ring.

“Hello you,” she said.

“‘ey,” I cleared my throat. “H…”

Crap. Voice don travel.

She started to laugh.

“What’s funny?” I hissed. “Let me whatsapp you.”

She wanted to come over and play nurse, but I wouldn’t let her. She could easily pick catch whatever I had. Besides, I couldn’t let her miss the AMVCA.

We’ll watch it together she offered

But the tickets nko?

I’ll find someone on twitter to give them to.

No jor. I’ll be fine, I promise. You know what? If I still feel this poorly tomorrow I’ll let you bring a bowl of peppersoup and then you can nurse me back to full strength.

She finally agreed.

I spent that day at home sipping cough medicine and chewing Strepsil.

By the next morning I wasn’t feeling so bad, and when Max came by that afternoon with a small cooler of chicken peppersoup, my voice was beginning to return. My throat was still scratchy when I talked, and if I talked for long I started to cough.

By midday on Monday I called Mr. Nsirim and as soon as I said my name he asked how I would like to work for him. He had a lounge he was just setting up and needed a manager.

“Can you come in on Wednesday to the address on the card? Say around 11am.”

“11am sir? Okay sir. I’ll see you then sir.”

“See you then.” He hung up before I could say anything else.

I called Max and told her.

“What have you got to lose?” she asked. “At least go and find out what the job is and if it’s something you’d like to do.”

The office was around the international airport so I didn’t have to miss work. I took an early break, hoping the interview would be short and I’d be back before the midday rush of customers.

I got there with five minutes to spare. The receptionist was expecting me.

“The MD will see you shortly,” she said after a brief exchange with someone over the phone.

I sat in the waiting area And counted down the clock.

Her intercom trilled.

“Hello sir… yes sir… yes sir… okay sir.” She hung up. “The MD will see you now.”

She led me through a door to her right, down a short corridor and paused to knock on a door marked ‘Conference Room’.

I walked onto plush carpeting that swallowed the sound of my footsteps. There was an oval table in the middle of the room with four people sitting on the one side facing me. Mr. Nsirim was in the middle with two other men flanking him. To his extreme left was the only lady in the room. She had locs that were intricately woven atop her head to resemble a mohawk. She also had on round glasses.

I hesitated, my heart caught in my chest. Recent pain mixing with trepidation, making breathing difficult.

“Please have a seat,” Mr. Nsirim waved me to one of two seats facing them. He introduced the people in the room and I smiled and nodded at them without hearing their names.

For a second I thought the lady in the room was Cynthia, but she wasn’t.

According to Mr. Nsirim, it was not an interview, just an informal chat and an opportunity for the other managers to meet me.

I smiled a lot and answered questions on various subjects.

The interview lasted a little over thirty minutes.

Back at the office my phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Good afternoon, am I speaking with Bobo?”

“Yes.”

“You just left an interview with my company…”

“Good afternoon ma’am.”

“Can you help me win a bet?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow.” I was perplexed.

“I thought you were pretending not to recognise me because my dad was in the room.”

“I’m sorry, but I have no reco…”

“‘Can you help me win a bet’ were your first words to me.” She hung up.

Oh crap.

This was bad. Very bad.

REBOUND

“Still suffering the after effects of all that wine?” I asked Max as I steadied her.

She looked up and in her eyes I saw something. She blinked and it was gone.

“No jare,” she beat my hand away. “I was about to knock when you opened the door.”

Do you knock with all your body?

“Do you have a spare toothbrush by any chance?” I asked.

“Check in the cabinet above the sink.”

***

Hi.

So we are a little confused.

Who are you?

Who created you?

We were sitting on the floor eating breakfast – I had a bowl of fruit & fibre, Max had a plate of French toast. We both had steaming mugs of coffee – and I was going through my phone messages when I came across these DMs.

I set my bowl down, trying to decide who the tweep was.

I come alive on twitter on post days: put up the link, see the RTs, log out till the next post day. Oh, and follow some people. So I was surprised that someone thought to DM me.

Hi, don’t be afraid. I’m a single male in Lagos. Not a single Lagos male.

If Christianity is to be believed, God did. I know my parents had a hand – or leg – in it. I sent a response to the creation question.

And when you say “we”, who are we?

Legion, was her response.

What’s the difference? Single male in Lagos and single Lagos male? Same animal as far as I can see.

I tried to educate her on the important difference.

“Earth to Bobo,” Max waved in my face.

“Sorry,” I looked up from my phone. “You say something?”

“What were you so focused on?”

“See, it’s someone on twitter. Can you believe this?” I showed her the messages.

“I was just telling her the differences between the two type of people. Ultimately, a single male living in Lagos has no roots. He’ll thrive anywhere he has to move to. But a single Lagos male has his life and roots and everything in Lagos. Take him out of Lagos…”

“…and he struggles.” she completed my line of thought.

“Exactly!” we slapped palms in a high-five.

“She looks like a bookish type,” Max said and I agreed, not that this observation had anything to do with anything.

“What are your plans for this Valentine’s?” I asked her.

“After last night? Nothing.” she got up to clear the dishes. My cereal was soggy, ruined. “I already got the best Valentine’s day: waking up in the arms of my favourite man.” she leaned in and kissed my ear.

She was aiming for my cheek, but I moved away in the last instant.

When you say ‘after last night’ like that, it’ll seem like there was more to last night than getting fucked…”

“You said it!” she called out as she went.

“…by alcohol.” I finished.

***

Two days later I got another DM.

If I really want to know, I can find out. But, lemme keep the curiosity longer.

It took. Me a minute to realise she was asking who I was.

I’m sure you have your ways, and I am not a secret. I’m really easy to find – I’m either at work, home, or hanging with my guys. I replied.

You know what I’m talking about, but I have to face today on half belle so I’ll save my strength.

The chat veered into food and best food territory, and we both agreed that free food was the best food.

Like, what is the point leaving your house if there won’t be food where you’re going?

I like you 😀

It took me another minute to realise she meant the way I liked food. At least I hoped so.

I like me too 😉

That evening she came back with a rant about how in Nigeria we think we are ready to go toe to toe with the world but it’s only a show. No substance.

As long as our system encourages kickbacks, and our value system is tied to wealth things won’t change.

Urgh. That word. APC messed it up for me.

As long as we look at it from a who will bell the cat point of view, cat’s gonna run wild. I replied.

We made all sorts of silly cat puns – I didn’t realise they were that many.

You got all kinds of energy now. Score any free food?

Yes ke. Croissants and orange juice. Then small chops and cappuccino. Then pizza.

At the mention of coffee, I was excited like a cat with a yarn.

Are you a coffee person? I asked.

I’m not a coffee person. They were serving it and it had milk in it and a foam on top…

I heard the engine of the plane carrying the P I was hoping to set stall. I heard the whine and it came crashing to earth. But she wasn’t done.

Tot it was something special. Apaz it’s just coffee and milk and sugar. And I’m sure mai tea can achieve that foam.

I set my phone down and clutched my chest. The pain was violent. I checked her bio again and looked at her avi.

Please. Stop. Talking.

They put the beans in the coffee maker and add other things and bam. Frothy coffee.

She wouldn’t stop.

That evening she DM’d me and she picked up where we left off and carried on about food. Her favourite food. And the way she felt about dodo.

If she noticed I wasn’t as enthusiastic as before, her messages didn’t suggest it. It wasn’t about the coffee, I had a long day at work and was bone tired. I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

I’ve run out of intelligent things to say. It’s past my bed time.

Don’t let me keep you up, I replied. Especially seeing as I don’t know how early you have to leave the house tomorrow.

***

The next morning she DM’d me, then in the evening. We didn’t chat the day after, and we spoke less and less as the week progressed.

Meanwhile, Maxine and I hung out twice more during that week.

“What are you doing on Saturday?” she asked. We had met up for drinks at The Place, and were waiting for the asun we ordered to come.

“What’s Saturday?” I opened an imaginary appointment book. “It’ll seem my Saturday is free.” I said.

“Wanna go someplace with me?”

“Trick question?” I asked.

“I’ve got two tickets for the movie awards thing…”

“It’s a date.” I grinned.

The asun arrived then and we dove in.

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.

LOVE DRUNK

Outside the airport I flagged down a taxi that was cruising by. In my experience, the 3-minute walk to the road could save one as much as N2,000 in cab fare. It was almost as if the airport cabbies were affronted that you dared fly, and they took out their anger in the way they inflated their fares.

Or maybe it was a union thing.

I got in the cab and my phone rang.

“Yo dude, how far?”

It was Wale.

“I’m good o. You?”

“I’m alright my guy. How did it go?”

“Men, I don’t even know sef. Are you home?”

“The rest of the gang are here sef. Just come on over.”

I checked that the back doors were locked and the window on my side wound up, leaving just a crack for some breeze before I took out the box from my backpack.

I held it against my cheek for a bit before snapping it open. The princess cut diamond nestled in navy velvet caught the evening light, and the heaviness in my chest returned.

The surprise I had planned for Cynthia was a proposal. We’d been dating for six months, and in that time I had come to feel about her a way I couldn’t remember feeling for anyone before.

We talked everyday, and we talked about everything.

No matter how many times we chatted or spoke on the phone, every new message or call from her had me smiling.

No issue was too trivial, no time too late for Cynthia to call me up. Even if it was something I had no control over.

The night she got home after a particularly rough day at work, and an even rougher trip home and found her gen wasn’t working she called me. I stayed on the phone and listened to her lament. The more the told me about her day, the more emotional she got until she started crying. Like, out of nowhere.

I stayed with her on the phone torn that I couldn’t be there to make all her troubles disappear and fix everything for her. I made gentle sounds and made jokes too, but mostly I was quiet till she was spent.

“I’m so embarrassed,” she sniffed.

“Hey, it’s alright sweetie. It’s me and you o.”

That was the way of our relationship. We were there for each other, strong for each other. I made the trip to see her for a couple of days at least twice a month, and she was in Lagos at least once a week.

My friends teased me on a regular, but I told myself they secretly envied me.

When I told them I was going to ask her to marry me, Phantom thought it was too soon.

Sly said it was a good idea, but I suspected it was partly so he wouldn’t be the only married one of us.

Wale couldn’t be bothered. He was looking for a live-in lover. Maybe a partner to have a baby with, but without the whole marriage shindig.

Scar thought I was joking until I bought the ring.

***

“Oga which side we dey go?”

I opened my eyes to get my bearing.

“Turn right for front, then take the second left. You go see the… no worry, I dey inside motor with you. Dey go.”

At Wale’s I told the guys how my trip went. Or how it didn’t go.

“Dude,” Wale said. “What kind of busy was she busying that she could not see you?”

“Me I have kuku said before that all these Abuja girls are one kain.” Phantom added.

“See Bobo, I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation for…”

“Logic? And women?” Phantom cut Sly off. “I’d like to see the day.”

“Who hurt you?” Sly asked him.

“Gerrarahia mehn, shii!”

“See ehn,” I said. “All the plans I made just went to nought.”

“Dude,” Wale said, “women don’t care how you ask them. I bet they’re just happy to find someone stupid enough to propose.”

There was awkward laughter.

“Look,” I said, trying to lift the mood. “Who’s up for a game of soccer?”

“See this one, you just got here and you want to hold pad first. Abeg join the queue.” Scar waved me away.

“Wait, wait. You guys know this is my house and nobody can claim to have got here before me. I’m playing first…”

I leaned back in the couch and watched them argue playfully. I sighed, then smiled. It felt good to be back with my homies.

SOME OTHER TIME

“You again? It seems you only select my flights to travel on.”

I smiled at the flight attendant.

“It would seem so.”

She pointed me to my seat – the general area – and I thanked her.

A few minutes later another attendant came and asked me if I would like to move up. I had a seat close to the front of economy and I was happy to keep it until I realised she meant an upgrade to business class.

“Really? I don’t know…”

I’m just kidding, let me form small surprised.

“Do you have any bags?” she asked.

I reached in the overhead bin and took down my backpack.

I settled into the leather seat, fastened my seatbelt and stretched out my legs.

This is the life.

“Would you like a newspaper sir?” she was back with a selection of newspapers on a tray.

“Why, thank you.” I gave her my sweetest smile.

I turned to the sports page and was still contemplating whether I could fill out the crossword in ink when she returned with a glass of lemonade.

My phone rang and I was still talking on the phone when she returned with a tray.

Good thing I didn’t write in the paper. I for pay for newspaper today.

I signalled that it was okay to take the paper, but she shook her head. I wrapped the call up and turned back to her.

“I wanted to take your meal order sir.”

Now this is the life.

“What’s there to choose from?”

She ran through the three meal choices and I ordered the ofada sauce and rice.

Boarding was soon done and the lead flight attendant shut the door, made a few announcements and we were on our way.I reclined my seat and played my entire trip back in my head.

***

I had flown into Abuja two days ago to surprise Cynthia, but she always came up with reasons why we couldn’t see:

It was the end of the year and her office needed her to help wrap stuff up. She’d see me when she was done.

Things ran later than she thought, now she had to stay over at a friend’s close to work – forget that I was staying at a hotel in the same area.

She barely had enough time to shower and change clothes before rushing off to the office again. Hectic week.

She finally caught a break. Their end of year party was that evening, but she didn’t know I was coming into town so she didn’t get an extra ticket. Now, there’s none to be got. Break over, she had to run.

She wished I was there at the party, she wished I could see what she was wearing. At least I’d get her out of it. She’d call when they were done and come over.

21:30…

21:33…

22:42…

02:12…

My neck felt like someone was standing on it and that was what woke me up.

I winced when I rolled my head around.

I didn’t know whether to call her phone or leave her a message.

Mercifully it was soon 7:30 and I listened to the ringing on the other end. I called back, and when the phone still went unanswered I called the cabbie I used in Abuja.

When I checked out at 11:30, I had called Cynthia twice more. One went unanswered, but the other was cut mid-ring. My excitement turned to disappointment, anger and then a mild depression when I didn’t hear from her till my flight was announced at 2pm.

Seeing a vaguely familiar face welcome me with a smile, hearing her say she recognised me as an individual pulled the darkness that was sitting on my chest off its behind. The upgrade to business class and this treatment made me begin to think it might not be that bad.

***

“Would you like lunch now sir?”

I opened my eyes to see the lead flight attendant smiling at me.

“Yes please, Christina.” I said, reading her name off her tag.

She set the tray in front of me and took my drink order.

I asked for some more lemonade.

“Would you prefer some wine?” she asked.

I thought about it.

“No, thank you. The lemonade will do just fine. May I please get some ice in the glass?”

“Not a problem.”

When I was done I pushed the tray to one side and right on cue, Christina was by my side.

“Would you like anything else?”

“I just have one question. Has anyone ever finished all the items of the tray?”

“Yes,” she smiled.

“I couldn’t, and I’m stuffed.”

She cleared the tray and I picked up the newspaper where I set it down before take-off. I was filling the Sudoku when Christina returned.

“So tell me, what takes you to Abuja so often?”

I looked up from the paper and I swallowed.

She was standing with her hip against the seat in front of me, her hands folded one on top of the other on the backrest. Her head was tilted to the right, the light coming in from the window behind her caught her hair in a halo. Her dark eye shadow contrasted with her fair skin, and her bright red lipstick accentuated the fullness of her lips.

I thought it was strange how a casual pose could exude such sensuality.

We talked for the remainder of the flight with her leaving at intervals to check on the three other people in business class.

When we landed in Lagos, I felt better by far than before we took off from Abuja.

I paused at the door to thank her for a wonderful flight and she slipped something in my hand.

I didn’t check to see what it was, I didn’t need to. The paper crinkled when I slipped it into my pocket, and I could almost feel her phone number burning through my pocket onto my thigh.

Even as I walked down the steps, I knew I was going to call her.

HAPPY

We sat for a long time in the dark. Cynthia was curled up in my laps, her head resting on my chest, rising and falling when I breathed. The glow of the TV screen cast shadows across her features.

I felt my left leg begin to go numb and I shifted a bit to get circulation going again.

“Am I too heavy?” her voice was muffled by my shirt.

I shook my head, and then realised she wouldn’t see.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” I said.

“If I was though you’d tell me, right?” she wanted to know.

“After what I have told you, you think I’d be afraid to say if you grew too heavy?” I tried to chuckle, but it sounded forced even to my ears.

She sighed, letting go of the air she had drawn into her lungs and held there.

At some point during the evening I had told her things about me I had never told anybody. I had no idea why I did, but it felt good talking about it all, talking to her. For what felt like three hours I talked, calling up names and memories I had buried over the years.

She listened and sometimes jerked her head up to ask questions. Each time she looked at my face, I faltered, my words falling over themselves. So I took to holding her head down each time she tensed like she was going to raise it.

It also helped that the room was in semi darkness.

I lifted a handful of her locs, pulled them off her face and kissed her temple.

She sighed again.

“I’ve got to go in a bit,” I said.

“Do you have to go?” she asked. “You know you can stay the…”

“Shhhh…” I didn’t let her finish. “I had an amazing time in Abuja, time with you. But all of them put together do not hold a candle to the magic of tonight. For that I thank you.”

“There it goes again, your act to lock people out.” she said.

I wanted to disagree, but I knew what she was talking about. After baring myself to her like I did, letting her look in and see my vulnerable, I reset my wall.

“O…kay,” I groaned, stretching. “Down you go.”

She stood up and took my hands to pull me up from the sofa. I let her.

As we descended the steps from her apartment, I held out my right hand without looking at her, and she took it.

Just before I got into the taxi, she reached up and kissed me. A brief brushing of our lips. I fold myself into the taxi, every fibre of my being begging to go back with her and stay with her.

I smiled at her and waved as the taxi pulled away. I sensed that she might stand and wave a bit, but I do not look back. If I did, I would ask the taxi to stop. This was my last night in Abuja, I had no idea if or when I would see her again and I did not want to ruin what we just shared.

Back at the hotel Rolayo came to my room, and when I walked back to lean against the window she followed me. She tried to kiss me and I waited till the last second before turning and presenting her with my cheek. I didn’t wait for her reaction, I just pulled her close to me and held her there, my chin resting on the top of her head.

When we got into bed, I held her but couldn’t sleep.

The next morning I woke up to sounds of water running in the bathroom. Minutes after the water stopped, she came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.

She sat at the edge of the bed, her profile to me.

“How was your night?” I asked her.

“It was okay,” she said. And as I watched she let her towel drop onto the bed around her waist.

I inhale and turn away, my back to her. I look up into the mirror just above the table and I catch her eyes. There’s a smile playing on her lips.

Clearly she wants me to look, so why look away?

I walked to my favourite spot in the room: the window. I planted my hip against the sill and watch her apply lotion to her body.

When did she bring a bath bag here?

Her breasts sway and jiggle with the motion of her hands. My pants began to feel tight and I thrust my hands in my pocket.

“Excuse me.” I don’t know why I said that. I made my way to the bathroom where I rested my palms on the sink, trying to clear my head.

I was still there when I heard the bedroom door squeal open, and then click shut.

I collapsed against the bathroom door; I didn’t realise how tense I was.

I brushed my teeth and was about to shed my clothes for a shower when I heard the intercom. It startled me.

Why so jumpy? I chuckled.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Bobo, this is reception. There is…” I hear the receptionist ask someone “what is your name?” I didn’t hear the response. “Ehen sir, Miss Cynthia is here…”

“Send her up,” I didn’t let him finish.

I hung up and looked around the room. The bed was unmade, my clothes from last night were where I tossed them when I changed into my sleeping clothes. I picked up the shirt and folded it, placing it on to of my already packed box. The pants I drape over a chair back; I planned to wear them to the airport.

I pulled the duvet off the bed and proceeded to make the bed when I heard the knock at the door.

Three knock close together, tentative, then a bolder one.

“Coming!”

I flipped the duvet back on the bed and walked towards the door, stopping to cast my eyes over the room.

Not too shabby.

I opened the door and stood there a moment, my heart doing a dance.

“You came.” I said.

Cynthia walked the two steps between us and put her arms around my waist. I bowed my head to meet her upturned lips. I walked backwards into the room, not daring to break the kiss. I continue walking backwards until the back of my legs hit the bed. I lifted her off the floor then, lowered myself onto the bed and then placed her across my thighs.

The kiss deepens and my head swims. There’s an urgency to her kiss, and it mirrors how I am feeling. I take her hand and place on the waist band of the pair of joggers I was wearing. She let them rest there till I take her thumbs a stick them inside the band.

“Eager are we?” she asked, her lips moving against mine.

I feel laughter bubbling inside me, starting to rise.

No, I’m just happy.

ONE FOOT

As I floated up, out of the embrace of sleep, I became conscious of a softness against my back. I froze, confused.

It was warm against my bare skin, and it moved. I relaxed as memories of last night flooded my mind, my lips curved in a smile.

Sheets rustled as I slid out of bed and padded, barefoot, to the bathroom. At the sink I looked at the face looking back at me in the mirror.

What in the world got into us last night?

The running water did not hide the creak of the bedroom door opening, or the soft click as it closed.

At training that day Rolayo was her usual self. Nothing in her demeanour let on that things had changed between us. I was happy to play along.

 

After the first night she came to my room, Rolayo slept in my bed every night.

If I wasn’t walking a razor’s edge, it would be funny: wake up to the sound of Rolayo leaving, spending the day in training with her, spending the evening with Cynthia, and going back to Rolayo in my bed.

***

“Earth to Bobo, come in Bobo.”

The voice snapped me out of my reverie.

“Sorry,” I gave a sheepish smile. It would have been more than a little embarrassing explaining how I was with one lady, but was thinking of another. Especially since the lady I was with was the one I would rather be with if it came down to choosing.

“I asked if you weren’t going to take your call.”

My evenings with Cynthia consisted of a meet up at the mall where we then decided on what to do for the evening.

Because it was Friday, my last night in Abuja, and new movie cycles started on Fridays, we decided on the cinema.

I set my phone to “silent” at the movies, and had forgotten to change it right back after the movie, so I didn’t hear it ring, but Cynthia had seen the screen light up when the call came in.

“Thanks babe,” I said and picked the call. “Hello?” I frowned. I didn’t recognise the number.

“Hello, is this Bobo?”

“It depends on who’s asking.”

“It’s Ronke,” she said.

Ronke? Ronke…

“Sly’s wife. I got your number from Keme. I hope you don’t mind.”

Keme.

I felt that now familiar quickening of my heartbeat.

“Nah, it’s alright. What’s up?”

“It’s Sly o,” my heartbeat spiked again as I braced myself for some bad news. “I’ve been trying to reach him but he’s not picking my calls. Is he with you?”

I let myself breathe again.

“Sorry, what was that? Hello… He.. can… hear…” I waved the phone across my mouth to simulate a bad connection before ending the call, then I dialled Sly’s number and listened to it ring.

He didn’t answer the call.

– Dude pick your phone. Talk to me first!

Ping!

I called his number again, checked the time, and then called Wale.

He picked on the first ring.

“Guy what’s up?” he asked.

“Is Sly there with you?” I didn’t bother with pleasantries.

“Yes, anything? ”

“Give the idiot the phone.”

“Okay.”

“Bobo wants to talk with you,” I heard him say before Sly’s voice came on the line.

“Hello?”

“Dude where’s your phone?” I asked him.

“It’s charging in the corner.”

“Ronke’s been trying to reach you…”

“Shit!”

“Exactly. She had to get my number. Call her back. Oh, and tell her we’re together. Talk later.” I hung up.

“Wow,” Cynthia applauded from where she sat, “I’d heard guys cover for themselves, but I’d never seen it before today.”

“I wasn’t covering for him,” I smiled. “It’s just that it’ll be suspicious that he suddenly saw her calls after not answering them earlier.”

“Did you consider the truth though?”

“What truth? Women say they want truth and openness, but in my experience, not a lot of people can handle truth.”

“Maybe you have a point there,” she said.

“Maybe? Really?” I raised an eyebrow and waved her away.

“Why are you sulking?” she got out of her sofa and walked towards me. She stopped where I was sitting, and lowered herself onto my knees.

“Whatever it is you plan to do, just know that I have plans of my own too,” I tried not squirm. “Also, let down your hair, I like the way it frames your face and brushes against your shoulder.”

“Lines,” she teased even as she reached up and pulled at the black elastic band and her locs came tumbling down. She leaned forward and kissed my lips with a loud smack.

“Hmmm,” she licked her lips, “your lips taste funny.”

“I was just going to say the same,” I said with a wide grin.

She leaned in again, and this time the kiss was longer and less noisy.

I felt her warm moist breath on my upper lip and my eyes closed. My hands travelled up her back to caress her neck before getting lost in the thicket that was her hair.

We we broke the kiss our breathing was ragged, and I could not see too clearly out of one eye.

“How was…” my voice was thick, the rest of my question got swallowed by her lips which had returned to mine. I pulled her closer against me, and the kiss deepened.

I reached beneath the loose t-shirt she was wearing and the heat from her skin seared my palms. She did not try to stop me. Instead she tugged at my shirt and I moved this way and that to aid the freeing of the shirt from my trouser band.

Her palm was cool against my feverish skin she raked her nails down my spine and I shivered.

I heard my belt buckle clink from a distance, and I took my hands from under her blouse to cover her hands where they were on my belt.

She broke the kiss and her eyes questioned me.

I shook my head without saying a word.

Her eyes widened, and I shook my head again. In silence she struggled to free her hands, but I held them trapped in my bigger ones.

Her shoulder drooped and her body relaxed, and when I let go of her hands, she made to get up. I held her down.

“I’m not going to apologise,” she said.

“I’d have it no other way.”

“What is your hang up?” she asked.

Images of Rolayo, Keme and the other girls whose names I couldn’t be bothered to remember danced before my eyes.