Patricia walked up and down the corridor, her palm determined to leak gallons of water. She wiped her hands on her jeans for the umpteenth time, trying to control her nerves. Sweat was already breaking through her artfully applied make up.
â€œDo you think I look like a masquerade?â€ She had asked Onyinye ten minutes earlier. Her friend had looked at her brown dusted eyebrows that winged nicely above her eyes and the jade green eye shadow that matched the top she wore with satisfaction.
â€œYou look nice.â€
Patriciaâ€™s stomach was in knots. Hearing Tolaâ€™s voice had sent her heart racing. She began to feel the enormity of her adventure. Her phone vibrated against her hand and with an automatic jerk, she pushed down a button on it.
â€œLion house Adeola Odeku V.I,â€ she mouthed as she read the message. Patricia felt a presence behind her and turned. Onyinye was looking over her shoulder at the phone.
â€œHas he sent the address?â€
Patricia showed her the phone. Her friend looked at it and then back at her.
â€œThe place should not be hard to locate.â€
â€œI am nervous,â€ Patricia whispered, looking back into the room where Eno, Onyinyeâ€™s quiet bunkmate studied, cross legged on her bed.
â€œJust go,â€ Onyinye said, shooing her towards the black handbag on her bed. Her friend had heard all about her escapade the previous weekend. At first she had been horrified that Patricia had been part of the runs clique even for a day but Patricia had assured her that she had nothing to fear from Tola Opanuga. I will never go near runs again, she had told Onyinye, I just want to see him. The woman behind the gleaming brown mahogany desk looked at Patricia, a small questioning smile on her perfectly painted red lips.
â€œCan I help you?â€
Patricia fought the urge to stare at her feet. She was yet to recover from the magnificence of the twenty storey glass and steel wonder and the gleaming elevators with blue carpet rug that swallowed her feet with their lushness. Her skin broke out in goose pimples as the chill in the reception area seeped into her linen top.
â€œI am here to see Mr. Tola Opanuga.â€
The woman who could have been in her early thirties gave her a sweeping look.
â€œIs he expecting you?â€ She asked, the smile plastered on her perfect mannequin like face. Her long braids were swept back in a bun, giving her an elegant look that made Patricia feel ordinary.
The woman appraised her one last time, her eyes lingering on Patriciaâ€™s black open toe high heeled sandals for a second.
â€œFine, wait here,â€ she said, standing up to tower above Patricia in a light blue skirt suit that fitted her like a second skin, her long toned legs elongated by the blue high heeled pumps she wore. â€œSit down,â€ She said, pointing to the black leather chairs behind Patricia.
Patricia walked towards the chairs arranged in a semi circle before a smoky glass table. She couldnâ€™t help admiring the orange coloured window blinds and abstract paintings framed in ornate wood that hung from the white wall. She picked the chair at the end of the semi circle and sat down, her hands settled primly on her laps. A well dressed man in pin stripped suit flashed a cocky grin from the magazine that sat on one corner of the table. Patricia looked at the manâ€™s face on the magazine for a moment before arranging the ruffles on her top with a nervous hand. The woman in short skirt suit suddenly appeared before her just as quietly as she had left the room.
â€œHe says you can come in now,â€ she motioned to her left as she stood beside her desk. Patricia pushed to her feet, pulling her bag with her. She passed the woman with a quiet thank you, ignoring her cold smile. A well polished solid wood door stood before her. She pushed the door and it opened easily. Patriciaâ€™s heart did a mild jump as she spotted the man who had changed her life just a few days ago. He sat, head bent over his desk as he scribbled something on the paper before him. Light from the dying afternoon sun filtered through the blinds behind him, forming a halo around his head.
â€œCome in,â€ he said, without looking up at her.
Patricia obeyed his command on shaky feet. He managed to finish his scribbling just as she reached his desk. Patricia felt her knees liquefy from the intensity of his gaze as he looked up at her. A small half smile played on his lips.
â€œHello Patricia,â€ His low timbre of his voice sent shivers down her spine.
â€œHi,â€ Patricia said shyly, remembering their not quite innocent first encounter.
â€œNice to see you again,â€ He settled back in his seat, the top buttons of his striped white shirt exposed to show his sturdy neck. â€œPlease sit down.â€ He motioned to the empty seat before him
Patricia looked away from his eyes, her heart clanging like the large metal plates of a marching band.
â€œYou look nice.â€
Patricia remembered the woman at the reception. She decided he was just flattering her. â€œThank you.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t think you would call back.â€
Patricia tried to respond, but her tongue stuck defiantly to the roof of her mouth, refusing to move. She couldnâ€™t read his expression.Â God please help me here, I am about to make a fool of myself, she thought panicking. Tola leaned forward on the table and Patricia could not help noticing the rolled back sleeves of his shirt and his strong arms.
â€œDid you pay the cheque into your account?â€
The office was quiet again. Even the honking of motorists and constant vibration of activities in the street below reached them as a muted conversation. Patricia thought she saw Tolaâ€™s eyes travel discretely down her top but she wasnâ€™t so sure because he was looking into her eyes again.
â€œWould you like to have dinner with me?â€ He asked, flicking his wrist to check the time on his thin gold watch. Onyinyeâ€™s words flashed through Patriciaâ€™s mind;Â donâ€™t spend the night with him. Come back to school, no matter how late it is.
Tola must have seen the hesitation in her eyes because he hurriedly assured her. â€œI will take you back to school immediately after dinner.â€
â€œOkay.â€ Patricia said, giving him a small smile. He smiled back and pressed the small sleek black intercom nestled beside an equally small silver laptop. â€œDupe, let me see you for a second.â€
Dinner was an outdoor affair at a terrace restaurant in Radisson Blu hotel on Ozumba Mbadiwe Street. There had been a four minute conversation in his spotless black Audi A6 as they navigated crowded roads and managed to avoid collisions with over adventurous commercial motorcyclists with passengers holding the edge of their seats for dear life. Patricia had been too flustered to continue the conversation. The cozy interior of the car and woody aromatic fragrance of his cologne made her more aware of him. At the hotel, the waiters greeted Tola with a familiarity that suggested that he frequented the place often. Patricia was surprised by his easy charm. He seemed to enjoy the light bantering with the waiters and laughed at their jokes.
â€œSo, do you have a boyfriend?â€ He asked as soon as their meal was served. Patricia looked up from the green pepper on her rice. There was a genuine smile on his face.
Her last relationship ended just a month ago. Ovie had been a mistake. She had sworn never to date the boys in her class, but he had chased her with a dogged determination that impressed her. Their brief relationship had ended when he humiliated her with a fling with another classmate.
Patricia picked her glass of fresh orange juice, â€œBecause I just came out of one.â€
They fell quiet, allowing the soft voices drifting from the tables around them to fill the silence at their own table.
The gentle breeze from the lagoon teased Patriciaâ€™s shoulder length hair and it swept across her face. Once she caught Tola looking at her with a brooding expression on his face. The air cackled with tension once when his fingers brushed her own as he passed her the bottle of water she requested for. Patriciaâ€™s fingers continued to tingle even after she returned to her meal. Soon the meal was over and Tola was looking at his watch again.
â€œIt is getting pretty late,â€ he said with a regretful look. â€œI have to take you back to school.â€â€™
Patricia nodded at him, feeling oddly reluctant to leave him. The trip back to school was just as quiet as the one to the restaurant, but as his car made a sharp turn into Herbert Macaulay Road Yaba, Tola turned to her.
â€œYou know, I have never done what I did last weekend for anyone before.â€
â€œOh,â€ Patricia said, biting down on her lower lip. She wished that night could somehow be erased from his memory. She did not relish the thought of being remembered as runs girl even if it had been just for one day. â€œSo why did you do it?â€ She asked, turning to look at his handsome profile.
He shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ He looked away from the road for a second into Patriciaâ€™s eyes, â€œI canâ€™t explain it.â€
Patricia lowered her eyes. â€œOkay.â€
â€œMaybe it was just something about the way you stood in the middle of the living room, looking quite lost after Ben picked the girl with tons of war paint on her face.â€
Patricia could not help smiling. The makeup on the other girls had definitely resembled war paint. Tola continued talking,
â€œAnd then you came into that room, I just couldnâ€™t bring myself to touch you.â€
The traffic light at Adekunle turned red and they rolled to a stop. Patricia turned right just in time to see two men fly out of their cars to exchange words before deciding to settle their score with thrown fists. Motorists poked their heads out of their cars and hawkers forgot to pursue cars as they all watched the drama. Patricia turned away from the distraction to the man in the car. Tola was still explaining the reason for his generosity that night they met for the first time.
â€œSomehow, I just knew I had to help you.â€
Patricia bowed her head and fiddled with the strap of her bag.
â€œDonâ€™t thank me Patricia,â€ he said, turning to fix her with his mesmerizing gaze again. â€œI did it for me.â€
Patricia wanted to ask what he meant but his attention was back on the road as they sped towards Unilag. Patricia felt a sense of loss as the navy blue uniform of the security men that manned her school gate came into view. As they drove into the crowded hostel area, several students turned to look at the car. Patricia thanked God for the tinted windows of the Audi. The last thing she needed was undue attention. Ovie stayed just a few blocks away in Makama Bida hall and she knew he would turn up at her door begging if he heard the news of her leaving an expensive car. The last time, at her prodding, Onyinye had tried to convince a sobbing Ovie that he was better off without her just because he had seen her walking to the library with a cordial male friend. He still clung to the belief that Patricia would forgive his cheating and their romance would be rekindled. Patricia didnâ€™t have the stomach to deal with an obsessive cheating ex boyfriend who spied on her every move.
â€œGoodnight,â€ Tola said as he parked beside the open doorway of her hostel. Patricia smiled shyly at him.
â€œGoodnight.â€ She picked her bag from the floor and reached to turn the door handle. The door refused to open. She looked back at Tola. â€œYour doorâ€¦â€
The shadows crept across his face. Patricia looked at him transfixed as his face came down on her own. Patriciaâ€™s breath stopped for a second as his face stopped an inch away from her own. Then he turned his face and let his lips brush her cheek in a soft kiss.
â€œGoodnight Patricia,â€ he said again, withdrawing back into his seat. A soft click beside her made her realize that the door was open now. Dazed by his closeness and the feel of his lips on her cheek, Patricia half stumbled into the night and into the open doorway of her hostel. She didnâ€™t look back to see Tola reverse and drive out of the narrow parking lot.
â€œOh God Onyinye, I canâ€™t sleep.â€ Patricia told her friend, hugging her. â€œI think I like him.â€
Onyinye groaned, trying to extricate herself from Patriciaâ€™s tight hug. â€œIt is almost ten, I want to sleep.â€ She yawned and rubbed her eyes. â€œGo away.â€
â€œHe is so handsome,â€ Patricia gushed, â€œAnd such a gentleman.â€
â€œJust donâ€™t sleep with him yet.â€
Patricia slapped the side of her best friendâ€™s arm. â€œI donâ€™t
â€œSure,â€ Onyinye yawned again.
Patricia grinned and walked towards her bed. Just as she was settling down to sleep, the door burst open and Pero stumbled in, streaks of black tears marking her face.
â€œI need your help,â€ she said, making a bee line for Patriciaâ€™s bed. Onyinye raised her head from her pillow to look at Peroâ€™s short skirt and white textured scoop neck top that clung tightly to her body with disapproval.
Patricia sat up in alarm. â€œWhat happened?â€
â€œOnyinye hi,â€ Pero said, as if she remembered her manners. Onyinye sat up on her bed now, concern on her face at her roommateâ€™s distraught look.
â€œHello Pero, are you okay?â€ She asked, walking towards Patriciaâ€™s bed.
â€œI had the worst experience of my life,â€ she said to Onyinye before turning to Patricia. â€œPlease can I have one thousand naira? I need to pay my cab fare.â€
Patricia reached for her bag without a word and passed her bunk mate one thousand naira note.
â€œThank you,â€ Pero said gratefully and hurried from the room.
â€œWhat was that all about?â€ Onyinye wondered as soon as Pero was gone. Patricia shrugged, â€œI wish I knew.â€
When Pero came back, she sat on Patriciaâ€™s bed and told them the reason for her mascara stained face.
â€œMy friend called me last night and told me to meet a guy that just returned from London,â€ she began with a sad face, wiping her cheeks with the tissue Patricia offered her. â€œSo I met him at his place at Dolphin estate.â€ She paused to shake her head. â€œThe house was so big,â€ she looked at Onyinye. â€œHis car was expensive, in fact everything about him smelled money.â€
â€œSo what happened?â€Patricia asked, getting a little impatient.
â€œHe was so nice. We talked for a long time and he told me everything about himself.â€
â€œBut that was your first time of meeting him,â€ Onyinye asked with a small frown.
â€œYes,â€ Pero answered, oblivious to the disapproval in Onyinyeâ€™s tone. She hung her head for a minute and then continued.
â€œDuring the night, he was so romantic. We did it several times.â€
Onyinye made a face. Patricia tried to keep her expression neutral.
â€œAt a point I was tired but he wouldnâ€™t stop.â€ Pero continued.
â€œSo he slept with you all through the night?â€ Onyinye asked, gaping at Pero in wonder.
â€œThis morning too,â€ Pero confirmed with a nod, â€œAnd even this afternoon,â€ She added, counting on the fingers of her right hand to Onyinyeâ€™s horror.
Onyinye exchanged a glance with Patricia and then shook her head. â€œSorry.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Pero said, throwing the tissue in her hand on the floor. â€œBut that is not even the worst part.â€ She sniffed and looked at her bright red fake fingernails on her lap.
â€œThis evening when I was leaving, he didnâ€™t say anything about my money.â€ Tears ran down her eyes. â€œI decided not to say anything because I thought he was rich and my friend told me a lot of good things about him.â€
â€œSo what happened?â€ Patricia prodded again, leaning towards Pero in rapt attention.
â€œWhen we stopped at the filling station to fill his tank, he even asked me to borrow him three thousand naira and I gave him all the money I had on me.â€
â€œWhy?!â€ Patricia and Onyinye said in unison.
Pero looked shamefaced. â€œI thought that he would give me back.â€
â€œAnd he didnâ€™t give you anything,â€ Onyinye nodded wisely.
â€œHe did not.â€ Pero wailed. â€œHe just dropped me off at Obalende and told me to call him.â€ Fresh tears ran down Peroâ€™s cheeks again.
â€œDonâ€™t cry Pero,â€ Patricia said, patting her back as she bent double in her seat. â€œAt least you have his number, call him.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the problem,â€ Pero said, raising her head. â€œI realized when I got down from his car that he didnâ€™t give me his number.â€ Her body shook with sobs as she buried her face into her hand.
â€œSo,â€ Onyinye said with wide eyes. â€œYour three thousand naira is gone?â€
â€œYes!â€ Pero answered, a howl entering her voice.
Onyinye opened her eyes some more, â€œAnd no money for all your troubles?â€ Patricia did not miss the emphasis onÂ troubles.
â€œYes!â€ Pero cried once again, this time she found solace in Patriciaâ€™s lap.
Umari Ayim is the author of â€œTwilight At Terracotta Indigoâ€ and â€œInside my Headâ€. She blogs at www.umariayim.com/