Patricia stared wide eyed at the light complexioned woman behind the counter as if she was seeing a ghost.
â€œWhat do you mean the check has been cancelled by the issuer?â€ She asked the fat woman with tight cornrows that helped highlight the high forehead that shone brilliantly under the overhead recessed lights of the banking hall. The woman tried to smile but it came out as a grimace.
â€œI am sorry but that is all I can tell you for now.â€ The woman motioned to the man behind Patricia to step forward and he did. Patricia felt numb, she tried to move out of the way of the man pushing to the front of the line but her legs refused to obey her.
â€œGood Afternoon,â€ The man in green over-sized suit greeted the woman behind the counter, passing her a cheque and a green plastic I.D card. Patricia felt the slight pressure from the manâ€™s hipbone as he gently pushed her out of the way. She obliged the man, leaning on the wall beside the counter as her heart raced with a thousand emotions.
What was happening? Did Tola cancel the cheque?
She felt betrayed as she remembered his kind words and gentleness two days ago when they went out
for dinner. She noticed a few people on the line begin to regard her with interest. She straightened up and hoisted her bag to her shoulder with a sigh. There was nothing more she could do. The porter at the hostel was definitely going to kick her out now. Thoroughly dejected, Patricia walked from the bank at Alagomeji to the bus stop where a few people stood in the afternoon heat waiting for the rickety yellow and black buses that usually drove with reckless abandon. The steady stream of cars on Herbert Macaulay road whipped her ankle length dress around her legs, sometimes molding her figure to perfection but Patricia didnâ€™t care. She walked on wooden legs to join the crowd that stood in front of Sweet Sensation, feeling as if her heart had been ripped from her chest.
As the cream arch of the school gate rose into view, she began to weigh her options. She could choose to ask Onyinye one more time for help as she has always done or she could try other ways to raise the money. She remembered that night a week ago when she met Tola for the first time. Runs was the last thing she wanted to be involved in again. She prayed hard and hoped the three notes of one thousand naira in her cupboard sustained her long enough for another option to come up.
â€œGate!â€ The scrawny looking conductor with dirty white singlet and green jeans trouser screamed into the afternoon air, his right leg leaving the door of the bus from where he hung and suspending in the air.
â€œOwa!â€ One fat woman answered with a loud voice, dragging two bleary eyed children by their thin arms as the bus drew to a stop in front of the school gate. Patricia followed after the woman and walked towards the campus with the realization that she was considering a familiar conversation with Pero.
â€œSorry Patricia,â€ Pero said with a sympathetic shake of her head. â€œLagos guys can be funny.â€
They were the only occupants of the room. It was evening and Patricia had declined Onyinyeâ€™s invitation to read at the library. Her best friend had accepted her hasty excuses and forced smile as genuine. Now tears were running down her cheeks.
â€œHe was so nice to me,â€ She said hiccuping, â€œI canâ€™t believe he canceled the cheque.â€
â€œBut you already paid the money into your account,â€ Pero asked, confusion on her face. â€œHow could the teller say the cheque has been canceled?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Patricia said, blowing her nose into the tissue in her hand. Pero tapped her chin thoughtfully. â€œI am thinking of somethingâ€¦â€
Patricia blew her nose some more and raised red teary eyes to look at her bunk mate. â€œWhat?â€
â€œMaybe you should come with me to a party tonight.â€
Patricia sighed, â€œI donâ€™t know Pero.â€ She hung her head, â€œI wasnâ€™t too happy the last time I went for that party with big Clara.
â€œDonâ€™t forget you got three hundred thousand and thirty Naira that night.â€
â€œThirty thousand,â€ Patricia corrected her, â€œThe cheque was cancelled, remember?â€
Pero reached for Patriciaâ€™s hand on her thigh. â€œI still think you should come with me,â€ she said in a gentle soothing tone. â€œHow are you going to pay Mr. Shayo?â€ She asked, referring to the porter. Patricia said nothing, looking at the lines that ran in perfect asymmetry on the blue and yellow rubber carpet covering the floor.
â€œWhat will I tell Onyinye?â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry. We will leave before she returns back.â€ Pero assured her with a confident smile.
That evening Patricia hurried after Pero in her flat sandals and oversized shirt, head buried in a borrowed fedora hat. She looked ahead at Peroâ€™s rapidly disappearing figure, wondering how she managed to walk so fast in spite of her quite heavy frame. She watched every expensive car that drove into the narrow road leading to the female hostels.
What if Tola was here? What if he was coming to explain why he canceled the cheque?
The questions continued to assail her mind as she took those excruciating steps towards the figure that was now beckoning to her with an impatient wave as it held on to the open door of a taxi. The transition was complete. The hat had come off and joined the shirt where her sandals had been in the bag, and Patriciaâ€™s hair shone with the oils that Pero had massaged into her scalp to tame it into a perfect coiffure. Jade green stones glinted in the niches of the dangling silver ear rings she wore.
She had opted for mild make up, rejecting the shimmering gold dust clinging to Peroâ€™s thin black brush with an adamant shake of her head, but Pero had refused to allow her leave the room without applying the pale pink gloss that glistened on her lips. She had acquiesced to her bunk mateâ€™s demands when she couldnâ€™t stand the risk of been discovered by Onyinye. She cursed her decision to wear the jeans trouser that clung tightly to her curves. She could barely breathe. The high round neck chiffon top was the only thing she didnâ€™t regret. Even the platform sandals on her feet chaffed her toes to no end. She looked at the dull gray headrest ahead of her, seeing nothing but Tolaâ€™s face.
The music blared from the small speakers that perched on the wall like black insects, sending vibrations through the red and pink walls of the large living room. The dark purple couches had been pushed back to the further end of the living room, leaving the wide open space where a few couple cavorted to the music of a local hip hop star groaning his steamy plans for a love interest.
Patricia looked at Pero dancing with a young grinning man with a glass of red wine in his hand. It was hard to tell them apart. The lime green of Peroâ€™s dress had somehow merged with the bright orange and black of the manâ€™s clothes so that they looked like a single figure. A group of men laughed at the open doorway that led to the mammoth sized swimming pool at the back of the house. Pero and Patricia had been given a tour of the intimidating eight room edifice. Their tipsy host had regaled them of his financial exploits and several other houses inside and outside the country as they followed his stumbling figure around the house a few minutes to their entry.
The happy squeals and baritone laughter of the current occupants in the pool merged with that of the men standing at the door, watching the dancing couples. A slightly older man with well trimmed goatie winked at her above the rim of his glass as he sipped his drink. Patricia looked at his bulging midsection, remembering Tolaâ€™s toned physique. She tore her eyes from the man and concentrated on the sour drink in her glass.
The party was beginning to depress her. Her phone began to vibrate against her thigh. She tensed, thinking of a believable story to tell Onyinye as she dropped the glass on the mirror like marble floor and wrestled with the fabric on her lower body. She emerged victorious seconds later, holding the blackberry phone in the air, but it was no longer vibrating. Shock, resentment, excitement and anger made their appearance one after the other as she stared at the name on the screen of her
â€œTola,â€ She whispered, biting down on her lower lip.
Why was he calling her after what he has done?
She dropped the phone on her laps and tried to concentrate on the scene before her. The phone began to vibrate again and Patricia picked it up and held tightly to it as she battled curiosity and indignation. Just as she was beginning to reach for the green button, the phone became quiet again.
â€œMaybe it is best this way,â€ She comforted her wailing inner voice. â€œIt is better you forget all about him,â€ She chastised herself. Now as she looked around the room and thought of her situation again, the thought of being touched by a complete stranger repulsed her. She didnâ€™t know if she could go through it. Her initial bravado had completely worn off. She felt terribly alone. Pero had drifted off while
she was contemplating Tolaâ€™s phone call. She stretched in her seat to see any hint of lime green or bright orange but her efforts were in vain. A new couple had taken their place.
Patricia was beginning to fidget between the three girls that sandwiched her on the couch. Coming here was a mistake, she thought to herself, looking down at the floor. She contemplated leaving the party but she had no idea where she was. The party was tucked in a private estate in Ikoyi but the exact location was a mystery to her. Besides, leaving Pero without an explanation did not seem like a
good idea. Suddenly Patricia had a feeling of being watched and turned towards the main door of the apartment. A small crowd had joined the party and a rather handsome young man with a commanding air was watching her coolly.
Patriciaâ€™s stomach contracted and expanded at the same time as she recognized Tola.
â€œOh God!â€ She whispered, staring fixedly at him in horror.
His expression was unreadable as he looked at her. Patricia remembered his betrayal and straightened her back in defiance. He moved slowly towards her, and Patricia thought he was coming for her. Just as he reached the couch where she sat, he walked right past her, squeezing past two men that now stood in the doorway beside her. Patricia felt her eyes begin to smart from the snub.
â€œExcuse me,â€ She said, grabbing her bag from the couch. The two girls shifted in relief as she scampered from the living room. The chill of the night breeze brought back the ugly reality that she had no idea where she was going to.
â€œIf I can just get to the road, I will find my way out.â€ She told herself, walking towards the fierce looking security guards that stood like statues beside the gate.
She froze in her steps. The wind carried the voice towards her till she could feel it wash over her.
He caught up with her in no time. Patricia looked at his face with effort. It was hard to look at him and not remember that she had fallen for a two faced man.
â€œWhat do you want Tola?â€
He pushed his hands deep in the pockets of his deep brown slacks, cocking his head to the side to study her.
â€œWe seem to be running into each other in funny places and under questionable circumstancesâ€¦.â€
â€œWhat do you want?â€ Patricia repeated her earlier question with a frown.
â€œWhy are you leaving?
â€œI changed my mind about staying in the party,â€ She answered him. His shoulder appeared even broader under the red button down shirt he wore.
â€œI tried to reach you this evening.â€
Patricia decided not to waste any more time. â€œI went to the bank today.â€
Tola stared at her unblinking. â€œOkay?â€
â€œYou cancelled the cheque.â€
Tola gave a careless shrug. The action cut Patricia like a sharp knife. She started to walk again.
â€œI can explain if you let me.â€
Patriciaâ€™s legs stopped of their will. She turned to look at him. He still stood where she left him.
Tola walked towards her, his steps slow and almost graceful. â€œI cancelled the cheque on a second thought.â€ His eyes bored deeply into hers. â€œI didnâ€™t want you to remember the first time we met and think I bought you or anything.â€
â€œWhen did you do it?â€
â€œTwo days ago.â€
It was the day after they had dinner. Patricia looked at him stupefied. â€œHow did you do it?â€ That was one question she forgot to ask the woman at the bank. â€œI already lodged it
into my account.â€
Tola shrugged again. â€œI called my bank.â€
Patricia slowly exhaled. She was drained now that her anger had worn off.
â€œIt was your money anyway.â€ She gave her own shrug.
â€œYou had every right to do what you did.â€
â€œI wanted to call you yesterday to explain but I was caught up in several meetings.â€
Patricia was learning to shrug every two minutes and she did it again. Tolaâ€™s eyes traveled the length of her body.
â€œWhy are you here?â€
â€œI came for a party.â€ Patriciaâ€™s chin shot up defensively.
â€œThis is no ordinary party.â€ Tolaâ€™s stood, shoulders hunched forward as he watched her. â€œYou know what happens at these parties.â€
â€œI donâ€™t.â€ Patricia lied.
â€œYou shouldnâ€™t be here Patricia,â€ He told her, a frown on his face now, â€œThought you knew better after that first time.â€
â€œI have a right to be anywhere I want to be.â€ Patricia informed him coolly.
â€œFine,â€ Tola held up his hands. â€œFine,â€ He repeated.
â€œI was leaving anyway.â€ Patricia moved towards the security guards, somewhat confident now. Tola followed her just as she knew would happen.
â€œLet me take you back to school.â€ Tolaâ€™s soft restraining touch prevented her from reaching her destination. She looked at his hand on her arm and back to his face.
He released her arm. â€œBecause it is pretty late.â€ He pushed one hand into his pocket again, â€œBecause I want to,â€ he added with a tight look.
Patricia sighed and followed him to his car. They walked back to the compound and slipped into the Audi. Tola drove out of the gates, waving at the security guards as he did. Patricia was back to their first date, and she could not help feel and overwhelming sense of attraction towards him in spite of what he had done to her. He had been driving for ten minutes when he turned his head a fraction towards her.
â€œYou look beautiful tonight.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Patricia said, brushing a strand of hair that had escaped from the coiffure self consciously. She wanted to kick herself for her response.
â€œOkay?â€ Tola asked, laughing, â€œStrange answer.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Patricia said, lacing her hands on her laps and wishing her brain didnâ€™t turn to mush so often in his presence. They turned into a quiet street and Tola killed the engine. Patricia looked outside the window at the high fences and towering trees that framed the two sides of the road.
â€œWhy did we stop?â€ She asked, turning to him.
Tola stopped gripping the steering wheel and turned to her. Patricia thought he was about to say something but his face was coming down towards her own with a speed that suggested something intimate. His mouth stopped a few inches from her own, breath fanning her face.
â€œI have always wanted to do this.â€
The kiss was more than anything Patricia had ever imagined. She closed her eyes and felt herself fall towards Tola. A small groan escaped his throat as he nibbled lightly on her lower lip before deepening the kiss. Patricia didnâ€™t feel the hard gear stick push into her thighs as she half straddled, half leaned against Tola. With an effortless move of his arms, Tola positioned Patricia above him, settling into the seat to create more room for her as their kiss deepened. Patricia felt his hands under her top before she could stop him. Then he reached for the hem of her top to pull it over her head and she pulled away to allow him. Their lips touched again for another passionate kiss when the loudÂ thump thumpÂ of knuckles against glass brought them back to earth. Bright light suddenly filled the car. Patricia grabbed her top and held it up against her semi-unclad upper body. There were faces against the window and they yelled
indiscernible words. She scrambled off Tolaâ€™s laps, still clutching the top to her chest. She hurriedly pulled it back on. She recognized the scary looking guns before she saw the black of the uniform.
â€œPolice,â€ She whispered weakly. His face blank and unreadable, Tola reached for the side of the door.
â€œWhat is happening here?â€ The leathery brown face of one police officer poked through the window.
â€œYou people are under arrest!â€ The man followed without hesitation. â€œStep outside,â€ he yelled, the spittle escaping the side of his mouth. Tola leaned back.
â€œWhy?â€ He enquired coolly.
The irate police man stared at him in bulging irritation.
â€œMr. man donâ€™t ask me silly questions,â€ The muzzle of the gun pointed directly at Tola. â€œStep outside your car otherwiseâ€¦â€
â€œTola please, let do as he says,â€ Patricia said shaking. She reached for the door and got out of the car. Another police officer crowded her before she could even close the door.
â€œAll these ashawo girls,â€ The man said, his red eyes resting on Patriciaâ€™s chest. â€œUna no get shame o!â€
Patricia saw Tola walk around the car towards her. The gun totting policeman followed closely on his heels.
â€œCould you please direct your questions at me and leave her alone?â€
â€œWho are you to tell us what to do?â€ The one that followed him asked, â€œWho are you?â€
â€œThat question is irrelevant.â€ Tola turned to tell him, dragging Patricia to the driverâ€™s side. â€œIf you want to look at my papers, then ask for it. Donâ€™t harass her.â€
â€œYou go follow us go police station today,â€ The red eyed one said, continuing his tirade. â€œUna never see anything.â€
â€œFine,â€ Tola said, with a look of challenge on his face. Patricia thought she saw him smile.
â€œYou think say you get strong head abi?â€ The policeman with the gun managed to lower it to the floor.
â€œLetâ€™s just go to the station and be done with this.â€
â€œYou are speaking English,â€ the police with the gun who Patricia called leather face in her mind observed in boiling anger. â€œDo you think we sef no go school?â€
Patricia turned to look at the opposite direction. A police van stood waiting at the end of the street. She shivered. The last place she wanted to be was a police station. She had heard scary stories about the place. The two police men stood aside for some minutes. Tola reached for her hand and gave her a rueful smile.
Patricia wondered how he managed to find the humour in their situation. She was too busy listening to her knees knock against each other.
â€œOya, I will drive with you.â€ Red eye told them, reaching for the door handle of Tolaâ€™s car as if it was his own.
â€œFine,â€ Tola told him, opening his own side of the car. Patricia slipped into her own seat, still afraid.
â€œI will direct you.â€ Red eyed assured, his tone more genial. They drove for fifteen minutes. Red eye was trying to make conversation now. Tola ignored him.
â€œSo, how long before we reach your station?â€ He asked in a cold tone. Red eye got the message and gave one last instruction and they drove until Patricia saw the familiar green, yellow and red sign board with the wordsÂ Ikoyi Police StationÂ written on it.
â€œPark here,â€ Red eye said before they got to the gate of the compound. The street was deserted and the police station almost ghostlike. Patricia turned to see the van behind them slow to a stop.
â€œOkay, oya settle us.â€
Patricia saw Tolaâ€™s smile now. It was a half-smile that gave him a roguish look.
â€œWhy?â€ He asked red eye.
â€œSo that you can go na,â€ The car opened and he stood beside Tolaâ€™s window, adjusting his trouser and flashing a grin that showed his tobacco stained teeth. â€œWe just want something for the boys.â€
â€œI donâ€™t drive around with cash.â€ Tola told him, turning in his seat to look past the policeman at the deserted police station. The manâ€™s expression became hostile again. â€œYou want to sleep in cell.â€ The inflection in his voice converted the statement to a question that made Patricia uneasy. Leather face soon joined them. Thankfully his gun was missing. Red eye pulled him to the side and they conferred in low tones. Soon they returned with leather face taking the lead.
â€œYou are very lucky that the cell is full this night.â€ He shook his forefinger at them. â€œTry that nonsense again, next time.â€ He lowered his finger as a long hiss escaped his teeth. â€œAbeg carry your motor go jare.â€ He waved them aside and walked back to the van. Red eye followed him, mimicking the look of disgust on his companionâ€™s face.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you give them money?â€ Patricia asked, pulling back to stare at Tolaâ€™s face. â€œI thought it was nice to see how far they would go,â€ he said, pulling her close as they lay on the tousled sheets of
his four poster bed.
â€œRemind me never to kiss in a car again.â€ She swore, pulling the sheets up to cover her chest. They had gone back to Tolaâ€™s apartment and continued from where they had stopped. Their run in with the police seemed to have added to their passion.
Tola smiled, and then turned serious. â€œSo, will you be my girlfriend?â€
The unexpected question threw Patricia off balance. She stared mutely at him.
â€œSo?â€ He persisted with a pinch.
Tola smiled and lowered his head to capture her mouth in a kiss. He drew back and smiled before leaning back into the soft pillows. â€œGreat. So we start all over again.â€
The room was quiet and he appeared to be thinking. At last he turned to Patricia. â€œYou know I did what I did that first day for my cousin.â€
Patricia leaned on her elbows and looked down at him,
â€œYes,â€ He traced the outline of her chin with his fingers.
â€œShe was the proverbial black sheep.â€ He watched Patricia
lean into his caress with a smile. â€œShe got into bad company and even though my aunt tried to help her, it was hard to reach her.â€
â€œSo what happened?â€
â€œShe died during one of the usual crazy parties she attended.â€
â€œSorry.â€ Patricia said with a sad look.
â€œDrug overdose.â€ He told her with a small sigh. â€œYou reminded me of her.â€ He traced her lower lip now, â€œYoung and misguided.â€
â€œI am not so young,â€ Patricia protested. Tola looked at her sheet covered chest and smiled. â€œMaybe
not,â€ He agreed, â€œBut definitely misguided.â€
Patricia was about to protest but stopped. â€œOkay, maybe I was misguided.â€
â€œTwice,â€ He reminded her.
â€œFine,â€ Patricia said, hitting him lightly on the side of the arm.
â€œSo is there anything you want to tell me?â€ He whispered into her hair. â€œSomething you want me to know?â€ He prodded, â€œSecrets?â€
â€œI left my friend at the party.â€ Patricia said against his chest. Tola pulled back in surprise.
â€œYou were at the party with a friend?â€
Tola shook his head and laughed, â€œAnything else?â€
Patricia shook her head and Tola pulled her back into his arms. â€œI hope she is not into one night stands with strangers.â€
Patricia thought of Peroâ€™s grinding with the man in orange shirt and said nothing. She didnâ€™t want to betray the girl that gave her a second chance to mend fences with the man she loved. Pero had chosen her path and she had chosen hers. She watched Tola lace her fingers through his own and smiled, feeling warm all over. It was a chance to start again. This time there would be no runs driven encounters, no cancelled cheques and passionate kisses in the car that drew policemen.
Umari Ayim is the author of â€œTwilight At Terracotta Indigoâ€ and â€œInside my Headâ€. She blogs at www.umariayim.com/