Patricia could not believe her ears. She stared at the grinning man sitting behind the age worn desk. The air conditioner continued to rattle in the background, pausing to wheeze like an old woman every now and then.
â€œI donâ€™t understand what you mean sir,â€ She said, blinking at him in surprise. The man laughed, the sound bouncing off the small office with a high shelf packed full with books.
â€œOh, come off it Patricia, you are a bright girl.â€ He winked at her. â€œI am sure you know these things.â€
Patricia drew her shoulders back. â€œI am sorry but I donâ€™t.â€ She adjusted the handbag on her right shoulder, still hugging her books against her chest. The manâ€™s smile disappeared and he straightened from his leaning position and picked the Blackberry on his desk.
â€œYou know, I can easily refuse to give you back this phone,â€ he said, holding the Blackberry lightly between his index and middle finger and sliding it back and forth between the two fingers. â€œI have a right to confiscate any phone that rings during my lectures.â€
Patricia refused to look at her phone, holding the manâ€™s eyes defiantly. She had heard stories about Mr. Adebayoâ€™s escapades with female students. The lecturer was renowned for failing female students that refused his advances. Patricia shuddered inwardly as she remembered the grime she had seen in the fingernails of the hand that held on to her phone. She had never looked forward to failing the way she was at that moment. There was no way she was going to let a creepy bald lecturer with dirty fingernails touch her.
â€œYou can make it easier for both of us,â€ he was smiling again. The phone was back on the table. Patricia looked at the phone. An hour ago while the lecturer was going on about the principles of intermediate micro economics in her class of two hundred, the phone had rung with Tolaâ€™s call. It was then that Mr. Adebayo had marched through the aisle of the lecture hall to demand for her phone.
â€œI cannot do that sir.â€ Patricia informed him stiffly. â€œYou donâ€™t have a right to demand to sleep with me because my phone rang in class.â€
Even as she said the words, Patricia could hear the horrified scream of her cautious inner self. Her heart beating erractically in her chest, Patricia watched the corners of the manâ€™s mouth grow white from being pinched so hard.
â€œYou are proving stubborn Patricia,â€ his voice dropped to a low monotone. â€œYou will regret your actions.â€â€™
Her bravado gone now, Patricia looked down at her feet. â€œI am sorry sir.â€
The man said nothing for a while, rubbing the rough looking stubble on his chin with his right hand. Patricia shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
â€œOk,â€ The man said with a small nod. â€œYou can go now.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Patricia said, turning to the door one hand going to her back to tug at the hem of the white patterned top she wore over black jeans. For the first time in her life, Patricia regretted her partiality towards figure hugging trousers.
â€œYour phone,â€ Mr. Adebayo said behind her. â€œCome and collect your phone.â€
Patricia walked back to the manâ€™s desk and picked her phone off it. As she closed the door of the lecturerâ€™s office, the loud drumming of his finger nails against the desk continued to echo in her head like an ominous warning.
Patricia stretched beside Tola. His eyes were closed as his chest rose and fell with the rhythmic beat of sleep. Patricia trailed the strong outline of his jaw with her finger, smiling blissfully at the man that was her boyfriend.
â€œStop watching me sleep.â€
The voice caught her off guard and she gasped in surprise as the corners of Tolaâ€™s mouth turned upwards in a smile.
â€œSo you were not asleep?â€ She asked, slapping the side of his arm as she grinned. â€œYou should be actingâ€¦in Nollywood.â€
Tola gave a mock grimace.
â€œWhy Nollywood?â€ he asked turning on his side to capture her in a hug. â€œI am good enough for Hollywood.â€
â€œThis is Nigeria,â€ she laughed, wriggling in his arms, â€œwe have a Ramsey Noah for every Chris Hemsworth.â€
Tola laughed. â€œRamsey Noah? Is he still acting?â€
Patricia pretended to feel outrage for Ramsey Noahâ€™s sake.
â€œWhat?! Of course he is still acting. He is still popular.â€
Tola pulled her close.
â€œName a recent movie.â€
Tola cocked a brow at Patricia.
â€œYes, seventy six. I saw it on Nairaland.â€
Tolaâ€™s eyes narrowed. His lips drew close.
â€œSo, does that mean you won this argument?â€
â€œMmm hmmm,â€ Patricia said, wriggling closer to him, restless from the promise of another kiss. Tolaâ€™s face was inches away from her own when his voice began to ring.
â€œOh no,â€ Tola groaned, rolling to his back. â€œHow did I forget to turn that thing off?â€
Patricia lay on her back like him, looking up at the white vaulted ceiling and wishing his work did not intrude so much in their private moments. Last weekend had been frustrating for her. She managed to have him to herself in only five hours of the fifty three hours she spent in his home.
â€œSorry,â€â€™ he said, gently pulling his arm from under her head as she reached for the small black phone on the circular wood stand supporting the silver bed lamp with a metal sheathed head that resembled a bonnet. Patricia smiled cheerlessly, knowing that it was his secretary at the other end of the phone.
â€œIt is fine,â€ she lied with a shrug. She looked the around large room with white walls and decorative wood trims, thinking about the slim beautiful woman that shot her dirty looks every time their paths crossed.
â€œSure Dupe,â€ Tola was saying beside her. â€œYou can bring them to the house.â€
Patricia rolled her eyes. There was a pause from Tola, and then he said again.
Patricia shut her eyes. Now? She seethed inwardly. Who works on Sundays? She sighed and opened her eyes.
No. Just say no, she mouthed as she waited for her boyfriendâ€™s next words.
â€œOk.â€ He said finally. Patricia sighed again in defeat. The bed shifted as Tola threw his feet to the hardwood floor. â€œHave to get ready.â€
Flashing an apologetic smile at her, Tola turned to walk to the bathroom, leaving her struggling with her emotions. Dropping the thin smile on her face as soon the wood framed glass door of the bathroom closed behind Tola, Patricia gave in to doubt.
â€œWhy are you upset?â€ Tola asked, looking confused and upset at the same time. Patricia bit down on her lower lip. She didnâ€™t want to fight with him over another woman but the thought of him sharing a room with another woman was proving difficult to bear.
â€œHow would you feel if I were in your shoes?â€
His expression softened. â€œPatricia, it is just business.â€ He laid back his head on the tan leather couch, watching her struggle with her emotions. â€œDupe is my secretary.â€
â€œShe is a woman.â€ Patricia reminded him with a small pout.
â€œMy dad will be livid if I cancel this trip.â€
Patricia looked away at the silent figures that danced on the large flat screen TV on the wall. Their relationship was only two months old. She didnâ€™t want to come across as insecure even though she believed that she was right to suspect the beautiful five foot nine woman with an impeccable dress sense and expertly lined eyes that lit whenever Tola walked into the room.
Men, she thought with an inner sigh, they can be so blind.
â€œI donâ€™t want to push him away.â€ She told her friends as they surrounded her. â€œShe is not making it obvious,â€ she shrugged. â€œIf I force him to see what is not yet in the open, he might think I am paranoid.â€
â€œBut I have been to Ghana before,â€ Eno said with a small frown. â€œGolden Tulip hotel is quite popular in Accra.â€
â€œLetâ€™s not be too hasty to jump to conclusions,â€ Onyinye reminded them, leaning back on her chair.
â€œMaybe there is a shortage of rooms.â€ She adjusted the neckline of her pink nightshirt. â€œYou just said it is popular.â€ She fixed Eno with a stare. â€œPopular hotels get overbooked.â€
â€œNot to the point of sharing rooms.â€ Eno insisted, dropping the empty bowl she had just had a breakfast of cereal and milk from. â€œIt just doesnâ€™t add up,â€ she said, pursing her lips.
â€œThat woman is up to something.â€
â€œThey are not really sharing rooms,â€ Patricia said, remembering Tolaâ€™s explanations. â€œIt is a large suite.â€ She picked her pillow and began to pump it. â€œHe said he will let her have the room.â€
â€œWell, do you trust him?â€ Eno asked, brushing the wavy weave that fell low on her back. She smiled as Patricia took some time to give a small nod. â€œThen donâ€™t pursue the subject.â€
â€œI agree.â€ Onyinye sprang from the chair and stretched with a low groan. â€œDonâ€™t even think about it. She has been his secretary before you came into the picture,â€ She paused to pull her nightshirt over her head. â€œIf he wanted her, he would have gotten her long before now,â€ She reached for the thick towel that hung on a purple hanger on the side of her bed. â€œDonâ€™t worry, you have nothing to fear.â€
Patricia thought her friends made a lot of sense. Tola wasnâ€™t going to leave her for his secretary.
â€œMeanwhile,â€ Onyinye said, turning to Patricia. â€œWhat about Mr. Adebayo?â€ A worried frown was on her face now.
â€œWhat are you going to do about him?â€
â€œI hope he doesnâ€™t fail you,â€ Eno said, pushing one leg into her jeans. â€œI have a friend in your department who told me stories about him.â€
Patricia reached opened the cupboard that held her clothes. â€œI pray he has somehow forgotten about me.â€
â€œWho says he will?â€ Eno asked, now buttoning her white shirt, â€œAll these randy lecturers that think with the head in their trousers,â€ she grunted with disgust, â€œâ€™once you spurn them, they sit up at night planning evil for you.â€
The door opened and Pero entered. All three occupants turned to look at her. There was a wide smile on her over made up face.
â€œHello roommates,â€ she said, sauntering to the middle of the room. â€œMiss me?â€
Onyinye rolled her eyes and picked the bucket beside her bed. â€œYou overestimate your own importance. Nobody missed you.â€
Pero grinned wider. â€œI am not talking to you Omo Ibo.â€
â€œOnye Yoruba.â€ Onyinye shot back, closing the door as she stepped into the hallway.
Unfazed Pero walked to her bed and dumped the large brown bag on the top bunk. â€œYou wonâ€™t believe what happened to me last night.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Eno asked, one foot aiming towards the door and the other pausing to listen to Pero who was now shrugging out of her knee length dress.
â€œI met a nice man at a party.â€
â€œI hope you didnâ€™t give him your money this time?â€ Patricia asked, tongue in cheek.
Pero shook her head. â€œNo.â€
â€œSo what happened?â€ Eno asked impatiently, books in hand as she stood by the door now. â€œHe asked you to marry him?â€
Pero found Enoâ€™s words funny and laughed. â€œI wish.â€
â€œHe wants me to come to a party with him?â€
â€œSo what is the problem?â€
â€œIt is a family party.â€â€™
Eno held on to the door handle now, â€œand?â€
â€œWhat if I meet someone I know there?â€
Eno appeared to think about. Then she shrugged and left the room. Pero turned to Patricia. â€œHelp me Patricia,â€ She grabbed her bunk mateâ€™s hands. â€œWhat should I do?â€
Patricia smiled for some minutes and said, â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œYou should now,â€ Pero said in a pleading voice, bending down beside the bunk to drag a small bucket out. â€œJust help me think about it.â€
Patricia sat on her bed and bent over to buckle the strap of her sandals. â€œI think you should just keep an open mind.â€
Pero was not satisfied with her Patriciaâ€™s answer. â€œWhat if I meet a man I haveâ€¦â€ she paused, trying to find the right words.
â€œSlept with?â€ Patricia finished for her, standing up in her new height.
Pero nodded. â€œYes, that.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ Patricia admitted truthfully. She couldnâ€™t see herself in that situation. She thanked God for saving her from making the mistake of becoming a runs girl.
â€œThis runs thing is not easy o!â€ Pero announced, standing in the middle of the room in a blue towel and a bucket in her hand. â€œIf only my father was rich.â€ The door opened and Onyinye entered, droplets of water glistening on her body.
â€œMaybe I should just stop doing runs.â€ Pero said with a shake of her head. â€œIt is not even worth it sef.â€
â€œNo o, continue,â€ Onyinye said, rubbing her towel across her wet body. â€œWho knows maybe one day you will become a millionaire from it?â€
Pero smiled at her and walked to the door. â€œEwo ori e bo se ri bi ti Ikechkwu.â€
â€œIt is your fatherâ€™s head that resembles Dâ€™Banjâ€™s own,â€Â Onyinye said with a smile that matched the one on Peroâ€™s face.
â€œPatricia! Why?â€ Pero shrilled, turning to fix Patricia with a petulant pout. â€œWhy are you teaching this girl Yoruba now ehn? Now I canâ€™t yab her in peace.â€
Patricia gave a wry smile, her mind still on Tola. â€œSorry.â€
She said, picking up her bag. Pero nodded in satisfaction and closed the door. Onyinye hissed as she pulled her hair back with her black hair clip, â€œcrazy girl.â€
â€œSometimes, I could swear you both have a crush on each other.â€
Onyinye laughed, â€œGod forbid!â€
Patriciaâ€™s phone began to ring in her bag. She dropped the books in her hand and unzipped the side of the black Chanel Tola bought for her the month before.
â€œHe is calling,â€ she informed Onyinye who was standing before the mirror at the window, applying shadow to her eyes. â€œWhat should I do?â€
Onyinye turned back with a frown. â€œAnswer it.â€
â€œHi.â€ She said into the phone, hoping her voice sounded normal.
â€œAbout to board my flight now,â€ Tola told her at the other end of the phone. â€œWill give you a call the moment I land in Accra.â€
â€œHave a safe trip then.â€ Patricia tried not to ask about the stunning woman that was his secretary and succeeded.
â€œPatriciaâ€¦â€ There was an uncertainty in his voice
â€œYesâ€¦â€ She pressed, hoping to hear that the flight had been cancelled.
Patricia exhaled, hearing the static it caused in the phone.
Patricia picked her books from the bed, and walked to the door.
â€œHave a good day,â€ Onyinye called from behind her, â€œand if you see Mr. Adebayo, just take off running.â€
Patricia closed the door with a smile. The day wasnâ€™t turning out so badly after all. She had friends that cared about her and a boyfriend that loved her. There was nothing to fear from a beautiful tall rival or a lecherous old man that threatened her education. She climbed down the cement steps, feeling lighter than she had felt a few hours earlier.
Umari Ayim is the author of â€œTwilight At Terracotta Indigoâ€ and â€œInside my Headâ€. She blogs at www.umariayim.com/