Patricia walked down the stairs, half listening as her friends discussed the recent heat wave that had swept the city in the past few days. They all wore loose tops, varying in colour and style. Patricia opted for a cream crochet vest over faded blue jeans, Onyinye wore a white and black striped fringed top on dark blue mottled jeans, Eno went for a plain white vest worn over blue colour block turn up jeans shorts. Pero was the most colourful of the lot in bright green zig zag print top and red tube mini skirt.
â€œI donâ€™t get why it is so hot,â€ Pero said, pinching her top away from her body and shaking it vigorously. â€œIt will rain and then the next thing we know, there is heat everywhere.â€
They reached the landing of the last floor and stopped as someone stepped into their path from the room beside the staircase. It was Bidemi, a four hundred level student in Patriciaâ€™s department. Standing at over six feet with broad shoulders, an angular face boasting a protruding jaw line, Bidemi wasnâ€™t exactly a candidate for beauty pageants but what she lacked in form, she made up for in character. She was unarguably one of the friendliest people in the hostel. However, that did not stop the scathing whispers behind her back.
â€œHi ya,â€ she greeted, flashing crooked teeth at Patricia and her friends. They chorused their greetings and fell back as she walked down the stairs in a catwalk.
â€œThis one will go and monopolize that mirror,â€ Pero said, leaning into Eno as they followed Bidemi to the ground floor. â€œJust watch.â€
Downstairs, Bidemi stopped before the full length mirror that was beside the door of the hostel and the foursome queued behind her, leaning casually on the wall as they waited their turn. Bidemi began to turn, thirty degrees first and then sixty degrees, her neck twisting as she examined her quite generous backside in the mirror, hands running over each cheek of her jean clad buttocks. Her lips pursed in admiration as she pushed the hem of her sleeveless print chiffon top out of the way. Turning back to face the mirror, Bidemi leaned forward and checked her teeth, then her lipstick and her eyebrows.
Pero nudged Eno.
Patricia smiled in spite of herself.
Onyinye kept a blank expression except for the occasional widening of her eyes.
Minutes passed and they waited. And waited. Just when it seemed as if Bidemi was going to spend the whole day before the mirror, she finally pulled away and looked sideways at Patricia and her friends, a look of surprise on her face as if she was just seeing them for the first time.
â€œOh my God! I am so sorry,â€ she said, a hand decked with all manner of chunky gold accessories flying to her mouth. â€œI actually forgot you guys were waiting for me.â€
They nodded at the same time and flashed the same polite smiles. Bidemi smiled her gratitude and resumed her catwalk out of the hostel. Pero was first to drop her smile.
â€œDid you guys see that? I told you she was going to monopolize the mirror.â€ She shook her head as she took Bidemiâ€™s place before the mirror. â€œEvery time I meet her here in the morning, I know I am going to be late for lectures.â€ Pero leaned forward and squinted at the mirror, one hand going up to push escaped strands of her weave behind her right ear. â€œIt is not even as if she is fine sef.â€
Onyinye and Eno crowded Pero at the mirror, adjusting hems and puckering their glistening mouths.
â€œI donâ€™t think she is that bad looking,â€ Onyinye said, taking a step back from the mirror.
Pero raised one incredulous brow at Onyinye.
â€œAre you blind?â€
â€œNo, I am not,â€ Onyinye said as Patricia tired of the bickering between her friends, walked to the door and stood, her face turned towards the starless sky. Onyinye walked to meet Patricia but her eyes were still on Pero. â€œThere is something about her. She is not really pretty but she is not ugly either.â€
â€œShe is confident,â€ Eno said, nodding sagely and joining Patricia and Onyinye at the door. â€œThat is probably what you saw in her.â€
Onyinye nodded in agreement.
Pero rolled her eyes but said nothing. They left the building and stepped into the night. Loud music and the riotous drone of excited voices filled the air as they approached the porterâ€™s lodge. Something caught Enoâ€™s eyes and she made them stop beside a notice board.
â€œOh my God,â€ she said with a gasp, one hand pointing to the black and white image of a woman with long braids framing her smiling face while the other one clamped over her open mouth. The wordÂ ObituaryÂ hung suspended above the womanâ€™s head. â€œDo you remember this chick?
Patricia shook her head, a frown on her face, while Oyinye squinted hard at the picture before shaking her head.
â€œI donâ€™t know her,â€ Pero said, her face twisted in a thoughtful frown. â€œWho is she?â€
Eno dropped her hand from her mouth.
â€œShe is that chick from the room upstairs, the one with two cars.â€ Eno said, her voice whsipery thin and full of shock. â€œI saw her two days ago at this same spot,â€ Eno pointed to the sand speckled cement floor, â€œwhen I was coming back to the room.â€
Pero clicked her tongue in sympathy.
â€œEyah, I wonder what happened to her.â€
They read the details of the obituary together and while they were there, another young woman joined them. Her gasp was just as loud as Enosâ€™ had been.
â€œOh my God! Titi!â€
Pero moved from the edge of the circle and inched closer to the woman whose face had crumbled with sadness.
â€œYou know her?â€
The woman nodded wordlessly, unshed tears gathering in her eyes and glistening on her lashes glued together by mascara. Pero took another step forward so that she was firmly planted to the womanâ€™s side.
â€œDo you know what happened to her?â€
The womanâ€™s hand lifted and performed a dizzying flutter in the air as she hiccupped.
â€œSheâ€¦she was sick. They took her to the hospital just yesterâ€¦yesterday. Oh God! Please excuse me.â€
Patricia and her friends watched as the woman turned and hurried back into the hostel.
â€œShe was sick,â€ Pero said, eyes narrowing as two laughing girls walked towards them from the hostel. â€œWas it malaria or what?â€
Peroâ€™s question was answered when the girls who Patricia and her friends suspected to be Jambites stopped by the notice board and began a loud conversation.
The one that died from abortion abi?
Hmmm. You know she used to be a runs girl?
I heard. But who did she get pregnant for?
Folake said it was one of her runs so she took injection to scatter the baby.
The two girls walked away, still talking about the dead runs girl, their voices growing faint as the sounds of the night swallowed them. Eno shook her head.
â€œBad news travels fast.â€
Patricia began to feel uncomfortable from looking at the eyes the dead runs girl. The pixelated image had suddenly come to life and the stare that had initially seemed frozen was now turned on her, a mocking twinkle in the depth of her too black iris. Patricia fought a chill and folded her arms across her chest.
â€œLetâ€™s go. I am tired of standing here.â€
She did not wait for her friends. She stepped away from the board, turned on her heel and began to walk through the narrow porterâ€™s gate. They met her leaning on red Hyundai parked on the kerb that separated the hostel from the road. They surrounded her, squeezing on the carâ€™s bonnet and watching the beehive of activities on the road. It was only seven thirty in the evening but there was jam of human and vehicular traffic on the road. Young boys with flashy BMWs, Hondas and Toyotas leaned sideways as they drove, stones glittering in their ears like tiny stars as loud music from their sound systems vibrated through the night.
A couple of brightly dressed girls with lips painted in bubblegum pink saw and recognized Pero. They squealed their excitement, fake lashes fluttering in the evening wind as they appraised Patricia, Eno and Onyinye before nodding their hellos with stiff necks. Soon they were on their way, wriggling red talon like nails in goodbye as they strolled into the night.
â€œThose are the B.I.G girls abi?â€ Onyinye said, nose turned up in disgust and condemnation. â€œI heard they are not even studentsâ€¦that they just buy notebooks and go and sit under senate.â€
Pero laughed. â€œMe, I donâ€™t know o! I just know the one with the low cut,â€ she said, pointing out the disappearing form of one of the girls in the middle of the throng that had greeted her. â€œSumbo. We were in the same secondary school.
They forgot about Peroâ€™s friends. Onyinye was turning to Patricia to ask about Tola when Pero poked her sharply in the ribs.
â€œYou guysâ€¦you guysâ€¦see Bidemi.â€
They craned their necks, looking left and right, eyes searching the chaos around them for Bidemi. They finally found her, pressed tight against a male form leaning on a silver blue car that beamed its halogen headlights on road and exposed lovers pressed against tree trunks.
â€œI have been seeing her with that guy for weeks now,â€ Eno informed them. â€œI think he is her boyfriend.â€
Peroâ€™s eyes widened in disbelief.
â€œItâ€™s a lie.â€
They watched the love birds for some minutes.
â€œI told you she is confident,â€ Onyinye said. â€œConfidence can get you anyone, anything.â€
â€œButâ€¦butâ€¦â€ Pero began, a perplexed frown on her face. â€œHow did she do it? Is the guy blind? I am sure she used jazz on him.â€
Onyinye disagreed sharply with Pero. Patricia kicked stones and then Eno decided to raise the pressing issue of Patriciaâ€™s heartbreak.
â€œHave you spoken to him?â€
Patricia shook her head, her eyes clouding with pain.
â€œI donâ€™t know. I am not sure I want to.â€
Pero hurriedly threw in the towel in her argument with Onyinye and turned to Patricia and Eno.
â€œWhat happened? You didnâ€™t tell us what even happened sef.â€
Patricia threw her head back and drew in a shuddering breath.
â€œWe had a fight.â€
â€œOkay?â€ Pero prodded.
Patricia began her storyâ€¦.
Patricia curled on her favourite sofa in Tolaâ€™s expansive living room, watching him as he worked, head bowed over dozens of papers on his wood and steel dining table. It was the second day since he returned from Ghana and they had barely spoken past four sentences. Tola was distracted by work, but not distracted enough to talk to his secretary as he was about to do now.
Patricia fought the feeling of betrayal as she listened to the conversation between Tola and his secretary conducted from his Samsung phone. His voice was light with cheer and she could not help counting the times he laughed as they spoke.
â€œOkay dear, I will talk to you later.â€
Patricia sat up and turned on the sofa to face Tola as he began to shuffle through the sheaf of papers he was now holding in his hands.
Tola looked up with a curious smile.
â€œCan we talk?â€
Even though he asked the question with a smile, the frown on his face told her he was not enjoying the interruption. Patricia felt herself go on the defensive.
â€œYou just spoke to your secretary now,â€ she pointed out, her voice rising in irritation. â€œSo, yes. Now.â€
Tolaâ€™s eyes narrowed.
â€œI donâ€™t like your tone.â€
The air in the living room thickened with tension and after some minutes, Tola pushed his chair backwards, causing the steel legs of the dining chair to screech against the tiled floor.
â€œExcuse me. Need to use the toilet,â€ he said, walking up the staircase leading to his bedroom. Patricia sat with her hands between her thighs, suddenly feeling contrite about her outburst. She began to think of ways to diffuse the tension when Tola returned back to the living room. She was still thinking when Tolaâ€™s phone rang. Her train of thoughts disturbed, Patricia fixed her attention on the ringing phone. It rang the second time. Patricia ignored it. It was when it rang the third time that she dragged herself from the sofa and walked to the dining table. She picked the ringing phone and answered it.
The response was delayed by seconds but when it came, it was as unfriendly as Patriciaâ€™s curt greeting.
â€œHi. Iâ€™d like to speak with Tola please.â€
â€œHe is not here.â€
The phone clicked in dismissal and a dial tone filled Patriciaâ€™s ears. She made a face, lowered the phone to the table and turned to walk back to her seat but she stilled for a second when she saw who stood behind her, face impassive as he watched her.
â€œWhat just happened there?â€
Patricia refused to be intimidated by Tolaâ€™s piercing gaze.
â€œYou know where.â€
Patricia shrugged. â€œYour phone was ringing.â€
â€œI helped you pick it up.â€
â€œI canâ€™t remember asking you to pick my phone so why did you feel obliged to answer my call?â€
Patricia opened her mouth to continue the argument and decided in that split second that an argument over what she had done was pointless.
Patricia sought answers of her own.
â€œAre you dating her?â€
Tolaâ€™s eyebrow raised in question.
â€œYes, dating her,â€ Patricia repeated, keeping her tone cool as she watched him closely. Tola sighed and pulled his hands out of the pockets of his black light gray jogging trousers.
â€œI think you should go back to your hostel.â€
Patricia stared at him uncomprehendingly.
â€œAre you asking me to leave?â€
â€œYes, I believe I am.â€
Heat gathered under Patriciaâ€™s collar and she felt perspiration beginning to pool on the surface of her skin. She sought refuge in accusations.
â€œYou are cheating on me with your secretary,â€ she said, her voice raising slightly even as she tried to keep it even. â€œYou are sleeping with her, right?â€
Tolaâ€™s gaze had dropped in intensity, lowering to icy coldness.
â€œAnd what if I am?â€
Patriciaâ€™s world shattered, came together and shattered once more. It was her pride that held her up, kept her from falling and breaking into a tiny million pieces at Tolaâ€™s feet. She stormed out of the living room to his room where her overnight bag was. She swore with the pain in her heart that her chapter with Tola had closed after that night.
â€œUh oh,â€ Eno said, shaking her head. â€œHe actually did it with his secretary.â€
Onyinyeâ€™s eyes filled with concern and sympathy.
â€œSo has he called you?â€
Patricia shook her head.
The road outside the hostel was steadily emptying of humans, except for a few people milling about the entrance of New Hall Complex.
â€œThis has made me remember Joe,â€ Pero said, a wistful expression on her face. â€œI should probably call him,â€ she added, fishing her phone out of the right pocket of her jeans trouser.
Pero dialled her boyfriendâ€™s number two times before he picked the call. She waited for him to speak but was greeted by silence. She sighed.
â€œAre we still fighting?â€
The unmistakable sound of human activity greeted her ears.
â€œWhere are you?â€
Pero pushed away from the car. Her eyes scanned the darkness for something. Joe was full of surprises. She wouldnâ€™t be taken unawares this time.
â€œOkay. So where?â€
Pero smiled and then frowned as Patricia and the rest watched her.
â€œOzone? With who?â€
â€œA friendâ€¦came to watch a movie.â€
Alarm bells went off in Peroâ€™s head.
â€œGirl or boy.â€
â€œGirl,â€ Joe said after a pause. â€œI am leaving now. I will talk to you later.â€
Galvanized into action by thoughts of infidelity on Joeâ€™s part, Pero informed her boyfriend of plans to join him at the cinema. He hung up without an answer.
â€œI am coming,â€ Pero told her friends, almost breathless as she rushed back to the hostel, past the knowing eyes of the dead girl on the notice board, to get her bag.
Pero got to Commercial Avenue in minutes. Luck and a traffic snarl in front of Ozone cinemas connived to help her find Joeâ€™s Basque red Honda Pilot among the sea of cars at the end of the park. Pero marched towards it, full of anger and rehearsed speeches. Her eyes were fixed on the light complexioned, heavily made up girl in the passenger seat as she drew level with Joeâ€™s car. She eyed the girl with malevolence but chose to walk to the driverâ€™s side. Joeâ€™s window rolled down lazily and his eyes narrowed at her in speculation.
â€œSoâ€¦â€ Pero began, her chest heaving as she glared at her boyfriend. â€œYou were angry just because I went for a drink with a friend and you are here with a chick. Abi?â€
Joe ignored her passionate speech.
â€œI am leaving now.â€
Pero cocked her head in the direction of the girl in the car.
Confusion held Peroâ€™s tongue and then she sprang into action. She sailed towards the passenger side of the car and grabbed the handle of the door. She was in luck. The door pulled open in her hand.
â€œGet out,â€ she ordered the girl.
The girl, strapped to her seat with the seat belt, looked at Pero from head to toe.
â€œGet down where?â€
Pero looked at Joe. She got a blank stare. She turned again to the girl and announced imperiously.
â€œHe is my boyfriend.â€
The girl gave Pero a dirty look.
â€œI am not even talking to you,â€ she said before turning to Joe who had been turned to a mere onlooker in the drama taking place in his car. â€œCan we go now?â€
Pero held on to the door firmly.
â€œJoe, you are either going to drop her wherever you picked her from or it is over between us.â€
Without waiting for an answer, Pero turned again to the girl and ordered her to the back seat. The girl treated her to a scornful laughter and gave her a sweeping look again.
â€œWhy donâ€™tÂ youÂ go to the back?â€
Joeâ€™s sigh was loud as he reached for the key in the ignition.
Shocked by Joeâ€™s dismissal, Pero released her hold on Joeâ€™s door. She stood watching, single and alone in the car park as Joeâ€™s Honda joined the line of cars leaving the compound of the cinema.
They had grown tired of the still, silent night and had prodded back upstairs to their beds. They were just rounding into the passage leading to their rooms when the voices of the girls in the next room assaulted them with volume and vulgarity.
Is it not youâ€¦ehnâ€¦is not you that slept with a blind man yesterday? And how much did he give you sef?
Oloshi! Oloriburuku! Were! I better pass you wey sleep with cripple for five thousand Naira.
â€œThese girls are it again,â€ Eno said, shaking her head as they quickened their steps to their room. â€œTomorrow you will see them walking togetherâ€¦going out for runs.â€
In their room, they sought their beds. They were plumping pillows and straightening covers when Pero walked into the room and shared her Ozone experience with them. They dumped their preparations for bed and sat on their beds in awe, expressing shock as they compared Peroâ€™s experience with Patriciaâ€™s experience. They concluded in the end that men were sometimes wicked, and then, Peroâ€™s phone rang. She wiped her eyes and growled.
They flanked Pero on all sides, listening in on one end of the conversation.
â€œI donâ€™t careâ€¦.yeahâ€¦sureâ€¦.liarâ€¦Byeâ€¦â€
They exchanged surprised glances when the phone remained attached to Peroâ€™s ear.
â€œBye nowâ€¦I should do what? Noâ€¦.okayâ€¦.byeâ€¦.yes I amâ€¦wo, goodnightâ€¦â€
Peroâ€™s eyes opened and she caught her lower lip with her teeth.
â€œYou are downstairsâ€¦.why?â€
It was soon over. They sought answers but Pero shrugged out of her clothes and grabbed her tube of Veet from her cupboard. Wrapped in her towel, she reached for her bucket and made for the door.
â€œI am so going to show him.â€
â€œAfter or before he shags you,â€ she said, looking pointedly at the tube in Peroâ€™s hand. â€œDonâ€™t tell me you are going to shave down there for us to admire.â€
Pero did not answer. She stormed out of the room and left her roommates shaking their heads at her. They fell back on their beds at ten oâ€™ clock, thirty minutes after Pero had left the room, overnight bag in tow. Patricia could not sleep. She thought about Tola and her life after him. It would be bleak but she would face it.