Something woke Pero up. She didnâ€™t know what it was until she opened her eyes. It could have been the light that had suddenly filled the room or the fact that she was being watched by an unblinking pair of eyes, but when she sat up on the bed with the sheets clutched against her chest, she knew she was in trouble.
â€œSo,â€ Joe said from where he was sitting across the room, her white HTC phone held up in his hands. â€œYour phone was ringing through the night and I decided to pick it. Hope you donâ€™t mind?â€
Pero swallowed and sat straighter.
â€œNo, I donâ€™t.â€
Joe sighed, uncrossed his legs and leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees.
â€œA chick,â€ his eyes were watchful as he held the phone out towards her. â€œYour friend, I guess.â€ His lips twisted into a mirthless smile. â€œWhen I picked the call, she was like Pero where you dey? I dey family house. Chike dey here sef.â€
Peroâ€™s mind began to work, crafting lies and plausible explanations to get her out of the fix a call from her friend had landed her in. Joe continued to watch her.
â€œThere was a lot of noise in the background. It didnâ€™t sound like she was in a house and this was around three this morning.â€
Pero tucked the edge of the sheets into her armpits and prepared to lie.
â€œDid she tell you her nameâ€¦because it could have been a wrong number.â€
Joeâ€™s smile became sardonic.
â€œA wrong number and yet she knows your name. Either she is a witch or you are just a liar.â€
Pero folded her arms under her breasts and bit her lower lip in regret. Lying to her boyfriend was harder than slipping a piece ofÂ expoÂ past the discerning eyes of an invigilator during examinations. Joe always seemed to read her better than any man she had ever known.
â€œThis is the second time you are lying to me. All we need is one more lie to end this relationship.â€
Pero looked down at the sheets and prayed for the conversation to end.
â€œSo what kind of family house was this friend of yours talking about?â€
Pero lifted her eyes to Joeâ€™s own.
Joeâ€™s brows lowered, casting a shadow on his face.
â€œI guessed as much.â€
Pero watched him look down at her phone.
â€œSo from what I gather, you and your friends are club regulars to the extent of calling them your family houses.â€
â€œNo,â€ Pero said, shaking her head. â€œIt is just a joke she likes to crack.â€
â€œAre you lying to me again Pero?â€
The threat of a break up hanging above her head like a noose, Pero shook her head again, desperation making her eyes grow misty with tears.
â€œI swear I am not.â€
Joe must have seen the tears because the scowl left his face.
â€œOkay. So who is Chike?â€
â€œAn old friend.â€
â€œSomeone you slept with?â€
â€œNo. He is asking me out.â€
Joe leaned back into his chair.
Silence followed his words and Pero waited for his verdict. After several minutes of waiting, Pero grew tired of twisting her fingers.
His chest rising and falling under his reddish brown round neck T-shirt as he exhaled, Joe leaned forward again.
â€œYou know I donâ€™t like the kind of lifestyle you guys live in that your Unilag, right?â€
â€œI am notâ€¦â€
Joe held up a hand to silence her.
Pero swallowed her protests.
â€œI am having a hard time trusting you because of your antics and now I am learning about the kind of company you keep. It is discouraging Pero. I am not sure how I feel about my girlfriend visiting every club or having friends with questionable characters.â€
Pero pushed to the edge of the bed, afraid of the gulf that had suddenly appeared between her and her boyfriend.
â€œStay where you are Pero,â€ Joeâ€™s voice halted her movements. â€œI need us to talk.â€
Pero sighed. â€œOkay.â€
â€œThe last time you came to Ozone and met me with my family friend, you almost created a scene and I had to turn back at the end of Herbert Macaulay and drive down with her to your school to explain things to you after I apologized to her for your behaviour. Do you know why I did that?â€
Joe nodded. â€œBecause I wanted you to trust me.â€
â€œIf we canâ€™t trust each other, then it is pointless going on with this relationship.â€
â€œI trust you,â€ Pero whimpered, her heart slowing with trepidation. â€œAnd that time at Ozoneâ€¦I was upset. I didnâ€™t know she was your family friend.â€
â€œGreat, but what about me Pero? I need to trust you. Why are you making it hard for me to trust you?â€
Perspiration pooled under Peroâ€™s armpits and stained the sheets.
â€œAre we breaking up?â€
Joe refused to answer her whispered question. His eyes narrowed as he appeared to think. Pero refused to let him think.
â€œI promise never to lie againâ€¦pleaseâ€¦I promise.â€
His face relaxing into a smile, Joe gave a small nod.
â€œThat is a good start.â€
Fear released its icy hold on Peroâ€™s heart and she too managed a smile.
â€œThere are other promises you need to make though.â€
â€œYes. Like you will avoid certain friends who consider clubs their family houses.â€
Peroâ€™s smile widened.
â€œOkay, I promise to avoid friends like that.â€
â€œOkay, can I come and join you now?â€
Joe shrugged and Pero took his shrug to mean yes.
â€œYou were actually going to break up with me because of a phone call,â€ she breathed into his neck a few minutes later as she sat on his knees. â€œThat is mean.â€
In her boyfriendâ€™s arms, Pero conducted a soul search and questioned her ability to stay away from runs.
How will I support my mother?
The class was packed with students squeezed into wooden desks and the three ceiling fans lined above them in a single row wheezed brokenly, spinning hot air around. The old man walked back and forth, red check shirt faded with years of use. His voice boomed with practiced fluency, stretching vowels and hitting consonants as he lectured the class on the uses of verbs.
In graamaar, a verb phrase is a verb of more thaan one word. It includes one or more helping verbs which are also referred too as auxiliary verbs.
Patricia was not listening. Her eyes were on the phone under her desk. She read the text message for the third time.
A single word. Her name. She tried to make sense of it, to decode its meaning as the lecturer paced the front of the classroom.
Who can tell me whaat a helping or auxiliary verb does?
Patricia looked up from her phone as the class fell into graveyard silence. The lecturerâ€™s eyes scanned the crowd, searching for a raised arm. There was none. He shook his head and continued.
I canâ€™t believe this is a class of year three students. Even a primary school student knows thaaat an auxiliary verb is that verb which is usually placed in front of a main verb helps in order to help it express different ideas. We have two types of auxiliary verbsâ€¦.primary and modal.
Patricia went back to her phone.
What did he want?
It had been a week since she heard from him and she had been slowly picking the pieces of her life, learning to live without him. Now he had forced his way into her consciousness, reminding her of her broken heart. She caressed the black and silver casing of her phone, suddenly filled with indecision.
What should I do? Should I call him? Or should I wait for him to call me?
It was evening when Pero strolled into the narrow corridor of her hostel, multi coloured overnight bag in one hand and white handbag in the other hand. A thick fume of perfume clouded the corridor as female students with foundations and lipsticks slathered generously on their faces walked hand in hand with male partners. She found her way through the flowing mass of humans, bags bumping into irritated faces and made a beeline for the room downstairs where her early morning caller and friend Yemisi stayed in a six man room. The room was noisy as usual and a scantily clad Yemisi regaled her roommates with her exploits of the previous night.
â€œBobo yen kan sukunâ€¦kan ke, baby ah ees sweet, you do it like a p0rn star.â€
The room erupted with laughter. The girls screeched their amusement from top and lower bunks, slapping their beds and walls until they noticed Pero. The noise died down and they shifted on their beds, their expressions souring at the interruption. Yemisi turned to Pero, her reaction dramatically different from those of her roommates.
â€œOre mi atata,â€ she hailed, hi-fiving Pero and doing a jiggle that caused her mountainous breasts, barely covered in a black lace brassiere to quake. â€œMo ti miss e gan. Why didnâ€™t you come to the family house yesterday na?â€
Pero pulled Yemisi out to the corridor after the latter had donned on a black T-shirt.
â€œSee you almost put me in trouble when you called. My boyfriend almost broke up with me.â€
Yemisi looked mortified.
â€œSerious? Ah, I didnâ€™t know o. Mo kan jabo enu. Ma binu ore.â€
Her expression turned teasing.
â€œSo you now have a boyfriend and you didnâ€™t tell us. No wonder your face is shinning like this. Is he handsome?â€
Pero smiled bashfully and was about to answer but a portly looking woman with a shiny bald head and several gold accessories hanging from her wrists interrupted them. Her face was squeezed in a frown that was meant for Yemisi.
â€œYemisi how far? I did not hear from you yesterday.â€
Yemisi turned her smile on the woman but she got a stony stare in return.
â€œSorry Banke, I just got back this morning.â€
â€œSee Yemisi, let me just say this, I donâ€™t like what you did at Planet One last night.â€
Yemisi frowned. â€œWhat I did?â€
â€œYes. I told you that Malcolm was off limits and you still went to the bathroom with him. Why?â€
Yemisi clamped a hand on her chest.
â€œMe? When? When did I go to the bathroom with Malcolm?â€
â€œSomeone told me that when I went outside with Debo, you followed Malcolm to the bathroom.â€
â€œWhich someone? I know it is Nneka.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t mention anyoneâ€™s name.â€
â€œBut it was only Nneka that was there with us, so I know it is her.â€
The portly woman, Banke made a face and adjusted the strap of her strawberry coloured tiered maxi dress.
â€œAnyway, that is your business. Just know that this is the last time we are going out together.â€
She extended a palm framed with stubby fingers towards Yemisi.
â€œOkay, please go and bring my cut.â€
Pero stood with the woman as Yemisi returned to her room to fetch several notes of one thousand which she handed over to the woman who counted it before folding it into her palm and walking away without another word. Yemisi swore at the womanâ€™s receding back and called her greedy. Regaining her jocular disposition again, she remembered her conversation with Pero.
â€œSo, your boyfriend, is he handsome?â€
Pero smiled and dodged the question. Yemisi was a notorious boyfriend snatcher. She knew better than to rouse her interest in Joe.
â€œI am coming. I have to go and see my roommate,â€ she lied, quickly extricating herself from Yemisiâ€™s grasp. â€œShe asked me to buy something for her.â€
The two friends made kissing sounds and Pero hurried in the other direction. Yemisi was slow in returning to her room. She just stood and watched Pero hurry toward the staircase. There was a frown on her face.
Patricia was a bag of nerves. Eno and Onyinye rallied around her, doing their best to bolster her self esteem.
â€œYou can do this Patricia. You just need to sound normal when he calls.â€
Patricia looked from her phone to her friends with a tortured look.
â€œI donâ€™t trust myself. I think I am going to break down or something.â€
Onyinye leaned back in her plastic chair and lifted her legs, balancing them on the edge of Patriciaâ€™s bed, her legs inches away from Patricia who was sitting on the bed and looking at her phone like it contained a deadly virus.
â€œAww, she loves him.â€
â€œI donâ€™t love him,â€ Patricia pouted. â€œI am just nervous.â€
â€œOf course you love him,â€ Onyinye insisted, her smile kind and teasing. â€œOnly love can turn you to nervous wreck.â€
The door opened and the three girls turned. Pero walked in with a smile. Onyinye twisted in her chair. Eno abandoned her books and walked to her. They forgot Patricia.
â€œSo how did it go?â€
Pero dumped her bags on her bed.
â€œIt went well.â€
She told them in detail about her passionate night with her boyfriend. Onyinye made faces but listened all the same. When they got to the part of Yemisiâ€™s call, Eno interrupted her.
â€œI donâ€™t know what it is with you and those runs girls. They will put you in trouble one day.â€
Pero chewed the white tip of the plastic nail on her forefinger.
â€œHow will I survive if I stop going out with them? You know I am not from a rich home.â€
â€œCanâ€™t you ask your boyfriend for money?â€
Her hand falling from her mouth, Pero shook her head.
â€œAh no, I canâ€™t. Our relationship is for love.â€
Pero remembered Joeâ€™s threat and chewed her nail again.
â€œI am just scared. He has promised to break up with me if I do anything bad.â€
Patriciaâ€™s phone began to ring and she jumped, distracting Pero from her own troubles. Eno was first to reachÂ Patricia.
â€œHe is calling, he is calling,â€ Patricia said frantically, holding out the phone to her roommates.
â€œPick na,â€ Onyinye said with a bemused frown. â€œAbi you want us to answer the phone for you?â€
Patricia pranced around the room, looking from the phone to her friends with wild eyes.
â€œWhat should I say? What should I say?â€
Eno sighed. â€œStart with hello.â€
Patricia answered Tolaâ€™s call just before it stopped ringing. She shook slightly as he called her name. Once. Twice.
â€œI am here.â€
â€œOkay. How are you doing?â€
â€œFine,â€ Patricia squeaked and then decided she sounded pathetic. She cleared her throat and repeated a strongerÂ fine.
They stopped at that point, each listening to the otherâ€™s breathing on the phone. At last Tola broke the silence.
â€œI missed you.â€
Patriciaâ€™s heart melted and trickled into her stomach, causing butterflies. She grinned stupidly.
I miss you too, she said silently.
â€œThank you,â€ she said aloud.
â€œDid you miss me?â€
Patricia paused and walked back to sit on her bed.
â€œWellâ€¦I donâ€™t know. Maybe I did.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Tola said, a smile in his voice. â€œI am sending my driver to pick you up in an hour.â€
Patricia blinked slowly, unable to keep up with the pace of their reconciliationâ€¦
â€œYes. I am taking you out for dinner so we can talk.â€
At the end of her call with Tola, Patricia sat on her bed and worried about her wardrobe. Her roommates provided support by raiding the cupboard beside her bed where her clothes were. In the end, they found something â€“ a navy print abstract midi dress. She hurried through her preparations for her date with Tola, arranging her hair into a sleek knot on top of her head with the help of small black metal bobby pins. Her friends waited with her, jolting at every ping that sounded from her phone and watching the changing numbers of the white digital clock on their mobile phones. At last, Patriciaâ€™s phone rang with a strange number.
â€œGood evening, my name is Frank. I am from Tola Opanuga. I am supposed to pick you up now.â€
Patricia watched him as he talked on the phone, marveling at the slight wavy curls of his hair and the creases that appeared beside his eyes when he smiled. Soon he put the phone away and eyed the swath of skin exposed by her dress.
â€œNice dress.â€ He leaned sideways and ran his hand down her thighs. â€œI love your skinâ€¦itâ€™s so soft.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Patricia said, shy as if they were just meeting for the first time.
He looked deep into her eyes.
â€œDo you want to talk about the fight?â€
Patricia tried not to think of his thumbs lightly stroking the side of her thighs.
â€œOkay,â€ he said, sitting upright with a sigh and adjusting the blazer he wore over a white T-shirt. â€œI was pretty upset. I thought you crossed a line there. It felt like you were snooping or something.â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t snooping. The phone had been ringing for some time and thought it was okay to pick it for you.â€
Tola shook his head.
â€œNo Patricia, you picked it because you thought it was Bunmi.â€
Patricia started to argue but thought the best of it.
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
Tola returned to his former position beside her and resumed his stroking.
â€œI guess I was at fault too. I should have explained about Bunmi and me.â€
The car was quiet. Patricia looked away from Tolaâ€™s gaze to the back of the driverâ€™s head.
She returned her attention back to Tola.
â€œI did not sleep with her. I never sleep with staff.â€
Patricia began to smile but his words struck a negative chord with her and she attempted to analyze it.
â€œSo you sleep with other women then?â€
â€œI havenâ€™t in a long while.â€
He looked down at her thighs again.
â€œI think that might change after tonight.â€
Patricia gasped and looked towards the driver again.
â€œStop,â€ she whispered, her tone filled with embarrassment and anticipation. â€œYour driver!â€
Tola laughed and leaned away from her. They sat with fingers linked as the car wove through the traffic that led to the busy Island. They reached Ikoyi and big houses with massive iron wrought gates sprang into view. They reached a secluded estate and uniformed men hurried to open the gates.
Tola looked sideways at Patricia.
â€œEver been here?â€
â€œOkay. This is Banana Island.â€
Patricia turned to look outside the window as more intimidating structures loomed above her with snobbish indifference.
â€œAre you going to see someone?â€
â€œYes. My father.â€
Suddenly conscious of her appearance, Patricia tugged vainly at the hem of her dress.
â€œTola, you should have told me. I should have worn something different.â€
Tola waved her concerns aside with a laugh.
â€œYou are fine just the way you are.â€
They came to the end of their journey and more gates opened. Anxiety found pathways into Patriciaâ€™s stomach, causing it to tense.
â€œI am nervous.â€
Tola smiled and reached for the handle of the car as they pulled to a stop in front of a white mansion.
The man was handsome for his age, an older distinguished version of Tola. His living room was something that only existed in the pages of Ovation magazine. Beams fell from the golden artifacts in the living room and bathed him with an aura of power that made him appear godlike. There was a small golden bull in one side of the living room, a miniature of the one outside in the stone paved compound. He took Patriciaâ€™s hand, looking from his son to her.
â€œAnd you are?â€
The man frowned, thin eyebrows dipping in an imperial manner.
â€œI have never heard of that name before.â€
He released her hand and sought his son for explanations. Patricia watched as Tola shrugged.
â€œThere are lots of people in this city, dad.â€
The men communicated with their eyes, leaving Patricia to wonder why her surname was important. Then an idea occurred to her.
He is checking if I come from a rich home.
She shrunk into insignificancy and took a step backwards to hide behind Tolaâ€™s back.
â€œI see,â€ the man said later, lifting the flute wineglass in his hand to his pink lips and drawing a sip from the sparkling liquid inside.
Introductions over, Patricia returned to her seat. A man in white shirt served her delicious white wine in a small wineglass. She tried to enjoy it but she was unnerved by the presence of her boyfriendâ€™s father in the living room. They spoke business, mulling over figures and statistics. Life sized images moved on the biggest television screen Patricia had ever seen in the living room. Hours passed and an intercom buzzed somewhere in the living room. Tolaâ€™s father answered it.
â€œSend her in.â€
It was Bunmi. Immaculate in a monochrome collared print dress with a waist belt and high heeled black pumps, she pretended to like Patricia. She purred about not seeing Patricia in a long time. Patricia did her best to return the pleasantness even though she was unsettled by it. Bunmi joined Tolaâ€™s business discussion with his dad and Patricia held her glass tightly until her hands were bathed with moisture that fell from it.
At some point, the meeting ended. Patricia went through another tortuous discussion with Tolaâ€™s father. This time, he attempted a smile.
â€œDid Tola invite you for the party next week?â€
Patricia learned of a party. She was obliged to visit the mansion the following week. In the car back to Tolaâ€™s place, she tried to wriggle out of the invitation.
â€œI am not sure.â€
â€œYou will be there,â€ Tola said softly, pushing inquisitive hands past the hem of her dress. â€œHe invited you. He rarely does that.â€
Still Tolaâ€™s words did nothing to dismiss the pervading sense of doom that filled Patricia. What if something went wrong at the party?
Meaning of Yoruba words in the story
Bobo yen kan sukunâ€¦kan ke â€“ The man was cryingâ€¦was shouting..
Ore mi atata â€“ My best friend or the American equivalent of BFF
Mo ti miss e gan â€“ I have missed you a lot
Mo kan jabo enu. Ma binu ore â€“ I spoke without thinking. Donâ€™t be angry my friend.