Tola was still lying face down on the bed when Patricia returned from the bathroom. His upper torso was bare and the sheets rode low on his lean waist as his body rose and fell with the rhythm of sleep, one arm stretched towards the spot she left only a few minutes ago. She stood beside the bed and watched him sleep. She marveled at the smoothness of his skin, at the arms that provided escape from grim realities of parties attended by people who turned their noses at her last name. Sighing deeply, she dropped to her knees on the bed and reached to caress the rippling muscles of his broad back. She smiled as he arched his back towards her fingers. She stayed that way, finger pads drawing circles and rectangles or sometimes just a straight line in the indentation that ran from his shoulder blades to his lower back.
â€œI love it when you do that.â€
Patriciaâ€™s hand stilled for a moment and then she smiled.
Tola turned lazily on his back and stretched. Patricia crept up his body and placed a kiss on his hair roughened cheek. She drew in a lungful of his heady male scent and then made herself comfortable in the crook of his armsâ€¦He was quiet as he watched the ceiling and then he stirred.
â€œDo you have something to wear to the party tonight?â€
â€œI have clothes butâ€¦I donâ€™t know if any of them will be good enough for the party.â€
Tola turned his head and their gazes locked.
â€œYou are still nervous about the party. Arenâ€™t you?â€
â€œDonâ€™t be,â€ he said, sitting up in bed and drifting away from her to the edge. Patriciaâ€™s eyes followed him as he walked towards the bathroom in his â€¦..boxer shorts. â€œYou have no reason to be.â€
As soon as she was alone, Patricia allowed herself the luxury of hope. Maybe she was overreacting and there was really nothing to fear. She plumped her pillow and made herself comfortable on the bed. She was still basking in self induced bliss when Eno sent her a message on her Blackberry Messenger.
I just saw something on Linda Ikejiâ€™s blog now.
Patricia shook her head. Enoâ€™s fixation on gossip blogs made her an encyclopedia of high society gossip. She dedicated time and internet data bundles to keep up with everything the Nigerian cream of the crop did. She typed her reply.
What did you see?
A story about your boyfriend.
Patricia stopped smirking.
What about him?
Go to the blog and see.
It took Patricia only five minutes to find the stories on Linda Ikejiâ€™s blog. A picture of Tola with his arms around the shoulders of a tall beautiful woman who appeared half caste bore the captionÂ Tola Opanuga And New Girlfriend Tera Lewis. Patricia forgot to breathe as she moved past the picture to the statement under it.
Someone ran into Lagos big boy, Tola Opanuga at Piccolo Mondo on V.I, hanging out with Lagos big girl and and owner of Tera Sculptures, Tera Lewis. According to the news out there, they have been dating quietly for some time now. All these big boys and big girls that like to date themselves, God is watching you o. Anyway sha, ladies I hope you get the picture. Tola is taken.
Patricia stared at the picture until it began to blur. She heard the door open but could barely raise her head to look up at Tolaâ€™s approaching figure. The bed dipped.
Her throat tight with suppressed emotion, Patricia shook her head.
â€œAre you sure?â€
There was worry in Tolaâ€™s voice. Patricia finally got the muscles of her neck to work again. She looked sideways at Tola.
â€œWho is Tera Lewis?â€
Tola wore a curious smile.
â€œHow did you know about Tera?â€
His lack of denial made Patricia look away.
Patricia looked stoically at the sheets.
â€œOkay, what about her?â€
She handed him the phone without a word. He squinted at the picture and then let out an incredulous laugh.
â€œWhat?! Who made up this crazy story?â€
Resentment and jealousy gave Tolaâ€™s laughter a forced quality in Patriciaâ€™s ears. She lifted herself off the bed and took difficult steps to the bathroom.
Reason intervened and Patricia stopped just few inches away from the bathroom door.
â€œWill you hear me out or would you rather make assumptions based on something you read on a blog?â€
â€œIs it true or not?â€
Tola shook his head. â€œNot true
Patricia thought of the picture and remembered her own inadequacies. Suddenly, her surname began to matter again. She lowered her eyes to the floor.
â€œI think you should go alone to the party.â€
Patricia didnâ€™t know what to make of Tolaâ€™s answer. She looked back at him.
Tola confirmed his answer with a solemn nod.
â€œYep. I wonâ€™t.â€
â€œBecause you are going with me.â€
Patricia stared at Tola, warmth seeping into her to dispel the chill that had been brought by the picture of him with the half caste woman, but fear held her back.
â€œI am not.â€
â€œYou are,â€ Tola said, his tone resolute and uncompromising.
Patricia sighed and threw in the towel.
â€œOkay fine, maybe I will come with you but first you have to explain that picture.â€
â€œThere is nothing to explain. Some busy body saw me hanging out with an old friend and sent the picture to a blogger. I am not going to stress myself about it. I donâ€™t expect you to.â€
Patricia was not satisfied with Tolaâ€™s answer but she knew from the firm line of his set jaw that getting answers from him about the picture would be difficult. Peace reigned and they fell back to making plans for the party. Tola suggested a new dress at his expense. Patricia considered it but shook her head in the end.
â€œI will find something.â€
They had lunch and lounged in the living room, legs entwined on one of the sofas. Patricia counted hours, the butterflies multiplying in her stomach while Tola made phone calls. Something would go wrong at the party. Patricia was sure of it.
Pero had nothing to do. Wednesdays were lecture free in her department. Her room was empty. Moving from room to room in a loose cream T-shirt with a yellow smiley face and a black mini skirt, she sought entertainment and found it against all good sense in Yemisiâ€™s room. The room was packed as usual but it was unusually silent. Young females with no known student records and fake laminated I.D cards relaxed in different states of undress, exposing lace, cotton and bare flesh with careless abandon. Yemisi was on her bed, one leg hoisted on the wall. A glossy fashion magazine hid her face from view.
Pero dumped herself into the space between Yemisiâ€™s second leg and the edge of the bed. Yemisi peeked from the side of the magazine, saw her and squealed her delight. They talked about fashion and celebrity gossip for a while, only pausing to catch their breaths when one of Yemisiâ€™s roommates walked in with a swollen eye. Her entrance caused a stir and bunks creaked as the girls struggled to get close to her. Their voices were loud, intrusive and curious. The new entrant sought to explain to Yemisi instead. The swollen eye had been inflicted by her boyfriend.
â€œYemisi to ba ri ese ti Damola fun mi. Wo, ori mi fe fo.â€
The circle beside Yemisiâ€™s bunk grew bigger, almost suffocating Peo as the girls touched swollen gray flesh with wonder and rained invectives on the boyfriend of the girl who Pero now knew was Temisola. Magazine long forgotten and squashed under her generous thighs, Yemisi sought to know the reason for the assault. Temisola pushed an indignant lower lip forward and complained,
â€œIs it not because of one infection that he went and caught. He is now blaming me, saying I was the one that gave him.â€
â€œWhat kind of infection?â€
â€œGonorrhea or something like that, that his thing was hot when he wee weed.â€
There was a loud titter among the circle of girls. Broken English became the order of the day.
All these men they can like to lie. How are you sure sef that he did not go and get it from all these Ashawo on the road?
Do you feel anything? Like is scratching you?
Is there doing you anyhow?
Shebi I have always tell you. Osho free is not good. Shebi o ti ri? If is all these big men now, nothing like this can happen.
Pero was distracted from the drama when her phone rang and Joe announced that he was approaching the gates of the University. She waved her friend goodbye and hurried back to her room. Yemisi watched her like the first time, a speculative gleam in her eyes. She slipped away from Temisola and the others, and walked to her wardrobe.
It had been an hour since Eno left her mother standing at the door of their home in Opebi. Her mother had sent her off from home with a finger in her face and an admonition about making late night trips.
You need to be careful mbok. This is Lagos. You canâ€™t be leaving the house at this time of the day. When do you want to get to school?
Eno stopped the second taxi, one hand shielding her face from the glare of headlights. The driver was an old man who scowled at her offered prize and zoomed off without making a counter offer. Eno swore under her breath and adjusted the strap of her handbag. Cars were slowing down at the intersection where she stood and she sighed.
God please no, not traffic. Not when I am standing beside the road looking like one poverty stricken person.
God ignored Eno. Cars honked wildly, drivers cursed and tried to outdo each other. In the end, they all acquiesced to the inevitable traffic. As bumpers touched and hawkers shook their goods in the faces of drivers with bored expressions, Eno dipped her head into her bag and fished the big Fendi glasses she bought at Yaba Market for six thousand Naira.
Considerably better now that her face was hidden from gawking motorists, Eno held the plastic bag that contained smaller bags of rice, beans and garri with confidence. Taxis were slow in coming. Eno waited for ten minutes before deciding to walk further than the road in search of other means of transportation. She eyed the rickety buses stopping on the street kerb to pick passengers.
Maybe I should just take a bus, Eno thought, quickening her steps to the one screeching to a halt ahead. She was only a few steps away when a man clutching a Manila envelope jumped into the bus, effectively ending her ambition of finding a space in the crowded bus. As the bus coughed out carbon monoxide and lurched in the opposite direction, Eno stood forlorn by the road, beginning to feel ridiculous by the passing second. Two young boys snickered as they passed her. One of the boys, a lanky teenager with a pimple ridden face turned to her.
Aunty na sunglasses, no be moon glasses na. Comot ya eyeglass. Night don reach.
Eno felt embarrassment, a sudden acute one that made her wish she could shrink into herself. Suddenly, it was as if the occupant of every vehicle that whizzed past her were thinking along the same lines with the pair who had now walked a distance but kept throwing her backward glances. An old man leered at her from his half opened window and Eno heard him.
Aunty na sunglasses, no be moon glasses na.
Lowering her head, Eno whipped the glasses from her face and dumped it into her bag. The mocking voices stopped immediately and then without warning, a metallic gray Toyota pulled out of the traffic and rolled towards her, causing her to jump back. The driver was a young man with a cherubic face and a bright winsome smile. He waved a hand at her.
Eno was cautious. This was Lagos after all, a place where only the prudent made it past forty. She wore a frown of suspicion and gave the man a curt nod.
â€œWhere are you going to?â€
Eno shook her head.
The man cocked his head and his smile grew wider. â€œYou are going to donâ€™t worry?â€
The bags containing raw foodstuff weighed Eno down and as she switched to the other hand, she was tempted to throw caution to the wind and jump into the manâ€™s car but she managed to resist temptation. She looked away from the vehicle to the road.
â€œHey listen, I know you are trying to be careful but a beautiful lady like you shouldnâ€™t be standing at the road at this time of the night.â€
Enoâ€™s shoulders ached but she held on bravely to the handle of the plastic bag.
â€œThank you but I will wait for a taxi.â€
â€œAre you sure?â€
Eno looked back to the man. She could see through the rolled down glass of his car that his hand was reaching for the gear stick beside him. She began to question her decision to reject the manâ€™s offer. She backtracked.
â€œWhere are you going to?â€
The man shrugged. â€œNowhere, I am just driving around because I am bored.â€
Eno took one decisive step forward.
â€œI am going to Yabaâ€¦to Unilag.â€
â€œThatâ€™s cool. I can drop you.â€
Eno looked closely at the man, searching for tell-tale signs of danger but she found nothing. She reached for the door and pulled it open. As she settled into the passenger seat, the faint whiff of cologne and something funny assailed her senses. She thought it was Marijuana but she was not sure. They drove with slow jazz playing from the carâ€™s speakers. It was only when they got to Maryland that the man started a conversation that revolved around her background, education and relationship status. Gratitude made Eno answer all his questions without the usual twinge of irritation she would have felt on a normal day.
â€œSo you are single huh?â€ the man said, his tone noticeably different from the one he had used when she had been standing by the road. He sounded foreign now, American to be exact. â€œThatâ€™s kinda strange. Why woulda pretty gurl like you be single? Makes no sense if you ask me.â€
His incredulity put Eno on the defensive. Her last relationship had ended badly. She told him so.
â€œAww come on, donâ€™t shut yourself in. Not all men are pigs you know.â€
He switched from counselor to wooer in the next split second.
â€œYou are kinda cute. I could date someone like you.â€
Eno gave the man a polite smile.
He pulled his right hand off the steering wheel and extended it to her.
â€œAnd oh, I am Bobby by the way.â€
Eno gave him one of the names she had picked for herself in Junior Secondary School. Who gave their real names out anyway?
The man looked as if he did not believe her.
â€œPearl? Are you sure?â€
Eno was now certain the funny smell in his car was Marijuana. She nodded vigorously.
â€œYes, call me Pearl.â€
The man called her Pearl and flattered her slim figure with metaphors.
â€œYour body is a coke bottle. My type. Your stomach is a wall. I like.â€
Feeling like a bottle and a wall, Eno sat still and waited for the journey to end. They got to the intersection before Herbert Macaulay and Bobby took a detour into a dusty street with open gutters and cars parked on each side of it. Eno turned to him.
â€œWhere are we going to?â€
Bobby smiled at her breasts.
â€œI just wanna drop something off for ma friend.â€
Alarm bells went off in Enoâ€™s head.
â€œI am not sure I have much time. I have to be in school now.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry babe. I wonâ€™t be long. Chill for me â€˜kay?â€
They parked before a dilapidated three storey building with balconies boasting rusting metal railings. A few men with dirty brown singlets looked at the car with interest. Enoâ€™s unease grew. Bobby left the car with another promise to return in a few minutes but she waited longer than that. When someone rapped on the passenger window, she started and clutched her bag to her chest. It was a young boy with a bare chest and brown stained teeth.
â€œBrother Jamiu so pe kin mu e wa so ke.â€
Eno stared the boy uncomprehendingly.
The boyâ€™s face split into a smile. He leaned close to her and bathed her face with stale breath.
â€œWon so pe kin mu e wa so ke.â€
It dawned on Eno that the boy was from Bobby who had miraculously acquired another name and the young messenger was there to lead her into the dilapidated building. Eno shook her head.
â€œNo thank you.â€
The boy cocked his head forward.
â€œI said, no thank you, I am not coming with you.â€
She must have said something funny because the boy began to laugh.
â€œE mi o gbo nkan te n so o.â€
He mimicked her, making wild babbling noises and then shot off like a cannon ball towards the building, small brown body stretching incredibly as he performed the acrobatic feat of crossing the massive gutter in front of the house without using the plank that bridged the house and the narrow street. As soon as the boy disappeared from sight, Eno knew it was time to make her escape. She gathered her bags and left the car. Her steps were hurried as she walked to the junction. She kept looking over her shoulder, half expecting Bobby and the young boy to materialize behind her in a hot chase. She made it to the expressway and flagged down a taxi driven by a young man with a kind face.
â€œPlease Unilag. Please how much?â€
Pero kissed Joe on the jaw and pulled away from his embrace to answer the knock at the door. She had been enjoying the privacy and now wished whoever was at the door was a trader she could dismiss without much ado. She was surprised when she opened the door to find Yemisi in sheer pink lingerie, one strap down her right shoulder.
Yemisi smiled and then marched into her room before she could collect herself. Pero locked the door and rushed back to the room just when Yemisi was letting out a horrified shriek. Joe was still on Peroâ€™s bed but his eyes were fixed appropriately on the screen of his laptop.
â€œSo sorry,â€ Yemisi purred, right hand on her ample chest. â€œI didnâ€™t know she had a visitor.â€
Joe nodded, eyes fixed on his laptop.
Yemisi hung back despite her initial shock which Pero was slowly realizing was more staged than real. She ransacked Peroâ€™s drawer for sugar and then salt. She took her time to walk to the door and stopped short of pulling it open.
â€œI need vegetable oil sef.â€
Catwalking back to Peroâ€™s wardrobe, she bent as low as her dress could let her and extracted the plastic bottle of Eva Water that now held oil. She thanked Pero and stopped this time beside Joe.
â€œSo what is your name?â€
Undeterred by the lack of eye contact, she pressed.
â€œSo you are Peroâ€™s boyfriend?â€
A few uncomfortable minutes later, she shrugged and walked off to the door, thanking Pero again. Joe was smiling when Pero returned to the room.
â€œShe is such a good friend, isnâ€™t she?â€
Pero sat beside Joe, face slack with surprise.
â€œI swear I am still surprised.â€
Joe moved his laptop from his lap and pulled Pero to it.
â€œSeeing that she is interested in me, maybe we should just have a threesome.â€
Pero slapped her boyfriendâ€™s arm.
â€œStop that joke.â€
Joe feigned hurt. â€œWhy now? Be generous. It is almost Valentine. Letâ€™s spread love.â€
The mischievous glint in Joeâ€™s eyes made Pero laugh. Joe grew serious.
â€œI thought you promised to avoid girls like that.â€
Pero broke her oath of truthfulness.
â€œI have not been talking to her o! Shebi you can see that she came to collect things from me.â€
Joe did not look convinced but he kissed her anyway. Pero hugged him and swore inwardly to avoid Yemisi. She was bad news.
The party was more than anything Patricia had dreamed. Lights shone from everywhere. Good breeding and foreign acquired education overwhelmed her during the two minute conversation she had with two different men. The women were identical in their whiteness and chunky gold jewelries. She was about to escape from it all when a petite woman wearing a black sleeveless knee length dress stepped into her way. The woman smiled and moved her wine glass to her left hand before offering her right hand in a hand shake.
â€œHi, I am Becca.â€
Patricia returned the favour.
The woman nodded at her.
â€œI saw you come in with my brother.â€
Patricia suddenly saw the resemblance. Tolaâ€™s sister. She became suddenly self conscious, wondering if her belted wrapped dress was good enough. She pushed a non-existent strand of hair behind her ear.
â€œUrmâ€¦pleased to meet you.â€
Beccaâ€™s smile grew warm. Patricia liked her immediately.
â€œPleased to meet you too.â€
Newly introduced with no familiar topics to guide them, they stood smiling at each other until a man in white button up shirt appeared at Beccaâ€™s elbow and gently steered her away towards a group of men standing a few meters from them. Becca gave her an apologetic smile.
â€œExcuse me. I will keep in touch.â€
Alone now that Becca had taken her warmth with her, Patricia sought refuge in one of the guest toilets in the hallway that stood far away from the living room. In the fragrant filled atmosphere of the gold tiled toilet with pristine toilet bowls and padded seats, she received a call from Tola.
â€œMadam, where are you?â€
Patricia told Tola where she was. He found her in no time. Dashing in a gray two button wool blazer and a crew neck T-shirt he wore over brown trousers, he leaned her against the wall and gave her tiny teasing kisses. Patricia confessed her fear.
â€œEveryone is so different.â€
â€œNonsense. They are not.â€
Patricia smiled. Tola was only trying to make her feel better.
â€œYou know how I get through situations like this?â€
Patricia shook her head.
â€œI just picture the people who I think are snotty doing their toilet rounds.â€
Patricia giggled. Tola continued, enjoying her mirth.
â€œSqueezing up their faces and releasing gas. As for the really nasty ones, I imagine their shit stinks.â€
Patricia made a face and laughed.
â€œOkay, I will try that.â€
Tola kissed the tip of her nose.
They left the toilet and joined the party again. Tola did not leave Patriciaâ€™s side. When his eyes caught someone he thought was familiar, he dragged Patricia along to play catch up. Thirty minutes later, Patricia was tired and opted to stand in a corner while Tola engaged an older man in a light banter a few steps away. She was leaning on the wall, pretending to enjoy the tangy taste of the wine when she felt eyes boring holes into her. She turned instinctively in the direction of the eyes and found them on a face that looked vaguely familiar. The man stood with Tolaâ€™s father. Patricia began to look away and then stopped when she found the answer to the manâ€™s identity. She had a flashback, a memory of standing outside the building in Ikeja and being ushered into the house by a tall smiling man with a glass of wine.
They are here.
It had been the first time she had met Tola, her first night as a runs girl in the company of Clara three other girls and Clara, the notorious pimp that ran aÂ runsÂ racket on campus. The man she was staring at was the one who had led her upstairs. Her heart slamming wildly in her chest, Patricia turned away from the men and held on to her glass for dear life. She was ready to go when Tola came back. He noticed the slight tremors that passed through her hand and agreed that it was time to leave. They met with his father again and the older man barely managed a nod at her before his attention was pulled away to a duo of two old men. The young man was introduced to her. Tola did not mention that night. Neither did the man.
â€œDeji,â€ he said simply.
Patricia could not stop thinking about Deji that night.
What had he been discussing with Tolaâ€™s father?
She tossed and turned while Tola slept beside her, blissfully unaware of her inner turmoil. At two, her phone beeped with a message. It was Deji. The message said,
Hi, it is good to see you again. I remember you. Claraâ€™s girl right? Anyway, I got your number from her. It will be nice to see you again.
YORUBA WORDS EXPLAINED
Yemisi to ba ri se ti Damola fun mi. Wo, ori mi fe fo â€“ Yemisi, if you had seen the punch Damola gaveÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Me, Look, my head almost opened.
Shebi o ti ri?Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€“Â Â Now you see?
Brother Jamiu so pe kin mu e wa so keÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€“Â Brother Jamiu said I should bring you upstairs.
Won so pe kin mu e wa so keÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€“Â He said I should bring you upstairs.
E mi o gbo nkan te n so oÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€“ I donâ€™t understand what you are saying.
EFIK WORD EXPLAINED
MbokÂ â€“ Please
Umari Ayim is the author of â€œTwilight At Terracotta Indigoâ€ and â€œInside my Headâ€. She blogs at www.umariayim.com/