Two days later, he stopped Anita in front of their department building and asked her about her friend.
How and why she had managed to come to George’s low-class party with Adaeze Ilonna.
Anita gave him a look—one of those funny faces she makes and you’d wonder if she’d perceived a bad odour from you.
‘Haven’t you heard of her before?’ she asked him. ‘She goes everywhere and anywhere like that.’
‘Yes. People say that’s how she finds inspiration for her books.’
He slipped into his mind and started wondering if she was going to write about him. If, during their brief meeting two days ago, he had struck enough literary inspiration for her?
She would name the story something like…My Party Boyfriend.
No. No. He shook his head. Not boyfriend yet. My Party Friend. Oh no! Too casual. Maybe My Party –
Anita tapped him on the shoulder. ‘Bia nwokem, are you okay?’ she asked him.
‘Why are you staring straight into the air like a blind man and muttering party party?’
‘Oh, was I?’
Anita shook her head, her lips unattractively scrunched up. ‘Mm- mm, you wasn’t.’ She left him and walked into the lecture hall.
He didn’t follow her in.
He wasn’t in the mood to listen to Dr Muthenghe at the moment. The man had come from Zambia or Kenya, he couldn’t recall precisely now, but he spoke English like a boiling soup.
Pawa-pawa, tawa-tawa, that way. Though they all liked him in the department— the way he seemed to hate to fail any student. He would instead come to the class and tell them the questions that are likely to come out in the exam and then sit down to revise with them.
It was a popular saying among students in his department that whoever failed a course of Muthenghe has the strongest of witches in their village.
He walked to the canteen and bought Coke and gala. From there, he walked straight home.
All through the afternoon, he battled with the thought of whether or not to call her.
It was around five in the evening that he finally pulled all his might together and picked his phone.
Her voice was even nicer on the phone—in the quiet of his room, her English came through crisper, like the action of spring water on a rock.
Though he was the one that called her, but she smoothly hijacked the conversation from her end, now the one asking all the questions while he lay there on his bed, quietly providing the answers and feeling half-annoyed like a jealous girlfriend.
She asked how his day had gone and he said ‘Fine’.
She asked where he presently was and he told her.
Then she asked what he was doing and he said, ‘Nothing, just lying on the bed.’
Before she could fling out another question, he quickly added, ‘Thinking about you’, and in the same quick manner, ‘Can you come and visit me?’
There was a pause. She never seemed to pause. He developed a rapid chest pain.
‘How about I come pick you and we go out and have a drink together?’ he finally heard and almost sighed into the phone.
‘Yes, yes,’ he said. ‘That’d be nice.’
‘Okay, see you in 20.’
He was still struggling to pick the best shirt to wear when his phone started to vibrate.
He picked it from the mattress and looked. It was her. He took the call and she told him she was outside, in front of his gate.
‘Coming out right away,’ he said.
He looked at his wardrobe again; all the shirts hanging there now appeared to be of the same colour, same dull and over-used shade of whatever colour they had all now assumed in his eyes.
He grabbed one from the middle as if with anger and slipped it on himself.
Outside the gate, a dark-brown Kia Cerato was parked by the wall. He walked to it and entered through the other door.
‘Hello,’ she said, even before he could fully sit.
‘So where are we going?’ she asked.
He almost responded with ‘Are you asking me?’
As if she wasn’t the one that had suggested they go out in the first place.
But he said, ‘Anywhere you feel like, I am okay.’
She turned and stared briefly at him. Then she asked this very disconcerting question. ‘Come on, are you shy?’ she said, a hint of smile playing at the corners of her lips.
Even if he didn’t before think he was, he now is. If he had been a flower in a garden, right then he would have wilted and dropped to the ground.
It surprised him as much as it amused him because he is not usually the guy to be shy. He is adequately tall and handsome—girls have always been the ones to get shy whenever he is around them.
But ever since he met her, he’d discovered a new difference about himself that he found rather strange and yet intriguing.
Even now, he virtually could feel his skin turning warm and reddening, or darkening, however dark people blushed.
As if to make matters worse, she reached and adjusted the collar of his shirt and then patted him on the thigh, a smile ripening on her face. ‘Let’s go to Flavour Spot on the other side of town,’ she said.
‘Okay,’ he sighed out.
She started the car and they drove off.
At the restaurant, she picked a table for them beside the wall and asked him what he would like to have.
He flicked through the menu booklet, not knowing if the sense of control she exuded annoyed or pleased him.
Flavour Spot was new in town, calm and expensive, now where guys took any girl they wanted to impress to.
He looked round often, wondering if the people around noticed they were a couple on a different orientation. A lady not too, if at all, far in age with him had driven him out to a classy restaurant, in her fancy compact car, picked a table for them and was now asking him what he would like to have so that she would buy it for him.
It all felt awkward to him.
Eventually, neither of them ate. They only drank; he a can of Power Horse while she took Ribena.
On their way home, she stopped at a smoky spot along the road and bought two roast chicken parts.
While they were waiting for the chicken to get hot, she gave the boy standing with the heavyset woman roasting the chicken money to go and buy her a bottle of wine.
There was a big supermarket behind the woman’s roasting drum. Its generous lighting saved her the stress of finding her own light source.
The boy soon returned and gave her the bottle. ‘Thank you,’ she said and asked him to keep the change and use it and buy biscuit for himself.
The boy produced a large toothy smile and thanked her with a bow. But before he could pocket the money, the mother grabbed him by the arm and jerked the note from him.
Then she turned to her and smiled and said ‘Dalu so’, before throwing the money into the large pocket of her oil-stained apron.
As if to defend her action, she added, ‘If you allow him now, he will go and give it to those knock-kneed girls down the street.’
Behind her, the boy murmured something and she turned ferociously to him and hurled out the common Igbo curse, ‘Nkita rachaa kwa gi anya there!’
Something about being licked up by a dog!
Soon, she was done and she wrapped the chicken for them.
Deze had asked her to add extra pepper while she was wrapping. ‘Daddy’s favourite,’ she said to Ekene as she opened her purse to pay.
‘To him, the more peppery the better, which is rather very stubborn of him because the doctors have always advised against his taking pepper.’
He nodded again, saying nothing.
She gave him a look as she collected the wrapped chicken from the woman.
Inside the car, she turned the AC on and turned to him. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
He nodded again.
‘Was it a lovely night?’
‘Oh, come on, tell me I bored you to death with family stories.’
He shook his head and said ‘No.’
At that moment, he can’t really describe how he was feeling. It was that kind of situation that you don’t really know what is wrong with you or what emotion you are manifesting.
She started the car and soon afterwards they came to a halt in front of his lodge gate. He waited till she parked safely by the wall again.
He didn’t understand why she needed to park fully.
She turned out the engine and turned to him. ‘So?’
‘So,’ he echoed.
The silence dragged, her eyes boring into him.
‘Thank you for a lovely night,’ he said, more to free himself from her eyes than he really thought the night was lovely. ‘Good night.’ He opened the door and came down from the vehicle.
‘Wait!’ he heard before he could get through the gate into the lodge.
He turned back.
‘You can’t just leave me like that,’ she said, ‘what about the chicken and the wine?’
‘Isn’t that for your father?’ he asked.
She opened the door and came down from the car. She walked up to him. He can’t really say if he liked or disliked the way she walked. The confidence in her steps was so natural she herself was completely oblivious of it.
‘I bought the chicken for us,’ she said. ‘Daddy has had his share earlier in the day. I had wanted us to spend some time together.’
And then, just at that statement, his mind cleared and his mood took some quick steps up.
He opened his door to an embarrassing sea of darkness. ‘Please stay still,’ he said to her. ‘Let me quickly pull on the generator.’
Outside, he walked to the other end of the lodge where all the students’ generators clustered together like brooding birds.
His stood out because he had used the largest chain to secure it. The chain would weigh nearly as much as the small Tiger Generator.
Once, one of the boys in the lodge had teased him saying, ‘O boy, why you come use this heavy chain chain this small gen na?’
‘How e take be your problem?’ he’d returned.
‘Abi na,’ the boy said. ‘Na you wey go buy 9K generator come use 20K chain chain am get big problem.’
The other boys around burst into laughter.
Without so much as a look at the boy that had teased him, he said, ‘And na person wey no even know where they dey sell generator plug dey talk o.’
The laughter died briefly and was restarted again. He then smiled to himself, knowing that the victim of the mockery has changed.
He held the generator handle and drew the rope again.
Again, it squealed and then died back. He tried again and it was the same thing.
After the fourth time and it was still the same result, he groaned and straightened up, his hands on his waist.
Then he bent and opened the fuel tank. It was half full, enough fuel to get them through her stay. He didn’t think she was going to stay any longer than an hour anyway.
He tried the generator again and it still would not come on.
Angered, he kicked it hard, but only injured his toe. He glared at it and murmured that he would sell it off the next day.
If the generator had been with life, it would have giggled hard in amusement at that time, because that would not be the first time he’d be threatening to sell it and never actually did.
Back inside, he turned on his phone’s light and apologized. ‘So very sorry, the generator would not come on.’
She nodded. ‘Don’t bother about it, I’m sure we can survive without it.’
He half smiled to the way she’d used we and survive together, as though they were a couple going through some hard time.
‘Moreover your phone’s light is quite bright,’ she added.
Not knowing if that was a compliment or an insult, the smile on his face turned crooked.
Ten or so minutes later, the issue of light was a gone case.
They sat together on the floor, legs crossed and facing each other. The chicken tasted excellent with the wine. There was that soothing sensation cool alcohol gives on the throat when it’s washing down pepper.
She told stories while they ate and she often mentioned her father.
So very often.
‘You seem to adore your father a lot,’ he asked as she ended yet another daddy story.
Just that night alone, he’d heard how her father had taken them to Academy Theatre at Lighthouse on a very special Monday and they paid just $5 each for a ticket.
Thereafter they went to a restaurant called Narcissa still in New York City where she ate Carrots Wellington for the first time.
Of course, he dithered from asking her if Carrots Wellington was the name of a dish or the chef that served it.
Instead he’d smiled along, as if he too, had always eaten and liked Carrots Wellington.
She didn’t answer his question about her father immediately. The way she paused, staring softly at him made him feel he shouldn’t have asked.
‘I’m sorry for asking,’ he said.
‘Oh no, you needn’t apologize for anything. You see—’ she sipped a bit of wine and swallowed hard ‘—Daddy has always been there for us. He is the only parent we’ve always known.’
‘I get,’ he said. ‘I live with just my mother too.’
He wanted to ask about her mother but hesitated. Like the case of his father, he feared it was going to be a sad story too. He didn’t want anything to spoil the present mood they were in.
‘You don’t eat chicken bones?’ she asked him.
He felt suddenly embarrassed. He’d seen the way she cracks off her own bone heads, noiselessly enough not to cause any disgust—a perfect way to eat chicken bone, if you ask him.
And he actually likes chewing on the bones himself, only his pretence had gotten quite a good portion of him.
He stared at her now. Before him was a lady living so independently it felt sweet to watch.
He ditched his pretence and picked the bone he’d earlier dropped unharmed. He put it in his mouth and cracked off the rounded head.
She smiled and said, ‘Hmm.’
And so began the bone-cracking contest.
Eventually she won. He stared at the big smile that lit up her face as she celebrated her victory.
She caught him staring and their gaze held briefly.
He pulled out first, hating himself for it.
‘I like you,’ she said, bending to pick the bone pieces scattered on the carpet and putting them into the plate.
‘I like you too,’ he said.
For something like half a minute, he contemplated whether to kiss her or not.
A foolish angry thought barked within him: Kiss her now, you fool!
Can’t you see she is craving to be kissed?
And then finally he decided.
He is going to kiss her and wait for the reaction. It is not going to be so bad, he was almost sure of it.
Just as he was about to lean forward for the act, she stood with the plate and empty glasses.
He pretended to pick the wine bottle instead and the torch and followed her.
Inside the kitchen, she dropped the plate on the gas burner and picked a bar of soap.
‘Oh, don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I will wash the plate later.’
‘I don’t want to wash the plate,’ she said, turning the tap on to wash her hands.
‘I just wanted to wash my hands. It’s not like I know how to wash plates anyways.’
‘You don’t know how to wash plates?’
She shrugged. ‘Never had to. Hated it as much as I do cooking.’ She turned off the tap. ‘Can I get something to dry my hands with please?’
He passed her the towel.
‘So you don’t know how to cook?’
He puffed out a smile. ‘I can cook whatever I want to cook, my own way of course, but it’s not a chore I’d readily jump at.’
‘So what chores can you do?’
‘I love to launder. A lot.’
‘With your hands or machine?’
‘Hands. I would tie a wrapper and sit on a chair in the bathroom while my washing hands moved in the direction of my song.’
‘Terribly. Even worse as my voice echoes round the bathroom walls. But the joy of it all is in knowing that I have succeeded in disturbing anyone around with my noise.’
He imagined her doing all those things and smiled to himself.
Back in the room, she sat on the bed.
The silence separating them made his heart thud. He feared she would stand up to leave.
He didn’t want her to go.
Not now. Not ever.
But just then she said the sweetest thing. ‘Why just stand there, come sit with me on the bed.’