I just had to ask myself; ‘self, what the hell are you thinking?’
Or maybe the question should have been if ‘self’ was even thinking at all. I was standing in front of a Chicken Republic; that one on the corner at that Opebi traffic light. I was standing there, phone in my hand, wondering if I should climb the stairs or just walk a few steps left and be hit by a car.
I felt as though I had just done the most stupid thing a human being could think of. And the annoying thing was – there was just no point. To what I did and to what I was feeling.
I was jealous.
And I despised myself for it.
Jealousy is a poor, pathetic human feeling; a feeling reserved for the weakest of the weak. Of all the emotions; it was number two on my hate-list.
The first was pity. The third was love.
They annoyed me because I strongly believed they were the most unproductive of human emotions. Fear, anger, hate – were of better use managed correctly. All the mushy stuff…there was just no point to them. Yeah; you fall in love; he/she/they love you back; and then what?
You get played like a sucker…because nothing that good lasts forever. Nothing that good was designed to.
An okada speeds past, waking me temporarily from my day-dreaming. I climb onto the gravel patch in front of the joint to get further away from the road, and then continue in my wool gathering.
I was jealous. Why was I jealous?
What I found most bothersome was the fact that I had no right to be jealous.
Of course it was a woman. What else could put a man like me in such a state? Not even money could achieve that feat. Trust me.
But here I was; green with envy over a woman who did not even know I exist. Would you believe that?
Again, I weigh the phone in my hand, but this time my attention is taken by the security guard approaching – who looks like he cannot quite make up his mind whether to approach me or to call for help. I smiled at him.
“Don’t come any closer,” I said politely; “I’m just enjoying the view. I’ll leave when I’m ready – not before.”
The guard scampered away and my smile grew broader – and then became grim as I remembered why I was there. It really hurt; and I hated feeling that way. Traffic had started building up…signifying the end of another day but I just kept running around in my small brain thinking how I was going to get myself out of the fix I was in.
Suddenly deciding, I strode up the stairs into the Chicken Republic and got myself two chicken wraps.
And then I went to Page and drunk myself senseless.
A MATTER OF HEIGHT IV
Chinwe was enjoying Gbemi’s confusion. Not only had he been unable to hide his look of shock as she made her pronouncement, he looked uncomfortable as he walked beside her. She smiled softly to herself.
Gbemi on the other hand had not planned for Chinwe’s sudden appearance and desire to go lunch; and therefore was quite unprepared. But he was determined to make a good impression, so he did his best to appear unruffled. As they walked out of his store’s parking space and into the noon sunshine, he turned slightly towards her and spoke.
“So; I’m thinking we might want to go traditional today – or would you rather oyinbo food?” He asked, indicating the Tastee Fried Chicken joint just up ahead.
Chinwe smiled. “I’ll just follow your lead. You’re taking me to lunch na,” she concluded.
“Traditional it is then,” Gbemi said, scratching his close-cropped head.He suddenly made to cross the road – and then darted back as an okada screamed past with the okada man screaming curses at him. He turned to see Chinwe laughing behind her palm.
“What were you trying to do; run out on me?” she asked amidst gales of laughter. “You can at least pretend to enjoy my company for the moment; and then afterwards leave and never call again!”
Gbemi smiled ruefully. “I wasn’t trying to do that. I just – I guess I got carried away.” He looked across the road carefully, and then seeing no vehicles offered her his hand. “Shall we?” he asked.
The ‘buka’ was quite neat, even though it was crowded. The crowd did not faze Gbemi one bit, as he held on to Chinwe’s hand gently but firmly and navigated his way past the noisy feeders and boisterous buyers. They made their way across the room and into another much smaller one. Gbemi ushered Chinwe in, and then closed the door, immediately drowning out the noise from the main part of the buka.The room was neat and sparsely furnished with two tables neatly laid. Gbemi choose the one farthest away from the door and seated Chinwe before sitting down.
“So – what would you like?” he asked her, leaning forward and putting his forearms on the table. Chinwe thought for a moment and then answered, “I haven’t had pounded yam in a while. Some of that would be good.” She paused and then said, “Some of that sweet smelling stew too, if it’s not too much to ask.”
As though by magic, a smiling urchin showed up at the door, grinning at Gbemi.
Gbemi smiled back at her. “Tell mama I want two wraps of iyan, efo riro and goat meat. Oya, go get that one quickly.”
The little girl nodded and scooted away as Gbemi faced Chinwe. “I hope you’re really hungry – because no one starts on mama’s food and does not finish it,” he warned, half seriously.
“I have nothing to say – except I hope the food is as sweet as your tongue,” Chinwe retorted and they both laughed.
The food was a lot better than he had hoped; Gbemi thought,watching Chinwe pop the last of two pieces of meat in her mouth. He watched as she chewed gently but thoroughly, washing her hands with the Morning Fresh mama had thoughtfully provided.
“Okay, Gbemi. I do want to see mama so I can thank her. I’ve had iyan before; but not quite like that. And the efo…”
Gbemi smiled. “Mama’s efo is an adventure in sensory experience.First time I ate it, I thought I had opened my tongue. I kept checking if there were holes in it, because I became aware of some parts of it I didn’t know existed.”
“Maybe she can teach me,” Chinwe said,cleaning the corners of her mouth with serviette paper.“I would like to learn to make vegetable soup like that.” At Gbemi’s raised eyebrows she smiled, and then looked at him from underneath her lashes. “Why do you look like that, uncle? I want to get married too, you know. And I don’t want my husband constantly lured away by buka food.”
As Gbemi blushed and looked away, Chinwe chuckled and placed a hand on his forearm. “I was just teasing -”
He waved her explanation away. “Of course I know you were teasing. I’m not married; not yet anyway.” As Chinwe made to draw back he added, “You can keep your hand there if you like,” he finished.
Chinwe looked down and snatched her hand away amidst Gbemi quiet chuckle.
“So…why art?” Gbemi asked.
They were still seated in the back room, but all the plates had been packed away and they were sipping on drinks. Gbemi was having a Schweppes while Chinwe had water.
“I’ve always drawn – as far back as I can remember. That was something that came naturally and I loved it. It was what influenced my decision to study graphic arts in Yaba Tech.”
“I would have thought your parents would object vehemently to that,” Gbemi said.
“No o. Mum always had father wrapped around her tiny little finger, and she always told me to only do whatever my heart was in, so I had their support from the first day.”
“You sound like you’re really close to your mum. How is she? It would be something to see her, won’t it?”
“She’s…she’s fine,” Chinwe said hastily, almost spilling her water as Gbemi looked on in surprise. “How about you? I’ve never seen a man own a supermarket – except in the movies.”
“It was actually -”
The ringing of a phone interrupted him, and he stopped as Chinwe, with a small frown reached into her pocket to pull out a Blackberry.
“Yes?” she answered, sounding a bit put out which made Gbemi smile to himself.
“Now? But I already…” there was another pause while the frown on her face got heavier. But after a few moments her brow cleared. “Okay,” she continued. “I’ll be right there.”
She hung up and looked at Gbemi, an apology on her face. “It seems my boss needs me at the office – a little something requires my expertise,” she finished, half-grinning.
Gbemi grinned back, standing up. “Okay then. Let’s walk back to your office – I’ll go see how my guys are doing,” he finished.
Chinwe shook her head, lovely tresses bouncing. “No – just let me hurry and get there.” She came from behind the table and put a hand on Gbemi’s arm. “Thank you. The food was great.”
She paused for a moment, and then her eyes softened. “I’m sorry for bailing out like this – I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”
She swung away – moving quickly while Gbemi slowly sat back down.
He looked confused.
I am running.
I do not know what I am running from or where I am running to. The first awareness of anything I have is that…
I am running.
And it is apparent; to me at least, that I am running scared.
I am breathing hard, my eyes are fuzzy and I can feel my extremities tremble. I look over my shoulder; trying to penetrate the inky blackness with the unaided power of mere sight. I might as well be attempting to move Zuma Rock with a shovel.
I am scared. Very, very scared.
I feel cold sweat running down my thighs. I hear the loud slaps of my feet as they hit the tarred surface of the road. A road I recognize all too well.
I’m running for my life right on my street. As in…the street I live on.
As of this moment, I have no idea what I am running from. I just know that I have to keep going. I don’t hear footsteps behind me, but I know that to stop would be suicide.
Despite the fact that I am running scared, I notice a strange thing. Contrary to horror movies, the background is not dark. No. It is one of those rare nights NEPA do not do what they usually do, so the street is brightly illuminated, thanks to the abundance of security lights and the neon lamp gracing the front of Mama Chidinma’s supermarket.
I wonder briefly; why I would notice that kind of detail when I am running to stay alive. I find no answer; the only sound being the rapid puff puff of my breaths as my lungs pump ferociously to provide me with the air to keep my legs swinging. But to be honest, I find myself faltering as my vision gets blurry. Briefly I think of Hussein Bolt and his desire to run a hundred meters in 9.04 seconds, and I wonder what kind of physique he must have. But I am not Hussein; I am but a banking hall cashier who is slightly overweight due to some privileges. I don’t know how long I can keep going…
And then the inevitable happens. Something rolls underneath my foot; I think it’s a pure water nylon or something – and then I lose balance. I struggle, trying to regain my equilibrium because to fall now would be fatal; and then my left foot hits my right shin.
I sprawl headlong.
I land on my chest, the air exploding from my lungs with a loud ‘oof!’ Despite the slight feeling of ‘floating’; as though I am not there, I instantly start to crawl…just to get as far away as possible from whatever it is that’s coming after me.
And then…as I struggle to rise, pair of feet appears in front of my prostrate form. As I blink, to clarify that I’m not imagining things, I realize why I was not able to hear the steps coming after me – the feet are a few inches above the ground.
I am about to tilt my head back; to try and see the face of the who or what is about to kill me, when a small detail about one of the feet in front of me attracts my attention. I look back down and see a small silver chain around one of the ankles. A small silver chain – with a tiny silver cross dangling from it.
I shudder; because the ankle looks incredibly familiar. I remember kissing around the chain – chuckling silently because I had felt so silly, but persisting because she liked it. A clammy heaviness settles in my belly, but I tell myself I have to know.
My eyes continue their upwards movement – past the light sprinkling of hair on her legs darkly black against light backdrop, past the slightly darker kneecaps, past the – and then I see the knife.
The pointed tip of the knife as it lay beside her thigh, held loosely in her fair fist. I try to swallow past the lump in my throat, ignoring the crick in the back of neck from turning it at such an extreme angle for so long…and look past the see-through negligee through which I can see her chest rise and fall with agitation…
It is my fiancé. Chinyere.
As my mouth opens in shock and I try to subdue that to ask why, she swings her arm back and brings the knife plunging towards my neck…
His back arches off the bed as he opens his mouth in a soundless scream. And then his eyes open, he stares blankly for a moment before he recognizes his surroundings. He is in his bedroom, the same bedroom he went to sleep in some three odd hours ago.
He breathes deeply and slumps back on the bed, wondering what the dream was about. Is his fiancé really trying to kill him?
He lies down and closes his eyes, trying to sleep again. He lays still for some seconds before his eyes flash open, fear evident in them. He had suddenly realized he was no longer alone.
He looks to the side of the bed and sees his fiancé Chinyere, who supposedly lives and works in Abuja; sitting beside him on his bed in his bedroom in Lagos State. She’s wearing the same clothes she was wearing the last time he saw her, and she looks beautiful – more beautiful than he can remember.
He tries to speak but there’s something wrong with his throat. She looks down at him and smiles.
“So you think you can run?” She asks, still smiling.
Then he sees the knife.
You know; I really don’t think she remembers me;
And if she does; I bet she thinks I’m another member. Me!
But I know those eyes; I know them
I’ve seen them too many times; I know they sing an anthem
You know what I think? But why should you care?
After all, I’m the ‘new guy’! Indeed…yeah.
But you know – how you feel something rare;
And it has nothing to do with love or sex; for a year,
I imagine I would be here; or maybe not,
I am a normal guy, I am not a nut
I know – she thinks sometimes I really act strange;
Like ‘why does he walk when he is made for a range?’
But; and then a very large but,
People fear what they don’t understand; why not?
Stand up! That’s the first thing I say to her;
‘Stand up!’ It’s a name not many can bear,
Maybe due to fear; or maybe not,
One question tho; can we be friends…?
She smiles; oh yon damsel so fair;
Been a while since I witnessed something so rare
Maybe there is a connection; maybe no more
But she’ll always be something real that’s for sure
Another day is someone else’s birthday
So; there’s always reason not to have a bad day,
Think about yourself first; thank God
There will never ever EVER be another one
Think about those things you couldn’t do last year
Think about the things you lost to fear
And then promise yourself; this year to try harder
No matter how low it gets, elevate; fly higher
I believe in you; I trust you too!
I know; whatever you start you’ll see through
Don’t worry; this much I know to be true
No matter what happens you’ll always be dew
I hear the frustration in her voice;
I see the trembling of her heart
I know; she thought and still thinks I really don’t care
Isn’t that sort of after the fact?
She tries not to cry; but I know her well,
I know her heart is way deeper than any well
I know – she wishes she had done something else
Something; that might have saved him, I see different
How about the pastor who’s faith was shown to be weak?
The slain man’s wife, who believed her Jesus would speak?
How about those who stood by; caretakers
Who did nothing but commit him to the undertaker?
I’m not trying to make her forget; no
I’m here to show her there’s another road
I don’t cry anymore, I’ve lost the ducts
In my eyes, but my heart bears the hurt
And no matter what she believes; I care enough to bother,
Because she’s my friend, and I don’t want another
Here; take my hand I’ll always be here
There; wherever you are, have no fear
I won’t leave you, even if you say I should,
I know you’re hurting, don’t worry – he understands
He’s glad and grateful at least he got to know you.