The red BRT bus zoomed off after all the passengers of College bus stop had successfully disembarked. A trickle of noisy vehicles poured into the road, calling out loudly for pedestrians to keep off the road as they disappeared into the night. They all sped past like they were racing against time. However, the street beyond which led out to the broad road was quite silent and dark. It had the dreamy quality of a street in ruins from a movie dated as far back as the 90’s. Life and light seemed to have gone defunct in College street and that was almost definitely true because the street had to its possession just a couple of residential buildings and many schools buildings. In short, College street was a typical school estate. Hence it did not merit much raising eyebrows as to why the street seemed so quiet and dead at such hour.
Ochuko led Sandy into the street, refraining from speaking further as his earlier attempt at springing up a conversation with her had met high walls.
He had helped her get to her feet after her fall in the bus and had also pulled her away from the fight which came in the wake of the fall. It was the wisest thing thing he could think of at the moment, though he had felt like punching the living being out of the guy that was responsible for the fall without caring if it was intentional or not. It had been such an embarrassing incident and he imagined how he would have reacted if were him. He shook his head and tried again to get her to talk. They had been walking in the street for close to ten minutes and he was beginning to fear leading her the wrong way. She would not even raise her face from the ground.
“Sorry for what happened in the bus.” He said turning to face her. She did not say a word, she kept walking with her face down.
“Try to get it off your mind. See it’s past now, it doesn’t matter any longer. Try to focus on the present.” He was making a speech already and he didn’t like it but there was no other reasonable thing to say.
The silence stretched out and their linked hands made up for the unspoken words. He wished to know the thoughts going on in her mind,wished to see the true source of her pain – as it had been evident from the first time he had looked at her – and cut it off immediately. He tried his best to relish this moment, walking hand in hand with the lady he had longed for just minutes ago where it had seemed very difficult a wish to come true. He was holding her left hand in his, soft against hard. Her palm tried to cover his but did a sorry job of it. He covered her small palm in his big one and was almost about giving it a soft squeeze when a thought bumped into his mind. He reacted on the thought – He traced a finger over the length of her fourth finger, the one before the pinky finger and let out a sigh of relief.
She seemed to have understood clearly what that brief caress of her finger meant for immediately it was over, she dragged her hand out of his, stopped abruptly and turned sharply to face him. The soft, crushed expression on her face now transformed to reveal such nimbleness he had never believed she possessed and the indignation that came with it was not missed.
“I think you can go now.” She said in a plain voice, fixing him an angry look.
“Easy.” He drawled. “I have not done anything wrong here.” He tried to reach out for her hand.
What an error it was. She batted down his hand and walked away with some grace. Something had changed in her and this was exactly the kind of personality he wanted in her. He watched her sashay into the night and wondered if she was doing it to arouse him or impress him, but the ease at which she did it and the fluidness of the movement was enough to make him think otherwise. It was just the way she walked. His chances were ruined and he knew it but of what use was it standing in the middle of the road and let something he wanted so badly get away from him without a good fight?
He hastened his steps, trying hard to suppress the urge to jog over to her. He finally caught up with her and held her hand.
“Please let’s not create another scene here.” She said without turning to face him. “Leave me alone.”
“I’m sorry for everything.”
“You’ve been saying that from the moment you led me out of the bus. I don’t see what you should be sorry about, you caused none of it, anyway i’ve heard. Is there anything else?” Still not turning to face him.
“I’m Ochuko by the way. Do you mind telling me your name?”
“So you prefer to give what was not requested and withhold that which was?” She asked in a strained voice.
“I’m sorry.” He said before he could restrain himself from saying the words again.
“Can you please let go of my hand?” She turned and faced him.
Her features had softened now and she seemed to be on the verge of tears. She really wanted to be left alone. He doubted if he would be able to stand the dam that threatened to break free should he still remain adamant, but he had succeeded already in getting nothing out of her. He practically was tongue-tied, he needed some time to get out of the spell, some time to be more convincing. This was one opportunity to make things click, he might never have such opportunity again. He looked into those black eyes of hers and saw the naked pain lurking there, it didn’t fit the tender beauty of her face. His phone rang out loud and he let go of her hand to retrieve it from his pocket.
The caller was Sharon. He looked at the time, it was 9:20 PM. He had kept the poor teacher waiting for so long, totally ruining whatever plans she’d had for the evening. Thoughts of his daughter came rushing into his mind, she would worry so much about him. She would long for her bedtime gist, he wondered if she would be able to sleep without them. Would she even sleep without seeing him? All these inconveniences for the sake of a lady he met in the bus, very untypical of him. So was it untypical for a lady to be an embodiment of such beauty and to enthrall him so. The call rang off the hook and started ringing again. He ignored it and hurried to keep up with the lady he was yet to know.
“You should know i don’t intend to let you go just yet.” He slung a hand over her shoulder, felt her slump and knew she wouldn’t be resisting. “I’m drawn by the worry and pain i see in your eyes. I could help ease them.”
“I never told you I was in pain. You just want to be a pain in the ass right?” She sounded serious. “See Mister, if i wanted to ease my pain-”
“It would be easier sharing it with someone who cares.” He finished up for her.
“That’s enough. I don’t want to complicate my life anymore than it already is. Just leave me. Please.” She stopped walking and raised her voice a little.
“Fine.” He removed his hand from her shoulder, sorted through his briefcase and produced a card. “Here. You can call me when you feel like talking to someone.”
She made the card disappear inside her palm and turned immediately and was gone, she never looked back. It pierced his heart to watch her go. He could come to check her tomorrow but he knew nothing about her yet. He looked around and saw a zinc kiosk still open, all other shops had either closed for the day or were no longer in operation. He thought of walking over to the kiosk to ask the owner some questions about this lady from the bus, he doubted if he would get any useful information. He would’ve tried in any way but the owner of the shop was already in a discussion with someone else. He brought out his phone and met a message from Sharon. She had successfully put Lucy to sleep after much troubles and she had gone home too. She also disclosed that the calls which she gave him, which he hadn’t picked was as a result of Lucy’s pestering to say goodnight to him and hear tonight’s gist, mostly to hear his voice.
He owed so much gratitude to Sharon, he would get her a gift, he told himself. Something worth the stress she had faced this night.
Cold breeze swept around him, causing chills to ripple down the length of his body, lightening flashed and thunder crackled. The sky produced natural fireworks and in no time, let down drops of rain. Ochuko slid the phone into his pocket and picked his way back to the bus stop in a trot…
* * *
Bobo knew better than to be tracking the lady he almost fought just minutes ago, he would still be going to work tomorrow morning – they worked on Saturdays. He felt it was just a waste of his precious night, where he could have been sleeping comfortably in his bed.
Comfortably in his bed?
That was an irony. Bobo managed a one bedroom flat with his childhood friend Benji.
They had both grown up in the village – Benji’s house was in the next compound. They had fished together, farmed together, dropped out of secondary school together and for the same reason – raping their classmate – smoked dried weed together and planned the future together.
They were hooligans back in the village, it was a curse for one to cross their path. They were terribly feared by the villagers and to worsen things, they never got remorseful for their acts, they never cared for a thing in the world.
Then one day, one of Benji’s uncles had come back to the village and after due consultation from Benji’s parents – who were more than pleased to let him go at any price – Benji left for Lagos.
Bobo passed through hell during the five years Benji was away in Lagos. All the boys they had both terrorized as a team, took all the revenge on him. He had no friend to talk to and nothing to do to keep him going. His parents had washed their hands off him and he could see his planned future crumbling.
Then one day, he succeeded in stealing money from the old clay pot where his father hid away his money in the kitchen. He had watched the old man go there frequently and had suspected the oddness. He followed him on one occasion, careful to conceal himself behind the plantain tree that faced the ever open kitchen window.
Bobo had come to Lagos with just a polythene bag half filled with clothes and spent most of the months roving the streets until he was picked up by an old man in front of the gates of a public secondary school where the man was a teacher.
It was his only chance to make some meaning out of his already screwed up life and he took it with all amount of seriousness. He found a liking for literature in no time and by the time he was done with secondary school, he had all the right words to spin a girl’s head – the only reason why he fell in love with literature.
The old man, who was a mathematics teacher could not afford furthering Bobo’s education to the tertiary level so Bobo had to start doing menial jobs to keep away from being idle.
As luck and coincidence would have it, he met Bobo in a laundry and dry cleaning shop where he had gone to seek employment. He got the job and though it was a very tasking one with little pay, the happiness of being with Benji again made up for everything. Benji was no longer staying with his Uncle, he had ran away with the man’s money, which he claimed he kept in a safe place for the future. It turned out that Benji still had future plans for both of them and that included Bobo also following his footsteps by carting away with all the money the old man he lived with had saved for a very long time.
Unfortunately, he found out where all the money went to. They all went to a gang Benji had been owing. How Benji got to owe them such an amount that seemed somehow impossible to be fully repaid was something he couldn’t understand but somehow they had managed to offset the whole debt and Benji fortunately hit big cash from Baba Ijebu two months later. Not long after, Benji had also gotten linked to a soap factory through a friend.
good things come in chains, Oh yes it does.
The friend taught him how to operate the machines. It was a risky thing but the pay was high. After a couple of trials without errors – as errors might mean losing some fingers or even a whole hand – Benji became a pro and subsequently brought Bobo into the factory. It took Bobo close to a month before he could master the controls but finally he did and it paid quite enough money to sustain the two things life can never take away from him – women and smoke.
The lottery money helped Benji secure the house they both lived in while their pooled salaries took care of the yearly rent and necessities of the house. They both slept on the same posh bed of the well furnished one bedroom.
That should be about as comfortable as comfort can be, Right?
Bobo shook away the thoughts as he walked under the window of the zinc kiosk that also served as a shade. The kiosk seemed to be the only open shop in the whole street. It was very strange to him, totally unlike his street. He ordered a pack of cigarette and some tom tom sweets.
He watched the two figures standing in the middle of the road through thick upward spiraling clouds of smoke. It was the lady that had tripped over his foot in the bus and the man on suit that had helped her up. He doubted if they had both been together from the start of the journey, he wouldn’t stand another guy slap his woman in public and he doubted any man would. That was good enough reason to prove the fact that he definitely was not her man yet; Just another opportunist trying to struggle his way to a one night stand.
But, what if he was her man and she was pissed at him for not standing up for her? He looked the man over from head to toe and was filled with envy. That was the kind of man he had seen himself becoming in future but here he was…
And so what?
He sighed. He was his own man and hoped not to be like any other, instead they should wish to be like him for one, he was no man to stand any bullshit.
He would have his way, he would have that Lady by any means at all an no one was going to get in his way.
“Aboki, abeg come make i ask you something.” Bobo said in his most colloquial tone.
The Hausa man who was the owner of the zinc kiosk, still overwhelmed with happiness at selling a pack of cigarette just in one night – something that he hardly accomplishes in a whole day – rushed out to meet his customer.
“Come look these people wey stand for road.” He pointed their direction.
The Hausa man came close to Bobo, following the hand he pointed and squinted his eyes for a clearer view.
“I see am. Dem be two person.”
“Correct! You sabi any of them?”
“Wallahi, i sabi only the woman. I fine well well.”
“Aboki!!! You sef like beta thing?” Bobo teased.
“Kai! Me don dey look that girl efriday wey i dey come here come buy smething.” The Aboki bit his index finger to emphasize the truthfulness of his words.
“Ehen! Correct guy.” He puffed smoke into the Aboki’s face as he turned to face him. “You sabi her name?”
“Errhmmm. Saindra… YES! na wetin i dey hear people call am.” He appeared to rethink the answer. “Evin Saindy na my name.”
“Where she dey live?”
“Down down down. That place i dey see black gate.”
He followed the hand and finally marked out a gate on the verge of falling, far in the distance. There was a gutter before the gate and on the board that covered the wide gutter stood a wooden stall painted with the indomie noodles design. He took a mental note of that.
“Thank you Aboki.” He dipped his hand into his pocket, considered giving him a tip and thought otherwise. “Give me another pack of cigar.”
He sat smoking for sometime after Sandra or Sandy (which was what the Aboki must have meant) had dismissed the man on black suit. He sat gathering his thoughts and composure, this was his first shot and they always turned out to be his best. He hoped it would be same for this one, it had to worth the wait.
The street finally became silent and empty once again, the Aboki had started closing his kiosk. He bid him goodnight and walked down the sleeping street towards the house with the black gate…
* * *
Wunmi did not enter the street, she wanted to take so much care not to be seen at all and she needed enough time to plan a better confrontation with the man she had sat next to in the bus. The music trick was a very weak confrontational style and it had not paid well, there was no room for further mistakes.
She was very famished, she had purposely ignored lunch as it was needed for her weight loss. It would be difficult to think straight without food this night and she really needed to map out a plan. A plan that must somehow get her into his house.
At the mouth of the bus stop, she found a shop that prepared on-the-spot noodles and egg. She walked in and sat down on a long bench.
Two other customers sat at the bench opposite her, they were teenage boys and were ogling her, with their eyes never straying from her breast. She felt uncomfortable under their amorous scrutiny and got off her seat to stand next to the fat woman preparing the delicacy. They followed her with their eyes still. She felt like spanking them hard but not on the buttocks ( they would love that ) and plucking their eyes off as well. They had totally forgotten the steaming noodle in front of them.
She stood close to the woman, close enough to perceive the stink of her sweat which was far better than watching those kids eat her up with their eyes. Stacks of empty crates that once contained eggs were piled on the ground and empty packs of noodles were scattered about the floor. She was almost tempted to ask the woman how much she purchased her crate of eggs, where she purchased them and how many crates she purchased in a day. She should make customers but that was not her pressing need at the moment and getting into a discussion now would take the time she would have used making a perfect mental plan. She ordered her meal instead and looked far into the street.
The street looked empty and she wondered if it led to another that led out to another bus stop. She prayed it was not so and fortunately for her, she made out two silhouetted figures standing in the middle of the road. It must be them, she thought. She could shoot the other lady if she had a gun but that would be of no use, for by the time she would be through with the plan which was still under construction, there’d be nothing to worry about.
She ate her meal voraciously and freely without the scrutiny of the boys – they had hurried out immediately they were done with their meal, just when hers was almost done. She washed down the meal with a bottle of Fanta, it wasn’t cold enough to her taste put it served the purposed they were intended to serve.
She quickly drafted a mental plan of how to get her man and after huge progress, she dozed off. It had been a tiring day for her, she just wished the day was over soon.
The soft spatter of the rain on the roof of the shop was what woke her up. She glanced over her watch, 10:07 PM. Frustration quickly washed over her, she felt she must have missed him. He would have been long gone and her plans would be totally useless, the whole night would be totally useless.
She ran out into the rain but was called back in by the fat woman for not having paid for her meal. In her panic, she pushed a five hundred naira note into the hand of the fat woman and rushed into the rain again, down the dark street.
The rain had started to fall in big drops now, thunder and lightening had accompanied it to add enough effect and she could hardly see anything. She ran faced down, using her hands to cover her head. Her mind was a whirlpool of confusion and fear. Just then, she bumped hard into something, it was as strong as a tree and she feared it was just so but before she reached the ground, firm hands suspended her. She opened her eyes then and the first thing she saw was his briefcase.
He rushed her into a the shade of a nearby shop, half carrying her. She was soft and that close, his nose caught a whiff of her perfume. The shop was closed just like all others and silent.
“Thank you so much.” She feigned terrible shivering.
“You again?” He asked in dismay at finally realizing who it was that had bumped into him. “You’re shivering violently.”
“Yee— zzz!” She gnashed her teeth at pronouncing word. “I don’t react well to cold. I’m so cold. And you scared the hell out of me.”
“Would my suit be of any help?” He pulled it off and handed it to her.
She tried to cover her body with it but her fingers were shivering terribly so it fell out of her grip – she let it fall out of her grip. He went close to her, bent and picked up the suit. After dusting it, he helped cover her with it.
“Please don’t go.” She clung desperately to him immediately he was done wearing her the suit.
It was more than just some words that formed a sentence, it was a request and a sincere one at that. There was nothing he would have said then that would have made sense. She was hugging him tightly, her body pressing against his and the warmth…
oh God! The warmth of a woman, he thought.
He returned the embrace and they remained that way in silence listening to the music of the rain on the zinc. This was not her plan but it was working fine. Things might just turn out right in the end, for both of them and tonight would never be erased from her memory.
“I lost my way.” She sobbed, “what was i thinking when I boarded the wrong bus?”
“Shhh! Don’t say any other thing.” He patted her hair, “It has happened. We’ll sort things out tomorrow. I have to get home. You don’t have-”
He remembered what she had just disclosed and ceased the sentence. As if clearly reading the intended question, she nodded her head in firm negation and looked up at his face, with her tear stricken one.
“Okay then, lets go home.”