* * *
The ride to Ochuko’s house on a keke Napep was a bumpy one but nonetheless enjoyable. The rain had reduced to it’s former drizzle and the dull quality of the after rainfall night merged with the old school blues playing from an invisible speaker in the keke made the atmosphere romantic in a dreamy way.
Wunmi sat so close to Ochuko in the back seat of the three-wheeled ride that it almost looked like he carried her on his laps. They were the carriage’s only passengers. She rested her head on his chest, relishing the scent of his masculine perfume and the confused sound of his thumping heartbeat. He ran his hand over her messy hair, stopping once in a while to untangle some of the knots. The same hand would sometimes run down the length of her arms and back up, past her shoulder and back to her hair.
She had her eyes closed but was very conscious of the movements of his hand. He was restricting movement to core areas, she knew and felt like leading his hand but that would be very unwise, instead she let her own hand trace the line of hairs running along his jaw line. They seemed to stab her soft palm in a quite exciting way that reminded her of how she used to hold her Dad’s cheek to hers, back then as a little girl, and squirm in delight at the feel of those prickling stubs of hairs on his face. She chuckled.
“What?” He pushed her slightly away from him. “I must have been acting out of loose emotions. I’m sorry if I have touched you wrongly.”
She looked at his face so suddenly. He must be joking, she thought. What man would apologize for a mutual feeling? She had not complained neither have she shown any indication of an intention to do so, all she had done was to let out a chuckle. Wasn’t that more of a total concession? Her man must be a very edgy fellow, or was it something about her?
Something dived into her mind then, and she was filled with regret at not having considered it before getting so involved. The thing was this: He might be married.
He was looking straight at the back of the driver’s head, worry lines had appeared on his face, it made him look old and weary and it sickened her to see him look so.
Wait! She still haven’t known his name.
“I’m sorry I had touched your beards the way I touched it. Like this.” She shifted closer to him and cupped his jaw.
He laughed out loud and faced her, the lines were gone and he looked once again as charming as she had known him to look. The driver looked back out of curiosity and she used her other hand to turn his face back to the road.
“Oga face road jor. I sure say you go don argue with your girlfriend tire say na only girls dem dey do Amebo, but now na you dey do am, forgetting say that your Amebo fit make us get accident.” She said mockingly.
“Errrhhhh,” the driver tried for defense, “I never get girlfriend yet. But na true sha.”
“Oh! I see. E be like say she don leave you waka, since na only her waka come, this one wey you just dey play sorrowful blues since. And make e no be say she carry all your money waka.” She walked around his defense.
They all laughed together this time and just as the laughter began to fade, she went back to resting her head on his chest.
“Better start touching me how you want to because I’m never going to resist.” She looked at him longingly.
“You know this is strange.” He said.
“Yeah, it’s strange that we have not made any introductions yet.” She sighed.
He did not give any reply, he hummed a tune that was the exact of the one playing through the speaker. The song seemed to have a special effect on him, he was lost in it and at a point he started to smile.
“Hey,” She shook him as the song came to an end, “good thing you didn’t fade away with that song, you were totally in another world.”
“I wish it were possible.” A painful smile twitched the sides of his mouth. “That was Sade Adu’s In Another Time. My wife was a die hard Sade fan and that was her favourite track. She’d sing it to me anytime i’m depressed, replacing ‘girl’ as used in the song with ‘boy’. As much as i try to hide my depression, she’d know, she just have a way of knowing. The song has been my depressant and it works best when sang by her.”
“She was a Sade fan? That means she’d have switched into something more modern and electric like Lady Gaga. Doubt she’d like that, Rihana possibly.”
He laughed heartily. “No way she would have liked that. Lady Gaga is a mad woman and I would never marry a mad woman lover.”
“Wait!” She looked perplexed.
Her fears was confirmed. It was very obvious to her now that she’d not been thinking straight. She had been worried moments ago about his marital status but now, after the disclosure, she did not feel any fear as to what his wife’s reaction would be at seeing her nor any twinge of despair at the knowing that followed – he was strictly out of bounds to her.
“Do you think it’s safe to still take me to your house, Mr …. Mr gray eyes, fine suit?”
He looked at her with a kind of fascination. Her eyes were huge, hair was in a mess (thanks to him) and her mouth was slightly ajar. He saw something that he’d not noticed before but which had been there all along begging to be seen. He saw a different kind of beauty in her. It was not that very striking type that made the birds in one’s stomach grow anxious and his actions clumsy, it was the type that demanded a closer and longer lasting gaze.
“It’s Ochuko, not gray eyes or whatever.” He said
“See name.” She repressed laughter, afraid not to offend him. “I’d just call you Chuks and you’d call me Wunmi. Is that okay by you?”
“Sure. And about my wife, she’s no more. You have nothing to fear.”
They finally arrived at their destination, he paid the driver and they turned to face a short fence with a green gate. He pushed it in and led her into the compound.
It was a very big compound with plenty of trees. A line of hibiscus shrub, well trimmed adorned the front of the house – a white bungalow. A huge mango tree stood alone at a far corner, housing two plastic chairs and a table. Short trees, which bore flowers grew as singleton in the compound and well tended carpet grasses covered the whole land mass except for a broad cement passageway that led from the entrance of the house to the gate; the distance apart was roughly hundred metres. The place was beautiful in an cool way. They walked down the passageway to the house.
The house which appeared small from the exterior, had a spacious interior. It had all the comfort one would seek for in a house. Their shoes made a clack on the tiles as he led her to a spare room.
“This place is beautiful Chuks.” She hurried to catch up with him. She had been looking at a frame on the wall which depicted soldiers on horseback with guns that looked like spear and dogs – uncountable number of them – racing along, over a flowing stream; the sky overhead was dark. It was a disturbing picture. “What happened to your wife?”
“Lets get you to bed first, it’s late already and i’m tired.” He led her through the door of a room. “You would be comfortable here I think.”
Wunmi scanned the room hastily with her eyes, registering some little details in her memory. She dumped her bag on the reading table next to the bed and went ahead to pull off her shirt.
“I thought I heard you mention that you were tired, why don’t you get off those clothes and have your night rest?”
“I would. Just wanted to make sure you are satisfied with your room. Goodnight Wunmi.” He turned to leave.
“Wait! Please wait.”
“Is this not your room?” She asked in despair even when she was very aware of the answer that would follow.
“No, this is the guest room but we keep it clean. There’s a T.V over there,” he pointed towards the wall opposite to the bed, “It’s late to eat or drink but there’re edibles in the small fridge there, close to the wardrobe. You can make yourself comfy.”
“I want to sleep in your room.”
“My room is…. see you would not understand. You just can’t sleep in my room.”
“If it’s untidy, I’d understand. I do leave my room untidy almost every morning because I have to hurry for work. We’d just sleep there anyhow and think of tidying it up in the morning. Tomorrow is Saturday, remember?” Her hopes were raised.
“That’s not it. There’re just so much… okay lets do it this way then.” He sat next to her on the bed, avoiding her face. “You’d sleep in my room and I’d sleep here, since all you want is to sleep in my room. Deal?”
“Ah ahn. That’s not what i meant now. I want to lie on the same bed with you. That’s what i meant.” She fixed him a dolorous glance.
There, she had just made another request which he found both appealing and appalling. He’d lived this long without a woman just to enable him grow a heart of stone towards them, only to realize today that he’d only succeeded in building sandstones. The slight push of a request and everything goes tumbling down.
“Don’t you think i’ve done you so much favours already?”
“I know you have, but I’m always scared of sleeping alone. I’m sure you didn’t go this far just to make me more frightened than safe.”
“Fine! Fine. Go and shower, the bathroom is over there.” He gestured towards a white door.
“Thanks. You’re such a honey.” She hugged him tightly then ran off into the bathroom.
The room had only one picture frame, it hung on the wall adjacent to the wardrobe. As Ochuko walked over to the wardrobe, his eyes happened on it and his countenance changed. She smiled at him through the glassy frame – a glassy smile – displaying white and perfect dentition, the smile conveyed a lot. Pangs of guilt shook his heart as a rush of memory consumed him…
* * *
They sat facing each other for a long time without saying a word. They listened for any sound that would indicate that Casmir has awoken but heard none, the only sound that could be heard was the ticking of the clock. The sitting room was illuminated by the dull glow of a rechargeable lamp, giving the room a haunted quality. They cast long shadows on the wall that somehow seemed to be overplaying their minor, almost nonexistent body movement.
“Thank you for your help tonight. You were my saviour.” Sandy broke the spell at last.
“Yeah. It’s something i was born to do.” He said offhandedly.
“What do you mean something you were born to do?”
“I didn’t mean I was born with a tag that said, ‘Bob the saviour’, No not that. I meant tonight. I should’ve long been home but there was a different kind of beat in my heart that told me to do otherwise if I still loved my life, so I obeyed and followed it, and see where it led me.”
Before Bobo would finish his speech, Sandy was already beaming with smiles. “You must have been a serious failure in school, how does this explain the question I asked?”
“I didn’t mean it to answer any question, I just wanted you to get my name. Did you?”
“Yes, yes. It’s Bob right? And I think instead you were born with a tag that said: Bob the joker.” She smiled sweetly. “Ehen, that brings us back to the question I asked while we were entering this room.”
“Which is?” He raised his brows
“How came to know my name.”
“How wouldn’t I? The sound of the heartbeat that brought me here said it all. ‘San-dy, San—dee’ was the only thing it said.”
“Heartbeats don’t say anything, don’t be naughty.”
“Then you’ve not been living. You’ve been a walking ghost. Listen.” He walked over to where she sat, sat close to her and put her head to his chest. “Can you hear what it’s saying now? LOVE! LOVE!! LOVE!!! You hear it right?”
“All I hear is BOB! BOB!! BOB!!!” She drew away her head from his chest and looked at his face, she was full of smiles but then it faltered.
“Hey hey hey! There’s an explanation.” Bobo pleaded, seeing the signs of recognition that had surfaced on her face.
“You were the guy that set his foot for me to trip over in the bus and returned my slap. Oh Dear God.”
“Sandy, you know it’s not exactly true the way you say it, the leg setting was not intentional.”
“And then the slap?”
Without demanding an explanation, she had slapped him first. It was only equitable that he slapped back to balance the scale of justice which must never be titled to one side and now she demanded an explanation. Bobo normally would have told her without a slight hesitation that it was an insult for a woman to assault a man but instead he warred against his philosophy and pride, giving his emotions this time, just this one time to take charge. He can’t lose her without first taking all it was she can offer, all it was that he wanted from her.
“The slap, I can explain.” He lowered his voice and his gaze. “I felt bad after returning the slap. I realized how very ungentlemanly it was and how much I owed you an apology, an atonement. That explains my coming here. I had to come down from the bus to follow you all the way to this place to apologize. Sandy, i’m sorry.”
“It’s just too much for a day. Why me?” She collapsed into a couch and went into tears.
“It’s all right Sandy, the day has come to an end already, tomorrow would be all right.” He went to her and covered her in his embrace, he knew immediately that his affair with her would be different. “Can you tell me all that has happened to you today so we can prevent it from ever occurring again?”
Sandy narrated all to him through sobs, starting from yesterday morning in Cas’ house. She told of her ill mother in the hospital whom she had gone to see early today and how she had lost everything she ever had. She left nothing out of the story.
“So what is Cas’ fate? Do you still love him?” Bobo asked after she was done narrating.
She sniffed once, cleared her tears with the back of her hand and stared deep and long into space. All the softness and tenderness was gone from her countenance. A wicked grin spread through her lips and she turned to face Bobo, a different woman.
* * *
A cluster of stars running in wild circles.
A monotonous beat,
These characterized the other world Casmir was in and more, the world was dark. He walked in it blindly with his hands stretched out, in search of something to hold, in search of that small light that usually appeared at the end of the tunnel. He found it.
It was that beautiful face of hers and it loomed into view, spreading beautiful colours to the dark, forcing it to retreat. The face smiled and said something, something she needed him to hear but the buzzing bees were louder, they were having fun.
“Sandy?” He whispered. His eyes fluttered a while then opened. He tried for her name again and coughed instead.
Casmir was finally back in this world but the other world left some trace here. The buzzing bees were caged in his eardrum, the monotonous beat was in his nose and it was painful. He ran a hand there and it came back filled with blood. The flow of air to his lungs was not enough so he supported it with his mouth.
He struggled to his feet and the world swam in and out of focus, his feet were wobbly and the darkness surrounding him took a blurry quality. He held firmly to the stairs railing to keep his balance, it helped.
The urge to puke was so great that it took him great effort to repress it. The reason he was here came to him in little bits, bringing along with it despair and anger at his failure to accomplish his mission.
“Sandy it can’t be over between us. I’d fight with the whole of my life.” He pushed himself out of the railing.
He staggered almost all the way to the door to Sandy’s apartment before he finally gained balance. The throb in his nose persisted and each beat brought with it a truckload of hate and rage. The night would never be over without him getting his lady back. Woe betide anything or anyone that stood along his path. He reached the door at last and turned the handle, it yielded but the door didn’t yield. It was locked.
They were in deep conversation in there, he knew this by pressing his ears to the door. He threw his eyes around in search of something to break the door. It didn’t matter to him if they became alert about his intrusion and prepared to welcome him, he was equal to the task.
His immediate surrounding was devoid of what he needed. He had begun collapsing at the foot of the door when he remembered that he had a spare key. Fine.
Rational reasoning came along with this and he suddenly saw the need for discreetness. He waited for them to stop their conversation before he slid the key into the keyhole.
They were holding each other in what looked like a comforting embrace on the sofa when he slipped in through the door. He tiptoed all the way to their back, grabbing a stool that blocked his way. He set the stool some distance behind them and sat on it while he listened to Sandy recount her misfortune to the young man responsible for his present state of pain. How he wished she could come to understand his own side of the story. She wouldn’t, not now with the other fellow giving her all the comfort and care. Poor girl.
“So what is Cas’ fate? Do you still love him?” The other fellow asked in a calm tone of voice.
Casmir stood up from the chair, careful not to make a sound. That done, he lifted the stool with both hands, holding it firmly to ensure that it dealt the desired blow at the desired moment. This would be a shocker. He grinned and the dull glow of the lamp gave him a grotesque look…