* * *
The memory of his late wife’s last moment on Earth filled him as he sat on the white sheet of the hospital bed. She lying almost lifeless with a tube covering her nose, and him squeezing her hand tight begging that she don’t leave him; promising to always let her have her way and to love her more than ever. It was strange how sure he had felt she was asleep even after the doctor had announced to him that she had left the place and was now with God. That strong feeling of loss was beginning to fill him up once again. He might just be getting ready to witness a replay of that terrible day. Ochuko took Sandy’s left hand is both of his and this time, he did not make promises, he prayed.
“You’re hurting me.”
Ochuko’s eyes flew open, and his prayers were cut short, never to be returned to. He stared down at the figure on the bed who looked like one just waking up from deep slumber and his heart was overjoyed; inexplicable bouts of emotion ran through him. All at once, he felt like hugging her, kissing her and thanking her. He released his grip on her hand, realizing that he had actually been crushing it. He moved his hand over to her face and stroked her brows instead.
“Thank you Sandy. Thank you for –”
He didn’t know what to say though there were lots to say. He wanted to thank her for the same things his wife had failed to grant him on that last minute of her life. The thing was there was no way he could tell her these things since she wasn’t yet his, he had not made his intentions known to her. This love had sprung up on him like a volcano and blown away his heart. He knew from that moment he had seen her in the bus – sitting with a peaceful air about her – that she was all he needed. But the problem was claiming her. There was no better way of doing that other than with words. He’d always had problem wooing women. He wished she could look through his eyes and read every single line of emotion his heart was letting out.
“So it is you again?” She asked, shutting her eyes.
“Yes, It’s me.” He smiled.
“Why do you keep springing up on me at times like this?”
This was the second time he was interfering in her life. The first time had been to save her from a costly embarrassment, and now it was to sit beside her whilst she woke up from what had looked like deep unconsciousness. These two situations seemed unrelated to him, but they both had something binding them. And that was him.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you want from me Ochuko?”
Dear God! She finally called him by the name and not ‘Sir’ or ‘Mister.’ It sounded sweet coming from her. He stared at her longer, taking in her beauty and storing it in that secret compartment of his memory resistant to bugs, never to forget it. She looked strained. The doctor was right on this one – she needed rest, but Ochuko understood that this might be his last chance to start the spark for what might turn out to be a blazing relationship somewhere along the line. Bright rays of hope sprouted from the fact that she had finally called him by his name. It meant a lot to him. He interpreted it to mean a kind of familiarization. A shedding of the outer barrier…
“I want you Sandy, with all of my heart. If only you can look into my eyes and see the truth in the every word I say, if only you can let me into your life. Give me a trial and I promise never to screw it up.”
“Men and their one chance that always spread into more chances. See, my life is very screwed right now and I don’t want anyone to screw it further. Please can we leave it at that?” A drop of tear fell down her eyes and she broke contact with his eyes so he wouldn’t notice.
Those gray eyes were having deep effects on her in a way she couldn’t explain. Somehow she sensed wretchedness in this man, a kind worse than her pile of misfortunes, and it sought her attention. She could give him the chance, could ease his pain and make him happy… and even get all the time in the world to get entranced in those lovely gray eyes. But would that erase all her pains? Would it sort out all the complications of her life?
“I’ve been hurt in so many places. I just need to be left all alone to heal. Maybe when I’m healed, I could consider love again.” She raised herself to a sitting position and stared past him to the door. “You hear?”
“You’re punishing yourself for something you didn’t cause, and punishing me too.” He drew closer to her.
“I’m not punishing you. You have your life to live. You are wealthy and don’t have the problem most of us poor folks have. Even if you do have, you sort it out quickly with money and live happily again. Why don’t you leave us to take care of ourselves likewise, leave us to find back our happiness? It’s not fair how –” She suddenly burst into tears.
She didn’t mean to say such words but these were exactly the truth. Her mother died because there was no money to pay her bills, Cas had messed up with her heart because she was poor and depended on him for everything. Even the doctor wanted to take advantage of her because he sensed her helplessness. The whole thing was so unfair.
Ochuko tried to cover her in an embrace but she resisted, pushing herself farther back until her back was pressed to the wall.
“Don’t touch me, you opportunist. Just leave. I don’t want to see you again.” She commanded him in a rather high tone.
Shock and unbelief were poor words to describe the way Ochuko felt at the sudden outburst of anger. He had caused none of her pains; instead he had offered to relieve her of them. But he didn’t blame her for the way she felt, she had the right to feel unhappy at the world. It seemed to have lost memory of her existence and moved on. More than ever now, he wanted to be closer to this lady. To share her sorrow and be that pillar she could lean on. He felt they were like the only surviving victim of a terrible catastrophe. Both having their fair share of misfortune.
“Go away!!!” She cried.
He reluctantly got up from the bed and straightened his pants. He stood there for a while confused on what to say and how to walk away. He just stared at her tearstained face. She stabbed her finger in the air, indicating that he left. He turned around slowly and faced the door, there was nothing else to do but leave as instructed.
“I’m sorry.” He muttered and shut the door behind him.
Sandy went into fresh tears the moment Ochuko was out of the room. She felt terribly bad and all alone. She had just dispelled the one person who could help turn her life around without much reason for doing so. Were it not for the despairing route her life was taking, she would have thought very little about accepting Ochuko. She might not even give it a thought at all, just accept him and see what story they would make. He was handsome and a perfect gentleman, and loving…
The thought of Bobo strolled in then, making her feel treacherous. She remembered how he had given her a good laugh despite her state. How he had looked at her with a certain kind of understanding as she explained her plight to him, rather than with the lustful stare most men would have given her, especially knowing she owed an obligation for saving her life. Yes, she owed him a whole lot and she would try to fulfill them as much as she could, even if it meant being his fiance. She liked him.
The thought of beginning afresh with Bobo, but not without caution brought hope to her. She wiped her eyes dry with the white bedspread and called for a nurse, avoiding the better option of getting the doctor. She needed to be at home, and not with a fight. Maybe, she thought, she could convince the nurse enough…
* * *
He walked with his head bent and hands in his pocket along the silent passageway, brooding about his failed attempt at winning the woman he had come to love dearly. He didn’t see the black figure hurrying down the dark passage; neither did he hear the little creak the door gave as the figure closed it behind her. He even walked six steps past his daughter’s ward before remembering his intention since leaving Sandy’s ward.
Ochuko retraced his steps and gathered his composure; he didn’t want his daughter to notice his dejected look. He stood there in front of the door for a while, busying himself with thoughts of his next course of action in his advances to Sandy. A small voice inside him advised that he let go and allow the natural course of life run through, but he perfectly knew that he would lose her forever once he let this unplanned meeting today pass away. Fate might not provide him with another opportunity like their coincidental meeting today, and he might not be able to locate her house as he had planned. He could go back and make his last trial. Even if it still met solid barrier, he could opt to drive her back home since she’d been pressing the doctor for discharge. That way, he would not entirely lose her.
The need to enter into his daughter’s ward became unnecessary. He might walk into the room to find his little princess awake, and there was just no way he wouldn’t spend some reasonable time with her. That would be a big time killer. And he had less of time on his hands. He edged away from the door and went to take position by the window. This one had the blind tied in a small knot. He peered in through the glass with his hands making a circle around his face to shield the bursting rays from the bulb.
A smile crept up his face at what he saw. Lucy had a pillow covering her face. He shook his head and wondered the ease and speed at which an action turned into a habit. Lucy had complained to him one early morning that sleeping with the light on gave her nightmares. He had tried to convince her that nightmares were a compilation of our deepest fears coming to manifestation in our unconscious state. If she stopped being scared of chickens – as this was her most terrifying animal – she would sleep with the lights on and have no nightmare, he had explained. That night, after putting her to bed with her routine night story, he had deliberately left the light on. He came back to check on her three hours later when he was done studying and found her covered from head to feet with her blanket. She testified to him the next morning that she had a dreamless night. And from that night on, Lucy never failed to cover her face at night whenever the light was on…
Now she had used the available – the pillow. He knew she would be having a dreamless day, but wished she had a sweet dream rather. He spread his lips on the glass and blew his only daughter a kiss before turning away. Unknown to him, his daughter was breathing her last.
* * *
Again, Bobo found it difficult locating Sandy’s place. Twice, he walked past the entrance of her street without sparing it a glance. It was only when he reached the last bus stop that the first trace of doubt began to surface in his mind. He had to replay the whole scene of that night when he had met her, stopping at the part where he had realized she could just be the same girl in the dream who had given him a healthy boner, and how important and pressing it was that he got off the bus and apologize to her.
With all these running in his mind, he took cautious steps back to where the driver had finally stopped him after much pleas. From there everything began to register – the calmness of the street on weekends being one hugely populated with school buildings, the strategically located zinc kiosk, the Indomie painted wooden kiosk standing on wooden planks that ran across a large gutter, and the fence with black gate that seemed to be held loosely by just a hinge. This was the place alright, this was Sandy’s place.
Bobo stood there for some seconds and let his eyes crawl up the length of the building. If it were built in Ebute-Meta instead of this secluded and imposing part of Isolo, he could have sworn that the house would fall in on itself the following week. He let out a sigh he’d long wanted to get rid of and stepped in through the gate, touching the front of his trousers to make sure his pack of cigarette was still in place. And yes, it still was. This sort of gave him an ineffable sense of power and confidence that he began to whistle an unfamiliar tune until he was facing the door to Sandy’s flat.
The key was no longer under the welcome mat, neither was it poking out of the key hole, it was just somewhere else that he didn’t care about. He didn’t need it anyway, the door was unlocked. But he had searched under the mat, not out of routine, but because it made him feel like a member of the family who lived in the flat. Presently, that was all he wanted; to feel welcomed, to feel accepted and in control. He turned the door handle and it responded.
Sunlight poured in through the windows and illumined the room he had gotten his first look at late in the night with the poor light of a rechargeable lamp. The difference was plain. The sitting room was spacious and somehow empty, purely in contrast to the compacted look of last night. Also the haunted feel was gone and in its stead was a feeling of warmth.
But something stole the room’s warmth and robbed him of that temporal feeling of quietude. It was the pool of blood clotting in a corner; the regular pattern of the bloody footprint that disappeared towards the door he had just come in through; an overturned stool; and an abandoned torch with broken screen that emitted stuttering orange light. A battery powered torch, the sort that modernization had pushed into extinction. This item was odd and out of place to Bobo who was at the moment recollecting the incidence of last night. Questions were rushing into his head and causing traffic to his free flow of thought.
Somehow, he came to accept that the pool of blood belonged to Sandy. The overturned stool could be logically explained too, but not the bloody prints on the floor, or the metal torch. Well, if he got around the matter some more, he could bring him to agree that the prints belonged to Cas. Then what explanation could the torch have? A lot of possibility was all it came with. The possibility that Cas might have called someone else – an accomplice; that someone had happened on them by chance and … most definitely, Cas had dealt appropriately with him, telling from the broken torch’s screen; that the police (they still use such torches) had come in at the nick of time and hijacked Cas, but not without some tussle… and where does any of these possibilities leave Sandy? The answer was simple. Nowhere.
It was quite strange how he had suddenly become a detective all because of a lady, where barely two days ago he would’ve sworn with his life that he would never lose a hair for a lady. He had gone through a swift transformation in just a couple of hours, a transformation that was still ongoing. It would be complete the moment he got Sandy for himself and subsequently stopped smoking. He mused over this future time, saw its unblemished perfection and swore to never to back out until it came to fulfillment.
There was no need wasting precious time on thoughts. He had started to this place with a plan in mind, so he quickly disposed himself to the tasks he intended to accomplish. And in a matter of hours, he had the sitting room scrubbed clean and every piece of furniture put back in place. Just then, power was restored. He turned on the T.V, it was on Silverbird, and Music Africa was the ongoing programme. He wasn’t interested. Long gone were the days when Music Africa played the people’s choice tracks; these days the songs they played were those of artistes nobody knew and might never know. They were all about noisy beats and little meaningless wordings.
He advanced to the bedroom and found it very untidy. Items of clothing were scattered about the bare mattress. A part of the bed cover was tucked in an edge in the bed while rest spilled to the ground; shoes and slippers were strewn all over the carpet, and the numerous bags that stole most of the space were overfilled with clothes and gaping. Also, pants, bras and lingerie hung on the iron framework on the window that served as burglarproof. Bobo immediately set to work restoring the room to order. He poured out the content of each bag onto the bed and meticulously folded back the clothes into the bags, putting pieces of jewelleries into the pouches attached to the bags. Afterwards, he got a clean cover and spread on the mattress and discarded the former one into a bag meant for dirty clothes. He was then left with the pants hanging on the iron framework.
He plucked a pant, sat comfortably on the newly arranged bed and sniffed it. For a considerable time, he held the pant to his nose with his eyes firmly shut. He had read in crime novels where the villains took as souvenir the pants of their victims, sniffed then real good and masturbated subsequently. The pants always smelt feminine according to these make-believes. All he could make out so far from the long sniff was the distinguishable scent of Ariel’s lavender and lily perfume. He looked at the pants in frustration, waiting to feel the first development of an erection. None came. He sighed and got up from the bed, retrieved the rest of the underwear and tucked them into a half empty bag he found which contained items of the sort.
The kitchen was spotlessly clean with everything hanging in place. It was the very definition of orderliness. The place was worth commending. Were Sandy standing beside him at this moment, he would have placed a commending kiss on her lips. Yes, right there at the centre of her lips, SMACK!
He moved around the space of the kitchen, observing carefully the arrangement, and marking out the items he would need to prepare the meal he had in mind. Following this short exercise was a visit to the fridge. It was old but not tired. It in fact still sparkled. There was a sticker on the door with the inscription, ‘AS COOL AS ME.’ Bobo decided to check the validity of this proclamation and was again impressed. A chilly draft escaped the fridge as he opened it, he could almost see its misty cloud. There wasn’t much in the fridge – few bottles of malt, three eggs, a cup of butter, two apples, and half loaf of bread. No water. That struck him as odd, but oddity was a necessity in the world we lived in. Bobo thought that it was the element that distinguished the genius from common man…
What he needed was exactly where it should be. He found yams stacked like firewood in a small cupboard and picked out the healthiest one. He joggled it like clowns in circuses did pins, enjoying its weight on his palms, down to the sink where he was to peel it. Bobo was a good cook, thus he needed not be oriented on the routines to follow to prepare a tasty yam porridge. He went about them from experience and in no time, the air around the kitchen was filled with the rich aroma of palm oil and spices.
Just as Bobo was at the sink rinsing off lather from the plate he intended to dish his meal with, his eyes caught some movement by the window above the sink. He saw what it was and grinned. He knew it right from first sight that that whole plan of this building was a joke. The window above the kitchen’s sink overlooked a neighbour’s bathroom. Well, the bathroom’s small window to be precise. But it was giving a satisfactory view.
He carefully put down the ceramic plate so as not to draw the attention of the female having her shower at the other end. He then set his full concentration on the free show.
The lady was presently backing him, and the window was able to display a more than a decent part of her back view. His eyes trailed from her hair, which she was scrubbing, down the nape of her neck and slightly down her shoulders. He let it rest there. The sides of her breast caught his attention. A large set of twin she’s got there, he thought as his eyes followed their upward and downward movement, which was provoked by the upraised and moving arms. He swallowed hard and forced his eyes to continue its stroll down her back side. It traced her spine down to her slender waist, and up to that point where it began to rise to form a slope. That was the part he was very interested in, he would look down that slope long and hard, all the way to where it branched off in legs. But unfortunately, the window deprived him of this view.
This was not satisfactory enough, Bobo complained silently to himself, almost banging his fist on the sink in despair. She turned then to increase the water pressure on the shower. Bobo’s mouth flew open and remained that way without his knowing. His eyes were transfixed at her twin, they were really large as he had suspected. They surprisingly stood firm despite their fullness and size. Lather covered those pointed… she caught his gaze, and he ducked instinctively with the speed of a bullet. He counted to twenty, while his boner began to deflate, before he raised up his head again. The curtain – black, ugly, and brooding – was what he met instead. It wouldn’t even bless him with a silhouette of the figure behind them.
Bobo dished out his meal into the plate at last and carried it to the sitting room in shaky hands. He was feverishly hot also. He was very angry about the incident. Not for being caught, but because it had gotten him in the mood and failed to satisfy him. The place in his mind where thoughts of Sandy dwelled was wiped clean, and those twin boobs replaced them. He forgot about his meal on the table and went into a lustful fantasy. He got out his pack of cigarettes and lit a stick, unaware of this action.
By the time he was crushing what remained of the cigarette on the table, the door swung open and standing there at the entrance was a lady with nothing but a small towel wrapped around her, revealing so much of her thighs. Bobo swallowed hard the second time.
“What was that for?” She lashed out at Bobo.
Bobo simply drove the fork into the yam in slow motion.
“You have to give me a reply. Don’t even try to act like it’s not you I’m talking to, or like you don’t know what you did.” She slammed the door and came to stand in front of him. Arms akimbo.
“If only you can come out straight, I would be appreciative.” He flashed her a small smile.
“Why were you peeping at me while I was taking my bath? Don’t you have a sense of privacy?”
“No. I don’t.” He said and stared into her eyes.
Amazingly, Bobo observed that she wasn’t staring back at him. She stared at his broad hairy chest and that face that had looked like a venom box was now subtle. He hadn’t remembered to put back on his shirt after cleaning the house.
“Hey! Look at me when I talk.” He flashed a flirting glance at her this time.
“Yeah. Like you were looking at me through the window abi?” She reprimanded, but in a rather soft tone
“Well, I was just thinking of how to praise you for such beautiful body. You don’t know the weapon you have there.”
“I didn’t ask for your compliment. I just came to warn you.” She moved closer to him, and he pushed the stool with his meal on it away to make way for her. She placed a finger on his chest, added a second finger, a third, and then all five fingers splayed over his chest. “Stay away from that window. I do take my bath around this time of the day and later in the evening at around 6 p.m. And as you now know, that is my flat over there, so–”
“So?” He ran a hand on her visible thigh. She batted it away
“So learn to give me my privacy.” She moved away from him. “I’m going in to close that window completely. It used to be permanently closed until… I don’t just know what you did to it.”
She stared at him a little while as if unsure of her statement, then turned away and sashayed into the kitchen.
Bobo saw something in those final stare. The meaning he read into the stare was – INVITATION. His heart rocked hard and once again, he had developed a healthy boner. Jimmy was just always on the look out. But he feared receiving an embarrassment. He might have read a wrong meaning to that stare. She actually could be closing the window permanently. Who knows what she would do after that? She might even go as far as reporting him to Sandy. That would be bad. He wanted to impress Sandy and such news at a start would be nowhere near impressive… for starters.
He drew back the stool and continued to pierce the heart of the yam with his fork. He made up his mind to forget about the lady in the kitchen and eat like he had wanted to minutes ago. But, the lady was taking so much time to come out. His heart was beating harder now. Maybe he should go in and check if she was encountering any difficulty and give her a hand. He knew it was bad idea before he mulled it over in his mind. He dropped his fork and stood up, he had lost all appetite.
There was time enough for him to walk out through the door as a small voice in him advised. He neglected it and stealthily approached the kitchen entrance. The lady had not closed the window neither was she making any attempt at doing so. She sat spread legged on the sink with her arms folded over her breasts, and a sulky expression on her face. The towel had traveled way up to her waist and it gave forth a better view, Bobo’s preference.
Bobo looked away, only briefly and made a smile appear on his face. And the thought that ran across his mind at the moment was simple: OH LORD! THIS MUST BE HOME…