It ended almost as quickly as it had started. Deep regret filled Bobo as he pulled his short back to his hips. He marched straight to the living room without turning back to look at the smiling lady on the sink. His food had gotten cold and though he had regained his appetite, his rolling stomach didn’t want any of it. He pushed it aside and got his complete set of clothing from the chair where it had been lying. He entered into them and carried the plate of untouched porridge back to the kitchen. The food on the plate looked terrible from so many poking and scattering; the redish-orange porridge was smeared all over the plate. He could not think of what to do with the food. He had to finally settle for the dreadful option of disposing it since putting it back into the pot would be inappropriate. Wasting food to Bobo was a sin worthy of the deepest and hottest chambers of hell. There were just too many people out there without anything to eat. And if his life doesn’t right itself soon, he would be joining these people.
He opened the small cupboard above the sink and found variety of items tied into small black nylon bags. He picked one out at random; the content was stock fish. He took the fishes out, put them in a clean bowl, and disposed his food into the nylon bag. The lady yawned and he pivoted swiftly on the balls of his heels.
“What?!” He barked.
“What are you shouting for?” She asked him softly.
She shifted on the sink till her back touched the wall, brought her knees together and hugged them. Her towel shifted too, exposing a great deal of her thighs and the private section beyond. The view was too tempting. He quickly looked away, flustering with anger.
“I’m hungry.” She said.
“There are more yams in the pot over there.” He said, pointing to the gas burner. He then waved the black bag in his hand. “This one would go to the poor later today.”
“You didn’t give me enough, I need more. A woman like me always want more.” She smiled down at him lubriciously.
He felt her gaze on his trousers, it was heavy and directed at a particular spot. The thing in that spot began to grow uncomfortably heavy. The shame it brought him heightened his regret and aggravated his anger. Bobo was beside her in a flash. He seized her left hand and hoicked. She shot out from the sink and almost went crashing to the ground but for his firm grip. He dragged her to the door of the kitchen; past that to the door of the living room, and out he threw her. This time with little force.
She staggered a little then gained balance. She looked at him with that smile still splayed over her face. She wasn’t beautiful, but the smile did help transform her a little. She was also not angry. This infuriated Bobo the more but he chose to get a grip on himself. He had to stop at the much he’d already done.
“Why did you do that?” She asked.
“That’s the only thing I can do to prevent having a corpse to my name.”
“Funny.” She said. “You’re mad about the sex and not me, I know. Most of the men I’ve fucked felt the same way. I think all men feel that way after fucking a whore. But I’m not a whore, I’m your neighbour. Like I said earlier, I stay…”
She was talking too many things that Bobo didn’t want to hear. Her speech was like liquor on fresh wound. He bared his teeth and began to close the door. Never has he slammed a door at anyone’s face. He was trying his best not to do so now.
“Wait.” She said, wedging the door with a hand. Her towel slipped down a little, but enough to reveal the perfect slope of the top of her bosom. He bit his lips.
“See, if you’re afraid of me getting pregnant, lay off the fear. I’m as sterile as the desert, my doctor said so himself. But I take pills for extra measure. You know, I believe in miracles and magic.” She swallowed hard. “You were very good. You rode me longer than any man ever had. You would get over your madness later, and if you don’t get over me, be free to come over to…”
At last the door completed its slow travel and jammed shut. Her voice was cut off instantaneously. Bobo leaned to the door for some time, pressing his ear to it to catch the sound of her footfall. He relived the short pleasurable moment they had shared together. He wanted more, and that was the bad thing about the whole mess. He had desecrated the house of the lady he so wanted to please. It came to him then that he had taken a careless risk. What would he have explained if Sandy had caught him right there on the sink panting like a horse? The thought sent chills running through him, and more regrets.
He slowly walked away from the door and swept his eyes about the room. It looked filthy to him, very filthy. He began once again to clean the house; in a greater frenzy this time. When he was done, he stood some distance away from the sink. The stainless steel sparkled from the effect of the sun streaming in through the window. He had spent the last twenty minutes cleaning it but he still wasn’t contented. There were dirts on that sink that wouldn’t go away. It was his dirt. A dirt hidden to every other eye but his. He would keep seeing it for as long as he remained in this house. They would remove that sink and replace it with another, he told himself.
He turned the word over in his head as he reclined on the sofa. The word was a future word. He saw that future growing imminent. Sandy liked him, he knew, and sitting down here waiting for her return was just very perfect. He would never run away from her life even when things got ugly, was what this gesture meant to him. But he had run, his conscience gnawed at him, and how would he explain that to her? He would if he was still the Bobo he knew. The Bobo who could talk a nun into stripping…
Bobo was brought out of his dose some couple of minutes later by a knock on the door. He sprang out of the sofa and wiped his face nonchalantly with a hand. He walked over to the door in slow steps, pulled the bolt, and turned the handle.
* * *
He pulled the car in front of the rusty black gate that was slanted to an awkward angle. At an afterthought, he began to reverse.
“Hey, that position was okay.” She said.
“I know, but this one would be better.” He said.
“It would have been faster for me the other way. I’d just come down and march straight to the house. It would’ve saved me the little walk.”
“And earn me the opportunity to help reduce the stress of your little walk.” He had parked the car well behind a dusty Honda Civic.
“What do you mean?” She frowned at him.
Ochuko pulled the key out of ignition, slipped his index finger into the ring, jiggled it, and stepped out of the SUV. Sandy sat watching him perform these acts. She watched him walk around to her side of the car and opened the door. She stepped out with a small smile twitching the sides of her mouth, a smile she had tried very hard to suppress. This man can act like a boss sometimes, she thought.
“So what now?” She asked, arms akimbo.
“So we do that little walk to your house.” He started walking towards the gate.
“Like he knows where he is going to.” She called out from behind him, still glued to where she stood.
“You just stand there and watch me walk straight into the house and turn on the A.C. I’m dying for that right now.”
There was no A.C in her old fashioned house. The thought of it filled her with shame but she brushed it aside. She ran up to meet him, and pulled his hand.
“Are you sure you really want to get into my house?”
“I didn’t seek permission in the first place, honey.”
She threw back her head and laughed. It was not about what he had said, but about how he had said it. About the expressions on his face when he said it. He smiled in a confused way, not understanding what she was laughing about.
“You are not romantic at all Ochuko.” She went into smaller fits of laughter. “It was like you said, ‘I didn’t seek permission in the first place, homie.’ The way you rushed that heart melting word, plus the plain expression on your face. Oh my God, do I look like your homie?”
She was rocking with laughter again. It pleased him to see her laugh. She looked enchanting when she laughed, but that was just the bonus. He was happier about two things: one, she had found him funny. Well, if not him, something about him. And two, she had easily called his name, totally forgetting about that rigid sense of formality that behoved her in his presence. They were making progress.
“My second advice for the day Ochuko, try to start spending more time with your wife. You look to me like the sort of man that dwells in his work and block out every other part of his life.”
Sandy saw the sudden doleful expression that crossed his face, saw the effort he made to drive it away. He had a phony smile on his face now. She would’ve thought it credible had she not been watching him keenly. This man had a lot of secret boxes whose locks she longed to pop. But she knew she didn’t want many men in her life now, one was enough. Even the one, she doubted if he wouldn’t turn out like the former. She was beginning to buy that sage idea of the brokenhearted ladies, that fabled All Men are the Same saying. Bobo would be different, she thought, but drove the idea away immediately. She had to be insane. She couldn’t remember Bobo proposing to her in that short time they had spent last night, and here she was, calling him her man. But he had made her laugh, he had been very caring, he had… She frowned.
“What?” Ochuko asked, peering down at her. Their faces almost touched.
“Nothing.” She pushed his face away. “Lets move our legs.”
“Sandy,” he called as she led him to her apartment. “Can we have some discussion once we’re in? I mean, some heart to heart discussions.”
Of course, she almost found herself saying. It was exactly what she wanted.
“Discussions? Yes. But Heart to Heart? No.” She looked over her shoulder at the dismay on his face and wished she could take back the comment. “You have to move faster.”
They were soon standing in front of an old wooden door. The door though old still looked strong, and freshly sprayed. Sandy reached for the door handle and turned it, it didn’t open. She turned a frowning face at him briefly, then concentrated her gaze on the welcome mat she was lifting. There was dust piled beneath and nothing else. She rapped her knuckles on the hard wood. Nothing happened, no one came forth. She was about knocking again when they suddenly heard the click of a bolt being unlocked.
The door creaked open and a face appeared before the door would go all the way. Sandy was filled with shock at the sight of the person, whereas, Ochuko was filled with distraught and an anger that was working itself slowly into his system.
“Bobo?” Sandy asked. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, come in sugarbunch.” Bobo looked frantically about and past them. “Let’s make sure that the mosquitoes still remain homeless.”
Her shock gave way to amusement, and she hardly knew she was laughing until Ochuko sneezed. The reality of the situation rushed back to her immediately.
“Sorry, dear.” She turned to Ochuko who now had a kerchief pressed to his nose. Had she just called him dear? And what was that expression on Bobo’s face? Dear God. “Please lets step in.”
They did step in with Sandy holding Ochuko by the left wrist, and Ochuko sneezing some more into his hanky, while Bobo shut the door.
* * *
There was this kind of happiness Casmir felt at the moment that he’d never felt in his life before. It was the kind that accompanied having one’s lucrative product patented. The monopolistic kind of happiness. As he killed the noisy engine of the Yamaha and came down, he felt like screaming triumphantly to the wind and dealing it some blows. He was at Sandy’s place at last; he was here where all mess would be tidied up. And there was nobody at his tail, nobody to interfere. It would be like before – just him and Sandy.
As he strode into the compound, he wrote off the process of reconciliation and held on the happier outcome. Sure, it would end well no matter how the process went. He was very positive he wouldn’t be doing much pleading. He’d just say: Sandy I’m sorry for my infidelity, I was out of my mind, but now I’m back to my right senses and I’ve suffered terribly for my silly mistakes. I’ve missed you Sandy. I…
Ah, those were too many words. The nail that would be hit by the hammer were just four words, the I’ve missed you Sandy. These were words that melted her heart, a heart that has always been soft. In the past, after a hot argument or serious misunderstanding, it took these words to bring her to his arms in tears.
He’d key to that and… There was something else that should give him greater leverage in this situation which he couldn’t remember. This one felt more important than the first. But his mind couldn’t quite grasp it, it was like a mist.
Casmir stopped in front of the building and propped his back to the wall. There was no way he would step into that house without having his hands wrapped around this thing. He needed this situation firmly under his control. He’d never been a soldier in his life, but he knew that a soldier’s confidence lay in the lethalness of his weapon. This thing was his weapon. Now what on the surface of the Earth was this…
The Ring, the engagement ring.
He almost jumped up with his fist in the air. This day was getting more interesting. He began walking again, smiling at what being engaged implied. With the ring – his thousands of naira ring – as a symbol of subordination (damn every milder word, it all came down to this), she would have no option but to run back to him. And why not, when he still loved her?
There was an argument going on somewhere in the compound. He chose to believe it was coming from the neighbours. It got louder and clearer as he neared Sandy’s apartment. Flashes of last night came to him. He saw himself smiling sheepishly and pinning Sandy to the wall, and then heard himself scream like a cornered rat. It has been a burn, he had thought, and then the blow. He shuddered.
He had to be very careful. He took his time to survey the environment to be certain that it was free from surprises. After what seemed like twenty minutes of looking into every dark corner, Casmir came back to Sandy’s apartment. To his dismay, the argument was ensuing right in her house, the sitting room was his best guess. He could hear her scream: STOP IT GUYS. QUIT ACTING LIKE BOYS, PLEASE!
He moved closer to the door and peered in through the keyhole, his heart beating faster.
“You know he started it, Sandy.” Bobo said. “The arrogant sonofabitch called me a low-life.”
“But you broke his nose before he called you that. That was very gross Bobo.”
Sandy was standing at the centre of the room, while the two men sat at opposite ends. Her hair was in a mess and mad circles danced in her eyes. She was staring hard at Bobo who was picking his nose and looking at his feet. Ochuko sat calmly with a piece of cloth pressed to his nose. The cloth hid his mouth, but his eyes showed dark humour.
“He had it coming. Right from the moment he picked you from that fall, acting like one stupid Hero. He had clearly blocked off all my chances of apologizing.” Bobo said.
“I was trying to show some low-life how to be a gentleman, and then he takes it like a girl – bearing grudges.” Ochuko countered cooly.
“He just called me that again, you hear that?” Bobo shot out from the chair and jumped into Sandy who stood as a restraint. She pushed him back to his seat.
“Bobo you’re beginning to piss me off. You know that?” Sandy drew closer to him.
“Sandy see, this man is not right for you. Believe me, All I’m doing right now is for your good. I want to protect you.”
“Shut up! Just shut up. Who are you protecting me from? I walked in with a man you’ve never known save for that encounter yesterday evening in the bus. You don’t even know who he is to me. You just don’t know anything, and you say you want to save me. From what exactly? Should I not get scared of a man who can throw a punch at the slightest provocation?”
“Is that it? You’re turning the whole thing around, right?” Bobo got up and paced round his chair. “Listen to me Sandy, I know these rich fellows quite well. They are racists, they don’t like anyone below their standard. If he can call me a low-life, do you think you’d be any different? He would also call you a low life at the slightest provocation.”
“Why would he?” She spat at Bobo. “Ochuko here just drove me down to my house and you’re theorizing about it already. Why do you allow jealousy do this to you?”
“It’s alright.” Ochuko stood up. He neatly folded the bloody hanky and slipped it into his pocket. “Let me take my leave. I’m sorry for the troubles I started.”
“No. Stay!” Sandy ordered. She darted her eyes to the two men. “Nobody is leaving here until we’ve straightened things out.”
“Things have already been straightened out.” Bobo said, taking back his seat. “Mr Ochuko as you can see, Sandy has already been taken. She’s no longer free. So quit forming Mr. Nice guy here, and bury all your interests.”
Casmir saw the shock written on Sandy’s face at that moment, saw the way her mouth was quivering. He’d seen this happen before; this was the height of her anger. The last time it happened, she’d jumped on him and scratched at his face. She was looking at Bobo the way she had looked at him before the scratching began. He felt this was the right time to intrude. He wouldn’t only be taking back his lady, he’d be doing somebody some good he might not come to appreciate until later. He pushed the door open.
Three faces swung at the sound of the door, they were trained on the man standing there. Casmir wouldn’t leave the door. He stood there silent, reading the expressions on their faces. That on Sandy’s face was his interest. What he saw made his heart sink. He saw raw anger simmering in her face. She raised her lips in a snarl and muttered something. He was sure it was: YOU BASTARD. He wore a smile to hide his incertitude.
“Hi Sandy.” He said. “All the troubles are over now. I’ve come back for you.”