He proposed on the third date. An unceremonious proposal. There was nothing romantic in the way he did it, though the environment they were in had the mood set for amorousness and that sort of thing.
It was an exotic restaurant at a private beach. Their table was positioned so close to the ocean they could hear the sounds of splashing waves. A mild but consistent breeze always came and went and at each occasion it played with her hair, slapping the strands across her face and leaving her to struggle with putting it all back in place. She wasn’t really stunning but her face was comely, the type any man would find comfortable in a wife.
And that was one of the many reasons he proposed. She was perfect for him. He knew her story too well but she didn’t know him. She was a woman who had gone through the type of pain he went through, who was not crazy about the glitter and glam of the world, someone who was content with herself and was looking for companionship just as he was. He could easily read the sadness and hidden wildness in her stares; sometimes he felt her beautiful brown eyes were a mirror of his own essence. Maybe they could make each other happy. Love was not in the picture for both of them. She was fine with that. In fact, that was what she put up in her bio on her online profile in a dating website.
Not interested in love. I want a man who can understand me. I don’t care what he does with his spare time or how much he earns. I just need a friend, a lifelong companion.
Dominic made no hesitations in asking her out on a date. Her reply came in almost immediately. She would love to. Something about his sophisticated but rugged construction drew her to him. He had fire in his eyes, reminiscent of her late husband. She wanted that fire; she needed that type of man again.
“Mofe, you haven’t said anything.”
Dominic’s voice caught her in the middle of her thoughts. She had been wondering if she turned off her electric cooker before she left the house.
Dominic stared at the shy diamond ring sitting in an open jewelry box in front of her. He hadn’t gone for an expensive piece. He felt buying something with so much glitter could put her off.
She followed his eyes and glanced at the ring. “Yeah, you did.” She giggled a little and cleared her throat.
“Oh dear.” She laughed again. “You’re serious.”
“I bought a ring. That should say how serious I am.”
She liked his voice. It was hoarse.
“Can I try it on? See if it looks good on me?”
He shrugged. She picked the ring and slipped it on her middle finger. It glittered, standing out from her weather-bitten hand and black painted nails.
“Nice, isn’t it?” he asked.
She nodded, taking off the ring in haste.
“So what do you say?”
“I should be asking why you want to get married, apart from the obvious.”
“What’s the obvious?”
“Well, my profile on the dating site said I wasn’t interested in a casual fling. I believed I ticked the little box beside the marriage option.”
“I believe you did.”
“Second obvious thing: you’re a lonely man.”
Dominic guffawed. “And look who is talking.”
“I’ve had my share of women,” he admitted. “Been a bachelor all my life.”
“And now you want to take the leap – in a very unconventional way.”
“I want a child, mostly. And I need a wife to help my public profile.”
“I see.” She loved his clear-cut approach.
“We’ll make a perfect match. I’m Ijaw, you’re Itsekiri…”
“So what do you say?” he asked again.
She gave no reply as she placed the ring back in the box. She pushed it towards him.
“Keep the ring. I don’t do jewelry.”
“I’ll think about it, Dominic Ditorusin.”
His name echoed in her ears throughout dinner and all the way home. It wasn’t until after she snuggled into bed that it hit her. He was the Ditorusin guy that was always in the middle of one controversy or the other over human rights on the net. She never followed up on gossip blogs or whatever was trending online. Had her brother not pushed her into buying a smartphone she would still have been stuck in her simple world. He was the one who paid for and registered her into the expensive, discreet dating site where she met Dominic. Without the email alerts that came into her phone, she wouldn’t have had any need to check up on her profile there. Even now, all she permitted herself was Facebook and she did recall coming across Dominic’s name on news and gossip pages ever so often. The last thing she remembered reading was a post on him defending himself over a remark someone made about him being feminist.
Having pulled her bed spread over her exposed chest, she did a Google search on him. It was amazing the results that came up. But what caught her attention and unsettled her at the same time was unsavory news about him, dated five years back, right around the same time she lost her husband. She had discovered it on the third page of her Google search and it seemed to have been a hot item on the news then.
Restless after her discovery, she gave him a call.
His voice was hoarser. She had stirred him from an early night’s rest.
“Sorry for waking you up, Nick.”
“It’s okay,” Dominic replied. “Why are you awake?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” she answered.
“Why is that?”
“Uhm…Nick, did you kill someone five years ago?”
There was silence from him but it was only for a few seconds.
“Yeah. It was in self-defense.”
“Eyimofe, I’m not a murderer. I don’t know what you read about me but I’m not a murderer.”
“So what happened?”
He sighed. And went silent again; this time it was longer but he eventually came round and told her the heartrending story. She listened with no interruptions until he was done.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” she said.
“I accept your proposal.”
“What?” he laughed. “You want to marry me out of pity now?”
“No. You need someone. I need someone… So I’ll…marry you.”
“Wow…okay. I’m not complaining. But you should know that there are conditions.”
“First, I want just a kid and sex is totally up to you. I’ve been celibate for two years and I intend to remain that way unless you want to…”
“I don’t want to.” Her reply was curt.
“If you decide to leave me, you get nothing.”
“I don’t need your money. Anything more?”
“I have enemies in the government and in the business world. Your life might be in danger.”
“I was married to an armed robber and spent two years in Kirikiri. I know what danger feels like.”
“I have a daughter I disowned. She doesn’t want to stay that way and she’s a handful. And then an ex who still wants a piece of me.”
“As long as they don’t get in my way, I’m fine.”
“Lastly, I owe no one any explanations and I take decisions solely at my own discretion.”
“Okay, then. I’ll speak to my lawyer and we’ll draw up something. You have your own Ts and Cs?”
“I just need a friend, Nick. And I already found one in you.”
But Mofe knew she was looking for more than a friend. She was falling back into the life she had with her late husband. She felt excitement building in her.
“Okay. It’s a deal then. Thanks for accepting. We’ll fix a date with the lawyer and draw up a prenuptial.”
She hung up, turned off her phone and went under the covers. In the apartment above, her landlord and his wife were at each other with raised voices. The noise didn’t bother her. She slept off in minutes.
Her first impression of him was that he was northern. It had to do with his hair and the hand gesture he made after sharing a handshake with a man in kaftan standing behind him. They both had put their hands to their chests lightly after the handshake like northerners were known to do. A friendly conversation ensued and though she strained her ears to listen, she couldn’t tell if they were conversing in Hausa or in English.
Maybe it was because of the other guy that was standing in front of them with his eyes glued on her. Something about his stares made her uncomfortable. It was as though he knew her. But she knew nothing about him. He was a complete stranger.
She took her eyes off him and let them wander about. The supermarket really had nothing new in way of distraction. Business was at a steady and quiet pace following the demanding holiday season that just breezed by. People had a certain look on their faces; the look of dreadful realization that their holidays were over and the bustle of life was about to begin. There were scanty customers, undisturbed aisles, few employees, relaxed supervisors and a generally calm atmosphere for Wura to work in. Or more importantly, to read her Bible in. Thank God for her new Tecno phone. She didn’t have to carry a paperback Bible around and risk getting fired for bringing religion into the work place as was the case with her previous job. But it didn’t stop her from slipping church program fliers discreetly into the shopping bags she packed for customers. No one had complained yet but she knew it was only a matter of time before her atheist boss found out.
Hearty laughter drew her eyes back to the guy with the fine hair and northern looks. He and his companion had moved farther away from her station and were deep into a humorous conversation. Fine Hair seemed to have a carefree manner about him. He didn’t care for his looks, which were in her opinion, average; not that she was even interested. He had his legs spread apart, arms crossed, fingers buried under his armpits and shoulders raised as if protecting himself from the words of his friend. But it was all a pose in preparation for another round of laughter and this time, he got the attention of other shoppers who didn’t seem pleased, especially the other guy who was staring at her. But Fine Hair didn’t mind. He kept laughing as though he owned the space around him.
Wura hissed and rolled her eyes – all to herself. She didn’t like loud guys. It was a major turnoff. She attended to a customer, a woman with a full shopping cart and a noisy toddler.
When she was done a full ten minutes later, she stretched out and checked her wristwatch. 5pm. It was almost time for her to leave for church. Her concentration went back to Fine Hair.
“Wura got the hots for somebody!”
Wura clutched at the collar of her red shirt uniform like one who had just been caught in a naughty act. She faced her computer monitor with a straight face and ignored her roommate, Lexus.
“Go ahead, girl. Stare away. That’s why Jesus gave you eyes.”
“I wasn’t staring at anybody,” Wura replied from the corner of her lips, her voice barely making it out. “I was meditating.”
“Na so.” Lexus smirked and stretched her hand over Wura’s table. She aimed for a pack of condoms and a chocolate bar on a sales rack that held candy, chocolate and different brands of condoms.
“Pay,” Wura ordered, giving Fine Hair one more glance. His eyes had gone misty. He was one of those people that cried each time they laughed so hard.
“Wura, shey you know that lust can take you to hell,” Lexus quipped, taking a bite off chocolate. Wura glared at her. Lexus winked back and gave her widest grin; the one that sometimes brought out her feminine features which always lay hidden beneath her tomboy looks. Anime-styled red hair that flanked her face on either side emerged from underneath a gray, woolen beanie. Sporting a Puma t-shirt, raggy shorts and a pair of sneakers over her bony frame, she could easily pass for a boy. The expensive but gothic jewelry on her fingers and wrists, plus bold tattoos on her upper arms didn’t help either. Lexus was anything but female, yet somehow she managed to get laid almost every single night. Wura had longed given up trying to find out who her secret boyfriend was; she was now on a mission to bring her to God.
“You’re going home?” Wura asked, eyeing the condom pack in Lexus’ hand as she ran a customer’s shopping over the scanner.
“He’s here, at the mall?”
Lexus grinned. “We’re going to do it in daddy’s office, right on his posh glass table. Shh.”
Wura dropped open her mouth and paused, a pack of Éclairs left hanging in her hand.
“He’ll kill you.”
The scanner beeped and Wura put the Éclairs aside. She informed the customer of her bill and bagged the Éclairs.
“By the way, we have a new roommate,” Lexus stated in a casual manner. “She’s moving in today, taking Ehi’s room and Ehi’s moving in with you since your room is almost as big as mine.”
Wura didn’t take the news well. Lexus had a way of being mean without really meaning it.
“Lex, it’s not good o. You’re just telling me?” She asked and smiled politely at the customer who brushed past Lexus and walked away.
“I thought I already told you. I’m sorry. I didn’t make the changes. Madam did; it’s her house. Anyways, we’ll need extra hands at the club today…”
“I have choir practice.”
“Madam’s not asking. She says you must be there.”
Wura forced back tears of frustration. Having learnt the art of quick acceptance to any situation she had no power of changing she was somewhat good at masking her emotions. The possession of an angel face was a windfall.
“No wahala sha. At least I still have a place to stay.”
Lexus paused from her chocolate munch and gave her a pat on the cheek. “You’re cute but pathetic.”
“No, I’m content.” Wura picked a church flier to fan herself in attempt to ward off her frustration. “It’s not as if I’m paying rent.”
“Whatever. The new girl is moving in already. She works here at the mall too.”
“At Novo. She’s the new bartender. Mixes badass cocktails.”
Wura stopped fanning herself. “Lex, I beg of you people, you and Kasi and this new girl…”
“Her name is Jeneh. Short for Genesis.” Lexus grunted.
“I don’t care if she’s Exodus or 1st Chronicles, you guys should just be sensitive this new yearr and chill for me. Plizzzzz. Our house is not Novocaine Nightclub. When you guys come home from work, you can try and sleep, watch TV, eat or do something else but leave Novo outside abeg. All that loud music is not good for my spiritual life and…”
Fine Hair let out another loud laugh and Wura turned, annoyed. “He’s so loud.”
Lexus opened the condom pack. She took out a roll of four condoms, tore out one and plastered over Wura’s forehead.
“Just in case you decide to do more than look.”
She winked and walked away. Wura put the condom away. She was convinced Lexus was bound to get her fired soon. The girl had a habit of picking things without paying for them and doing away with their packs to avoid being detected by the security door.
Wura turned back to her work table and found herself facing the other guy who had been staring at her rudely.
“Good evening,” she replied with a blank, almost grimacing face.
“Uhm…have we met before?” he asked.
“Your face. I’ve seen it somewhere before.”
She smiled a plastic smile at him as she saw Fine Hair end his conversation with the kaftan guy. He reclaimed his space behind the guy before her.
“My name is Dino,” the annoying individual went on. “I’m sure we’ve met.”
She wasn’t impressed. He had to do better with his pickup lines.
“Sir, if you have nothing to pay for, please let other people through.”
He placed a few items on her table. She stared at them. An Xbox Control Pad and two packs of cigarette.
A smoker. She shook her head inwardly. The thought of a burning cigarette always left a bad taste in her throat.
She ran the items over the scanner and read the bill from her monitor.
“Five thousand, four-twenty.”
He went for his wallet in his back pocket and she waited. After the transaction, his shopping packed, he remained standing.
“Blue Room. Polo Club Road in PH. Remember me?”
She gave him a vacant stare. What was he talking about?
“Sir, please leave. I don’t know you,” she said, her voice raised above normal, revealing the irritation mounting up in her.
“Easy.” Dino laughed. “Okay. I hope this jolts your memory…”
He got out his phone, fiddled with the keypad and slid it on the table in her direction. Coming from the phone speakers was the distinct sound of Ashawo Remix by Flavour. Wura was annoyed. What the hell was he up to?
Suspecting the guy had it in for her, so she had no option but to accede to his wish, if only it would drive him away. Her eyes fell on a grubby video of a stripper dancing naked in a room with red lights. The stripper’s face was not shown but her legs were spread apart and her privates in view of the person recording the video. Wura balked. Dino smiled.
“Looks familiar?” His smile died out.
“You owe me and my friend ten thousand naira, remember?”
Wura couldn’t find her voice.
He leaned closer and turned down the volume of his voice. “1st of October? Me, you, my friend… hmmm? In that upstairs room? Private show? Hmm? We asked for a Lewinski each? Remember? But you feigned some sickness and disappeared? Hmm?”
“What is wrong with you, oga?! I said I don’t know you na! Ha-ahn?! Is it by force?!”
Wura caught Fine Hair staring at her with increasing attention. She had been loud enough for anyone near to hear, so she brought her voice to a low. “You’re clearly mistaking me for someone else. Please, I already told you I don’t know you. If you don’t go, I’ll call security.”
Dino’s expression took on a menacing look. “I want my money back.”
He took another step forward and she pushed a button underneath her table, alerting security.
“Sir, please leave.”
Wura’s breathing became so labored she could hear her heartbeat in her ears.
“So you’re going to deny that it was you?”
Fine Hair took a step forward, his interest fully piqued. She saw him straining his eyes to have a look at Dino’s phone which was still on the table. In quick movement, she picked the phone and slammed it hard on the floor. It fell apart, rousing Dino to unrestrained anger. He charged at her but Fine Hair stepped in just in time, putting a barrier between them. Wura stood up and backed away, arms crossed, chest heaving in fear as Dino called her names and threatened to have her dealt with. Security rushed to the scene and led him outside.
Wura watched until he disappeared, ignoring a couple of her colleagues who were questioning her about the incident. She snapped at them and they left her station.
“Are you okay?” Fine Hair asked and she swallowed. The incident had left her dry on the inside. It was difficult to look at him. She took her seat.
“I’m okay. Thank you.”
“don’t let it bug you. Some guys don’t know how to act around a woman. I think he’s slightly drunk.”
Wura tried to smile but it didn’t work. She could feel the onset of a very terrible stomach ache. She took deep, long breaths until she felt a little better. Fine Hair placed two huge packs of Huggies diapers on her table and she dropped the idea of liking him. The fact that he could be a husband and a father and she had crushed on him added to her annoyance.
“Eight thousand, six hundred.” Her tone, like her actions became mechanical. She bagged the diapers and took his money.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” he asked again.
Having counted the money, she discovered she had no change.
“Let me guess,” he said, “you have no change.”
“Yes.” She smiled in apology, praying he would let go of the money. She needed every little extra.
“Typical. Okay. Let’s do it this way. I take your phone number and you keep the change.”
Wura’s smiled disappeared. She got off her chair and went in search of the change from a coworker. When she returned she handed it to him, together with his shopping, keeping the straightest of faces.
“Wuraola,” he mumbled, reading her name tag which was pinned over her left breast. “That was a lame way to hit on a lady. I mean… let’s do this again properly.”
Wura’s face didn’t hide her disinterest.
“I’m sorry. My name is Tokunboh. And I’m here, buying diapers for my sister’s baby.” He flashed a dull smile with eyes that found hers. She looked away. “Can I….visit your church on Sunday?”
She turned back to him. In his hand was a church flier.
“Maybe.” She remained pokerfaced.
“I could come get you.”
Wura considered his proposal for a moment.
He went on. “I mean, it’s church. It’s not as if…”
She snatched the flier from him and scribbled her number on the back page. “Call me on Sunday, 8am.”
He grinned and took the flier. “That’s better. It’s a date then. I’ll come in my Sunday best.”
“Have a nice day, sir.” She pinned her eyes on the next customer. “And please do keep visiting Price Tag.”
She went through her routine after he left, fighting with her digestive system. When she was done for the day, she reported to her boss’ office to give a formal statement of her unpleasant encounter with the Dino guy. Her next stop was at the Ladies’ where she went to relieve herself.
There she sat and remembered Tokunboh. Her demeanor now calm, it occurred to her that there was really nothing northern about him and that she had given her number to some stranger all in the excuse of dragging him to church.
Wura heard a warning voice ringing in her head. Something old from her past seemed to have crawled up to the surface without her permission. She could feel it – the irreverent rush and exhilaration it deposited inside her. She shivered. There was no way she was allowing that part of her return. Everything had been buried with Christ and she was a new creation. The sure way out was to embark on a two day fast, ending on Sunday.
Then she allowed the tugging thought of Dino and the video in. And a host of memories followed. Bad ones.
He hadn’t been lying. She did know Blue Room in Port Harcourt. And she did recognize that vagina that was spread open in that video. How could she not when it was hers? It was the same vagina that made her leave that life to Lagos to seek God and a new beginning.
She had given up her old ways, changed her name, phone number and friends. She sought and found God and became a fulltime worship leader in a popular Pentecostal church on the mainland. No one from her past looked for her. No one cared. To that she was grateful. Two years had been enough time to bleach herself, do away with her temporary tattoos and add excess weight.
She alone knew the long, painful road she took to get to where she was. So how in God’s name did that Dino guy recognize her?
Translation: Lewinski – Blowjob