If you want something done, you have to do it yourself. Or so they say. It simply means you should handle your own mess. And nobody knows how to get into a messy situation like I do. Handling it, on the other hand, is a tale for another day.
Falling in love with another female after being badly burnt by my ex is going to be chaos. If I had known Halim would be this much distraction for me, I would have turned her away the moment she showed up at my door. I can’t spend four years cleansing myself of my past, just to jump back into a similar situation. I just can’t.
I skip breakfast this morning, which is something I don’t do. Who eats when they want to carry out a seemingly heartless act? I feel the horns growing out of my head as I think of the best way to tell Halim she has to leave.
I grip the handle of my door and hold it, grinding my teeth and boosting up my guts.
She’ll be fine. She’s rich. She won’t be out on the streets. She has an ex who loves her and a mom desperately waiting for her to come home. She’ll be okay.
I nod in validation and proceed on my mission. I find her door ajar. She is seated on her bed, backing the door. I position my fist to knock when I hear a sniffle. I pause. Another sniffle and a whimper. She stands abruptly, turning as she does so.
“I was just about to knock,” I explain.
“Okay.” She heaves, still sobbing. “You want anything?”
“No. I just wanted to… But forget it. It’s nothing.”
“Why are you crying?” I ask, hoping that Clement has done the unpleasant job of asking her to leave.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Aiit. I’ll be in my room.”
I make to turn away.
“He died,” she says. I stop.
“The guy I slept with, that infected me…he’s dead.”
And then I lose her to her tears. I enter her room and take her hand. We sit on her bed.
“You know I’ve been looking for him for these past three months because he went missing. Without a trace. They finally found his car two days ago on the way to Kogi state, off the highway. His clothes were in the car, torn and stained with blood. The driver seat was also stained with blood. There was no trace of him. The police suspect that whoever killed him dragged his body into the forest and disposed of it or something like that. God! Who even knows what happened to him.”
She passes over her phone, showing me pictures of the car she has just described.
“His family is calling off the search. I don’t think they can handle it anymore.”
Her shoulders shake in sobs. I stare awkwardly for a bit before I reach out and hold her. I am drawn in by her marked fragrance which brings to mind scenes of the outdoors and open spaces and a life I once lived.
Halim smells like my ex. This might be another reason why I want her to leave. Heck, it could even be the reason why I’m growing feelings for her. Her scent, just like my ex’s, is green and earthy. It was what got me on our first encounter. I’ve always had a weakness for women who smell heavenly. To me, a woman’s scent is a feature that delicately highlights her appearance; it’s the unseen seasoning that puts the finishing touches to her persona. And even after she’s gone from your life and imageries of her start to fade, the memories her perfume leaves behind cannot easily vanish.
Halim has kicked off my past, bringing back recollections I have long discarded. But beneath that, she comes with her own distinct story. As much as I want her gone, a part of me is curious to know more about her.
For a moment, I forget my mission and do all I can to bring her to calm. When she manages to stop crying, she pulls away from me, apologizing for staining my t-shirt with her tears.
“Halim, did you have feelings for this guy?”
“Paul?” She shrugs. “I thought I did, until I was told I was HIV positive. I started to hate him for infecting me. Now, I feel sorry for him. I can’t imagine the type of pain he went through in the hands of the people that killed him. They didn’t take his car. What did they want?”
She shakes her head. I fear that she’s about to cry again, following the way her face contorts, but she pulls in a long sniffle and walks to the window to throw it open. The honk of a heavy duty vehicle out on the street blares right into the room.
“You didn’t play any music this morning,” she comments. “I thought you went out.”
“No. I was not in the mood.”
“You’re okay, though?”
“Weirdly, I feel lighter. I cried a lot last night. I’m still sad, of course, but Paul’s death has put a lot of things in perspective. I used to think HIV was the worst thing. Out-and-out death sentence. But look at Paul, for example, he had HIV and a long stretch of life to live if he managed it well, but it was taken from him.”
“Wow. See who’s learning.”
“I’m still not taking any more tests.”
“And I won’t force you. Do it when you desire, but please, eat well and exercise.”
“Will you help me?”
I look pointedly at her. Would I still be considered a bad person if I ask her nicely to leave now?
“I’ll buy my own food,” she appends. “Just tell me what to buy and the quantity I have to take every day. I’ll register in a gym too.”
I think it’s okay to say, at this point, that I’ve been trapped. I don’t know if it’s the counselor in me or it’s Yemi feeling some type of way for Halim.
I stand up, and with a tight face, lift my thumb in the air.
I walk to the door and stop. “Do you wear Chanel Bois des Îles?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she answers with a curious smile. “How did you know?”
“I once bought it for someone. Twelve bottles of it.”
I don’t reply. I start to walk out, but she stops me.
“Yemi… Do you have feelings for me?”
The question hits me like a canon.
“Yesterday, I overheard you on the phone with Clement. You said want me to leave because you may have feelings for me. Is that true?”
I rest my eyes on a spot on the doorpost. “Halim…”
How do I get out of this one? I’m deeply embarrassed right now.
“First of all, you shouldn’t have eavesdropped.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“Second, all you heard me tell Clement was a lie.”
“All you told him? So, that means your cousin is not coming?”
“He’s coming… I mean, he’s supposed to come. But he just called this morning and told me he found somewhere else to stay.”
She doesn’t believe my lie. I see it in the slight tilt one side of her face bears.
“I just want to be sure where we stand,” she states. “I don’t want any weirdness between us, because if you’re really crushing on me, it’ll be a waste of your time. I don’t feel the same. In fact, I’m done with guys.”
I look at her. “You should go and make your hair. It’s a mess.”
I hurry out of the room.
“What if he still loves Halim?”
I am frustrated and exhausted. My new job is taking a toll on me on one end, and Eben is proving difficult on the other. I have done everything a woman can possibly do to get a man’s attention but nothing is working. I’m about to take it out on Sandra who has been my chaperon on all matters relating to Eben. It was she who suggested that I go about the house in skimpy clothes. It was also she who pushed me into some pretend lesbian act because she was certain it would turn Eben on. I have done all she has instructed, and yet, Eben walks past me in the house every day like I’m one of his sisters.
“He doesn’t still love her,” Sandra assures me, taking off a red thong she is wearing and flinging it across her room into a laundry basket. She lives in a single room apartment that barely has space for one to move about. It contains the basics of a bed, wardrobe, a kitchenette and a small fridge, but she pays half a million for it each year, just because it is situated in the heart of Ikoyi. You see why I hate Lagos?
“Can you just believe me when I tell you that you’ve gotten Eben already?”
She goes for her skirt next, wiggling her wide hips as she forces it down. We have just returned from getting her car from the mechanic, after a tedious day at our respective jobs. I am badly in need of a bath, a meal with lots of meat in it and a full body massage. Not necessarily in that order, though.
“It’s Friday. It’s the weekend. He’s taking you clubbing. Sweetie, relax. Trust me, this night, you’ll be screaming out his name and clawing his back. Rrrrr!”
She laughs as she places one foot on her bed and faces me, parting open the folds of her vagina. “Do you think my clit is too small?”
I give her a frown. She gets on my nerves sometimes, just like she used to do in school back then. We had been roommates on campus in our first year and then moved on to become quite close for the remainder of our stay in the university. It was she who introduced me to a clandestine life I have today which is filled with tales of sexual escapades. She is not so thrilled to find out that after all those years, the values she instilled in me have been replaced with the need to be with one man. However, she respects my wishes and has been quite cooperative in helping me fulfill them. She is worried that my emotions for Eben are making it difficult for me to execute my plans.
“Remove heart from the matter, Eni,” she had told me a week ago. “You want this guy, don’t you?”
“Then go after him already!” she had added. “You’ve been there long enough. This nonsense cooking and wifely acts you’re doing won’t get him. Men respond to pure animal lust.”
And then she had gone ahead to suggest the pseudo lesbian sex we engaged in to get his attention. It turned out to be a waste of my time. Eben didn’t fall for it, and our interaction since that day has been ordinary. I’m getting depressed over the issue. It’s been almost four months since Halim left and I’ve not gotten as much as a kiss from him. It’s either he wants her back or he’s seeing someone else.
Sandra sits on the bed beside me with a sympathetic look on her face. She pulls my chin to her.
“Don’t give up, Eni. Try the old trick of using alcohol and some dirty dancing when you go out tonight. When you guys get back home, just go for it. I promise you that it’ll work.”
“Very.” She grabs my cheeks with both hands and pecks my nose. “Let me wear something so that we can go out and eat. I’m starving.”
She jiggles her ample bum away to her wardrobe as my mind tries to think up a killer outfit for my night out with Eben.
There’s a rat in my ceiling. A big rat. Probably that type that stares down at you when you catch it doing things in your kitchen. They usually come with pink feet and mouths, and grow as big as cats. I once saw two of them crawling in a straight line. They had actually looked blind; a third partner would have had me calling them the three blind mice. Neither of them saw me. Not even when I dashed outside the kitchen and picked the concrete slab I used as a step at the entrance and smashed them to death in one slam. And they didn’t even squeak as normal rats are known to do when they are dying. Eerie. They had smelled like old shoes and bed sores and mold, all at once.
That’s what I smell now as I lie here, staring upwards, listening to the bastard crawling around in my ceiling.
But there’s a sweeter, more overwhelming fragrance. It’s stuck on me. It’s Halim’s. An unpretentious, carefree fragrance that sadly, does not reflect the present person she is.
The rat scurries around. I poke the ceiling with a headless mop stick that has been made longer with an attached broken microphone stand. It stops but moves again. My phone rings.
I drop the stick. It’s a call I’ve been expecting.
“Yemo, sorry o. I dey surgery that time you call.”
“I wasn’t even expecting the phone to ring. How was your trip?” I inquire, referring to a medical-related project that had him out of the country for almost three weeks.
“Tiring, but we’re alive. Wetin dey? How your end?”
“So, did you talk to her about your cousin coming?”
I hiss. “You’re asking me this after three weeks.”
“I just dey ask ni.”
“Halim would have told you if I asked her to leave.”
“Yeah, she would have. But did you speak to her?”
“No. The guy called and said he wasn’t coming again.”
Clement laughs. “You be idiot, I swear.”
I lift my legs and rest them on the wall.
“Me and you know there’s no cousin.”
I don’t counter his words.
“Your wahala too much. You too dey behave like woman sometimes. Walahi.”
“There’s a bigger problem, Clem.”
“Problem? What happened now?”
“Halim overheard our talk that night.”
“When I told you how I felt about her.”
“Everything. She asked me if I had feelings for her.”
“And wetin you tell her?”
“I said I didn’t but she didn’t, or rather, doesn’t believe me. She dey give me weird eyes since then.”
“But seriously, you like the babe?”
I should reply this answer with a lie, but I can’t lie to Clement. He’s that one friend you tell everything.
“I dey feel her.”
“I’m going to let the feelings die, Clem. I can’t tow that line.”
“Dude, you know you have to let go of the past, right? What has happened has happened. Enough water don pass under bridge. Freaking move on. In my opinion, you and Halim would make an awesome couple…”
“Nobody asked for your opinion, guy. And quit the pep talk. I’m not acting on any feelings. They’ll come and go. And if they don’t, I’ll kill them.”
“Abeg, wire that money back to me,” I tell him.
“I’m taking out 20k for the stress and time already spent.”
“10k… But how is Halim, generally? Still depressed?”
“She tries to come out of her shell these days. But she still locks herself in most of the time.”
I spare him the details of Paul’s death. It’s not in my place to share.
“Look, I have to run,” Clement tells me. “Kiss Halim for me.”
“You dey craze.”
Laughing, he hangs up. I pick the mop stick and resume hitting the ceiling. The rat is long gone but I continue with my action because it distracts me. I’m thinking of how to get rid of this adolescent crush for Halim that’s growing with each minute.
I feel something is wrong with me. But it’s a good feeling. I don’t know if that makes sense. Paul has passed away, and I’m supposed to be sad, but here I am, staring at the huge amount of cash I have in my bank account and asking myself what I want to do with it.
“Aunty, you no sabi use ATM ni?” shouts someone behind me and I remember that there is a long line of people waiting to use the cash machine in front of me.
I had left the house with the intent of making my hair but after I sat before the mirror in a salon in the neighborhood and stared at my reflection for almost five minutes, I decided I was going to have everything shaved off. I hopped off the chair and dashed out of the salon with something akin to a renewed life purpose.
It had all begun with Yemi who had dragged me out of bed a week ago because he was worried I was mourning Paul too much.
“He’s dead and gone,” he had said. “You’re still alive. Start living!”
And he had gone ahead and given me three fun days out of the confines of the house, as a means to distract me. On the first day, we visited the finer side of the Island, where the rich lived. After you get to see five or six houses set in extravagance, you think you’ve seen it all. It begins to bore you because it’s much the same thing with much the same people, driving cars of luxury that all come across as the same.
A trip to the Lekki mall to see a movie after that was rewarding. The next day we were on our side of city, going farther into the mainland. Yemi had me tagging along for a meeting with a client in Festac. He taught me how to jump off a danfo while it was still moving and also how to hop on one in the same manner. The second tutorial was done in theory, and gratefully I didn’t get to experience it. I thought it was a ridiculous thing to do, though. I told Yemi I would never try it on my own and he laughed at me. Beneath the laugh I could hear the ‘no be Lagos you dey?’ tone.
We were off to Oshodi next because Yemi needed to buy a particular brand of headphones he was certain would be cheaper there. He had asked me to take off my gold necklace to avoid attracting the wrong attention. I had also had to put on an angry face; not because I wanted to, but because everyone else was looking angry. I didn’t know why but it seemed like the best mood to be in. It was at this point I began to have a headache. Yemi was concerned about my health and was quick to want to call a cab. I stopped him, however, and insisted on using a bus back home.
That turned out to be a regret. Traffic sent from hell had come out to play on that random evening. One can’t compare being stuck in a bumper to bumper situation in a car to being caught in it, sandwiched with strangers, having all manner of body odors in a wobbly danfo. We got home three hours later and I passed out.
The following day had us visiting Oyinbo market. Yemi wanted certain food items from the north which he could only find there. The trip was without stress and we returned in good time to make lunch. My mourning mood was lifted after those three days, my zest returned to me. In fact, I felt like an entire new person. And it was in that frame of mind I decided I needed a haircut.
So, there I was, having just left the salon, in a bus heading to CMS, surfing online for an expensive barbershop on the Island. I found one just as the bus was coming to its final stop. It was a unisex salon in Victoria Island that was part of a bigger establishment which held a spa and a cosmetic shop. I had plans to splurge, using money in my account I have refused to touch for months. Aunty Ada has been sending money to me every week from the moment I left home. It has accumulated to millions, and that is what I’m staring at right now, battling with how much I need to withdraw.
I punch in the numbers and wait. Seconds later, a wad of notes are ejected out of the machine. I dump them into my handbag and leave the place. I need to withdraw more cash, but I want to take a walk around the marina to see the sights. This is my second visit to the legendary CMS. The first time I was here, Eben and I had breezed through, and I hadn’t enough time to stare at the high-rise buildings owned by famous banks and enterprises. Today, I’m all on my own, feet clad in gladiator sandals, a batik t-shirt over my torso and a pair of khaki shorts to match. There’s nothing peculiar about my looks. Complemented with a pair of sunglasses and a serious expression on my face, I’m just another Lagosian on the street.
There’s so much to take in around me – the self-important men and women in corporate wears, bumping into other pedestrians as they walk briskly by; the smalltime traders calling out to people hurrying past to buy their unusual wares of safety pins, envelopes, hair brushes, Shea butter, mail stamps, fancy water bottles and other oddities, spread out on the sidewalk; the mallams who stylishly accost people who are moving along, asking them if they want to buy or sell dollars; the mix of exotic and commercial vehicles driving down the main street, some branching off into or coming from smaller connecting streets that can hardly let in two cars riding side by side; the parading police vans and bikes, looking for some offender to become their next unfortunate victim; and overall, the jumble of human and automobile sounds coming together to form a weird sort of coherence that is peculiar to the marina. And to think I’m only exploring just one of the main streets!
I become tempted to go off-ramp, to see other sights… but I remember that I have a full day ahead of me. I continue on, feeding my senses as I stop at a couple of cash machines to make more withdrawals. I strike a banal conversation with a security guard at the entrance of a bank who tells me that I remind him of a long lost girlfriend. He wants to have my number and know if he can visit me sometime. I laugh as I walk away from him. There’s a feeling of lightheartedness in me. I’m suddenly becoming alive. I feel the old Halim returning.
I wave at a yellow cab, hands flailing in the air like a Caucasian tourist. I get some odd stares but none that linger. People in Lagos see enough madness on the daily.
The cab stops before me and I give him the address of my destination. We haggle on the price briefly in Yoruba. The man quickly picks my accent and asks if I am Egba, from Abeokuta. I tell him I have lived most of my life there and he tells me to jump in. He says my Yoruba is pure, not like the type they speak here in Lagos, which they try to funkify. Yes, he uses that exact word and leaves me laughing. We talk all the way to Victoria Island. When his cab comes to a halt, he asks if he should return to pick me. I tell him not to bother as I pay him. Life is too short to enjoy cab rides in worn-out yellow taxis. I’ll find a better replacement on my way home. Heck, who knows, I may go on a binge and buy a car.
I step out of the cab and into the salon. At the front desk, there’s a girl in black scrubs that has the insignia of the establishment on her chest.
“Good day, ma. How may I help you?”
“I need a haircut, a facial, a massage, a mani-pedi and a face-beat.”
She laughs. “The entire treatment.”
“Yes, the whole shebang.”
I can see on her face that she doesn’t know what shebang is. I don’t bother to explain.
“Follow me, please.”
She guides me through a glass door, and thus begins my full day of pampering. Hours later, I materialize looking like a butterfly version of me just emerged from a cocoon. In fact, I have even gotten a tattoo of a butterfly on my butt cheek.
It’s dark now, and I have one missed call from Yemi. I’m about to return it when my eyes sight a boutique across the street with a pair of sneakers that I think will look good on him. I waste no time in dashing into the boutique to ask how much it costs. I am barely there three seconds in when my eyes begin to roam. Something tells me I need a change of wardrobe. Another reminds me that this is a high-end store and I would be charged ridiculously for anything I pick. I go back and forth on it, and settle on picking a few things. One of them is a blue gladiator dress that flows to the floor, and yet doesn’t possess any of that seriousness you find in dinner gowns.
“It can be worn to see the movies or on a date or even to church,” the owner of the shop tells me. “It really looks good on you. Your boyfriend will love it.”
I smile. The mention of church has left me feeling guilty. I have been angry at God. I still read my Bible sometimes, but only as a habit. Anytime I try to pray, angry words come out. I’m not sure I can forgive him for letting me get HIV.
“It’ll go with these sandals.”
The woman is standing before me with a pair of gold sandals. “It’s Nine West,” she adds.
Another smile strikes across my face. “I’ll take it.”
I pick a few more things and hand over my card for payment. The woman is kind enough to call a cab for me.
“You’re wearing the dress?” she asks. I look at myself in a mirror before me and laugh. I have forgotten I have the dress on.
“Okay.” She yanks off the tag and escorts me out of the store. The cab is waiting outside. I am helped into the backseat by the driver like a princess. I begin my journey home. I wonder what Yemi would say when he takes one look at me.
Eniola stands before me in an outfit tailored to lure me to do bad things. I’ve gone speechless, struggling to come to terms that she is still Lekan’s younger sister.
“You like?” she asks, spinning around. I don’t give an answer. “Or is it too much? I can run upstairs and ditch the skirt for a pair of jeans.”
Damn! The curves on her!
“It’s em… it’s fine.”
“So, where’s Lekan? I tried calling his number but I can’t reach him.”
“He’s at an owambe. He says he’ll catch up with us later.”
She nods and I point the way, just so that I can get an eyeful of her bum.
“So, where are you taking me?” she asks once we get into my car. “Any of the popular clubs?”
“You wait and see.”
One of the reasons I love Lagos is that it offers you a variety of pleasures. If you’re looking to have a great night out and you don’t want to hit any of the popular clubs, you can switch to covert clubbing mode. In every district, there is an underground nightlife running; most notable are the ones found in Lekki, Ikeja, Ajah, Victoria Island and Ikoyi. For tonight, I take Eniola to Ajah. As we speed down the Lekki-Epe expressway, she turns to me with a squeezed face.
“You’re taking me to the dead-end of Lagos.”
I laugh. “Relax. You’ll love it.”
“I didn’t tell you I wanted to go back to Ogun State…”
“I better enjoy this.”
There’s something daring and cheeky about her tonight. Her usually-quiet self is gone. Right now, she’s dancing to Drake playing on the radio. The scene reminds me of Halim. The old Halim, before I lost her to the solemn version of her.
“Whooo! Whiz Kalifah!” Eniola shrieks as the music switches to another. I take a closer look at her.
“Nini, are you high?”
“Are you high? Did you smoke something?”
She stares at me with suppressed laughter.
“Your eyes are red.”
She pulls down the sunshield and peers at her reflection in the mirror. “They are o. You know I use glasses…”
“Mnh-mnh. Don’t lie, Nini.”
“Okay, okay, okay. Sandy gave me weed.”
“You’re not disappointed, are you?”
“Phew!” She giggles. “My first time. I just wanted to try it out. First drag had me coughing. Second drag the same thing. So I just stopped there. But look at me. Whooo! Imagine if I had smoked more.”
“You still have the weed with you?”
She looks at me. “You want to…?”
“Yes. One can’t be friends with your brother and not get the occasional joint.”
“I know, right? I’m not saying Lekan allows me smoke, but he’s always smoking in his bathroom. Mommy knows, but she’d rather believe that the neighbor’s children are doing it. She’ll come out in the morning and whine about the smell disturbing her sleep. Silly old woman.”
“Let me have the weed.”
Eniola passes over a rolled joint to me. I put it between my lips and take the lighter she offers.
“Mommy would flip if she sees me like this now, in these clothes and with this igbo.”
“Well, Mommy doesn’t have to know,” I reply, lighting the weed.
I tilt a brow up at her.
“Anything I say or do under the influence of marijuana can’t and will not be used against me at a later time.”
I fall into laughter. Eniola does have another side to her. A side I like very much.
“Whoooo!” She yells again for no reason. I decelerate and bring the car to a slow stop.
“We’re stopping? Why are we stopping? Is it my screaming? I’ll shut up.”
“I need to finish this,” I respond.
I park by the wayside.
“Do you mind if I play something from my phone?” she requests. I shrug. She connects her phone to the car and some R&B tune I don’t recognize begins to play.
“You want to…?” I ask, pointing the joint at her. She shakes her head.
“I’ll cough again, and it hurts.”
“I’ll give you something called shotgun.”
“I’ll blow smoke in through your nose. You’ll inhale it and breathe out through your mouth.”
“Okay.” She giggles. “Sounds like fun.”
I put the burning end of the joint into my mouth, letting the filter stick out.
“You’ll burn yourself, Eben.”
I call her forward with a finger. She leans towards me and I let out a thick doze of smoke into her nostrils. She inhales it with her eyes shut and lips slightly puckered. She doesn’t know when I pull away, take the joint out of my mouth and gaze at her. She only comes alive when I move closer and touch her lips with mine. Her eyes pop open in surprise, but she doesn’t pull away. She opens up to me and I taste her lips like one searching for something. I stop and relax back in my seat.
There is sudden silence, except for the cars speeding past and the unknown R&B song playing. I let the windows down.
“I did that out of curiosity,” I tell her. “I just wanted to know if there was something between us or I’ve been imagining it.”
“And what did you find out?”
“I can’t say. It must be the weed.” I smile.
She dips her hand into her purse. “Gum?”
She hands me two pellets of blue chewing gum from a pack.
“Perfume?” she offers.
“I got mine.” I reach over to the glove compartment and take out my Armani cologne.
We spend a few more minutes, taking in the cool December air, and trying not to talk about the kiss. Finally, I let the windows up, fire up the car and put some miles on it as we gun for our destination.