“Halim, I think it’s time you found somewhere else to stay.”
That was how I broke the news to her. Seated in the dark, with the brightness from the flashlight illuminating our faces, she had looked at me curiously when I let out those words. Her plain expression banished and its place, a look of confusion came on.
“I don’t understand,” she muttered. “Is it because I talk too much?”
“Or because I don’t wash the dishes immediately? It’s a bad habit and I promise to stop. Or…is it because I walk around in just bra and panties? Talk to me, Yemi. What have I done wrong? I thought we agreed that I’d stay. What happened?”
I rise up from the table and do a short walk, back and forth.
“Halim,” I stop,” I like you. You asked me the other time if I had feelings for you, and I lied. But I do, and it’s getting worse by the day. After Alex, I don’t think my heart can take in another person, and what’s even more difficult is the fact that you remind me of her. The way I fell for her. It was as quick and easy as I fell for you. And even your perfume is what she used while we were still dating…”
Halim takes a sniff of her nightshirt.
“Your presence here is making things difficult for me, to be honest, Halim. I can’t handle it anymore. Please, you have to find somewhere else. I’ll call up an agent and he’ll help. I’ll transfer the money Clement gave me to your account. You can use it to find somewhere fancier, petite and cheaper. I’m sorry, Halim. I’ve come this far and achieved this much without a woman in my life. I don’t want to ruin it with another Alex on my hands.”
Wrong choice of words! I realize this only after they have been uttered.
“So, because I told you about my past and how I cheated on Eben you think you can use it on me anytime you like?! I’m now another Alex?! Thank you very much!” She stands to her feet. “I’ll be gone by morning!”
She marches to her room. “And I don’t need your help to find my own place!”
The door slams hard. I cuss.
Not sure if I should go after her or let her be, I remain standing in the living room for a while. Eventually, I decide I should let her be. I retreat to my bedroom. The night is spent with my head buried in some client’s work. At exactly 5 a.m., I abandon the job and dress up in my running gear. When I leave the room, I see Halim waiting outside my door, dressed in workout clothes, feet clad in trainers.
“We’re taking a walk,” she says. “Me and you.”
“Lend me a jacket. It’s cold outside.”
I give her a cautious look before I return to my room and step out again with a denim jacket.
She walks ahead. I follow her.
The air is actually freezing outside. My body, all charged up for a run, is ready to go, but Halim has already set us off in a lazy walk.
It’s still dark, and the neighborhood is mostly asleep, with the exception of a few moving cars and pedestrians. Halim inhales, lifting her nose up in the air.
“Do you smell that?”
“It’s coming from that Mama Put.” I nod in the direction of a metal container ahead of us from across the road. There’s a woman stirring a huge pot of rice, cooking over burning firewood.
“Halim, what’s this walk about?”
“It’s about what you said to me last night,” she replies immediately. “And how I’ve decided to ignore you.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m not going anywhere, Yemi. If you like me, you’ll have to put up with me. It’s not like I’m the worst person in the world.”
I stop. “Wait, Halim…”
She takes a couple of steps ahead and then comes to a halt.
“I was serious last night. I meant every word. You have to go.”
She pushes her hands into the jacket’s pockets. “I like you too, Yemi. Maybe not the way you like me, but I like you. You came into my life when nothing made sense. You were kind to me. I felt comfortable around you, and you have been an amazing example about how to live fully and beautifully with HIV. I like it here with you too. I don’t want to go back to where I came from because it’s never going to be the same. I left my old life behind. You are my new life, Yemi. I don’t want to start off again elsewhere. What if it sucks? Why change this when it’s good? I’ve had so much fun with you in such a short time. And you want to act like none of that happened? You want to erase me like that? Please, don’t send me away.”
I can’t see tears in her eyes or sense any type of emotional ploy to melt my resolve. All I see is her beautiful face which has grown on me this past month. I’m only realizing how utterly gorgeous she is.
“What do I do with the feelings I have for you?” I ask, staring down into her eyes.
“You could convert it to friendship,” she suggests with a wince. “I’m an amazing friend to have.”
I shake my head in disagreement and continue walking. She comes after me, pace increasing to match mine.
“Or just ignore me,” she continues. “When feelings are not reciprocated, they die a natural death. Just give it time and you’ll see that it was all infatuation.”
I stop moving again. I’m annoyed at her. “Halim,” my voice drops, “you really have to leave.”
I keep a stern face.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I have to do my morning run.”
Chicken that I am, I don’t stay to see the effect of my words on her. I abandon her on the street and start off on my exercise with earphones pushed to my ears, playing rock music that gives fire to my feet.
An hour later, I am back home. Halim is not in the living room. I dash in for a refreshing shower. When I return, I find her all dressed and her boxes waiting beside her.
“Thank you for letting me stay, Yemi.” She avoids my eyes. “A cab is on its way.”
“It’s too early to leave, and I didn’t exactly mean you should leave today.”
“I’m going to a hotel. From there I’ll sort myself out.”
I notice her eyes are red. She has been crying. I feel like an ass right now. What was I thinking?
Her phone beeps. “My ride is here,” she says without cheer.
“Let me help you with those.”
She wipes tears off with a fast flick of her fingers. I help her drag her boxes out of the house to a cab that is waiting. Her things are then loaded into the trunk.
“I forgot my handbag on the sofa,” she mutters.
“Let me get it for you.”
I dash back into the house and pick her handbag. On the table, I notice a small folded piece of paper with my name on it. I pick it, unfold it and read the following words.
*whispering Yemi, Yemi, Yemi,
You’re so amazing!
I break into a smile I don’t see coming. Halim had stolen the lines from Disney’s highly acclaimed animation, Moana, which I had taken her to see just last week. I recall her being so crazy about it and asking to see it a second time. I recall dragging her away from the cinema to an ice-cream shop just to distract her. I also recall taking photos with her in a photo booth and all the crazy faces she made in every shot.
And then last week all comes back to me—how I hauled her out of her room because she was mourning over Paul for a long time, our trip to the market to buy foodstuff, the meal we prepared together, the local football match we went to see at the stadium and how we sat there afterwards, talking for hours until we were asked to leave.
Three days of just she and I, enjoyed unreservedly, but had left me vulnerable to my feelings. It is only just occurring to me that she had had a good time too – and not just because of the things we did; she had liked my company.
I’m now doubly irritated at myself.
“Can I have my bag, please?”
I look up to find her just a few inches away from me.
“The cabman is waiting.”
I pass the bag over to her, but when she takes it, I hold her. She dumps a look on my hand and lifts her eyes to me.
“Don’t go,” I say. “It was stupid of me to ask you to leave. Selfish. I’m sorry, Halim…”
“Let go of my hand, Yemi.”
“Please, don’t go.”
“You’re not serious!” she replies hotly. “You think my feelings are something you can be playing with anyhow?! Tossing me up and down like I’m a toy to you?! Fimisile, jor!”
“Ma binu. I’m sorry, Halim. I was scared–”
“Let me go!”
She manages to pull away from my hold, but her handbag hits the floor. I go for it before she does. She thrusts out her hand at me.
“Just hear me out. A few seconds.”
“I’m listening,” she responds tightly, her face away from me.
“I was selfish, thinking about myself alone. Insensitive too. And I judged you without knowing you. I’m unreservedly sorry, Halim.”
“I’ve heard you.”
She takes the bag from me. I grasp her hand again, pulling her closer. She shows no resistance, but places her other hand on my chest as a barrier. I come down on her lips with mine slowly, expecting her to stop me at some point. She doesn’t, and she won’t kiss back either, until I make to stop. She then responds with trembling lips, as if unsure of what she’s doing. I go in deeper. My tongue thinks she tastes like heaven and it becomes instantly addicted, doing a dance with her mouth in a way it has never done with anyone else.
“Yemi,” she whispers. “Let me go.”
“I want you to stay.” I rest my hand on hers which is placed on my chest. “I need you to stay.”
“You’re not the only one who’s afraid to start something new.”
“Then let’s not start. Let’s just continue being roommates and friends and see where that takes us. As you said, things might just die a natural death.”
“Or…” I give her another gentle kiss. “This keeps happening.”
We hear a soft rap on the door.
“Let me get your things.”
I hurry out with Halim in tow. I explain to the cab driver that his service won’t be needed. He starts up a grumble about his time being wasted. I begin to respond in equal manner but Halim shoves five hundred bucks in his hand and apologizes for wasting his time.
“You’re so not a Lagos girl,” I tease, dragging both boxes back into the house.
“You Lagosians like to pride in your rudeness. I don’t see where that takes you.”
“It helps us survive. The streets don’t understand niceness. First rule of survival in Eko, frown for no reason. That way, anyone who plans to mess with you thinks twice.”
“Even when I’m happy I should frown?”
“Especially when you’re happy.”
“I’m not sure I can do that.”
We enter the house and I shut the door.
“Second rule of survival?” she asks.
I pin her to the door. “Always kiss your landlord’s…lips.”
She giggles. My mouth seeks hers again. I can feel her apprehension, her uncertainty, but I can also see excitement sparkling in her eyes when our lips separate. We gaze at each other without words. It’s an awkward, yet enchanting feeling.
And thus, here we are, at the brink of something new, or just maybe making a detour on our friendship journey. We’re both not sure how it’ll go but I have a feeling it won’t be so bad.
Lunch is at Sailor’s Lounge along Admiralty Way, not far from where I live. It’s an open terrace with a great view of the sea. It’s one of my favorite places to chill. It gives me opportunity to escape the busyness of my life and just tune off, listening to cool music playing over the calm, dancing waves of the water and the gentle wind. I’m not particularly crazy about the food. I have tasted better. It’s the ambience that draws me here constantly.
Today, Eniola and I are being treated to lunch by Lekan who is celebrating his new position at Crafter. An hour ago, he almost barges in on us nude in my bed. Luckily for me, I hear him approaching the room seconds before he opens my door. In a flash, I have Eniola on her feet and in the bathroom. He comes in just as I return to the bed. We make small talk, he invites me for lunch. Leaving, he asks if I know where Eniola is.
“She’s not in her room?”
“No. Her phone is off too.”
“I heard her going about the house this morning. Maybe she’s with her friend. She’ll be back, though. She stays home on Saturdays.”
“Okay. I wan go use ATM. When she gets back, tell her to get dressed for lunch.” He opens the door. “I like your bra sha.”
He leaves. My eyes fall on Eniola’s bra peeking out from beneath a pillow.
The bra was the only piece of clothing she had on her after our first session downstairs the night before. She had been smart to pick the other clothes and dump them in the laundry room before we made it upstairs. Lekan would have known what was going down if he had walked into the house and seen them littered about the floor.
But the bra is another problem. The last thing I want is him finding out about Eniola and I, an arrangement I don’t have any designs to put an end to. It’s supposed to be just sex, but if we are caught, I’ll have to prove to him that it’s deeper than what it is. And I don’t want to go deep with any woman on any level again. I still burn from the pain of losing Halim.
Eniola steps out of the bathroom. “He knows,” she says, worry in her eyes. She’s clutching my towel wrapped around her body.
“He doesn’t know. He probably thinks some girl slept over and forgot her bra.”
“Eben, he’s your friend. You know him better. If he was thinking that, he would have asked for details of the girl and how the sex went. I know how you guys talk. But he said ‘nice bra’. Lekan doesn’t do that.”
I don’t verbally agree with her but she is right. However, I don’t let it bother me. Not with her standing in front of me with all that soft, delicious, voluptuous lusciousness.
Last night, we went at each other three more times after the first affair downstairs. Eniola is pure sexual paradise. Even the little guy seems to agree right now as I tug down the towel, exposing her nudity without warning.
She covers her breasts. “What are you doing? He can walk back in.”
I dash to the door and lock it before pouncing on her one more time. The sex is feral but quiet, which is a challenge for Eniola because she’s a screamer. She expresses herself in tears, instead, biting her lips and looking into my eyes like I’m the best thing to ever happen to her. That adoring stare is a red flag, but I don’t bother. I’m all in for the pleasure. She understands the arrangement. No strings attached.
Minutes later, she is sneaking out of my room to hers for a shower. Downstairs, more than half an hour after, she joins Lekan and I, dressed in simple clothes that don’t give away the bad girl I discovered she was last night.
“Hi guys,” she greets, smiling. I respond. Lekan doesn’t. He and I lead the way out. She joins us in the car a short while after. She is quiet in the backseat as Lekan goes into his normal noisy mode, telling me how his night went. He narrates how he had fun at some bachelor party even though he had no idea who the groom was. After that, he spent the night in a mutual friend’s house.
“I’m so hungry,” he grumbles, and in the same breath, asks, “Eni, where were you earlier?”
“I went out for a bit,” she answers.
“You’re already going up and down in the Lagos that you don’t like. E kuse o.”
“Leave me jor.”
“Don’t sha let your waka-waka not bring you good results…”
Eniola kisses her teeth. “As if husband is everything.”
Lekan continues to tease her until we arrive at Sailor’s Lounge. He then switches to other topics. We talk, all three of us, over nothing serious. Just bants and jokes. The meal and the subtle lustful stares Eniola throws my way make it more fun. I am about to conclude that it’s a lovely afternoon when Lekan unexpectedly confronts both of us.
“I do hope it’s not just sex between two of you?”
Eniola freezes, her shoulders going stiff. I keep a plain face but my stare is on the glass of water before me and not on Lekan.
“What are you talking about?” My voice is almost inaudible.
“You’re smashing my sister, Eben.”
“Me? He’s smashing me?” Eniola asks in a poor attempt to lie. I almost tell her not to try.
“Yes, you’re both having sex. You were in his bathroom earlier. Your bra was under his pillow. The same bra you forced me to escort you to buy from a lingerie shop in Ikeja when it was on sale.”
Eniola looked out to the sea to escape his glare.
“How long has it been going on?” His question is directed at me.
“There’s nothing going on, Lekan,” Eniola states, head still bowed.
“Oh, please.” He focuses on me again. “Eben, how long?”
Lekan is one friend I never lie to. We are real with each other. But on this occasion, I’ll have to lie.
“For two weeks.”
“Two weeks.” He looks at his sister. She won’t look at him.
“So, it’s something serious? Not just knacks?”
This is actually the reason why I altered the date. I don’t want him coming to the conclusion that what Eniola and I have is casual.
“We’re trying to see where it all leads. There are some feelings involved.”
Eniola looks at me.
“You’re catching feelings for my sister, Eben?”
“Are we going to have a problem here?”
“No. I just want to be sure that you’re not planning to chop and clean mouth.”
“I’m not.” I try not to return Eniola’s stare. I see the shock leaving her face, being replaced by something else that doesn’t sit well with me.
“Eni, you like Eben?”
“You know I do,” she responds.
Lekan faces his meal. He gets into a pensive mode while we wait for more.
“Eben, if I went near Lydia or Beauty, just to smash, how would you take it?”
“Lekan, why you dey talk like this? You know me better than anyone else. Why would I hurt your sister?”
“I just want to be sure of your intentions. I need you to promise me that whatever you guys have will last beyond the sex. Ebenezer, you no fit do hit-and-run with my only sister o. Ha! Mo ma pa e ni.”
He has just threatened me with death, and I know he’s not joking. Lekan once promised to beat me if I communicated with a certain bully in school just because the guy had slapped a girl he liked. I ignored the threat and went ahead to speak with the bully just to defy him. The next day after school, he pinned me down outside the gate and beat me until I bled. He then threatened to do worse if I told my parents he was responsible for my bruises. I went home and lied to them that the bully had hit me. My friends corroborated the story. The bully was suspended from school and Lekan gained a new level of respect that I basked in as his best friend.
I consider him mentally unstable sometimes, but generally, he is harmless and has a big heart. He loves his sister with an obsession. He will have me roasted if I mess with her feelings.
“It will never get to that,” I assure him.
“It better not. But wait, was it why you gave me the job?”
“Sorry?” I ask.
“You offered me the job because of Eni.”
I start to laugh. Like I said, he’s out of his mind sometimes. “How many times have I offered you a job and you turned it down, Lekan, just because you were too proud to take something from your friend?”
“Let’s not go there.”
“You brought it up, so we’re going to go there. Even when I offered you this one at Crafter, you told me you already got a job here in Lagos.”
“I did, and I’ve paid for an apartment too.”
“The question is how many times did I give you a job and you rejected?”
He doesn’t respond.
“Every freaking time. Now, you’re accusing me of bribing you with an office in Crafter so I can date Eniola? You dey hear yourself so?”
Eniola cuts in. “You guys, it’s okay. Please, let this whole fun lunch not turn to one unnecessary mountain when it should be a molehill. Lekan, stop making baseless accusations. Everyone knows you turned down many job offers from Eben. Eben, the reason he did that is because of pride, as you said. But you have to understand him. You have no idea what it feels like to go from being very rich to just managing your life while you watch your friends get richer. All you are today, Lekan dreamt of becoming. Whenever he turned down your job offers, it was not because he was envious. No, he felt that if he worked for you, he would give up on his own dreams. Concerning me and you, he has every right to feel that his approval is being bought.”
She turns to Lekan.
“But Lekan, that’s not the case here. Eben would never treat me as less. He knows that I’m not the kind of girl you sleep with and dump. He respects me.”
I stare at Eniola and it just begins to occur to me that I’ve gotten myself in a quagmire.
“So, you guys, please, stop and let’s enjoy lunch.”
Lekan returns to his earlier mood as if the conversation we just had hadn’t happened. Soon we’re talking and laughing again. This continues until we return home. Lekan drags Eniola aside to the kitchen for a talk. It takes quite a while but when they step out, I see smiles, much to my relief.
“I wan do some kind waka,” Lekan says, going for the front door. “We’ll jam at the normal place nau.”
He leaves the house. Eniola slumps into the couch I’m seated on. “I’ve never seen him so fussy over my love life like that before.”
“I’d do the same for any of my sisters if he was involved with her. It’s a guy code thing. We’re more protective when we’re friends with the guy who is after our sister.”
“I just hope he doesn’t go and tell my mom. She’ll just start talking marriage.”
I laugh. Eniola stares at me.
“This is supposed to be just sex, right? The thing we’re doing.”
“Yeah, but…we can pretend it’s more in front of Lekan.”
“Act like we’re really dating?”
“Yes, but you and I know it’s just awesome sex.”
“Speaking of which…” My eyes run over her body. “You’re mind-blowing, Nini.”
Her face turns red in a blush. “How so?”
“You blew my mind last night and this morning. Damn! You’re hot. The whole good girl act makes you even hotter.”
“Good girl act? Go jor! I’m actually a good girl.” She hits me with a throw pillow. I lean towards her and kiss her shoulder.
“Eben, don’t start.”
My hand caresses its way down her arm and to her thigh. She takes my lips in a slow kiss. At the taste of her I lose control and things get intense quite quickly. We tear at each other like wild dogs, in all sorts of ways. We baptize the living room with our sex, moving from couch to couch, to floor, to wall, and couch again where she rides me like a rodeo until I come to a shattering release.
She takes my face and kisses me. “No other girl out there can ever make you feel this way.”
I nod, and only because it’s the truth. I have lost count of the number of girls I’ve slept with, but I recall the notable ones, some of which I keep a friends-with-benefits arrangement with. Yet, none of them matches up to Eniola in skill. And to think I always saw her as a prude.
I get another kiss as she rises off my laps.
“I need to shower,” she tells me, “and maybe sleep.”
She heads upstairs while I slip back into my clothes and dispose used condoms. I pick out the sound of a quiet knock on the front door. I head to answer it as the knock gets louder. When I open the door, I am met with a version of Halim I once used to know.
Once upon a time, she kept her hair short and blonde, wore earrings in multiple places and was generous with makeup. Today, that past is recalled to me without the blonde hair and heavy makeup. She strikes an alluring appearance in her fashionable manner, wearing a pair of blue jeans folded above the ankles to reveal black sneakers. She has a t-shirt, tucked casually into her waistband. I take all of this in and her eyes too, which seem to be lacking the anger and loathing they held the last time I was with her.
“Halim,” I say almost silently. “Um…this is a surprise.”
“Yes, I know. I was in the neighborhood and thought to just check to see if you’re in. I was surprised to see your car outside.”
She smiles and warm memories return.
She enters the house.
“Can I get you something?” I ask.
“No, thanks. I’m not staying long.”
I point her to the couch where Eniola and I had begun the sex session that had just ended. She sits but only on the edge.
“I came to apologize for the way I treated you the last time we met,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, Halim. You were going through a lot. How are you, by the way?”
“It shows. You’re looking awesome.”
She falls into silence and I can tell she’s gathering momentum to let out what she has come to say.
“Talk to me, Hali. What’s on your mind?”
“I want you to move on without me. I…think we should officially end things if we haven’t.”
I give a smile that has some sadness beneath it. I am not expecting this from her. There is a huge part of me that still wants her back, even with the awesome sex I’m having with Eniola.
“Are you dating someone else?” I ask.
“Sort of,” she replies.
“Like I didn’t see that coming.”
“We’re starting slow, trying to see where it all leads.”
I hear Eniola slapping her way down the stairs. I don’t want her here right now. The last thing I need is Halim concluding that I hopped on Eniola after we parted.
But Eniola appears in a bathrobe. She comes with a look of shock on her face. “Halim?”
I also notice some surprise on Halim’s facial features. “Hi Eni.”
“Hi. Oh my God! You look different! Like the Halim we all used to know! How are you?”
“I’m good.” She rises up for a hug from Eniola who has now walked all the way to where we sit.
“You look great. You’ve been taking care of yourself.”
“Wow. You take your ARVs?”
Halim’s eyes shift. She becomes uneasy.
“Nini,” I laugh lightly, “that’s an odd way to start a conversation.”
“Sorry, I just wanted to know that she’s okay.”
“Great. I just came downstairs to get my bra. Halim, it seems you’re sitting on it.”
“Oh.” Halim shoots up. Eniola picks her bra from the couch.
“Thank you. Let me go and shower. See you, dear.”
Eniola disappears, leaving me in embarrassment.
“So you and her are…?” Halim asks.
“No, no. No, we’re just… I let her stay. She got a job and it’s around here.”
“So, you were saying?”
“Yes. We should move on, and this includes sitting with our parents and ironing out the money issue. I have to start investing in my future.”
“I’ll be in ABK tomorrow. I’d like you to come as well.”
“We can drive there together – if Yemi is okay with it.”
She chuckles. “Driving together is a good idea.”
She stands. “I have to go.”
I walk her to the door. “I’ll call you up first thing tomorrow morning.”
She comes into my embrace and I hold on a little longer than I should. The familiar feel of her body over mine and the scent of her perfume stir something deep.
“Bye, Eben.” She disengages from me and leaves the house. I shut the door, leaning on it and wondering what it is about Halim that leaves me so undone.