Martha’s wish about the relationship diddled on like a snail. Officer Uchenna was contented to take her out usually to a bar where he asked of sumptuous drinks or to a posh restaurant and never to a clubhouse and there, they would talk about everything – her favourite colour, his love for Fela’s song, his childhood, her love for dancing, some experiences in university to which Martha would bite her lips and wish he could move fast to another topic.
Sometimes they drove to the cinema, watch movies and arrange for the next date before she was brought home. They would plan the next meeting and what she would like as a gift and he would bring the gift when she least expected.
‘Can you marry someone that is younger than your sister?’ she had asked out of the blue one night, surprising herself with the way the words rolled out of her own mouth as if it took no force at all as if she had been chewing on it for centuries, waiting to spit it out. When she spat, it was effortless like licking dissolved ice cream.
He said, ‘yes’ too quickly as though he was expecting the question, as though he had thought about it and kept the answer on the tip of his tongue. Then that was that. She didn’t ask more questions on her mind – she would be younger than his sister probably if he truly had one, did he think of marrying her at this age?
Martha was getting impatient. She wanted to know what he wanted and so she began to think of ways to get answers. But it was like asking a police officer if his mother was stupid. Since he knew the kind of job she was doing, she imagined he would come one day, holding his face in disgusting fashion, and demand that she gives a lap dance and he would say, that’s what you do for a living. But they met and he never mentioned what her job was or acknowledged he knew the kind of job she was doing. She was waiting too for the day he would ask her to be his girlfriend. She went to her job on the nights they didn’t meet and danced and attended to men in ‘Room 2.’
Her customers came with wild demands regularly. Once, she was asked if she could strip and danced naked and she had stared at the foolish man, his potbelly, and walked back to the main hall, not talking to him nor replying Rugged when he asked why he left the customer. At Rendezvous, the girls were the daughter of money, obedient to whatever command the holder was giving and at whatever humiliation it may cost.
She decided she would try something crazy for Uchenna one day. She would invite him to her house and when they are completely alone, she would give him a lap dance, and then she would strip naked. No man in his right mind could ever defeat it, no man had ever resisted when she danced, talk more of stripping all her clothing. She would watch as his face would lighten and she would put a hand on his chest to feel his heavy heart pulsing hard. Then the day arrived. He came to her house, wearing a striped shirt and black jean trouser. He smelled of lavender and his arms rested on the couch like a king. She sat on the couch opposite and watched and talked and laughed, but she never got off the couch, didn’t walk to him. He seemed absorbed with the conversation as they talked and played cards. She followed his lead till it was late in the night and he got up and said good night. She crawled on the bed that night, hugging her bed and brooding into it.
She looked forward to each day as if she was expecting some good news or waiting for someone’s arrival, and she was. Seeing him was a blessing and it was still a pain when they had to depart and nothing was said of the reason for their meetings, the words she wanted to hear. Then she talked about it with Sophia, who listened carefully and gave a piece of advice which Martha thought plausible.
It was a cold November night. The activities of the day had died down, the night events were resuming, the barbecue and suya stands were been erected, the loudspeakers blasted from night parties and many natives lined by the road waiting for transport. Exhausts filtered into the air and brought a bad taste to the breath. Martha and Uchenna held hands and as they came out of a restaurant, giggling to a kind of jokes that would excite only babies, and hand-in-hand, they entered into his car.
‘My house is located in Ikoyi, you know,’ he said and Martha remembered he had talked about it. He had rented the place a year ago when he got promoted and his friends wanted him to live in a better place, saying he deserved better place, classier, bigger than his one-room apartment he was living formerly and that met his new standard. He had said, ‘those guys wanted to create what would be my standard if I allowed them,’ he said. Rugged had helped him hunt for houses and he had accepted the place out of the list he gave him. It was affordable and it suited a police officer and a bachelor. Martha was looking forward to it as they drove.
Although she said she remembered, he continued anyway – how Rugged ‘wan put him for trouble’ with the big, big houses he came with, how he wanted to borrow him money to rent the place and he would take it back later when he began to earn big, big money as the D.P.O. He wasn’t interested.
His apartment was on the top floor of a storey building. The walls were a shade of cream or it could have been ash but for the night she couldn’t tell. The main living room had leather cushions, a glass centre table and a rug with swords pattern under it. There was the television hanging on the wall and a shelf below it. It was at the centre of two stereos and a standing fan. A bit to the right, above the television, was his picture in his black uniform, the police cap decorating his head. There were very few times she had seen him in that uniform, perhaps for they usually meet at night and the few times she had checked on him at his office, a female police officer gave her a questioning look as if she was asking of the woman’s husband and so Martha had stopped coming. The wall behind the television was painted in random and beautiful patterns. On the long couch was The Nation Newspaper, neatly folded. Martha turned around, taking her time to stare at one thing before she moved to the next and the next. There was an artwork that could be as tall as her stomach if it was placed on the floor, but it hung on the wall – an image of a boy reading with a local lantern. She had those memories too – clamped on the dining table in Abeokuta, doing her homework with one of Mrs Ajasin’s candle. The woman always supplied the house in times of darkness. Uchenna sure lived alone, Martha could tell, as she noticed one gamepad on the stool and the other sitting on the shelf. The soft smell of air freshener welcomed her properly.
He told her to seat and asked what he could offer. Martha shrugged, sat down and said ‘alcohol.’ She needed to be a bit tipsy, lose some of her senses. With other men, it was pretty simple, every step was an ad, every swaying of hips was a trap, and every moan was an attempt to earn a living. Things were different with him, she wanted to hold and make the love she had seen in his eyes appear in reality and dance like a sweet small girl.
‘Are you sure?’ he asked.
She feigned surprise, ‘so you don’t have alcohol?’ he smiled as though she had said he couldn’t spell his name. He brought a bottle of cold whiskey and she drank from a cup. They sat and watched Telemundo and chatted. She was crooked by his side and she could feel his breath over her shoulder. Her eyes were facing the television but she would look over her shoulder and would see his beard and his lips and his eyes were focused on the TV. When he glanced at her, it was brief and to pass a comment about how the actions were too slow. She wasn’t interested in the movie either but listening to his comment and simple anger made her laugh and as she was watching she had a good laugh when he made a comment. Then he kept quiet and drank from his cup. Martha turned to face him. She had thought she would wait until he talked about it.
‘Uchenna,’ she called, looking up at him, ‘I have wanted to ask… what this is all about, the meeting between us?’ although she sounded like someone requesting from another person’s behalf, she hoped he got the message.
He got the message. He stared up at the wall and sipped his drink and flirted with the edge of the cup with his finger. ‘You know, I’ve been thinking about it too,’ he said. ‘I have this urge that we have a story that I am made to be part of your life. I want to be your friend for now and maybe and just maybe something might come out of it. You don’t need to be scared. And you can walk away anytime. But I like you and want to see you every day.’
He sipped another amount of the drink and stared at Martha’s eyes. She was grinning silently; her face would have glowed as she was seeing his glowing like a red sun. The hair of his beard was like a polished shoe. His lips were like two slices of cookies and his eyes were that of an animal she couldn’t remember – rabbits, coyotes or cats. The television was just a blur of moving colours and sounds. She was grinning and she shielded her face with the glass cup, waiting for him to say more.
He was quiet afterwards, drinking from his cup. He stared at her and smiled. She felt as though the flesh of her face was turning red and melting off, her cheeks were warm. He must have seen her struggle so he smiled more and shifted closer. ‘I want to be closer to you,’ he said. She would melt now, from head to toe, from his breath that was touching her hair like a caressing. The glass cup would fall from her shaking hands if she didn’t hold it tight so she supported it with the second hand. She wanted to be this close and to hold him and when she reached for her and pulled her head closer on his chest; she stayed there like a puppy which had found a bed.
‘Can I dance for you?’ she said. Aunty Sophia had told her to ask what he wants and that she should make sure the environment is right. She had thought of his place as the best. Her friends and housemates are gossipers; they would call her ‘love birds’ if they had come to the house. They wouldn’t know she wasn’t ‘in for his money,’ and he wasn’t ‘in for the thing under her legs.’
‘A lap dance,’ Martha added.
He looked up at her uncertainly. So Martha took the cup from him and placed on it the centre table, she tuned the tv to a music channel. She started dancing in front of him, between the spaces left by his parted legs. She danced and wiggled and shook, her breast swaying inside the gown as she wanted. She turned to face him and his eyes were looking into hers curiously. She smiled. His face was expressionless, like a baby watching something that he couldn’t understand but still finds intriguing. She sat on his lap, her hands on his shoulder. Slowly, she moved his head closer to her chest, smiled and moved it back, slowly. She moved his bum on his lap and his body followed her commanding movement forward and backwards. She turned and grind on his groin, watching his face for any sign of pleasure or resistance. He was calm, watching, as if careful to express himself. He sighed and Martha knew that was a good sign. She turned to face him and moved her face closer to his. Her breathing was getting hard and it seemed if she kissed him, she would feel an electric shock. She stopped, her nipples were hard now and she was breathing like a tired athlete so she brought his head closer to her chest and held it to her breast longer than she had held any other man’s. He was still calm and obedient. She could get more than this, she thought. She bent again and brought her face closer to his and kissed him. Her first kiss. It was slow, the movement of the two lips touching felt like a slow journey from the world to space, but when her lips touched him, it felt like it was too fast. He kissed her back and then she kissed him back and then he kissed him back. Is this how sweet kisses are? She continued, she would like to keep doing this, this tongue communication, this exchange of passion, this flavour, tasteless but sweet, waking all the senses in her body from her toes to her intestines, even her closed eyes were rolling and happy.
He held her waist to keep her still and she felt a great comfort as though she might fell off a cliff but for his hands on her waist. She felt still, her hands hanging and shaking. She was blinking her eyes but she closed them for she didn’t want to see anything, at least not at the moment. She would stop the type of job she was doing, save some money and go to school. She would have a sweet man by her side, a man she could be proud of, older and loving. She was eighteen, young, the world was in front of her to explore. She could become his wife. She would become great and she would not harm those who harmed her life except let them know they have done wrong. She would develop his type of calmness. Patience. Helping others become who they want – children that have been molested. Assaulted. ‘My life is about giving hope to those who they have lost to someone else’s deeds.’ That would be her words. One day, in the long future, a doctor, the wife of a high ranked police officer, standing on a podium. Dancing could have been a good thing, but that is not going to be for an officer’s wife.
She pushed her tongue into his and kissed him more. She stopped, the urge getting the better of her, and unbuttoned his shirt. She reached for his trouser buckle. With the expertise she had learned from working in ‘Room 2,’ at Rendezvous, she held him and he winced.
‘Can I go wild for you?’ she asked.
Then he held her hands and carried her off his laps.
‘I’m not your customer,’ he said, stood and entered the room.
Martha stared with mouth wide open. The last couple of minutes flashed before her eyes like a ray of blinding lights – flashes of her move, her dance steps, and the last statement she made. Can I go wild? It was that last statement. She stared at the direction of his room and then turned at the opposite side, the TV; she sighed and rubbed a palm on her face. it wasn’t a dream – all of it. It was her reality. The kind of job she was doing for a living would hurt when she least expect it. Everything had turned sour too quickly. With shaky hands, she fiddled while picking her purse, which fell back on the couch repeatedly before she could hold it. She picked eventually and walked out into the street. She decided she would walk. She couldn’t walk all the way home but she would for a long, long time before taking a cab. The night felt cool as the wind of Lagos brushed her exposed arm and back of the neck. I’m not your customer. So he was thinking about her dirty job as she was dancing on his laps. She sniffed and pressed her nose, suppressing the pains that stung the inside of her nostrils. It was the sensation that would come when she had too much to think about. She would press her nose and holdback her cry. It would work for some hours or minutes depending on where she was or what she heard or what she thought of. When she was at Abeokuta, it would work when she didn’t want to cry at home. When she got to that abandoned house, her walls would dissolve and that was when the world heard her wailing and her tears soaked her vest, shirt or whatever she wore.
A car honked behind her. She didn’t mind if she was walking in the middle of the quiet road. It could knock her down for all she cared. Life was a place of despair after all; she was unlucky since the time of her birth, unlucky with the type of parents she got the first time and the second. But she looked back and realized she wasn’t in the middle of the road, her movement wasn’t close to the path of the vehicle in any way. The car slowed down by her side and when the driver wound down, she had the opportunity to scream ‘get lost’ at the idiot behind the wheel. He drove off spiting an insult she didn’t care about. Then her heavy tears began. ‘I’m not your customer,’ she remembered. I’m not your customer. She cried and walked. She should call a cab and go home and do what she usually does when in a bad moment – curl by the bed and touch herself. She checked her phone which was on silent from the time she stepped into his house. He was calling and she waited until it stopped ringing and she switched it off immediately and called a cab. I’m not your customer, she remembered and sniffed. I’m not your customer. Fresh tears threatened and she pressed her nostrils so hard.