I squirmed uncomfortably on my seat, my plate of rice and plantain untouched. Earlier, I had been so hungry I could eat a pot of food, but the hunger seemed to have fizzled away with my confidence.
Behind me, Emeka’s footstep approached. He always took his time walking, stretching forth his long legs and swaggering just as slowly, as if he was in no haste to get to his destination. I imagined him to be more handsome, taller, muscled and with flashing white teeth that told of the work of a good cosmetic surgeon.
It had been years since we last saw each other. I never expected to see him again after our breakup three years ago. But I was dazed when my friend, Adaobi, who sat opposite me in Mama’s Ifeoma restaurant, told me that Emeka had just entered the room. The same bubbly feeling began to build up in me. My palms soaked with their peculiar wetness, the spiral of warmness spread in circles in my stomach, my nerves tingled, my eyes lids twitched, and my fingers jerked. The air became surprisingly too hot even when three ceiling fans whirled determinedly above us, their spinning blade slicing through the air. I began tapping rapidly on the table and stopped when Adaobi’s eye brows met at the middle in a quick frown.
“Adaobi, sorry, is he close?” I asked.
Adaobi didn’t answer me immediately. She took her time sipping from her bottle of Fanta. The orange juice travelled upwards her equally orange straw, and her face brokered into a smile when her tongue met with its sugary sweetness.
“Tell me now!”
She looked me ‘up and down’, flipping her eyelids like shutters.
“Turn and see,” she said.
She didn’t answer but fixed her gaze at a spot above my shoulder.
It was then I felt a presence. The familiar presence that always made my heart thud painfully in my chest and drowned out all sound and I couldn’t hear even if you shouted out loud to me. The thudding began. I hesitated, and then turned. And I saw. And what I saw hunted me, for days.
He stood before me, larger than life. He was more than I imagined, and trimmed to a slim sexuality you find in dancers. His eyes sucked me into their depths of dark waters. His lashes flipped like ferns in recognition. He stretched out his wide arms for an embrace, his fingers longs and smooth, his arms rippled with muscles that strained under the short sleeves shirt that hug his sensual body.
“Nkem…” he beckoned.
“Emeka..” I mewed.
“Ehm…ehm..” Adaobi scratched her throat. But her coughing seemed to come from a very far place, a place far from the familiar confines of Emeka’s eyes. Once again, I was entrapped in him, bounded in him. He beckoned with his eyes, and like, zombie my legs started moving on their own volition. They stood up against my head’s warning and almost felled me flat on my face before he caught me in a hug. He smelled like he used to. Male cologne mixed with his natural heady man scent.
“Emeka..” I whispered again in his embrace. My tear ducts burned behind the back of my eyes. He made feel like I was the only girl in the world, the only one that mattered. He looked too handsome to be real, too clean to be real. I was drowning in his scent, crushed in his embrace.
I had met Emeka after my secondary school. He was a friend of my friend, Phoebe. Phoebe, Adaobi and I were the three musketeers. Emeka and I became inseparable. We fell in love and nothing else mattered. It all started to change when Phoebe rebelled. Though he was a casual friend to Phoebe, but she acted in a way that seemed as if there was more to them than pals from same school. On the day I caught her as she masturbated in her room while staring at the favourite picture of my Emeka, the one he posed in a faded low riding jean and nothing else, I fought with her. And we broke up. That was three years ago.
In the restaurant, I hugged Emeka as tightly as my strength could let me. My body quavered and I wished to be molded in to him, and we would become one.
From afar, I could hear the fading whispers of Adaobi’s calling, but I muted her voice and was so engrossed in him, him in me, until a hand jerked me violently away from his embrace.
“Phoebe!” I screamed, grabbing the table beside to stop from falling.
“Boyfriend snatcher!” She bounced on her feet. And before I knew what hit me, her stinging slap squashed my face. My hair was pulled from my ears, and my earlobe was ripped apart.
It all happened in flashes, in seconds: my wig fell to the floor, my earrings clattered to the floor. My nose was pounded into its base, a Star bottle was bashed against my skull. Everything went blurry for seconds. Then I heard Adaobi’s scream “Phoebe! Stop!” But I didn’t hear Emeka’s.
The restaurant became flooded with people and voices. Trousers and skirts. Babariga and wrappers. They came to see, and not to stop the fight.
“Hey!” I cried, resisting.
“I will kill you today!” Phoebe was screaming.
“Stop!” Adaobi was screaming too.
Adaobi was pulling Phoebe away. But Phoebe dragged me by the collar of my jacket and pulled me with her. I bit her hand to free myself. She then screamed and pushed away Adaobi. She pounced on me again.
“Come and see girls fighting oo” Someone shouted.
I fought to pull free from her gripped. I fought against the fog in my head that was trying to suck me into oblivion. I scratched. Bit. Punched. Cried.
Adaobi’s voice mixed with others’. She grabbed me and pulled me away. Someone grabbed Phoebe and pulled her away. They were all talking at the same time, all bringing me back from the brink.
“They are fighting because of man!” A man’s voice floated in the room. And that was when I stopped flailing. I stopped scratching.
I stopped fighting and slumped on the floor. I watched as Emeka left the restaurant. Phoebe seized that opportunity to pounce on me again, and as Adaobi made a grab to separate us, she slapped Adaobi.
Adaobi flipped. All hell was let loose. I watched as Adaobi pulped on Phoebe like a cat on a mouse. I watched as she landed deafening blows and punches on Phoebe. Phoebe’s screams filled the air. More people tried to separate them, but Adaobi held on with vice grip. She was much bigger than both of us combined, and taller. I watched as she tore up Phoebe’s dress into shreds. Left for the clinging sleeveless shimi, Phoebe was naked. It was horror.
I couldn’t stand because my legs stopped moving, they have turned to rubber and gave away when I attempted to stand. I sat back on the floor, and gulped air to keep from crying. Adaobi and Phoebe were still fighting.
I stared at my hands, at my fingers. They were thick with clumps of skin from Phoebe’s face. I had scratched her when I tried to escape her punches.
“You girls are really fighting because of a man? And you, Nkem, a boyfriend snatcher? And of all boys, that useless boy?” Mama Ifeoma, the restaurant owner, asked me. I stared deep in her eyes, there was no condescension but pity. “I am disappointed in you, Nkem. Please leave my restaurant.”
“I love him,” I cried.
“Then you should wake up!”
I walked out, hoping to see Emeka, hoping that he waited for me outside, to whisk me away and we would elope to another world where we would stay together. The sun shone so brightly that I was temporarily blinded, and when my vision clicked again into place, I started crying as I saw Emeka hug Nene, a well known home wrecker. I felt my body shaking, and then I was crying, louder than I cried when my mother was crushed by the fuel tanker. I cried more than I did when she was dipped into the freshly dug grave. I felt the world crashing, and the earth quaked and collapsed on me. But it was only Mama Ifeoma that held me as I watched my Emeka walk away, hand in hand, with Nene.
Nene’s laughter rang out with a tinkling sound, like dropping ice cubes in a glass cup.