Seto had never been so infuriated all her life. She walked as fast as her legs could carry her, and with one last stride got to her Highlander Jeep. She opened it, jumped inside and threw her handbag on the passenger’s seat. Her lower lip disappeared into her mouth. Her eyebrows came together. Her hand jabbed at the ignition. There was no key there. She forgot she had not put the key in. She looked at the passenger’s seat. Her bag lay down gently, as if it didn’t want to add to her frustrations. She picked it and searched for the key furiously. It made a click click sound from the bag as she did. Her fingers first found her biro, then the jewelry box she bought for Maami. Seto had been so angry that she forgot to give her the diamond jewellery in the box; her birthday present. Then, her fingers found it. It was part of a bunch of keys; seven in total. She wiped tears off her face.
As she drove along the tarred road that stretched along Funbi Fagun Crescent, thoughts raced through her mind at break-neck speed.
All her life, her parents had been so proud of her. She had studied medicine in the university. In her final year, the thing started surreptitiously. Maami would call her into a corner whenever she was on holidays and ask her about her ade ori¬ – the crown over her head without which she was incomplete. Seto would laugh and tell Maami she was complete without a man. When a man she liked came her way, she would bring him home for them to see. She would tell Maami she couldn’t go out to propose to a man. It was unafrican. She would never do it. The discussion would end with laughter.
When she finished medical school and moved to Abuja to work, the pressure increased. This time it was not just from her parents, it was also from her extended family.
Seto stepped on her brakes impulsively. She had almost run over a dog. She wasn’t concentrating. Her thoughts were divided. Her new blue highlander jeep made a high-pitched screeching sound as it ground to an abrupt halt, throwing her body, head first, slightly forward, then backward. She heard a little gboa! from behind. Her abrupt stop had made the car behind her hit her jeep. She was already at Ife Motor Park, opposite the roundabout.
All the agberos, area boys and bus drivers started shouting. Passersby stopped to look. The looks on their faces told her they would love to see a fight. Cars drove past. The brown dog, with her numerous teats, shook her tail and moved on as if nothing happened, yet it had just missed death by only a whisker. She parked. The car behind her also parked. She looked through her side mirror. She had never seen the make of that car before. It was black with opolo eyes. She got down from her car. The temperature changed. She had been enjoying the air conditioner in her car. Stepping out reminded her that the weather was dry and hot. Brigadier Ademulegun’s statue, in the Army uniform, stood at attention at the centre of the roundabout.
Weeds were already growing high, threatening to cover up the only reminder of the man that had brought pride to his kinsmen, the Ondo ekimogun people. Ayana, the mad woman lay curled up in front of the statue, apparently in a deep sleep. She was wearing a jute bag that was haphazardly cut into a pseudo-gown. Big flies buzzed happily around her. Her body was extra black as if she used charcoal to rub herself all over. Her not-so-long hair was scattered; white powder adorned it. Ayana had been a mentally deranged woman from time immemorial and the entire Ondo community knew her. No one knew where she came from. From the motor park, the argument of some children playing ten ten about who put which foot forward first, came to her ears.
A guy in designer sunshades came out of the other car. He was so incredibly handsome and tall. The sweet smell of his body spray caressed her nostrils. His hair was cut low and the edges were shaped, bringing out the shape of his cute face. His orange tee shirt had the inscription, I AM A LEGEND printed in white, at the centre of his chest. His right fingers curled round a BlackBerry phone. His brown corduroy jeans and snickers looked neat, new and expensive. Her eyes quickly caught a glimpse of the fourth finger of his left hand. No ring. Thank you Jesus.
“I’m so sorry Ma’am,” he began, profusely, as he walked towards her. “I wasn’t concentrating.” His palms were almost together. The BlackBerry phone in one palm tried to prevent the two palms from touching. He removed his sunshades. His accent was not so typically Nigerian. It was that of one who had either spent some part of his life outside the shores of the country and was determined to keep his Nigerian accent, or someone who had attended American schools in Nigeria or watched a lot of foreign films but didn’t pick the accent; only learning proper pronunciation and inflexion.
They both checked the extent of the damage. It was just a very minor dent close to the rear light. His car was without a scratch. As they both fingered the dent, she looked at him at closely, from the corners of her eyes. His face was spotless; there was not even a single acne. His lips were of the same length and the surface of the lower lip was red. ROLEX was written conspicuously in the centre of the two little arms that ticked away in his wristwatch.
She found her voice. “No problem.”
The agberos, area boys and touts had gathered round them. A cacophony of voices soon formed. Tough, coarse and thickened voices that came out of throats that had fondled marijuana for so long. Stale sweat mixed with chronic I-¬have-not-had-my bath smell dealt her nose heavy blows. Threadbare clothes that had brown rings of sweat around the armpits were on display. Thin sparse hair curled shyly on some bared chests. The agbero closest to her had an overgrown armpit that looked like the hair there would be woven soon; or maybe form dreadlocks. Some had gaudy necklaces and wrist chains. Some spoke in Ondo dialect, others in Yoruba, others in pidgin.
Na your head save you o…Madam drop something for your boys, nothing do your Jeep…egi o, wa san owo ale o…e ma lo o, ko si nkan to se moto yin…na ya hed save you o…
Her ears picked an Igbo accent. “Excuse me,” she said.
The guy that bashed her car nodded and stood back watching the mild drama.
She went to her car and came back waving a wad of twenty naira notes.
The agberos hailed her in a mixture of horrible voices that could make an audience ask for a refund of their money and walk out of theatre. Laughter echoed from their mouths copiously.
“Mama alaye! Mama the mama! She pasted some notes on some faces. There was a scramble for the light green naira notes. That dispersed them. Though a lot of them were older than her, she was hailed because of her cash. In Nigeria, money was a faceless human that constantly spoke. Money could make your mother call you mummy. She had finally got rid of the tumultuous crowd.
She let out a sigh of relief.
He nodded. “I’m so surprised you know how to handle them so well.”
“I’ve been driving since I was eighteen.”
“My bad! Forgive my bad manners. I’m Dotun.”
He stretched out his hand and she transferred her bunch of keys into her left hand before catching his hand. It was soft. Soft as if he had never touched a thing in his life.
She smiled. “And I’m Seto.”
Their hands disengaged.
His lips parted in a mixture of surprise and happiness. He abandoned English and broke into Ondo dialect. “You are an Ondo girl o!”
“Proudly Ondo ekimogun!” she squealed.
They shook each other again. Cars went round the roundabout and sped past.
The deep rumbling sound of a big trailer coming at top speed tried to drown their voices.
He continued, but raised his voice a little. “Pleased to meet you Seto. Are you based here?”
“No. I work in Abuja. I came to see my parents.”
“Really? What do you do?”
“I’m a doctor at Asokoro hospital,” she added.
The trailer sped past.
His eyes widened. “My office is around Asokoro.”
His hands fondled the BlackBerry. “Yes! I’m an estate manager. Pleased to meet you once again Seto. I came to see my Uncle. I lost my Dad some days ago.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
He burst into uncontrollable laughter. His teeth were all white.“You don’t have to be. He was eighty.”
Dotun brought out his complimentary card from his pocket. ‘This is my card. I have to go now.”
She almost pumped her fist in excitement. She just had to see him again.
He brought out another card and a blue biro. “Can you write your number here?”
She didn’t answer him but grabbed the biro and wrote her number.
Dotun stretched his right hand to her, this time speaking English. “Nice knowing you but not on this platform.” He stretched his left hand towards her car. “I’m so sorry about this.”
They both burst into laughter. She shook his hand again and held onto it a little longer. She found him irresistible. Finally, she let go.
He got into his car and drove off, never looking back.
Her eyes followed him. Very soon, his car was out of sight. She heaved a sigh of contentment, of satisfaction, of finally finding what she had been looking for. It looked like he was the one. She wore one of the silver metallic rings that held her bunch of keys on her forefinger and swung it repeatedly. She entered her car and rested her head on the steering wheel…