Obi saw her for the first time the evening he packed into his new apartment. As he came out, the door next to his opened and a woman in T-shirt and hips-accentuating jeans came out. She was a year or two younger than Obi’s thirty-two years. While she was not a sibling of either Aki or Pawpaw the high-heeled shoes she wore proclaimed that she had lost the race for heights. She was endowed with a flawless ebony skin, a round face from which stared small but arresting eyes and the build of an attractive ex-athlete. Her shirt concealed small but immensely promising breasts. She wore her glossy hair in braids.
As Obi opened his mouth to say good evening she merely nodded and took off like a burst of cloud fleeing the sunlight. A spurt of irritation shot through Obi. I wonder who the hell she thinks she is, he thought. Maybe good manners do not exist in her book. He sighed as the insistent demand of his belly compelled him to redirect his thoughts. He would have to explore the area for good eating-houses. Cooking was not his strong point.
Five minutes later he was sitting in a shop at the left end of the street suppressing his hunger with a loaf of bread and a bottle of Coke. He glanced at the clock behind the shop owner’s table. Night was around the corner; he would arrange his furniture tomorrow. As he reached for a second Coke a small burst of breeze made him turn. It was his neighbour. His lips began to form a smile but the young woman ignored him and spoke to the shopkeeper in Yoruba. Obi wondered if his breath stank. Perhaps he still reeked of sweat despite having a bath after unpacking. His frown was obvious as he watched her go.
The shop owner cawed as he watched his customer.
‘‘You like am?’’ he asked in Pidgin English.
Obi forced the anger from his face. ‘‘She be my neighbor. She too dey do shakara.’’ Immediately he regretted his words, recollecting how she had greeted thetrader cordially.
‘‘Yewande no dey like that,’’ defended the old man. ‘‘She no know you. You just pack in newly, abi? I see you when you pass for motor wey carry your load.’’
Obi nodded. Out of curiosity he asked, ‘‘Wetin she dey do sef?’’
‘‘Ah, Yewande na big girl. She dey for Zenith Bank.’’
Obi smiled mirthlessly. If she was a queen he was not one of her subjects, he thought as he left the shop.
Obi settled down fast. His one-room apartment was in a fairly new one-storey block of five one-room self-contained apartments and four three-bedroom flats. He discovered that Yewande was not stuck up. But she was reserved whenever her path crossed that of the new kid on the block. Yewande was a woman of substance: she was the only single in the compound who rented a three-room flat where she lived with her sister, her splitting but far taller sixteen-year old image called Ibironke. Ronke soon became friendly with Obi when she discovered he was an English Language and Literature teacher. Obi hoped she would not get into her sister’s bad books for coming to him in the evenings with her assignments.
Two months after he packed in, Yewande tooled in a brand new Renault Koleos.
‘‘Old boy, your neighbour’s ride is clean,’’ remarked Jipocho as he and Obi waited for a bus at Johnson Bus-stop, Ijesha, on a Monday morning two weeks after Yewande bought her car. The journalist and Obi had hit it off two days after the latter moved in.
‘‘Not bad,’’ agreed Obi.
‘‘She really ‘washed’ the car well.’’ Jipocho was a sybarite. Obi nodded absently. He had had half a mind to reject the drinks and roast chicken Yewande had given everyone in the compound to celebrate her entry into the car owners club. He could not totally reconcile himself to her coolness whenever they met.
A sick bus groaned towards them, the conductor howling ‘‘Ijesha-Express! Express-Ijesha!’’ in a singsong rhythm from the partially open door. As the bus paused like a muscle-straining runner just before the gun goes off Obi and Jipocho dived in before the crash of other shoving passengers.
As the bus sped off Jipocho resumed the conversation. ‘‘Why don’t you go to work with her? Her bank is in your side of Festac.’’
Obi smiled. ‘‘I am not a beggar.’’
‘‘Come off your high horse,’’ admonished his friend. ‘‘I know you like her.’’
‘‘You are nuts!’’ The two men laughed heartily. But Jipocho was relentless. ‘‘Don’t you like good things? Such a loaded beauty living next door. Will you be single for life?’’
‘‘God help us. Barely a few months here and you are already assigning me a wife? Was that how you hooked your wife?’’
Jipocho smiled.. ‘‘Obi, that super banker of yours needs a man. Sure, she does not advertise it like Sterling Bank but it is written all over her. There comes a time in anyone’s life, particularly a woman’s, when only a flesh-and-blood love can fill the void. Not cars, not de luxe apartments. She is brooding.’’
Obi shrugged. Yewande’s love life was none of his business.
‘‘She doesn’t look like a man-starved babe to me. Such a ‘Figure Eight’ will not lack lovers.’’ Jipocho’s impish wink at his description made him regret uttering it.
‘‘Don’t be fooled.’’ The journalist sounded sagely. ‘‘Such liberated women may have big boys who occasionally warm them up but the real McCoy? Hard to come by because they won’t come down from Mount Olympus and circulate among mere mortals like us.’’
Damn right you may be, thought the teacher as he recollected Yewande’s stiff upper lip postures towards him.
‘‘And,’’ Jipocho went on, ‘‘I have never seen any guy around her, save for a few SUV owners who showed up occasionally. But even they stopped calling.’’
‘‘You see. What hope do I have when Hummer owners have failed?’’
Jipocho grinned. ‘‘Try your luck. Those cool good mornings; the stand-offish politeness. Something could be brewing here.’’
‘‘You are one crazy hombre.’’ They roared with laughter.
Yewande’s eyes glinted in the darkness of her room as she switched off the alarm clock on the nightstand. She had forgotten that her annual leave began today. She was passionate about her job but the best of jobs, like good marriages, flourished when there was occasional space between both parties.
The thought about marriage made her frown. Her family was already on her case as if she was fifty. She did not hate men or marriage but she had some rather unpopular votes she intended to live by.
But only two weeks ago she had attended the wedding of her friend, Iniobong Williams. Ini was a high-flying businesswoman with whom she had attended secondary school and university. Ini was an epitome of twenty-first century feminism. She was a goddess: her striking height, regal carriage, colossal breasts, flashing eyes and night-sky hair aroused the rawest of feelings in even the worldliest of men. She was among the cream of the cream in the Lagos business circuit and she had a lot to show for her efforts: three plots of developed land in her home town, Ikot Abasi; a duplex in Victoria Garden City; four flats rented out in Surulere and four cars in her garage. Faint-hearted guys dared not darken her doorstep.
But only Cupid knew how he used the arrows of a polytechnic lecturer to smite her heart. Adrian had scorned her wealth but cherished her mind and body. He had conquered her by respecting her and refusing to be intimidated by her accomplishments. The result was that Ini was a month pregnant before he formally proposed. To the world’s shock the Efik tycoon agreed to a quiet wedding and moved into Adrian’s two-room flat.
The whirlwind romance had made Yewande wonder. She had cornered her friend shortly after the ceremony. ‘‘Girl, what really happened?’’ were her first words after hugging the bride.
‘‘Nothing,’’ came the reply. ‘‘Except that I met a guy worth dying for.’’
Yewande could not believe her ears. Ini spoke solemnly. ‘‘It is not a deviation from all we have stood for these years. I know you are worried about my relationship with Adrian. But nobody can deny the need for love. These masks we wear is because both sexes have not realized that we complement each other. Get the right rib and the world will be a better place.’’
Since then Yewande had been on the road of re-evaluation. But each stop ended in a blank. None of the men she considered opening her heart to meet her standards. A quiet voice spoke at her elbow: you are measuring them against Adeniran. In the past she would have fought that thought. Any thought of Adeniran spewed out his spectre from the earth’s bowels. But eight years was long enough for even the most potent ghost to be quiet.
She got out of bed. She put on her house coat. The sound of a gently opened door reached her ears. She tensed, and then realized it was her new neighbour. He never missed his Saturday early morning jog.
Asking herself what propelled her actions Yewande padded to the windows and slightly shifted the blinds, making sure she was not seen from outside. Clad in a blue tracksuit, Obi walked briskly towards the gate. He was tall, robust and fair-skinned. He had a clean-cut face, big eyes and a slightly prominent jaw. Yewande wondered why she was always aloof towards him. The gate opened and Obi’s walk became a jog. Even as she watched him go the banker battled with the flutter in her stomach. She steeled herself and focused on the plan forming in her subconscious.
Obi was surprised by Yewande’s changed attitude. She returned his greetings. Her enthusiasm whenever she came upon him and Ronke studying was not forced. Yewande invited him over for dinner. He politely declined the first invitation but accepted the second. The meal shamed anything Sheraton chefs could have dreamt up and the two sisters were jolly company. Obi swapped numbers with them.
‘‘You are making progress,’’ said Jipocho one evening as he and Obi shared beers in the compound’s forecourt.
‘‘You are a case.’’
Jipocho spotted Yewande coming out, winked at his friend. ‘‘Move in for the kill.’’
Although Obi dismissed his friend’s fantasies he could not explain why an invisible horse kicked him under the chest next Sunday when a Denzel Washington look-alike driving a space car called on Yewande.
Valentine Day fell on a Saturday. Obi woke up late only to hear a female voice over his radio welcoming listeners to ‘the day of love.’ Tuface Idibia’s classic ‘African Queen’ then came on air. Obi sighed. He had dozed off without switching off the radio. Must get up for my jog, he thought, then nestled back in the sheets. A man deserved to break his own rules once in a while, he decided.
His Nokia phone chimed. Obi reached under his pillow. It was a text. He scrolled down and got a bullet between the eyes:
Hi, Obi. Happy Val. Please if you are not engaged today mind going on a date with me? I find you attractive. No hard feelings if you refuse. Yewande.
Obi stared at the text thoughtfully. Then he shrugged. What had he to lose? A date with Yewande might have great prospects. He reached for his phone.
Yewande shot to wakefulness like a diver breaking water. Bliss engulfed her after a spurt of disorientation. She was half lying across Obi’s body. A smile crossed her face as she adjusted her position. Obi’s face beamed in repose. Yewande let her mind roam.
They had gone to a club where they boogied till 2a.m. Yewande had been more than willing to let Obi drive them home. As Obi handled the car skillfully, their eyes locked in the mirror, then jerked away after transmitting signals. When they got home Yewande asked him to come in for ‘something with which to clear your head.’ Obi took a deep breath, entered and they erupted in the kind of sex that updated the Kama Sutra. Yewande barely had time to remember the condom pack in her drawer.
She was about to get up when gentle hands pulled her back.
‘‘Thought you were asleep,’’ she murmured.
Obi smiled. ‘‘You dispense effective sleeping tablets.’’
Yewande kissed him. ‘‘Glad they worked.’’ She nibbled at his nipples. Obi reached between her legs with one hand, cupped her left breast with the other. She moaned. Obi adjusted her position so that she was on her back. He slid his head between her thighs, flicked his tongue across the appetizing clitoris, smiling at the throaty sounds above him. As Yewande was mouthing things outside the human realm Obi’s penis plunged in and they went wild. Their climax was volcanic.
Obi took a deep breath. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her but some things had to be said.
‘‘What am I doing in the bed of a banker who consorts with a Denzel Washington who owns a space jeep?’’ His tone was mild. Yewande looked up.
‘‘What do you mean?’’
‘‘You know, darling. Until a few weeks ago we were barely on speaking terms. So why the text? I don’t want to be a spare when the main tyre is flat.’’
For a minute Yewande stared at him with such stricken eyes that Obi instinctively reached for her. But she swung out of bed.
‘‘I must have been crazy.’’ Her trembling voice belied her steely look. ‘‘Please leave. Now.’’
Obi opened his mouth but she pointed decisively at the door, blinking back tears.
Obi sighed as he reached for his clothes. He walked to the door. The Valentine experience was now ash in his mouth but he could not leave her like that. As Yewande reached for the door knob he laid his hands on her shoulders. She snarled: ‘‘Don’t touch me!’’
But Obi held her as she struggled, tears rinsing her face. Gradually she subsided and rested her head on his shoulder, crying softly. Obi stroked her hair, deeply troubled by her pain.
‘‘I am sorry. I didn’t ask the question to malign you.’’ He caressed her till she was spent. Then he led her to a sofa, sat down and set her on his lap.
‘‘Do you realize what it took me to send that text?’’ Yewande asked quietly.
Obi nodded. ‘But I had to be sure.’’
Yewande put an arm round his shoulder.
‘‘His name is Kole Vaughan. He has been wooing me for five months now but I have decided to pack up the whole thing.’’ She meant it.
Her soulful eyes replied him. This was for real.
HENRY CHUKWUEMEKA ONYEMA
HENRY C. ONYEMA IS A NIGERIAN WRITER OF FICTION AND NON-FICTION.