I had woken up to find the nets, which protected me from raging mosquitoes at night, white by the Harmattan dust that beclouded the atmosphere. The pieces of furniture in the house had also collected dust and needed cleaning. I was piqued. It was inevitable I would have a hard time tending to the dust. Dusting furniture had become a regular chore in the house, and I was sick of doing it. I already had enough responsibilities on my shoulders. But there was no one else to do the dusting. It was just mother and me in our two-bedroom flat. I certainly did not expect her to do the cleaning for me.
The previous night had been rather cold but I barely covered myself before going to bed. And I am someone who is never aware of anything happening around while in a deep sleep; a heavy sleeper of some sort.
Mother has bitterly complained about this trait of mine, but am I really to blame? It is not as if I deliberately choose to sleep as deeply as I do. It just happens to be my nature, or so I believe. Perhaps I inherited this trait from the father I never knew, I sometimes think, because I certainly did not inherit this from mother.
Mother hardly ever sleeps. She’s always alert. I envy this virtue of hers. Nonetheless it is her fear that I will wind up becoming a lazy woman, because of my tendency to oversleep. I have not really been able to reconcile laziness with over-sleepiness, though; at least in my case. For it is not as if I sleep through the entire day without doing anything productive. I only sleep at night. I don’t even nap in the afternoons. Not that I have the luxury of that any longer.
Mother’s fears are somewhat justifiable. Ever since I had Ndubuisi, who I call the corollary of my teenage pregnancy, I have been saddled with responsibilities, many of which do not require me to sleep too much. But perhaps I have yet to develop such motherly aptitude.
I slept off while breastfeeding Ndubuisi the other day, and would have mistakenly dropped him from my arms had mother not woken up to check on me, and had Ndubuisi not held tightly to my nipples with his mouth. Mother said my legs were barely balancing him, my hands weren’t cushioning him as they ought to, and easily would he have rolled down my legs. Rather fortunately, however, that did not happen. Of which I am thankful.
Mother also complained about how so irresponsible I am toward Ndubuisi—the fact that I do not realise I am now a mother and need to ‘grow up’ for my son’s sake; the fact that even when Ndubuisi screams at midnight, my sleep is always of higher priority to me than his comfort.
The truth is that I sometimes never hear him scream. And the idea of being irresponsible; I believe nothing can be more irresponsible than getting pregnant at the tender age of seventeen. I have peaked. I have hit maximum in the realms of irresponsibility. There cannot possibly be anything worse than the irresponsible deed of having illicit sex and becoming pregnant at seventeen.
Only a year ago, which is like yesterday, I was a ordinary teenager. I was a virgin and hardly even associated with boys. School was priority and I was at the top of my class. But that is all gone now. Here I am today wishing I can turn back the hands of the clock to correct the mistakes I made. Here I am hoping that there is some form of silver lining in everything that has happened to me.
I met Tolu, Ndubuisi’s father, on a Sunday. Mother sent me to buy drinks for her guests at the house. I was to go to a restaurant three buildings away from our block of flats. I consequently had to drop the rather interesting novel, by John Grisham, I was devouring on my bed. This made me grumble. I went into the kitchen to pick up my blue plastic basket and headed out.
I was at the doorpost of Tolu’s mother’s restaurant in no time, looking at my reflection on the sliding glass doors. I walked in, making a conscious effort to resist the penetrating stares of old and middle-aged men who drank bottles of beer and smoked cigarettes like chimneys, therein. I was prepared to smack the filthy hands of any wanton fellow who would attempt to touch me. Fortunately, none did.
The restaurant was hazy because of the cigarette fumes that swallowed up its interior. The smell of nicotine engulfed the entire place, making me feel nauseous. I formed a curve with my palms and placed it over my nose, heading for the counter to place my order. The sounds coming from one of the speakers jarred my nerves. I endured the torture till I was in front of the counter.
“What do you want?” the wiry guy at the counter said.
I did not answer immediately. I stared him in the face. He was handsome, in a strange way, quite different from the random guys strewn all over the neighbourhood. He was tall, and slightly light-skinned.
“Four bottles of malt drinks please,” I finally said, after scrutinising him with my eyes.
He went for the refrigerator to bring the four bottles of malt drink I requested for. I watched as he dutifully exchanged the empty bottles in my blue basket with the cold, filled bottles from the refrigerator. The bottles clinked as he arranged them in my blue plastic basket. I paid for the drinks. He was to give me some change.
Fumbling for change in a drawer, he attempted striking a conversation with me. “Are you new here? I don’t think I’ve seen you around.”
I bit my lower lip. “No… no, I’ve actually lived here all my life.”
“That’s surprising. You mean you stay here and our paths have never crossed?”
“I guess one cannot know everyone.” I evaded eye contact with him after I said this.
“Anyway, I’m pleased to meet you today. I’m Tolu, and you are?”
I cleared my throat. Giving my name to random strangers wasn’t something I accorded well with. “Is my name any necessary?” I soon asked, staring back at him in the eyes. I didn’t want him to have the impression that I was shy, even though I was somewhat.
“Depends on how you look at it. But giving me your name wouldn’t hurt, would it?”
“Of course it wouldn’t! But alas, I’m not telling you my name. Can I have my change please?”
He snickered. I stretched out my right hand in demand for my change. He smiled. He placed my change on my right palm and said nothing more. I left thereupon.
This spawned something new for me. There was something different about him. I could not exactly pin-point what this difference was, save his rare handsomeness. Thoughts of him weirdly stayed glued to my mind all week and I secretly wished mother would send me to buy drinks again. I wanted to see him, for some reason.
Was I too cold to him? I asked myself more than once. All he did was be friendly with me. Yet I shielded myself from his friendship, even though I latently desired it. Was this love at first sight? But how would I know? How I felt was new to me. I had never secretly harboured such a feeling for any guy before.
I tried to make sense of the situation. Why was I feeling the way I felt? Was it because he took a special interest in me like no other guy had? Or was I simply just drawn to him? I couldn’t figure this out.
My prayers were soon answered. I was sent to buy drinks for another guest of mother’s. With enthusiasm, I carried my blue plastic basket and headed out again. I decided I wasn’t going to stutter or pause awkwardly during my conversations with the strange restaurant boy, as had happened momentarily the other time. I would be witty and unpredictable.
I stopped myself halfway through however. Was I alright? I wondered. I had really fallen for the guy. And I barely even knew him. What really was wrong with me? Answers eluded me. I resumed my journey to the restaurant.
Stepping foot into the restaurant, my eyes met Tolu’s in a flash. I sauntered towards the counter. His countenance lightened. Surges of god-knows-what moved haphazardly in my insides. I tried to keep myself together, however, with shoulders squared.
“Good evening,” Tolu said in salute.
“I’m not old,” I protested, waving my hand in utter disapproval. (A ‘hi’, ‘hello’ or perhaps ‘what’s up’ would have sufficed for me; that was for the young.)
“Old? Who said you were? I only expressed courtesy which is rare around here.”
“I want a bottle of malt.”
“Ok. I’ll take care of that. But can I, at least, get your name first? I didn’t get it the last time.”
I recoiled. “Why are you bent on knowing my name?”
“Let’s just say I already consider you a friend, and that’s what friends do. They relate to each other on a name basis. I do hope you feel the same way about me though.”
I peered into his eyes. “You have the right words for every situation, don’t you?”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
“You said that the last time we spoke.”
“So you kept score of our conversation.” He chuckled at me. I grimaced. “It’s good to know you consider me a friend enough to do so. I’m grateful for that,” he added
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I retorted in defence, bursting his bubble. “I didn’t keep score of anything. I just have a razor-sharp memory. And I wouldn’t say what you’re feeling is mutual.”
Tolu’s face became straight. “That really hurt,” he said. Then he softened his look. “I mean well. I really do. Barely do I get to see people like you who I can reason and be potential friends with. That’s why I’m this happy you remembered something I said. I know you’re way out of my league, for what it’s worth.”
The right chords were struck within me after he said this. I tried to imagine what it was like for him, working in a restaurant that mostly old drunks patronised. Perhaps he did not have so many friends, as was the case with me. I could identify with that. I stretched my lips, as though intending to grin. “Njideka or Nji―whichever one you prefer. Can I have my order now?”
“Of course. And, for the record, that’s a lovely name.”
“Oh! Thank you,” I responded, in sarcasm. I could tell he was lying. My name couldn’t have been lovely. The mockery I endured at school was testament to this. Moreover, I never really liked my name. The sound of it is harsh, too Igbo-centric.
I thought about the possibility of actually being his friend as he went for the refrigerator. He exuded so much warmth, which I admired that. Perhaps I could give it a try, I thought. And I did.
The next five minutes, before heading back home, we talked about other things, majorly about the neighbourhood and how we both felt out of place in it. I got to know that his mother owned the restaurant, and that he lives not so far from the restaurant but not so near either. I winded up liking him after all.
Once a week, on Saturdays, after that day, I would come around to see him at the restaurant. We would have a good time chatting up and becoming better acquainted with each other. I started becoming enamoured of him as time went on. I enjoyed being around him, to say the least. In effect, I started seeing him more often. Once a week soon became twice a week, and twice a week soon became thrice a week, until we were seeing each other almost every day of the week.