Sanusi had the constitution of a bull. Both sides of his head each had an extra ridge, a muscular swelling that broadened his face and gave it a rather ugly look. But his facial skin, though thick as hide, was smooth and clean-shaven. And his head, shaven smooth also, was rounded and shiny and reflected forms around it. The rest of his features bespoke the same bullish constitution – bulging eyes, dark lips, a thick-set neck, broad shoulders, a hefty chest.
Sanusi had settled himself at a table at the far end of a posh restaurant. His skin-shaven head nearly grazed the wall behind. Beneath the carefully starched and ironed shirt, his chest pounded with an unsettling throb.
Sanusi looked up, suppressing a startle, to see the face to which the sneaky voice belonged. The waiter-man, a middle-aged man, had a plastic smile on, and his eyes had many more questions dancing inside them.
“You can take my order later? I’m waiting for somebody.”
“Of course, Sir.”
The waiter swirled around on his heels and marched away. His jesterly carriage made Sanusi sigh and steal another glance at the entrance doors.
Sweet Susan. Thoughts of Susan came to him in avalanches, so that he had to pause and take them one at a time – something that never happened with any of his previous women. Akanni, bossom friend and room-mate, was present when the wings of nascent romance fluttered. If Akanni had harboured any hope of a longish union between his buddy and the pretty, buttery damsel, he never showed it. But Sanusi did not seem to get the message, so Akanni took it upon himself to point out the obvious.
“That girl is Ajebota.”
Of course, it wasn’t necessary; the message had rung loud long ago. She was a daughter of wealth and privilege, he was his humble self – proud of himself as he was – and their circumstances couldn’t be farther apart. Although he never voiced it, he often wondered what she saw in him. She did not even speak his native tongue, so they conversed in English, his broken and cautious, hers crisp and smooth-flowing. Perhaps he held on because he felt from the very beginning that something was afoot, something magical. He did not even give up on it when he had first visited Susan’s family and had gotten proof that Akanni was no sadist. He had endured the cold stares, the biting silences, and the sarcasms that shot out like poisoned arrows in the rare moments when people actually spoke. And through it all he kept thinking of Susan’s words, spoken with such simple, understated passion.
“I love you. ”
When Susan’s cousin Ritchie called him a “scumbag”, he wasn’t particularly surprised. He was hurt, his ego crashed – partly because he did not, could not, as would otherwise be the case, respond immediately with a good-sized slug. But he wasn’t surprised. Susan’s family’s opposition threatened to demystify the magic that was afoot, and reveal it as the ruse everyone knew it to be, and he, Sanusi, could only watch with trepidation.
But Susan must have used on her family the same irresistible simplicity that captured his own heart, seeing that the thick fog of resentment soon cleared enough to afford him a few chances to make what feeble attempts he could at ingratiating himself to that aristocratic clan. It amounted to a life-saver, since he did not know what he would have done with himself had the magic unraveled. So, despite the grudges that lingered, despite whom he was and where he was coming from, despite the unlikelihood of the entire situation, Susan was the reason he found himself in the mushy ambiance of an expensive restaurant, quietly rehearsing his lines. She was the reason his heart throbbed, the reason he was going to propose marriage today.
But Sanusi had always crossed boundaries. He was the ugly duckling that wants to become a swan. He will was as rugged as his experiences since birth; as rugged as his inadequate parentage, his expulsion from school, his stint with Area Boys at the motor park, his many other troubles.
Then, for no reason other than the whimsy hands of fate, his life began to turn a curious corner. And it was always with some weird or comic commencement, as though some puppeteer hovered out of sight, pulling his life’s strings. The encounter with the stuck-in-a-ditch motorist, for example, was totally unusual. Whatever made him the Good Samaritan, offering to help pull the car out of the ditch? But so began an acquaintance that quickly took him from the motor park to the equally brutish but far more rewarding job of clearing agent at the docks.
And that puppeteer must have cast a spell of mischief on Sanusi that morning when he and Akanni got into a stupid argument about the pretty girl over there.
“I fit talk to am.”
“You no fit. You no dey look face?”
“I say I fit talk to that girl.”
“You no fit.”
And then he started walking over to the girl, who was leaning on her car, looking busy with her cellphone.
“Sanusi!” Akanni called, but Sanusi was gone.
The girl said her name was Susan, and on the weekend she showed up at the beaten-up apartment that Sanusi and his friend called home.
But Susan did not show up at the restaurant that evening. Worse still, she could not be reached on her phone. How the cookies crumble, thought Sanusi, as he dragged his now leaden feet and tired frame out of the restaurant.
Later, as he lay down on his bed, fully clothed, cursing his luck, wondering how and why he got so presumptuous, trying to figure out where things had gone irremediably wrong without his knowledge – or with his blind ambition; as he began to wonder if maybe something unexpected had happened to scuttle Susan’s itinerary; as he wondered if she couldn’t have called him from a different phone if hers had problems; as he wondered if he ought to make sure Susan’s safe, there was desperate knocking at the door, and when he opened it, it was Susan standing there.
He would not remember most of the explanations she gave, save that they seemed very tennable.
“Will you marry me?” he had asked, pulling out the ring.
Susan had been speechless, but his visage had been intense.
“What took you so long?” she finally asked.
Before then, the whole thing had been titillating, infatuating, magical, and he never wanted to let go, but he never truly understood Susan’s role in his life. At that moment, in that instant, he understood. He understood that to become the person fate or providence seems to have marked him out for, he would need to forget the person he always had been. Sussan makes him forget.
Much later, at a more relaxed time, he would ask why she stuck with him the way she did, and she would say, “I knew you were going somewhere.”
“And you knew that from the first day?”
Sanusi would also not remember how that evening ended, save that he took his woman by the hand, and together they crossed over – into the future.