She was sitting impatiently at a table for two that rainy Valentine evening in February ’97. Vincent’s running like thirty minutes late. She sat there, trying(and partially succeeding) not to steam. She knew the kind of bitch she was when she got mad. She stared at her Blackberry lying on the table, its pink casing contrasting with the green tablecloth. There was no point trying his line. His phone battery’s dead. Or switched off. What am I, she wondered, a human waiting machine? All that jazz about making today her best Valentine ever.
Right now, she felt like she could strangle someone. After three years of dating, when would Vincent ever learn? She had told him a zillion times that Nora Obi was her name and waitressing wasn’t her game! Boys, she sighed, they never listen. Around her, coming and going, couples and trios dressed in red, green and blue, the colours of the day, with fingers interlocked and arms draped over shoulders and waists, ordering salads, cakes, pies and the ever prominent ice-cream. Laughter drifted from the other tables as she sat alone. Three tables away, a girl shrieked with unabashed glee as she stared at the contents of a gift-wrapped package her smug looking boyfriend seated across had handed her.
She did her best not to stare. While, inwardly, she boiled with resentment. She seethed with rage. Her control slipped. She wanted to overturn the table. She wanted to burst into tears of frustration at his insensitivity on such a precious day in her life. Instead, she sat with a face she tried to give off as passive. She tried to give herself off as just another single, pretty woman with no grief with the world.
” Is this seat taken?”
She looked up. At six-foot five. At a smiling face. At a simple blue-striped shirt.
” Seat,” she addressed the chair in front of her,” are you taken?” She stared at him with a challenge in her gaze. Her face telling him to piss off. That she was running on a short fuse. To move it before she turned the table into the scene of a crime that would make Jack the Ripper go green with envy. He met her eyes. She could read amusement in them. She pasted a scowl on her face and he met it with a sinister tightening of his lips. She watched incredulously as he bent till his face was nearly touching the top of the chair. He held it there for some seconds, then she watched his eyes brighten and he rose to his full height, gave her a thumbs up, pulled the chair out and sat down. ” What’s that?” she demanded with irritation, her hand reaching for her Blackberry. Screw Vincent, she’s getting out. ” The seat said, ‘sit down,mate , I am itching to kiss your ass.’ ”
Her hand had reached the Blackberry and she was picking it when the laughter that suddenly enveloped her jerked the phone from her hand back onto the table. She tried to hold herself back, but it was a lost cause. The anger that had been simmering deep inside her chest had finally erupted. But, instead of a volcanic eruption, burning everything on its path, it erupted as a waterfall, a beautiful shower of laughter that degenerated into a fit of coughing which brought a look of alarm on his face and sent him hurrying towards the counter for bottled water. When he returned, the had calmed down but he could still see the glimmers of laughter shining in her eyes. ” That was scary,” he said. ” That was funny,” she replied. He smiled and offered the water. She took it and their fingers touched. Nothing. No electric spark. No Harlequin romance novel warmth. Just a simply there contact.
She sipped the water in small draws. “Nora.”
He smiled. “And his battery’s ‘dead’, I presume?”
” Lol, yeah.”
“Or his landlord gave him a four hour quit notice.”
” Or he got arrested for killing a man.”
” Very funny,” he laughed.
She gave a shrug. ” I was actually here to fulfil a promise,” he gestured at the ice-cream counter. “My sisters,” he added after a pause. ” Big Brother Valentino,” she joked and he smiled. They were silent for a few minutes, staring at everything and everyone but themselves.
He excused himself and she watched him walk to the counter. He returned with two trays of chocolate ice-cream and a roll of pie which she thought looked like a teenager’s erection.
” I know I should have asked,” he said,”but you owe me for that sour look earlier.”
She smiled. God, this guy has a mouth on him. ” Ha yham so Sorreeeeeeeyyyy,” she said in a mock mournful drawl.
He loved it. “Do it again.”
She made a sad face and repeated, ” ha yham so Sorreeeeeeeyyyy.”
” Accepted,” he said with a chuckle. ” Nice act. Mercy Johnson would be jealous.”
” Thanks,” she said with her mouth full of ice cream. It tasted choco-licious. She gave him a thumbs up to show her approval.
Somehow, at the snap of a finger, the blink of an eye, her Valentine had been resurrected from the ashes of an imminent letdown. Vincent’s face floated across her face. It hovered above Isaiah’s head. She blinked. It was gone. In the drizzling evening of February 1997, she had one of her best impromptu dates since Christmas with Nwota in 1994. She learnt Isaiah was a student of the University of Benin on break for his uncle’s funeral (“oh my,” she said, “I am gonna throw you a sorry party.” And he actually laughed.) He wanted to be a writer because his sisters loved reading, and his biggest secret he never told anyone was he couldn’t recite the 2 x multiplication table ! (“olodo,” she teased.)
She told him about her little brother. The prodigal soldier who had ran off to join the army at nineteen and had been KIA a few years ago, during the September ’95 Bayawe Alley Gundown. Of her days at the University of Lagos where she was queen of the notorious Daughters of Jezebel fraternity.( His mouth gaped at that and he said, ‘fear dey catch me o’
She was telling him why she thought the University was a waste of an individual’s life when she saw him look past her with arched brows.
She smelt him before she saw him.
Vincent stood behind her with an apologetic smile on his face. Her irritation at being interrupted melted as she stared at his remarkably handsome face, that ever-smiling face that slithered in and out of her dreams at night. The face with the boyish dimples she just couldn’t stay mad at for long.
“Baby, I am sorry I am late,” he said.
She rose and hugged him.
He held her with the assurance of one who knew where he stood. She trembled as she felt his tongue slither in and out of her earlobe. A spot he knew she was vulnerable at. Now this is a man who knew how to spin her wheels.
“This is a nice dress,” he said, looking her over, ” can I talk you out of it?”
She felt her face growing hot. She jabbed him playfully and he sold the move like he had taken a bullet to the chest.
She turned to Isaiah who sat and stared with an expression that gave nothing away.
“This is Vincent,”she said as casually as she could manage.
“Obviously,” Isaiah made a yeah-right gesture with his palms out and spread apart.
“A good friend of mine,” she introduced him to Vincent.
Isaiah made an of-course face and shook the hand Vincent offered. ” Was just keeping her company while you do your last minute shopping,” he paused for effect,gestured briefly at the rose Vincent had been trying to hide behind his back and said, ” for flowers.”
Vincent gave him a dark look and Nora hid a smile at the split second look of disdain that crossed Isaiah’s face before he smiled as if he had’t just been malicious.
Vincent finally found his voice. “Thanks,” he actually spat the word out. Before Isaiah could reply, he turned to Nora and said, “Baby, let us get out for here. I got someplace nice in mind. You will love it.”
” I bet I will,” she smiled sweetly as she picked her BB from the table.
“Bye, Isaiah,” she offered him her hand. “Tell your sister to take her chances.”
He was starting to frown in confusion when he felt the paper pressing on his palm as they shook hands. He smiled in understanding. ” Oh, she definitely will. I will see to that”
And then she did something the stunned him.
She deliberately dropped the paper on the table, right under Vincent’s gaze and as Vincent’s eyes widened, she picked it and with the most disdainful tone he had ever heard, she flashed the paper at him and said,” What nonsense is this? Do I like like I am interested in someone as boring as you when I have got someone like him?” She gestured at Vincent who was now smirking with a pitying look on his face.
She spoke low and with such vehemence that he was rooted in a mixture of embarrassment and cold fury.
He was opening his mouth to ask her if she was Judas Iscariot’s sister when she flung the paper at him and turned away with her still smirking boyfriend who put his arm around her and discreetly shot Isaiah his middle finger as they walked away.
He picked the paper which had fallen on his tray. On it was her Blackberry pin and her phone number. There was a heart scrawled at the bottom of the paper with a smiling face in its center.
He started to laugh as it hit him.
“What a woman,” he chuckled as he rose and walked to the ice-cream counter, humming ‘You Just Can’t Win’.