The zing was never meant to last, and it didn’t. It peaked at the start of the following week and diminished as the week wore on. As weekend drew in, it was ready to be buried.
The truth was simple and shameful. I missed the Poor Little Bitch, I coveted the vivacity with which she dredged up anecdotes to supplant her darker side, and I missed the same darker side I had dedicated myself to pushing away.
I fought hard to stifle the emotion. Admitting it was my failure; it should never have been in the first place.
She was just a chit, for crying out loud! One with plenty of baggage! Nothing more!
Who was I kidding? The chit had planted something inside me, awakened desires that should remained buried, subconscious yearnings I never thought existed. It was my own fault that Jemima was hardly in a position to bring those yearnings to life. Rather, she was in the right place, but she wasn’t the one I craved. We still had lunch some days of the week, during which she tried her best at light table flirting and I responded outright, but it just didn’t feel fantastic.
My conviction of immunity from temptation had taken a serious beating ever since Prisca first walked into my office, and now I was a goner.
I went to Lakeside twice that week and ate dinner by myself. By Friday evening, I was sick of the place. LuckPot was better. Its patrons were mostly high-powered, high-flying men in expensive N40,000 suits—most of it on credit—who invariably looked filthy rich and carefree once they stepped through the doors of LuckPot. Luck aside, the place offered brews that, centilitre after centilitre, kept office sorrows and politics far away. LuckPot had its own sorrows and politics, its own crests and troughs. It had seeds without being seedy.
It was already dark and a cool breeze, the kind that comes just before rain, whipped up to fan Kontagora. I entered LuckPot, which was already humming, and took a corner among Kontagora’s nouveaux riches out to thank god it was Friday.
LuckPot didn’t have printed menus. A young man bearing a tray reached my table to take my order and my phone buzzed. I ordered vegetables and Semovita, one corn meal famous at LuckPot.
Jemima was on the phone. “Hey, baby, are you home yet?”
“I’m at LuckPot. Having dinner.” I pre-empted her next question before she asked what I was doing.
“I thought you’d be home. You forgot it is weekend?” she accused.
“You have a key. You can let yourself in.”
“Very romantic,” she said in an injured tone. “Would have been better if you were there waiting for me. I planned an entire night of fun and you are going to spoil it.”
“I’m not sleeping over here, you know. Just having dinner, and will be back once I’m done.”
“You are alone, aren’t you? So that means no beer.”
“Yes, your highness.”
“Don’t highness me. I don’t want you anywhere near me drunk out of your mind. Not that you’ve ever been.” She heaved a sigh. “Just come to me.”
“And you will take care?”
“Just come to my domain,” she repeated. The word domain didn’t sound out of place. It signalled one thing: when Jemima began using words out of context, she was flirting. “You know the domain name, right?”
“I’m not on dotcom and you know that.”
“Come on, I’m downloading my heart to you.”
“Enter, but my server is slow.” For some weird reason, e-flirtation seemed pleasurable. “Will that be your chat room or forum?”
“It will be a closed room with just you and I.” Jemima chuckled softly. “So, when are we going to browse?”
“Jem, the interface is mouse to mouse.”
“That means I can open the Windows of my heart.”
“You wish. I use Mac.” Blow me, if I’d ever set eyes on the thing!
“Stanley Mala,” Jemima said in feigned exasperation. “I can’t believe you are getting good at this. You should flirt more often.” That part came out before she thought about it and my silence must have sounded a warning bell in her mind, for she quickly said, “I can rephrase that.”
She did and disconnected as the waiter returned with my order. I waited until he’d left my table before opening the dish, and my phone went off again. The caller ID wasn’t familiar. I said hello with a touch of irritation.
“This is not going well!” the caller screamed down my ear and my irritation ticked up a notch.
“This is what comes of trying to conform to convention—or even just a little bit. I’m taking crap for it. My head is shot to pieces and I’m tearing him to shreds. It isn’t fair!” Hysteria pushed her voice several pitches higher and she sounded like a wailing mourner.
“Calm down!” I said ineffectually. “Who’s him?”
I mentally ran through the seven names that comprised her weekdays—Edward, Chinedu, Ayo, Robinson, Haruna, Daniel and Jonathan, as her mother had listed them. Prisca’s him wasn’t on the list.
“Israel,” she screamed. “He’s here.”
“Where is your roommate, your girlfriend?”
“She’s out. I was all by myself when he came in.”
“I can’t see the problem with him visiting you.”
“He is proposing!” Prisca snapped. “He is looking so beautiful in that suit of his. He even came with flowers!” Her voice rose to a shout as she mentioned the word, then dropped rapidly to a whisper. “Can you imagine that, doctor? Flowers, for god’s sake—red roses. He said they cost two thousand each. All for me.”
“I’m happy for you,” I murmured, keeping my voice low not to draw the attention of LuckPot’s patrons. My hushed agitated whispers were beginning to make me a sight.
“No!” Prisca snapped again. “This is not some happy occasion.”
“He embraced me, pressed me tight to his body. He said I would make him the happiest man alive if I would marry him. I said, was that some form of proposal? He said, ‘Yes. Marry me. Let me make you happy.’ And then he kissed me, and this is what happened.”
“Did you kiss him back?” I whispered the question into the phone while keeping a straight face.
“What?” she said as if she couldn’t hear.
“When…er…Israel kissed you, did you kiss him back?”
“That’s beside the point. We were interrupted.”
“Who interrupted you?”
“My roommate. It was just getting hot. She called to say she wouldn’t be returning and we could have the house to ourselves. That’s when I ran into the bathroom and lied about doing women’s stuff. Doctor, this is not good!”
Not good at all! I thought, then said, “You are in the bathroom? That’s where you are calling from?”
“Yes. Israel is out there, and he’s naked and waiting for me. He said he wanted to make love to me. He used much stronger words, but the message was clear.”
“And you don’t?”—my voice dropped even lower as I searched my vocabulary for a word that wouldn’t raise eyebrows—“You don’t want to?”
“You don’t want to make love to him?” My voice dropped further, if that were possible.
“No…I mean, yes. I don’t know.”
“No or yes? Which is it?”
“I don’t know, doctor. I’m confused. He wants me to marry him, for god’s sake. That should count for something, right? Or is he proposing because of sex. There hasn’t been any—with him or anyone else—since the day I walked into your office.”
The revelation washed over me like cleansing water. I wasn’t a failed counsellor. “You’ve gone really far,” I said. “I have an idea. Why don’t you try reasoning with Israel?”
“Reason with him? How?”
“Give me a minute.” I fought to think, but LuckPot and the untouched food in front of me were making thinking difficult. A vision of Prisca cowering inside her bathroom while Israel stalked the room beyond in testosterone-fuelled rage impelled me. “Israel says he’ll be the happiest man alive if you marry him?”
“Then tell him your saying yes doesn’t have to go with sex. Tell him that it’s a big deal for you to get your head around, that you really need your head to think without your body getting in the way. Tell him it would make you the happiest woman if he’d understand.”
“He’ll call me a tease.”
“He’s asked you to marry him. If he really loves you, he’ll understand why this is important to you.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Then you have to decide whether it is important to you in the first place,” I replied with a finality. She sensed the tone outright.
“I don’t understand, doctor,” she countered.
“You understand perfectly well what I mean,” I snapped, getting a bit irritated and hating myself for it. None of this was Prisca’s fault, but I couldn’t find anyone else to blame. “Do you love him?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I take that as a no then,” I inferred. “So why do you want to marry him? I assume you’ve said yes.”
“No,” she shot back.
“There is your answer, Prisca,” I reasoned.
“My answer?” she asked, confused. The logic through which I arrived at the answer confounded even me.
“You don’t love Israel—in fact, that’s a word I’m sure you have never used in connection with him or any other man in your life. On the other hand, if he loves you, he should be prepared to understand why the outcome of your counselling is important to you and be prepared to support you. He shouldn’t think you are holding out on him or leading him on. A proposal doesn’t always come with jumping into bed. If even one of you loves the other, I expect you to support each other. Look how far you’ve come in weeks. You don’t want to throw all of that away in just three minutes of euphoria.”
“Yes, doctor, okay,” she murmured in defeat and disconnected.
Never mind the disturbance! I just wished neither Jemima nor Prisca had called, especially Prisca. There was no way on earth I was going to eat now.