As they drove, there was a beep from Richard’s phone, which was in his breast pocket and he made as if to retrieve it.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Nene asked, a tinge of fear in her voice. “Don’t tell me you’re going to check your phone while you’re driving?”
“You’ve predicted my future by asking a question. O Great One, if you already knew, then why did you still ask?” Richard asked in a playful voice. Nene was not smiling.
“To knock some sense into your head, obviously.”
“Are you saying I’m senseless?”
“Your words not mine,” Nene said, pouting like a spoilt child. “Or how else would you describe a person who fiddles with his phone while driving? There’s no way you’ll be able to concentrate on your driving.”
“You mean to tell me that you don’t text, answer calls, type articles, make eba, pound yam, make akamu and even wash clothes while you’re driving?” Richard asked, a wicked smile playing on his lips.
Nene laughed at his effort to lighten her mood.
“I don’t drive, so the answer is ‘No.’ I don’t make eba while driving. But, put me on the back of an okada, and I might even make stew to go with the eba.” Richard laughed. It was one of those genuine, heartfelt laughs that rise from the belly and explodes through the mouth.
“Hmmmm … But you’re clearly one of those back seat drivers,” he said, as the laughter died down.
“What gave me away?”
“Ah! The way you’ve been pointing and gesticulating and telling me to slow down since you entered my car. I’ve been waiting to ask if maybe you be yellow fever or LASTMA officer.”
Nene chuckled. And then it struck her. That mention of LASTMA could only mean one thing.
“Wait o, Richard. Have you been to Lagos?”
“Ah, I resemble village boy to you? So, on top of all my baffing up, you still think I’m a local boy? See my life?!” he moaned in jest.
“O-o-o-h! Stop it jo. I was referring to the LASTMA comment, not your clothes. No one says “baffs” anymore, old papa youngy …”
“Your body don wrinkle …” Richard sang.
“Pata-pata!” they both chorused and the car erupted in laughter.
“You dis girl! You’re just as razz as I am. I like that.”
They had by now arrived at the Mr. Biggs on the ever busy Nnebisi Road. This was one of Asaba’s commercial areas, but it was less busy that day, being a Sunday. The restaurant was not as packed as Nene had expected. Many of those present were young couples with small children, but some older people were also there.
Richard paid for their food, and they went to sit at a table with three chairs.
“Won’t you check your phone? Your girlfriend won’t like to be kept waiting,” Nene teased, in between sips from a bottle of Fanta. Richard pulled out his phone and came round to where she sat. Still holding it, he placed it right in front of her eyes, and opened the text message that had come in earlier. It was from someone called Tiff Adesanya, and it read:
I hope you’re expecting me, Richard. I’m coming to visit in one month.
With a questioning look, Nene tilted her head and looked up at Richard.
“Oh, that’s my cousin, Tiffany. We … I mean … I call her Tiff for short.”
“Hmmm … That’s what you all say. It’s always your cousin when you’re out of town. But if she was here, you would act like you didn’t know me.”
Richard cocked his head to one side and gave her a funny look. But, he walked back to his seat without another word. Nene wondered if she had not offended him. She did not have to ask him for he spoke up:
“I can’t speak for all men, and I shouldn’t even have to. But let me say this: Regardless of your own past experiences with men, we are not all the same. There are still some good men out there, and–“
“Let me guess,” Nene said, interrupting Richard’s one-minute sermon. “You’re one of them, right?” she asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Ever heard the saying ‘Don’t blow your own horn’? It’s good advice, you know. Your opportunity to convince me of your humility just flew out of the window. It has probably flown half-way to Onitsha by now.”
“I had to address a more pressing issue, my dear,” said Richard. You made a generalized, and might I add, very stereotypical statement about men, when in fact, the qualities you referenced are reserved for certain types of men.”
“And what sort of man are you, Richard?” Nene asked, throwing the question at him in a deceptively quiet voice. Nene had already drawn her own conclusions about the sort of man Richard was, but she took delight in drawing answers directly from people.
To her, listening to people describe themselves offered a rare opportunity to test the level of humility in a person. A proud person would describe himself in near-perfect terms, omitting his weaknesses and over-emphasizing his strengths. But a humble person would either decline the invitation or give a more balanced description of himself. As Nene was about to discover, Richard fell closer to the humbler end of the spectrum.
“I’m a patient and forgiving man, who still has a lot to learn in life. I love deeply and people often take advantage of that, but it won’t stop me from pouring myself out.”
“Is that all?”
“The rest you’ll have to find out over time.”
Nene who had paused in the middle of her struggle with a piece of chicken to listen to Richard paint a self-portrait with words, resumed her war. The chicken was winning against Nene even though she was equipped with a fork and knife, but by the time Richard finished speaking, Nene had won the battle.
“Who says we’ll be spending more time together?” Nene asked. That Richard assumed that they would be spending more time together was inferred from his last statement.
“You just said ‘We,’ Nene. I rest my case.”
– to be continued –