Omasan was desperately trying to prevent his eyes from straying to the scales and freckles on the woman’s neck seated by him, but like the proverbial fly that refused all entreaties to abdicate from following a corpse to the grave, his eyes continued to stray towards her neck. He was trying carefully to negotiate a space between both of them in the bus. She wore a sleeveless blouse and her sweaty arm was soon greasing his shirt as soon as they hit any bad spot on the road. Omasan usually thought that a public vehicle was not where one was supposed to feel all relaxed and comfortable, many communicable diseases could be gotten from unnecessary contact, but the woman by his side did not obviously succumb to that philosophy, she was comfortable in unmitigated bodily contact. The bus was not all that tight so he wondered why she was seemingly hell bent on resting her sweaty hands on his neatly ironed N.Y.S.C khaki jacket. He thought of the subtlest way to tell her off; he wouldn’t want to be having an aura of uppity telling her to give him space. He thought of taciturn ways to tell her. He was finding all the thoughts in his head not too subtle. He turned to speak to her, thinking that even in a ‘’molue’’ someone still deserved some sort of personal space.
‘’Madam, could you shift a bit. I’m barely sitting and you are almost resting on me’’
She wasn’t almost resting. She was. He wondered immediately whether ‘’barely’’ had sounded too furnished. He wanted to sound more local. She would probably think he was an ajebo, who was just spoilt. He looked the part though, with his jet black hair and designer glasses. He would have spoken pidgin, but he remembered his pidgin was bad; his friends had often teased him at how urban and funny his pidgin sounded.
‘’me be like say I siddon well? You nor see say na manage everybody dey manage’’ she replied sharply. She didn’t move.
Omasan wanted to reply. He wanted to tell her that she was occupying at least twice his seat. He wanted to tell her she had scales and acne, that they could be transferred by contact. He wanted to tell her that there was no need for tautology in pidgin. He wanted to, but he didn’t. He knew she was a trouble-maker instantly. He wasn’t prepared to bicker that afternoon. He wasn’t quite ready for a war of words with a market woman. He had bigger issues to think of.
‘’Oya corper, my money’’ the bus conductor whom he had seen throw a wry smile during his banter, quizzed.
‘’can’t you see your bus is tight? I can’t reach my pockets’’
He could, but he wasn’t too enthusiastic in getting his skin to touch the woman. He looked past her to the other two commuters on the seat in the bus. They weren’t interested in his philosophy too it seemed. They looked comfortable in the excess of heat and lack of space they axiomatically caused. He hated traversing in these buses, but a cab to the secretariat was too exorbitant. His option was streamlined to this. He started feeling that migraine again, considerably so; he had slept little that night.
The night had been too long for Omasan, his mind was weighing heavily over the text. He would shrivel, pace about aimlessly in the room and re-read the text over again, it was as if reading and re-reading it would make it disappear. He finally slept but he had woken up as soon as the first cock crowed from the school farm adjacent to his piddling lodge.
His teaching that morning had been concise but full of uncharacteristic errors. He wittingly explained his sour mood as ‘’not feeling too well’’ to copper Megan. He caught himself absent minded a few times thinking of Mrs. Obong. He thought of what she would ask of him. He thought whether she would still want she had wanted. What he would gladly oblige to now. What he would have obliged to. He was still rummaging his mind when Ivie and her friend greeted and walked past while he stood near the staff room. Ivie had not looked at him then, there was the absence of her occasional wry smile. Not that he was really interested in that now. He had thought he saw Ivie’s friend give him a leering look. He tried to recollect her name, he couldn’t, and he quickly dismissed it. Ivie couldn’t have told her friends. She was in much soup as him if word got out. Her mother was a stern administrator and lecturer at the state university. She had told him. But word had gotten out and he was in that soup.
He was thinking too much and needed to act. He got up immediately and left for Mrs. Obong’s office at the state secretariat after lying to the vice principal he was going for a check-up in a hospital in town.
The woman at his side nudged him as she loudly screamed to the person she was talking to on her phone. He subtly tried to hold his own; he was already pressed near the metal on his side of the bus. He tried to keep his firmness but he was too light for her weight beside him.
He had worn his full N.Y.S.C kit that morning. It would give him relatively easy access with the over-bureaucratic and obnoxious secretaries in the secretariat. He had gone there for an errand before; he had not liked them on first meeting. They had chastised him for not coming on his kit. They could waste your time just for the sake of it. They determined what appointments were important and they would promptly dismiss you with a ‘’come back later’’ .Omasan was determined to bypass all that. He certainly didn’t need their attendant drama that morning.
He finally alighted from the bus and paid the bus conductor. He made sure he gave the woman a ‘’look’’ before alighting. She looked unperturbed though, if anything she ominously had a sneer. One that joyfully said ‘’what could you do while I frustrated you’’.
Omasan moved his thoughts to the large secreteriat building in front of him now and for a fleeting moment he thought about the possibility of the text not being from Mrs. Obong. He quickly brushed the thought aside, though not before a cold sweat broke through. It was almost more sickening to think of the text coming from anyone else. It was said that a problem known is half solved. It was not her number and even though she was the only one that called him fine-boy corper. Was that enough? He wondered. He broke a cold sweat again.
He promptly took his mind to the more pressing issues. He thought about what he was going to say to her. He would tell her that he was too scared of her husband at the time. That he wanted her too. No! That seemed too patronizing. It was the truth but it was a truth that was not better than a lie. He was waiting for her in the waiting room now. She had people in her office. With every moment that passed, he was continually thinking about the possibility of the text not being from her.
He soon thought of Udinyinwe and he then of Karma. He wasn’t too sold on the idea of Karma but he wondered whether this was karma manifesting for what he did to Udinyinwe. If the universe had conspired to pay him back for what he did. He wondered whether Stella-Maris had told Udinyinwe. She was threatening to, although he knew she won’t. It was not like it was entirely his making. Even though she had been inebriated, she had initiated it.
Udinyinwe had traveled home that day. He knew him and Stella-Maris had a small rift the previous morning. She had come to their room that night, seemingly drunk. very drunk. She was crying and cursing Udin. He had tried to comfort her and in that faithless moment, she kissed him. He didn’t stop, he didn’t object. He had her that night and the rest had been history. They had kept it from Udinyinwe and never talked about it until recently; she had called him and was threatening to tell Udinyinwe. She had said the ‘’guilt was killing her’’. He didn’t say much. He just told her to calm down and listened to her self- righteous wailing. It felt as if that was why she called him, to pour out her guilt. How selfish of her he thought. He felt heavy in his heart too, Udin was his cousin. There were times he had made up his mind to tell Udinyinwe. He had waited for a perfect time or opportunity, but more often than not the words didn’t just form. He felt immeasurable guilt. He wished he was stronger than his un-quenching thirst for skirts. He wished he had more restraint. He wished he had more control over his desires. He wished he was bolder to face his sins but who was?
Just when the receptionist had signaled him to get ready, he received another text from the same number.
‘’I’m in your room. Hope you didn’t go for another fuck-about……fine boy corper’’
Omasan was both transfixed and paralyzed. In his room ? . His mind went to a thousand places. He got up abruptly and headed for the doorway. For a brief moment he wondered why they called it cold sweat. He felt hot all over…….