“Na so e dey start,” she muttered to herself. “From ‘Hello’ to ‘I no do again.’ That’s how the story ends.”
She promptly emptied the dustbin and was about to enter the house when she heard a man’s voice yelling “Hello.” It was the same guy. He had decided to vocalize his greeting this time, but Nene’s reaction was the same. She simply ignored him and went inside.
“I came to Asaba to look for a job, not to make friends,” she reasoned as she retreated indoors.
Later that afternoon, one of Chief’s friends came to visit. His name was Professor Akan, and he taught Physics at University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Professor Akan was a smartly-dressed middle-aged man. Although he was dressed in traditional attire, it was easy to see how he would look in English wear. He had an air of unshakeable confidence around him, like a man who had wrestled with deep questions, and had fathomed the answers by trial and error. He was in Asaba for a friend’s 60th birthday, and decided to greet Chief Alozie while he was in town. Chief was known as a very hospitable man and as was his custom, offered his friend something to drink.
“Any soft drink will do,” Professor Akan said.
Auntie Dubem searched the house and discovered that they were no soft drinks on hand. Nene offered to go and buy some cold drinks from a nearby shop.
“But my dear, you don’t know your way around this neighborhood. Let Godwin go and buy them.”
“Auntie, please let me go with Godwin. I might as well use this opportunity to learn my way around town.”
Auntie Dubem agreed and Nene hopped into the car with Godwin. He took her to a one-storey mini-supermarket about five minutes away from the house. He parked outside, and waited for Nene to return.
“Madam, please I need to buy a crate of Coke and Fanta. Mixed. Do you have any cold drinks?”
“Yes. How many you want?” the woman asked.
“Twelve bottles of Coke, eight bottles of Fanta, and four bottles of Schweppes, if you have any.”
“We no get Schweppes, but we get Mirinda,” the woman said, sounding apologetic.
“Shuooo! How I go take buy Fanta plus Mirinda? No be the same thing dem be?” Nene queried.
“No, they are not,” a male voice answered. “Fanta is made by The Coca-Cola Company, while Mirinda is made by Pepsi Co., the same company which makes Pepsi.”
“Who cares? They are both orange drinks,” Nene answered without even turning around to face the interrupter. “Come o, who be dis ITK sef?” she asked, her face wearing a frown.
With the question still hanging in the air, she turned around and came face to face with the human encyclopedia. She recognized him immediately. It was the man she had ignored that same morning, while taking out the trash.
When she saw him that morning, she only caught a slight glimpse of his face. But now that he stood within touching distance, she carefully assessed him from head to toe.
Nene was about 5′ 7”. This man appeared to be at least 2 inches taller than her. He had what Nene later admitted was an adorable little afro, the kind that just makes you want to reach out and pat it, just to feel the softness of the hair. He had a gentle face with a bold nose that did not seem like it belonged in that face.
She paused at his ears.
Both ears were pierced, revealing little holes where ear-rings had once been.
He looked like he was badly in need of a shave, but all that facial hair did not hide the Adam’s apple, which kept bobbing up and down whenever he swallowed or spoke. He had the build of a man who was not afraid of hard work, and could handle physical labor without whining. He was dressed casually in t-shirt and jeans, and his hands, very hairy hands, were stuck in the side pockets of his jeans. He wore blue loafers, and as Nene’s eyes trailed all the way down from his head to his toes, and then back to his face, his lips parted in a smile, revealing gapped teeth.
It was when he smiled that she saw them for the very first time: little round dimples in his cheeks, the kind that made one say a special prayer of thanksgiving to God for blessing men with dimples. They made all the difference in the world.
“You’re checking me out, ehn? But this morning you didn’t even answer my greeting,” the stranger teased. Nene did not answer. She was still enjoying the way his face came alive when he smiled.
Those dimples … Hmm … Correct!
“I’m Dimeji, by the way. Oladimeji Richard Bakare. Call me Richard.”
Nene still did not answer.
“Why does he have to introduce himself with all his names? Weirdo,” she thought.
Dimeji kept talking.
“Ahn ahn … Are you going to ignore me even now, when I am standing right in front of you?” he asked. A frown had twisted his brow into odd waves of skin, and the dimples made a very limited appearance as if they were shy. Nene snapped out of her reverie.
“Oh sorry … What did you say again?”
“I’m Dimeji Bakare. You can call me Richard. And you are?”
“Nene. Nene Alozie,” she said, smiling in spite of herself.
“Auntie, na which mineral you want make I give you?” the woman asked. She was tired of watching this drama and just wanted to get paid.
“The Mirinda is fine, Madam. Twelve bottles of Coke, eight bottles of Fanta, and four bottles of Mirinda,” Nene replied, turning back to face the woman.
“Madam, please add two cartons of Chivita, the pineapple one. I will pay for everything,” Dimeji offered.
Nene tried to convince him otherwise, but he would not be deterred.
“Consider it a gift, from a neighbor,” he said, as he paid for everything Nene had purchased, including the crate of drinks. As she thanked him, he said it was his pleasure, and was about to ask her some more questions when his phone rang. He answered it and immediately burst into fluent Hausa. Nene was shocked.
The phone call lasted for just a minute, and Nene immediately asked about his speaking Hausa.
“I grew up in Kaduna. I moved to Lagos when I was about to start secondary school. Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to detain you. Your visitor will be waiting for the drinks.”
“How did you know they were meant for a visitor?” Nene asked puzzled.
“I saw him entering your house as I was driving past.”
“Your eyes are sharp o.”
“Not as sharp as they need to be,” Dimeji replied.
That last sentence further confused Nene, and as she returned home, she wondered what he meant. She left him and returned to the car where Godwin was waiting for her. They both returned to the house. Nene told Auntie Dubem that a neighbor had paid for the drinks, and she was very pleased.
Nene went with a tray of drinks to serve the visitor. She knew he would only drink one bottle, but it was for the sake of variety that she presented him with three different bottles. After greeting him, he pointed to the bottle of Mirinda. She was just grabbing the bottle opener when her uncle addressed her:
“Nene, Prof and I have been talking. The friend he came to visit is the General Manager at one of the local banks. He might be able to get you a job there.”
“Oh, really? Oh, that would be very nice, sir,” Nene said in response to her uncle. Then, turning to Prof, she said almost knelt down while the words, “Thank you, sir,” escaped from her lips. Prof smiled his acknowledgment.
“What course did you study in school?” Prof asked.
“Business Administration, sir,” Nene replied.
“Come on, Prof. You know that even if she read Agric. Science, she can still get a job at a bank,” Chief teased. Both men laughed and the conversation switched to politics. Nene took that as her cue and slipped away.
After Prof left, Chief told her to send her CV to him by e-mail, which she did promptly. He would forward it to his contacts, including the very prospective one they had already discussed. That night, Nene went to bed full of hope.
– to be continued –