By now, it was already dark, and although the electricity supply was a lot better in Asaba than it was in Lagos, the power was out that night. The generators in the neighborhood had taken over from where PHCN stopped.
Chief Alozie’s compound was no exception. The hum of his generator was loud enough to mask Nene and Richard’s conversation from the gateman who sat at his duty post near the gate.
When Nene stepped outside the gate and saw Richard, she immediately noticed that something had changed. He looked different.
Richard had changed from the purple button-down shirt and gray trousers he wore earlier in the day, and now donned his usual t-shirt and jeans. He was smiling. No, beaming when Nene came outside. He could easily have outshone the bright fluorescent lamp, which lit up the front of Chief’s house. Nene wondered why he was so happy. He read the question in her eyes and pronounced the answer with his lips:
“I should have asked you this weeks ago, but I kept looking for the right opportunity and … Nene, you have to promise me that you’ll say ‘Yes.’ Will you?” Richard looked at Nene, hope written all over his face.
“How can I make a promise when I don’t know the terms? What if you want me to steal someone’s guinea fowl? I’m not a thief o,” said Nene, laughing nervously. She hoped the laughter would mask the sound of her heart racing. Nerves! Was he really asking her out?
“Come on now, you know what I mean. Okay, okay, I will come out and say it: I want you to be my girlfriend.”
“Is that how they ask people out in your village? There should at least be a marching band and maybe atilogwu dancers. Maybe the atilogwu dancers are on their way sef,” said Nene, unable to hide the smile that was growing wider and wider. She could not believe it. Had he been eavesdropping on her conversation with Auntie Dubem? Stranger things have happened.
“Oya now, what’s your answer? Please say Yes,” Richard pleaded, grabbing Nene’s hands and clasping them in his own.
“Yes. My answer is Yes,” Nene said, and before she could say anything else, Richard pulled her close and planted a light kiss on her lips. Nene suddenly remembered that her uncle could burst out of the gate at any moment, and quickly pulled away from Richard. He looked mildly offended.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked, puzzled.
“No-o. Not at all. It’s just that my un–”
“Oh yes, I forgot about your uncle. But you’re not a child now. He should be okay w–”
Nene’s laughter interrupted him in mid-sentence. It was the sort of laughter that was designed to pass across a message, and the message embedded in Nene’s laugh was, “You must be joking.”
“My father is not even as strict as my uncle. As long as I live under his roof, no matter how old I am, he won’t be happy to find me kissing our neighbor outside his gate at night.”
“Ah, how did I suddenly become ‘our neighbor’ all over again? You’re my girlfriend now.”
“Girlfriend, not wife. Oya, I have to go back inside before they start looking for me.”
“Wait now. You said you wanted to talk. I’m listening.”
Nene paused and then smiling, she told him: “It’s settled. There’s nothing left to talk about. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. No English wear o.”
“Okay o. Come now …. There’s something else …” said Richard.
Nene obliged. With one swift move, Richard cupped Nene’s face with his hands, and gave her a proper kiss. This time, she did not pull away.
“See you tomorrow then,” he said, as he let his hands slide to her waist.
Nene nodded. He held her for a minute and then reluctantly let her go. As she retreated into the house, she thought to herself:
“This is what they call promotion, for Richard is a far better kisser than Paul.”
The following day was a Saturday, and Richard came to pick her up as planned. He wore a powder blue brocade buba with matching trousers, and Nene wore a purple and gray lace blouse with a matching long skirt. She left her hair uncovered.
“I don’t want to go there looking like Mr. Johnson’s second wife,” she replied when Richard asked her why she was not wearing a head tie. She felt that wearing a head tie would make her look older, a big no-no.
“Don’t cover your hair, then. I prefer it like this,” he said, referring to the individual braids she had tied into a ponytail. Nene blushed. The purple and silver eye shadow she had carefully applied was not lost on Richard either, and he made several jokes about it all the way to Agbor. Although they had to stop several times on the way to ask for directions to the street where Mr. Johnson lived, they finally arrived in Agbor late in the afternoon.
The party was already in full swing when they walked into the spacious compound. Mr. Johnson, who was too busy celebrating life, did not even comment on Nene’s relationship with the young man who she introduced as Richard Bakare. As it turned out, her fears were unfounded. He was more interested in finding out if Richard was related to a popular pastor who bore the same last name. Richard responded in the negative. After eating and drinking, Nene got a chance to assess Richard’s moves on the dance floor to highlife music. She was quite impressed, but complained bitterly about it all the way home.
“I’m sure you went to practice before coming to Agbor today. I’m so sure of it! Ahn, ahn, how can a man beat me on the dance floor like that?” Nene lamented as they made their way home. Nightfall was fast approaching as Richard steered the car along Asaba-Agbor Road.
“Babe, don’t jealous me! I sabi dance pass you. Just accept it,” said Richard. His feigned arrogance only served to irritate Nene further.
“I’m not inviting you to any more parties, until I have satisfied myself that I can beat you at this,” said Nene, still sulking. Richard just laughed at her and turned on the radio.
If you love me, you go wait for me …
Onyeka Onwenu’s soulful voice blended with King Sunny Ade’s lighter tones in a delicious harmony. Nene tried to change the channel.
“Why? What are you doing?” Richard asked in surprise. “I like that song,” he said, making a futile attempt to flip the channel back to the previous radio station.
“Well, I don’t. That song is–” Nene began, and then, her voice faltered.
“What’s the matter, Nene?”
“That was our song. Paul always sang it on my birthday. We even had a dance for it.”
Richard burst out laughing, but when he realized that Nene was serious, he swallowed the rest of his laughter.
“You’re serious? That Paul guy used to sing this song to you and dance to it? Wow! I don’t think I can top that. In fact, I am begging you, please don’t ask me to. That’s the lamest, dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life!”
He turned and caught the look on Nene’s face. She looked hurt.
“Sorry,” he apologized. “I shouldn’t have been so insensitive, he being your ex and all.”
“Prove it.” Nene said. She looked and sounded so serious that Richard parked the car by the side of the road. His abrupt move startled a woman selling roasted yam nearby. The woman actually jumped up in fright and made as if to run from what she deemed imminent danger. Seeing that the car’s brakes worked perfectly fine and that he did not knock over either the yam or the keg of palm oil sitting on the floor, she cautiously returned to her spot. Spreading her palms menacingly at Richard, the sign otherwise known as Waka, or in this case, double Waka or Waka raised to the power two, she yelled:
“God punish you!”
Unfortunately for her, Richard was totally oblivious her cursing. He had turned off the car engine and was looking at Nene.
Then, he did the unthinkable.
He got out of the car, walked over to Nene’s side, opened her door and pulled her aside gently. With Nene leaning on the front passenger’s side, confusion written all over her face, Richard’s lips parted and a song floated out. Nene recognized the song immediately. It was P-Square’s I love you.
“… The personal person for me-e-e …” Richard sang gleefully. One would think the guy actually composed the song himself.
“Bros, you don craze finish o. Na song she go chop? If to say you buy her yam now, na she go dey sing for you!” said the yam seller, who had now turned to a roadside amebo.
Why this woman thought that roasted yam and palm-oil was a romantic meal was anybody’s guess. Even more puzzling was the fact that she thought that insulting a potential customer would entice him to patronize her. Nene and Richard simply ignored her.
After Richard’s impromptu performance, Nene smiled her thanks. Then, they got into the car and continued to Asaba in silence. Mostly.
When they arrived in front of Chief Alozie’s house, Nene turned to Richard and said:
“I enjoyed the performance. Thanks again.”
Before Richard could say anything, she leaned forward and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“Is that all I get? A peck? For all my hard work?!” Richard said, feigning surprise.
“Good Night, Richard,” said Nene as she got out of the car.
As she climbed into bed less than an hour later, it finally dawned on her, the lesson Richard strove to teach her that afternoon: that although both good and bad memories can spring from the same experience, you can overwrite bad memories with good ones. Or something like that.
As for Richard, he did not sleep a wink that night. That peck that Nene had planted on his cheek had set him on fire, and it would take a lot to quench that fire.
The following day was a Sunday. Richard travelled very early that morning and left Asaba for some business in Calabar. That meant that Nene would have to go by herself to church. She was not looking forward to it, and it was not just because of Richard’s absence. She was avoiding Brother James.
– to be continued –