Let’s meet on a plain field
Where sunshine doesn’t ruin the feel
Let’s meet outdoors
Baring emotions outwards
Let’s meet for old times
Starting again not on borrowed times
Let’s meet with substance
Our wounds healed, our minds right
Let’s meet with a level head
Man and woman basking clear
Let’s meet and deliberate
And make dreams and then storms
Let’s meet in a surreal of new sightings
Together, we will wine, dine, live and die…
The trio walked into the living room from the corridor. The room, painted cream, smelt faintly of fresh lavender. The ceiling light cast a soothing reflection off the smooth walls. Their voices echoed in the empty space. The husband walked and knocked against the walls, listening to their solidness. The wife kept pointing to different angles in the rooms, arranging make-believe furniture. The man smiled, encouraging the couple to take their time.
“I like it quite alright. I really do.” The husband said as he turned to the man who was their guide. He looked up at him, for he was a head shorter. The husband knew the guide must be well off, a first-rate salesman. He noted the jet-black suit and crisp sky blue shirt, with the Police shades, tucked in the suit’s breast pocket. He also noticed the shining black shoes and matching belt and cuff links.
“Are you sure of this Mr. Jackson? My husband and I like this very much, but we need to be certain.”
Jide Jackson smiled his I-want-the-best-for-you smile, took the lady’s hand in his, and then linked it with her husband’s. Taking a deep breath, he looked around the large parlor speaking with staged low volume as he turned. “I agree. This might very well be an overkill. It is spacious, has the potential for homemaking, and a great view. But the price, the price is non-negotiable – especially in this Buhari regime, if you catch my drift. I assured you I’ll get you a tailor-made best. This is it. I’m afraid I can’t serve you anymore. The reason is simply that none of the other available houses is on par with this. For the rest, the price might be within your stated budget, but the ambiance wouldn’t be within my stated best. Well,” he clapped his hands together, wrenching his clients from the dream state his voice had created. “I’ll call the agency and tell them the house is still on the market. I’ll try for a price reduction, but like I said, there are lots of salaries to pay, so that talk might not prove positive and…”
“We’ll take it.” The husband said. His eyes riveted on his wife as he raised her hand to his lips. He looked at JJ and laughed with a resolute nod. “We will take it, Mr. Jackson.”
JJ beamed; this time a your-baby-is-the-cutest-ever smile. “I’m certain you’ve set the tone for a blessed family. Now if you will follow me this way, we’ll sign the papers.”
“You did it, didn’t you?” Emeka asked.
“I can’t hear you. You are sounding muffled.” JJ replied into the mouthpiece.
“Sorry, jare. I was trying to set one lens like that. Can you imagine this client telling me she wants nudes and semi-nudes? These people are not fearing God oh JJ. Anyway, you did that thing where you take the wife’s hand and place in her husband’s, didn’t you?”
“Flee from all Karashikas, my man. Yes oh. You of all people should know I’m a master at setting up dates.”
“Abegi. Dates that don’t work. That’s how you made me waste my best poem. I’ve told you my inspiration dried up that day. Go and buy me some inspiration that you owe me.”
“With the new $350,000 in my account right? Good stuff.”
“So remember the tithe that…”
“Sorry Emeka, I’m getting another call from an unknown number. Let me call you back in a bit.”
JJ cut Emeka’s call and picked the next. “Hello?”
“This is Jide Jackson. Who might I be speaking with?”
“Ah ah, JJ you don’t have my number?”
“I’m sorry I don’t. Who’s this?”
“It’s me na. Gbemi.”
“How come you are calling with another number?”
“Because you won’t pick my calls. So I tried another tactic. I just want to talk that’s all. I’m not asking for anything more.”
“First, you always call me while I’m at work. Second, you call too often. Third Gbemi, you are always asking for something more, which I don’t have to give. I won’t compromise my standards Gbemi.”
“So I’m a compromise of standards now eh.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. What…”
“Please please please it have do. Five years ago you couldn’t wait to chuk me. Now that you are born again we won’t hear word. Will you be the first Christian to have sex with a woman? Abi are you holier than Jesus?”
“Hence…my not picking your calls.”
“Go to hell JJ.”
JJ tossed the keys on the center table. He flopped into a settee and sagged. He stretched his feet on the table and pushed the POWER button on the TV remote. His house was as immaculate as he had left it. The fluffed throw pillows felt spineless like a baby’s backside. The petite dining table had a tray with teacups, coffee, jugs of water and milk and some unopened biscuits. His fridge hummed, filled with wine, drinks and sachet soup.
His company was doing fine. It was tough as a real estate agency, especially with the Omo Oniles but JJ had always had a way with ruffians. A past gangster himself, he spoke their language. He had sold them the value proposition of doing business with him – highbrow clients, faster sale of land and apartments, tax reduction due to quota in economy building, and so on. His company was growing well.
Barely three years old and they had closed more deals than most of the established agencies. His team consisted of some of the most vibrant individuals he had worked with. They knew how to value land, pick appropriate contractors, supervise building projects, and so many other initiative-driven activities.
“Thank you, Lord,” JJ said aloud. It was five years from when he had given his life to Christ before Big Pa and Sweet Ma. Five years of growing in God and he knew he knew nothing about God yet. He enjoyed all his moments and years in Him. A newness was upon him. He no longer walked about with a dead weight upon his shoulders. One or two of his former cronies had seen the visible changes in him and followed suit.
Only one thing lingered on his mind, solace not forthcoming. Leah Abba. The last time he laid eyes on her was on that fateful night, when she told him of her mom. Dr. Sulo’s last words sometimes rang in his dreams, other times at odd hours of the day.
“By the way JJ, she doesn’t want to see you – you are the reason she is in there, she says.”
Emeka said The Clinic discharged her right after JJ was expelled. Now, she could be anywhere in the world. JJ knew he would never see her again.
It made his heart hurt.
The incessant ringing of his phone jolted him awake. He looked at his surroundings. He had slept off on the settee, reminiscing about the past. He checked the Caller ID: Emeks.
“Since camp, you’ve become exasperatingly great at disturbing my sleep.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” Emeka rolled on, “and why, O Mighty Sleeper, are you sleeping?”
“It’s something humans do when we are tired. Tried it before?”
“You’ve forgotten haven’t you?” He plowed on when JJ did not reply. “Tonight is FTL Concert.”
“No way.” JJ jerked from his slouched position. “Faith Truth Love? I’m about to miss it because of sleep?”
“You can thank me later. I’ll drive over. Be ready in 15 minutes.”
“I need only 5.”
The concert was at Tafawa Balewa Square. By the time JJ and Emeka arrived, the arena was full. The music was loud enough for some worshipers to camp at the gate, rather than join the multitude looking for seats inside the arena. The floodlights illuminated the sea of heads wearing colored headbands they had received at the gate. JJ had his lemon colored headband while Emeka wore his bright orange. Several drones flew overhead with video camcorders affixed sending live feeds to giant screens all over the arena. TBS could take close to half a million people, but from the camera feeds, it seemed to have exceeded capacity.
“This is amazing Emeks. This number of people gathered for prayer and worship?”
“It truly is. Nigeria is great. We need to find ourselves a seat JJ.”
“Let’s go up. Aisle J has some empty seats.”
“But man, I need to pee. Where’s the bathroom?”
“See JAMB question. Am I the one that installed the bathroom for them? Go and look for it na. I’ll keep a seat for you.”
JJ waded through the horde, frantic for the loo. He saw every other kiosk except the mobile toilet. The food kiosks had women who suggested to passers-by that their wares were the best picks. JJ noticed a kiosk selling music CDs. He would have chuckled at the irony but for the fear of wetting himself. He, finally, spotted the toilet a little way off. Murmuring bitterly, JJ stood behind the last man on the rather long queue. The man thought to strike a comradely conversation but JJ gave him the cold shoulder. His entire focus was ensuring he kept the pee at bay.
Many seconds later JJ sauntered out, relief etched over his face. He walked towards Pillar C, his makeshift landmark for making his way back. Emeka was gyrating at a far distance, farther than Aisle J. Why would he go for those seats? JJ was about to climb the first step when he saw something that made him stop.
JJ blinked and she was gone. Shaking his head, he reminded himself not to be childish. He had taken two more steps when the thought came to him, what if she was the one you saw. JJ spun, weaving, and ducking as he chased after the woman he had seen. Or thought he had seen. The flux pressed around him, making his pursuit impossible. JJ stretched, bumped and said sorry more times in those minutes than in his entire lifetime. After a few more hits, he gave up. He had lost Leah once. Losing an apparition was not surprising.
Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you may call me
The crowd echoed the words of the song with fervor and spirit. The stage was a mammoth platform with stacked speakers and blinding lights. The artists were like grasshoppers on it. Yet the collective power swept across the arena like a whirlwind in a room.
JJ and Emeka raised their hands, each man lost in his sonorous acclaim. They had spent the last hours screaming and dancing. Their voices were parched and dry, lungs burned with hot energy. JJ opened his eyes for a moment and saw her again. His apparition. Leah.
This time, JJ moved.
He caught her right before she passed a pillar on her way to another group of worshipers. He caught her right before she walked into the black of the night, away from him, a third time. Leah Abba turned when his hand grabbed hers, stunned, her face registering mild anger. When she saw him, her scream was louder than the instruments at the far stage.
“I forgive you for running away JJ,” Leah said. They had left TBS for the quieter streets. Now, they sat, shoulder to shoulder against a streetlight, insects buzzing around them. Leah was sporting a Harlem tee shirt on shredded jeans. She had red hair and several rings on her fingers.
“It was more than you think.”
They sat in silence, letting memories and wishes fill the space between them. JJ twiddled his thumbs, anxious to say something appropriate. Leah broke the silence.
“You seem to have lost some of your wit.”
“You seem to have gained some more charm.”
“JJ…” Her phone rang. Leah frowned and looked at the screen. ‘Where are you?’ She sighed and pocketed the phone. She caught his expression. “What?”
“I have to fight off another Ter?”
“Listen. Let’s talk about five years ago.”
“Let’s not, JJ. I’ve moved on.”
“So have I. And that’s why we can talk about it.”
“What’s there to talk about? I tell you I’m screwing my mom and you bail out next day. No, scratch that; same night. What exactly in this summary do you want to talk about.”
“Great. The man gets his wit back.”
“You know how your best friend or best friend’s mom dies and you are blaming God for it because when she was sick you prayed hard for healing?”
“Great. The man gets his holy on.”
“Yeah, I’m with you.”
“Even while you blame God, you know in your…heart…that there’s more to it than meets the eye.”
“I’m…” An unbidden smile played on Leah’s lips, “OK I’ll grant you this JJ. I do think there’s more. But I don’t think there’s a point now.”
“Leah,” JJ took her hands in his, “I was on a self-centered quest. I was selfish, self-indulgent, and too self-conscious. Right around that period, I got a tip-off that an arch enemy of mine was in town and it was the perfect time to exact revenge. I initially held off not going because of you Leah. We had something beautiful brewing and I wanted that. But my demons wouldn’t let me be great. My belief then was that killing the man would grant me some sort of redemption. I was wrong. Only Jesus can and only Jesus has. I was fragile, a push away from breaking. Every night I saw death. My parents’, the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, everyone I had somewhat killed. I was straining under the heavy weight.
Then I had a row with Emeka. No, not as flippant as I made it sound to you that night. I…I hit him in a humiliating manner and he spoke from his heart and flipped me inside out. I felt weak, like a failure. And then you Leah. You confide in me, something that big, hoping that I would bring you solace, comfort or respite. The weight of it all. I couldn’t bear it. I bailed out.”
Leah was quiet for several minutes. She swatted at an insect, smearing its shattered body against her jeans. She stared at the stain for a while.
“When you left, I felt alone. I snapped. Dr. Sulo told me I would chant your name in my dream sometimes.”
“Did she tell you I was expelled?”
“Expelled? How’s that possible?”
JJ tilted his head to the side, pouting and blinking “I came back, Leah. I came back for you.”
Leah burst into laughter, slapping her palms on her thighs. Her hair fell over her face as she doubled over. Her voice filled JJ’s ears with music of a different sort. His heart ached with desire as he watched her. He knew then that he would always hear that laughter. He would be the one to make her laugh. “No JJ.” She spurted amidst sucked breathes. “You were not to get any laughs or green lights from me. Why would you make me laugh this hard?”
“Heart Leah,” JJ said, his voice grave. “I don’t believe in coincidences. I lost you once already. I believe our steps have jointly being ordered by God. I saw you twice tonight Leah. Twice. I’m not losing you again. Many disparate elements came together to make what happened five years ago disastrous. But we have the rest of our lives to deal with that hurt.”
“Dude, that sounded so much like a proposal of sorts.”
“Are you married, Leah?”
“Do you have a boy…never mind that.”
Leah hesitated, “Why?”
JJ smiled, more serious in this moment than ever in his lifetime. “It doesn’t matter.”