“Trix, wetin do your eyes?”
“Na pepper oh. I bin take pepper hand rub my eyes by mistake.”
“Every day pepper pepper. And you no be Yoruba.”
I smiled and pulled out a chair. I looked at my cheap wristwatch. I was twenty-two minutes early to the afternoon lecture. I whispered a short prayer and placed my head on the desk in front of me. I was almost asleep when I heard his voice.
“Beatrice, you no sleep last night?” He pulled out the chair next to me.
“Maybe she get belle,” someone said rather loudly.
I squeezed his hand and placed my head back on the desk. I couldn’t focus. My eyes and head were too heavy for comfort. I raised my head and rubbed my eyes when I felt him let go of my hand. A girl was hurrying to the back of the class. She looked plain but beautiful in a yellow chiffon blouse tucked in dark denim trousers. I saw her highlight when she passed my seat.
“Ah. This one came late because she was painting face,” I said under my breath as I basked in the wake of her strong perfume.
I turned to look at Nathan. I observed the way he looked at her; his eyes approving her calculated strides, waiting for her gaze to meet his so he can stretch a wry smile. Snapping him out of the trance, I jab his shoulder with my elbow and ask about the math assignment we had already done.
“It’s correct na. I checked it yesterday.”
“Oh.” I close the notebook. “I just wanted to be sure.”
The lecture took longer than necessary. The hall was filled with irregular sighing from students; similar to those heard when a sermon is taking too long and the keyboardist starts soloing to remind the preacher that people put Sunday rice on the fire before they came to church that morning.
“Course rep, bring the attendance list to me.”
I sighed as the lecturer began to call out the names on the list. List that students have worked on. Is it not to say ‘Sir’ for your coursemate and hope your voice doesn’t sound like your voice when it’s time to answer for yourself or pray that you were the only one Matthew begged to impersonate him? Waste of time.
I sigh again, this time louder. Nathan looks and turns his torso to face me. Good sign; I have his attention now. He rubs my arm, wearing a slightly worried look and I reciprocate by pouting and codedly looking away, in the direction of the new girl, hoping she’d see him touching me and take it as a warning sign. Maybe she’d stay away from him or even change her school. Maybe she’d–
“Why your face dey like this?” – He asks, raising my chin with two fingers. – “You don chop?”
I hadn’t eaten all day and it was almost evening. How could I eat? I didn’t even have an appetite. My stomach was filled with jealousy served with a side dish of rage.
“Yes. I’ve eaten,” I lied.
I got up to leave but he didn’t follow. I kept walking and I didn’t even sense him behind me. I stopped to look back and I saw him where I left him in the hall. From a distance, I could tell he was getting up to do something stupid. He had his default ‘God, abeg’ look on his face, shoulders slightly raised for a confidence boost and collars patted down.
He was going to talk to the new girl.
He says he needs me but I know he wants her. The problem is I do not feel worthy enough to ask if I’m not enough. And so I stand bare, in front of my scum stained bathroom mirror, recounting all my flaws and edges. Staring at myself until tears blur my vision before I retreat to soak my pillows and come up with a better reason to explain my swollen eyes in the morning.