When you wake up on February 14th, you wake up with an extra line between your brows. Today is the day you get brownie points for being a decent boyfriend. Slight problem, you’re a little low on cash as in, your account balance cannot buy a plate of àmàlà in white house but not to worry, your girlfriend is the most understanding woman in the world. Did you not get her a motivational book for her birthday last year and did she not receive it with thanksgiving? Of course, her smile faltered a little when she opened the gift but she’s still with you so it was okay. You’ll figure out some low budget stuff for today.
You always figure it out, eventually.
On your way to the bus stop, you pass by some girls in conspicuous red and white dress combinations, they remind you of Aisha… Aisha with her pointed nose and deep set eyes. You smile foolishly as you recall the first time your bony fingers grazed the breasts of a woman.
It was an ordinary lesson day. There was nothing special about the way the clouds arranged themselves in the sky or the heat from the sun as it teased the sweat from your skin that early Monday morning on your way to lesson. You had no inkling you would touch your first real breasts that day.
If you had known, you would have taken extra care while brushing your teeth and maybe scrubbed the odour out of your armpit but life had a way of happening to you that made you feel like a visitor in your own life.
The thought of Aisha’s breasts is making you misbehave. The woman standing with her back to you in the crowded BRT is struggling to get away from you and you know why but you cannot stop it. It’s not like you have any control over how this thing rises and falls.
When the bus stops at Ojuelegba, she presses her heel into your foot for a split second before getting off. You’re not sure if it was a mistake or payback for earlier.
At work, Mr. Kẹ́hìndé, the newest member of the Human resource team won’t stop talking about the ọ̀fadà sauce he made before coming to work and how he cannot wait to enjoy it with rice and some telemundo drama, with his wife. You hate him already. He looks like the kind of oversabi guy that sings and writes poetry for women and make dating more difficult for people like you.
“Woman wrapper.” the Hr manager teases him but his smile widens like a schoolboy before his crush on a Monday morning and you hate him a little more.
“But you know we have to do it, women like things like this.”
“My brother, like is an understatement. My wife has been sending me links to different perfume and body spray on Konga and I have been pretending not to see them.” Mr. Oríadé laughs at his own craftiness. “I am not around this year. Let her buy her perfume by herself.”
“You better buy it for peace to reign. This whole valentine thing is for women.”
All this valentine talk is giving you headache. It’s like these people don’t know election is just around the corner.
“Make Atiku win this election abeg.” You say in attempt to change the topic. “Buhari don suffer us reach abeg. E don do.”
“Atiku sef no good. If he reach there, na money he go chop. Na only God go fit save us for this Nigeria.”
“We already know the people that will win that election and it won’t be people like me and you but see my Ọmọlẹwà, we will continue to be together even after the election so let them be doing their election, leave me and my baby to be jolificating.”
The way he says those words pisses you off the more. How can somebody be such a shameless woman wrapper? If you had known he would turn out to be such a person, you wouldn’t have supported the decision to employ him.
It’s not until you’re in the company kitchen downstairs, eating out of Mr. Kẹ́hìndé’s lunch pack that you remember your non-existent culinary skills. The voices in your head are reminding you of the days before Ìbídùn happened to you; days of concoction rice and boiled egg, of fried indomie and egg, of tomato stew and half-done rice. By the end of work, you have set your valentine plan in motion. A playlist of old, romantic songs on YouTube, a list of ingredients for peppered rice and chicken and a semi-romantic text to Ìbídùn.
- Babe, I’m making you dinner tonight, come by 7pm.
On your way home, you get some chicken and peppers and a bottle of cheap wine.
Your inner romantic is alive today.
Once in your apartment, you start the playlist to set the mood then you start boiling the rice, and the chicken. Next, you clean your pigsty of an apartment; dirty clothes go in the laundry basket and when that gets full, they go on the floor behind the toilet door. The whole one bed apartment gets a thorough sweep like it hasn’t gotten since you moved in six months ago. When you are through with the apartment, the stench from the refuse dump outside the compound is the only difference between your carton-shaped one bed in the rough corners of Ketu and a similar apartment in Ogudu or anywhere else for that matter. You should have bought air freshener but that notwithstanding, you are on course for a romantic night.
After the chicken has boiled enough to allow your teeth sink in without much effort, you decide to fry it before making the stew and that is when your problems start.
As soon as put the first batch of chicken in the oil, your body starts complaining. It is not easy to clean a bedroom and a living room of six months dirt and so you decide to close your eyes for the tiniest fraction of a moment. Just until the chicken is done. When you wake up few minutes later, you wake up to loud banging on your door, smoke everywhere and thick darkness outside. Shit!
You rush into the kitchen but you can’t even make it through. It’s all you can do to rush out of the house. Neighbours are rushing in with buckets of soapy water and sand but it’s hopeless, almost. Finally, the fire stops burning and you make your way through to the kitchen. It reminds you of a scene from those old war movies you love watching. So much black and soot everywhere. All around you, neighbours are pointing and talking; greeting you, thanking God for your life and praying it never happens again.
Out of the corner of your eye, you catch a slender figure leaving the kitchen through the hole in the wall where the back door used to live. You squeeze through the crowd after her.
Ìbídùn! You call
Ìbídùn! You call louder.
Ìbídùn! You call yet again and again and again until she disappears into the night.