One More Chance
By Femi Owolabi
Saturday, August 24, 2013.
My eyes were gradually hibernating, when I heard soft knocks on my door. Each knock came with the tiny, seraphic voice, 'hello, anyone in?'
I had thought I was dreaming. Charming, that voice. I could identify the owner of the voice, but I couldn't believe a girl like her could come knocking on a guy's door that hour. It was dark. A few minutes after eight o’clock. She had always declined invitation. ‘It is not right for a Christian sister’, she would say politely.
The day was crawling to an end. I wished it skip some hours and just end, because we were now counting days, days to graduation. Pooped out, I sprawled over the mattress. My brain oscillating against the wall of my head, and the piercing heat left my forehead sweaty. I positioned the saturated head in the direction of the air-conditioner's vents. I had just survived a marathon exam. I wanted to sleep that way till the next day, if not the next week when I would be writing my final exam.
Quickly, I threw my body out of the mattress.
'I am coming, please' I muttered, trying to subdue the yawn that eventually escaped as soon as there was an opening in my mouth. I stood, arms akimbo, figuring what to do first to titivate the room. I started with the picking of books, papers and cigarettes that littered my room. I brought out a cleaner bed-cover from the laundry basket under my table and wrap the dirty mattress in it. I climbed on my toes to reach the bottle of air-freshener atop the wardrobe and almost emptied it on the room that reeked of old books, dirty clothes and cigarettes. Then, I stepped hurriedly towards the door. I squinted through the keyholes, and I caught a glimpse of the side of a beautiful lady shouldering her bag. A big bag. It’s big enough to take enough things that should last one for a month. ‘Ladies and big bags!’ I shook my head. I had placed my hand on the door knob when I looked at myself. I was only on boxers. I rushed back to the wardrobe to get my 3-quarter pants and an armless round-neck t-shirt. I didn't forget to slightly apply the roll-on on my armpits. And when I was dropping the roll-on bottle in its place—inside the second layer of the plastic trolley that was by the door—I picked the comb and straightened my curly, bushy afro.
'Becky, how did you get this place?' I said, smiling, and letting her in, her lissom body into my open arms. Saving her breasts from pouring on my chest, she hunched.
'You've forgotten the other day we walked past that junction and you pointed to this building that you live in flat 3?' She answered, dropping her bag on the stack of books on the table as she pulled out the chair tucked in-between the table-drawers.
'Hmm. Your room smells nice,' she said, nodding, her eyes touring the room.
'Thanks Becky,' I managed to stabilize my shivery lips.
'I can't believe you are here. Please, what should I offer you?'
'No jare, Olu.' She held my left wrist. Her cold palm on me was extremely sensuous. The whole of my body pulsed with pleasure and anxiety.
'See, I was just passing by and thought I should check on you. And I will like to study here for a while and then go back to my hostel. I hope I’m free sha?' She said as she gently dropped her hand off my wrist, her fingertips caressing the back of my palm. It was refreshingly hypnotizing.
‘A conducive room to study,’ she winked and smiled.
'You must take something, Becky.' I insisted.
'Ook, then. A glass of water.' She flashed a smile.
I shrugged and headed towards the corner where the fridge was. I bent over the fridge and when I opened it, I saw a sealed bottle of juice. It was the one, Abdul-- one of my flat-mates-- had kept there.
'Becky, I have juice. Mango,' I turned to her.
'Water. Olu. Water.' She didn't look at my side. Her eyes hung on the wall. She was looking at the poster that covered almost all the part of that wall. In the poster, Jay-Z is on a power-bike and Beyonce in her bum-shot is behind him, her hands fastened around Jay-Z’s waist as she leans on his back. I felt ashamed. I knew Becky didn’t like this kind of picture. She was an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Students. If she had told me she was coming, I would have removed that and replace it with that of Pastor Chris. I found the poster in the middle page of a magazine given to me by Brother Israel. Spiritually terrorizing, this Brother Israel. In the poster, Pastor Chris-- on a golden pulpit standing above a multitude of heads is garbed in a white suit and white shining shoes-- has his face upward and his hands open towards heaven. His eyes are squeezed shut and the caption reads something that ends with giving your life a meaning. This, I was sure was the kind of poster that would please Becky.
She didn’t say a thing. She slowly sipped her water. And we began to talk. We were talking about each other's departments. The frustrations. She lamented over a course she had expected to score an A so her GP hit 4.0, but she said Jesus knows, she was inexplicably given a C. I smiled and asked whether she was given a C or she actually scored a C. She laughed, trying to poke me with her elbow. ‘Wicked man, that lecturer that gave her a C’. Nevertheless, she was hopeful; her GP was still dancing around 3.9-something.
‘I hope you are still on four-point, guru,’ she said teasingly. I smiled and looked away. Since the first year that I luckily reached four-point, it had been as if someone was sucking my GP with three straws. It was shrinking like a river that had lost its source.
‘I trust you sha,’ Becky said, taking my reticence for modesty. I had wished I had the four-point. Boasting about it was one temptation I sure wouldn’t have been able to resist. In fact, like her, many believed I was still a four-pointer because of a narrative tactic I carefully employed, projecting my first-year academic record without even a cursory mention of the successive years, as if my academic journey ended with that flash of excellence. We talked on and after all the complaining, we were solaced by the few days left to graduate.
When we felt there was nothing to talk about again, she unzipped her bag and brought out a textbook, a notebook and a pen, and began to study.
I pulled out a handout, too, from my folder and sat by the bed, pretending to be studying. I raised my head at the wall-clock. It was some minutes past nine.
Soon, I began to feel embarrassed by the mutual silence. I wanted to ask if she had a boyfriend. I wanted to ask if she liked me. I wanted to ask if she will be my girlfriend. I wanted to ask if she was still going back to her hostel that night. I wanted to ask all these and more, but I couldn't. I feared she may hate me if I asked. I got up and told her I wanted to see a friend next door.
After a few minutes, I returned, and she was already gone, sleeping.
'Becky,' I called in a whispering tone. She didn't turn. She didn't open her eyes. I checked on the wall-clock. 10:00pm.
I climbed the table to sit, my legs on the chair and my arms folded on my knees, keenly looking at Becky. She looked more beautiful in sleep. She was lying on her chest. Her blouse- butterfly design- tucked in her skirt, was out. I saw goose-bumps forming at the lower part of her fairly complexioned back. Her skirt had jumped above her knees, revealing her thighs that were overlapping each other. The thighs, moistened, fresh, with an attractive sheen. I observed that the room may be too cold for her. I jumped down from the table, moved to the end of the bed to pull out the duvet. I was trying to cover her when she turned on her side, and then drop on her back. Her chest facing me. The first two buttons on her blouse unbuttoned. My eyes fell on her cleavage. It seemed as if one of her breasts was slipping out of the pink bra's scoop, like a mango peeled halfway. And the sparkling pendant—a crucifix—locking in the hole that spaced her mango-shaped breasts, flashed my eyes a warning and I quickly took them off. Many thoughts began to collide inside my head.
I had just submitted my life partially to Christ. And Bro Israel who had been following up on my spiritual growth had warned me against sin. He was particular about fornication. Once, I had jokingly asked Bro Israel; ‘What if I unconsciously sin again, will God forgive me?’ Bro Israel smiled, saying ‘yes, our God is always forgiving as long as we've repented. Do you remember the story of King David?’ he asked. He reminded me how when in wartime and men were in the battlefield, King David perambulated his palace veranda, with a view of the whole city. His roving-eyes eventually caught a beautiful woman—Bathsheba—bathing (I imagined how the King would have slapped his head and ran his tongue over his lips) and ordered that the woman be brought to him and he slept with her. ‘Do you know that this man, this adulterer, was a man that the scripture still announces a man after God’s heart? This is so because he sought God’s forgiveness’, Bro Israel concluded solemnly. A month later, when Bro Israel persuaded me for baptism, he asked what biblical name I would like to pick for myself. ‘David, the man after God’s heart’, I said.
I was at a crossroads, my mind wandering round a point like the children of Israel in the wilderness. I was struggling to decide whether to unbutton the last two buttons or button the unbuttoned two in Becky's blouse and cover her with the duvet when, suddenly, she sneezed. She released the sneeze simultaneously with the mention of the name, Jesus! It was as if she’d been reading through my mind. My heart bounced like a ball in the hand of a basketball player. I lifted myself out of the bed as fast as I could, tiptoeing backward like a snail withdrawing into its shell. She didn’t open her eyes, she only turned on her side.
I kept my eyes on and off her, and after a while, she woke. I dropped my face inside my handout and it appeared as if I had been studying all the time that she’d been sleeping.
‘Olu, time, please?’ she asked in a sleepy tone. When I turned to answer her, she was seated on the bed, her back resting on the wall and one of her hands was inside her blouse—groping to adjust the straps of her bra. I looked away immediately before our eyes could meet.
‘A few minutes to 11,’ I said.
‘Are you okay, Becky?’
‘Oh! Olu, why didn’t you wake me, how do I get back to my hostel now this time?’ she said in a teary tone and hissed.
‘I am sorry. I didn’t think it was okay to wake you.’ I said remorsefully. I assured her that my room was safe for her to pass the night. She hummed and hummed and hummed. And then, she grudgingly agreed and returned to her books.
I picked a pillow from the bed and threw it on the rug, and slid after it, away from the bed where Becky was. I held my handout by my head above the pillow and the rest of my body sunk into the softness of the rug. I didn’t know when sleep drove me to dreamland. I saw myself with Becky in a comely garden lightened by blue bulbs. We were smooching to the classical rhythm of Tracy Chapman’s Baby Can I hold You Tonight. I wanted to remain there till eternity, sailing on the ocean of love with Becky. When I attempted a deep kiss on her lips, I felt a soft hand tapping me gently on my back.
‘Olu, please get up and come see me off to my hostel.’
I yawned carelessly, wiping my face.
‘This late? Why not just wait till morning, Becky?’
‘No Olu. It’s morning already. This is 5:30am.’ She said politely, thinking I was feigning dizziness. She chivvied me into doing her wish, as she gave me her hand to help me up. I chuckled, wondering if she had enough strength to lift me. I had not pulled her hand to lift my body when she staggered and almost fell. We laughed at each other. I stretched like a spring losing its elasticity and on getting up, I quickly pocketed my left hand, groping to arrest the restless thing rising in a vertical position out of my boxers. This time, Becky was backing me. She was making a bun of her braided hair into a multicolored ribbon she had brought out of her bag. When she was done, she asked that I help her hook her necklace at the nape of her neck while she fixed her earrings. I brought out my pocketed hand and moved closer. This thing was still restless. And anytime she shifted a bit backward, I hunched quickly, so that it will not hit her. When I was done with her necklace, she turned to face me and I quickly pocketed my hand again. Smiling, I looked away. I couldn’t hold her gaze.
‘Olu, thanks for the hospitality,’ she said as she passionately used the tip of her index finger to remove the sleepydust from the corner of my right eye. Soothing, her touch on my eyes. It felt like a tickling on my heart.
As we dashed out, I thanked her for coming too.
Walking her to her hostel, our shoulders gently brushing each other’s, I still couldn’t believe that not only did Becky come to my room, she spent the night. When we got to the hostel entrance, I offered open arms for a hug, and again, she hunched, and was careful her bosom didn’t brush my chest.
It was the evening of the next day. Coming back from school, I met Abdul and my other flat-mate, Josh, at the veranda. A plume of smoke forming above their heads.
‘Bad boy!’ Abdul jumped off the bench, hailing me. With the smouldering cigarette held in-between his index finger and forefinger, he began to swing his head, stamping his feet like a trapped hyena struggling to escape. He was smilingly, whistling the song:
I toast Ejiro
I give am belle
Imm mama nor know say I toast Ejiro
I laughed, shaking my head.
‘Wetin happen na?’ Josh asked, freeing his lips from the cigarette he had just lit.
‘Josh, so you nor know say Olu been carry one fresh fish come this house yesterday?’ Abdul said, raising an eyebrow at Josh.
Josh blew out smoke from his mouth and nose, and he started laughing. ‘Haba, Olu, nor be you say you no dey do woman again?’ He mocked.
‘I swear, I don stop.’ I said with a stern face. ‘Becky only came to study here yesterday, and she slept off. We didn’t do anything, I swear.’
‘When did your room become Becky’s library?’ Asked Josh, coughing and laughing at the same time.
‘Kill yourself,’ I shrugged and looked away.
When they were done laughing, I sat beside Josh on the bench and stretched my hand into his chest pocket to pick a cigarette.
‘Did you not say you’ve stopped smoking too?’ Abdul broke into laughter again. I felt irritated by his laughter, and then Josh, too, started laughing.
‘Just the way he said he has stopped doing women, and he had a woman with him all night. And he wants us to believe him? Hahaha.’
I couldn’t resist their infectious laughter as I joined them in a raucous laughter. Nevertheless, I lit the cigarette.
‘Don’t you know Becky is a church-girl?’
‘So, she couldn’t have agreed if I had attempted such with her.’
Squinting, I puffed my cigarette. Then, Abdul cleared his throat, ‘You dey sure say you no chop that fish?’
I shook my head.
‘You be mumu!’ he said, almost shouting.
‘Did you not say she came by herself?’
‘And she slept over?’
Again, I nodded.
‘And you didn’t do anything? Not even kissing?’
This time I nodded with a grimace.
‘If there is no unusual reason, a fish can’t ordinarily be found on the bank of a river. Don’t you know that when a lady willingly comes to you, she wants something?’
I raised my face at him, and then turned my gaze at Josh. He, too, nodded in affirmation.
‘But there is nothing between us, we are just…’
‘Forget that thing,’ Josh interrupted, ‘the girl wan do, na you dull her.’
I dropped my head in my palms and wiped my face. An urge surged into me, to see Becky again.
‘You missed that!’ Abdul shouted. ‘And the annoying thing is that the girl will go tell her friends that Olu is just a pictorial horse that cannot kick.’
‘Abdul, you are mad!’ I punched his chest.
I sat up and began to consider all that Abdul and Josh had said. Becky’s visit could have been a strategic one. She had told me that she had only a paper left to write and would travel back home as soon as she was done. I shook off the ash on the fiery tip of my cigarette, smashing it underneath my shoe. I had lost a beautiful chance with a beautiful lady. Intermittently, I would stamp my feet, slap my forehead, and hiss. And Abdul and Josh continued to laugh at my slackness. Abdul wondered how someone characteristically obsessed with ‘fish’ would have allowed one to slip by. Not even a bite. We called women fish. And when, for instance, a girl came into our flat and we wanted to ask or talk about the girl in her presence, in a coded manner-- we say things like; ‘na who carry this fish come?’ ‘Guy, we go fit chop this fish together?’ ‘No be this fish you chop last semester?’ ‘This fish is fresh o,’ ‘This one na dry fish jor,’ ‘How many days you go take chop this fish?’ ‘Mehn, you don chop this fish remain bone.’
Sometimes, the girl, in her obliviousness, would say, ‘it seems you guys like fish o. Don’t worry, I will arrange enough fish for you when next I come. Shebi you prefer it in pepper-soup?’
Abdul came to my side and kicked me out of my thoughts. ‘Is it now you want to kill yourself because of a woman?’ he said, using the back of his palm to slap my chest.
‘Help me ask am,’ Josh said, puffing his cigarette. ‘If a man now kills himself because of a woman, a hundred women will not only walk over his grave, they will bend on their knees and urinate on it.’
We laughed at this silly thing Josh said. He had always said this to console himself anytime he missed his target.
‘Why not call her to come over again,’ Abdul suggested.
That was my exact thought, but I wanted to pretend as if it did not matter to me anymore. It didn’t work, my pretense. I was already dialing Becky’s line. Abdul’s head was on my shoulder, whispering- into my ears-- what and what I should tell Becky that would convince her to come again. ‘Girls could be stubborn, or pretend to be’. I would nod, shake my head, nod and again, shake my head. In the whispering thread, I asked if Abdul still had condoms in his room.
‘Two packets, under the mattress, by the left’ he gestured. And Becky picked my call.
‘Hey, Olu, what’s up?’
‘I am good. Where are you? That place is noisy.’
‘Oh, sorry. I finished my last paper around 11am. I am on my way back home, till next year when I come for my Call-Up Letter.’
Abdul, Josh and I are entering a rowdy city mall. This is two years after graduation. Becky--flanked by about three to four girls-- is making her way out of the mall. We are walking towards each other. From a close distance, she screams my name and when she comes closer, before she would enter into my spread arms, she turns to her friends and says, ‘this is the Olu I told you about.’
Abdul and Josh, at once, cut a glance at me.
‘Oh, really?’ The ladies exclaim with a fixed gaze on me.
Becky steps into my arms. And we are enveloped in a warm hug. She does not try to prevent her bosom from fully resting on my chest, she does not hunch!
Femi is a cultural journalist and a storyteller. His creative essays and short stories have appeared in local and international publications. He currently runs a column with the online newspaper, www.thescoopng.com