In hindsight, it occurred to him that he never should have taken the left turn onto Aminats’ street. Once there, however, it was too late and his car rolled through the silent street slowly like a murderer on his way to the electric chair. It wasn’t too long before he saw it. Her family’s house sat like an abandoned plant, the seventh building on his right. That was how she had described it to him the first time he was to come visit. He remembered the giddiness in her voice, his telling her he was nervous to see her father and she excited because she couldn’t wait to show him off to the same. Her father would just love him she said, what with his brand new job and prospects.
“Everything would be fine Tolu, more than fine it would be perfect.” She said.
Tolu didn’t think so.
The very fact that he was nervous was telling enough that things could be a disaster. He knew the way a talented singer’s throat constricted and produced discordant tones when under immense pressure was the same way the best of anyone was choked out when it mattered the most.
He felt similarly uneasy now, sitting in his car and peering out onto the rusted railings bracing the top floor of the peeling-white one-story building which protruded from the haphazardly cemented compound. He remembered Aminats’ father.
Mr.Balogun had called him out to the veranda. While the women engaged in chatter, “fanfare” Mr.Balogun called it, they needed to have a man to man talk. Tolu expected to hear the treatises he would have to honour to take possession of Mr.Baloguns daughter in marriage. The respect and love and protection. But that was not the case. This was to be a discussion that would lead to unanswered calls, angry emails and rancorous confrontations. There they would agree that Tolu should never see, nor speak to Aminat, ever again.
It was a crisp morning that day. Tolu had worn undergarments, a rarity for him because he never understood why more than one item of clothing over the skin was needed in Nigeria’s temperate weather. That day it was cold, cold enough to make him want to wear a suit jacket, but that would make him look awkward. So he set out, Aminat had already called thrice to ask him where he was, even though it was still an hour and a half away from the appointed time. He drove his jet black Peugeot, a dinosaur compared to the Camry he was in now. He drove till like today, he sat staring out at the window of his car onto the one-story building. Her father had been leaning on the veranda. Their eyes met, and in Mr.Baloguns eyes, Tolu did not see the approval of a man willing to give his daughter away to a legible suitor, what he saw instead was the look of a man on a grave mission. Tolu swallowed the lump in his throat, put off his engine and got out of the car.
The breakfast together had been easy enough. Who has breakfast with their would be in-laws? Tolu had asked her as they walked hand in hand down his street as they were prone to do when NEPA failed and the ventilation in his Badagary apartment did not pick up from where the fan left off.
“Oh, come of it. It’s a family tradition.” She replied. He stepped away from her as to see her fully and gave a questioning look. He reminded her that she was the only daughter.
“Yes”. She quickly replied, but even when they were younger, friends and relatives were only allowed to visit in the mornings because her mother was a businesswoman who could not for any reason save a coup miss the afternoon and evening rush hour, and her father had made a deal with his company to only ever work the afternoon shift so that he could always see his children in the mornings and make love to his wife at night. They agreed, because he was their Chief Security Officer after all, and it was a most demanding job, the companies CEO was prone to make a lot of enemies. So breakfast it was, and breakfast they had, sunny side up eggs, Bournvita and milk that was too watery and a strip of bacon because there was a guest in their midst. As they ate conversation was fluid, small talk like where did he grow up, who were his favourite politicians, what club he supported rung harmoniously with the clattering of utensils. The husband and wife and their three teenage sons passed him around like the salad bowl at a feast, but they were friendly, endearing. It wasn’t till after breakfast that the cracks started to appear.
Aminat giggled and called him to come help her in the kitchen. To which her mother snapped and gave her a tongue lashing. She shooed her daughter to the kitchen and followed her. Then all that was left were Mr.Balogun and his three sons, all four of them hefty enough to form a small army. The eldest excused himself first and the other two quickly followed suit. After they were gone Mr.Balgon nodded his head in the direction of the balcony and asked Tolu to join him. Tolu set his half-empty cup down and followed the man of the house to his veranda.
There Mr.Balogun clasped his hand on top of the red, dilapidated steel and sighed.
“What do you think about my daughter?” He asked and Tolu knew the small talk was certainly over.
Tolu instinctively thought about the mole just above Aminats’ lips on the left side of her face. It was the first thing he always saw when he thought about her. It was a distinctive feature, standing out from the golden hue of her skin. A perfect flaw. After seeing it he would think of her lips, lips that seemed to be perpetually parted in a full teethed smile, all well accentuated by the mole. Then her nose, they flared whenever she was telling a joke as she tried to stifle her own bemusement. Her eyes were always wide and happy, except of course for the day he told her he never wanted to see her ever again. Her brows never seemed to move, she had a tight face, the kind of face his best friend Adams teased him wouldn’t get wrinkled too quickly. He thought about Aminats’ face then and saw a striking resemblance in the face of Mr. Balogun, save for the mole. He didn’t know how to answer the question. He asked what Mr.Balogun meant. The man lifted some of his weight off of the railing and leaned back staring at Tolu.
“I mean what is it that you find in her that makes you want to take such a bold step?”
Tolu was taken aback, the question appeared genial, as though it was Tolus’ own welfare Mr.Balogun had embarked on the enquiry for and not his daughters. Tolu thought again of the mole on her face, he thought of the first time he had touched it. They were outside a supermarket where she had eaten half a packet of Digestives biscuit as she skipped and threw groceries into his shopping cart.
“You have something on your face.” He told her and began to wipe the orange particles from her skin. She smiled bemused as he did this, her lips slightly poking out, and when he was done, he caressed her mole.
“Are you done?” She asked about five seconds later. He said yes and since then it had become his favourite pastime, caressing her mole.
Aminat was the sort of girl who accepted you, at least that’s what it felt like to Tolu. She never seemed surprised or alarmed by anything that he did. As they grew more intimate and his eccentricities opened themselves up to her, she never once seemed to miss a beat. He remembered surprising her at her school one day, in the middle of her finals. He found her reading in her favourite class and sinisterly he insisted that she get in the car and follow him, to where he would not say. She dropped her books into her bag like a heap of dumb rocks and followed him. As soon as she was in his passenger seat as she quietly put her seatbelt on he handed her a black velvet blindfold. She touched it, said nice and put it on, all the while he was grinning. He put the car in gear and drove her to Ikeja. During the drive, she said nothing, asked nothing, just bobbed her head slightly to the radio. Tolu was a little disappointed, but he had one more ace up his sleeve. He drove till finally he parked, led her out of the car and pulled the blindfold from her eyes.
She stood before the Ikeja General Hospital.
“ Is someone sick?” She asked and he nodded his head no.
He spread his hand wide like a presenter and said “This, is where you would work after your NYSC and that…” he paused to turn her left and pointed across the street at an olive coloured apartment building with flower pots on the balconies and ventilation that seemed state of the art. “That is where we are going to live after you agree to marry me.” And with that, he got on his knees and proposed.
She didn’t cry, didn’t say the rhetorical “what?” at any point, she just took his face in her hands, beamed down at him and said “Yes.” The breakfast with her parents was scheduled for three days later.
“Have you really thought about it?” Mr. Balogun prodded.
“Yes sir, I suppose I have, and at length. Your daughter is amazing and nothing would bring me greater joy than to spend the rest of my life with her.”
Mr. Balogun laughed, actually sniggered, and Tolu decided to lean on the railing himself.
“Did I say something amusing sir?” He asked tactfully.
“No, no its not you, I was just hoping you had the slightest inkling about what I want to tell you so that this wouldn’t be too hard on you or me for that matter, but hearing you talk now I see I have my work cut out for me. It’s true what they say, love these days is blind.”
After that, the man went on to tell Tolu a most tortuous tale, one of prophecy and old villages, and dead people who ought to have been long forgotten if not for some running streak of misfortune. His daughter would bring Tolu nothing but pain. A frustrating pain, the sought that love could not tend to, the sought that ruined loved.
Tolu would never know if he believed him. Sitting there now in front of her family house, he realized it wasn’t the content of the message he had heeded to, but rather, its messenger. One had heard of such familial woes growing up, the persisting foreboding whispers of native Nigeria, but never this intimate, never from the horse’s mouth. That didn’t mean it was true, it did mean it didn’t matter, the man had breached the social contract, set Tolu in an awkward way, and Tolu was of great imagination, particularly for those things the human mind is hard pressed to conceive.
A shimmer at the window, an astral disturbance. Tolu sat up, peered closer, it was gone. It had to be Aminat, if not for anything, for the fact that he sat there. The curtain stilled, so did his heart, but she had been there, he was convinced. She looked out of the window, saw her coward, her fingers curled with the velvet curtain between them, she puckered her lips, and she looked away, head bent, still disappointed. She walked away because she knew he wasn’t coming up the stairs to get her. Tolu sat there, in his comfort, in his familiar, and he wondered if it was enough.
About The Author
Wayne Samuel is a young Nigerian writer whose works cut across poetry, script writing, fiction, spoken words, stageplays and whatever requires a pen and or imagination. He recently won the War Of Words 6 poetry slam competition. Read his interview with us here.
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