Tuesday, 17 August 2010

EXTRACT "Tears on her Pillow"

Everywhere was dark except for the candlelight by the bedside. The night outside was calm, as the moon shone. Voices were heard but quite low. In the room a big sized picture frame hung just opposite the bed-landscape drawing; and it looked lovely. Beside the bed, a neatly arranged red rose stood on the side with a lamp stand. It still smelled fresh as it was well scented. The wardrobe at the far end of the room was neatly arranged with clothes on the hangers and shoes on the floor. On top of the wardrobe was a set of boxes.

Everything seemed to be in order except in her mind. She lay faced up in her cream flowered nightgown. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she remembered the events of the day. She could not believe that such a thing had happen to her. How could Uloaku do this to her? They never had any misunderstanding before. They got along quite well. Why the sudden change in behaviour? She wondered, as she turned to the other side of the bed and the tears turned to sobs.

She felt lonely and cold, and cuddled her big teddy bear so tightly. “Cry no more,” she told herself loudly. She turned restlessly to every direction and to no direction in particular. Sleep wouldn’t come when it was most needed and NEPA had worsened it by keeping everybody in darkness; at least she would have been listening to music till she fell asleep. Such long nights of no light was not even seen in a country like Ghana not to talk of Europe. If only she had a good job and was well paid, she would have saved enough to buy a small generating set for herself. That is Nigeria for you; the only country where things work anti-clockwise. Well, everything that has some bad aspects has its good sides too, she told herself. Nigeria has some good things and so is her relationship with Obinna. Just remembering his name gladdened her heart and puts smiles on her face. The thought of the sweet things they shared together filled her mind as she finally fell asleep.

Bangs on the door sent her flying out of bed.
She rushed to the door and dashed to the parlor. She nearly tripped not knowing the side stool blocked her way.

“Ouch!” she exclaimed. ‘I’ll be there in a minute,” she shouted as she fumbled with the keys. Finally she opened the door.

“Still in your nightgown Chika, or are you not for work today?” Stella asked making herself comfortable on the chair.

“I over-slept my dear. Jeez, I never knew the sun was already up,” she said looking at her clock. Turning to Stella she said, “Please wait for me while I hurry in the bathroom.” Rushing to the bathroom, she added, “No breakfast for me so relax. I will be out before you know it.”

“Come on Chika, it’s unlike you to over-sleep. Since when did you start drinking that you now over-sleep?” She asked. Chika kept humming a song known to her alone. She hurried through everything; dressing, make-up, and before Stella could check her wristwatch twice, Chika was ready with her bag. And off they went.

She nearly got me with that question, she thought, but decided she would tell her later in the evening. She knew Stella would be angry that she did not call her as soon as it happened; she uses Kemi’s phone on emergency. She will bite off her head with her scolding. The solution is just to be prepared for whatever she tells her.

“Why the sudden dinner today? We normally have dinner together on Mondays and Fridays,” Stella queried. “Meanwhile I enjoyed this salad without cream,” she said, still scooping the last bits on her plate.

“Well, I want to tell you what happened yesterday.” By this time her face had changed in colour. She would just be plain and tell her all. “I was at Obinna’s house yesterday when Uloaku came around. We greeted but she was cold to me.” She tried to hold back the tears as she recounted how Uloaku insulted her for no just cause, calling her names.

“You can’t tell me she said all that to you just like that.”

“Believe me, I was surprised,” she said cleaning her eyes.

“And Obinna did nothing.”

“He left shortly after she came.”

“But … did you have an earlier argument or something even before that day?” Stella asked, munching her salad; she ordered for more.

“Not at all. I just asked her about Jude and …

“Hold on. Now who is Jude?” she interrupted.

“Jude is a new guy that is asking her out.” She told her of how the question sparked anger on Uloaku who seemed to be having a personal grudge against her from the time she came in. Uloaku accused her of sleeping around not just with her brother but other men. The last straw that broke the camels back was when she bluntly told her that her dreams of settling with Obinna will never come true as she will make sure her parents don’t give their consent to that.

“This is serious. But did Obinna make any proposal to you?” Stella asked.

“For where. I just love Obinna... yes… but it has never crossed my mind to settle with him. I have so many things occupying my mind now and marriage is the least. We are just good friends and that is it.”

“Then why is she behaving like that? Maybe …” rolling her eyes in surprised gesture, “… somebody said something to her,” she finished, thinking hard. “Well, that’s not our business, since she doesn’t want to come out plain,” she dismissed the thought. “So what’s going to happen between you and Obi?

“I have decided to pretend as if nothing happened till his sister tells him,” she said brightening up.

“That’s my girl,” Stella said and gave her a high five. “Don’t let that spoil our evening. Meanwhile have you heard from home?” Stella asked sipping her wine.

Stella was good at making things less serious than they really are. From her own assertion of the whole thing it was in fact serious, not that her friend sleeps around but that Obinna may not take kindly to what his sister said. She doesn’t expect him to swallow all that Uloaku will tell him. On her part Uloaku will be very stupid to tell her brother such malicious lies. Later she would talk to her friend to be careful about Uloaku. Being close to her brother, he is likely to take sides.

Chika was more scared than she pretended to be before her friend. She had known Obinna for some time now that she was almost certain she knew what he will do if Uloaku told him such lies. But, why was she so worried, she wondered. Nothing has happened and she is this disturbed. What will she do if he decides to believe what his sister will tell him?

The evening was quite hot. The sun was just beginning to set. Everywhere was hot and dusty. Cars passing were all covered with dust. Shopping by this time could be very hectic due to the rush by people especially as it was weekend. Chika had no choice but to go do her shopping against the coming week; she had nothing left in the house. She loved doing the shopping with Stella but unfortunately Stella went to visit Uche who had just came back from a one-month tour to Ghana. She will probably come to work from there on Monday. She changed into a brown Jeans trousers and a cream v-neck top, took her shopping bag and left. It took her about two hours to get her shopping done.

She was just leaving the plantain stall when the mention of Obinna caught her attention. She stylishly used delay tactics to know if she heard correctly.

“He’II be seeing me tomorrow or next,” one of the ladies said. She was light skinned and slim, not on the tall side and talked very fast.

Chika held her breath.

“How did you contact him?” The other girl asked. She was probably her friend or close relation. She was taller than the light skinned girl but also slim. Both of them looked like gossips.

“Dora saw him and somehow got all necessary information for me,” she smiled. She was buying yams and vegetable.

The name Dora rang a bell in her ears but she didn’t want to conclude. She kept her ears to the ground this time coming closer to them.

“So are you expecting him or him you?” The other girl asked adjusting her shopping bag.

“Jeez Gloria, I am cooking his favourite. It has been ages you know,” she smiled and fished out probably money for her items.

Chika was about leaving trying to convince herself it wasn’t her Obinna: after all people bear the same name. But then she heard…

“Dora said her name is Chika or something like that, and she works at De-Atlantic Company. Anyway she is still investigating but promised to track down where she lives. Then we’ll pay her a visit.”

The two ladies walked pass Chika who just watched them go. She stood rooted to the spot. On a second thought, she started following them but maintained a reasonable distance.

They continued talking but Chika couldn’t hear them well due to traffic noise. On getting to the main road, the ladies were about to cross the road when an Okada nearly hit one of them as the other screamed.

“Watch out Catherine!” She stopped abruptly as the Okada sped off without waiting to see if he hit her. They abused the Okada and cursed and cursed.

Chika took a separate direction and went home. She barely managed to make it to her house. As she washed the tomatoes, her mind wondered back to the conversation at the market. No doubt they were talking about her Obinna. That was not the only thing that bothered her but the fact that this Dora was snooping on her. Reason? She did not know. Who were they - Catherine, Gloria and Dora, she wandered.

As she chopped the onions for noodles, it struck. The name Dora struck her. Yes! The girl they met at the hotel few weeks ago. The visit of this same girl left Obinna in deep thought to the extent of avoiding her. She rushed out immediately to the business centre at the end of her street and called Stella. Her phone kept ringing but she didn’t pick it. She tried over and over again to no avail. Disappointed, she went home and back to the kitchen. She couldn’t do her cooking again. Quickly she put the already chopped onions in a covered plate and put in the fridge. She tidied the kitchen and then went back to her house. She passed Kemi on the walkway without saying a word. Kemi called her back.

“Sorry my dear, my mind was going through a lot of things,” she replied.

“Are you alright?” Kemi asked with concern. “You’ve not really been yourself. I’ve been watching you for days now.”

“Nothing serious. Eh… just the office… has been hectic,” she lied, “… too hectic.”

Both ladies talked for a while and parted.

She went back to the business centre and kept trying her luck to get Stella. When she didn’t succeed again for the second time, she went home sadly. Tears started running down her cheeks as she remembered that Obinna told her he would be very busy to see her this weekend, whereas he would be spending the weekend in another girl’s house. She knew it from that fateful night Dora showed up from nowhere. She told Stella but she made it seem light as usual. She sat on the floor of her room and wept like a baby.

What would she do? She got up and paced the whole room trying to think of something. She got dressed and headed to Obinna’s house. Yes, she would confront him, she thought. She will throw caution to the wind and yell at him. But on a second thought, evidence struck her. She stopped abruptly to ponder over it. She had nothing to prove what the two ladies said. It could still be coincidence. What a fool she would have made of herself! There and then, she turned and went home. Now she can eat something before hunger overtakes her.

Unlike her, she woke up earlier than usual considering it was Saturday. She tried to force herself back to sleep but couldn’t; her mind drifted to the incident that took place the previous day. It was still bothering her. She must see Obinna at all cost this morning. Or better still, she‘II hang around his house and watch his movement. But, how could she go snooping on him? She had no option than to find out the truth about the one man she had ever loved with her heart. She hurried through everything -morning chores, bathing and breakfast. She was ready and set out to Obinna’s house.

Disguise was the only option so that she won’t be spotted. She sat under a tree opposite his house and pretended she was reading a novel.

She wore a cap and blue specks. Twenty-five minutes after she took her place, she spotted Dora knocking on his door. He let her in and within a twinkle of an eye, the door opened again. This time he was dressed up and both of them left in the same direction. Quickly she put on a wig and followed them, maintaining a reasonable distance. She could see them gisting and laughing heartily. They boarded a taxi and she took an okada and followed behind.

The taxi stopped at Adenuga Street and both of them came down and walked to No 16. They stood just thirty seconds and the door stood ajar. Her mouth was agape for awhile, believing she was dreaming. Then she drove off with the okada. She had seen all she needed to know to convince her she was not dreaming.

July rains are not that heavy as it was time for harvesting of vegetables and maize. The town was not left out as it had various types of crops and vegetables in stalls. During this time there was equal rain and sunshine. People were not usually dressed in thick coats but wore more of cotton and lines.

The evening was sunny but cool and good for recreation. Good time to take a walk and ease the mind from a hard day’s work.

He wore his gym suit, as he figured out he may probably end up in the gym. Unfortunately for him his flat mates were not really into his type of sports. So he had to go solo. He loved being accompanied especially by his friends but whenever it had to do with sports, he was usually on his own.

He walked casually down the street humming R. Kelly’s Saved, his favourite artiste.

That gave him the much needed companion as he was almost making some dance moves. He had just walked some distance when he bumped into somebody. He wasn’t looking at all; he was busy with his dance steps. What sort of thing was this; he blamed himself for that accident. It was a lady he collided with who nearly tripped but for his timely intervention.

“Sorry my dear,” he apologized as he helped to steady her, while trying to catch her flying files.

“Thanks, but you should be more careful,” she said adjusting herself. ‘Both of us should be more watchful next time,” she suggested while helping him to arrange the scattered files. You are lucky it’s not a rainy or windy day, she thought.

Both of them were too busy to look up.

“Please forgive me once again,” he said searching for her face. There’s something about this lady that he is familiar with. “Can I give you a hand with that?” He said still trying to look at her face.

“Not to worry, I’ll be fine,” she replied beaming with smiles as she looked up to have a peep at this gentleman. He sounded so caring. But then the colour in her face drained. No! This cannot be true. “You!” She nearly screamed but lowered her voice so as not to attract passers-by. Anger came back on her face as she frowned, remembering their first encounter.

“Impossible!” He said more surprised than she was. The last person he expected to see was XYZ. Both of them stared at each other for a while, and then he busted out laughing.

“What’s funny?” She got up, looking around for his reason for laughing. She found none.

“XYZ right?” He asked.

“And you are ABC, I can’t forget that.”

“For Anthony Benjamin Chima - ABC”

“Really! I thought…” she thought of something better: don’t show your ignorance. “Well never mind. My pleasure meeting you for real,” she smiled trying to hide her idiosyncrasy. She had thought ABC was one of his jokes and so extended it to give her name as XYZ. She felt so stupid realizing her misunderstanding. It was her fault not allowing him finish, thinking he wanted to razel her kid sister.

“So…,” he interrupted.

“So…,” she repeated. She had been lost in thought and didn’t hear his question, if actually he said anything.

“Your name or are you still going to be hostile to me?” He was almost pleading.

“Chika Igwe,” she said extending a handshake to him - a sign of friendship. She wouldn’t like to leave a bad impression of herself.

He took it and held it for a moment as he looked into her eyes. He could see something hidden beneath those beautiful sets of eyes. He loved the feel of her hands; soft, tender, warm and very alive. He could feel her blood pressure racing as much as his own. There was a kind of electricity or current holding them as their eyes were locked on each other.

She saw something very strong in those big eye balls. She wasn’t sure but she will let it pass for now. As he held her, she could feel his masculinity as he wasn’t ready to let go. Every second she read a new meaning to his gentle touch, as his genuine smiles gave her goose pimples. She saw something also in the way he smiled; affection she can’t really place or was she just doing a wishful thought? This can be dangerous, she thought trying to free her hand, but in a most polite way.

“Em…I should be on my way now,” she shifted uneasily as she withdrew her hand, leaving like one in a hurry to catch a flight.

“Come for B-Ball,” he shouted after her. He wasn’t asking but telling her.

People turned to see whom he was talking to, so she had no option than to stop and look back, “I will.” That was too sudden from him and she regretted accepting the instruction or command. She didn’t plan to go there and now it’s late. Damn. He had already started affecting her.

“See you then in an hour’s time,” he said coming closer to where she stood. Excitement was written all over him as he watched to get a positive reply. He sure did.

Too late again, she thought as she turned and headed home. She walked briskly, angry with herself and what she had got into. What was wrong with her, she wandered. She shouldn’t have accepted any of what he said. There was no going back now as she felt her reputation was at stake. He was daring her but he had failed.

Chika knew she was not going to meet up with his timing. It was almost half past four and she had a lot to do before stepping out of the house. She had to wash up the few clothes she soaked in the morning and do her dirty dishes as well. By this new development she cannot arrange the much postponed kitchen arrangement and cloth ironing. What baffled her most was the kind of hurry she saw herself in. All of a sudden Basketball was like a fever she needed to cure as soon as possible. She saw herself looking forward to meeting him in court. By the time she was through with her clothes and dish wishing, it was almost six o’clock. She was doubtful about meeting him so she decided to take a bike.

Anthony had been on the court waiting for her. He expected to see her even before the said time, though he didn’t know how long it would take her to get to her house. How stupid men could be at times, he thought. He had no intention of playing basketball that evening but he had to now she had agreed to come. He changed his plans immediately and went straight to the club.

And there she came, dressed in her sports wear. He saw her walk in smartly. She was tall, slim and nicely shaped. She walked gracefully and wore a beautiful smile. Her brown three-quarter shorts and black T-shirt fitted her well as they clung to her body. He just sat where he was and observed her, grateful she finally made it.

Colour drained her face as she searched for him, walking from pillar to post but wearing her wonderful smiles. Ten minutes passed without a trace of him and she became worried. She was disappointed he couldn’t even wait for sometime before leaving. He probably had other engagements so she wouldn’t blame him that much. Well it would look stupid of her not playing after kitting up in her sports attire. She entered the court to play with those around, even though it wasn’t her original plan. She had thought she would just chat with him for sometime.

“Hello girl,” he called from behind her. She turned surprisingly to see him beaming with smiles and happy he scared her.

She returned his smiles and greeting. Her disappointment was replaced with joy and gladness. She was short of words but just smiled on.

“How good are you at the game?” He asked peering into her eyes as if there lay the answer. He pulled off his shirts leaving only his sleeveless T-shirt.

“It’s been quite a long time since I touched and flexed my hands with the ball. Actually that day was my first in the past three to four years. Wanna teach me?” She was almost certain he wouldn’t say no to that. She needed to be with him to know what kind of person he was.

“If that day was first in three to four years, then you must be a pro. Let’s play one on one at the other court so you can fully bounce back to Basketball world,” he suggested leading the way.

They got to the last court and he tossed the ball to her. They did that for some time and then she made the first move to attack him.

“That’s good. You played in a team?” He asked.

“Yeah, back in school: secondary school.”

“You didn’t join your school team, higher institution. That would have exposed you the more,” he said heading to make a basket.

“No time for that,” she lied, hurriedly picking the ball and playing immediately. She bounced to his side till she also made her own basket. She wasn’t going to tell him she dropped out of school due to family problem. Besides he is just another guy.

“Guess you are a working class lady,” he made a move to attack the ball.

She held the ball a bit longer temporarily stopping the game as she tried to figure out where he was driving to. She gave a sarcastic answer, “Right and why all the question. I thought we were just playing games and not a question time,” she ended resuming the game.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just trying to know you better,” he said getting the ball before she reached the basket. While she was still trying to regain her balance, he made another basket.

“That was very fine in deed,” she said with an edge. He thought he was Michael Jordan that came to Nigeria. Rubbish.

“Did I offend you again?” He asked. He had been saying something but she was far from the present.

She didn’t realize she had just been staring at him with annoyance written all over her. “Nope. Just wandering what you were doing in this part of the country,” she lied and he fell for it.

“Work, just like you I guess,” he threw the ball at her and she nearly missed it.

“Oh!” She bounced the ball and made a six points to show him a little of what stuff she was made of.

He caught the message but pretended not to marvel at her performance. She would be expecting him to complement her once again, but instead he took the ball and went for it. She chased him trying to beat him and just then she tripped and fell hard on the ground. Within a split second he was beside her trying to help her up but she wouldn’t let him touch her. She was in a serious pain and he could see it. She moaned but held back the tears.

“Are you hurt? Let me help you? Where did you hit?” He asked all at the same time. He was really touched by her pain.

She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer so she let it go and allowed him to help. “My left hand,” she said with tears. “It is hurting me badly,” the tears came down.

“I’m really sorry. It was my fault. Come, let’s go and see if they have first-aid treatment.”

Chika was given some pain killer tablets and massage on the arm and after a while, the pain subsided. Thereafter, Anthony took her to the eatery. Chika had her favourite Queen’s cake and a can of sprite while Anthony had crest bear and burger.

They gisted for a while about everything generally except themselves. Chika probably hoped this would be the last they would come close which was more of an accident. But Anthony looked forward to another meeting. He practically avoided asking any personal question so she wouldn’t be mad at him and thinks he only wanted to get down with her for…

It was late and Chika wanted to go so she wouldn’t give away her feelings of enjoying his company. She wanted everything to be normal so she played normal.

“I’ll be on my way now,” she said getting up.

“I hope you enjoyed the game,” he asked joining her as both of them started leaving together.

“Like this?” She lifted her bad arm for him to see well just in case he had forgotten.

“I didn’t mean it to be like this and I apologize again.”

“I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad either. The game was worth it,” she finally agreed.

“Can I walk you home then?” This was mere formality as he knew she would decline as usual.

“The game being worth it doesn’t suggest walk me home. Anyway, don’t bother, I will be alright by myself,” she said even though deep within her she would want him to really walk her home. If only he would persuade her the more.

“Yeah, I never said the wild beasts were going to devour you. I just want to know where you live, that’s all,” he emphasized

“Sorry I…”

“For Christ sakes we are friends now. I don’t understand why you are being hard on me,” he said impatiently and annoyed. She was getting on his nerves.

“I’m not being hard on you for all I care. I don’t want to leave a false impression, that’s all,” and she walking out, then boarded a bike home.

She was smart but he was smarter. His ears had long antenna so he heard when she gave her address to the bike man. But he wasn’t so sure he heard correctly. Whatever! He was going to give it a trial, not counting the cost.

Few days later, Chika went and bought her kit in preparation to play for leisure and exercise her body. Meanwhile she told Stella the very next day of her game with Anthony and she promised to give it a thought. But her guess was as good as hers and both ladies didn’t want to make an assumption. Beside Chika was not ready for anything, at least not yet. The best she could do was avoid him the much she could. Would that work, and for how long?

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