Tag Archive | nigerian fiction

Chapter 7 – The Only One.

Hope tried not to feel dejected about the snub from Daniel Amadi, but she thought about it throughout the drive home after work. He’d practically looked through her, and it rankled. It really did.

At home, she had dinner with her parents and half-listened to them talk about politics while the evening news was on. When she got tired, she said goodnight and went upstairs to her room to get ready for bed. Just as she lay down, her phone rang. She felt a slight ripple of excitement when she saw Charles’ name flashing on her screen, and she tried to keep it out of her voice.

“Hi, angel,” was the first thing he said, the simple endearment making Hope’s excitement and pleasure harder to suppress.

“Hello,” she replied, her voice soft. “How are you?”

“So, so… wondering what you’re doing.”

Hope shrugged. “I was just going to bed.”

“Hmm.” She could hear the mischief in his voice, so his next question didn’t surprise her. “So.. what are you wearing?”

She only paused a beat. “Something very sexy, satin, lots of sheer lace, very low-cut, and very short.”

There was a long silence. “You’re killing me,” Charles said finally, his voice low.

“You started it,” Hope replied, grinning.

He took a deep breath. “Let’s have dinner tomorrow. Tell me when you close from work and I’ll come pick you.”

“You don’t have to. I’ll meet you at whichever restaurant we choose.”

“Where’s the romance in that?” He complained. “Can’t you leave your car at the office or something?”

Hope considered it. “I could, but I don’t want to come to work the next day and find that the real owners have collected the brain box and tires.”

“The real owners?” He laughed. “You guys don’t have security? Anyway,” he continued, “Why don’t we do it like this – I’ll come and pick you tomorrow morning, so you can leave your car at home. That way we actually get to spend more time together.”

Spend more time together. Hope bit back a sigh. She was treading on dangerous waters here, and she knew it. Already, he seemed to assume that they were back on track, seeing each other. Meanwhile, she knew deep down, that was a risk she shouldn’t take.

Yet she was encouraging him

Taking pleasure in his attention.

Loving it, in fact.

“Fine,” she told him, “You have to be here before seven, and I close from work at five, but I hardly ever leave before six. You can pick me up then.”

She could almost hear his grin through the phone. “See you tomorrow,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Hope smiled. “Goodnight Charles.”

“Goodnight love.”

She thought about that final endearment for a long time before sleep finally took her.

 

The next morning, Charles arrived on time. By half past six, he’d already sent a text to tell her he was parked outside, Hope hurriedly finished her makeup and checked that she looked good. She was wearing a gray dress with a black mandarin collar and black cuffs, paired with black suede heels and pearl studs in her ears. After one last look in the mirror, she hurried downstairs.

“You no carry your motor today?” Ayuba asked as she hurried towards the small gate.

Hope shook her head, ignoring the gateman’s perplexed expression. He ran ahead of her and unlocked the gate, his expression turning to understanding when he saw the car parked outside.

Hope ignored him, quickly making for Charles’ car. She opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. The stereo was playing dancehall music, but soft, almost too low to hear anything but the beats. He looked up as she entered, his welcoming grin making her heart tighten a little.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good… You look…wow!” he exclaimed, leaning back and arching an eyebrow in her direction. “Do you usually look like this every morning, or is this a special effort for me.”

“Shut up,” Hope laughed. “Stop flattering yourself.”

“What’s wrong with making an effort to look good for me?” he said, shifting to drive and moving the car. “Aren’t I worth it?”

Hope smiled. “Seeing as you drove all this way to pick me up, yeah, maybe.”

He looked at her and smiled, and she found herself smiling back at him. It was intimate somehow, that exchange of pleasure at each other’s company.

He still dumped you, Hope. Have you forgotten, and he has a wife. Don’t forget that either.

Hope pushed the warning voice to the back of her mind, determined to enjoy Charles company, and she did. By the time he dropped her at her office, she’d spent most of the past hour laughing at his teasing, teasing him in turn, and thinking that maybe, if there weren’t any obstacles in their way, it wouldn’t be so bad to be with him again.

 

“It seems the best option is to channel the storm water outside the estate and create a new storm drain, which will link to the existing canal…. Hope, why are you smiling?”

Hope blinked at one of the senior partners at Maduekwe and Makinde. He was standing at the front of the conference room, going through the options she had proposed for the storm drainage of an estate design the firm was working on.

“I’m not smiling…” Hope lied, wiping the daydreaming grin off her face. She’d been thinking about Charles, about that morning, about how easy it had been to enjoy herself with him, and to forget their past and how he had hurt her. How unprofessional! “I agree with your assessment, sir. The proposed storm drain is also my preferred option.”

He gave her a look that communicated that he wasn’t convinced of her seriousness, and Hope felt embarrassment flow through her. In such a male-dominated industry, one had to prove consistently that one was competent. Any small slip and some of the older men completely forgot how hardworking you’d been in that past, in their hurry to label you as another lazy ‘woman.’”

She forced herself to focus on work for the rest of the day, pushing all thoughts of Charles to the back of her mind as she worked over and above her target for the day. By the time five pm came around, the junior engineers were glad to escape her endless demands for printouts and her red ink markups as they hurried home.

“If we keep working like this every day, we’ll have to go and help other firms finish their work o, just to have something to do.”

Hope looked over at Agnes, who was packing up her stuff and getting ready to leave for the day. “If we worked like this every day, we’d all be dead.”

Agnes laughed. “So you know you were trying to kill us today.”

Hope stuck out her tongue. “How’s it going with your full package guy?” she asked.

Agnes made a face. “He hasn’t called me since yesterday, and he’s not picking my calls.”

Hope raised her brows. “How come?”

“See ehn. I don’t want to think, or talk about these men,” Agnes said with a shrug. “I’ve stopped calling him sef. I can’t be the desperate one again.” She sighed. “See you tomorrow. Let’s beat our all deadlines this month.”

Hope nodded. “That’s the spirit.”

After Agnes had left, Hope spent a few moments just staring at her screen. She wasn’t the type to press and press for details especially when the person in question didn’t want to share the information. She wondered how Agnes was feeling. Or what was actually happening with the guy. Agnes had never been the type to hold back when she was feeling a guy, and some guys just didn’t know how to deal with that. Sometimes they took it as an invitation to take advantage of the woman and then leave her with the excuse that she was too easy.

Such guys were not worth it anyway, Hope thought. Better to have a few days of sadness, and then forget about them, than to spend maybe a lifetime being reminded of what an easy lay you were.

While waiting for Charles to call, she freshened her makeup and caught up on her favorite sitcom. She had gone through two episodes before her phone rang.

“How’s my sweetheart?” he said as soon as she picked up.

Her heart flipped. “Who’s your sweetheart?” she replied, ignoring the sweet ache in her chest.

Charles laughed. “I’m outside your office. Are you ready for me?”

“Ready for you ke? Shey it’s not food we’re going to eat again?”

There was amusement in his voice. “You never know.”

Those words stayed in her mind as she left the office and took the lift down to the lobby. You never know, like it was possible their night would end some other way. At the thought, she felt her stomach knot. It would be the most foolish thing, to let down all her defenses to let Charles back into her life, heart… and body.

And she was determined not to be foolish.

Charles’ car was idling just outside the gates, visible through the low fence. As she approached, he got out of the car and walked over to the passenger side to open the door for her.

Hope climbed into the car with a suspicious frown on her face. “I don’t trust you,” she said, once he joined her.

He started to move the car, his expression innocent. “Why not?”

“Opening car doors, come on! When did you start doing that?”

He looked disappointed. “Sweetheart, why not just accept it like the princess you are.”

Hope laughed. “Nah. You’re definitely buttering me up for the slaughter. You’re the big bad wolf, and I should be careful.”

Charles shrugged. “You know that story, red riding hood, and the big bad wolf has a lot of erotic symbolism.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Oh, it does. It’s definitely about the wolf seducing red riding hood. ‘the better to eat you with?” he grinned slyly. “Definitely talking about sex.”

Hope bit her lip, unable to think of a reply. She should change the subject. Talking about sex with Charles would definitely not lead anywhere she wanted to go.

Anywhere she should go, at least not with him.

“Where are we going?” she asked him.

“First a drink, then a long, satisfying dinner, so you can tell me all that’s been happening since… these past years.”

‘Since you dumped me, you mean,’ Hope thought silently, not bothering to say the words out loud, they were hanging in the air.

But if he felt them, he ignored them, concentrating on navigating the evening traffic. He asked about the project she was working on, seeming genuinely interested as she described mechanical works and design restrictions. He told her about his work in the bank, and how crazy it was. He dropped names of important clients and Hope tried not to be too impressed.

Drinks were at a lounge at the very edge of Victoria Island, towards Oniru. As she looked over the cocktail list, Charles leaned close. “You should order the screaming orgasm,” he suggested. “I’ve never met a woman who didn’t like that one.”

Why was it suddenly so hot inside the lounge. Hope resisted the urge to fan herself. “You’re obviously an expert on women,” she said, surprised at how breathy her voice sounded. She took his advice and ordered the cocktail and a seafood platter for the both of them.

Hope tried to keep her eyes on the food as she ate. The plate, the other tables, anything but Charles. It was too hard to look at him, especially when his eyes never seemed to leave her face. The mixture of desire and reverence in his gaze coupled with his dazzling good looks were really just too much for her.

If she’d driven herself, she’d have found an excuse to leave. Maybe he knew that. Maybe he’d wanted her to have no option to escape the intensity of his presence.

Hope sighed, concentrating on finishing the fried prawns on her plate and drinking the last of her cocktail, which was delicious. “I feel like I could eat bags of that fried shrimp,” she said.

Charles smiled. “Better not. You should leave space for dinner.”

Hope nodded. “And where is that.”

He shrugged. “You’ll see.”

By the time they left the lounge, traffic had lessened somewhat. He drove through Victoria Island and took the bridge into Ikoyi.

It wasn’t until he stopped in front of a wide black gate that Hope first suspected that they might not be going to a restaurant as she’d thought. The gate slid open electronically, and the uniformed security man standing just inside waved a greeting at Charles as he drove in. The brightly lit building inside the compound was a modern looking block of apartments, large luxury apartments by the looks of it. Hope stayed silent as Charles parked, wondering how she felt about going to his home. There was a mild curiosity, she wanted to know where he lived, and yes, it would also give her an opportunity to see if there was a significant-other lurking somewhere. If it was a home he shared with a wife, there was no way there wouldn’t be some sign, at least.

He switched off the engine and grinned in her direction. “All set?”

Hope smiled. “Yes. I didn’t know we were coming to your place.”

For a moment, he looked concerned. “I hope you don’t mind. But I have an excellent cook. Trust me, You’ll love dinner more than you would have at ninety percent of the restaurants in Lagos.”

“No problem,” Hope said, opening the door and climbing out of the car. Around the parking lot, the rest of the compound was beautifully landscaped with brick walkways, curbs, flowers, and shrubs. There was a tennis court at one of the corners, but from what she could see, no swimming pool. She was still looking around when Charles took her hand and led her towards the entrance of the building.

He held on to that hand all the way through the lobby, into the lift and up to his apartment, which was a large place, beautifully decorated with high ornamented ceilings and large windows.

“You have a beautiful place,” Hope offered.

Charles grinned. “Thanks. Would you like me to show you around, or would you like to eat first?”

The words ‘show you around’ conjured images of him leading her through the apartment to his bedroom, and showing her, well, showing her things she’d long forgotten. Hope sighed, cursing her imagination. “I think I should eat asap. I’m oddly famished.”

He nodded, “Well then, have a seat.”

Hope settled into one of the plush leather settees and in the next moment, a smallish looking man appeared from a doorway Hope assumed led into the kitchen. After greeting her effusively and receiving instructions from Charles, he went back through the door and returned a few seconds later to set the table. Charles switched on the TV, but turned it to some radio only channel, so the sounds of mellow jazz filtered in through hidden speakers. Then he joined her on the settee. “So… You’re really not pissed that I brought you here, are you?”

Hope shook her head, “Of course not. It’s a great looking place. At least now I know you don’t live in a cave with skeletons all over the floor.”

He laughed. “No. My skeletons are safe in my closet.”

Hope frowned. “Really?”

He shrugged. “We all have skeletons, don’t we?”

Just then, the cook, Hope assumed that was what the smallish man was, announced that he had finished setting the table. He returned to the kitchen without a reply from Charles, but after he’d gone, Charles got up and took Hope’s hands again, “Let’s eat.”

She let him lead her to the table, silently wondering what those ‘skeletons’ were, and if she should be worried.

He broke your heart once. He’s actually someone else’s husband. What skeleton can be worse than all that, she asked herself, deciding to stop worrying.

The food was delicious, well-garnished seafood rice with salad and fried plantains and a bottle of mellow red wine.

“You can’t eat like this every day and not get fat,” Hope said when she’d eaten the last of her food and was sipping from her glass of wine.

“I work out a lot,” Charles said. “Gotta keep fit and strong, you know?”

“I’m sure.”  Hope spared a glance at his chest. He’d taken off his jacket, and the crisp white shirt he wore did little to hide the firm muscles of his torso and arms.

He refilled her glass with the last of the wine and led her back to the living room. They settled into one of the plush settees, and she noticed that he sat really close to her, so close she could basically inhale the scent of his spicy cologne. He watched her drink her wine, then turned the TV back to a visual channel, a comedy channel showing reruns of Friends, one of her all-time favorite shows.

Hope relaxed, laughing at the hilarious one-liners on the TV. By the time the first episode was finished, she was totally at ease, mellow from the wine, and her head was resting on Charles’ shoulder.

The credits started to roll, and he reduced the volume, then turned to face her. “I’ve missed you so much.” He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. “There’s never been anyone else like you.”

Maybe it was because his voice was so low, almost a whisper, or maybe it was the wine, but everything about him – the timbre of his voice, the expression on his face – made him look so sincere, that she could really imagine that he’d spent the last few years missing her desperately.

He didn’t wait for a reply. He leaned forward, and with one hand leisurely stroking the back of her neck, brought her face closer to his. Their lips touched, and Hope tried not to sigh with the pleasure, the satisfaction of experiencing that intimate contact again. His lips covered hers, warm and firm and soft at the same time, and then his tongue was stroking her lower lip, then pushing at the seam of her lips, delving inside her mouth.. she moaned as his tongue stroked hers, and she moved closer, wanting more.

He deepened the kiss. He tasted of wine and smelled like heaven. His hands moved leisurely, over her shoulders, her back, down her sides, skimming the sides of her breasts, so slowly that she started to ache all over. Somehow, she was falling back on the settee, and he was covering her body with his. One of his hands found the hem of her dress and moved underneath it, skimming the trembling flesh of thighs and moving higher, taking the dress up with it.

He broke the kiss long enough for his lips to trail down her neck, his breath fanning her sensitive skin. Her hands were stroking his back, and there was a moan on the verge of escaping her lips. I want this, she thought. I want this so much.

Why shouldn’t I have this?

Because it’s Charles, her slumbering brain managed to reply. You can’t trust him. After the pleasure, there will be pain, because that’s just how he is.

His lips were making their way to the base of her ear now, his tongue flicking out to find sensitive spots he knew from long ago, making her tremble in his arms. She moved her hands from his back to his chest and pushed gently. “Charles,” she whispered.

“Hmm.” He was kissing the edge of her lips.

She pushed a little more firmly, and he moved back, a frown on his face. “What’s wrong?”

Hope sat up, smoothing her dress, not wanting to look at him. She was still trembling, still needy, one look at him and she might just decide to let common sense go. “I think I should go home.”

For a second, he looked pissed. “Are you serious?”

She frowned. “Do I look like I’m joking.”

His eyes raked her, and she tried to imagine what he was seeing, the pushed up dress, the mussed hair… she probably looked like sex in a minute.

Hope stood and ran a hand through her hair. “I hope you understand that I don’t want to move this fast.”

“Why? Because you don’t trust me?”

“Should I?”

He shrugged. “Look… the way I see it, we’re both adults. This isn’t like back then when you were holding on to your precious hymen. We’re not kids anymore. We can enjoy being together without overthinking it.”

Hope sighed. How could she not overthink it? He was the same guy who’d broken her heart and stolen her illusions. She didn’t have any problem with two adults taking pleasure from each other, but she didn’t want to be the adult thinking things could be serious, while the other adult just wanted to get his rocks off, then walk away.

She decided to be frank. “I can’t be with you a casual way Charles. You used to mean so much to me, and if I stay, you’ll end up meaning as much to me again. And if you don’t feel the same way, if you treat me the way you treated me before, it’ll hurt all over again, maybe even worse this time.”

He got up too and straightened his shirt. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” he muttered. “I’ve said that I never stopped thinking about you.” He picked up his jacket from the back of a chair, then tossed it back, then he went to the table by the entrance and picked up his car keys. “Let me take you home,” he said tiredly.

Is it supposed to be enough that you ‘never stopped thinking about me?’ Hope asked the question in her mind. For some reason, she decided not to articulate her thoughts, instead following him silently out of the apartment.

They were both quiet on the drive to the mainland. There was no traffic. So in less than half an hour, he’d parked outside her parents compound.

Hope wondered if she should say anything to him before going inside. His body language told her that he was disappointed, and she was annoyed that he didn’t even seem to have the grace to hide it, like sex was the only reason they’d gone out in the first place.

She opened the door. “Goodnight,” she murmured.

He sighed and placed a hand on her arm to stop her. “I had a great time, you know. With or without the stuff that didn’t happen.”

Hope smiled. “Well, I had a great time too.

He nodded. “See you.”

She noticed that he didn’t say when. She climbed out of the car and closed the door. Ayuba let her in after a few seconds of waiting, and as she walked towards the house, she wondered if that was that – the end of this particular episode of Charles’ presence in her life.

Chapter 6 – The Only One.

After Daniel Amadi left the party, Hope found that somehow, she had lost the ability to enjoy the music, the food, or even Charles’s company, and she knew deep down that it was because of that look, that expression of realisation she’d seen on Daniel’s face.

And he had been wrong! He’d probably assumed that her being here with Charles meant that they were lovers, that she’d lied to him earlier about spending the evening with an old friend. His opinion of her had probably plummeted to the lowest possible depths.

“Are you all here?” Charles asked at some point. He was frowning, probably wondering why she looked so preoccupied.

“I don’t really feel…” Hope sighed. “I’m really sorry, but I’d like to leave.”

“Now?” He looked nonplussed. “But the party is just starting.”

Hope shrugged. “You don’t have to come with me,” she said. “I know my way home.”

Charles turned away, his eyes going to the girls dancing close to their table, and for a moment, Hope thought that he would really let her leave on her own and enjoy the rest of the night with one or two of the babes that were so plentiful, but he got up and held out a hand to her. “Fine, lets go.”

He said his goodbyes to the host and led Hope out to where he’d parked his car. He was obviously not happy. As he unlocked the doors and they both climbed in, he suggested that they could spend the rest of the evening at another lounge in Victoria Island, but Hope shook her head. She knew that with all her thoughts about Daniel Amadi, she wouldn’t be able to enjoy herself and Charles would find her company to be a drag.

Daniel Amadi.

In her mind, she saw that look on his face again and she blanched. Why do I care so much what he thinks? The question played over and over in her mind as Charles drove. And why did she care if he was disappointed in her or whatever. He had no right to judge her. He didn’t even know her. They’d only had a couple of conversations. There was absolutely no reason for her to care so much what he thought.

“What’s the problem?” Charles asked, his voice cutting into her thoughts. “Did I say or do something to annoy you?”

“No, you didn’t. I just wasn’t enjoying myself,” Hope replied.

“That doesn’t make me feel better,” Charles remarked, his eyes skipping from the road to her face. “You might as well tell me that I was boring you.”

She remembered the sexual tension of the moments before Daniel Amadi arrived. “You definitely weren’t boring me, Charles.”

“But you couldn’t wait to leave.”

“I’m sorry,” Hope said, “I just stopped feeling the party after a while.”

He was silent. “Did I come on too strong, is that it?”

“Charles…”

“You can tell me,” he continued, interrupting her. “I’ve never stopped wanting you, Hope. And I’m not going to lie and act as if I’m not crazy about you right now. I am. So… If you don’t want to be around me at all… if you want me to disappear and leave you alone, just tell me.”

Hope was silent. If she said that was what she wanted, she’d be lying. He was still attractive, there was still something about him that drew her and made her want to risk… her commonsense, it seemed, for the gratification of the knowledge that he still wanted to be with her, that he still found her attractive, that he regretted walking away from her.

Don’t be a fool, she told herself sternly. Men like Charles can say anything, pretend for as long as it takes, just to conquer a girl’s defenses. That was just the way they were wired. To see women as conquests, as victory stories to tell their friends over drinks.

She stole a glance at him as he drove. He was waiting for her answer, silent, his gaze on the road. What if she was wrong? What if he was hurting, lonely and really missed her… She remembered that day at the office with Greg. He’d implied that she was the love of his life.

She turned to the window, looking outside, and the silence stretched until he parked in front of her parent’s gate.

He drummed his fingers on the wheel for a few seconds before turning to her. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said.

“You haven’t told me what happened with your wife,” Hope replied.

He let out a long breath, and Hope could swear she saw moisture in his eyes before he turned and fixed his gaze ahead. “Many girls these days just want to get married,” he said slowly. “It’s a rite of passage. Something all their friends are doing,” he sounded bitter, pained. “A man is like an accessory to them. Someone to show off to their friends… to hold on to at parties while looking down on the unfortunate ones who haven’t hooked one of their own yet.”

This was the most sober she’d seen him in a long time. Hope looked down at her fingers, tempted to reach for him, to offer some words of comfort, but she held herself back. After all, it was he who’d made her a certified member of the group of ‘unfortunate ones.’

“Are you saying your wife… is like that?” she asked softly.

He was silent.

“Weren’t you aware, before the wedding? Why did you go along with it?” Internally, she was screaming. I loved you with my whole being, and you chose to spend your life with someone who saw you as a prop to impress her friends with? It was saddening.

“I don’t know that I was really aware. Maybe I was and instead chose to tell myself that she was in love with me. There was some family pressure too. Her family and mine are close, and once I’d been out with her a couple of times, they kinda expected an engagement. There were advantages, I wont lie to you, Hope.

Like the connections. Hope thought. His wife came from wealth. Lots of it. She regarded him for a moment, taking in the set of his jaw and his expression that, even in profile, communicated a mixture of anger and sadness at the same time.

“I always enjoyed being with you, you know. Even just talking. You were never boring. I was never lonely with you. You knew me, and you loved me for who I was.”

Hope turned away, angry with him for even talking about their past relationship. He’d been the one to throw it away. Was she supposed to pity him now? He’d made his bed. It was his fault that he was feeling like this.

“I’m sorry Charles, but I don’t know what you want me to do… How you want me to react to this. Are you saying your marriage is over? Am I supposed to be glad that it failed, that you’re free to take me to parties and stuff?”

He shrugged. “I’m not asking anything, Hope. She left and yes, it’s given me a chance to spend time with you. I don’t regret that.”

“So you’re not planning to get her back? To work on it at all?”

“Why should I?” His eyes searched Hope’s face. “Seeing you again, Hope…” he sighed and took her hand in his, stroking her fingers gently. “I want you. I feel like I missed my chance to be happy before and I have it again… with you.”

The words send a tremor through her, the words, and the sensual warmth of his hand on hers. She swallowed as long ago memories of pleasure raced through her brain even as she tried to suppress them.

“I have to go inside,” she said, her voice sounding strange even to her ears. She drew her hand from his. “Goodnight, Charles.”

“Hope…”

She didn’t reply, instead, she pushed the car door open and climbed out, hurrying towards the gate. Her emotions were all over the place, and being with him, inside that car with those memories… it reawakened things in her body that she knew would be dangerous to explore.

The gateman opened the gate and she stepped inside the compound, quickly pushing the gate closed before leaning back against it, taking deep breaths to slow her racing heart.

 

Later that night, Hope tried to do some social media digging. She didn’t know if Charles’s wife had enough of a social profile for it to be a thing on the blogs if she left her husband, but she searched for her name on the local gossip blogs anyway. Apart from the years old spread done about their wedding, there was no news of them. Hope checked Instagram and Twitter and other social media profiles, but it seemed like Charles’s wife or ex-wife wasn’t an ardent poster. There was nothing to point towards a separation, but there was nothing pointing away from it either.

So what if Charles was telling the truth? What if he was lonely and miserable and his marriage was over. Would she forgive him for the way he’d hurt her in the past just because there was now a chance to get back in his life? That would be stupid. What if he hurt her again? Wouldn’t that make her the biggest fool who ever lived?

And yet, she couldn’t forget his voice, the words, he’d said, the earnestness in his face when he told her that he was lonely, that he missed her. “I want you,” he’d said. The stark admission made her want to drop all her defenses, all her anger and resentment, and pretend, just pretend that they were together again, the way they used to be.

A voice at the back of her mind kept trying to remind her that even those days when they were together, he’d not really been hers, that he’d hurt her even then, but she ignored it. She closed her eyes and concentrated instead of the feeling of being close to him again, the excitement she’d felt when he’d touched her, the tremors that had gone through her body.

She had a hard time going to sleep.

 

The next Monday, Hope listened to Agnes go on and on about her weekend. She’d spent almost the entire time with her new beau. “I think I’m in love with this one,” she told Hope. “He’s the full package.”

“Is it him you like or his package,” Hope quipped.

Agnes laughed. “See your dirty mind. Later you’ll say I’m the rotten one.”

Hope wondered what Agnes would say if she told her about Charles, about the conflicting emotions she was feeling. She desperately wanted to talk to someone, but she didn’t want anyone to make her feel foolish or careless for considering…

For considering what exactly? Going back to him? Having an affair, maybe trying to have something serious with him?

“How far you and Daniel Amadi now? I saw you two talking at Greg’s baby dedication… Shey he hasn’t made his move?”

Hope looked around the office, hoping no one had overheard. She thought back to her encounter with Daniel Amadi on Saturday and bit back a sigh. “Which move again?” She replied Agnes. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Agnes shrugged. “Ok o, but if a guy like that showed even the least bit of interest in me…” The advice went on and on but after a few words, Hope blocked it out and went back to her thoughts.

Like… what was really going on with Daniel anyway? She didn’t want to read anything into a few polite words, and after the party on Saturday… Well, he’d probably formed an opinion about her that she could do nothing about. She wished that wasn’t the case, but what could she do?

At lunchtime, she had errands. She left her car in the office and walked to the bank, then to a nearby store to buy a few cosmetics, before buying a snack at a local fast food and heading back to the office. She entered the cool marble lobby and made for the lifts, slowing when she saw Daniel emerge. He was wearing a suit, a magnificent three piece that made him look fiercely handsome. He had three companions with him, but he stood out. He was speaking and the others were listening to him and nodding, obviously deferring to him. They walked closer, and just before they reached Hope, Daniel looked up and his eyes met hers.

Hope tried a hesitant smile, lifting her hand to wave in his direction.

His response, a small inclination of his head, was hardly perceptible, his eyes slid off her, barely showing any recognition as he continued his journey with his companions to the doors leading out of the building.

Chapter 5 – The Only One.

The next day, Saturday, Hope spent most of the morning in bed feeling lazy. Midmorning, she finally got up and halfheartedly tidied her room before taking a quick shower and going downstairs in search of something to eat.

Her father was in the living room, seated in his favorite chair with his glasses perched on the edge of his nose, staring suspiciously at the screen of his phone.

“Good morning, daddy.”

“Good morning, madam.” He’d been calling her madam since she got her first job.

Hope considered asking him what the problem was with the phone, but she decided to give him time to solve it on his own. It was probably something as simple as locating text message drafts or some other such thing.

In the kitchen, her mother and Justina were pouring the last of the ground beans paste for moinmoin into skillfully folded leaves, which her mother carefully set in a wide bottomed pot for steaming.

“You’ve finally woken up,” her mother commented, lips pursed. “I thought we won’t see you till tomorrow.”

“Mummy, it’s Saturday! After my hectic week, don’t I deserve the rest?”

“Rest? Till afternoon? Okay. We’ll be here when you have children. Shebi you will sleep when they’re jumping on your bed crying for food.”

Hope rolled her eyes. “Mummy you’ve forgotten that I used to do all this work Justina does now… I’m on housework parole. Time off for time served.”

Her mother sighed. “At least nobody can say I didn’t train you well. Are you hungry?”

“Dying,” Hope replied.

“You’re not dying in Jesus name,” her mother muttered under her breath, prompting another eye roll from Hope and a muffled giggle from Justina.

“Aunty ‘ope, Good morning,” Justina said, her smile revealing the space where she’d lost a tooth before she came to live with them. She was fifteen years old, at least that was her best guess, and had been with them since she was eleven. She was in her last year of Junior secondary school and doing fairly well academically. She’d confided to Hope that she wanted to be an engineer like her when she grew up, and Hope had assured her that it was possible, even though she was sure Justina had no idea what an engineer really did.

“Your food is in the microwave,” her mother said now, placing the last of the moinmoin in the pot and watching as Justina put it on the cooker. “Yam and egg.”

Hope nodded, going over to retrieve the covered dish from inside the microwave. It was still warm so she didn’t bother heating it. She set it on the kitchen counter and picked up a fork, coating a piece of yam with eggsauce before popping it in her mouth.

“Are you going to eat standing there…? Go to the dining… Justina! Why is the gas on the highest heat, when have we ever cooked moinmoin on the highest heat. You want to finish the gas? I have never seen a child that doesn’t learn…”

Hope escaped the familiar tirade and went to sit in the adjoining dining room. She could see the TV as she ate, and her father had solved whatever the issue was with his phone and was now watching the news. She didn’t have to be anywhere till evening, when she would go with Charles to his friend’s party. The thought made her apprehensive, and a little excited too. She wondered what her parents would say if they knew she had met Charles again, that she was letting him take her on what was in some ways, a date.

Her mother would flip, and her father would give her that disapproving look from beneath his glasses. She couldn’t blame them, they’d been witness to the devastation Charles had caused when he broke her heart all those years ago, the spontaneous tears, the listlessness, the depression… She wished there was someone to talk to, her sister maybe. Grace was married, and a medical doctor. She’d either be at the hospital or spending the morning with her family. Her younger brother Gerald was not the best person to consult about romantic stuff. He always pretended to listen for as long as he could bear before offering some unconnected solution, like a drink, a night at the club or going to see a movie.

She should drive over to see one of them, Hope decided, before realizing that she didn’t have a car. The unreliable mechanic still hadn’t called.

As the thought crossed her mind, her phone rang. It was the mechanic.

“Madam, sorry o! I swear as I dey repair your motor, I just sleep. I just sleep go. I no even know when I off my phone. Na so the sleep take catch me.”

Hope snorted, unimpressed with his excuse. “Abeg… Have you finished now?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I dey bring am come your office.”

“Shebi you don’t know today is Saturday? Why will I be in my office?”

“Sorry madam, I forget. I go bring am come your house.”

“But you don’t know where I live.”

“Na true o! But just describe am. I go bring the motor come.”

Hope considered trusting the unreliable mechanic with driving her car to the mainland, then decided against it. “Just take it to the office,” she told him. “I’ll come and pick it from there.”

She finished breakfast and changed into jeans and a bright orange tshirt with the slogan ‘the bigger the better’ then in smaller letters, ‘that’s how I like my books.’ She told her parents where she was going and listened to her mum go on about how mechanics on the mainland were more reliable. It wasn’t very true. All car mechanics in Lagos, in fact the whole country, were probably the same.

She walked from her house to the estate gate. Thankfully the sun wasn’t very hot so she could add the few thousand steps to her Fitness app without breaking a sweat. Outside the estate, she found an aging yellow cab with an ancient looking grey-haired driver. They bartered and agreed on a price, and because it was Saturday, in no time at all she was at her office.

She called the mechanic on her phone as a security man let her in through the front gate. Most of the offices were closed on Saturday, but the building maintenance people provided the basics, generator power for when there was a power cut, water, security, etc, for the few companies that opened on the weekends.

“Sister, good afternoon o!” Alfred, the guy on duty at the front entrance greeted her, “but your people have not opened office today.”

Hope smiled at the young man. She liked him because he was always reading a book, and she’d found out that he was pursuing a part-time degree. “We’re not opening today. My mechanic is bringing my car here. I came to pick it up.”

“Okay. Will you wait here,” he gestured at the waiting area in the big lobby, “or you want to go to the lobby on your floor?”

“I think I’ll go up,” Hope said. She’d brought her kindle and she hoped to get some quality reading time in the quiet upstairs lobby before the mechanic finally decided to show up. She made her way to the elevator bank, stopping a few feet from the doors as one of them slid open to reveal Daniel Amadi.

He was looking down at his watch as he strode out of the lift, a striking figure in jeans and a unbuttoned short sleeved shirt over a plain light grey t-shirt. He was kinda hot, Hope thought, staring at the broad expanse of his chest, the tightly muscled arms… He was fit, athletic looking, but not bulky. She liked that. Now she definitely could not remember why she’d ever thought he wasn’t hot.

He looked up from his watch, saw her standing there and stopped, a smile slowly spreading cross his features. “Hope!”

She realised that she’d been staring, and she tried to cover up with a cheerful greeting. “Hi!”

“What are you doing here?” he frowned. “I didn’t know you worked on Saturdays?”

“I usually don’t, except when we have a really crazy deadline… I… My car had a fault yesterday and the mechanic who fixed it is bringing it over here today, so I came to pick it up. I was just going to the lobby on my floor to wait.” God! She was rambling! How come! It wasn’t as if she was some nervous jambite straight from an all-girls boarding school, conversing with a hot guy for the first time.

He was smiling, looking slightly amused. His eyes went to the message on her t-shirt and his smile broadened. He looked up at her. “Sooo… the car’s been fixed?”

Hope nodded. “Yes.”

“Good,” Daniel said. “You won’t have long to wait then.”

“I hope so,” she replied, wondering if, with the kind of money he had, he ever had to deal with mechanics. He probably had a fleet of brand new cars and changed each one as soon as a new model was made.

“We were working on a technical problem with the servers. It’s about fixed, though some of the engineers are still up there. I’m abandoning them.” He smiled ruefully.

“The perks of being the boss,” Hope teased.

He shrugged. “I wish. It’s been a while since I slept. I’ve learned from experience that the efficacy of caffeine steadily diminishes the longer you stay awake. I think I may have become immune because even the floor of this lobby looks like a good place to crash right now.”

Hope tried not to laugh at the image of him asleep on the lobby floor. She peered at his face. He did look tired. “Well, have a good rest.”

He smiled and started to leave, then he stopped. “Hope?”

“Yes?” There was a wealth of expectation in her, causing a few stray butterflies to flutter senselessly in her tummy. It was silly, especially when she had no idea what he planned to say.

“What are you doing later, in the evening?”

Her eyebrows rose. He was going to ask her on a date. Wow! Daniel Amadi. The girls in the office would really take that story to town. “I.. em..” She paused, remembering Charles and the party she had agreed to attend with him. “I..” she sighed. “I’m kinda hanging out with an old friend.”

Daniel nodded. “Okay.” His smile was polite as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “See you around, then.”

Hope watched him walk away, his tall, broad-shouldered figure moving with a graceful, loping stride. Would he have asked her to dinner? to hangout somewhere casual? She had no doubt that she would enjoy herself with him. He seemed like someone who would be interesting to know. Her mind went to Charles and she almost kicked herself. It made no sense that she had just turned down a date with a single and eligible guy like Daniel just so she could spend an evening with Charles. It made no sense at all. It was the sort of thing that would make her mother clap her hands together in dismay and question if Hope was really her daughter.

At that mental image of her mother, she smiled and pressed the call button for the lift. She settled into one of the seats in the ninth floor lobby, and after spending little more than an hour reading on her kindle, her phone finally rang. It was the mechanic, calling to tell her that he had delivered her car and was waiting downstairs.

 

Hope spent the rest of afternoon at her sister’s place. Grace had returned from the hospital sometime in the morning and was now asleep. The children, bored with their nanny, welcomed Hope with boundless joy. There were two girls six and four, and two boys, three and one. Their father had just left for the grocery store to do some shopping when Hope arrived.

The enthusiastic chorus of Auntie Hope! Auntie Hope! was a sign of things to come. She spent the next few hours singing, drawing, watching cartoons, rocking the baby to sleep, helping with crosswords and generally rediscovering that children had an inexhaustible supply of energy. By the time Grace woke up towards evening, there was no time for the heart to heart talk that Hope wanted. She had to leave to prepare for her evening with Charles.

Unlike the days when they’d been dating, when Charles would come into the house and sit with her parents in the living room discussing everything from current affairs to career goals, this time he called her when he was parked outside to let her know he was waiting.

“Who’s this person you’re going out with that cannot come inside and greet your parents?” her mother said when Hope came downstairs, all dressed up in a short peach and cream dress, jeweled sandals with light but flawless makeup.

“Mummy! It’s the first time we’re going out. I don’t think I want him meeting the parents and going through your interview when I don’t even know if I like him yet.”

“If you don’t like him, why are you going out with him.”

Hope looked to her father for help but he studiously ignored them both and fixed his eyes on the TV.

“It’s just some guy I met in the office, mummy. No need for all this concern,” Hope lied.

“Guy from the office and he can’t come and greet your parents,” Hope heard her mother mutter. It went on, but she’d already left the living room. She heard her father says something, and then her mother laughed. She pursed her lips. That’s what always happened, they would lecture you, then when they thought you were out of earshot they would laugh about how they did the same things when they were young. Parents!

Outside, Charles was waiting in the car, running the engine and listening to 90s hiphop. “Hey,” he drawled as she climbed in, his beautiful eyes moving sensually from her face down to her body. “You look good.”

Hope shrugged. “Well, you don’t look bad.”

His smile was confident. He knew that he looked good, Hope decided. Unbelievably good actually. There was something annoying yet attractive about a guy who knew how good-looking he was and didn’t try to hide it with some sort of false modesty.

Guys who didn’t seem to know at all that they were good-looking were also attractive, she thought, her mind going to Daniel Amadi. He had that aura, like he took care of himself but didn’t measure himself by the way he looked, or expect anybody to measure him with that either.

“So how was your day?” Charles asked, snapping her out of her thoughts. He lowered the music and smiled at her.

“Nothing much. I went to the office… Got my car back.”

“Ah… your car! I forgot to ask. So it’s working okay now?”

“Yeah.”

Hope wanted to ask him why he suddenly wanted to spend time with her. What the situation was with his marriage. Why he threw appreciative glances her way every ten seconds as if he had a right to… but instead she stayed silent. Maybe after the party she would ask. For now, she would just take it moment by moment, enjoy his attention, and try not to feel as if she was making a huge mistake by allowing him anywhere near her.

“So what’s going on in your life?”

She shrugged.

“Come on,” he cajoled. “You have to give me more than that. Is there a boyfriend?”

Hope turn her face to look at him, barely swallowing the bitter snort that threatened to come out of her mouth. Instead, she smiled sweetly. “Not right now, no.”

“Lagos guys are blind.” He was smiling. “Look at you. Guys should be lining up at your door.”

Hope was hovering somewhere between flattered and confused. How did one even respond to a statement like that?

“Who says they aren’t?”

He grinned. “So I have competition.”

Hope was silent. Why would he even say that? Was he trying to hint that he wanted to be with her again or was he just playing with her head? “Charles.”

“Hmmn,” he said, his attention on the road.

“What did you mean when you said your wife left?”

There was a long pause. “Why don’t we talk about that later,” he said finally.

There was no traffic, so by this time he was already swinging into the parking lot of a new and popular café in Lekki phase one. Inside, the whole mezzanine floor has been booked for the party. The host was Frank Leton, a twice divorced man in his forties with interests in oil marketing and – it was whispered – 419 activities. The girlfriend was at least twenty years younger and extraordinarily beautiful, just like the two women he’d already married and divorced.

He gave Hope a leering smile as Charles introduced them, and while the two men patted each other on the back, laughing at some jokes she didn’t understand. She looked around. There were lots of girls, many younger than her, and the men were mostly older, late thirties or forties, some wearing wedding rings, though it was clear that their companions were not their wives.

Hope sighed. Oh well. It wasn’t like she could judge, not when she was also here with a married man whose relationship status she hadn’t clearly confirmed.

Charles finally remembered her. He found them a booth and ordered drinks. There were a lot of those going around, expensive drinks, barbecued chicken, chips, peppered snails, goat meat, suya… Hope picked at the delicious platter Charles set in front of her. He’d joined her in the booth and was leaning very close. “I love your hair,” he said, his fingers finding their way to stroke her hair and the tender spots behind her ear.

Hope sucked in a breath and moved slightly, putting a little space between them.

Charles chuckled. “You can’t run away forever,” he whispered.

Hope pretended not to hear. The DJ was doing a very good job, so she concentrated on that, moving her body to the music as she ate.

“You were always such a good dancer,” Charles continued, his eyes devouring her every movement.

She looked away from the stark sexual appreciation in his gaze, unnerved by the way it made her feel. Pleased, flattered, flirty…

“Come on,” he said. “You should dance. I love watching you dance. Always so sexy.”

Hope ignored him, her eyes sliding to the girls who were dancing around the booths. For the men, not with them. The men mostly sat and watched while young beautiful girls gyrated and teased and tried to keep their attention.

“I’m not getting up to dance for you,” she told Charles.

Something crossed his face, a small expression of impatience, but he quickly replaced it with a smile. He leaned closer to her on the seat so that even with the thick aroma of alcohol, food and cigars, she could smell the freshness of his cologne. His fingers found her arm and stroked lightly, making her tremble. “One day, you’ll forgive me, really forgive me. You know that, right?”

Hope forced a chuckle. “Really?”

“Yes, because you never stopped loving me.”

Hope wanted to laugh, to throw her platter of peppery dishes in his face. She wanted to do a lot of things. Charles was looking into her eyes, his face close, apparently unfazed by the fact that what he said could annoy her. Her laughter died in her throat, as did any smart rejoinder she could have attempted. Just looking at him, she realised that he still had the power to reach her insides, to make her confused, to doubt herself, and to want him to be hers, the way he had never ever been.

As the realization passed through her mind, she forced a mocking smile to hide the tumult she was feeling. She laid her fingers on his cheek and stroked it gently. “You still think too much of yourself, Charles. You have to work on that.”

He grinned. To any onlooker, it would have looked like an intimate scene. Hope didn’t care, because she didn’t know anyone there. At least she thought so, until something made her look towards the stairs and she saw Daniel Amadi. He’d only just arrived, and as he ascended into the mezzanine, his eyes locked on hers, and she saw realization suffuse his features.

She pulled her hand from Charles’s cheek, mortified at what she assumed would be going through Daniel’s mind. It was too late. Daniel smiled wryly in her direction, nodded a silent greeting, then turned away – and in the few minutes he spent at the party, greeting the host and a few other people, he didn’t look her way again, not even once.

Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

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With sweeping themes like poverty, mob violence, army brutality, religious indoctrination and intolerance, corruption and love, Elnathan John’s debut novel is an ambitious story told in enchantingly simple language through the voice of our lovable protagonist, Dantala, who is equal parts, innocence, religious fervor, intelligence and youthful curiosity.

Born on a Tuesday opens under a Kuka tree in Bayan Layi, a small town in Kaduna, in northern Nigeria. The boys under the tree smoke wee-wee (a hilarious slang for marijuana.) and boast about the number of people they’ve killed. They are almajiris – the street children of northern Nigeria, sent away from their homes for formal Quranic education, but more commonly known for begging and sometimes violence. Even in the first paragraph, in the unadorned language of the author, we first come in contact with a heartbreaking disregard for human life.

For many of us who only know the north through the romanticized stories of authors like Cyprian Ekwensi, and more recently through news reports of carnage and gore, it is the latter that is soon confirmed, when the boys under the kuka tree are paid paltry amounts to unleash violence after an election. Dantala, who possesses an ability for self-knowledge and evaluation that seems to be absent from the other boys, takes part. He’s not as eager as the others, sometimes expressing regret at the horrors he commits, but he takes part all the same, a loyal assistant to his mentor from under the tree, a local tough called Banda.

The riots end with soldiers shooting into the crowds of rioters. Banda is killed, and Dantala escapes, buying a ride on a lorry to take him back to his village in Sokoto. On the way, he first encounters the kindly Sheikh Jamal and his assistant, a convert from another part of the country, Malam Abdul-Nur Mohammed. They offer hope, and even when Dantala reaches his villages and finds his mother a silent testament to the devastation of extreme poverty coupled with a recent natural disaster, he holds on to that hope, finally returning to the sheikh to begin a new chapter of his life.

“Insha Allah, when I come back she will see me. One day, insha Allah, I will take her out of this place to the city, where there are hospitals and bright fluorescent lights. ~ Dantala.”

Under Sheikh Jamal’s tutelage, Dantala starts to learn more than he ever did in Quranic school. The tout from under the kuka tree is gone, and now we have an inquisitive boy, eager to improve himself, even as he reaches the peak of adolescence. Dantala’s experiences here give us hope for him, and form him in a way his adventures as a street boy in Kaduna don’t. He reflects tentatively on the deeper questions of his faith, has his first uncomfortable experience with homosexuality, makes a friend, and ponders the hypocrisy of the people around him, even the ones he/and we admire. The three people who influence his life the most at this point are perhaps the true triumph of this book, Sheikh Jamal, who is gentle and kind, perhaps naïve, and not in any way perfect; Malam Abdul-Nur, whose fervor in his adopted religion echoes the greatest villains in history, he is violent in his personal life, and it translates into his religion, with his desire to punish all ‘unbelievers’ with violence. There is also Jubril, Abdul-Nur brother, who becomes the greatest influence on Dantala. They help and teach each other and develop a close and admirable friendship.

This stage of Dantala’s life is one many of us can identify with, learning, maturing, sexual curiosity, falling in love, and hope for the future, but trouble comes in the shape of increasing religious intolerance and bigotry, which threatens the life Dantala has found and the people he has come to love.

This book shocks from the very beginning, with the violence and the poverty, and yet the reader cannot help being moved to pity for these boys, the instruments of violence who don’t know any other life. In another region, in another world, Dantala would have a chance to make something of himself, but in the lowest rung of society in northern Nigeria, everything conspires against him.

Though the major arc of the story is somewhat tragic, Born on a Tuesday is actually a very hilarious read. I’m not new to reading Elnathan John, and I already know he has the gift of exploring details and highlighting the comic (and the poignant) in his writings. In reading Born on a Tuesday, I found myself laughing out loud multiple times. I feel like I have a better understanding of some issues in Northern Nigeria from reading this book and I look forward to more books from the author.

Born on a Tuesday is available for sale in bookstores all over Nigeria. I got mine at the Patabah Bookshop in Surulere, Lagos. You can also buy it on Amazon here.