July 30, 2014 Fiction






Okwudili Nebeolisa


I was watching the movie ‘Flight’ with my brothers when my friend and former classmate Ikenna called me and said, “I’m on a bike on my way over to you. Five minutes. Better get dressed.” I was used to impromptu calls like this from him, most of them on Sundays and in the evening. We would either go to a bar to drink a couple bottles of beer and talk about girls and anything under the sun, or just stroll around the neighbourhood. Anytime we strolled, we were usually waiting for his girlfriend Chisom to emerge from her house. Nassarawa Street, where I lived, was a long one, and she lived in the adjoining street, which is to mean we did not live close to each other, something I am happy for.

So I got dressed in my orange and blue checked shirt and blue denim trousers and waited for him. Since I had seen’Flight’ before, I did not feel I was missing out on anything. When I heard his knock on the gate, I went out to meet him. He was holding a plastic bag with a rectangular carton case in it. He was effusively smiling, like a bridegroom on his wedding day, the sun shining on his oily facial features.

“What’s inside the bag?” I said, fighting the urge to and find out for myself.

“Chess board and the pieces,” he replied.

“What for?” I asked and he told me that he wanted to teach Chisom how to play chess, and that she’d agreed that he teach her.

He saw the look on my face and added, “What? Anything wrong?”

“No. Nothing. Let’s go.”

I wore my palm sandals and followed him out of the compound. We trekked to the very end of our street. Since it was evening and getting dark, the cold was settling like dew. Where Chisom lived was filled with dead end streets so it was not hard to locate the house where she lived.

At first I thought Ikenna was unsure about the house, since he did not want to point distinctly to it. We walked across the street three times, most times waiting abruptly so Ikenna could call her to remind her that he was waiting for her outside. I had lived for more than 12 years in this neighbourhood without coming across Chisom before or even where she lived. Moreover, I am not the social type so mostly I was stuck to home whenever I returned from boarding school in Malali and later from majoring at Minna. I did not see being confined to our home as loneliness; moreover my mum liked it. Mostly my parents’ friends would look at me quizzically whenever I was introduced and ask, “Is this your son?”

After several attempts at trying to convince Chisom to come out and see him (because he came all the way from Narayi), she finally opened up to him, saying that her mum ‘caged’ her from going out. As if her mum had stood gallantly by the door to prevent her from sneaking out! I didn’t want to offend my friend, or I would have told him she was blatantly lying. He begged her on the phone and they agreed to meet later that day.

Ikenna suggested we while away the time in Mekzain, a bar cum closed space where people could hold parties. It was not far from where Chisom lived, so we trekked it. We took seats at a secluded part of the bar, Afro-beat spilling from loudspeakers. A huge flat screen TV was showing a football match between Tottenham and Arsenal. Ikenna was interested in the match, while I was not. He kept feeding me match fixtures of the Premier League and on noticing my indifferent silence, he asked about my plans for school. The university lecturers were on an industrial action at that time, so we had both been at home for four months. Ikenna was helping his father make money (as well as making money for himself), while I was not (because I was at home all of this time doing nothing). I didn’t have much to tell him, nor did I want to bore him with my quotidian life, as I instead read an essay on fascism on my phone.

A dark stout man came to take our orders. Ikenna ordered several bottles of beer and soft drinks. With straws we drank slowly. Ikenna kept stopping to look at his wristwatch. He was chatting online with Chisom, who told him she might be out by seven.

Then a woman in a blue dress and apron came with a tray loaded with roasted fish all wrapped in foils of different sizes. But when Ikenna looked at me with an inquiring eye and that flat nose of his, I told him not to bother since I had not the appetite for it. I watched the woman cynically smile before she took the tray away, as if she was imploring, something like taking a second chance to see if we would change our minds.

We talked at length about leaving Nigeria, our failing educational system, how students were becoming overly pious and insensitive, lecturers giving nonsensical assignments and giving difficult deadlines for them, and the rising corruption in our schools. We made jokes about our lecturers. We were students of the same school at Malali. In our final year, Ikenna was preparing to leave the country for the US or Malaysia but his attempts were continually thwarted by ill-luck and what I think to be unpreparedness. He wasted a lot of money trying to pave his way out, so I was a bit wily about trying if I ever had the motivation to begin ‘processing’, as many people call it.

When it reached seven pm, Ikenna paid our bills and we left Mekzain, seven bottles on our table. Though it was dark I could not believe I could drink more than two bottles. I could feel my bladder already. We took the now familiar route to the silent street where Chisom lived. Ikenna found a gutter in front of a house to urinate. He had begun to call her but her number was going through. I suspected she had switched her phone off or taken out her SIM card. It wasn’t unusual in this part of Kaduna. We stood in the street, in the increasing cold, like two stranded strangers, until her number started going through, but she didn’t answer any of his calls.

In the street there were scant sights of lovers in spots that were usually dark. He was feeling frustrated, it was on his face. Finally he took his fate and asked me to escort him to Post Office Road where he would board a bike to Narayi where he lived.

They did not meet. He did not get to teach her the chess he had been so anxious to. If he asked my opinion, I would have told him to leave Chisom for good. I had nothing to tell him, actually I did not like Chisom the first (and only) time I had met her. I think it was a month back, and on a Sunday, like today. There were three of us, Ikenna and our mutual friend Kester having come to visit. We met her as I walked them to Post Office Road, Ikenna and Kester both living close. I was meanly dressed in casual wear and slippers, my hair uncombed, with the surety sure she would notice my dry lips. I was not concerned about that though. I did not care that I resembled an exhausted bricklayer who had retired for the day, who managed to wipe some cement dust from his face and hair. I do not fully recollect her features, only that she was tall for a girl and pleasurably slim with a fine brown complexion. Perhaps we could like each other if we talked further. She looked smart in her high bun of hair and tight jean trousers, but it was clear she did not like me and could not bear the sight of me, so she pulled Chigozie close to a kiosk and they had a tête-à-tête. Next, they were gone, taking the nearest street, not even with a goodbye.

Ikenna took a bike. We shook hands and he left. He promised to call me so we could meet the next Sunday.

When I got back and had made myself some rice and stew, the phone rang. It was Ikenna. “Can you believe that Chisom called me,” he said, clouds of anger packed like cotton balls in his throat. “She said we can meet now. Can you imagine? After leaving me dejected.”

I was not surprised. I wanted to burst into laughter. But I was careful, because I had food in my mouth. Again I had nothing to tell him. He was not the first of my friends I knew to be treated like this. “So what did you say?” I asked him.

“Of course I’m not coming. It’s only now her mum has chosen to ‘uncage’ her isn’t it?”


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