Computer saaaay, I write like Chuck Palahnuik.

So I took this test last year that is supposed to tell you who you write like – for kicks of course. It was winter. I was bored, I went on Facebook and it was there. Normally I wouldn’t bother with such tests, believing as I do, that everyone writes as themselves even when the idea has been done to death – everyone is unique. This time I took it. I put in a sample of my writing, something short and I got ‘Chuck Palahnuik’. (Just embedded the badge over there —–>)

“Who the heck is Chuck Pala…Pala…how do you even say this name sef?” I tsked, went on Amazon, bought one of his books and became a believer. Yes, algorithm you are indeed all-knowing. Who am I to reject your results? Chuck Palahnuik is awesome! Thank you very much.

The novel I bought was ‘Haunted’ (Amazon says I bought it on March 31st 2013). I am still scraping off pieces of grey matter from where he BLEW MY MIND. Chuck Palahnuik, man. I see you. You complete me. You had me at ‘This was supposed to be a writer’s retreat’.

I have since bought and read ‘Fight Club’ (which the film is based on. I have not yet seen it but I know who’s in it), I am reading ‘Choke’ and have ‘Survivor’ stashed away for Christmas when all the fake cheer becomes too much and I want some good old psychological, mind-bending shit so that I don’t lock my parents in the basement and torture them by withholding their coffee and making them watch Corrie.

‘Haunted’ for me is still my favourite Chuck Palahnuik book because…well…you never forget your first. It is based on a group of people who answer the ad to a writers’ programme that reads: Artists’ Retreat: Abandon your life for three months which becomes the overarching plot that links the stories. The 23 short stories are the writers’ back stories, each one as unique as a fingerprint and twice as horrifying. People are known to have passed out or thrown up when Chuck read ‘Guts’ at book tours. The whole thing is totally mad. Dark, crafted, hilarious madness. The man knows his stuff.

What’s my point to all this? I don’t do book reviews on this blog. I guess the point would be to say, don’t place too much stock in quizzes if you’re a writer. Do your own thing but do keep an open mind. Sometimes, it leads you down unexpected paths and your life is much richer for it.

‘Cali': Part Eleven

Hot yellow light sliced into us from nowhere.

It blinded me. I flinched. The asshole drew back. He turned towards the light. A look passed over him. Anger. In that split second, it seemed to me as if he was baring his teeth.

“Chielozona?” The silhouette behind the car headlights was a welcome relief.  I walked quickly towards Cali, almost skipping in my haste to get to him. I threw myself in his arms.

“Cali…my car died and my phone died and…”

“It’s okay,” he said. He held me a little away from himself and scrutinised me. “I waited than I drove down here slow-slow to see if I would catch you on the way. Sorry I wasted time.”

“No, it’s not your fault,” I shook my head. It was just like Cali to apologise when he was the one helping me out.

The dizzy feeling had all but dissipated. I cleared my throat but Cali was no longer paying attention. His gaze was directed at asshole behind me who now slammed the passenger side door and came towards us with my things in tow.

“Here,” he said, thrusting his arm in my direction ungraciously. He bared his teeth again, not quite a smile but not a grimace either. I could not tell what it was supposed to mean but it made me uneasy. I looked at Cali. He was unmoved, casually brushing his jacket aside to slip his hand into his trouser pocket.

“Cali this is Mr…” I almost said ‘Mr Asshole’ but checked myself at the last minute. “He’s a customer. He was just going to give me a ride.”

“Tenk you,” said Cali. He held out his right hand.

“Later, stranger,” said the asshole ignoring the hand. He walked towards his car, started it up and drove away.

A frown creased Cali’s forehead. It disappeared when he turned, smiling to me. “Ngwa let’s go, mummy.”

On the drive home Cali was silent. I didn’t say much too. My brain buzzed like a hive of bees. Something had nearly happened or had happened but I couldn’t figure it out still and it bothered me. If Cali hadn’t come would I have…what would I have done? Would I have gone with him? I felt myself wanting to, in spite of myself. And what did the asshole mean by ‘unaffected by me’?

“Mummy? Are you okay?” asked Cali. I could tell he was searching my face in the lit spaces between the darkness.

I looped my hand around his neck and pulled his face towards mine. Cali pulled the car over.

***

My fears seemed unfounded the next morning. I felt like one of those women tied to train tracks in old black and white films, screaming ‘Help!’ and waiting to be rescued. In other words? I felt foolish. So when Cali offered to drive me to work, I refused.

“It’s cool, Cali. I can get to work by myself. There is nothing wrong with my legs,” I joked.

He tweaked my nose. “Did I say there was something wrong with your legs?” His eyes jumped about in his face. I could tell he was glad to see me. “I just want to take you, that’s all. You’re my darling wife.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s like that the men in your village marry? No bride price? No palm wine on my head? You’ve tried.” I grabbed my bags.

“Okay, okay. Don’t be angly. You’re my wife-to-be?” Something in his tone made me turn around. Cali held out a box. My heart skipped a beat.

“Cali…what is that?”

“I was going to keep it until later but I think that now, you should take it. From me to you.”

“Cali…”

“Okay, okay. You don’t have to open it now. Just…take it.”

The box was a bigger than your standard ring box when I looked closely and my heart descended from my throat.  “Thank you,” I kissed him.

“I know you will like it….you don’t want to open it?”

My phone started ringing. I smiled at him, and raised a finger. “Hello?”

It was the bank manager. I handed the box back and raced for the front door.

***

“I swear I didn’t park my car in your spot, sir. I tried to get home yesterday and when it wouldn’t start, I just left it where I had parked it. By the wall.”

“I do not appreciate having to walk a long way through the car park with sensitive documents flying about because someone, a junior member of staff for that matter, takes it upon herself to displace the manager.”

I wondered what one had to do with the other but said nothing.  I had not parked in his spot, but  did he not have a briefcase for his documents?

“Mr Elendu sir, it won’t happen again,” said the floor manager, cutting eyes at me. I rearranged my face so that my thoughts would not show on them.

“See that it doesn’t,” said Mr Elendu. “It was very embarrassing.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll move it now.” I left quickly before the floor manager could run after me to breathe fire down my neck.

I slipped my keys in the ignition and turned it. My car roared to life.

‘Cali': Part Ten

I groaned. I could have sworn it was inwardly but the man laughed, so I knew I had done it aloud. His teeth gleamed unnaturally white in the dimness of his car.

“No, thank you,” I said. “I don’t take rides from strangers.” I started to walk away. He followed in the car.

“Ehh, let me guess. You can run your mouth when you’re behind the safety of your precious glass but now that I am here, I’m a stranger?”

“You were always a stranger,” I said, in spite of myself. Something told me to shut my mouth and just keep walking. I looked all about waiting for the okadas coming behind me or towards me on the other side of the road. Nothing. Only cars. Buses zoomed past without stopping. No conductors shouting for fares. They were all full. What time was it?

The man laughed again, as the last car whooshed past us. Darkness. I realised I had walked past the bank’s lit fence. My heart beat with so much force that it shook my body. I began to walk faster. I turned. The car remained ominously silent behind me…

“You’re being stupid,” said a voice.

I walked straight into the man. In front of me. I screamed.

“How did you…? Jes…”

“You’re going to break your neck,” he said. “Stop being a smallie. Get in the car. I’ll give you a ride. Okay?”

The asshole was almost murmuring now. I felt dizzy. I couldn’t think. My nose hurt from where I had bumped it against his body, like walking into a padded door. How had he got in front of me?

“I’m waiting for someone. My boyfriend. He’s coming to find me…”

His face was above mine. Way above mine. But I felt a disturbance in the air as if someone had sliced it in two with a hot knife. He was smiling again.

“No he isn’t,” he said. “Com’on. You don’t want someone to attack you, do you?”

What he said made sense. Perfect sense. Would I not be better off with someone I sort-of knew? But something in me was screaming. I backed away. I had been intending to get away and cross the road to the other side but somehow I got to the car and he was opening the door, standing near me, helping me in.

“You know, you really intrigue me,” he said.

My saliva turned to paste in my mouth. “I do?” I could see flashes of colour in my mind’s eye. Red mostly. Some silver. I knew I was afraid but it was as if my body could not feel it properly.

“You do. You seem…unaffected by me. Almost.” The asshole sniffed my ear, my neck. He backed away. “Listen. I’m sorry I called you a bitch. I didn’t mean that. And I don’t mean to scare you or anything. You are scared. I can tell.”

As he backed away, I felt a jagged feeling run though me, as if I was finally connecting to my brain. “Look, I’m sorry but I can’t…my boyfriend will pick me up.”

“We’ve been here for twenty minutes . Would you get in the car already? I’ve never had to work so hard to convince a woman to let me help her.”

A thought occurred to me. “No.”

“No?” he sounded surprised.

“No, thank you. I think I’ll…I’ll wait.”

The man stood there. I could feel the heat coming off him as he leaned in again. “Are you sure?”

Flashes of red. Silver. Sweat soaked into the wings of my bra from my armpit.

‘Cali': Part Nine

“I should LOWER MY VOICE?!” The woman shouted. She was getting louder, in that very Nigerian way of escalating an argument very quickly. People turned.

Real fear clutched at my heart. My hands grew cold. How would I pay my rent? How would I get another job? I had lied to get this one, won it by out-talking my rivals, as one senior management person told me on my first week. Could I do it again? Were there even vacancies?  I didn’t have enough saved up for my masters’. I couldn’t make a proper living as a writer, not without some side hustle. My life prospects flashed before my eyes. None of it was good.

Of course I didn’t want to work as a banker for the rest of my life. I hated the job! But it was better to quit than to be fired. And it was more pragmatic to quit when one had other things in place. Otherwise…

The floor manager marched towards my cubicle. Asshole reached over and placed a hand on the woman. She turned towards him.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the floor manager. Her voice told me what I suspected. This was it for me.

“There was just a misunderstanding…”

“I wasn’t talking to you, Chielozona,” she turned to the woman. “Would you like to make a complaint?”

When the woman turned towards us again, she was smiling, all the harsh angles of a face contorted in anger had dissolved like a sugar cube placed in water.

“Sorry?” she said, looking dreamy.

The floor manager’s smile superior smile faltered. “I asked if you would like to make a formal complaint. You were shouting. You had a problem, abi?”

“Me? Shouting? No. It was just a misunderstanding,” she said. “No problem at all, ma.”

Customers turned back to what they were doing. The floor manager huffed and stomped away.

Asshole concluded his business and poked his head in my window – regardless of the woman standing there – and said “I’m leaving, I’ll see you later.” As if we were friends. I said nothing.  I didn’t look at him. I was so shaken up. Something had just happened and I couldn’t place my finger on what exactly. Asshole didn’t move from the glass. I looked up.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

I went through the rest of the day in a daze, counting down the hours till I finished for the day. I suddenly missed Cali with a fierceness that made me ache.

I slipped my phone out of my pocket. Cali, I will like to come inside tonight.

It had barely sent when I got my reply. Yes mummy. I am here for you. Then, Do you want me to pick you?

No, I drove. I’ll come to you.

What do you want to eat?

Surprise me.

Cabin and milk then.

LOL!

I started to feel better.

***

The floor manager took her frustration out on me by giving me a lot more work to do. I didn’t complain. I knew I had got off lightly. She was just annoyed that she had not got rid of me this time. By the time I left work the car park was deserted. I had parked my car almost by the front wall, a tight squeeze as there had been no space but now it looked forlorn being there all on its own. It shone ghostly sliver in the moonlight.

Shouting a greeting across to the night watchmen, I darted across the car park, taking courage from their sleepy responses. I flung my things in the passenger’s seat and slammed the door. I slid the key in the ignition and twisted it.

Nothing. Not even so much as a wheeze.

I tried again. It didn’t work.

“What the…?”

I pulled out my phone to call Cali but it was dead. I sighed. The day just kept getting better. I sat in the car while I weighed up the benefits of using one of the calling stands on the road to call Cali, then waiting for him to come all the way through traffic to get me, versus just jumping on an okada.

The okada won. I grabbed my things and set off, determined not to walk past the perimeter of the bank’s fence where it was well-lit. I waited. There were no free okadas. I was about to give up and make a call from the MTN umbrella down the road when a dark car pulled up beside me. Its driver wound down the window and a gust of cold air wafted out.

“Ah, it’s my friend with the attitude,” said the asshole. “Get in. I’ll give you a ride.”

‘Cali': Part Eight

I gasped.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” said the asshole. “First you ignore me while I am here waiting, then you pretend not to see me as I am standing right in front of you. What does that spell to you?”

Normally I could take any insults from customers with a smile or a barb that went over their heads but made me feel infinitely better. Or if they got too loud, I could just report them. But something about this guy made me believe that not a lot would go over his head. I wanted to slap his face. His stupid, smirky face. I could not believe that for a split second I thought that he was fine enough that I stopped to breathe. That coffee complexion deceived me. I shook my head.

“There was no one by this window and yet you stood here. What does that make you?” I asked. In my head I said ‘Olodo’.

He chuckled again. “Call me olodo for wanting to be served by the most beautiful girl here.”

Don’t mind if I do, olodo.

The man frowned slightly.

“One’s beauty or its lack thereof is not directly proportional to how well they do their job,” I said, glad to have an area to challenge him on. “And furthermore…”

He rolled his eyes. “Learn how to take a compliment, why don’t you? God. I just want to deposit some money.”

And with that he moved to the next window, cutting off the customer who had been on her way there. I saw her brow furrow as if in slow motion, her mouth opened. She had been tapping her foot impatiently while she waited, jabbing the keys on her Blackberry with so much force that the tak-tak  sound filled the entire floor. He smiled at her. The furrows on her face melted.

“Sorry,” she said, as if she was at fault.

“It’s all right,” he replied.

Anger heated my blood.. I gripped my worktop, shaking, shaking. Oh the things I wanted to tell him! I could see the floor manager watching me, always watching me. I took a shaky breath and said “Next please!”

The woman that the asshole had cut off came to my window with a dreamy look on her face. I waited for her to tell me what she needed but she just stood there.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Erm…yes…I came to…came to…” she glanced back at him again. The asshole was busy chatting to my colleague Nnaemeka, joking about. Of course they would get along, I thought. Nnaemeka was a pain in my neck; always making sexist comments that none of the other women challenged.

“What do you want?” I finally snapped at the woman when she wouldn’t say anything that made sense. That seemed to bring her back to earth.

“Excuse me?” she yelled. “Is it me you’re talking to like that? Don’t you have any manners?”

“She clearly doesn’t,” chipped in Asshole. “Nigerian customer service at its finest.”

“Imagine!” said the woman, glad to have his attention.

“Could you please tell me what I can do for you?” I attempted in a lower voice. “There is no need to shout.”

My heart beat very loudly. I thought ‘This is it’. I was surely getting fired now. The floor manager had a niece that she had been wanting to bring in for months. Some chick who studied accountancy. She made no bones about the fact that with my English degree, she did not think I belonged and was always trying to get rid of me.

I had just given her a reason.