The host shushed the crowd and went through the rules.
“I know a lot of you are excited but listen carefully so that we can do this properly,” he said in Igbo. “The women are to remain seated on their tables at all times, the men will move in an anti-clockwise position once the bell rings. Do not ask for or collect numbers, just mark down on your cards whom you’d wish to contact. Be polite, be courteous. You are selling yourself after all.” He paused. “You have eight minutes.”
I looked over at my friends and smiled. The bell rang and the first man sat down opposite me.
“Hi,” he pushed up his glasses.
“Hi.” I sized him up. He was as dark as coffee and at a first glance he seemed slight, but I detected his muscles bulging beneath his shirt when he touched his face. Think Henry the accountant from Ugly Betty. He gazed at a point beyond my left ear.
“I’m Nwunye. What your name?” I shifted in my seat until I was in his line of vision. He moved his eyes again.
“So what do you do?” He took a deep breath.
“I’m training to be a doctor.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. What kind?”
“Excellent.” My cheeks hurt from smiling. Eight minutes stretched before me like a lifetime. I knew his type. I had tried to speak to him during the workshop but he ignored me or said very little. I thought he liked his women a bit on the quiet side.
“Would you like to know anything about me?” I tried again. He might have been uninterested but the least he could do was be polite. It wasn’t like he was my kind of man either. He must have caught something in my tone because he looked at me then.
“So what do you do?”
“I’m a journalist.”
“Ah, no wonder.” He smiled a little.
“No wonder what?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. Thank you for noticing,” I gave him a chance for a zinger. He said nothing. I glanced at my wrist lying in my lap just as the bell rang. He jumped up.
“Pleased to meet you.” I didn’t realise I was holding my breath until he moved to the next table. No wonder I was light headed.
“Well, that was awkward,” said my next date. He settled as if he was in his living room.
“Great smile. Are you a model?”
“With this coconut head? Who’d take me?”
“You should stand up and let me take a look at you,” I joked.
“Alright.” He stood and turned around slowly. He was about 6″5 and immaculately groomed; his blazer/jean combo looked like it was hand made in some Italian village by peasants earning less than minimum wage. I became aware that he had stop turning when I eyeballed his crotch. He raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to twirl too? No double standards.”
“Nice,” he said when I sat down. “So you’re a journalist. What kind?”
“I didn’t say I was.”
“No, but my date was boring, so I eavesdropped on yours. Sorry.” He looked anything but.
“That’s my friend you’re talking about.”
“Oops. Well, I can safely say that there were no sparks there.” He winked at my friend who batted it away. I noticed a man come up behind him. He saw me looking and turned around. “Can I help you?”
“No, I am just waiting for the bell to ring,” the man said. My date looked past him. “Shouldn’t you be on your seat? I followed his gaze and noticed the man had jumped the queue. It wasn’t his turn to speak to me next. Just then the bell rang and my date stood. He kissed my hand. “I’m Kalu. It was a pleasure. Maybe we’ll be matched at the end.”
“Maybe.” I said.
“Ol’ boy jus’ move. I wan’ talk to her.” The intruder pulled the next candidate aside and made a few gestures. “Hello, I’m Nonso.” He sat down and scrapped the chair across the floor.
“Hi, Nonso. I hope everything is OK now?” My rightful date settled himself elsewhere.
“Yes, I am here now. So talk to me.”
“I have seen as your mouth has been working ‘kpara kpara kpara’. You think you can intimidate me? You can’t intimidate me.”
“Excuse me?” It began to feel dangerous. What did I have to do with making him feel intimidated?
“Biko, just give me your number and stop all this pretense.” He whipped out his phone. “Where is your phone?”
“We’re not supposed to collect numbers until after this session.” I flashed my eyes around. My new friend caught my gaze and took off his blazer. ‘Are you OK?’ he mouthed at me. I nodded.
“Abeg, stop this nonsense.” He was almost shouting. “This is my number.” He scribbled it on a piece of paper and pushed it towards me. The bells rang. “Aren’t you going to take it?” I put the piece of paper in my pocket, resolved to bin it later.
“Eh hen. Where is the number na?” He said as a conversation started when the session was over. I turned from talking to my friends.
“Errrr…I have yours, so don’t worry. I’ll contact you.” I tried to move away but he blocked me.
“Either give me yours or throw mine away.”
“Ok, I will throw yours away.” I made for the bin in the corner of the hall. He grabbed my elbow and pulled hard. I fell against him.
“Give it back to me. Now.” I gave him the piece of paper with his number on it. He ripped it to shreds and walked off. My new friend is walking towards me in long strides which eat up the hall.
“What the hell was that about? Are you alright?”
I am speechless.