Cali showed up outside my gate the next day. His knocking ‘Gbam! Gbam! Gbam!’ rattled the gate and brought me to the window of my ground floor flat. My landlord who had been celebrating Independence Day clinking glasses and eating suya with some of his friends around the guava tree, let him in.
“Yes?” he stood to the side, looking him up and down. He smiled as if he had just relieved himself. “Which one are you looking for?”
“Good evening, sah. I am looking for Chielozona,” came his voice.
“Shit,” I muttered, hiding behind a curtain. How on earth had he found me?
My landlord’s smile disappeared. “We lock this gate at nine o’clock, sharp,” he said in his retired-gateman voice. “This is a respectable yard.”
Cali stepped in. I saw him frown slightly. His mouth said, “Thank you, sir, I will be out of here by then.”
I started to feel bad about my toad of a landlord harassing him so I went to the front door. Cali turned when he heard it open, talking even before his eyes had verified I was the one. “I just came to return your wallet,” he said. “It fell down the other day and you ran away as I was calling you.”
My landlord was still eyeing Calestous which made me strangely territorial. “Come in,” I said, grabbing him by the arm. I shut the door in my landlord’s face.
“Thank you. I have been looking for my wallet since yesterday. I would have had to cancel all my cards.” Not too bad when you work in a bank but a nuisance nonetheless.
“Ey yaa,” said Calestous sympathetically. He did not take his eyes off me. I opened the wallet. He moved about the flat, picking things up and setting them down again.
“There is too much money in here,” I said. I felt my nostrils flare. “Did you put extra money in my wallet?”
“Yes,” said Calestous, still wandering about.
“For your blouse now. I told you I would buy you another one.”
“I don’t need your money.” I counted out the surplus cash and added a few more notes for good measure. I stood where I was, holding out the money, forcing Calestous to come back to me so that I could get him out the door. He turned slowly. Smiled. Walked towards me, counting his steps. When he reached me, he took my hand in his and traced the lines on my palm with a finger.
“When are we meeting your parents?”
“Excuse me?!” I squeaked and began to cough. I snatched my hand away and thrust the wad of bills into his. I knew then Calestous was mad. I blamed myself for my earlier jealousy. I should have just let my landlord lure him into his upstairs flat full of disgruntled wives and hungry daughters who waited for marriage to give them their own rooms, to save them from their father’s mad desire to keep procreating. It would not be the first time. He’d got three of his daughters married off the same way – bloated and pregnant, looking like laden ships as they glided down the aisle in virgin-white gowns. One of the husbands had been my neighbour Ngozi’s boyfriend, the only other single girl in the compound and by that virtue my friend. She had moved out soon after.
“I said, when are we meeting your parents? I want you to be my wife.”
“I think you should just leave.” I opened the door. The noise suddenly died down. I knew my landlord and his mates were watching and listening to every word. I didn’t care. I had to get rid of Calestous. Ignoring the ridiculousness of the situation, the man said ‘Pelents’ and the more I heard him talk, the more I replaced Rs with Ls in my own head. Even ‘bitiful’ didn’t seem to annoy me as much as it previously had. The man had to go.
“I will go,” he said. “But I plomise you, you will dleam of me.” He had the audacity to look sad. “You are my wife, Chielozona, and I am your husband. I am sure you feel it. Inside ya heart.”
He left. My landlord watched him go with eating eyes.
I slammed the door for the second time that day, locked and bolted it. I was agitated. I plugged in my electric heater and warmed up a bucket of water. Before it was properly hot, the power cut off. I did not have the energy to put on my generator. I scrubbed my body hard with my sponge trying to make up for the lukewarm water. I lit a kerosene lamp and put it in the hallway, dusted mentholated talcum powder all over my neck and settled in for the night.
When I slept, I dreamt of Calestous.