Tag Archives: Cabin biscuits

‘Cali’: Part Two

Before I met Calestous, it is possible that I was bored.

The kind of boredom that drives you back into your boarding school habit of cabin biscuits and powdered milk before bed; breaking the biscuit in half and using it as a spoon to scoop the milk powder into your mouth. Everyone knows  full fat milk is as deadly as  ice cream and chocolate.  To me is was like coke. It always seemed to make me feel better in boarding school when people stole my clothes or buckets of water. In fact the whole habit had started because I didn’t have any water and I had to eat something.

I was stressed all the time. If it wasn’t the theft of your water and clothes and provisions, it was senior girls nearly doing you in with mindless errands, ‘Go and tell Senior Ebele that I said she’s stupid’, kill-the-messenger type situations which nobody could win. Tell senior Ebele and die. Don’t relay the message and die. The advantage to such situations was that it made me fast on my feet and quick with my tongue. Which is how I had lied my way into my bank job. Which probably accounted for 99.9% of my boredom.

The waistbands of my skirts and trousers were becoming a little tight but who cared? I was bored with watching and weighing everything that went into my mouth. It was relentless. Tedious. There had to be more to life than that.

The boredom I felt was bone deep. It could not be eased by the usual distractions; novels and YouTube and Two Broke Girls. The day before I met Calestous in the market, I sighed in the middle of attending to a customer. So deep was the sigh that my breath fogged up the glass. The woman eyed me, her lips tightening.

“If you don’t want to attend to me, I can go somewhere else,” she said and she marched off with her Ghana-Must-Go before I could stop her. I had to plaster a smile on my face for the rest of the day. The manager watched me like a rat would watch dry fish in the trap.

I needed a holiday. In the absence of that, a day or so of sick leave. I didn’t mind being ill if it meant I could rest. I would have put my phone alarm on snooze in the morning just so I could get a few minutes to psyche myself up, but as a twenty-seven-year-old banker, who could afford the luxury, boredom or no? Waste even one second and some hungry graduate is there in ill-fitting shoes to take your place for less pay. So I bought and ate my cabin and milk and rode the storm, waiting for it to abate. I was waiting for something to happen to me.

And then Cali did.

‘Cali’: Part One

The market was even more crowded than normal. I elbowed my way through, irritated.

“Nne-nne,” a man called.

I stopped. “What?”

Many times later in life I would wonder why I stopped. I never stopped. Not when men tried to guess at my name, calling out ‘Ada!’ or ‘Chi-chi!’ or ‘Ngozi!’ or ‘Ifeoma!’ and held my wrists so tightly that my watch snapped or my bracelets bit into my skin. Perhaps that was it – he didn’t touch me. Maybe it was that he did not do that annoying hissing thing that Nigerian men do when they want to get your attention anywhere. Or else it was the way he stood, like he had expected me to stop. Maybe it was Juju.

I hesitated, annoyed with myself and made to continue. The man walked up to me, dabbing his face with an overly-white handkerchief which nearly blinded me in the sun. Green and red dots swam in my vision when I looked away.

“What do you want?” I snapped with more venom than was required.

He shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing, just to look at your beautiful face.” He pronounced it ‘bitiful’. I thought ‘Kill me, now’.

“I am going,” I said. Traders hung about, watching this exchange and it made me uneasy. I swatted a fly that buzzed around my ear. My chandelier earring swung. It got caught in my hair.

“Barrow, barrow!” A barrow boy bellowed, looking for a customer. He bore down on me as I stood in the middle of the path, struggling with my earring-hair ornament. The man reached out a hand and moved me to the side.

“The barrow was rusty. It might have cut your beautiful legs,” he said when I glared at him for touching my waist.

Ballow. Lusty. Bitiful. I abandoned struggling with my earring as my irritation – against myself, against him – mounted. The man couldn’t even speak English! Why had I stopped? I was making a spectacle of myself. My right earlobe hurt from being twisted upwards. He moved again and before I could slap his hand away, he had untangled my earring from my hair.

“Thank you,” I said frostily, walking away.

“Mummy, wait now.”

Immediately my stomach roiled. I detested men who used ‘Mummy’ as a term of endearment. I found it exceptionally unimaginative.

“My name is not mummy,” I snapped back. “Am I your mother?” I carried on walking, cursing my heels, my ill-fortune at having to enter the market on that day. I hated the market. Noisy and smelly and grabby and spitty. Had I not come straight from the office, I would have sent Chekwube or Okey, two of the fastest, most resourceful kids in my compound to get me what I needed. They always brought back correct change and didn’t dally. But tomorrow was Independence Day and markets would be closed all over the country. I had run out of cabin biscuits and wouldn’t survive the night.

“Nne what is your nem then?” he asked from behind me, undeterred.

My name? I thought. As if.  I was jostled and jostled others in turn. The loose sand conspired against me. My thighs burned. A woman with a basket of broken tomatoes as wide as her hips brushed past me, dripping reddish water down the elbows she put behind her head to support her load.

“Easy now, ah-ahn!” I yelled.

She eyed me with uninterested eyes, walking away. “Sorry Aunty,” she said.

“Are you going to pay for my clothes?” I shouted behind her. She didn’t answer. She flicked some more of the tomato water from her forehead. I examined my clothes. There was a watery-red stain on the front of my cream shell camisole.

“I will, if you tell me your nem,” suddenly the man was in front of me. He smiled, showing a gap between his teeth. “My name is Calestous. But my guys call me Cali.”

Calestous. Of course. Right up there with Pius, John-Mary and Titus. I stopped for a man called Calestous – ‘Cali to his guys’ – and I would have to live with that decision for the rest of my life.

I looked at him. At his smiling, dabbing, Bright Chimezie self and knew this was not a man to give up easily. It would help if I just gave him my name. That way he would leave me alone.

“Chielozona,” I said. The fight went out of me like wind.

“Chielozona,” he repeated, nodding. “Bitiful.”

I lied. They are not. Maybe they’ll kiss or something; make it really old school. I give up for this babe, abeg.

But the good news is, 7,000 words to go. HURRAH! I did think I’d be done long before now, but life has a way of serving you cabin biscuits when all you want is bread.

Anyway, I’ll be doing a post on Yellow Igbo Boys (YIBS for short). Everyone has one.

See you soon.

Nx