Tag Archives: Relationships

When he is good, he is very very good…

There was a tap on the door. “Come in?” I wasn’t sure I should be telling him to enter in an authoritative voice, after all it was his house.

“I just wanted to find out if you needed a towel.”

“No thank you. I brought mine.” I placed a shower cap over my head and tucked my stray twists under it. “Thank you for giving me your bed again. I hope you won’t be too cold in the living room?”

“No, I have a pull out sofa, it’ll be fine.” He paused and adjusted his glasses. “Well, good night then. See you tomorrow.”

“Good night. Try not to sneak in while I’m sleeping.” He rolled his eyes.

Sleeping in the bed was strange. The sheets were fresh and clean but there was an under layer of…man that filled my nostrils each time I took a breath. It was not unpleasant. Reassuring somehow. And yet I could not relax. The moonlight from the French doors flooded the room and the shrubbery cast long shadows over the bed. I couldn’t see the mini gargoyle from earlier in the day but I knew it was there. I imagined it coming to life, crunching on the gravel in the narrow back garden of the basement flat. I hoped the French doors were locked properly. I turned my mind to my host.

He was kind. We knew we were going to be back late from a Young Nigerians event so he had offered me his place that I wouldn’t have the long, expensive journey back to my place in the early hours of a London winter. I had packed a small knapsack with my things but I still made sure not to have too much of a presence, to keep myself as small as possible. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I mean, he was my friend, but there was no need to draw attention to the fact that I was female. In my nightgown. In his bed. In his basement flat.  I had an idea and scrabbled out of bed.

“Great.”

The door had no lock.

With the gargoyle outside one door and my host behind the other, it was like I was in a nightmarish episode of Blind Date. There was a good chance I would either be mauled or shagged, which in the case of a lot of Nigerian – Igbo –  men, added up to the same thing. Savaged.

I burrowed deeper into the bed, cocooning myself tightly in the duvet. I was reminded of the story an ex-boyfriend had told me of the girl who had spent the night with his friend, an Igbo man who was ‘toasting’ her, on the condition that he not touch her during the night.

“Ooooh.” She complained when he reached over to run his hands over her body.

“Sorry….sorry.” He withdrew and turned over. Soon he was snoring again. She went back to sleep. It happened a second time. The third time she said ‘Ooooh’, he said “Sorry now. I can’t help myself, you’re so beautiful.”

“But you promised!” She wailed. She didn’t leave his room the same way she came in.

I consoled myself with the thought that at least my host and I weren’t in the same room or on the same bed. That was a start. Still, I couldn’t sleep. Every noise startled me. By the time his projector clock flashed five-thirty AM with its red beam, I was frazzled from imagining the worst. A lot of Igbo men didn’t believe men and women could just be friends after all; would he risk our friendship for one night of action? And what would I do? Was his friendship that important anyway?

It was eight o’clock when I finally woke up. The house was too quiet. I flashed my eyes around the room and tested my limbs to see if anything had changed…then I laughed at myself for being so stupid. He wasn’t a rapist after all.

There was another tap on the door. “I heard you moving around.” He looked at me and a frown creased his brow. “You look…did you sleep well?” he asked.

“No, not really.”

“Why not? Was the bed too hard for you?”

“No, it was fine…I just…you’re going to think this is silly but..” I told him my fears. I made light of my earlier issues by laughing. By the time I had finished, the sleep was no longer lurking around his eyes. He stood to his full six foot plus height, arms folded in front of his chest.

“I think that says more of you than it does of me.” He looked angry. “I will not take what I am not offered, that is called ‘maturity’. What the hell kind of men have you been dating?”

He may be pot-bellied and illiterate. In the diaspora, he is king.

I stood there watching this man thoroughly masticate his food. I knew it was very thorough because I witnessed the entire biological process unravel before my eyes. His teeth came down repeatedly on the food item – puff-puff or ‘kpof-kpof’ like an Igbo person would say it – mashing its crisp brown outside to it fluffy white insides. Saliva hung off his molars in silver threads. His tongue rolled the ball of mush over and over. I felt my stomach roll in sympathy. He swallowed and looked at me expectantly.

I blamed myself for agreeing to meet this man.

When an Igbo woman gets to a certain age – her mid-twenties to be exact – everybody around her tends to go crazy. All they can think about is marrying her off before she expires. It’s a lot worse if she has done more than a couple of degrees because according to those same ‘marriage experts’, most men might think she is getting too big for her boots.

And so that was how it came to be that my Uncle K arranged this meeting. Uncle K wasn’t my real relative, just an ‘Uncle’ in the way that your cousin’s husband’s church member’s colleague might be.

“Uncle, I’m not interested,” I said.

“Look, this is not one of those nonsense men you meet, he is interested in marrying tomorrow tomorrow. He is a very good friend of mine, in fact he is from my village sef. You will like him. Right now, you are young, you can ask for anything and he will give you. You don’t want to get to thirty and still be unmarried do you?

I looked up at him. He was a big man and flinging his hands about to convey a sense of urgency did him no favours. I could go into the familiar arguments; I didn’t want to marry someone who wanted to marry that quickly, I didn’t want someone who thought thirty was too old, heck, I didn’t want to marry at all.

“Well? Look you are wasting time. I will fix it with your aunty. He is just like me, a fine man.”

I frowned. “You will ask my aunty, what, do you think she will marry your friend for me?” I chose my words carefully. “This is the 21st century.”

“You think this is Beijing conference matter? All this book book you studied in university…” I tuned out. I didn’t want to say it to Uncle K but he wasn’t my ideal man, so using himself as an example was not a strong selling point. He was kind of…a bush man, London-dwelling or no. “Ok, Uncle.” I heard myself say. Anything to get away. Meeting the man might just save me the time and energy of arguing, I thought. Uncle K arranged for us to meet at his daughter’s baptism at the weekend.

“Eh-hen. This is the girl I was telling you about. Isn’t she a fine girl?” Uncle said by way of introductions. I expected at any moment to be told to open my mouth so they could check if I was healthy. I felt like a cow. Or a slave. A slave cow. “I’ll leave you two to discuss.” He winked at me. Watching him try to make his bulk unobtrusive as he sneaked away made me smile. I turned towards the man to whom I had been given.

That was when I became acquainted with his anatomy.

“So…” he began when he swallowed. He tugged at his shirt. The motion drew my eye towards the slight pot belly he was trying to hide.

“So…?” I raised an eyebrow.

“What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t. I didn’t get the chance.” My comment went unnoticed.

“Well, my name is Liyonard. You can call me Liyo.”

“Pardon?”

“I said my name is LIYONARD.” His name was Leonard.

“Right. Pleased to meet you Leonard.” I pronounced his name properly. I knew I was being snobby but if the man couldn’t even pronounce his own name properly, what hope was there? “Enjoy your meal.”

I made my way back to my place on the sofa. From the corner of my eye, I could see Uncle K break away from the group he was talking to and come towards me.

“Have you people finished talking already?”

“Yes, Uncle. We have finished.” I looked him in the face.

“I see.” He went to find my aunty.

There are no single women. There are only women who haven’t met an Igbo man yet.

“Look, I am serious about you.” He reached out to grab me and I ducked away. My cousin laughed. “Leave her alone,” he said. “We’re already late.” He turned to me. “Get in the car.”

“Wait,” he said. “Consider my offer. I can take care of you. I can give you anything you want. In fact, when you graduate, I’ll even buy you a car.”

“But I don’t want a car from you. I don’t like you. I really don’t. This isn’t me playing or anything.” He threw his head back and laughed. On a lesser neck, his head might have snapped right off, but his neck was thick and seemed to expand into his shoulders. I could feel my nostrils flare at the sight of his absurdly tiny teeth. “Seriously,” I stressed as revulsion swept over me. “I don’t think you listen when I’m talking. You don’t know anything about me, you just want to possess me…”

“But I love you.”

“Why? Why do you think you love me?”

“You’re intelligent, you have hot legs, you’re beautiful and your mouth will keep me in line. Plus …you know…you’re untouched and I demand that of any woman I am going to marry.”

“Whoa.” I held up my hand, head reeling from the words ‘untouched’, ‘demand’, and ‘marry’. “You need to calm yourself.”

“I don’t play around when I see what I want.”

“I’m a who not a what.” I almost screamed. “That is what you don’t understand. I’m not some kind of fill-in-the-blanks’ female on which you can write in what qualities you like or expect. My brain is not Tabula Rasa. I have my own personality, my own feelings, hopes and dreams, annoyances.” I glared at him. He laughed again. “Will you please shut up and listen to me for once?”

“Only if you call me ‘Darling’.” He was still laughing.

“Look, my point is, you just want to marry me because you think I’ll look good beside you, in your house…”

“And under me,” he interrupted. I eyed him.

“See? You’re not even taking me seriously. You think eventually you’ll laugh me into your bed, your life? I don’t want that for myself.”

“I never said…what you said. I’m just telling you why I like you.”

“Because I’m a virgin.”

“Yes, and…”

“And?”

“And Igbo.”

“But that means you can marry any other Igbo virgin. You don’t need me. I want someone whose life will become different from marrying me. Not someone who looks like me. Just me. You can always go to the village and get yourself an Igbo virgin. And I’m sure you don’t even need to go that far sef, there are loads in town.”

” Who says there are loads in town? And the village ones will not be educated. Why drive all that way, spend all that time and money when you’re here, all educated and ready for me to pluck?”  He clicked his tongue at the word ‘pluck’ suggestively. “I want someone who is my level.” I rolled my eyes at the word ‘level’.  As if.

” The way you were talking not two minutes ago, money isn’t a problem for you. Anyway, I am not going to marry you. Not now, not ever. I know we have nothing in common, even if you don’t. It will be a rubbish marriage. You think you can just pick one and automatically she’ll do for you, without considering what her own needs are. That’s not a marriage, that’s…that’s buying bread.” He doubled over.

I took that as a sign of his capitulation and got in the car beside my cousin. The door behind me opened and shut. “Oh no. Is he coming too?” My cousin laughed. “Leave me out of it,” he said, starting the car.

“Don’t mind her,” our unwanted passenger said, talking over my head to my cousin. “She likes pretending that she doesn’t like me. That much energy to hate can only be love. You love me. I am going to marry you, you’ll see. My lovely fresh bread.” He cracked up.

I sighed and turned my face away from the side mirror so I could no longer see him.

Put your money away. Seriously. Boys are not smiling.

“Hello?” I tried to keep my voice neutral as the conversation around me died to a hush.

“Hey. So, are you done yet? I just drove by and I thought I could see your legs.”

“You probably could. I’m half in the sun. NEPA took the light and it was boiling inside.” I crossed my bare legs and pulled at the synthetic hair clinging to my sandals. It came away reluctantly. The woman behind me signalled one of her assistants to take the hair away from me and throw it in the bin. “How are you?”

“I’m missing you. When are you done, do you know?”

“No, I don’t. I’ll let you know when but anytime I think I’m almost finished, she sections the remaining hair into tinier bits.” I gathered some of the long, thin plaits in my hand and let them run through my fingers like silk.

“Has she told you how much it will cost?”

“Errrr….why? She’s been making my hair all my life so we know how we do.” The woman making my hair made a sign for ‘toilet’ and went away.

“Give her the phone.”

“Why? I don’t…”

“Just give her the phone.”

“She just gone to use the toilet, I think.”

“How convenient. Anyway, tell me when you’re done. I’ll come and get you.”

“Did you tell him that your hair will cost N5,000?” asked the woman as soon as sat down on the high stool behind me.

“No, why would I do that? It’s not what we discussed. Besides, I have your money here so there is no need to get anyone else involved.” She clicked her tongue.

“As you’re busy doing this thing you’re doing, like you’re very tough, you didn’t think that maybe I could do with the money? If he wants to pay N5,000 for a N2,300 hair-do, why shouldn’t I take his money?”

“Ehhhhh, you have sense. Will you join me in paying back the debt when it comes to that?” I asked. The other customers laughed and whistled amongst themselves. “Please finish my hair, biko. You people know how to put someone in trouble.”

The woman was still trying to get my finished hair into a ponytail when he arrived. I shivered as her fingers brushed over my sensitized scalp.

“That looks very nice.” He looked me all over. “It goes well with the…general package.”

“Thank you.” I wiped the hair oil on my forehead with a white handkerchief. It came away yellow. I turned it inside out and wiped again.

“How much is it?” He asked the woman. She opened her mouth to respond.

“Oh, I’ve already paid her.” I chipped in. The woman gave me an evil look.

“Right.” He paused with his hands in his pocket. “So how much was it then?”

“Don’t worry about…”

“…N3,000. But this stingy girl gave me just N2,500.” I rolled my eyes.

“That’s how much it should cost.” He looked from one of us to the other, his mouth tightening.  I knew the look. He did not approve of this ‘undignified’ exchange.

“Look, however much it cost, add this to it.” He handed the woman a sheaf of notes. It looked to be about N3,000 or so more. The woman started dancing and he raised a hand to her. “It’s because you did such a good job. With this kind of hair, if you had asked for N10,000 I’d have paid it.” He walked me to the his, with the woman calling after him ‘Thank you, sir. Thank you, sir.’

We drove to my house in silence. After about an eternity of it, I asked. “What’s the matter? You seem quiet all of a sudden.”

“Don’t do that again.”

“Don’t do what?”

“You know what. Don’t do it again. It makes me look bad, like I cannot take care of my woman in public.”

“Ok, it’s my hair. I had already had the money for it. If I thought I needed extra or something, I might have asked you,” I said, not believing it for a second. The look he gave me showed he didn’t believe it either. “You should be happy I’m not spending your money instead of complaining. Other people would.”

“I’m not other people. I’m me and we’re in a relationship…!”

“But this is my hair. It takes all the pleasure out of it if you have to pay for it. It’s like…I dunno, if you paid for my underwear. Or something.” He smiled at the idea of it briefly, then the tightness was back around his mouth.

“I see your point. But it makes me look…unmanly. If I offer, you should let me. No…no…” he added, seeing my mouth open. “This conversation is over.”

“Oh com’on,” I laughed. I swatted him playfully to lighten the mood.

“Seriously. I’m not playing with you.”

He leaned back in the car and said nothing else the rest of the journey. He wasn’t smiling.

Poverty is a state of mind. Okoro doesn’t dwell there.

“Where are we going?” I asked for the umpteenth time. He smiled again and said nothing. I watched the sweat trickle down his smooth forehead, past the twin caterpillars of his eyebrows and down his sparse facial hair to collect on his chin. It looked like it had picked up some of his complexion and hung dirty-brown on his jawline until he flicked it with his thumb out of the window.

It was hot. My shirt stuck to my back and I tried to sit upright even though my body was caving in on itself in lethargy. My breasts jiggled as we hit another pothole and I sagged in the seat to hide it.

“Sorry the AC is broken,” he said, looking at my face. I smiled.

“So? It’s just heat.” I broadened my smile to reassure him and he nodded and turned back to negotiating the army of little potholes intent on wrecking the car. “But if you feel really bad, you could make it up to me by telling me where we are going.”

“I can’t. It’s a birthday surprise. We’re here already anyway.” He clicked the trafficator to indicate right, waved at the driver who let him cut through traffic and parked in a small parking space. The building in front of us bore a striking similarity to a big hut, thatch roof and all.

The restaurant interior was full of foliage and the floor was sand. Not sand-coloured, but sand; what looked like miles and miles of the stuff but was in fact a few feet. I felt like taking off my shoes.

“I like this.” I said, watching my shoes sink in. He smiled. Part of me scanned the sand for kpuu-kpuu, the tiny sandflies that produced huge welts on one’s skin. A young man in a uniform of white shirt and black trousers approached and led us to a corner.

“What would you like to drink?”

“What are you having?”

“Nonsense, it’s your birthday. You go first and then I’ll decide. Get anything you want.”

“Maybe a soft drink then.”

“You hate soft drinks…”

“A carton of juice to share?”

If you’re sure. What kind?” He beckoned the young man and placed our drinks orders. “What would you like to eat?” he asked, when the man didn’t walk away again.”You first,” he said sternly before I opened my mouth.

“Errrr…ok. Some rice please. Some fried rice?”

“One plate of fried rice with chicken please. Thank you.” He turned to me, intercepting my  frown. “Oh, I’m not very hungry. Besides, I’m treating you.”

“But…but..I can’t eat alone!” It didn’t sound right. But I was ravenous, having skipped lunch on his earlier instruction. Not eating now was out of the question. Still, I didn’t want to eat alone. I knew my hunger pangs would might make me careless with table manners and the only way to disguise that was if he ate too. “How about eating just a meat pie or something? It’s my birthday, I should get one wish granted.”

“Nonsense. It doesn’t work like that.”

The food was plentiful and hot. It smelled good and I clamped my teeth shut to stop myself from drooling. I swallowed. “Look, it’s a lot. We can share.That way, I’m not over-full and neither are you. A few forkfuls won’t hurt.”

“No, eat. I want to watch you enjoy yourself.” He took a sip of his drink and leaned back with his hands behind his head. I took up the fork and attacked the rice, breaking up the food with speech. I pestered him until he accepted a forkful of rice. Then another. Then some chicken. He waved his hand after that, ‘No more’.

We talked with the easy familiarity of friends until the sun started to go down. Then he called for the bill. “Hold on a second, please.” He got up and went after the waiter. I could see them with their heads close in discussion, then he gave him some notes and came away.

“OK, let’s go.” As I gathered up my bags, I heard a rumble. I stood up embarrassed. “I can’t believe after all I just ate…” He was looking at me with a sheepish look on his face. It took me two seconds to put two and two together. I thought about my emergency stash of cash which my father insisted on for all dates.

“Look, why don’t I get us dessert? My treat!” I said before he could interrupt. “Consider it my birthday cake. We can even buy some candles and I’ll make a wish and everything.”

He shrugged. “Hmmmm…ok. But next time, I’ll make sure to include dessert.” He looked pained, serious. I punched him in the arm and waved at the waiter.

“Could we have two cakes please?” I heard him groan and punched him in the arm again.