He hated to leave his room on a day like this. After days of rainfall, the sun shone to searing levels, baking the earth and its inhabitants. This was the ray of hope he needed to see a football match. But the day held a different promise; with Rotimi’s message appearing on his phone, confirming the location of the birthday hangout. A green cab pulled up in front of him after two failed attempts.

Wind rushed to his face as he watched students make their way to buildings flanking both sides of the road. His mind roamed, as he hoped coming out will not be futile. His friends nagged about his stale routine and he wished they could witness him change it.

The cab arrived in front of a brown gate held up by neglect. He peered at the gate, vaguely remembering the place. He and his friends were regular visitors to a small building shaded by trees meters away from the entrance he stood. It was here the best palm wine he ever had was sold. He smiled, recalling long evenings spent playing draught and ludo, drinking well into the night till the owner closed for the day.

He walked into the open gate and was greeted by the ticket seller’s tirade over the phone. The expanse of land filled with trees and gazeboes dotted around it. He spotted Rotimi talking animatedly in the middle of a hut.

‘How you dey?’ Rotimi said walking up to him ‘You no even late at all.’

‘No vex. I see that place wey we dey drink pami. I just dey think of the woman ponmo. Guy, we gas reach there soon’ he said

‘Her ponmo?’ Rotimi quipped

‘You be fool.’ he said to Rotimi’s cackle

‘Na true, we order pami from her side. Make I bring for you?’

‘Dem dey ask if pope na catholic? Wait, wetin dey happen?’

‘Na devil’s basket. Na your own be this.’ Rotimi said handing him a ball of paper

He felt every eye on him as he stepped into the hut. Slabs lining the side of the walls provided seats, long sturdy platforms that looked uncomfortable.

‘Hi everyone, this is Abel the late comer; Abel that is Eri-ife the birthday celebrant.’ He said pointing to a lady in a blue dress. ‘So read your dare and show us your talent. Thank you’.

Abel read the contents of his paper. The role he was to play required imagination and he was surprised by what his brain quickly conjured. A slow song emanated from the speakers with Beyonce crooning about someone rocking up her mountain.

He scanned the hut. He needed a participant for his dare and the eyes that met his gripped him fiercely. Her hair packed in a bun with a sparsely made up face showed soft delicate features that intrigued him. This was someone who will like something because she wanted to not because everyone thought she should. He walked to her putting one leg in front of the other, marveled by the fluidity in his steps. He slowly squatted in front of her, rising with his ass a few inches away from her face. Someone shouted ‘no mess o’ and he laughed too. He turned to face her, moving to seat on her lap. She made to stop him but decided against it. She smiled and swirled her forefinger.

He turned with a sly look and sat on her lap. He moved his hips, pushing up her dress with his movements. He stood a little and attempted to sit in between her legs when she shrugged him off. He turned to see her mouth her opposition to his next move. Echoes of ‘nooo nooo’ rang as everyone displayed their displeasure. She helped him up as he wiped dust off his trousers.

He made to say something but she was out of the hut. He signaled to Rotimi that he wanted to be excused as he left the hut. He made out her outlines under a tree; shifting from one foot to another with one hand to her ear. He thought of what to say, words he had used and recycled. She turned, as if aware of his eyes on her. He moved closer, just when she dropped the call.

‘Hi’ he said

‘Hey gigolo’ she replied

They laughed.

‘I assure you, it was a onetime thing’

‘Your booty begs to differ’

‘I feel violated’

‘I thought your folk loved being objectified’

‘What kind of guys have you been meeting?’

She made to say something but paused midway.

‘Say it’ he said

‘There was nothing. If at all there was, why should I trust you?’

‘Don’t be another cynic. We have enough in the world already’

‘What if that’s what it takes to survive in the world?’

‘It could leave you blind to some things’

‘Like?’ she asked

‘Honesty, loyalty, genuineness? I’m losing you?’

‘By the second Abel’

‘Won’t you rather not suspect everyone’s motives?’

‘You won’t want to be caught unawares; the battle is lost when you don’t know it has begun’

‘You’ve spent your life battling?’

‘Isn’t that all we do? Isn’t life all a battle between holding on and letting go?’

His mouth opened but no words came out. He was stunned like someone who didn’t know another side to a road existed and was toddling on the wrong path.

‘Do you leave everyone you meet in an epiphany?’

‘Not particularly.’ She said chuckling

‘This is what I’ll get if I ask what your story is’

‘Well, I grow every day, so history is what you get when you ask’

‘I’m nothing if I don’t have time’

‘That was lame. Bordering on pathetic’

‘Ouch. What will your story show currently if it were a movie?

‘Did you goggle that before coming out? I’m kidding. It’ll show the part where I don’t have shit figured out. I don’t know what I’ll do when I graduate. But I fear I’m not thinking that far. You seem like you have a lot covered’

Bobo. We’re all pretending to have it covered till it happens then we thank God.’

They both laughed.

‘Not thinking that far can be good for your mind, its needs space to think’ he said

‘True.’

‘You seem like a lady of many passions’

‘Wow. What else do I seem like?’

‘You’re well travelled. You’ll rather African countries like Ghana over European ones’

‘Not my fault it’s a lovely place’

‘Tell me about it’ he said

‘It’s better experienced’

‘Would you say it’s better than here?’

‘Anywhere is better than here’

‘How patriotic’

‘Well it’s the truth. Not entirely but you get’ she sighed

‘Sounds like he broke your heart’

‘He really did and I wonder why I keep hoping he will change’

‘It’s the abusive relationship we’re all in’

‘A friend of mine migrated to somewhere in Europe and she keeps blabbing about what differs between us and anywhere else is a functional system. It has nothing to do with the type of people. When you put things right everything else follows’

‘I wish everyone could hear you right now.’

‘Yes. And I have first-hand experience of what an unstable place can do to a family. No one wants to be a second-class citizen, but the future only looks bleak here. Not forgetting that this is not a land for heroes.’

‘I always thought having more money could solve your problems as it applies everywhere in the world’

‘You’re left to think only money matters when you have to pay for the most basic thing’.

‘And what could be more important than money?’

‘Having something to live for? Don’t you think it’s not fair that you’re always one decision away from being poor?’

As if on cue the music from the hut stopped and the crowd dispersed. They walked in pairs, like in a parade. Friendly titters filled the night as they acquainted themselves with each other. The games had formed a bond they weren’t willing to let go soon. Abel didn’t notice someone walk up to them.

To be continued….

Written by : Damilare Sanusi

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