Previously on Compound Matters, Read HERE
“Ti-Abasi,” Chiemena said in mock warning.
She replied, “Oga.”
“Oga miiiiiii,” she said again, accompanying her words with a wink and two thumbs up.
The three of us erupted in laughter. In that very second of joy and mirth, I became acutely aware of how fortunate I had been and still am. I let the warmth of love and genuine friendship wash over me. I saw it in the eyes of Ti-Abasi, crinkled at the corners, her full lips curved to the fullest; it was in the dimples on Chiemena’s cheeks, deepened until I felt like I should poke a finger in it, see if I could touch his smile.
“How are you? It’s been a while,” Chiemena said as Ti-Abasi came in and plunked herself on the mattress.
I came out of my reverie and tried to disengage myself from his embrace. He pulled me closer. I gave him a cutting look. He chuckled and let go.
“I’m fine, same as the last time you saw me. Since your sweetheart left, you disappeared. Now she’s back, our eyes will start seeing you again,” Ti-Abasi replied.
“He’s not my sweetheart,” I said, pulling the only chair to where the Ghana-must-go bag sat. I unzipped it and brought out the contents, one after the other.
“Abegi! Stop deceiving yourself. The earlier you accept it, the better. This is my year of ceaseless aso-ebi and I’m starting with you,” she said.
Chiemena’s uncharacteristic silence brought me to a stop. I looked over to where he was, leaning against the table, flipping through one of my textbooks; the smile was gone from his face.
“Are you okay?” I asked, a bit perturbed.
“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I should go now. You and Ti have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll call you later.”
“I haven’t chased you away-o,” my friend said.
“Of course not. I have some things to do, that’s all. I’ll see you ladies some other time.”
I wondered at the abrupt change in his mood. It was so unlike him. Clapping my palms together to dust off the tiny grains of sand that clung to them, I got up to see him off. We got to his car, neither of us saying anything. He opened the driver’s door, put one leg in, and rested his hand on the door, head bowed as if he were thinking. I bit back the question on my tongue and waited. When he eventually looked at me, his eyes were piercing, like there was a light burning in their depths.
It took a few seconds for me to interpret the emotion in his eyes and his body language. Anger. Chiemena was angry. My perplexity doubled. What had made him angry, I mused.
“Idara, you cannot pretend not to know that I love you very much,” he broke the silence. “Until a few minutes ago, I was almost confident enough to say that you feel the same way. But that statement you made back there tells me otherwise.”
“What statement?” I asked, confused.
“He’s not my sweetheart,” he said, mimicking me.
“Are you serious?”
“Am I smiling? I don’t want to force you to say anything you don’t want to say, Idara. I want you to come to me on your own terms. Ti-Abasi is not some stranger. You told me she was more like a sister to you. So if you tell her I mean nothing more to you other than being a friend, then I’ve got to take your word for it.”
“I didn’t mea –”
“Take some time to think about it, ok? No pressure. Call me whenever you’ve made up your mind about my role in your life. I’ll be fine with whatever decision you take.”
He was in the car and off before I could say anything. I stood there, one part stunned, one part bemused at the sudden turn of events. I felt my heart plummet; at the thought that he was mad at me and that I wouldn’t be able to share with him all that had happened at home.
“What’s with the long face?” Ti-Abasi said when I trudged into the room.
“I don’t understand.”
“Chiemena is mad at me because I said he isn’t my sweetheart. He more or less asked me to declare my love or we’re through.”
“So? Is that a problem?”
“Well, not –”
“I get him. He’s told you he loves you, right? How would you feel if you loved a guy and told him so, only for him to play at being only friends in front of other people?”
“Not good, I guess.”
“There’s no guessing involved. You’d feel terrible. See, you love this guy. Stop over-thinking it, like you do nearly everything, and let him know. He just needs to know that his feelings are returned, that’s all.”
“I don’t like to be rushed,” I said, worrying my lower lip with my teeth.
“No one’s rushing you. Take your time if you want, but it’s not going to change how you feel. I presume you’ve prayed about it already and told your family. What’s the delay? Tell him.”
“When did you become such a relationship expert?”
“While you were away. I think you were the one blocking my wisdom rays.”
“You’re not well.”
I went back to unpacking my bag and giving out the gifts I’d brought for the children and a few other people. All through the day, my mind worried over the ultimatum Chiemena had given. I knew what I felt for him, but there were so many what-ifs, too many uncertain variables. What if I told him how I felt and then he changed his mind about me? What if my feelings today change tomorrow? What if his parents don’t approve of me or mine him? I mean, people change all the time. What if he was saying and doing all that just to get my heart and ultimately into my pants? Not that there’s a chance of that happening.
Try as I may, I couldn’t imagine not having him around, all the time. I could not pinpoint when it happened, but at some point, he’d taken up permanent residence in my heart. Exhausted from the journey and mental anxiety, sleep seemed far away. While I waited for it to show up, I resolved to tell him how I felt. I would also apologize for how I’d spoken in front of Ti-Abasi.
Once my mind was made up, the fear receded somewhat and I was able to find slumber, at last.
Two weeks quickly went by, much of it spent with my head buried in books. I cut back on my business, taking my father’s advice to focus more on my school work. Before I left home, he’d said he didn’t want me to have any distractions and that I wasn’t to fret over money.
“Your final year is the culmination of all the years you’ve spent in that university. You have to manage your time properly and pay more attention to your books. We’re already proud of how far you’ve come, and it will make us very happy to see you finish well. Amekop?”
“Yes, Daddy,” I replied, determined to make them prouder, if possible.
So no more hair braiding for now. Selling sachet water and other knickknacks wasn’t much of a bother. Once in a while, someone would come knocking late at night, wanting to buy a recharge card. It was annoying and I spared no bones in explaining that I don’t offer a twenty-four hour service.
The compound had been soaked in tranquility – that much, I’d noticed. Not so with our neighbours. We seemed to have passed on the troubles. I mean, literally every day, there was a fight or disagreement going on on either sides of our compound. The most interesting one happened the day before yesterday, Thursday night. I was burning the midnight oil, so to speak, with the noisy hum from several generators keep me company. On the wall clock facing me, the long hand inched closer to six, while the short one stayed resolute at three. Somewhere, someone turned off his generator, drastically reducing the noise. I sighed in relief, hoping those left would all turn off their machines and go to bed.
My out-breath of satisfaction was cut short by loud, angry voices, the racket hearable above the grinding rattle that came from Chuks’ I-beta-pass-my-neighbour generator in the far wing of the building.
Thieves, I thought.
In one incredibly painful thump, my heart slammed back so hard in my chest, I was afraid it’d stopped. Then it resumed in a mad, erratic rhythm. The last time we had a visit from those folks, at least I had someone in the room with me. This time, I was all alone. In a jiffy, I jack-knifed from the chair. It fell backwards, clattering to the ground. I whipped around to catch it, even as I knew it was too late. My buttocks caught the edge of the table and sent the rechargeable lamp careening to the floor. I was sure the entire neighbourhood heard it.
My terror knew no bounds. My intent, to quietly turn off the light and hide in the toilet, evaporated in the cool night air.
“Useless chair…stupid lamp. Ehn, let the whole world know Idara is inside,” I hissed in anger.
The voices rose louder as I squatted beside the table, trying to slow down my heart rate.
“God punish you. Anuofia!” a man yelled, his voice filled with anger.
“Back to sender. On am again, you go see wetin go happen.”
“If dem send you, tell dem say you no see us,” a woman screamed shrilly.
Quick as lightening, my ire changed direction, this time, focused on the fighting parties. These people had almost caused me to have a cardiac arrest over some stupid fight. What kind of nonsense is this? The adrenaline high began to wane, as did the pounding in my ears.
Chuks must have heard the brouhaha, because his machine chugged and quivered to a reluctant stop, plunging the night into silence, save for the warring parties.
“Who told you that you can keep your gen on until three?” said the man whom I right away named Gen Off-er.
“Who told you to touch my gen?” said the second man, whom I dubbed Gen Owner.
“Don’t you know that people want to sleep? Is it because nobody has been talking?”
“I say, who told you to off my gen? On whose authority did you off my gen? Are you mad?”
Gone was my annoyance. Now, I was chuckling softly. I doubted that the person who invented a generating set had ever envisioned the kind of rancour it would cause between neighbours.
“In fact, try it again. I dare you. Let this gen stay on past midnight, even one o’clock sef. I will off it for you,” Gen Off-er threatened.
“If you off this gen again, you will die,” the woman shrilled.
“It is you and your husband that will die. Ah ahn, watizit? Person cannot sleep in this compound because you have gen? Is it only you that has gen?”
“My friend, is because of God. Touch this gen again and I will bring police for you.”
“Yes, we will arrest you,” the woman piped.
“Story for the gods. Bet here, if I won’t off this gen again. On it now and see if I won’t off it,” replied Gen Off-er.
A door slammed shut. I guess one of the other parties had gone inside his apartment, because I could still hear the owner, venting outside, promising fire and brimstone. I wished more neighbours were like the man who’d turned off that thing. I wished I was that brave. Perhaps, one day I’d toe his path and say enough is enough with all the headache-causing machines in this compound. And I’d begin my crusade with that ear-splitting pepper grinder that Chuks called a generator.
Crouched on all fours, I carefully waved my hand this way and that, fingers searching for the extinguished lamp. When I found it and tried to turn it on, it blinked once and went off. Two more tries and still the same result. God, which kind of temptation is this?
“You cursed it, that’s why,” a voice in my head snickered.
I hissed loudly, crawled to the book rack at the head of the mattress and retrieved a single candle. i don’t blame these people. If they knew I’m a final year student, they wouldn’t have so blatantly interrupted me.
I must finish chapter eleven of this jurisprudence text before tomorrow’s lectures, lamp or no lamp, I vowed.
Written by Eketi Ette