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COMPOUND MATTERS Episode XXX

Two days after the exams, I sent Chiemena a message on Facebook to tell him I was now a graduate. When I got no reply, I caved in and asked Amarachi for his number. I rang him, but it went to voicemail. He didn’t call back. I stalked his Facebook and Twitter accounts for a while, and then I gave up. For my peace of mind, I unfollowed him.

I became aware of the passage of time, and how it dulled the heart’s aching. It wasn’t long before I adjusted to the reality that he was gone. I no longer flinched when his sister mentioned his name. She faithfully kept me updated about what he was up to. He went to France yesterday. He’s been offered a position at Oxford. He’s talking about getting another degree—I wondered when that boy would tire of schooling. I told her I wasn’t interested, but I didn’t protest too much when she refused to stop.

I finished with my clearance and it was time to go home. But I wasn’t so eager. I’d been in this city for five years and unlike the first day I arrived to its red earth, bad roads and busy people, I was now in love with her now.  Going back to Uyo would mean leaving my friends and part of my independence behind. It also meant going farther away from Chiemena. What if he comes by the house when I’m gone? What if he doesn’t want me enough to come to Uyo?

“That’s a lot of what ifs,” Ti-Abasi remarked.

“You know what I mean,” I said.

“I know. But you should start getting used to it, babe. He’s gone. I mean, it’s been two months since you guys spoke to each other.”

“Two months and sixteen days.”

“You’re keeping count? Seriously, get over it,” she said.

“Easy for you to say, when you’ve got your own man,” I muttered.

She ignored my sour mood. “Instead of being a sourpuss, maybe you should take French lessons at Alliance Française.” She pronounced it as alee-ongs frong-sez.

“Huh?”

“Yes. Alliance Française is down the road and I hear their vacation session is starting next week. You should consider it.”

“I’m too old to learn a new language.”

“Yeah, right. French isn’t that much different from law. Stop whining; this might be the best reason you can give your folks for sticking around longer.”

“How much are their fees?” I asked, warming up to the idea.

“I don’t know. Ask Fred—he’s lecturing there.”

“Okay.”

***

At the end of my first day at Alliance Française, I was ready to throw in the towel. When I registered, no one told me the lectures would be almost entirely in French. What was worse, everyone else in the class had a little knowledge of the patois. Twenty minutes into the first lecture, I raised my hand.

“Oui, mademoiselle… Comment?”

“I’m sorry sir, but I have a question.”

“Oui?”

“Is this the beginners’ class? Because it seems I’ve wandered into an advanced class.”

My statement was greeted with chuckles all around.

“This is the beginner’s class, mademoiselle. It’s your first day, so don’t worry. When you read, you will catch up. Yes?”

“I guess,” I said, and settled back into my chair.

Two hours of lectures and then a break. I went down to the canteen at the side of the building.

“May I have one meat pie and one bottle of Coke, please?” I said to the lady behind the counter.

“Oui,” she replied.

I rolled my eyes to Sokoto and back. Seriously, even in the canteen?

Collecting my snack, I choose one of the unoccupied tables at the far end of the open area. I nibbled my pie and scanned watched everyone. All sorts of people made up the student body; matronly women and stately gentlemen mingled with tweens, young adults and those of indeterminate ages. You could tell the professionals from the rest of the crowd, decked out as they were in their dark-coloured suits and gowns. These people need to learn how to relax, I mused to myself.

“Hello, may I join you?” someone asked, breaking my reverie.

I looked up at the intruder.

Tall. Dark. Handsome. With the neatest, well-carved moustache I’ve ever seen in my life. My first thought was that he was too good-looking not to be vain.

“Sure,” I tossed out in an offhand manner, as I tried not to stare. Seriously, it was hard. The fellow was, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Like something chiseled out of some ancient ebony rock, from some dignified African mountain. As he set down the tray of food, muscled arms flexed underneath his long-sleeved white tee-shirt. Winged brows, like they’d been shaped by a seasoned makeup artist. Big nose, but somehow, not out of place on his face. And those lips had to have been moulded by some divine hand. Anything else wasn’t worth considering. Yes, I was mentally drooling.

“Why are you here all by yourself?” he asked, as he meticulously arranged his lunch on the table. Bottle of water and cutlery to the left, plate of fried rice and beef dead centre, phone to the right—adjusted just so until it was perfectly aligned with the tray. His elbows rested lightly at the edge of the table.

Aren’t you too pretty for OCD?

“Weird reply to my question, but I don’t have OCD,” he answered with a grin.

It took all of three seconds for his words to sink in. Yes, I’d blurted out my thought. Jesus Christ, rapture me. Now!

“I…I’m…I’m sorry. Really sorry,” I stammered, staring at my feet. Anytime now, ground, you can open up and swallow me. Thank you.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I just like arranging stuff, that’s all.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“No wahala. And thank you for noticing my looks.” He chuckled around a spoonful of rice.

Blushing, I looked away.

“You know, you’re the second girl to make that reference to OCD. I have to apologise in advance, but I’m about to insult you. You are beauty and brains.”

“Why would I consider that an insult?” I asked, intrigued and forgetting my earlier embarrassment.

“You know, people insult women by calling them beauty and brains, like the two are mutually exclusive and should be considered a rarity when seen together.”

“Like the way people think you’re too handsome to be anything but vain and maybe, promiscuous?”

“Exactly. See? Beauty and brains,” he said, taking a dainty sip of water.

“But perhaps their usage of those terms isn’t meant to be degrading. It could simply be a perfect combination of terms to describe a person with such attributes. Like now, when you used it.”

“That’s debatable,” he said, cocking his head to one side as if he was considering the matter. “But it still doesn’t answer my question.”

“What question?”

“Why are you sitting here alone?”

“Oh. No reason in particular. It’s my first day and I’m relaxing, taking in everything.”

“Ok. But you should make new friends. It’ll help with the language practice. French, I guess?”

“Yes. You?” I asked, taking the chance to study his face.

“Spanish. Level 2. El nivel dos,” he said.  “When you’re done taking in everything, you join the dance class. You’ll meet more people there.”

“There’s a dance class?”

“There’s got to be. Else I wouldn’t suggest you join it,” he said, lips twitching as he held back a smile.

“Get out of here,” I said, grinning. The man knew his sarcasm. There had to be a catch somewhere. “I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to be part of a dance crew. I’m interested.”

“I’m not sure you can call it a crew, but the classes are always interesting. I think they’re having salsa this week.”

“Salsa?” I shrieked, heart pulsing in excitement. “I’m in.”

“Come on,” he said, tidying up the table just as meticulously as he’d arranged it earlier. “I’ll show you around. I’m Leonard, by the way. But you can call me Leo.”

“I’m Idara. But you can call me Idara.”

***

In no time, Leo and I became inseparable. He was a medical doctor, who’d left the profession for his passion—interior decoration. Our conversations were never dull. We were paired up for the dance classes. I felt like a princess whenever we danced together; he was big, I was small and the way he twirled me in the air and caught me for a smooth finish, was the stuff of dreams. Our instructor, a big lady who seemed to have no bones in her body and could out-dance us all, was very pleased with us.

One day after classes, she called us aside. “Twice a year, we have presentations; at the close of the session and during the Francophone Semaine—the French week—which is next month. As my star students, you will be front and centre during those presentations. That’s if you choose to participate.”

“We’d love to,” Leo answered enthusiastically, for the both of us. It was the one habit of his I did not appreciate. He was so self-assured, he tended to take charge of everything and had a hard time relinquishing the reins.

“What about you, Idara? You okay with it?” Ms. Michella asked, her eyes knowing.

“Yes, of course.” How hard could it be, performing in front of an audience?

“Then we’ll begin practice soon. I don’t know how long your classes will continue here, but if they come to an end before the presentations, I hope you’ll still come.”

“Sure,” we chorused.

***

“Do you know how many times you’ve said the name Leo since we came out here?” Amarachi asked, sounding peeved. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re in love.”

“Don’t be silly,” I snorted, swatting her arm. “It’s nothing like that. He’s a really cool guy, that’s all.”

“Mmhmm….that’s what they always say,” she remarked drily.

“You should meet him,” I said, wagging my brows. “You’ll like him.”

“I don’t want to,” she pouted.

“Now you’re behaving like you’re five years old.”

“Whatever.”

“I’m serious. Come with me to Alliance today. I don’t have any lectures, only the dance class. We can go there by noon.”

“Okay. I’ll come because I want to see if you can move that slab of concrete you call a waist. Not because I want to meet your new boyfriend.”

I rolled my eyes.

We got to class late because Amarachi had to change her clothes like five times. As I walked through the doors, I could see that Ms. Michella hadn’t arrived yet, because Leo and a girl were in the centre of a circle of students, demonstrating a comb and copa.

As he put his hand over his partner’s head and turned her out, he spotted me. He let go and asked the others to take their positions and practice. The circle quickly disintegrated into pairs.

“Latecomer,” he said, when he got to my side. “What’s up?”

“Sorry. I had to wait for my friend. Wanted her to come see what we do here.”

“Where’s she?” he asked, looking around.

Amarachi was no longer beside me. I searched among the small crowd and saw her with a short, skinny fellow who had her in a normal close hold. This girl sef.

“Amy….Amarachi!” I yelled above the music.

She turned in my direction and I beckoned. She said something to the guy and came over.

“Sorry to interrupt. I want to introduce you to Leo,” I said.  I turned to him. “Leo, this is Ama…”

The words petered out at his expression. Dude looked like someone had stolen his oxygen.

“Guy, are you okay?” I asked, squinting in concern.

“Ye…yeah. Yeah. Hey…” he said, without a glance in my direction. All his attention was on Amy. He extended his hand to her. “I’m…Leo…Leonard. Call me Leo.”

Leo was stuttering. That was a first. Amarachi wasn’t faring any better. For all her caramel skin, I could see a dull reddish tint spread over her cheeks. Where I’d mentally drooled over Leo on our first meet, Amy was literally slack-jawed.

“I told you he was gorgeous,” I snickered.

Neither of them said a word.

“Uhm…guys? Hello?”

And just like that, I became invisible.

Written by Eketi Ette


About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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15 comments

  1. It. Haff. Happen.

  2. Hehehe I love this 😀

  3. Yeeeeee. And I was hoping Leo & Idara will hit it off 😢😢😭😭. Good for Amara though. Lerus now remember our uncle Chiemena in our prayers, he needs to come back to us.

  4. Here was i thinking Idara has found a cure for her heartache……….

  5. You have my undivided attention. 👌

  6. Just when you thought Idara had found a perfect rebound from Chiemena, Chiemena’s sister came along and snatched him from her. Is she forever bound to suffer in the hands of that family bikonu? 🙁

  7. Shey Amarachi didn’t want to meet him? Shey you’re not in love? Afterall, “he’s just a good guy…”

  8. LOL! These comments eh.

  9. TheLadyWithoutTheAfroLocs

    thank God this is back up. Thank you Walter. You made me goo back to read a few episodes/editions before i read this.

    i think i am the only one who is angry with Chiemena…i am suroprised Idara in her loftiness *rme* isn’t angry.
    do u knw what it is to be pregnant at such a young age to a complete fool who went ahead to impregnante and deny another friend of yours years later? it is not beans to be spilling such sensitive info abeg…is it every tom,dick,harry, chiemena that comes into her life she wld be telling? they need to reach a certain place in their relationship bfor she can talk na…i am so angry at his insensitivity…and i am surprised really.
    he didnt even give her time to talk and explain what might have transpired; and then he jumped Osahon on her….babanla nonsense. *angryface*
    i am so livid!!! i hope he makes amends! iru nonsense wo niyen?
    Who begged him to be spilling? Doesnt he know Idara is annoyingly cautious with evrything? How has he made her comfortable enough to talk and share her heartaches etc from the past.

    or perhaps i am missing some episodes…
    lemme jst keep quiet abeg. Walter/Eketti fix this please *cryingandrollingonthefloor* because those 2 are just IT!!!

    • shakespeareanwalter

      Keep going o, Afro Loc Lady. There’s another episode after this. 😀
      BTW, we have missed you around here.

  10. Pauline 'Lina' Ife

    Haaaa!! Keti why nau? Why do this to Amarachi ?

  11. And that is how I became invincible… Hehehe. This episode is just it. And to think I didn’t read it since last year.

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