“Man, Folly, this is one kind jare.”
The living room was way larger than Frank was used to. The ambience was quite pleasant too. He and his friend were lazing on the sofa, watching Super Sport and jawing. It was almost a week since he had moved in with his friend, and they were just managing to sit together for the first time in a while.
It was awkward.
“What is one kind?” Fola asked in a voice that was musical and quite feminine.
“This,” Frank said, waving his hands around. “I’m a grown man squatting with a friend in his own house – and to make matters worse…”
The front door opened and a loud “Honey I’m home!” interrupted the friends.
“Hey baby!” Fola said, rising to hug the slim, fair and taller woman. They kissed briefly.
“…he’s a happily married man with children,” Frank muttered under his breath. And then he rose and smiled politely. “Good evening, Mrs. Akanji. How was the day?”
“It was splendid,” she gushed, hugging Frank eagerly. “And please, it’s Stella – abi baby?” The last part was added as she turned towards her husband, still holding Frank around the waist.
“Hmmm? Oh yes, right you are, darling,” Fola answered, his attention occupied with the screen in front of him. “Frank can like to be formal sometimes,” he finished, and tuned off from everything except the television.
His smile a bit strained, Frank stepped away from the clutching woman whose cheery grin followed him.
“Have you boys had dinner?” she asked as she exited the sitting room.
“Yes, Fola made rice – which is about the only thing he can make. It’s a bit salty, but I’m sure you’re used to his apology of cooking by now – yeeeh!” He grabbed his side in pain and frowned at Fola who was glaring at him. “What?” he asked.
“How can you be bad-mouthing my food in front of my wife na?”
“How can I not – if you’re trying to kill me?”
“Baby, where are the kids?” Stella asked from somewhere within the bowels of the house.
Fola looked away from the TV for a moment. “Ehn?” he said, distractedly. “The kids? They went to bed since. I gave them dinner and we did homework and watched small cartoon. And then they slept.”
There was the ping! of a microwave going off, and then, “All that already?! How late am I sef?” Stella’s voice was becoming louder as she spoke. And then she reappeared in the doorway, carrying a steaming plate of rice. Frank moved out of the way in time else she would have dumped herself on his lap. As it was, she propped her feet on her husband’s laps, leaned against the cushions and grinned at Frank, a habit he was rapidly finding annoying.
“I’ll leave you lovebirds to it then. Me, I’m off to sleep. Thank you so much for having me, Missis – er, Stella. I hope I’m not too much of an inconvenience.” He turned and made his way up the stairs, acknowledging the couple’s greeting with a wave of the hand.
“Baby, is your friend okay?” he heard Stella ask her husband around a mouthful of rice.
“Hmmm? Oh Frank? He’s fine, don’t worry. It’s just one of those things.”
Exhaling heavily, Frank dropped on the bed in the air-conditioned guest room. He lay on his back for a small while, the hum of the air conditioner lulling him into a doze. And then he rubbed his forearms, shivering from the cold.
“Where’s that…” He looked left and right, and then stood up from the bed before proceeding to pat it down, searching for the AC remote. His left hand touched something hard, and he pulled aside the covers to reveal what the hard thing was –
A small green light was blinking at the top right-hand corner of the device; a signal that he had pending messages. Grunting, his quest for the AC remote forgotten at the moment, he entered his unlock code and opened the phone, hands trembling with excitement.
He had WhatsApp messages from three chats. He felt down as soon as he realized none of them were what he was expecting.
Sorry about your…
Man! What happened?
We thought you were happy…
He cancelled the messages without reading them, and feeling sour, he sat and looked at the phone for a moment. There was a hitch in his throat and he cleared it a few times, wondering why his hands were still shaking.
And then, without allowing himself too much thought, he dialed her number.
He tensed slightly as the call connected and began to ring; there was no other sign that he was nervous. The silence between him and Igo was stretching longer than he was comfortable with. He would really like to speak with her.
The number you have called is not responding…
He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until with an oof, air rushed out of his mouth as he exhaled. Impatiently, he tossed the phone away, lay back on the bed and closed his eyes.
But he could not sleep.
Sometime later, his phone began to ring.
He pounced on it, shaky hands almost dropping the device in his agitation. When he finally could hold it steady, he looked at the screen, and his trembling stopped. It wasn’t Igo who was calling as he’d hoped. It was a strange number. Grunting, he switched off the phone, tossed it away again and closed his eyes.
But still, he couldn’t sleep.
“How far, guy? No work again today?”
Frank groaned and rolled over, covering his eyes from the onslaught of light piercing the curtains.
And then he swore and sat up. “What time is it?” he asked Fola, who was standing by the door, a tolerant smile on his face.
“It’s a little after eight.”
Frank slumped on the bed, and then regarded his friend with raised eyebrows. “You nko – no work today?”
Fola’s hand waved up and down, pointing out the fact that he was wearing a suit. “I just came back to get some stuff, sudden portfolio review at the office.” He stepped away from the door and looked over his shoulder at Frank. “I understand what you’re going through – or maybe not. Sha, you have to rejoin humanity at some point.” He began to pull the door shut. “Have a nice day, my guy.”
Frank remained lying on the bed.
The door opened again. “How about this girl you were telling me about – this Idowu girl your parents want to hook you up with?” Fola asked.
Frank frowned. “What about her?”
“Have you met her – is she pretty? What do you think–”
“I met her briefly on my way out the last time I went visiting. I was leaving, she was coming in from work, so we didn’t talk much. I didn’t even see her well, because it was evening and all. But I’m not even interested in that now.”
Fola nodded. “Okay. Take care.”
It was early evening before Frank ventured out of the house in search of a mallam he could buy cigarettes from. As he walked, several things ran through his mind, slipping like water through cracks in asphalt. He could barely think about a particular thing for too long. Thoughts kept chasing themselves across his mind; shadows in dying light.
Should I have sacrificed my marriage because of a child?
I’m a man. How else do you measure a man than by his achievements – including adding his physical quota to the population?
But we were so happy…
On and on they continued, running circles, going this way and that, and never coming to a stop.
Not until he spotted the aboki’s kiosk.
He puffed angrily on the cigarette as he walked, as though trying to find out how many White London sticks he could smoke within five minutes. Inhaling deeply, he ingested raw smoke through his nose and bent over, hacking, coughing and spitting out the smoked out husk of what was once a cigarette.
Dragging air into his lungs, he straightened and reached into his pocket, intending to light another one. So caught up in what he was about to do, he didn’t realize a car had stopped beside him till someone spoke.
“Frank? Franklin…Franklin Omure?! When did you start…oh my God. Oh my God. I’m so sorry…”
His hand freezing on entry into his pocket, Frank’s head turned on a neck that was suddenly stiff to look to his right, wondering who would address him so familiarly and recognize him in spite of the darkness.
She was a woman; that much he could tell from her voice. And not a very tall one, he surmised as he looked at her through the lowered window on her side of the car. Still, she was a blur in the dark, the illumination from the dashboard display not enough to show clearly who she was.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry I don’t recognize…”
She reached towards the roof of the car and with a subdued click, she was bathed in interior car lights.
What you or I would have seen would have been a light-skinned, attractive woman on the plump side, with lips that looked like they were stuck on, eyebrows too arched to be natural, and a pair of breasts that belonged on a porn site.
What Frank saw was his wife – ex wife’s – best friend, Efe.
“I saw you on Monday alighting from a bike – but I wasn’t sure and I was too far away to be screaming. So I thought if it really was you, I would see you again.” She paused and smiled at him. “And here you are.”
Frank shifted in his seat, looking out at the passing estate horizon. “And here I am.” He had always felt uncomfortable around Efe; she had a way of unsettling him with her eyes.
“How are you doing?” she asked him. While he hesitated, she answered for herself. “It can’t be too good if you’re smoking. I’m so sorry.”
Frank sighed. “I wonder what you’re apologizing for. And really, apologizing so much doesn’t help.” He shifted in his seat again. “What are you doing here anyway?”
Her soft laughter was a sound of pure pleasure. “I live here – just down the road. It’s the brown house down on the corner from where you stay.” There was a small pause. “What are you doing here though? Is this where you live now?”
“I’m having a hard time getting accommodation, so I’m squatting with a friend and his family. I tell you, it’s awkward.”
The car stopped suddenly and Frank looked up to realize they were in front of Fola’s house.
“If ever you want to talk – or just see a familiar face, I’m just a few blocks away.” Her hand slipped from the wheel and unto his thigh. She patted it twice and then took her hand away as Frank opened the car door and got out. And then he put his head through the window.
“I’ll remember that.” He was quiet for a bit, and then: “How – how is Igo?”
“She’s sad, Frank, but no worse than you. Worry about yourself, okay?”
As he stepped away from the car, he heard: “Frank?” He turned towards her. “Yes?”
“Where’s your car?”
“Oh. Okay then. Take care!”
She waved as he straightened and then zoomed off.
Written by Seun Odukoya