I thought about Joko – beautiful Joko with her eyes that were like sapphire beads, hair that shone the bright black of midnight and lips that always appeared ready to kiss. I thought about her and I wanted to go back, to go back to being Sam.
The prospect of going back to Joko anchored a smile I wasn’t aware of on my face. But then, I felt a lightness within me and the pleasant strain on my mouth and I became aware of my beam. And I left it there, smiling at my recollections and enjoying the moment. I was not about to let my life take away from the joy of my nascent memories.
I sat there in my cubicle, smiling, with my chin wedged on my palms.
Someone was by my side. I looked up. It was Nene. I frowned at her.
“Snap! Snap!” she repeated, even though she now had my attention.
“Nawa for you o. You just sidon by yourself, just dey smile like jackie.” She was standing in front of me, with her penciled eyebrows arching upwards like flyaway wings.
“Shey make I dey cry?” I retorted.
“Ehen nau!” she shot back with a grin.
“I can’t,” I said, remembering a hit Pharrell Williams song and continuing with, “because I’m happy –”
“Hollit!” Nene froze my melody with an upraised hand. “Abeg package that your happiness for the traffic we are about to face on our way home.” I chuckled as she continued, “For now, I need your help with some customers. Movit, movit!” She clapped her hands at me like a drill sergeant.
I gave an amused shake of my head as I got to my feet. I still had about seven minutes left on my break time, but Nene was one of the few friends I had around here. She’d had my back a number of times before, and when she asked, I didn’t hesitate with my assistance. I moved out of the cubicle and followed her out of the office to the show room.
“So what was your response to the query?” Nene asked me as we strolled down to the bus terminal to join the queue waiting for the public transport.
I stopped short at that moment.
Nene looked at me and read the fleeting panic of my face correctly. “You didn’t reply it, did you?”
“I—I…” I stuttered, trying to explain the situation. “I forgot. Actually, I forgot to go back to my mail. I tried accessing my portal in the morning, but my password just wasn’t granting me access. Then I called IT to complain, and Chuks said he would see to it and get back to me. I totally forgot to check back.” My shoulders sagged at the thought of how Kobo would use this against me.
“Hmm, this isn’t going to be funny by tomorrow,” Nene said.
“Oh trust me, I know.”
“Do you think you should call Chuks?”
“I didn’t even leave home with my phone this morning.”
“Eli, you know you didn’t get to explain to me what happened with you this morning.” We had drawn up to the queue of weary commuters, and Nene canted her head at me. Even with her height tottering on six-inch stilettos, she still had to incline her head to look me in the eye.
“I know.” I wasn’t sure I could explain this to anyone. “It’s not serious. I stayed up almost through the night. I woke up at my usual time of 5, but then made the foolish mistake of staying in bed for some extra five minutes. My sister, na so I close eye, open am, na im be say seven don knack.”
Nene laughed hard. I was glad she found it hilarious. It meant that story was believable.
We were fortunate to get into one of the new BRT buses that Governor Ambode had just brought in. it was air-conditioned and made the hectic traffic bearable. I got off the bus at my stop while Nene continued her journey towards her Iyana Ipaja destination.
I didn’t bother to get on an okada to take me to my house. Ignoring the calls of the bike-men straddling their motorcycles at the junction, I started on a slow trek toward my home. I needed time to think. A thousand and one thoughts drifted through my mind, like pieces of clothing tossed about in the wind. My mind was a battle field between the future and my present. And this was because, I realized, I now believed in both. While one was within the concept of a more tangible present, the other was a substantiation of an inexplicable future. But yet, neither one felt more real than the other.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to sleep tonight or stay awake throughout. But I knew that by 5am, I had to be by my clock, the secret words lurking on my lips, ready to make another journey into the future.
The magic words came to my lips then.
Aoys fun umendikayt ir gekumen, fun umendikayt ir vet tsurikkumen.
I couldn’t wait to get home. I realized my pace was faster now. Just the thought of the sight of my alarm clock made me begin to jog.
I got into the compound, greeting everyone in the front yard with a single “Good evening” and hastened up the stairs toward my apartment. The light illuminating the corridor was from a single dull-yellow bulb, but I could walk through blindfolded. I stood in front of my door, keys in my hand, my hand reaching up to grasp the padlock.
Perspiration traced a path down my face as a result of my excitement, and compounded by the stuffy atmosphere of the corridor.
Then I gave a start. I squinted at my door, at first bewildered. The padlock wasn’t there. The latch hung back, unlocked. A wave of uneasiness instantly surged inside me. Had a thief been to my house? The thought almost brought about a sardonic chuckle from me, when I thought about how meagerly my worldly possessions were. I didn’t think I owned anything worth stealing.
Still, somebody had been in my house.
Or was that it even? I pushed open the door as I considered that I might not have locked up behind me this morning. It’d be perfectly understandable, considering the frame of mind I was in when I left for work.
I froze in place when I heard the familiar sultry drawl. It was a voice I didn’t particularly miss.
What is she doing here? I wondered wrathfully, as I moved further into the house.
And there she was, sprawled over my bed, legs crossed like brand new twines, not looking any different than she’d looked the last time I saw her.
“Hello, El,” she said again as she observed me standing there by the door. A slow smile had begun to expand her lipsticked mouth.
I used to like the sobriquet, used to love the way she called me by a shorter version of my name. but now, I simply wanted to scream at her: Don’t call me El!
“What are you doing here?” My tone was deliberately icy.
“I was in the neighbourhood,” she said, sitting up and uncrossing her legs. Her movements were sinuous. “I tried your number all day, and you didn’t pick.”
“Because I was at work.”
“It’s a mobile phone, Eli, not a Graham Bell.”
I wanted to smile. Chioma was sweet for her sarcasm, but right then, I didn’t care much for her.
Speaking of bell, where is my bell? I made for my table. And that was when it struck me – how well-ordered the table was. In fact, as I stopped, startled by the sight, I realized that the entire room was in fact neat, swept clean, everything in place like this morning’s chaos never happened here.
“What happened here?” I asked, aghast.
“Back to your life, is what happened here.” Chioma was so full of herself, reminding me of the past.
“No. Here has been good all the while, and will recommence being great once you’re on your way – Wait a minute!” I’d just realized what was missing from the table. “Where are my books?”
“Oh, I had to—”
“You had to what?” I didn’t let her finish. Now there was something more pressing. “Where is my alarm clock?” My voice surprised even me as soon as it bore the sharply-uttered question from my mouth.
“I had to clear the room of things you didn’t need.” She sounded a little irritated, like she couldn’t understand why I didn’t sound more grateful for her housecleaning effort.
My eardrums had started to resonate past the safe frequency. “Where is my alarm clock?” I whispered the words, turning to face her.
My expression was stormy, and she rose from the bed then, seeming to sense the quiet anger radiating from me.
But her tone was still self-assured and terse as she replied, “You mean that god-forsaken gadget that can’t tell the correct time? I got some abokis to come take a few things away.”
My head was heavy. I wanted to shout profanities at her, but too many words choked me up. My heart banged away at my sternum. My voice was raspy with rage as I hissed, “Get those abokis back here now, Chioma! I don’t care what you have to do. Just. Get. Back. My. Clock!”
Written by Ojay Aito, tweets @1ojay