It should be impossible. Finding personal space within the turmoil, the tumult, that was the hostel area of the university campus at night should be impossible but the gravity of their engagement wove a cocoon around them. So feet sloshed noisily through mud, some clacked over tar and mouths yapped excitedly or solemnly and cars honked and revved recklessly and big speakers flung music far and wide and later flung voices selling products far and wide. But they were in their special cocoon deliberating on issues of the gravest importance. Thus the chaos slipped by them noiselessly on that night the sky banished the stars from its face.
She was the more comfortable of the two. This was her territory: it was the front of her hall of residence; he was trying to make incursions into her life. Every girl knew how to dance that dance by instinct. For three weeks, she had led him in that dance, inviting without inviting, dismissing without dismissing. She had boxed herself into a corner however when she had unwittingly put a deadline to a concrete response. It had to have fallen out of its own volition because as soon as she had uttered “three weeks,” she had wished she hadn’t. It really was an open-and-shut thing, but the thrills of the delay were the fun. And like any CEO worth his salt cuts costs, he had tried to cut the time, because it really was open-and-shut. But you never know till you take the plunge.
She would interject briefly, and watch the perplexity jump into his eyes, like: wasn’t this already obvious? She’d pull a poker face and he’d be forced to ramble, she half-listening, he jittery, tentative, on unfamiliar, treacherous terrain. The jitters were a sight for her twinkling eyes, the ramble music to her ears. And as the clouds shifted to reveal the crescent remains of a giraffe-chomped moon, in the open seclusion of their special cocoon, she finally brought the dance to a halt, fearing that the monotony might scare him away. That perplexity again. He sought clarification, dreams no strangers to uttering illusions. She proclaimed the monosyllable clearer and it flared like New Year’s Day fireworks through his night. Crack! Crackcrackcrack! Crackcrack!
“Yes! She said yes!”
Response, in coming, was swift.
“Who said yes? That girl abi?” replied a Facebook friend whose name he had been too thrilled to register.
“What girl?” he teased, “My mum finally agreed to send me some money.”
“You’re an idiot.”
He had even forgotten to at least hug her, or how do they react to these sorts of events anyway? Wheeling away, in glee or not, certainly wasn’t one of the more acceptable reactions. But he had heard her laughter fly after him as he wheeled away. She had put him through hell!
To love was one heckuva thing. They had been friends, good friends for the past couple of months, after having bumped into each other volunteering for work during NASS week – an annual avenue for the union of science students to jamboree and as an afterthought, learn. She had been in Refreshments and he, in smartly tucked-in black white over black, had been manning the aisles as one of Protocol at Conference Centre, venue of the annual NASS Week Lecture. Professor Lamikanra, the pharmacist-poet had been delivering his keynote speech as the Special Guest of Honour – the title and content of which scant attention had been paid to – when he stopped, declared that the hall was a congress of chatter and proceeded to walk out – unprecedented in any annals of Ife history.
He had been busy stealing glances at the smiling girl close to the entrance, where the refreshments stall had been set. Her fringe bounced on her forehead and her bangle-like earrings danced beneath her ears as she dashed from cupping punch to allotting assorted pastry to serving trays. Her lithe frame, itself framed by a snug powder blue T-shirt and black form-fitting jeans, was unburdened by any of those extravagances of protrusions men were wont to lust after. He hung back to clear the mess the professor’s untimely departure had caused and later on managed to find himself in her general direction by happenstance. Total happenstance.
She was in the same department as he, he learnt, only a year lower. And since the students in the department were mammoth, it was plausible that neither had ever set eyes on the other in at least two years.
That stuffy academic – who the devil does he think he is, leaving a public lecture midway? What if they were making noise? Were they primary school pupils? Those are the ones required to keep mum. Nonsense. Better things to talk about anyway. Cooking was her favourite hobby, no? The way she was flying up and down back there… Nah, she just loves organizing stuff. She’s quite the cook though. Just the wafting past of the aroma of her cuisine and Lazarus would come forth… no, kick the tomb down at about the second day, no Jesus needed. No kidding. Hysteria! She got jokes. Take it easy, bro. Actually, her hobby was singing and she had once considered a career in music but a grimly determined lecherous producer had swung her off that course. Sad. His own hobby was reading. Oh? She loved to read too. And to write? Well, past her diary, not really. Well, he pretends to write poems and stuff like that. Poems,huh? Funny how he said pretend to write but had he ever read Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka? Oh yes, he had read it and God, the cheek of Kongi. West African sepia, peroxide blonde palms, plain or milk chocolate complexion… God, hilarious and yes, served that racist so-and-so right. No, he was only twenty-six, the hair would have been raven black then, just like his friction-blackened bottom, not the flamboyant sporangiophores of these days. She’s quite the delight; she wouldn’t mind if he asked for her number, no? Sure. Zero-eight-zero-three-eight-zero-six-five-zero-nine-zero. She didn’t care much for people saying “o” for zero – it’s a digit, c’mon. It’s crazy what the telecoms companies around here put them through, he’s calling her line right beside her and he’s getting “not available at the moment.” It’s crazy, maybe he should just reel out his number. Okay. With what name should he save the number? NASS Week girl. Laughter. Lade, actually. Oh, fine, his cousin, twice removed, pretty beautiful, just like her, answers Lade too. Oh, what a coincidence. Lades are typically fine. Are they now? What’s his name, by the way? Bisola. Shucks. Androgynous. Well, his mother and all… but forget all that, she has a wonderful. You flatterer. Thanks anyway. Phone call. She has to run now, but it’s been nice meeting him. Later. Headlamps.
What had followed was a great friendship, nine months of it, nine months of which they could not have been separate for more than four months, adjusting for inconsequential stuff like sleep, personal time and separate classes. They were a poster couple in denial, the department concluded, when upon enquiry they would deny dating.
Two weeks into the tenth month, he had stuttered through “I think it’s time we take our friendship to the next level.” Fucking chore. And the conniving nanny-goat had pretended that he was speaking Obahiagbon. “What do you mean the next level?” What did she think? Instead, he had struggled over the great detail of presenting their history to their present and the prospects of their future together, plus, he really, really loved her. And next to breakfast… and maybe lunch… maybe dinner too, she was the best thing he had known for the past nine months, Honest to God. She hadn’t bought the sales pitch; she bought time instead. Internal bedlam; external discomfiture.
But she had finally said yes. There had been times his faith had flagged but the wait hadn’t petered out to dashed dreams. The wait paid off. Good things, he had read somewhere, come to those who wait. Like tips.
And like all lovers who had newly sought each other out, they had begun a fevered voyage of discovery. Of the next five months, perhaps four they spent together or something that unbelievable. Linked by fingers, they attended theatrical productions and concerts and whatever was on at the fabled Amphi. Soon they sought privacy and reduced their retinue of friends to a retinue of two. Soon, they started to kiss, she dogging his hands’ just so they did not roam to restricted areas. Soon, the restrictions were lifted and with that, the need arose to seek out crevices, nooks, crannies, to exacerbate each other’s raging passions, always stopping short of one last film of barrier.
Then she had proceeded on Industrial Attachment while he prepared to graduate. The brewery gig had been facilitated by Tola, a best friend before that boy came along to knock her down a few pegs. Tola’s mother had a friend who had another friend who owed the initial friend a favour; and IT placement? Blob of cream.
And there, she had been besieged by men and boys: sophisticated old men who knew well how to railroad a girl into seeing things their way, and passionate boys besotted by beauty who wheedled assiduously till she gave them some audience, any audience at all. At Ijebu-Ode, on the premises of GrapeHop Breweries, she had come to realize the enormous power accorded her by erm… which one administers beauty – was it Aphrodite or Venus now? There had even been a boy who didn’t mind playing second fiddle to the boyfriend she told him about – he just wanted to be called hers too! She had given a few things a long hard thought… and no, she loved him – the poor him back at school – head over heels… or so, but… could one love two… should one love two? She perished the thought.
Back in school, he had transformed into a painstaking burrower and grub-worm going through the pages of the internet and fat books, ferreting out any information relevant to penicillin resistance in bacteria. Penicillin had essentially become a useless anti-bacterial agent – you learnt that in Year Two. Bacteria, pluckier than every folk tale tortoise put together, had found the means to thwart Fleming’s noble efforts – like manufacturing the enzyme Penicillinase – by digesting Penicillin. He and a group of twelve others had isolated Staphylococcus species from all manner of sources, most cringe-worthy of which were roaches immersed in test tubes of nutrient broth and swabs of pig poo. Scientists must however soldier on without relent or disgust and so they had completed isolation and characterization, and finally subjected the scrutiny-survivors to antibiotic sensitivity tests to determine what antibiotic and which does of that antibiotic might work or not. “Your lot,” drawled Dr Ahmed, bespectacled and perennially worn out, “falls on Penicillin.”
Penicillin did not have his full attention however. There was Mary – the buck-toothed beauty, ebony but for her teeth, a classmate over at Dr Asiwaju’s lab. There was Itunu in Year Two Microbiology whose eyes smoked volumes and volumes of naked lust. There was Abiodun in Professor Imole’s lab, whose innocence and Christian piety was so alluring he wanted to rid her of them. But he loved her – the her on IT – and why the hell was he harbouring crushes for three different girls when it was as obvious as the sun where his heart lay? He perished the thought. His heart went to Lade, wherever she was, and he thought that boys might be feeling towards her the way he was feeling towards these other girls, and thought that older men might presently be executing schemes to lay their grubby mitts on her, and became overcome by an animal rage he had to stand still for minutes on Motion Ground to repress. Mongrel snarl.
Heck, he had to suppress raging jealousy when she as much as talked to any other boy whilst they were together. Jealousy was that concept the extent of which he’d only been exposed to soon as the right combination and amount of chemicals signalled he was in love with Lade. It was fashionable to claim one didn’t get jealous, and that jealousy was for the emotionally craven. But, could love be and jealousy be absent? Perhaps, if there were no proprietary instincts… Light bulb. That could be the subject of a poem Ayn Rand would find absolutely abhorrent, reject and denounce stronger than she did Kant.
One Small Step for a Man
by Bisola Sotade.
If there were no proprietary instincts:
Breakups wouldn’t be messy;
hearts wouldn’t break – for
I wouldn’t own you,
nor would you me.
Our children will be our children;
one for all
and all for one.
One small step for every man
would truly be giant leaps
for all of mankind.
You wouldn’t scythe me down from lofty height
because you’d tower,
you’d soar high as I.
Leaders wouldn’t be corrupt;
the saner isms, who knows,
might even work!
There would be no selves to serve;
dining would be collective.
There would finally be rationale
for the existence
of words like “perfect”, “utopia”, “ideal”, “love”.
Skin colour would be just that –
different shades of one
not criterion –
to accept or to deny…
…If there were no proprietary instincts.
And then she came back to school, two-month attachment over, and all was well, no word, not one, about the icebergs marginally missed.
That night, they had found a crevice, this time a building in construction, well off the civilization of possible intruders – past the Sports Centre, past the banks and set back some fifty metres off the long stretch of Road One. Rumour had it that the building was to house a research centre or so, but its completion, as usual, had been put on hold for very long. They set at each other with a vengeance. They kissed and groped and sucked and shed excessive skin like defoliating snakes and fell to love, she grasping the frame of a window, he grasping her waist, thrusting gently from behind and sometimes working his hands up to ply her small breasts topped by nipples that stood out like twin minarets over a domed mosque. He had been in heaven, his face a picture of vagina-wrought ecstasy. In her case, “God, I’m getting fucked and I love it!” she blurted, amidst moans and moans and moans. God sighed: one more set of prematurely humping human in the habit of invoking His Holy Name in the middle of this sweet – He made it; He knows – but untimely therefore unholy act. He – Bisola – had chuckled at her new-found candour, whispering (and kissing) the fact into her ears. And when the deed had been done, she cried. For innocence forever bid bye, she cried. For new waters that demanded navigation, she cried. For a vow of celibacy she in a flight of Christian fancy had taken, she cried. She cried, for now she wouldn’t come to marriage unsoiled. He patted her back and she cried on his chest and he thought: Damn! that was good!
And wearing a moulding blue gown over an impeccably snug black suit over a pink-and-white chequered shirt and a sleek slim black tie, he was convoked, and it was time to leave her once again and hope against hope, in their deep of deeps, that distance would hold, rather than break. Back at his hotel room residence, the goodbye had taken all night. There was sweat, and tears, and seminal fluid; and sweat and tears and seminal fluid, and sweat and tears and seminal fluid. Till they were spent. Utterly.
And while he was gone, she’d missed their bodies locked, writhing in that enduring struggle. She’d missed the aimless strolls into the night, the pretentious star-gazing like scenes leaping from pages of formula romance. She’d missed his idiotic prancing, or what he must have felt was dancing. She’d missed his jokes. She’d missed the seduction – trailing kisses over her face, teasing her lips till she at last fell in step with his lust. She’d missed the conferences about the portents of the future, those enormous eyes of his poring over every inch of her face, the beauty of the twin brown probes unnerving and comforting at once. You didn’t want to be staring into those eyes up close. And she’d thought: Oh, if only he were here, he’d know what to say and his eyes and lips, well, they’d settle the business. But he wasn’t and she’d thought… and there were boys, tons of boys, from the downright despicable to the downright desirable… and they weren’t going away… and she thought. What love was this that permitted the prospect of others? And so on the battle raged in her lithe frame, weighing on her mind, and unsettling her heart like that day a year or so ago she’d fallen in love with him.
He’d come back. She’d been glad, ecstatic even. He’d been gone for six months, pre-NYSC call-up work. For one week, they’d stuck to each other like a dog stuck in a bitch, rolling back the months, catching up on lost company… the coitus too. The phone calls, the messages weren’t it, never could be. There was nothing like the medium of presence. There was nothing like seeing the reckless laughter as it spilled forth from both their mouths, or the smiles the voices over the telephone hinted at. There was nothing like kissing the kisses they crudely mimicked over the phone.
He always understood. God, she loved that expression: “I get, Lade. I understand.” Then they’d forget whatever it was that was the problem. She’d finally opened up to him about her IT travails. “Communication is key among couples,” he’d say. So she told him how sorely tempted she had been and he had understood. “It’s human nature. The important thing is you passed the test.” And they had forgotten about it. He hadn’t bothered to tell of his own temptations – what was the point?
The cosmos had to have thrown a party. Several stars struggled to outwinkle themselves and the full moon beamed the full force of its dull ambience over the world, and the lovers silently contemplated their love. He sat swinging his legs absently, his hands tangled in her hair, looking down at her, a smile plastered on his face, and she lay on his laps twiddling her thumbs, staring up at the partying cosmos, her hair a mass of brown, synthetic untidiness. Desires had been sated earlier; now, satiation pushed silence to beg contemplation.
He’d understand. He always does. All she needed to do was just broach it and broach the topic she would. He would understand.
“Bisola,” she murmured, “I,” tentative, “I want to break up.”
Silence. Astonishment. Sombre procession of memories before his eyes. Memories lived: The promises of forever. The poems and longass love letters. The passion of loving, the rapture of sex. The public dinners. The furtive fiestas. Memories unlived: He tuxedo-clad, she in virginal-white, the unruly silence, the eternal wait for the time allotted to reservations to pass without event. Kids – two boys and two girls meandering over the lawn. The holidays. The getaways. The joint accounts, the jointly owned businesses… the jointly earned acclaim.
Animal rage snarled at the betrayal of love, at the audacity to embark upon the betrayal of love. The jarring bareness of the building suddenly became forbidding. The surrounding darkness of the semi-forest suddenly became forbidding. She looked lovingly into his eyes waiting to hear the soothing “I understand”, waiting for the inevitable inquiry which she’d satisfy satisfactorily. Out of her sight, the fingers of his right hand curled round a stone and grasped it tightly.
You’ve probably heard the sentiment expressed before, that there exists only a thin, semi-permeable membrane separating love and hate. You’ve probably heard of how quickly that membrane can be dissolved, given the right conditions. Love, like blood, a homogenous muddle ultimately separable into love and hate, like blood and serum. Love and hate: two extremes of one spectrum united in cyclic oneness. Love and hate: one the ying, the other the yang. Love and hate: the seeds of one contained in the other’s height. The British writer, Will Self, once wrote: “Love and hate are intimately comingled.” In order to hate, one will surely have loved first.
His left hand tightened around her chest like a clamp around a slab of wood. He struck. Surprise muted her for several seconds.
The frogs and crickets that previously lay quiet in the enveloping darkness kicked off in horror at the ferocity of the blows and the frightening yelps of pain. Her screams mingled with their cacophonous chorus of horrific chirps and croaks to create music suited to blackness. She struggled and bit and thrashed. His resolve, however, had become iron.
The writer is on twitter as @il_duce . Check out some of his other works on his blog. http://kayodefaniyi.wordpress.com/