A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
Ivie watched the man standing at the middle of her gallery, gazing at her paintings. She tried recalling his Yoruba name. Bakare something. It was good he came today—Saturday—as opposed to Thursday. On Thursday, his Orchard painting was not ready. Now, she was done with everything concerning him and would be free of the awkward customer. He stopped gazing and retired to his framed painting of the little perfect twins on the table, staring at it for the hundredth time. And still, made no remark. He dipped a hand into a pocket for his wallet and from it, brought out clean, crisp, one thousand naira notes, counted, and laid them on the desk. She thanked him and hoped he would take his board paintings and head to the door. He did not. He inched to a corner of the room, crouched, and began looking at a painting—a portrait of herself.
She tried to ignore him and focus on her gouache, but she could not stop sneaking glances. They were done, and he was supposed to leave. Although her portrait was there to be looked at, it shouldn’t be looked the way he did. As though it was his. He was not talking, not commenting, but merely staring at it with his dark, tough eyes that had caused a hard time painting.
His brown eyeshade on the bench stared at her. It continued staring and staring. Her hands itched; her fingers itched. The devil crawled in. She would resist. She would not take what belonged to a customer.
The turpentine lodged in her veins snaked into the lines of her palms. The eyeshade spoke to her—she either took it off the bench or… the turpentine would be kindled.
“Sir, your eyeshade is here.”
“Leave it there.”
It happened. Her fingertips gave off flames. Her hand burned. It moved and grasped the shades.
The devil won.
The eyeshade fell from her hand and shattered. She shut her eyes. His voice pinched her ears. She tightened her eyelids and opened them at once. “I’m s-sorry.”
He rose and sauntered towards her. “I won’t need it. My car has good visors.” As he came nearer, his footsteps caused an earth tremor that worsened into a quake with reducing distance.
“I’m sorry. It was an accident.” She evaded his eyes.
“Try to avoid accidents.” He rounded her, drawing a line round her table with his finger.
She lowered her head and waited for him to say something.
“Your eyes are brown,” he said.
She could not reply, not when she had lost control of the room. She broke his glasses, and that gave him some control, made her his prey.
“I like your eyes.” His gaze rested on her. “The ones on your portrait.” He took his gaze off. “Nice works you have here.” He picked his framed painting, strode to pick the boards and made for the door.
She avoided moving her eyes to the door until there was no more of his car’s revving. The broken glass pieces on the floor, she picked and made for the waste bin. His last words burgled through her head, every word of it, every detail in it. She allowed her thinking end there and held her painting brush.
The wall clock read three-thirty. Not a bad time to go home. She closed the palette and washed the colours off the brushes, covered her unfinished work with a polythene sheet and did the necessary clean-ups.
On the road, she stopped a taxi and rode home.
Grasshoppers hopped to her feet as she treaded her lawn. She crouched and picked some of the carpet grass, spread them on her palm and let the wind blow them away. Sunflowers would do a favour to the lawn’s edges. Richard had offered, but they could be acquired from a flower shop. Where would be best to go? The shop. She drove a hand through the grass. It needed mowing, and that would be done after planting the sunflowers.
What if Richard visited and saw her lawn with the blooming yellow heads? There would be no excuse as to why she refused his flowers and went ahead to buy from a flower shop. That would confirm whatever thoughts he might have. What thoughts did he even have? She clapped the grasses off her palm and rose. His house was quicker. It was free, and would arouse no suspicion. No suspicion.
Few minutes met her in the junction where the avenue’s signboard was dug. The driver stopped. She stretched his money to him and stepped out. Back in this place again, this treeless place. The top of Richard’s duplex shot out within the other duplexes. She hiked to his duplex and knocked at the hard, sounding gate. The gateman’s eyes protruded through the peephole. He removed his chewing stick from his mouth and revealed the front of his fawn teeth.
“Madam.” He rushed to the gate and unbolted. The Honda and the jeep stood at the garage, but the Ford didn’t.
She smiled at him. “Oga inside?”
She stepped in.
“Madam, anything for me?”
She slid out a hundred naira note from her purse and gave him.
“Ese, ese gan.” He spoke other Yoruba words that meant thank you. “Make I tell oga se you dey here or you wan go meet am for inside house yoursef?”
“Please tell him I’m here.” That would save her from the spells that lurked at every corner of the duplex.
He pressed the buttons of an old, extinct, Nokia handset, squinting at them. He glued the handset to an ear and told Richard she was at the gate.
“Oga say im dey come.”
The mini garden now had lilies, and its hibiscuses had fully bloomed, adding to the beauty of the other flowers. She crouched and picked out a branch of lavender, causing a red-headed lizard amidst them scurry to the peonies. She pitied the lavenders’ narrow and shrubby nature that prevented them from blooming like the others. But they were lovely, and their aura… the most lovable thing in them. She drew the lavender closer to her nose.
The door opened to his tan, hairy, veiny legs that shot through his shorts. She managed a smile at him.
“So you finally decided to come see me.” He barely returned her smile—did not.
“The sunflowers could be good for my lawn.”
“I thought as much.” He crouched by her. “You love them?”
She was close to him, and could almost feel the hairs spiked from his skin. She had been this close before, but this was different. His scent was all over—His spell, his hex. “I told a flower girl to come add some.”
“Where’s your wife? I should go greet her.” That should be a good excuse to evade the scene for some time.
“She’s still at the supermarket.”
He picked out a branch of lavender. “Aren’t peonies beautiful?”
“It’s lavender.” She scanned for a peony. One stood at her left, brown lines circled at its edges. She stretched a hand to it. “Those are peonies. They hardly survive.”
“I guess I have a lot of learning to do.” He threw the lavender to the garden. “We should go inside and get you something to eat. Ezinne prepared something before she left for the supermarket.”
“I’m okay. I only wanted to pick some seeds. It will soon be night.”
“Don’t fear the night. I will drive you home.”
She focused on the hibiscuses, which was better than focusing on him. “I don’t stay on the roads at night, whether car or foot.”
He shouted to the gateman, who then ran to them.
“Go to the refrigerator and get two bottles of anything drinkable.”
The gateman hurried to the building.
“I know how to treat my guests,” Rick said. “Since you won’t come inside, you could be treated outside. Here is part of the house.”
“Viewing the blossoming flowers is enough.”
“There’s no crime in more than enough.” He picked the peony lying on the ground. “How is your health?”
It was a matter of time before the question cropped up. “As before.”
“The urges still there?”
“Nothing has changed.”
He picked a leaf off the branch and sliced them into lines. “You should try a therapist again. You can do that yourself. I won’t get involved.”
She gave him a glance. “I’ll think about it.”
The gateman approached with two cans of Legend. Beer. Richard did not drink beer.
“Bring something softer,” he told the gateman.
“Oga, na only dis ones dey inside fridge.”
He did a deep exhale and took a can of Legend. “Take the other. Use some money with you to buy something soft from one of the nearby shops. Be fast about it.”
“Okay.” He hurried to his cabin.
“I thought you didn’t take alcohol.” She gave him a half-look as he slugged the drink. Some of the foamy liquid dripped down his beard and fell to the lavenders.
“Sometimes one or two can do good. I’m not a complete teetotaller. I used to take little in the army days, but declined when I started business.” He emptied the can and dumped it on the ground. Some of the remnant liquid in it flowed out onto the ground.
“Why did you pick it up again?”
“Like I said, sometimes a little did good.”
There was no need asking what kind of good it did.
She examined the flowers pods. Some were opened and were already browned. “I should start picking some seeds.” She parted a sunflower’s drooped head open and picked out its seeds.
“I have some dry seeds at the garage. I think they are still viable.”
“Thanks. But these will do. Some of the plants are already dispersing seeds.
He picked some seeds from the due hibiscuses heads. “It’s good you came. You haven’t stepped a foot on this ground since you left.” He dropped the seeds in the polythene bag and threw hands to the rear of her head. He dug his hands into her cornrows and ran fingers through, bringing life to each of the rows. She could not tell him to stop. It was a hair rub, and that was not a bad thing. It was not a bad thing. It was not.
“How is your wife?” she asked, if that would remind him he had a wife.
“My wife is at the shop,” he muttered, and drew her head closer to his. He held it tightly with firm hands and brushed his lips with hers, wetted them and glued them to his. She could taste her own daiquiri gloss on his lips and savoured it for the moment, even though his breath smelled of beer. Sometimes, the beer actually did good. Blooming lavenders with perfect narrow leaves began budding in her head. They were alone in the world and it felt good to be alone, tasting the only juice the world could offer—a juice that wasn’t hers, but another woman’s. She struggled to get her head off. “What are you doing, Rick?”
“I kissed you.” Her reflection glowed in the black spot of his eyes.
“You’re married, Rick. You’re a married man.”
“You don’t have to remind me.”
“And you’re a Christian.”
“What do you know about Christianity?” His eyes did not move an inch from her.
“Enough to know that married Christian men don’t kiss other women than their wives.”
“Then you should also know that sometimes they face temptations and are not always strong enough to resist, and sometimes they have to balance both worlds and pray God forgives them.”
It was her fault. She should have gone to a flower shop. She knew this would happen. The voice that told her couldn’t be clearer.
She put some seeds in her bag and tied the bag. “I should be leaving. You’re drunk, Rick.”
“A can of beer is too small to get anyone drunk. I’m not drunk.”
It was the beer. Yes, it was the beer. She sprung up and stepped on a shrubby stalk. “I’m leaving.”
“What about your drink?”
She grabbed her bag. “Have it with your wife.”
She stalked to the gate and jammed the gateman, who was just outside the gate, holding a can of Malt.
“Madam, kini? wetin happen?” He helped open the gate from outside.
Not attending to the gateman, she continued her walk. Outside the compound, she touched her lips. Something had happened to them. Something not bad.
To Be Continued….