A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
Horses were the same everywhere, whether Canada or Nigeria. A ride could be memorable or not. It all depended on with whom one rode. Hers would be memorable. It was with Jide; it must be memorable.
Lauren fondled her gelding, parting its mane with her fingers. The horse perfectly fitted her as though created for her. “When last did you ride?” she asked Jide, who swayed atop his gelding.
“I can’t think of a date, but not very often. There’s no ground in Apapa, and it’s difficult coming here to Lekki for a ride.”
“I used to ride with my dad. He is a good rider. He can circle this field in less than ten minutes.” She surveyed the field to check if she had exaggerated. She hadn’t.
“That’s fast. I rode a lot in my youth corps days. Then, I was still much agile. Twenty-seven.”
She studied him, the fresh ebony of his skin and the outline of his muscles against his polo. He still looked twenty-seven. Calculations agreed he wasn’t old. At least, not older than her dad. “Where did you do your youth service?”
“Kano. It has lots of horses and stables.”
That was up north. The country’s news often talked of a religious crises happening in that region. “Did you experience the crises?”
“The Boko Haram?”
“That’s the name.”
“It was at its early stage back then. Not as prominent as the present.”
He was lucky. She tightened calves and began a trot. His gelding followed, wagging tail simultaneously with hers. She allowed a short run before halting. “I needed to wake the horse.”
He walked his gelding, stroking its neck, stroked it as though it was a woman—a mere animal, a mere gelding. He drove a hand through the silly horse’s mane. “When is your mum returning to Switzerland?”
“My mom and Aunt have both left the country; painful my mom and I didn’t separate on perfect terms.”
“Because of the Canada thing?”
“Because she is robbing me the choice of carving out my niche.”
“She’s helping, not robbing.”
“I know when I need help. What she is doing is treating me like a child.” She trotted forward. “That’s what everyone is doing.”
He trotted to her and they slowed into a walk. “If you are so bent on staying in Nigeria, have a close talk with your mum, try making her understand.” Their geldings’ skins touched as they swayed.
Too late. Mum was gone. Aunt was gone. And there would be no phoning until they all got the Canada thing out of their heads. “No need doing that. Forget about it. Tell me ’bout your stay in Kano.”
The rhythmic shuffling of hooves and squeaking of saddles entertained her ears.
“It was good, except the weather. It took me long to adapt.”
“Is the locality very different from Lagos?”
“Very different. Each state in the country has a distinction.”
True. Nigeria was very diverse, she knew that much. Lagos was only a small fragment. “Could you drive me to any other state? I’d love to see outside Lagos’ walls.”
“Tell dad. He would be very glad to take you.”
“I don’t want my dad. I want you,” she said. “I want you, Jide.” She reduced tone if that would create any impact. It didn’t. It remained the words of a seventeen-year-old child. That’s what it would always be.
“Lau,” he called with a thinner voice. “Ask your dad.”
“What if he refuses?” She sought his gaze. It was unreachable. His greedy gelding took all of it.
“I want to have the trip with you. It could be to any state outside Lagos. I don’t mind it being the neighbouring. I simply want to see beyond this state. The plane from Canada stopped right here. Lagos is the only Nigeria I know.”
“Tell your dad you want to go with me. If he agrees, then I’ll find a day.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Then the idea would have to be buried.”
She counted the hairs lined on her gelding’s neck. “I see there’s conflict here. Let’s get it resolved the best way I know. We race and stick to the decision of whoever wins.”
He gathered eyes and his cheeks folded up. “That—”
“It’s better. It pains nobody.”
“That won’t change anything. I love touring. I can spare time for a tour of one of the nearby states, but first, your dad has to approve of you coming with me.”
“Race me, and everything gets settled. Most arguments between my dad and I are solved with racing. We could employ the technique here. It always works, and whoever wins wins. No one gets hurt.” She patted her gelding at its trunk and faced him. “You’re ready?”
“This is not an argument. And you don’t race every time you’re privileged to be on a horse. Injuries from racing could be very severe.”
“You think I would demand for a race if I didn’t know the safety rules?”
“Racing is not a good way to deal with this.”
“You have a better idea?” She held her lead-rope firmly and halted. “On the third count we go.”
“On the third count. You’re not new to horses. You could win.”
He halted. “It’s not about who wins or not. You need your dad’s permission to go outside the state.”
“All right, race me. Forget the touring thing.”
He held his lead-rope. “You’re sure you can gallop with that?” He directed at her horse and then, its hooves.
“I wouldn’t be asking if I couldn’t.” She looked at her hooves. They needed some trimming. Or maybe they didn’t. Her dad used to say trimmed hooves raced the slowest. “You’re ready?” She turned to him.
“Begin the counting.”
“Three counts. We stop at the palm tree. “One.” She glimpsed at him, checking if he was set. Two. Three.” She cantered forward, flapped reins, sat deeper in her saddle and tightened calves.
His thuds came as thunder roars, striking on the same line with hers. He galloped like her dad and lowered his shoulders like him. He whacked his gelding’s rump, and it galloped past her, having no pity on the grasses. Letting out more reins, she leaned forward, and then pressed calves against her gelding until it made proper use of its hooves.
She was on same line with him, succeeding his thuds. Her gelding upped its speed with every kick she gave it, and with that, she managed to gallop inches ahead of him. The palm tree looked at them. Few gallops left to kiss it. She glanced at him. His horse was at his highest, throwing its hooves far into the air. She stopped glancing and aimed at the palm tree. It was all hers. She slackened reins and galloped further. And with increasing gallops, her darling did it. It reached the palm tree and cantered past it. She held its reins, halted it and shuffled fingers in its forelock.
Claps emerged from behind. “Good rider,” he said.
She dismounted and detached her helmet. “You ride like my dad.” She tried hiding the pride that raided her insides.
“Then I guess you beat him at racing.”
“Not every race. He beats me in most.”
“Choose the state you’d want to go, and I’ll fix a date.”
She passed a hand through her gelding’s fur. A magnificent horse. “No need bothering yourself. The race was staked on nothing.”
He dismounted and gave his gelding a pat. It snorted. “You earned it,” he told her. “There are some places in the country you would love to see. I will have a talk with your dad and make him agree to the tour.”
“Forget ’bout that. I have another request if you’d allow me.”
“What is it?”
She faced him and ensured their gazes locked, just their gazes and no interference. “Don’t see me as a kid anymore.”
“Easy, uh? Easier than the tour.”
“I don’t see you as a kid.”
She eased closer to him and played with his polo button. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“What is it?”
“I really like you, Jide.” She circled a finger round his button. “Yea, that kind of like.”
No words. Nothing except silence. At least, that was better than a scowl or glare, and his face didn’t carry those. He removed his eyes from her and gave them to his gelding. She mounted on hers. “How about we ride back to the stables,” she said, and received another dose of his silence. “Jide, if you want to avoid me, please don’t start today. I’ll be going to school next week. You could start then.”
“No one is avoiding anybody.” He eased over to her and rested a hand on her lap and she thanked God she was on shorts that didn’t cover the whole laps. “You shouldn’t be liking anyone with that kind of like, especially at this your age and level. The reason is you are a woman, a full grown beautiful woman. When the time comes, you’ll find more suitors than you need.” He patted her lap and eased back to his horse. “Let’s ride to the stables?”
At least, he could still speak to her—preach to her.
Bad idea to have let out her little secret, but good she did.
The ride would be memorable, so memorable.
They rode to the stables. A long ride. School came to her mind: the saucy lecturers, the boys, the girls. That was what she needed.
To Be Continued….