A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
Erneto Aives had not changed much. Lauren scanned the parking lot for Jide’s Toyota. It stood firm at his car space, amongst other sparkling cars that made the park seem like a place cars were sold, except that the cars all had flashy stickers glued to windscreens. That was the thing about Nigerian cars; they must have a minimum of two stickers glued to windscreens. One, a church sticker and the other, some organization or club. The men lucky enough to have esteemed jobs glued a third sticker of their working place. Jide’s Toyota had two stickers. One was the amber Erneto Aives sticker, and the other was Arsenal’s. There was a small cross at the windscreen’s edge but that didn’t fall into the category of flashy stickers. Richard’s parking space was without his Honda.
She stepped into the reception and did a gesture to the clerk and other familiar staffs. Most of them glued fingers to their laptops, with peculiar smiles round their lips as though they were born with the smiles.
Jide’s secretary did not wear button-ups but a V-neck that defined her bustline. She sipped something steamy, reading a magazine that covered the lower of her face. The magazine had a suited white woman with crimson lips on its front cover.
“Laura,” she called. Good she remembered half of the name, even if it was a wrong half. “Laura” was better than “white girl.”
Jide was not in; he was in the cafeteria, the secretary said. Lauren refused the offer to wait in the secretary’s office, even though it was her favourite Nollywood actors, Akin and Pawpaw, casted on the drama showing in the plasma screen. Time was too precious to waste sitting and waiting in the office when the cafeteria was only few walks away.
The cafeteria was almost empty. She did a quick scan over the chairs and tables. Jide sat by a table near the wall, alone, dealing with something resembling fried potatoes. If not fried potatoes, then French fries, the type fried with a little oil that robbed it of its rich brown colour. Many of the countrymen did not like oils; maybe that was an undiscovered cause of their baked skin. She ambled to him and his lips spread into something like a smile. It was a smile. It had been lifetime since his face carried that. His cheeks pierced into dimples. Full dimples. Good to know she still had the charm to cause that. She prayed those dimpled cheeks remain forever.
She settled on the chair opposite him and watched his dimples merge with the remaining of his face. “I really missed seeing those holes at your cheeks.”
“You are the only one who tells me I have them.” He forked a chip and bit its tip.
She considered that a compliment, whatever way he meant it. “I can see work is going fine.”
“We’re recovering. Things are better. I’m glad you came to see me. I was actually bored with paperwork and needed a chat.”
“You’re happy, Jide. I’m happy you are. You were so drenched in situations I thought you might never smile again.”
His eyes widened and mirrored her as clear as her bedroom mirror. “It’s the potatoes. You should try them.”
“I actually thought you were going to say I’m the cause. That’s what gentlemen say when women tell them something like that.”
“Forgive me. I’ve always been green in that area.” He set his glass to his mouth and downed in some water. “How’s school?”
Of all the questions in the world, he could ask her only that. Indeed, he was green in that area. “I’m no more a student of Newfield.”
Every fragment of cheer in his face disappeared, and Lauren wished she had said that in a milder way that would make his cheer disappear little by little and not all at once. “Why? What do you mean?” he asked.
“I’m leaving the country.”
“To Canada?” He angled his head, and one would think Canada was in the direction his head angled to.
He nodded slowly, slow enough for her to read every one of his nods. He would miss her. He would surely miss her.
“They have a better education there than in Nigeria,” he said.
“Why am I just figuring it out?”
“When are you leaving?”
“The coming Monday.”
“That’s good. Go be with your mum.” He forked a slice of potato and dipped it into the sauce. After cutting a small bite, he laid the remainder on the plate.
“You’ve lost appetite?”
“No. I never really liked potatoes. What about we try something, something more African?”
She smiled. “Yes… I’m hungry.”
He raised a hand to the waitress. She arrived and presented the menu to him.
“Which would you like?” he asked Lauren.
She shrugged. “You’re the born African.”
He chuckled and touched some things on the menu, the waitress nodding at his every touch.
“Pounded yam and vegetable soup,” he said when the waitress left.
“Provided you eat it with me.”
“You’ll love it.”
She cracked a chuckle. “Sure. During the week my dad and I drove to Delta, Edo State and Bayelsa. I refused leaving the country without knowing other places than Lagos. I also went to the Esie museum at Kwara State. I saw the soapstone images and all. Nigeria has heritage. I would have loved to visit the northern regions, but my dad so much feared those boko haram people. He said they would take pleasure in slicing out my throat.”
“That could happen on a bad day. It’s a good thing he didn’t take you there. And thanks for talking good of my country, at least the southern parts. You finally got your tour. Thanks to dad.”
“I will miss him,” she said, and thought of her dad, the way he made sure everything he did somehow pleased her. “I will miss Nigeria, even if some of its citizens can be jerks, especially the students.”
“The jerks, the students. They will all miss you. Everyone who had come in contact with you will miss you.”
He chuckled. “I top the chart.”
“Good to hear. Anytime you think of leaving the sands of Africa, always think of Switzerland.”
“Sure.” He fingered the corner of his eye.
“Richard didn’t come to work?”
“He’s been through a lot. He’s taking a week break.”
“My dad’s company should do well to return all Erneto’s stolen customers.”
“You could help me tell him that.”
The waitress arrived and set the table. She filled the table with different plates containing different things that would all go into her mouth. A large lump of pounded yam and a soup garnished with vegetables and large chunks of meat that spared no space for the soup.
“If I eat all these, I doubt I would be able to walk through the door.”
“That’s the idea.” Jide picked a fork and forked out a morsel.
She frowned. “I thought Africa’s culture permits using hands,” she said and then, whispered, “there are not so many people here.”
Jide widened eyes and chuckled. He called the waitress for a bowl of water. They washed their hands and did it Africa’s way. What if mum appeared and saw her bare handed, dunking a morsel into a soup? Mum wasn’t here. Just Jide. Only Jide.
“Good,” she said. “Real Good.” She picked a beef and cut off a huge chunk of flesh. Teeth were so much sharper than knives.
Jide’s thyroid protruded as he swallowed. She touched hers. If same thing happened to hers, her throat might explode.
He clenched the beef with his teeth and tore out its skin as though he was killing it the second time.
Jide Echem was one of the exceptional blacks in the country—a neutral. And that was why she loved him.
She cut in another morsel and dunked it into the soup, making sure to decorate the morsel with enough vegetables.
To Be Continued….