I’m by the side of the road pacing a few steps forward then a few steps back, each time looking up and searching each passing face. The face I seek I don’t see but a text message arrives cooling my brooding temper and I cross to the middle of the road where cars have been parked by drivers who’s brains have obviously gone on a permanent vacation. I ponder momentarily why they would park here, do they not care that they could be hit and their lives forever lost? The sun and the rain battle in the sky for supremacy and I push thoughts of careless drivers and their misplaced values of life out of my head then replace them with mentally planning the rest of the journey. By now I thought he would have been here, perhaps hold my hand as we crossed the road and pondered a shared thought of the drivers I am now approaching.
I ask the first driver about a school I’ve never seen, I struggle to say the word with ease and the drivers looks on with a slightly satisfied look. ‘Dis wan na Johnny jus come‘ his eyes say, I ignore the unspoken questions his mouth holds back while he explains how far it is. He points in the direction of the farthest battered taxi from where we stand and indicates I should join them. I uncomfortably think how long I must put up with squeezing into a seat meant for one but in typical Nigerian fashion now seated two.
The taxi driver sits with a certain level of unnerving pride as he argues back and forth with a bystander who has a truckload of opinions about how he should drive. The passengers mumble about not having time to waste, I choose to put my headphones in and close my eyes as the music seeps through the headphones and blurs out the noise of the busy city alive with activity. I feel the last of my impatience slip away and my brooding temper is replaced with it’s predecessors; anxiety and excitement.
Slowly I feel the wind begin to touch my face in waves, each replacing the other quicker than the last. I open my eyes and take in the closest signboard to check I’m not lost. I remind the driver where I need to stop. He silently acknowledges my reminder and nods his head in affirmation with a touch of annoyance that I’d think he’d forgotten where I’d said I’d stop. I smile inwardly at the ease with which I pronounce the name of my destination this time, the word a little less new to my lips. A woman passes the taxi amidst crawling cars and exclaims “oyinbo!” as she catches a glimpse of my light skin and precedes to tell her companion to look in my direction. Where I’d once felt annoyance at such display of subtle rudeness, I smile tiredly instead at the still staring women who make no attempt to hide their stares. I smile at their ignorance and my indifference to what I’d once been greatly annoyed by.
The song playing into my headphones has changed now to one that has more bass than the last which encourages my pulse to quicken with anxiety. I allow myself to be lost in observation of everything that’s outside my window.
I silently curse his approaching figure as I step in a small mud pool. These dreaded suburban streets and their terribly over filled gutters! This one had overflowed onto the pedestrian path and I wonder why no one cares to do anything about it. I want to smile at him from afar but I don’t because I am annoyed. My feet are dirty and it’s all his fault. He should have come to pick me up and then maybe this would not have happened. I’m thankful he didn’t see me come down from the taxi’s front seat I shared. He wouldn’t have said much, but sometimes less is always more.
I frown as we stand opposite each other and close enough to breath in what the other has breathed out. We hug each other briefly, too briefly for people who have missed each other and walk while I complain about how far the journey took and how he’d better appreciate it. He still doesn’t say much but I know his mind is noisy. My anxiety has quickly evaporated and I’m filled with shyness. Perhaps it’s not as much as when I saw him eight months ago, but it’s evident and I wonder if he notices. As always, he says nothing to show he is aware that I am shy being with him.
We walk slowly and make small talk. He tells me about work and how tired he is. He tells me how much this city has changed since he has been away and he tells me about his craving for ‘bole‘. I simply smile and make fun of his craving for ‘bole‘ while I tell him how the previous day that was exactly what I had eaten. He shoots me a look of envy and we both agree that later that day we’d find ‘bole’ for him so he can satisfy his eight month long craving.
We finally arrive at the reception but the receptionist politely tells him his room is still being cleaned. We sit and talk on a black leather sofa in the reception while the young woman goes back to watching her Nollywood movie. We talk about writing and publishers and terrible movie scripts. I mentally agree with some things and outwardly disapprove of others. He suggests ice cream and a smile dances around my lips. Ice cream is something we both agree on and we share a tub of icy sweetness, with him sometimes attempting to feed me from his spoon. I smile a lot, I am happy I can hear his voice without having a phone against my ear. I bask in the simple pleasure of sitting beside him and engaging in a conversation which has a playful seriousness to it.
His room is finally ready and we both walk towards it with him taking the lead. It’s the last room at the end of the corridor and it has more windows that the rest of the rooms I got a glimpse of as we walked down. I quietly note how his choice is the same as what I’d have made if told to choose a room. I finally get to wash the now dry mud off my foot in the bathroom and precede to take selfies with his phone in the bedroom sitting on the chair while I watch him lying on the bed.
It takes a while for me to stand near the art hanging on the wall and look closely examine every line drawn on the canvas. He doesn’t understand it, so I explain it and by the time I am done he gets a better idea of the concept. Art is to be felt and you cannot teach someone how to feel a certain feeling, so I give up trying to make him understand completely. Instead i begin to tell him I will not spend the night and I will leave late. He tells me how much he has put aside to be here a day early but I already know all of this. I lay beside him and I sincerely tell him I’m sorry. He is visibly upset and I see the hurt in his eyes, he does nothing to hide it. I look away and steer our conversation to other, less hurtful things. We lie in bed for a long while, bodies close enough to touch but choosing not to. Perhaps our bodies already know about the chemistry in our minds and choose not to ignite a fire which will engulf us both. He falls asleep resting on me and I close my eyes enjoying the moment. He is tired from his flight and I am tired from his long absence, but my tiredness does not welcome sleep. I pick up my phone but put it down as quickly as I picked it up, I decide to enjoy this moment and drink the memory of every detail so I may remember again when he is far.
He stirs from his sleep and apologizes for falling asleep resting on me. I smile and dismiss his apology, it is not needed. He tells me he is hungry and still wants the ‘bole‘ I pretend I don’t hear him. I don’t want to be left alone without him and I think he knows it, but he is hungry and lying on a bed beside me will not solve it. We finally agree to go and find this long talked about ‘bole‘ and we readjust ourselves so it is a little less obvious that we have been lying in bed.
The receptionist looks at both of us as we pass, her eyes boring into the pair that walk past her. I feel slight discomfort at the thought of what she must be thinking. I almost wish I could tell her that she is wrong, but I know that isn’t necessary. We walk for a while in silence, not an awkward one but more of a content, understanding filled one. We only stop interrupted once by a young man who calls him by his social media name and goes on to explain he follows him online. I am unsure about how I feel about it and a feel a surge of lack of purpose courses through me. He confirms the young mans statement and we continue walking.
The streets are quiet which is typical for one filled with houses all surrounded by high fences. I think about the fences and whether they are to keep people out, to keep people in or maybe both. We hold hands and I ask him where the ‘bole‘ is sold, he keeps a straight face and tells me he is unsure, it has been too many months ago since he has lived here. I tell him with a voice tinted with annoyance that he had better be right about his assumption of where it may be sold.
We get to the end of the street and he asks a kiosk seller about where ‘bole‘ is sold, it turns out to be a little way away. I laugh with amusement and say I told you so while I skip along beside him. He doesn’t look at me or answer my taunts as we walk back the way we came. When I am done taunting him I hold his hand again and I daydream about being able to do this more often. I daydream about being married to him and walking along streets in the evenings having light conversations. I daydream about a child being with us then children as the years go on. I do not tell him about my daydreams, I only tell him he cannot sing. He goes on to demonstrate in the middle of the road that yes he can sing and he won’t stop until he’s proved his point. I shrug off his attempts to prove his point and we keep on walking.
It is time for me to leave. He is upset and does not go out of his way to disguise it. This makes me feel a heavy guilt rest in the middle of my stomach weighing me down. I pick up my bag and we hug. I know he wants something more than just have us in each others arms, perhaps I’m so sure of this because it is mutual. I turn away before he has the chance to catch me in my moment of deep weakness. We pass the huge mirror in the reception again, but this time he holds my arm to stop me from walking past it. My gaze is set upon the mirror and the two people who stand comfortably beside each other. As if trying to point out my thoughts aloud, he points at our reflection and remarks how we look good together. His words hurt, they’re truthful but have no future to them. I hug him, smiling I affirm that yes we look very good together and that we have always looked good together.
It is getting dark slowly now, he gets a taxi for just the both of us to take us to a fast food so we can both have a meal. Ice cream is not food my stomach gurgles, my heart replies that food has never been a solution to any matter of the heart, I decide to ignore them both and he tells me about the streets we drive pass. He tells me it’s definitely a throwback Thursday and a trip down memory lane. I let him talk and the sound of his voice softly seeps into my ears, I enjoy the sound. He points to where he had once played football, he points at a road that has his family house and he narrates stories of how much the place has changed with examples. I ponder over the coldness that always takes over his voice when he mentions family. It is something I always want to ask but I fear he will wave off like he does whenever I ask personal questions about him.
By the time that we have arrived at the fast food and finally sat down opposite each other to eat, it is dark outside. I’ve never been a keen eater of goat meat so I opt for just chicken alongside my rice. He finishes his meal before me but I am not surprised, he has been kept famished by my selfishness for too long. My slow eating pace means he could have eaten two meals before I’d be done with my first. It doesn’t help either that a certain question is clawing at my tongue, desperate to be let out. He leans back in his chair, full of food and a little more content. This time I notice something I hadn’t taken care to observe when I’d come to see him. The months had changed him, not too greatly that they were obvious but enough that they were evident to an observing eye. He is a little more confident in himself, it shows in his ease and comfort with which he relaxes. I know that I have changed but I do not think it shows until I talk.
I eat under his watching eyes, while I try to summon up enough courage in my discomfort to ask him a question I’ve need to ask for so long. I put my fork down and I look at him. I know that my feelings haven’t not wavered even over the course of time.
“I waited for you. Why didn’t you ever come back?” I say.
I try so very hard not to let the hurt I’ve buried for so long resurface. I feel tears prick at my eyes, I tell myself that I am strong and I will not let him see me cry. For a moment he does not say anything, he simply sighs and continues to look at me.
“I didn’t know you were still waiting for me,” he replies wearily.
Then he begins to say things. He tells me about how he had needed to focus on work and money. He speaks of trying to get himself stable and how eight months is such a long time ago. He doesn’t stop there, he continues and goes on to tell me that it would not have worked then that distance was a problem. He says the timing then was wrong too.
I listen to everything that he is saying, only stopping him to correct points or asking questions to steer the answers. I do not pretend to not understand what he tells me, I choose not to live in denial of the painful truth like I once did. So I listen and hear most of what I already know, all the while feeling a sense of loss return to my heart. I have lost my appetite and do not resume eating what is left instead I just sip water hoping it will slow my rapidly besting heart.
“I didn’t know you were still waiting for me,” he finishes.
I look at him, I do not know what to say to this. It hurts and I am more angry than upset. There are other people in the fast food and I calm myself down. I do not want to shout at him but I wish I could. He doesn’t even flinch as he looks at me questioningly as if to urge me to reply his explanation. I am angry with him yet I wish nothing more than to curl up with my knees to my chest and cry. Outwardly I do nothing but look away and take in details of the fast food.
“You knew I was waiting, you knew because we talked and I told you I was.” I say without emotion.
I regret my words as soon as I have said them only because I know what his reply will fall along the lines of. I do not want him to tell me about how I have moved on and none of this matters anymore. I do not want to think of how many other girls there have been while I waited for him. I am tired from feeling so many emotions in one day and I tell him I must go. I point outside and tell him it is late. He does not say anything more but stands up, I stand up too then we exit the fast food.
We’re both standing outside the fast food lost in thoughts of our own while we stand looking at the busy road filled with different forms of passing transport. I decide that I must use the restroom before I embark on the long, tedious journey home. I tell him my need and he points at the fast food we just came out from. His reaction isn’t one of annoyance like I had expected and I’m more than relieved at this.
I finally relieve myself and wash my hands in a sink that looks like it’s seen much better days, today not being one of them. I come out of the toilets into a dark, large space with enough tell tale signs of ongoing construction. I stop midway between the door of the restroom I’d just emerged from and where he’s standing leaning on the railings, looking downwards. I take in his silhouette and marvel at how much I feel for this one human. I know now that I’ve loved him for a long time and I’ve never stopped. I intensely crave hugging him from behind and it takes the last of my willpower to stop myself from doing it. I think he finally notices I’m not far behind and turns to face me. Not wanting him to know I’ve been standing there for a while I announce that I am done and we can go now. Then we do.
We end up at the same place as where I’d said I needed the restroom, facing the road. Buses and taxis pass, many of which I could hop into which would take me home. But I don’t instead we walk slowly. We do not walk because it is romantic but we walk because neither of us wants to be flung apart again by distance. We talk about anything but what is weighing on both our minds. Each step takes us further along the road and closer to the moment that we both dread so badly.
We come to a stop in front of a petrol/kerosene filling station and talk more. Each minute whizzes past and I now realize I must really be on my way home. This time as he points to a taxi I do not push the reminder aside but I tell him the last goodbyes and mean it. I feel my heart shattering as I try to apologize and explain that it isn’t within my power to stay. I’m not sure he believes me but looking into his eyes I know hurt won’t let him believe me even if he tried. My heart is shattering with the very thought of him hurting because of my absence. I am sincerely sorry about everything but I can not stay a moment longer so I hug him then enter the awaiting taxi.
I sit in the front seat alone this time. The driver asks me where I’ll be stopping, I don’t give an answer. I just look outside the window and see him still standing so close yet so far away. The driver taps me on my arm and softly repeats his question. I look front at the road ahead and give an answer. I don’t look back even as the taxi slowly moves taking me away from him. I type a text message to him and press send. But even I know deep within me that it cannot take away our pain or truly show how much I feel for him. Then the tears flood my eyes and turn my cheeks to a warm, salty waterfall. The taxi has put him out of sight so I do not look back but look ahead and cry.
Soon enough I am home and lying snuggled up in bed under the sheets with my teddy bear I call Freddie. My bed is too cold tonight. I arrived home and didn’t say a word or even make an effort to pretend to smile and look happy. I packed an overnight bag and unpacked it again knowing it’s too late to return to him. So I lie down in the darkness and allow the infinite regret wash over my being. He will be leaving back to the city that has stolen him away from me and I won’t see him for another long, unknown duration of time. I am all out of tears and I do not cry again instead I look up into the darkness and wish. I wish that I am lying in his bed in his arms. I wish that I can tell him how much I still so desperately want him. I wish that we could belong to each other. I wish that he wouldn’t leave again. Most of all I wish that he knows what I feel for him. But it’s just too late because I’ve missed telling him …Again.