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The slap had a twosome effect.
It muted all the sounds around and within Frank; and then it cleared his head of the alcohol haze. Everything was quiet; the kind of quiet that made him feel as though he was in a vacuum – like everything had stopped.
The girl – the woman who’d slapped him clapped a hand to her mouth. Above her hand her eyes seemed to darken, and then the tears slowly spilled over and ran down her cheeks, following her hand and down her wrist.
For some reason, Frank found the sight mesmerizing.
And then she whirled, mumbling something he couldn’t hear over her hand and ran towards the exit. He turned and looked at Priye who was staring as though his uncle had just walked in.
“I’ll be right back,” Frank said to his friend and hurried after the girl.
The predawn air hit his face almost as roughly as the slap, further clearing out lingering alcohol cobwebs. He nodded to the bouncer and stood by the entrance, looking left and right – past the few people still scrambling to get into the club; hoping for a sight of the girl.
He spotted her a distance off, standing beside a car. From where he was he couldn’t be sure, but it looked like she was shaking.
His feet dragged as he walked towards her but he was determined to apologize. Apologize and find out who she was.
He still didn’t recognize her.
She jumped; looking curiously like a suddenly-electrified rat. Wiping her face quickly with the backs of her hands she started to speak, “I’m sorry – I wasn’t doing anything. I just – “
Her voice faded when she turned around and saw she was talking to Frank.
Standing straighter and ignoring the tears making a mess of her mascara, she looked in his eyes as much as she could and said, “Yes?”
Frank rubbed his head. “I’m sorry – so sorry for what I did back there. It was wrong; I don’t what came over me. I’m really sorry.”
Her arms were against her chest; her chin quivered slightly as she stared at him, trying to take measure of his sincerity with her eyes. Finally she softened. “You should be,” she fought to keep her voice steady. “I thought you were a gentleman.”
“Alcohol will do that to you,” Frank mumbled, looking away from her. “Look, I really am sorry, but I don’t remember you. Yet you know me, you know my name.” His eyes searched hers. “Where did we meet?”
She smiled and Frank was caught up in her eyes – caught up; feeling as though there were hands wrapped around his throat in a not-so-nice manner. “We met at the general hospital Ikeja some weeks ago. My name is – “
“Sofia – with an ‘f’.” He scratched his beard – where a beard usually was. “Wow.” He raised his hands and dropped them. “No excuses. It’s just been a rough couple of weeks. How are you doing and how is your brother?”
It was dark in the lot, but he could see her teeth flash as she grinned. “He’s fine. He’s out of the hospital and he seems to have his head on straighter now. And your…“ she let the question hang.
“Ah – it was a friend and she’s fine now.” He actually didn’t know for a fact how Efe was doing but Fola had mentioned seeing her driving around so he figured –
“ – you drink? And smoke? That’s really not too healthy a combination is it?”
He frowned. “It’s complicated.” Pulling his phone out he handed same to Sofia. “Give me your number.“ Noting the frown that wrapped her baby-smooth face with lines, he added “Please.”
“Guy, make we dey go house.”
Priye looked around as though unsure as to where Frank’s voice was coming from. Finally, he managed to fix his eyes on the bleary outline of his friend. “Where you come go na?”
Frank grabbed his arm roughly. “It’s time to go and I’m driving.”
Priye did not resist as he was pulled up, but as soon as Frank let go his arm he crumpled. “Ol boi, me I no fit go house alone o.”
“You won’t be going alone. I’m with you.” Frank grabbed his arm again but Priye snatched it out of his grip.
“You dey mad ni? You no hear say na fourteen years?” He stood up and straightened his clothes. “I no dey understand wetin dey happen dis days again sef. Frank sef don turn gay…”
He fell into step beside Frank, mumbling as they made their way out of the club.
“Hey there,” Frank said to a surprised Sofia as she came out of classes, freeing her hair of the rubber band that held it in a ponytail. She welcomed him with a smile, and as she waved over her shoulder to a couple of colleagues, Frank smiled too, thinking again; as he had each of the three times he’d seen her since she slapped him two weeks before how beautiful she was.
“What are you doing here?” She asked, then “Oh, I know what you’re doing here! What I want to ask is, why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
“Would be much of a surprise if I did that would it?” He enveloped her in a hug before turning to lead the way to his car. “Actually I was in the neighborhood and thought to see you.”
Sofia was quiet as he opened the door on her side of the car, and as he got in on his side she spoke.
“I just thought you’d come see me because you want to, not because you were in the neighborhood.”
Frank literally bit his tongue – trapped the tip of the appendage between his upper and lower molars and pressed down. “You can’t say that. I came because I wanted to see you, and I also just happened to be in the neighborhood.” He paused. “There’s something I came to look at – you know I’ve been house-hunting, right?”
“So I got James to help. James is like my assistant at the shop. He’s in charge when I’m not around – “
Sofia chuckled. “You’ve mentioned him several times.”
Frank nodded. “So he found this apartment around here, so I thought we’d look at it together.” He was engrossed with handing a security person his gate pass and therefore missed the frightened look that passed over Sofia’s face.
“Are you okay?”
“Sure – sure. I’m just a bit tired. It’s been a long day.”
Frank wanted to slap himself. “I’m sorry; we should get something to eat first. What would you like; local or – “
“Local sounds good. I want amala.”
The clinking of metal on ceramic; of several mouths and throats working simultaneously was all the music Frank could expect. He and Sofia were seated in a canteen; waiting for their order of rice and amala respectively. Sofia, chin in hand was staring at the wall on their right, looking at that moment like the thinking man statue.
Frank was staring intently as though that would help him see what was going through her mind.
She turned suddenly and met his gaze; held it for a few seconds before turning away, covering her eyes and trying to hide her smile. Frank leaned forward, almost upending the table with his elbows. As he righted the table, their food arrived.
He never got to ask what he wanted to.
Sofia belched softly from her reclining position. “Sorry,” she mumbled behind her hand and then she sat up. “I don’t know. Mummy says I loved playing doctor even from childhood. I’ve always had a fascination for medicine and related fields. I also love the idea of saving lives and helping people.”
“How has it been, the learning?”
She shook her head. “Franklin, it hasn’t been fun. Too many times I go home drained and the realization that I have to do it all over again the following day makes me not want to wake up.”
Her fingers drew an intricate pattern on the lilac-colored table cloth, her thoughts taking away the ‘baby’ of her unlined face, adorning it with age that wasn’t hers. She looked up and flashed a hesitant smile at the man facing her.
“I like kids – I adore children and it fills me with horror to think anyone would want to hurt them. I want to be able to help, make things – make life easier for them. So I decided on medicine as the best way. I could have been a police – “
Laughter from across the table interrupted her. “What’s funny, sir?” she asked with a straight face.
“I just tried to picture you in a police uniform.” He shook his head and laughed again. “It keeps looking all wrong.”
Sofia’s smile was stronger. “That’s easy for you, to imagine me in a police uniform or any other thing for that matter. Is it because you’re a tailor or that’s why you became a tailor?”
Frank didn’t understand her question. Not at first – but suddenly it became clear and he grinned. “It’s a bit of both. I could draw from childhood and it’s gotten better since I became a tailor. It’s pretty much a simple matter of taking someone out of – “ he paused and cleared his throat. “Anyway, you get the gist.”
His pretty companion nodded. “And you love what you do, right? Does it get awkward when you have pretty women come in for fittings?”
Frank glanced at the wall clock and stood up. “Will you look at the time? I need to check out the house, and then I’ll take you home if you want.”
Sofia got up slowly, same frightened look passing over her face again. She walked behind Frank as he led the way outside to the car; waited for the bleep indicating the doors had been unlocked. Quickly she got in and shut the door.
“Is your mum back yet?”
Frank’s question startled Sofia out of her reverie. “Ehn?” She blurted, sitting straighter in her seat as she turned towards him. And then – “Oh, mummy, she’s back now. For almost a week. She and papa have been going out a lot lately. I think they missed each other even though she was only gone for a month!”
He laughed. “Why would you say that?”
“Well, they still go to the cinema and the beach – and when they come home they’re always holding hands and smiling at each other as if there’s gold in the other person’s mouth!”
Frank was laughing so hard he missed putting the key in the ignition properly. He got it on the second try and started the car. “Let’s just go check out this place and I’ll take you home. Hope you don’t mind.”
She shook her head.
“You sure you don’t want to come in?”
“I – I’m a bit tired. I’ll just wait here, please?”
Frank nodded. “Okay. I’m coming.”
He turned away from the car window – and suddenly turned back again. “Here, hold onto these.” The car keys dangled from his hand.
“What am I to do with that? I can’t – “ She covered her face. “I can’t drive.”
“Just take them,” he insisted. She grabbed the keys from him and waved him away. “Go jare.”
He chuckled as the watching agent smiled indulgently. “Can we go in now sir?”
“Sure,” Frank responded. “Lead the way.” His glance lingered on Sofia, reluctant to let go. He was still staring as he disappeared into the gate of the house.
It was a simple apartment; two bedrooms with a cozy living room, sizeable bathroom and kitchen with tiles all over. Fresh paint smell hung in the air, but the apartment was well cared for. Frank could hear the agent’s sales pitch but he wasn’t listening, not consciously.
He’d left that part of him outside. With Sofia.
The kitchen was surprisingly roomy and airy; two large windows provided ventilation. He opened the tap and enjoyed the cool water as it rushed over his hand – and a vivid image of him kissing Sofia beside the sink popped into his head.
Shaking his head, he stepped away from the tap.
“I’ll take it,” he said, interrupting the startled agent. Frank pointed at the still-running tap as he hurried out of the kitchen and out of the house. Quick steps brought him to the gate and he opened it hastily, looking for his car even before he stepped through.
It was where he left it; and the girl was inside as he’d left her.
Hurrying to her side of the car, he dropped on his haunches, looked into her half-frightened but smiling face and said;
“Will you go out with me?”
Written by Seun Odukoya