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“Where were you last night?”
Fola looked up from his plate of noodles. “Are you talking to me or singing P Square’s first single?”
“Hohoho. Very funny.” Frank pulled out the chair opposite his friend on the other side of the dining table and sat down. “Where were you, Folly?”
Looking like a greedy kid in a noodle ad, Fola shoved his fork underneath a large helping of noodles and ferried same to his mouth. Keeping his eyes on Frank, his mouth worked the noodles into a finely ground paste.
And then he swallowed it. Quite loudly too.
“Oga, don’t start interrogating me. You’re not my wife.” He heaped another helping, moved the loaded cutlery towards his mouth – and paused. “You’re not going to work?”
Frank looked at Fola silently – and then rose. “If you don’t want to answer me, no wahala. But your wife is going to get tired of your behavior sooner or later – “
Fola waved his free hand. “Oga come o, if I need marriage counseling I’m too sure I won’t be asking a very recent divorcee – especially not one who gave up on a twelve-year old marriage.”
Looking like he didn’t quite know whether to be happy or sad, Frank stared at his friend, feeling as though his heart was beating in his fingers. Fola continued shoving noodles in his mouth, answering Frank stare for stare.
Frank eventually moved away from the table. “No vex.”
He was almost at the door before Fola spoke. “Where are you going?”
His answer was in the sound of the main door closing.
The first thing Frank saw as he walked outside the house was a pair of light-skinned legs on the other side of the road. The legs seemed to go on for a while – then end in a pair of short shorts. He had a moment; he was actually beginning to appreciate the legs for what they were when their owner turned away from the kiosk from which she was buying something – and their eyes met.
“Hi Frank,” Efe said.
He stood still, somewhat like a child with his hand in the proverbial cooking pot. He knew he was supposed to say something; she was staring at him with a half-smile, t-shirt and shorts making her look teenager-sweet, poly bag dangling from her left hand enhancing rather than removing from the picture –
And then an okada passed between them, breaking the spell. Frank actually blinked.
“Hold on,” he said, looking up and down the street before crossing. Efe started walking to meet him – stopping only when her chest was a few inches away from his. He looked down at her – and then abruptly shifted his gaze as he caught a small and unintended glimpse of light and round flesh.
“Is that an apology I hear, Frank?”
He cleared his throat. “Yes. I – I’m sorry I didn’t show like I promised. It was a long day – and I – I guess I got carried away.”
Her smile widened – and it was so infectious he couldn’t resist. “It’s okay. I’m just upset that my afang went to waste.”
“Haba,” Frank muttered. “I’m so sorry.” There was a bit of awkward silence – and then he spoke again. “Aren’t you going to work?”
Efe shook her short hair. “No – I’m on leave.”
“Leave?” Surprised made his voice lighter. “And you’re still in town?”
She sighed, and sadness of some sort made her look older. “I’m tired of traveling – this is actually the first leave in over eight years I’ll be spending in Lagos – and my husband isn’t home so I’m lonely.”
He was sure it wasn’t her intention but what she said only made him feel guiltier about missing on their appointment. “You know what? If you don’t mind, I can come around sometime this evening – “
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, dear. You’ve let me down once – I’m not so sure I’m willing to hang around for it to happen again.”
“But Efe, you’re not going to hold one mistake against me forever are you? Why na? I’ll come around – sometime this evening. I promise.”
Both her eyes looked into his – one after the other; and then her smile brightened. “Okay,” she said, patting his arm. “I’ll be expecting you. Call when you’re on your way, okay?”
She walked past him, moving as though she was dancing on her toes. She turned once, smiling over her shoulder – and she was gone.
Something about that smile bothered Frank.
“Afo, what exactly is the problem with my car?”
The man Frank was talking to straightened from beside the golden-brown Corolla, knees creaking. He continued to uncurl till he towered over Frank, fingers brushing sand off the chest area of the formerly-blue-now-black coverall he had on.
“Oga Frank,” Afo started to speak. “Na the whole front leg bin get problem. We dey work on am – but as e still dey make dat noise na im make we never bring am. We don change bearing, change tie rod, change shock absorber – na only this afternoon wey we look am again na im we see say the drum don bend.” He spat onto the street and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand while Frank; feeling uncomfortable, looked away.
“So – you no go vex. We dey try do confam job for you noni.”
Frank exhaled and looked around the busy mechanic workshop. “Okay – but are you – shey you sure say dat na d wahala?”
Afo smiled. “No worry. If after we change the whole front leg and e still dey make dat noise, na to buy new car.” He turned away from Frank and huddled over the wheel he was working on. “In Jesus’ name, your moto go ready tomorrow.”
Silence descended on the tailoring workshop with the suddenness of power outage – and as one, the workers turned to look in the direction from which the sound came. James came running, pushing past a few of his colleague to stand beside the man who had screamed;
“Oga, wetin happen? You dey alright?”
Frank straightened, exposing what he had been bent over. Somehow his left forefinger had become tangled in the seam of the school uniform he was working on – and he hadn’t noticed till he stitched the unfortunate digit. James watched, mesmerized as blood sluggishly pumped from the long and deep gash – along with black threading.
“Don’t we have first aid in the shop?”
The words galvanized Alhaja into action. She gathered her gown and ran to Frank’s office while James snatched up one of the many pieces of material lying around, rapidly tied a crude bandage around the wound.
And then he ran out of the shop yelling, “Nurse Joy! Nurse Joy!”
“I’ll be coming over soon – I hope that’s okay with you,” Frank said into the phone.
“Ahhh!” he yelled involuntarily – before turning towards the buxomly Nurse Joy with a frown. “Take it easy now,” he ground out from between his teeth.
“Maybe if you stopped moving around so much…” she answered, holding up the needle she was sticking in his finger. “I am putting stitches into your hand. What do you expect?”
“What is it, Frank? Are you okay?” Efe’s voice came over the phone.
“Yeah – I had a small accident at work, but it is being fixed right now. So – I’ll probably be there in – “ he looked at the time on his phone – and jumped as the nurse poked him with the needle. He took in her teasing smile and, shaking his head, turned back to his call. “ – about an hour or so.”
“Okay Frank. I’m waiting.”
“Alright. I’ll see you – “
That was as far as he got before a stabbing pain shot from the damaged finger into his brain. He jumped a few inches in the air, letting go of his phone and screaming his pain. The phone fell from his right hand, hit his right thigh –
Hit the floor and split into five distinct parts.
Frank’s behind sought out the stool again, and he sat down gingerly, favoring his finger – the finger with one thread still dangling from it – and then looked at the phone on the floor.
And then he eyed Nurse Joy, who was standing, mouth open.
“Are you done?” he asked.
He pushed his right forefinger through the debris of the phone on his table looking for his sim card. He found it – and sighed.
There was a moment of silence; one in which a quick count to three may have been completed then – “Oga!”
There was a scramble of footsteps, and the door opened.
“Oga?” James repeated, breathing slightly hard. Frank threw his wallet on the table and tried opening it with his one functional hand. James watched the silent struggle for a bit – then he took the wallet off the table and opened it.
Holding it towards Frank he asked; “wetin you need from am?”
Exhaling slowly, Frank leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. “There’s a card in there with the number of the taxi man who carried me home yesterday,” he paused. “Call him and tell him to come get me.”
“No wahala oga, E good make you dey go house sef – as rain wan fall.” James responded as he slowly thumbed through the several cards in Frank’s wallet. He found the one he was looking for, pulled it out and held the wallet towards Frank again. “Oga, your wallet,” he said.
Frank nodded without opening his eyes. “Just put it on the table, James.”
Although it was nearly dark and his eyes were only half-open, Frank recognized the house as the cab arrived in front of it. He knew it wasn’t as late in the evening as his half-open eyes would have him believe – but his painkiller-doped body screamed for sleep nonetheless. He climbed out of the cab on trembling legs, wondering at the moisture in the air while reaching slowly in his back pocket for his wallet –
It wasn’t there.
Awkwardly, he shifted to allow his fully functional hand reach around his body to pat all his pockets.
It wasn’t in any of them.
Trying not to panic, he leaned forward and peered into the car to see if it had fallen out of his pocket somewhere along the journey.
He didn’t spot it.
“Oga Frank, wetin you dey find?” Baba Soji’s always-angry voice came from the driver’s seat.
“Na my – my wallet. I no sure where I drop am – and e no dey my hand.”
“Ehen? No wahala na. I fit come your shop tomorrow come collect my money. E jus’ be say some tins go dey inside am wey you no suppose lost – “
Frank nodded, interrupting. “I’ll find it, thank you.” He turned away from the taxi, injured limb held out in front of him like offered libation. “Tomorrow then.”
The cab zoomed away – but he didn’t register it. He barely felt his feet touch the ground as he walked through the house gate and towards the door. For an idle moment the mush he called a brain became clear enough for him to wonder if there actually were other tenants in the house and why he was yet to meet any of them –
And then, a loud crash and yell came from the house – the apartment – he was approaching.
“Fola?” he intended to yell – but what came out was more of a gargle than anything comprehensible. He tried to run towards the door – but only succeeded in stumbling forward; very much like a man in a strange room with the lights off. He made it to the door, and lifted his hand to knock when –
“ – you bastard! You’ll be going up and down, pursuing those small small girls around town! Have you no shame?!”
There was another crash – “YEEEEEEE! I will kill you today! Witch!!!!”
He lifted his hand; intending to bang on the door – and then he remember what happened that morning between Fola and him. He remembered how awkward it was for him in the house already – he thought about the fact that he was a grown man squatting with a friend…
His hand fell to his side.
Lightning flashed – and rain kissed the streets around Frank; falling heavily – the tears of a petulant child. He turned slowly, patting his pockets in the same manner the rain was drenching him; slowly but steadily.
No phone. No wallet.
What were his options?
Like the pointing finger of an okada man, his gaze bent towards the brown house on the corner down from the one he was standing in front of.