The dust winds have become more frequent when Nonyelum starts spending weekends at Ayo’s self-con in Gusau. On one of those hazy mornings, they stay too long in bed, until she says they have to eat or she’ll die hungry in his arms, then disappears into the kitchenette.
Back in the room, a cockroach scuttles across. Nonyelum can’t stand the smell of cockroaches, dead ones worse so. If she weren’t around, Ayo would turn the house upside down just to squash it. But he doesn’t; instead, he reaches across and shoos it away.
To be in love is to concede.
If he stops looking at the corner the cockroach disappeared into, perhaps he’d forget he ever saw it? If he stops worrying about his conundrum, will he forget he ever had it?
Six weeks into 2020, and all arguments about which year is the beginning or end of what decade have now died. Initial reservations about staying back in Zamfara have also ebbed; no bandit attacks nor Boko Haram yet, none of those things that made his mother wail when his NYSC call-up letter arrived and doomed him to the Northern hinterland.
He’d spend his days in Tsafe camp zombeing around, counting down until he could flee back to Lagos, only taking part in parades because marching made him feel a little less useless.
Until the evening he sprained his ankle and hobbled to the clinic, where the physio whose hands were maybe a little too strong (for a woman, he thought), who forced him to take pills (which he hated), introduced herself as Nonyelum.
“Stay with me,” she said. “That’s what it means in Igbo.”
Even after his leg healed, he kept going back to the clinic. They’d gist until lights-out and he’d forget to get supper from mammy market, so she’d give him glucose D powder.
But Nonyelum wouldn’t relocate to Lagos because she couldn’t afford it.
When Ayo told his mother he wouldn’t be relocating, she cast and bound every evil spirit trying to lead her son to an untimely death.
Outside, Hayin Buba Area bustles: the arrhythmia of footsteps, the cacophony of motorcycle horns, the catharsis of street food aromas.
Someone must have told Ayo’s mother he’s eligible for relocation after camp, because she’s on his case again. “Engineer Azeez says your slot in Chevron is still open,” she said last week, on one of those dreary phone calls.
Two nights ago, it was: “Imagine the opportunities you’re missing out on just to rot away in that backward desert.”
Yesterday: “This is the Heaven every corper dreams of and you’re throwing it away?”
Nonyelum’s off-key rendition of Fireboy’s Like I Do fills the tiny apartment from the kitchenette.
Ayo leans in the doorway and watches her whisking eggs: short dreadlocks standing defiantly like little antennae, shoulders and hips swaying to tone-deaf a capella.
He steps in and hugs her from behind.
“Limme jor,” she says.
In this moment, Heaven can wait.