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Nandir had an oval face with high cheekbones and a narrow chin. Her doll-like eyes were always accentuated by long eyelashes and thinly plucked eyebrows. A long nose rested above constantly pursed lips and she possessed dark, glowing skin that was almost without blemish. She wasn’t particularly beautiful facially but her appearance drawn out by eye-catching clothes and a relentlessly spilling cleavage always turned heads wherever she went.
Nandir adored the attention. In fact, she thrived on it. She could never be seen out of her house without makeup and some revealing outfit, even under the chilly conditions of Jos weather. There was no such thing as casual appearance with her. But for sad reasons, she had stumbled out of her one-room apartment in nothing but a pair of jeans and a rumpled, shapeless tee which was faded and frayed at the edges, and had hired a taxi all the way to the Yakubu Gowon Airport to pick Jimi. Her hair was in its state of natural mess and the strip of fake eyelashes on her left eye was hanging loose, giving the eye a droopy look. A zit on her chin glistened under parched lips that were void of lipstick or gloss.
It was a rare sighting and Jimi could hardly recognize the mess that waved at him from the backseat of a taxi that was waiting at the parking lot. He lifted his Ray-Ban’s a tad to have a proper look and sure enough it was Nandir, his ex. Dodging a couple of ladies that walked by him, he walked to the taxi.
“Hi,” Nandir said. She spared no smile.
“Hi.” Jimi dug his hands into his pockets to warm himself. The change of weather was getting to him.
“Where’s Nanle?” He asked, getting into the taxi hurriedly.
“He asked me to come pick you. His boss won’t let him out of the office.”
The taxi driver started the car and put it into motion.
“Sorry about your wife,” Nandir uttered, searching Jimi’s face. “You got all my texts and pings?”
“I heard she was beautiful…”
Jimi released a tolerant smile.
“Well, God knows best. I’m glad you’re okay.”
She turned to her phone and said no more. Jimi wasn’t sure what to make of her odd behavior. This was not the Nandir he knew. She used to be talkative and bubbly, even though she always carried around her hidden mean girl. Yeah, that part of her he knew so well. It was the part that dumped him after one year of seeing each other just because he had refused to take their intimate moments to the next level. That same part also went spreading a rumor that he was incapable as a man to please a woman. The experience did significant damage to his already low self-esteem. He had shut her out completely as he felt she deserved but it hadn’t stopped her from trying to reach him, which was why he found it strange that after all the time spent bugging him with messages, she was now silent, having come face to face with him after four years. But then again, she wasn’t looking like herself. However, he let it pass as he dug out his phone from his pocket and faced it.
“You can just ask, you know,” she finally said when they hit the road and headed into Jos city. Jimi pretended not to hear. He turned to the window and kept his view on the beautiful scenery that flew past them. The green was refreshing. It began from the trees down to the lush, wild grasses below. Rocks also dotted the vista and Jimi wished he had his camera with him to take shots for a documentary he was scripting.
“I dumped my guy,” Nandir revealed.
“Hmmm… Look who’s a serial heartbreaker now,” Jimi muttered without humor.
“And look who finally had sex.”
They had always been like that with each other. Their conversations used to border on cold taunts that led to affectionate moments afterwards. Jimi was surprised that the eccentric chemistry still existed between them.
He stared at the clouds. The blue shade was heavenly and unbelievable, like a perfect painting. He used to be one of those kids that liked to lie on the ground and look up at the skies just to make out what the clouds created. He still longed for such moments as an adult but clouds like that were extinct in Lagos. He lifted his phone up and out the window and tried to capture a formation that looked a loaf of bread but the megapixels were not up to par.
“I shouldn’t have left you,” Nandir murmured when his hands came back into the car. “It was just a bad mistake, Jimi. Will you forgive me?”
Jimi considered her words. Nandir had a way of trapping him with her language. What did ‘forgive’ really mean? Was it the plain dictionary definition or was she saying they could, with mere words, just gloss over all that had occurred between them and his years with Marie and continue where she had stopped things?
Nandir went further. “Will you forget the rumor I spread about you, that I was drunk and said it to equally drunk friends out of a bruised ego and a vengeful heart?”
Still another trap. And Jimi wasn’t buying.
“Let’s talk about this some other time, Na’an,” Jimi spoke in a dismissive tone. “I’m not going home, by the way. Let’s go to Nanle’s.”
“But Nanle lives in Utan and that’s like the other end of town.”
Jimi had his reasons for not picking his house which wasn’t so far from where they were at the moment. He didn’t want Nandir following him home.
“I’m sure my house is covered in dust and I can’t start cleaning.”
It was an authentic excuse but a lie. His mother already hired someone who went to the house to clean it twice a week.
“I can help you clean.”
Nandir looked at him briefly before she addressed the taxi driver.
“Oga carry us go back Utan.”
The driver nodded and the journey progressed in silence. Jimi was deeply depressed, the type that often sent him into taking medication or doing reckless things. The weight of shocking truths about Marie that had come to him that morning was beginning to bear down on him very fast. At first, it had all been too much to take in and he became instantly numb but now everything was replaying in his head and he was crushing under. His spells of depression often attacked him from nowhere, even if he went through the rigorous motions of doing everything by the textbook to stop them as his therapist laid out for him. Marie had been the only remedy for his episodes. Now where was he to go when she was the cause of the pain?
“Been crying for days.” Nandir sniffed. “He said I was full of drama, blah-blah-blah. Same old story guys always tell girls. Said I was artificial too because of my makeup and nails and eyelashes, so I dumped him. But Jimi, am I? You do understand that as a woman I need these things, right? You never had any problems with me being myself, did you?”
“I loved you, Na’an but I guess the nice guy always gets the boot.”
Nandir had nothing to reply him as she turned to her window.
“So you and Nanle now live together?” Jimi asked the moment they got into the home of his childhood friend, Nanle. Nandir had taken off her top and made herself comfortable, causing Jimi a great amount of unease.
“We’re cousins na,” she said. “We can’t live with each other again? My rent expired and he has this extra bedroom, so…”
Jimi hadn’t counted on her being in the same space as he. The chemistry between them was unspoken, yet compelling. They were broken souls, both needing mending.
She threw open the windows in the sitting room, letting in a gust of unsullied air. Jimi sat on the floor and turned on the television as she disappeared into the kitchen and minutes later returned with a plate of one of his favorite meals.
“The moment Nanle called and told me you’d be coming, I made gote for you. Just the way you like it. No salt, no seasoning, lots of cabbage and fish.”
Jimi smiled. She made it the way he used to like it but Marie had changed his taste buds and he wasn’t so sure he wanted Nandir’s mix.
“I’m not hungry, Na’an. Maybe later. Thanks, though.”
Nandir was disappointed. She said something nasty, took the meal back to the kitchen and retired to her room. Jimi laid his head back to rest on the couch behind him and gave in to his issues as the hours went by. He already missed afternoon prayers and knew he wasn’t going to make it for the one at sunset. It was logical that God wouldn’t want him bowing his head before him while he harbored deep hatred for his wife in his heart. It also didn’t make sense to be around anyone else. It was best to leave before Nandir reappeared. His home called out to him. He craved the aloneness it would offer. Strapping his bag, he stood up and prepared to leave but the sound of Nanle’s car outside stopped him. Jimi could hear Nanle announce his coming with hearty shouts.
“Where you? Where dis omo ale?” He burst in and stood by the door. Jimi smiled. “You no try, Olujimi. You for inform boys on time make we you give you special welcome party na? Dis one wen you appear like dis after everything wen don befall you and you no allow us properly offer our condolences, e no good.”
“Mutumi na, bar wanan magana d’Allah. Marie’s gone. May her soul rest in peace o jare.”
“You know as e be with us Muslims na. E don happen already as God do am. Na to say alhamdulilah kawai.”
“Abi o. It is well but so sad mehn.”
“Yeah, it is,” Jimi murmured, his tone carrying a meaning only he understood. “So how e be you na? Which levels?” He shook Nanle’s pudgy hand and they did a ‘guy hug’.
“I dey.” Nanle picked a comfy couch with his eyes, slumped his overweight body into it and began unknotting his tie. “I swear bank work na die. I suppose no come back by now o, but my madam send me go somewhere. I come tanda for there, use the opportunity divert come house. As I siddon here now, she dey ping me. Craze woman. So how your pikin and momsi na?”
Jimi told him they were doing well as he sat on the floor again, crossing his legs lotus style. They went into conversation which was all about catching up on the past. It veered off to Marie’s ‘death’ intermittently but Jimi would steer it in the direction of other things again. Ultimately when it seemed Marie was not going to leave the discourse, Nanle suggested a drive to Rayfield where Jimi’s residence was located. The place of destination was Steffan Hotel and Suites which had a lounge bar that was a hotspot for Nanle and his friends during the weekends.
As Jimi and Nanle set to leave the house, Nandir appeared. Neither of the guys wanted to take her along but she insisted, got dressed and followed them. She seemed a lot elated, like the Nandir Jimi used to know. He was relieved that she also had the decency to change into something more appealing. A fitted blouse above leggings revealed familiar cleavage that for clear motives was constantly thrown into his face all evening.
There were four other males when they got to Steffan’s but she stuck with him, linking her hand in the crock of his arm and resting her head on him. At some point his mind wandered off painfully to how things had changed so drastically, that she could even boldly display her feelings for him just because Marie was gone from the picture. He did everything he could to pass the message that he wasn’t comfortable with her coziness, especially since everyone around felt he was still in bereavement, but Nandir pretended not to notice. Each passing minute got her snuggling closer to him. He was cornered by her breath on his neck and the suppleness of her skin against his, and he began to have the familiar sensation of nervousness that usually came with such intimacy. The setting became tight and he longed to leave but he had no excuse. Fortunately, one of the guys invited three girls from another table to join them. As they merged both tables, Jimi used the opportunity to announce he was done for the night and apologized for not staying any longer. His friends replied that they understood but he wasn’t so sure what conclusions each of them carried, whether they thought he was leaving because he was still mourning or because he couldn’t stand the added female presence around him, or if it was because he was going to spend the night with Nandir. The last thought increased his unease as he headed for the door with her still linked in his arm. He begged her to stay but her excuse was that she needed to drive him home and bring Nanle’s car back.
When they got to where the car was parked, Jimi disengaged himself and got into the passenger seat. She took the wheels and headed for his house. The seduction worked out by her while she drove was palpable. Jimi could still pick out her perfume on him and it stirred something he hadn’t felt since Marie disappeared. He didn’t trust himself to resist anything Nandir would throw his way.
“Can I come in?” Nandir asked when Jimi stepped out of the car. It was starting to drizzle. The clouds were going to give way for a heavier downpour in no time.
Jimi looked up. “You should go before it starts raining.”
“Knowing Nanle, he won’t leave Steffan’s until like one-ish. It’s just eleven. Can I come in and wait…please?”
“Nandir…” Jimi complained. “This is not a good idea.”
Jimi gave in. He turned to the gate and from his bag he produced a bunch of keys and unlocked a huge padlock manning the pedestrian gate leading to his family home. He pushed it in and let Nandir through. A huge duplex stood dark and high above them. Lightning flashed in the distance and following was an earsplitting thunder that got Nandir into a shriek and a giggle. Heavy drops of rain came pelting down and she started a run towards the front door. Jimi came after her and they struggled for space under an inadequate covering of roof that barricaded the entryway of the house. He fumbled with the key in the lock while she hopped futilely to avoid the windy rain that bore down mercilessly on them. Finally, the door gave in and they stumbled in, Nandir laughing and shaking herself. Jimi shut the door behind them and they were welcomed into darkness.
“A fuse is bad and I don’t have energy to fix it,” Jimi said, explaining the lack of electricity.
“Well lucky you, at least you have the luxury of NESCO that gives uninterrupted power supply. We are still stuck in the dark ages with PHCN.”
“I have candles in the kitchen. Wait here.”
“No way. I’m following you.”
Nandir held his hand as he moseyed his way to the kitchen with the backlight of his phone. He switched on the gas cylinder and ignited the cooker which brought a blue flame into the large kitchen. On one of the two refrigerators facing the door, he picked a pair of scented candles and lit them. He passed one to Nandir and held the other as he led her out of the kitchen and up a staircase. The twenty-year old house creaked under the assault of the wind and the rain raged on louder with each step they took upstairs. Jimi piloted the way to a cozy sitting room and set the candles on a glass center table. They both sat on a Persian rug on the floor. Jimi kept his distance. To keep his mind off anything distracting, he deliberately ventured into the topic of Nandir’s breakup but it seemed he had only stoked a smoldering flame. He hadn’t been wise enough to predict the upshot—Nandir, crying on his shoulders; he, trying to soothe her and they, ultimately getting too snug for comfort.
And thus it happened that he fell into kissing her. For a moment he forgot his pain as he savored the smooth feel of her inner lips and tasted the breath beneath her tongue. It made him remember Marie…it made him forget her. And then he got lost, a fresh hunger driving his hands to seek Nandir’s body without restraint; for to him, he was seeking healing. He explored crevices, curves and corners. He probed with his tongue as if digging for treasure. Nandir’s moans became lost in the sounds of the rain as every part of him dug into her. She was driven feral by pleasure and she equaled his wild motions with every move of her own. From the floor, to the couch, to the wall and back to the floor again, she gave it to him as he gave her. But in the end Jimi did not find what he was searching for. Nandir was not Marie. She wasn’t going to replace her. He doubted anyone ever would.
Nandir lay flat on her back afterwards, breathing hard with a smile on her face while the rain slowed. She was sated. Jimi was not. Left was a bad taste in his mouth and weighty guilt upon his heart.
“Damn! Your wife must have done this to you!” She giggled. “Best loving ever! I’m coming back for more.”
Jimi zipped up his denim and sat away. He was disgusted at himself and angry as well.
“Oops. Nanle’s calling.” Nandir flashed her buzzing phone. She rose up and dressed up slowly, seductively, trying to catch Jimi’s attention again but his face was to the wall opposite him.
“Jimi, if this was too soon for you or too weird, ignore what I said about wanting more. It’s not like this is love. I’m done with that shit…”
“I know.” Jimi’s tone was indifferent. Nandir read it and said no more. When she was fully dressed she asked him to walk her to the car. He took a candle and they went downstairs. He left the candle at the staircase, walked her out and returned. He picked the candle again and began up the stairs but something stopped him. From the corner of his eyes, he believed he had seen a figure standing by the kitchen door. He turned around slowly and came down with counted steps. Each stride drew him closer to what had drawn his eyes – Marie’s unmistakable person, standing with all audacity in his home. In another story, she would have been a ghost and it would have been a haunting.
Jimi stopped when he had her face in full view. She was staring back at him, unflinching. For a long time, he couldn’t speak. He broke the hush by setting the candle on a decorative glass stand. It was fixed to the wall by the front door and held an array of Chinese figurines.
“Jimi…” Marie finally whispered. He almost didn’t hear her.
“Unbelievable. What guts! What are you doing here?” He found his voice in anger.
“I…” She was walking to him.
“What the hell are you doing here, Marie?! You have the guts to show up here of all places?! After all you have put me and my family through?!”
“I am sorry–”
“SORRY?! Marie, you died! I buried you! You died!” He ground his teeth as he looked at her from top to bottom. “I don’t think I can handle looking at you one bit! You disgust me! Now…” he pointed at the door, “get the hell out!”
“Jimi…please let me explain–”
“I DON’T WANT TO HEAR!”
He opened the door and marched back to her.
With a rough yank, he took her hand and dragged her towards the door but she fought back, a line of tears coursing down her cheek.
Jimi stopped for a moment and squeezed her hand in his.
“How could you? How could…” He choked and his lips trembled violently. Tears flooded his eyes and he did nothing to stop them as they surged down. He tried to speak again but couldn’t get the words out. He pointed at the door once more and let go of her hand. “don’t let me push you out. Leave.”
“Jimi, there’s nothing I’ll ever say in this life that’ll make you understand why I did the things I did. And there is no second that I don’t regret all of it. But I’ve chosen my path and I’m willing to face whatever consequence it brings me. All I ask is just that I stay here for a couple of days…”
A hard slap met her face that bruised her upper lip on impact. She ignored the pain and dared to look into his eyes but a second slap, more vicious than the former flung her face to the side. Yet, again she found the courage to keep her balance and stop the next onslaught. She held his hands midair and brought it down.
“don’t do it, Jimi. don’t…” He struggled to free himself but her surprisingly firm grip kept him in place. “I’m not stopping you because of me. I deserve to have you beat me to a pulp but this is for you. I don’t want the experience to destroy you. Once you hit me, you can’t take it back. So please, don’t.”
He shoved her and stepped away.
“I hate you!” He spat out in full rancor. He had so much more to spew out but the words were stuck in his throat.
“I’m sorry, Jimi. I really love you and that was why I left–”
“Chimarya! don’t push me! I am this close! I said leave my house now! You’re dead to me!”
“No,” she said firmly. “You want me to stay and give you answers and that’s what I’ll do. I didn’t plan to meet you here. I was running away but since God has brought us together, I need to stay and explain myself. I love you…”
Marie didn’t see the third slap coming. It caused an instant weakening of her knees and she felt herself heading for the floor slowly. She gave up her fight to stop him and waited for more. There wasn’t going to be any move to protect herself. If he wanted to expend whatever emotion he was carrying, it was okay because she knew he was incapable of putting it all in words. She understood and loved him that way, remembering the struggles he had faced with himself and how they both had painstakingly built his ego. But with one heartless act, she had crumbled it all in one day. Hence, if he wanted to hurt her, she would allow it, for it would make her heart beat again. It would make her feel and bring a pool of good and bad emotions to her center. Like a flood it would wash away the pain and regret for years she had carried. She might become human again.
So she waited…in a crouched position…
But Jimi was done hurting her. The reality of what he had done hit him. He couldn’t stand the sight of himself or her at that moment.
“Leave,” he muttered. It was a plea. He wanted to drag her up and shove her outside but he couldn’t. His love for her was as potent as his hate. He turned around and headed up the stairs and prayed to God that she would be gone before the morning arrived.