I have thirty minutes. Thirty minutes until I tell Ifeanyi that I have to be anywhere else but here, sitting at the side-lines and watching him wrestle a ball with his opponents. The last fifteen minutes, he had spent watching me eat bole, attempting to “get into my head,” and schooling his expression carefully so it would not give away his frustration at my cryptic replies.
He catches my eye at intervals, wiping sweat off his brow and giving me a wink. Suddenly, I imagine what sex with a much younger person would feel like, a person like Ifeanyi. Would he be as patient as Tonye? Taking the time to learn new things about my body everytime he touched it? Would he kiss a straight line all the way from the hollow between my breasts to my navel? or suck on my toes reverently with his eyes closed, and tell me how amazing I am even though I did nothing but lie on my back with my arms at my sides like he instructed me to?
I do not know how to feel about Ifeanyi, with the probing intensity in his eyes and his penchant for mouthing philosophy, but I want to find out. Today? Too soon? I look at my watch; I have thirteen more minutes before I tell him I have to leave.
Then, my phone rings, and I press my ear against it to the familiar sound of Chukwuedo’s voice.
“So you are sleeping with him?”
I pause. How long have I waited for this question? I still myself for its effect. I feel nothing.
“How long have you been sleeping with that lecherous old man?”
I swallow before answering, “I cannot remember. It has been so long.”
“You cannot remember?”
Chukwuedo is holding on to composure; I can tell from the heavy, ragged breathing in his silence.
“Why?” He asks finally.
“I don’t know.”
Chukwuedo pauses again, then, “Are you crazy?”
“Oh. You must be glad she died right? You are happy Aunty Akudo died because you want her filthy husband. God! Muna. I thought I was the bad child.”
I look out into the court and catch a wave from Ifeanyi just in time.
“I swear to God I will beat that bastard up the moment I lay my eyes on him. That piece of slime! I can’t believe you, Muna!”
I don’t know what to say in reply. I pause, then listen to him ask, “Hello?” twice before I hang up and fold my arms underneath my polo. I lean forward, closing my eyes as a memory comes to me. It is from the earlier days, when Tonye told me that we should never apologize for the things we have done, because we did it with the full knowledge of its effect on the people who love us.To say we are sorry, Tonye declared, is to admit that this thing between us is unintended, which, in fact, would be a lie, and lying would only add to our teaming pile of sins.
So engrossed am I, that I do not notice Ifeanyi until he is sitting right beside me, smelling of perspiration and an unfamiliar honeyed scent.
He turns me around to face him, touching my face as though it is made of porcelain.
“Why are you crying?” He asks.
“Why are you crying, Miss. Muna?” She asks, leaning forward from across the table.
I blink rapidly, looking around me. The room smells crisp and fresh. The vase on her table filled with clear liquid, its flowers spilling onto the sides in a happy burst of colours: red and yellow and white and pink. From the television at the far side of the wall whose sound has been muted, I can read the headlines in white below the animated broadcaster: NIGERIA’S PRESIDENT BUHARI TO MEET TRUMP IN WASHINGTON.
My eyes travel back to the woman, peering at me over the rims of glasses that are in danger of sliding down her small nose. She looks away when our gazes meet, choosing that moment to rummage through her drawers and retrieve a box of tissues which she pushes across to me.
“Thank you,” I say, pulling a sheet and dabbing at my eyelids. When I am done, I look up and ask, “What day is it?”
“Oh. Okay.” Yes, Honey. It’s Friday and you’re still a woman bumbling with the familiar mistakes of a teenager.
“Can I go on now, Miss Muna?”
“You are one month into your pregnancy, and an abortion is of course, still achievable. However, the law governing this policy rules that abortion is only legal if having this child is going to put your life in danger…”
I cut in, “If I wanted to hear about the laws verbatim, I would have gone to Google. I need to know, Doctor. Will you perform an abortion on me or not?”
I almost feel sorry for the Doctor, a mere girl, looking fresh out of Medical school. In the same vein, I suppress an insane urge to reach right across the table, smack her intelligent mouth, and watch the oversized glasses slip away from her shocked face.
“There is a lot at stake, Miss Muna,”The Doctor’s voice is calm even though her eyes appear shifty. “I needed to see you in person and this is why we are having this meeting. I want to be really sure that it is an abortion you want, Ma’am.”
“Why the fuck am I here if I don’t know what I want?”
“I looked at your records Ma’am. While it is a wonderful time for women between 30 – 34 to give birth, Chances get slimmer as you grow older so unless you are not interested in birthing any more children, you may want to rethink this. I would also like to know if you have discussed this with your…with the father of the baby, I mean. Is he a dominant figure in your life? Does he know?”
“This is a lot of bullshit, Doctor,” I rise, pushing my seat back with a force so strong the vase rattles and liquid spills onto the table.
“Take it easy, Miss Muna.”
“Bullshit! Do you think I am a child? Second guessing my decision like that? Should it matter to you what anyone else thinks? It is my life, you hear me?”
The Doctor stands as well, folding her arms across her chest. “I am really sorry to agitate you, Miss Muna, but rules dictate that I get some clarity,” She says.
I become silent, chastised. I stare fixedly at the spot just by the flower vase, the droplets of spilled water.
She continues, “I am sorry, Miss Muna, but I would need to speak to the father of this child before I go ahead with an abortion, which, of course, will be careful, discreet and expensive too.”
I remain silent, my thoughts racing around my head in a cat and mouse game that leave me slightly dizzy.
“Perhaps, you should have used some contraception,” She finishes.
I look up at this, stunned, a rush of anger bursting through me. “Perhaps,” I begin, “I should teach you how to mind your business, or perhaps, you should have the NMA review your license, dummy.”
She pushes her glasses up her nose, and there’s a tremor in her fingers, yet her voice is firm when she says, “I am afraid I would have to ask you to leave my office, Miss Muna.”
I pick my handbag and let out a long hiss as I stride out of the room, leaving the door open in my wake. A little childish, maybe, but I will blame it on my incensed hormones. Fuck her, meddling into my life like a typical Nigerian.
I walk out into the gust of fresh air and open my car door just as my phone begins to ring. Video call? It is Chukwuedo. I settle into my Driver seat and slide to answer, my heart sinking as his face appears on my screen.
“Hey Sister Girl,” He is now missing a front tooth so the wide grin looks like a grimace. His hair is pulled back from a prematurely reclining hairline in a tight bun, his eyebrows sporting some slashes in between them which he had earlier explained as Art.
“What do you want?” I ask coolly.
“Oh, C’mon. Are you in a bad mood? Sorry oh! I just wanted to see your fine face.”
“What do you want this time, Chukwuedo?”
“Ah. Straight to the point. Okay oh! Just 200 Sis.”
“200?” The wheels in my head start to turn. Rent is due soon, I remind myself. Rent is due soon!
“Yes, Sis. 200 thousand naira only.”
“I will try to send you 100 later tonight.”
“When will you send the remaining?”
“Soon?” he raises one menacing eyebrow. “Okay oh. I trust you. I know you don’t like trouble.”
I shift in my seat and say I have to go now; but something causes me to pause, and say, “You are my big brother, Chukwuedo,” in a pleading tone that I am suddenly ashamed of.
He smirks, purses his lips and kisses the screen with a loud smack. “Yes I know, and I love you too dear,” He replies, cutting off connection before I can react.
For a moment, before I turn on the key in its ignition, I do not know where to go, yet I know it is anywhere but home. I pick up my phone again and check Google maps for the nearest Florist shop. There is one on Adebayo Doherty road, and I nudge my car into growing Friday night traffic on Admiralty way, turning on the radio to Burna boy singing “Heaven’s Gate” in his drugged yet comforting baritone.
I may be able to appease Chukwuedo and still pay my rent if I dip a little into my savings. Just a little, like I did last month. Or I could call Aunty Amaka in London, ask her how the family is, and then lower my voice and say, “Lagos si’m Ike,” knowing that she will offer to send me money, even though she will first remind me about how bills in the white man’s land keep piling and piling. The last time, about a year ago, I had gritted my teeth, yet asked her all the same, because Chukwuedo had needed five hundred thousand naira to “sort himself out.”
My skin crawls whenever I think of my brother, and all the years that lie between us in an ugly, gaping hole. I have not seen him in nearly five years, yet he is always here, carrying the stench of our memories in his consistent phone calls, once or twice a month. The money too, it doesn’t stop. It is a cycle that I cannot control.
Still, I drive into the parking lot of Hush and Hush florist shop determined to wear my head high and my shoulders square. I walk in just so, smiling as I say hello to the trio of sales girls who appear to have materialized from nowhere.
“I don’t know a lot about flowers,” I admit with a self-deprecating chuckle. “Please point me to happy colours.”
“You have come to the right place, Ma’am,” The shortest of the girls gushes, and as I let them lead me through an aisle reserved for sweet-smelling roses, I turn and catch the eye of a woman on the next aisle.
“Oh my,” she covers her mouth before a giggle escapes it. “How rude of me! I have been staring at you.”
“Really?” I smile. “Why?”
“Your skin. It is g..glowing. I am sorry I don’t usually do this. Could you please share your skincare routine?”
“What?” I am not sure I have heard her right.
“It’s true, Ma.” A sales girl quips. “Your skin is shining very well.”
I smile slowly, suddenly self-conscious, pushing strands of my hair behind one ear.
“It is just coconut oil oh! That and black soap,” I reply, making a mental note to pick up the bottle of coconut oil on my dressing table that I have not touched in months.
“Wow!” The woman marvels. “I don’t know if that one will work for me sha, but it looks beautiful on you.”
I stare at the patches of sun-burned skin stretched taut over her high cheekbones, and the darkened knuckles of her gesturing hand, a stark contrast to the rest of her. I smile again and say thank you, and as I turn back to the girls, I feel a lifting deep down, a fluttering that is foreign, different from anything I have felt in a long time.
I have never been one to believe in signs, but I choose to see an augury in this simple compliment about my skin, and as I sashay breezily though the rows of beautiful flowers, my life appears as basic as it is now, just a woman gushing over flowers. A woman who does not look fearfully behind her when she walks, whose heart does not skip whenever she encounters a tall stranger with dreadlocks. A woman who has never hurt another human being in her life, and who is excited about the little bundle of joy blossoming inside of her.