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“So…you’re not going to tell me what happened to you, Temi?”
Uyi was sitting with Temi on her bed, under the dimming light of a rechargeable lantern in her bedroom. The power had gone out, having run out of electricity credits on the meter. Temi was wrapped in a thin bedsheet, her fingers toying with the frames of her glasses, while Uyi sat facing her with knees drawn up to rest his chin on.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Temi replied his question. “And Uyi… I think it’s late. And you should go.”
Uyi looked at her, surprised. “Late?” he stared at the clock on the wall. “Temi, it’s just nine.”
“I know. Still, just…go” she looked around her restlessly, avoiding his eyes. “I know I sound rude but I just want to be alone now.”
“Alone to do what?” Uyi asked, not liking the edgy tone his voice was carrying. “You want to cry yourself to death? Look at your body. Someone did this to you and you’re protecting the person?”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it, Uyi. Please, it’s too traumatic for me. Just go.”
Uyi was stunned at her change of mood. He felt annoyance rise in him and he didn’t understand why. He blamed it on lack of sleep. “So I’m just good for holding you when you cry, abi? I don’t qualify enough to know what goes on in your life. Then why did you call me?”
“Because I need you.”
“Make up your mind, Temi. You need me, you don’t, which one?”
“My life is screwed up!” she cried.
“And whose isn’t?! Is it my own that is perfect? Do you have any idea where I’m coming from? Because I come here and hold you in your worst times, you somehow think I have no problems of my own?!”
“Uyi, you won’t understand.”
“Enlighten me! I want to understand! Geez! That’s why I’m here! I’m probably even more screwed up than you. Did you know I’ve lost my job?”
He waited for Temi to respond but she kept her face to her glass frames.
“Yeah. I’m no longer working in Greek Elysium. All because of a stupid decision I made to sleep with Damaris.”
Temi raised her head and sought out his eyes.
“And now her father is breathing down my back. Temi, as you see me here, I’m tired of my life already. I’m just twenty-nine but I feel like I’m going on forty because of the load I’ve been carrying on my shoulders for years. I’ve never known what it means to be young, to have fun, or to even fall in love!” he laughed sarcastically. “All I’ve had were girls that wanted nothing but sex from me just because I was not up to their standards socially and financially. Apart from them, my life bored me to death. It was all books and responsibility. I won two scholarships in school but all the money went home to my younger sisters and their children. In fact one of my sisters rented a house where she stays with her boyfriend in my name. All the money finished before I graduated. I didn’t rock a dime. I went back to square one and I have been hustling since, even with all my IQ! And just when God gave me another chance with Greek Elysium, I went and slept with the wrong girl. Now, all I have is gone!” Uyi laughed again mirthlessly.
“So, Temi, my useless life should make you feel better about yourself. The fact that there is another person more troubled than you in this small space should give you hope. And when that person asks you to put his load on him, he’s asking only because he has carried worse and he can still carry yours.”
Uyi wiped a thin film of sweat covering his forehead and continued. “Temi, I don’t know you that well to demand that you share your secrets with me but I know myself well enough to know that you’re doing something to me when you cry like that. Maybe it’s just my nature but I can’t stand your tears…”
“You slept with Damaris?” Temi interjected.
“Damaris is not the issue here, Temi.” He made to hold her hand but she moved away. “What I told you earlier as I held you, I’ll not repeat but God knows that I meant it and I’ll not take it back and I…”
“Uyi?” Temi cut him off with a voice so low that he strained his ear to hear. “Please, go.”
Suddenly Uyi became aware of the heavy silence in the room. Not a sound was heard except the deep breathing coming from Temi as she spilled more tears, burying her head in her pillow.
“I’ll come by tomorrow morning to check on you,” Uyi finally said. It was the only way he could redeem his pride. “Please, don’t forget to take your drugs.”
He got off the bed, mumbled a goodbye and walked out.
As he sat in a cab going back home, he slapped himself inwardly for acceding to Temi’s wish. He told himself that he shouldn’t have listened to her. It was clear she was going through a painful ordeal and leaving her to herself was not the best decision. What if she did something stupid like try to kill herself? Or worst still, let the person in who had bruised up her body? Following that line of thought, Uyi almost told the cab driver to turn around but he recalled the look on her face when he had told her about Dami. He was sure he had seen loathing in her eyes.
“It can’t be worst than how I feel.” He found himself thinking out loud.
“You say?” the cab driver asked, slowing down, but Uyi shook his head.
“Just dey go.”
You can’t be depressing yourself like this, man. This time his thoughts remained in his head. You’re too young to be thinking too much.
So he took his own advice and tried to think of happier things. And the first thought that stabbed his mind was Temi. It had taken him only seconds as he held her earlier, to realize that he had feelings for her. It wasn’t the same with Dami who stirred his desires and his wild side. Being around Dami released his inhibitions and reminded him that he was young. She made him forget his worries and brought out his youth. She was a poster girl for seizing the moment and enjoying life as it came. But Temi was different. Temi had an essence around her that made him breathe easy and feel at home; she was a picture of comfort and of calm. Who on earth had gone and hurt her that terribly?
His phone rang and he guessed it was Dami. She had called him five times in the past two minutes even after he had sent a text telling her to be patient that he was on his way home. He wasn’t in the mood to speak to anyone but he adjusted his sitting as he picked her call.
“Is this Uyi?” a strange male voice spoke into Uyi’s ear and he pulled the phone away and frowned at it before returning to the call.
“You need to come and get your girlfriend.”
“Please, who are you?” Uyi asked.
“A friend. Damaris is with me. Come and get her, please. I’m sending you a text with the address.”
The guy hung up and Uyi stared at his phone, confused at the call. What was wrong with Dami? And where had she gone?
He got into the process of dialing back when an SMS arrived and he clicked it open. It was the address of a house in Gwarinpa.
“Oga, abeg you know Asaba Street for Gwarinpa?” Uyi asked the cab driver.
“Ehn.” The man nodded.
“Carry me go there,” he said with a tired yawn.
He found her outside a high, black gate that led to a lavish house on Asaba Street. She was sitting on a bench alone, dressed in a long, black jalabiya. Her hair was tousled, her feet, bare and her face was stained with mascara-run tears. Uyi thought she looked lovely though, and would make a beautiful photo sitting that way.
He told the cab driver to stop and he got down. Dami looked up, saw him and rushed into his arms.
“What happened, Dami? I thought I left you at home. Whose house is this?”
“Let’s go home. I didn’t come with my car.”
“What happened? Who was the guy that called me with your phone?”
Dami merely shook her head to the questions. “Let’s go…”
As Uyi tried to help her into the cab, the pedestrian gate of the house before them creaked open and a guy who seemed in his early thirties appeared. He was carrying Dami’s handbag, dress, slippers, phone and what looked like a pair of underwear.
“Damaris?” the guy called but Dami only squeezed Uyi tighter and buried her face in deeper. The guy walked to Uyi and nodded some form of greeting. “Uyi, right?”
“I’m Tahir. And if she’s your girlfriend, you need put her on a tight leash.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Uyi asked, a scowl slowly screwing up his face.
“Ask her. No responsible girl should be playing strip poker with four guys in a room.”
“What are you talking about?” Uyi questioned, pushing Dami aside briefly but she held on.
“Baby, let’s go.” She tugged at him. Tahir handed Uyi the items in his hand and was heading back to the house but Uyi stopped him.
“At least I deserve to hear what happened from you since you called me,” Uyi said, taking short steps towards Tahir.
There was a party in full swing at Uyi’s when he got back home with Dami. A crowd of people whom he visualized always hanging by their phones, waiting for Ovie and Peter to invite them over, occupied every available space in the house. Fortunately for Uyi, he found only a smooching couple in his bedroom which he curtly dismissed. He locked the door behind himself and Dami and unleashed held anger on her.
“Oya, start explaining to me what went on between you and those boys in that house!”
Dami looked at Uyi like he was crazy and concentrated on getting something out of her handbag. Uyi grabbed the bag from her and flung it to the bed.
“I’m talking to you!”
“Don’t talk to me like that,” she said slowly, resting her hand on her waist. Uyi was miffed at her insolence.
“Dami, don’t piss me off this evening. You don’t want to see me get angry. Tell me what you went to do in your ex’s house and how you ended up playing strip poker with him and his friends.”
She hesitated, playing with the collar on Uyi’s t-shirt. When she saw he meant business, she let down her hand and spoke. “So you won’t even ask for my own side of the story?”
“Is there anything you want to refute that Tahir told me?!”
“Tahir hates me!” Dami shouted back. “He never liked me, not even while I was going out with Aminu. He was always doing the big brother thing on us!”
“So you’re saying he cooked up lies about you to me?”
“Okay, let’s go through his lies and please stop me whenever any of them doesn’t ring a bell.”
“I’m listening.” Dami crossed her arms defiantly.
“It was Aminu’s birthday and he invited you to his house and you went.”
“He and his friends were getting high and you joined.”
“Somewhere along the line, he told you he was sleepy and crashed on his bed, leaving you with his friends. Any smart girl would have taken the cue and left, being that the asshole who invited her couldn’t even see her to the door… wait, I’m not done. But you stayed back and continued drinking with his friends.”
Dami was silent. She pouted insolently and looked away.
“Yes or no?”
“Some idiot suggested you play strip poker and you, the only female in the room with no common sense, agreed. Yes or no?”
“Uyi, my nudity is nothing to me. Before I get jobs, I have to completely go nude before designers. Ask any model. And when we’re doing a fashion show, we’re always naked and there are guys everywhere and nobody is bothering about anybody. It’s only in this foolish Nigeria that breasts mean something to horny boys. And by the way, I wasn’t completely nude in Aminu’s room. I had my panties on.”
“Can you hear yourself, Damaris?! You’re even defending your shameless behavior!”
Dami walked away from Uyi to one of the windows in the room. “I did nothing wrong…”
“Until you felt you could climb the bed where your ex was sleeping. For what?!”
“I was trying to get my clothes!” She turned to face him. “I didn’t climb it to seduce him or anything! I wanted to get my clothes! How was I supposed to know that he would grab me and…”
As much as she tried to put up a strong façade, Uyi could see she was struggling with the memory of what had happened to her.
“And what, Dami?” Uyi was curious to know what she was finding hard to reveal. It was the same thing Tahir said he couldn’t share with him. “Dami, what did Aminu do to you?”
Dami shook her head strongly and began walking to the bathroom but Uyi stopped her. “What-did-Aminu-do?”
She shook her head again.
“Talk to me, my friend! What did the boy do to you?!”
“We finished the strip poker… and I told them I wanted to go home and one of them offered to drop me off. So I… climbed over the bed where…Aminu was sleeping and…” Dami stopped and sniffed. “I…was crawling to the side where my dress was and he…grabbed me and…” She stopped again.
“He tore my underwear and…”
“Did he rape you?”
“God, no,” she answered quickly. “But he…he was touching me everywhere… I was screaming and begging him but he refused to stop. It was so embarrassing and I was scared for my life. I thought they were all going to rape me. That was when Tahir came in…”
“What is wrong with you, Damaris?! Really, what were you thinking could have happened if Tahir had not been at home at that point and walked in to save you?! You think those boys wouldn’t have raped you?! That you would just wear your clothes and have them drop you at home?!”
“Don’t shout on me! How was I supposed to know that Aminu would even think of touching me like that?! I trusted him!” she cried.
“You don’t trust a boy with your boobs in his freaking face! My God! I don’t even know what to tell you, if I should feel sorry for you or slap you silly! Did it not occur to you that from the moment you took off your dress you were merely seconds from being raped?!”
“You know what, Uyi? I don’t want to talk about this again! I’m going home!”
“My friend, stop being a child!”
“I thought you were going to understand!”
“Me! Understand me! If you love me, you would!”
“Well, I’m sorry that I don’t.”
The music from the sitting room stopped at that moment, bringing with it complete silence and a chorus of complain from the partiers.
“You don’t what, Uyi?” Dami asked with a face of dread, her voice missing at the edges. “You don’t understand me or you don’t love me. Which one?”
“Neither,” Uyi replied and rubbed his forehead. He saw a miserable look fill her eyes but there was nothing he could do to stop it. He didn’t even attempt to. Black, mascara tears slid down her porcelain face and it seemed she had something to say but she only rubbed her eyes and walked away from him. Reggae music broke into the air and his head began to pound, enhanced by the fact that he had not slept in twenty-four hours. He watched as she disrobed from the jalabiya Tahir had given her and got into her own dress. Something told him to stop her from leaving but he just couldn’t. She picked her handbag and phone and stood before him.
“You’re going to be my first heartbreak,” she said. Uyi knew she wasn’t lying. It was written all over her face and it had even gone all the way down to her perfect shoulders which were presently slouched. His inner voice congratulated him for hurting two girls in one day.
“I thought the feelings were shared. I thought you really felt something, Uyi. I thought… You know what? Let’s just end this.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine.”
But she was not. Her body was literally shaking as she sobbed.
“Okay,” Uyi said. “It’s over then.”
She turned around and walked out the door. He didn’t go after her but locked the door, fell on his bed and crucified himself for what he had just done to her.
Uyi slept through the night and through the following day, having taken a sleeping pill from Doctor Ahmed next door. He didn’t hear the knocks on his door or even his phone ringing a million times. Peter and Ovie were worried he was dead when they got back from work, so they went to one of his windows and hosed in a full force of water. He shot up from his bed and when he collected himself, rained abuses on them. It was dark now and he picked his phone to go through his missed calls and texts. They were mostly from Dami. The other ones were from Ovie and Peter. He also noticed his Twitter icon indicating that he had alerts. And to confirm it, Ovie stuck his face to his window, telling him to check what Twitter had in store for him. So Uyi did, and to his horror, discovered that Dami was trending. The story was that her ex, Aminu and his friends had actually set her up the night before. While Aminu pretended to sleep, he was actually taking discrete photos of her nude body. He showed no mercy and uploaded them on Twitter and Totameavirgin.com, causing an immediate reaction from Dami’s fans and critics. His account was right away disabled by Twitter but the photos had gone round and still remained on Totameavirgin.com. As expected, Dami didn’t remain silent; she lashed back on Twitter. She replied to the tweets about her, claiming that Aminu had posted old photos from the time they were together. But the war took a new turn when people found Uyi’s hardly ever used Twitter handle and began a fresh trend about him.
Uyi sighed as he went through a few of the unfriendly tweets. He instantly deactivated his account, threw his phone to the bed and entered the bathroom for a shower.
When he returned to his room, his mind was made up. He was going to end it with Dami but first, he needed to return the check to her father. The problem was it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
When Uyi rang the doorbell of the Alechenus’, he hadn’t expected to see Dami behind the door. Wearing a mini skirt and a bikini top, Uyi’s eyes were assaulted by her sexiness at first glance. He didn’t understand why his attraction to her was so feral, because as he stood there, all he could think of was the different ways he wanted to have sex with her in her father’s sitting room. But he looked at her face and saw her broken heart sketched on it and his senses returned to him. She moved away and let him in.
“I’m so sorry about yesterday,” She said with her head bent. “I’m also sorry about the whole Twitter thing. Aminu’s an ass.”
“Dami, I understand. No need to explain.”
She shut the door and offered him a comfortable sofa to sit.
“Daddy will soon be out.”
She took a couch opposite him and faced the television.
Uyi forced himself to look away from her but he couldn’t. He came to realize that every time his eyes considered her, it was a perfect moment that needed to be caught on camera. And he wasn’t so sure he wanted to throw away such moments just yet. Dami was an onion whose layers he still wanted to discover and it didn’t matter that her virginity was gone; to him, she was yet to be explored and he was finding it hard to accept that someone else was soon going to claim what he called his territory.
Uyi heard Anyebe’s voice and sprang from the sofa like someone who was caught doing something bad. The older man smiled, for he had actually seen Uyi’s covetous eyes on his daughter. He walked into the sitting room, his walking stick clacking beside him.
“Good evening, sir,” Uyi bowed his head.
“Evening. I have a meeting soon. Can we quickly speak in the kitchen?”
Uyi followed Anyebe and they entered a large, sparking, white kitchen with blinding lights. Anyebe went to one of the refrigerators and got out a bottle of beer for Uyi. He passed him a cork opener as he took out a transparent bowl that had a blue lid which he placed on the kitchen table. He went for a fork next and a bottle of salad dressing. He pointed a chair at Uyi, pulled his to sit and began to attend to his bowl of salad.
“Talk to me, Omoruyi.”
Uyi brought out his wallet from his pocket and got out Anyebe’s check. He walked to him and put the check in front of him. Anyebe unfolded it as Uyi went back to his chair.
“It’s still blank.” Anyebe continued with his salad as Uyi remained standing. “Why?”
“Sir…it’s not working with Dami and I. We’re not well-suited for each other and taking that check would only mean I’m with her because of the money and not because I love her.”
“And you think I didn’t know that when I gave it to you?”
Uyi looked at the man briefly before he replied. “Sir, I’m sorry, I just can’t accept it. Thank you for the offer, though.”
Anyebe smiled and Uyi was misled into thinking things were cool between them.
“I want to take my leave now.” He said and Anyebe smiled again. “Good night, sir.”
Uyi turned away from him and was making for the door when he heard Anyebe’s frosty voice.
“You refuse my check, you refuse my beer but you take my daughter’s virginity and think you can get away with it?”
Uyi was afraid to turn around. He rested his eyes on a scratched out area on the door that was caused by constant contact with human hands.
“There is no pond which the sun cannot dry up, Omoruyi. If you walk out that door, I will treat you as my enemy, one who came to take what I have preciously guarded for twenty-seven years. And in that respect, I will unleash the full vigor of my rage on you. Is that okay with you?”
Uyi continued staring at the defect on the door in front of him and he felt a strong need to paint over it, to make it like the rest of the door. And there, at that moment, he realized how perfect his life had been until Dami walked into it. But unlike the door, it was painfully clear to him that he couldn’t paint over her.
Uyi turned around to Anyebe, his mind concluded on the matter.
“I need you to understand that as untamed and as foolish as Damaris is, she’s still my jewel and I don’t have to tell you what a man like me can do to a man like you. She came home last night, brokenhearted and inconsolable and all she wanted was you.”
“Sir, honestly, Damaris is too much for me to handle.”
Anyebe laughed. “A man chases a woman until she catches him and then he begins to run away.”
“I want a job,” Uyi said out of nowhere.
“A job? Okay.” Anyebe forked around his salad in swift movements. “Is that all?”
“It has to be a good job where I can finish my NYSC and I can be retained.”
“Done. Anything more?”
“No, sir. I can handle myself with that. Can I go home now?”
“Why are you in a hurry? This is your home.” Anyebe rose up, still chewing. He opened the fridge and took out a bottle of water. On his way out, he stopped to tap Uyi on his shoulder.
“I hope you’re prepared for the life ahead of you. Where you’re going is somewhere you’ve never been before and Damaris will prove to be more than a handful. But bear with her; the novelty will eventually wear off.”
Anyebe walked out and Uyi collapsed into his chair. He let out a deep breath and felt it go with a rush of perspiration coming to his forehead. He pulled the beer bottle to himself, uncorked it and alone in the bright kitchen he tried to drink his conscience to numbness.