Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - The high of their reconciliation, the uncooperative engine, the car refused to start, was hallucinating, at the sight of another woman, an army of butterflies suffused his stomach, intense and passionate kiss, searing affairs that left him with ugly memories.
She looked up and Nnamdi was in front of her. His eyes looked straight into hers unflinchingly. This was not the right time to be gazing into the eyes of an alluringly attractive man. Sanity had to be preserved. Brushing past him, Ijeoma dashed into her car. Let him stew in it. Leaving him like this made her heart ache, but she was too proud. The high of their reconciliation had been dented by finding out that it had been so easy for him to forget her. And it seemed that the pride of her car had been dented as well, her engine spluttered and died when she turned it on.
She couldn’t believe what was happening right when she needed to escape the most. Again and again, the car refused to start. When she turned the ignition, the uncooperative engine made a sound that seemed to be laughing at her futile attempts to get it to work. Ijeoma felt herself on the verge of explosion.
Surely, this much exasperation couldn’t be contained in one body… She was one second away from bursting into a torrential flood of tears when a deep soothing voice came through her window.
“I’ll take you.” Ijeoma decided to play the hand fate had dealt her. Whatever her beef with him, the fuming Adaku still waited in the office. She didn't even want to fight him off any longer.
She was in Nnamdi’s car with all her stuff before she knew it. As they drove in silence, she noticed he was smiling, out of amusement this time, not awkwardness.
“What is so funny?”
Nnamdi let out a quiet laugh. It was that of a confident and mildly amused man.
“So you sabi Igbo like that?”
Ijeoma hadn’t realised she had been cursing in Igbo at her choppy day, her manager and her car. They both burst into laughter. The tension brewed by all the day’s previous events melted into oblivion. There was something about him that always put her at ease. It was the same calm she felt when he comforted her during Obi’s hospitalisation. Her mind drifted, envisioning being held in his arms, totally at peace without a care in the world.
“You always know exactly what to say or do. When you aren’t having strange women over or robbing people at gunpoint, of course.”
The laughter died at once. A feeling of intense stupidity enveloped Ijeoma. She had no idea why she had said that. Before she could take it back, Nnamdi had veered off the road, stopping sharply by some roadside stalls. He was visibly angry.
“Who do you think you are? You no get secret? You no get past? The fact that you know mine does not give you the right to throw it in my face all the time.” He threw his hands up. “Women! You say you want honesty, then you run when you hear the truth. You say you are not interested in me, then you freak out at the sight of another woman. What the hell do you want from me?”
Ijeoma was dumbfounded. He was irate. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him, reverting to a childhood habit of playing with her fingers when nervous. She now looked down at them.
“Answer me! Answer me now!”
“A chance?” she whispered.
Nnamdi thought he was hallucinating. He could feel everything inside him softening, turning to mush. “What?”
“I said...a chance. I’m sorry for joking about that. It sounded funny in my head.” She laughed awkwardly in an attempt to minimize the gravity of what she was saying, and looked down at her fingers again. “I was scared. I still am. You know how they say, “Be careful what you wish for”? Well, I wished for someone who made me feel safe. And you do. The violence of your past scares me. But I could work through that. I just want a chance with you...”
Nnamdi felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. In their place, an army of butterflies suffused his stomach. Gently, he lifted her chin so he could see her eyes. They were sincere. Afraid, but sincere.
“Ijeoma, I swear I’m not that person anymore. I promise you. The confusion that led me to that life is not part of me anymore. In fact, I am far from confused. I have never been as sure of anything as I am of us. So if you still want that chance, I can give it to you wholeheartedly. I am serious about you and I need you to understand that.”
Ijeoma finally found herself submerged in the eyes she had been trying to avoid. Relief and happiness overwhelmed her. Something else did as well. It was lust. She found herself wanting to be lost in more than his eyes. Before either of them could finish their train of thought, they were lost in an intense and passionate kiss. They didn’t even notice the petty traders outside the window until the knocking came.
“Oga, if u go use your enjoyment block customer for me, make you buy something now!” Nnamdi couldn’t care less. He would buy the entire stall if he had to. Finally, kissing Ijeoma had been bliss. All he wanted to do was kiss her again and keep doing it. Ijeoma smiled widely. The kiss had felt very natural; very right. Nnamdi was the man of her dreams. Literally. Those eyes...they smiled into each other's eyes and drew closer again. Her phone beeped.
“Oh no... Nnamdi please, let's get to my office.”
The car pulled up just outside the bank, and Ijeoma stepped out, anxiously glancing at her watch again. The window on her side slid down, and Nnamdi peered through it.
“Are you sure you'll be OK? I hope your boss won't eat you alive for this,” he asked.
“I will be a few minutes late, but I should be fine; I'll find an excuse that will work. At least, as far as I know, there's no meeting that I need to be present at.”
Ijeoma still wondered whether Adaku had a nasty shock waiting for her when she got back, but that was something she could worry about later. Right now, she felt very happy at the prospect at starting something really solid with Nnamdi that everything else paled in comparison.
“OK. Oh - before I forget - can I get your number? You can be sure that I have no intention of deleting it this time - but I'll make up a song with the numbers in it, just in case I lose the phone,” he joked.
Ijeoma laughed as she gave it to him. “Please call me, and let's set something up.”
Nnamdi smiled back. “Yes, let's see if we can start afresh. Actually, I just remembered that you don't have your own transport to get back. How about we kill two birds with one stone? I can pick you up this evening, we can go somewhere nice and then I can drop you off at home.”
“That sounds like a great idea.”
“Yes, I thought so too. OK, I'll see you later.” He waved at her, and watched admiringly as she walked towards the bank entrance. Then the window slid back up, the engine revved and the car took off towards his office.
As he drove, Nnamdi was lost in thought. He really wanted to make things work with Ijeoma, and he was glad that he had this chance... but he recalled her unease about his history as an armed robber.
Sometimes, I wonder why I had to go and say that. Perhaps things would have been better if I had kept this close to my chest, he thought. The more he thought about it, the more he felt it would be better to make a clean breast of things and tell her what had happened in his earlier years... Nnamdi and his four younger siblings had grown up in Ajegunle, where their father worked as a clerk in an office and their mum sold provisions in a small store. But it was not a happy marriage; the money both their parents brought in was rarely ever enough to feed them all, so there were always rows over why the children did not have school uniforms and books, or when the rent was going to be paid so that the landlord would stop harassing them.
Nnamdi remembered those rows with a shudder; they were violent, searing affairs that left him with ugly memories. He also remembered his father often saying to him and his siblings in a bitter voice, “See the suffering that being poor can bring. If you know what is good for you, make sure you study well so that you can get a good job and live in a big house, not this...” gesturing around their cramped one-bedroom apartment. So he coped in his own way by immersing himself in his studies; perhaps he could spirit them away from this miserable existence if he became a doctor, or an engineer. Fortunately for him, his ability matched his desire, and he excelled at school, so it looked like his hopes might become reality.
Unfortunately, at the end of his second to last year in secondary school, his parents separated. His father was tired of being belittled by his wife and left to stay with another woman he had been having an affair with; his mother was only too glad to see him go, as it meant an end to the endless beatings and abuse. But that meant that the burden of looking after the five of them weighed even more heavily on her, and in the end, this meant that Nnamdi had to help to augment the family income by acting as an Alabaru, a load porter at the local market. Needless to say, this spelt an end to his studies. Nnamdi recalled his time at the market with mixed feelings.
He missed going to school; in addition, the work was hard and competition for customers was fierce. However, he soon realised that the place was alive in a way that he had never experienced as an ordinary market-goer. There was always something going on; in addition, there was a whole underside to life in the area that he had never realised existed until he started hearing stories from the sellers and other regulars who frequented the place. He soon made two friends, Polycarp and Gbenro. Polycarp was a friendly, rather quiet boy who had also been working at the market as a porter for two years. But Nnamdi was more drawn to Gbenro, a much livelier person who always seemed to have a ready jest on his lips.
Gbenro was his nickname, no one seemed to know his real names. Nnamdi also noticed that although Gbenro was not much older than him and did not always do any specific job with the area boys, he always seemed to have a good deal to spend. His curiosity pestered him to find out more; he still longed to return to school, but the meagre tips he got from his work meant that this would be a long time coming.
“So Gbenro, how you come get all dis money wey you dey spend yanfu-yanfu for here, now? No be only this area boy work you dey do here?” he asked one day, after his curiosity would give him peace no longer.
“Ah, bro... dat one na special ting...” Gbenro looked shifty all of a sudden. “I fit tell you, but...”
“But wetin?” Impatience joined curiosity in prodding him. Nnamdi gave a deep sigh. This was the moment he often replayed in his head; the moment his life took a dramatic turn, as a sequence of events began to unfold. It turned out that Gbenro, who ran errands for a gang of armed robbers in the area, had actually been waiting for an opportunity to recruit him to be a part of the gang. So Nnamdi started out as an errand boy, passing along information; due to his popularity and having grown up in the area, he knew almost everyone. With time, he graduated to being a participant in the actual robberies, either as a lookout or driver. It had all been part of the excitement of being a teenager, he played cops and robbers and saved some money for his GCE exam. He assuaged any lingering doubts by thinking that no one was being hurt. Until the day everything went horribly, horribly wrong.
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Ikpo Henry Chigozirim
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