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TIMES WITHOUT NUMBER
I scribbled a piece down in my diary and quickly slipped it under my pillow. No one must see this diary, as usual. Monday afternoon, I sneezed and blessed myself. The room swallowed my voice, and I realise I haven't heard a word from a real living person since Saturday evening except for church service on Sunday morning.
The TV sings above the silence, but it lives in the walls, cold and hard and I wonder suddenly, when I got used to such isolation. The phone is a false hope so I've thrown it far from me ever since. I drew my laptop closer. Music, I must hear. I scrolled my music folder and pressed on 'little things' by One Direction. I relaxed my back against the wall, plugged in my headphone and increased its volume to the highest.
I jolted backwards as mum tapped my shoulders lightly; I reduced the volume of the music
"Am sorry baby, little wonder you locked yourself inside for days." She said taking her seat beside me on my very big bed
I can be a girl when it comes to rooms and furniture colours trust me! The room is almost totally pink except the shades of white that blends perfectly with the wall. And l can't forget to mention that l like artworks and paintings a lot. You'll find a lot of those colourful paintings Jerry and I made together hanging on my wall.
"So I won't let this little things slip out of my mouth, cos if I do, it's you, it's you, they add up to, am in love with you..." I hummed the chorus of the song as I dropped my headphone and reluctantly paused the sweet soft music that seems to send shudders down my spine already. Tears were almost beginning to well up in my eyes. I turned to face mummy looking vacant.
"What are you talking about, Mum?" I asked
"Your phone..." she said looking at the Infinix hot note I left carelessly on my dressing table. The battery was somewhere; the case was at another place. Somehow I fathomed where mum was going with this but I wasn’t ready to run ahead of her.
"Mum..." I interrupted her before she could say anything else, "I needed a 'ME' time ma, I needed some time alone to think, to reflect, I wanted to be alone." I said firmly.
Sincerely, mum's presence here right now is more or less a disturbance. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I don't even join them for meals, instead I sneak to take food from the kitchen when they are all in their rooms and eat in my room.
"Tosin called me dear. He said he has been unable to reach you for two days now. He was worried and disturbed." Mum told me.
I looked at mum with a smirk and gave the most sarcastic answer I could find in my mind,
"Good for him."
Mum quickly grabbed my face by the chin and stared at me. Her eyes carried so much emotion she was trying to communicate in words.
"He already explained everything that happened that Saturday evening. And..."
"Mum! Please..." I interrupted her immediately, removing my face from her hands. "I don't want to talk about it please..."
"Am sorry Mum, but I truly wanna be alone now ma." I added calmly
I know how rude it is to send an elder out of one's room especially when it's your parent but I have to do this now. I don't want to discuss what happened on Saturday night with anyone and I meant it.
Mum stood up and arranged her chiffon dress. It is one of those rare occasions where you find my mummy on wrapper. Then she ties it so stylishly that you'll ask yourself 'why all these shows?' Everyone knows and has gotten used to my nonchalance with regards to fashion. But mum, she is just so up to date in her fashion profession and she models what she does too alongside her second daughter- Success.
"Remember, am always here when you wanna talk." She said and walked out closing the door gently behind her.
I heaved a sigh of relief. Guess lately everyone is beginning to respect my privacy. Otherwise mum will insist on knowing exactly what happened even after I told her it was a personal thing for me. I plugged back my headphone again but this time used a very low volume and I laid flat on the bed facing the ceiling. A lot of thoughts ran through my mind and the scene, two days ago kept replaying itself in my subconscious mind without requiring any remote.
My door flung open and my heart skipped a beat. 'Why are all these people disturbing me this afternoon nau' I murmured underneath my breath.
"Dad said he wants to talk to you sis..." David said as he drew closer to my bed to be certain I could hear him "He said now, and he is in the sitting room" David added emphatically and walked out as though he was in a hurry. He is always in a hurry actually.
I sat up on my bed. God knows I don't like this whole thing. I just knew mum couldn’t have been that nice after all. 'Must she tell dad everything?' I asked myself as I quickly applied a light make-up to my rough face. I combed my hair over my shoulders and quickly wore a fitted short-gown over the short and tank top I've been putting on since. I slipped into my slippers and dashed out of my room and downstairs towards the sitting room.
"Does it take you forever to respond to your father's call too?" Dad confronted when I was barely halfway in the sitting room.
I didn't understand that. He held the remote pointing to the TV without pressing it; he wasn't changing channels, nothing! He just held it glued to the TV. Most times I wonder why he'll stress his arm muscles when the remote could just rest on the stool beside him. Dad didn't seem to be smiling soonest and that still baffles me. I mean! I got up as soon as I got his message and got down here as quickly as I can too. 'What exactly have I done today?' I questioned myself in my heart. Mum was nowhere to be found around the sitting room.
"Am sorry dad" I said while frowning my face as well as pouting. I needed him to be done with whatever reason he sent for me so I can go back to my brooding centre. I can't prolong grievances right now.
"Where is my girl?" Dad asked motioning me to come and sit beside him on the settee.
I sluggishly dragged my leg till I sank into the seat. I just knew with the way he started that my room will be left empty for the next few hours.
"I am here dad." I responded without smiling. I wasn't in the mood for this beating around the bush discussion right now.
Dad finally dropped the remote while nodding his head from side to side. This must be very serious right? He even had his glasses on. Was I sweating? I don’t think so. There was just this itchy sensation all over my body, especially my forehead. I really felt uneasy.
"I'll take your word that you are here. But to me, it seems my girl is far, far away from my house. It's as though my baby is gone, gone, my baby is gone from me. Do you want to talk with daddy?" Dad asked me softly.
I managed a smile,
"No Daddy, I am fine."
"OK then. Do tell me whatever you need." He pestered on.
I burst into laughter this time. I am used to that line from childhood; he uses it whenever he wants to get words out of my mouth.
"Really? Dad!" I asked giving him a cynical look
He cleared his throat showing real seriousness
"Yes Daughter. You appear too bored lately and that has made you boring yourself…" He paused then continued, "Anyway, your fiancé Jerry is coming over to take you out soon, maybe lighten you up a little." Dad finally let the cat out of the bag.
I was dazed as pangs of anger began to rush over me immediately.
"Dad, please tell him, I mean, the man you call my fiancé, that I am not going anywhere whatsoever with him. Not now, not today! Do tell him that" I said getting up furiously with my hands akimbo, trying not to raise my voice higher than it already is. I was trying to suppress the anger building up on my inside.
"I guess you may have to do this for daddy"
I turned to look at my dad with my red shot eyes.
"I do everything for someone, Dad! All the time, I do it for you. My so-called engagement to Jerry is for you. Now am supposed to go out on an unplanned date for you. Can anyone consider me? Can anyone see I need to be left alone for now? Can anyone let me do things for me at times?" I said with breaking voice as a teardrop rolled down my cheeks. I've deliberately refused my tears from falling since Saturday evening but I guess I can't really keep emotions bottled up inside me for too long.
"C'mon Baby, you know I let you do things as you wish most of the times." Dad responded quietly mopping my cheeks with his handkerchief. The tears I couldn’t help but to let fall like showers on a dry harmattan grass. I couldn't help it; I just let them flow down gracefully.
My eyes mistakenly, or do I say, coincidentally rolled sideways to see mum leaning against the iron rod on the stairway. She held her chin in her right palm as she quietly observed us from that height. She definitely didn’t tell dad anything as I assumed earlier.
"Dad I am not going on that date sir." I said firmly and made for the stairs.
"Why? Did I by anyway offend you? I just need to discuss some things with you." I stopped as the voice came from the door.
I swung my head involuntarily in the direction of the voice. Jerry! Inasmuch as I hate to admit, there is something his voice does to me.
"And don't you knock before entering other people's homes?" I asked eyeballing him coldly
"Am sorry my lord. I wanted to stop her before she enters her room." He bowed as he spoke the last statement. Lawyers enjoy displaying their legal wits and their guts could come across as gross arrogance at times. "I only plead for a walk, just a walk, please."
I took in a very deep breath and looked at dad who shrugged in the affirmative. Mum took her face away as I turned towards her, but she didn’t move from her position. She turned in Jerry's direction,
"I heard about it son. Congratulations!" Mum said. "And how is your mum and dad?" she added.
Jerry kept smiling courteously as he answered the different questions. I didn’t see that necessary. I don't even know what mum was congratulating him on. Quite frankly, I don't care right now. I'll just go upstairs and dress up for the walk. He had better make the evening am excusing the room for, worthwhile.
The only reason that sounds tangible enough to make my parents chose to have us live in Felele must be because it's close to dad's place of work. The prestigious Kogi state Polytechnic, Lokoja is just a stone throw away from our house. Our house is surrounded by fence made of cement blocks. The fence linked to the huge black Iron Gate was so high that it enclosed half of the milk coloured duplex we live in. This shouldn’t be genetic but I took after mum. I helped her with the hibiscus and Rose flowers we grew in the compound, neatly trimmed at all intervals especially the ones at the left side of the back of the house. That is our garden. We would use the little tennis court beside the garden, me and Success anytime we got back home from school when we were still kids. Dad wanted me to be like Serena Williams. He loved Tennis. 'If not for my passion for lecturing physics, I would have taken a major in tennis'. He would tell us times without number while we were growing up.
Busy streets. Noisy roads. Ghetto life. At times I commend my parents' effort on preventing us from mixing up with this type of rough street life. If care is not taken, one may end up in a fight before reaching the middle of the streets. It even gets more crowded in the evenings like this as people try to find an escape route into their humble abodes.
"Really? So a part of Lokoja could be this busy? I think Lagos would have to travel down here to meet her rival. This is intriguing" Jerry commented as we walked further into the street.
We didn’t hold hands. Maybe, I wouldn’t have declined if he made an attempt. His sunglasses were smashing. I see its Oakley. Even on my sleek Ray-Ban blue sunglasses mum bought for me from one of her trips to the Arabian Emirates, I wouldn’t mind a sincere donation of his. He dodged a hole filled with mud water and his right leg almost removed from the brown thick leather palm slippers he wore. I don’t know how it happened, but the road of our street is both rocky and sandy at the same time. Thankfully, the almond round-collar shirt that had 'Jerie' inscribed on it alongside his black baggy knickers, won't be visiting a dry cleaner as an aftermath of this walk. I didn’t change clothes when I got into my room, I only picked this sunglasses. The sun in Lokoja is so torturing that I heard some students around my neighbourhood saying the distance from here to hell is barely above ten naira. That definitely is an exaggeration.
We saw heads turning towards us as we walked. Silence speaking so loud between us in the noisy and rowdy environment. Jerry wasn’t as taller than me as Tosin.
"oko kpoya, me rumieju ololo…" A woman with dried fish neatly arranged in a tray on her head complimented how adorable we looked as young couples when she walked past us. I smiled. I had an edge over Jerry, in that I understood the most predominant language in this North central part of Nigeria, the Igala language, more than him.
"Was she talking to us? What did she say?" He asked with curiosity as soon as the woman was gone.
I looked up at him with a wide grin,
"Oh! The first thing I expected you did was to take a tour round this town instead of remaining on your bed in the calmest government residential area beside Lugard house where you live and concluding that Lokoja was boring. Obviously, there is no substantial difference between here and Lagos if you asked me." I responded with a smirk
"Are you kidding me? You can't compare the two, Ma'am. Please let's not start this argument; I'll beat you hands down." He retorted defensively.
"We can use this place. I don’t think you can walk for much longer," He said it like it was a question, pointing to the newly opened, orange and grey painted restaurant directly across the road opposite where we stood.
I have seen numerous bars and local eateries as we walked, this seem to be the only classy one amongst them on this street I guess. I looked up at the large white board bearing their name. 'Deli foods', I read our loud. I felt invited in there already as the show glasses around the entrance gave me inkling to what is being served in there. I rubbed my tongue against my lips and turned to Jerry
"You asked for a walk sir, stick to it." I replied bluntly, masking my interest in his suggestion.
"I was just trying to be nice Tonia. Don’t get me wrong"
"Suit yourself." I retorted, quite harshly as I drew the word 'suit'.
Jerry looked down at me amiss for words initially. He then dragged his shirt down with his hands. I haven't forgotten his harsh words towards me in front of the mall on Saturday even before the other event. I don’t expect him to forget either.
"So law school list is out. I am going to Enugu in about a week's time." He said softly.
"Wow!" I let out a loud scream that surprised Jerry himself. "I am happy for you Jerry."
"Thank you Tonia…" He started, counting his words like he was scared of the next thing he wanted to voice out.
"By the time am done with law school, you would also be done with this first degree then, our parents have agreed that we get married immediately so we could serve Nigeria in the same place together as corp members." He said. He didn’t say them like this, all at the same time. He took one after the other as if the next words got stuck while he spoke the present one.
I sighed, looked up at him and brought down my eyes almost immediately. There was a strange feeling of disappointment immediately his last words struck me. A part of it maybe. It felt like an arrow was driven right through my rib cage and down my heart muscles. I started getting weak on my knees and it felt as though they couldn’t carry me any further. I looked on into the street which was beginning to look like a nightmare in front of me. Fear gripped me from within as if I saw demons dancing in the way ahead off. A sweat moved down from the back of my eye to my neck. I turned briskly and started walking back towards our house, as fast as my already feeble legs can carry me.
"Did you hear me? Say something!" Jerry said as he followed after me with almost the same high speed and energy I walked with.
Talking for me right now felt like pushing a truck up Mount Kilimanjaro. My breath just got unusually heavy. Like a dog panting for water.
"I heard you Jerry. I wish you all the best in Law school…" I managed to say, "By the way, since our parents have unanimously agreed to the marriage plan, then they can work it out effectively. You have no worries. I too should have no worries. I only pray am still alive till that time."
I felt Jerry withdraw back involuntarily at my word. He definitely wouldn’t understand. Maybe I should just tell him once and for all. I bind the evil spirit that suggested that thought to me as quickly as it came.
His hand drew my shoulders backward in a gentle manner and I stood face to face with him back at my gate. "Hope you are still alive? By that time? What is that supposed to mean? What are you talking about Tee?" He asked eagerly.
My teary eyeballs were completely covered by the sunglass. That was my saving grace. I managed a smile. He wasn’t convinced by that. He removed his own glasses and I could see his eyes, the questions in there, begging for sincere answers that I don’t know if I can provide right now. Just then I felt watery catarrh dripping down my nose and I quickly covered it up with the silky face towel I always carry with me around. He tried to catch me when I made the roundabout turn but I was swifter this time. We were already at my gate so I hurriedly opened it and ran upstairs straight into my room and bolted the door.
TO BE CONTINUED.
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