Paranoia | 3

By Santi Femi

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Photo credit:

Lagos. June, 2014

I don’t usually do this hanging out with strangers, she said as her gangly fingers animatedly shot towards him and back towards her. Emeka kept his gaze on her, steady. Is that your regal way of asking for an introduction?
She smiled, and pulled a weave of hair that fell over an eye. She replied: don’t get ahead of yourself, smart man, it is my way of saying consider this meeting a privilege. Emeka smiled. His reply was unexpected, just like his smile had been: I agree, totally.

She had expected him to be ruffled by her bluntness but he did not seem ruffled up by it. His large eyes, with questions in them, roamed over her. He did not say anything after that. Peju soon began to feel uncomfortable because there had been too much silence between them.
I don’t do well with the transition from online to offline, Emeka finally said. She asked why. The disappointments, he answered. Social media is where we live our alternate lives and be what we are not. Cyberia. All I see is people desperate to feed their ego, he trailed off and downed his drink. I see men with voids and trying so hard to fill them with attention.

His words,
the atmosphere;
..they reminded her of Port Harcourt.

Port Harcourt. March 2011

Glover Oil recruitment exercise held in Port Harcourt and so it was the perfect opportunity for them to meet; and they did. Deniyi was not a particularly tall man. He was swarthy, flat nose and had a face dotted with pimples. She didn’t mind. They had met up at a bar, somewhere along Peter Odili Way when he closed from work that day. That meeting was filled with laughs over cocktails.

Afterwards, they went to his place. He lived in a small but decent apartment along Rumuola. Two bedrooms. He put her things in the spare room and returned to his. Few minutes after, they were both sitting in the sofa, the 34 inch television was on and the noise from the coughing generator filtered into the room.
Africa Magic-E!-MNet-Discovery Channel-CNN.
She settled for E!
He leaned slightly into her and pulled her slowly to himself till their lips were locked together in a kiss and his hands playfully settled on her breasts. Slowly, she shoved his hands away. The kiss stopped. On the morning of the day she was to return to Mbaduku, he asked her, officially, to be his girlfriend. She agreed.

A day was never complete until they had spoken, at least, twice. Three weeks after the test, she received an email. She did not pass the test. Sad, darling, he said when he called her to console her. Every day, they dove into each others lives and even though they were many miles apart, she always felt he was right next to her and she could feel him reach for her. A few months after, she finished her NYSC and returned to Lagos. Six months after her return to Lagos, he sent her a message on 2Go:

Guess wht, jst got transferred to Lag.

At the Silverbird Galleria where they saw again, Peju hugged him so tightly like she would never see him again. They strolled around the mall, holding hands like children, and talking about everything that had happened like they hadn’t already discussed them in their phone conversations.

It was in Lagos that their love took on its full form, reaching its full potential to become whatever they wanted it to become. Their love was a fireball at first, but soon, their relationship became the typical Lagos romance: few moments of hanging out. Whenever she could leave her parents to spend a night or two with him, they had sex on those nights. It was all perfect. Like a tree planted by the waters; it blossomed, and its leaves remained green.
That was bliss.

But the bliss lasted only for so long before Deniyi began to complain over every little thing she did. From being the young man filled with wisdom, he became the dictator who wouldn’t stand her presence. One evening, seven months after he moved to Lagos, they planned to go to the beach as a cure to some of the challenges they had been having together. Time out, they called it.

What’s this that you’re wearing? he asked. His disgust was revealed as he squeezed his face. Peju looked at what she wore: a long sleeve skyblue gown-top and pair of black leggings. You can’t come along with me dressed sluttily like this. Please go inside and change jare. She took objection to his use of the word slutty. Would you rather that I not be honest with you? he asked, his eyes widened, blazing with a part of him she had never seen before. She refused to go to the beach anymore; instead, she packed her things and left his apartment.

It was from then on that their bliss became a plant stomped out of the ground. It began to lose its luxuriance when every call carried residue of the bitterness from that Saturday and every missed call remained unreturned. Things got bad between them that the silence between them stretched into a week. That was when she decided to go see him at his apartment. It was on that visit that she found the girl in a purple tank-top and a blue chinos bum-shorts cooking in his kitchen while he huddled her out of the apartment.

Lagos; December, 2013

Paranoia made it really hard for her to get along with anyone after that experience. She never even tried. All of that was before the bearded nerd Emeka came along. When Emeka finally asked if they could get a relationship started, Peju knew it would come to that. And even though she had decided to be open towards whatever might sprout from their friendship, she couldn’t help but think that he was another Deniyi. She could still feel the taste of that tragedy in her taste buds like the burning sensation of red pepper. Still, she said yes. Not because she knew that she loved him but because she just wanted to.

At first, inside of her, love was a struggle it was a thing of confliction that refused to grow. She questioned everything he did whenever he missed her call and whenever he stopped half-way in a conversation and whenever he was displeased with her. Even when he was nice to her, she questioned his motive. Every little thing Emeka did reminded her of 2012. When he invited her to know his place, she did not ever want to be alone with him (or any man at all) in a private space. So her response was sharp. No, Emezi. I’ll pass! It had been six weeks since they had begun dating and he didn’t understand why his girlfriend would refuse to know his place. But Emeka was a patient man, a very patient nerd he was; and it was his patience that broke her. She couldn’t stand his calmness and patience despite her drama. It cracked her and laid her flat out like a grinding mill rolled over a paper box.

In August 2014, she began to let herself trust him without assuming that things would explode right in her face. She saw in him, a second chance and she suddenly brewed a different kind of fear. She feared that her past would ruin what could potentially be a beautiful future. It was then that she decided to tell him her experience with Deniyi.

Lagos, March 2015

They found a restaurant hidden away from the crowd milling around the mall. In it, a corner that was beyond the reach of light in the exotically furnished space. A spot where they could easily be forgotten. The waiter walked over to take their orders and soon returned with plates on an ornamental tray.
Peju and Emeka talked and nodded as they ate.

A few forks into the waffle, he set his plate aside and said:
See how far weve ridden together.
He patted his lips gently with the napkin.
Call it fate, she supplied, chuckling, almost choking on her Basmati rice. He offered her a glass of water.
Something more than just fate; something, errm… divine, he replied.

Dinner was over soon and they were walking hand in hand in the parking lot towards where he had parked his car. The night had ripened. The air was misty and muggy. They were a cameo, a Siamese image; two people conjoined seamlessly. He stroked her face as she put her head on his shoulder. The car was now in sight but the cameo did not split. They stood by the door side in the passenger seat next to the drivers seat. They were beyond the reach of light and no one seemed to be watching. She wrapped her arms around him tightly, pressing her breasts against his chest. Take me home, she whispered into his ear. He chuckled. OK, he replied. Your house, she quipped. He smiled and kissed her forehead.

The paranoia was gone and now, she was sure he was what she wanted all along.