She jumped out of bed, disoriented and sick to the linings of her stomach. The darkness that enveloped her was thick. Her knees felt like freshly made eko; a southwestern Nigerian meal made from corn pap, wobbly and almost jelly like. Her legs felt like anvils and her feet like anchors sunken deep in the ocean bed. Her head seemed to be detached from her neck for she could swear that it was floating, turning it left and right didn’t help her one bit. She retched. The heaviness in her lower limbs disappeared immediately as she rushed in the dark, groping about with outstretched hands, searching, searching, until she found the door handle. She turned it and ran out of her room, down the dimly lit corridor and into the bathroom where she retched uncontrollably, regurgitating gastric juice and bile all over the floor. She stood straight but doubled over again a few seconds later. Soon afterwards, she cleaned the bathroom, brushed her teeth, then returned to her room and checked the digital clock on the side stool at the head of her bed; it was a few minutes to four in the morning. Going back to sleep was almost impossible. She tossed and turned impatiently, discomfort caused by the heat which was not dissipated in any way by the ceiling fan that spun at its highest speed. She lay face up and stared at it; irritated and cranky, and just when she thought things couldn’t get any more annoying, the buzz of the fan’s mechanism ceased as the rotating blades slowed. She hissed in disgust and turned to her side, staring out the open windows at the inky black blue sky. As though the heavens knew her discomfort, a gentle waft of air picked up and soon became a comforting breeze. The ventilation in her room was superb and soon she drifted away.
Suddenly, she jerked up from her sleep. The call to prayer from the nearby mosque had woken her up. In all her years on that street, for as long as she could remember, she had heard that same voice, that same intonation, at pretty much the same time daily, it remained food for thought how she had not adapted to it yet. From the corner of her eye, she noticed her cellphone backlight go dim. She reached for it and checked the screen, one new message.
Forever, you are mine; even as I was yours first. J.
She bit her lower lip and swallowed back the lump that formed in her throat. This was her love, her life, her all, she would give anything, everything to be with her one true love, her Je… A knock sounded on her door.
“Bio,” Her mother called as her door creaked open, “are you awake yet?” Bio stayed still in her bed, staring at the silhouette in the doorway that was her mother with eyes that had adapted to the dark. “Bio?” Afolashade called again, still no answer. Afolashade raised her voice a bit. “My friend, wake up, it’s almost day break. Get up and give me a hand before you get ready for work.” Bio turned on her bed and groaned like she had just woken up. Afolashade, running low on patience, approached her bed to shake her out of it. Just as she got hold of one of Bio’s legs, Bio jumped out of bed, clattering over a few things she had seen a little too late in the dark, and ran into the bathroom again. This time she dry heaved. She heard her mother’s worried voice from behind, “Shey ara e o ya ni, omo mi? Is your body not well my child?”
Bio spat and straightened up, “I think I have a fever.” She croaked.
As quickly as her feet could carry her, Afolashade ran to the kitchen and put a kettle of water on, then proceeded to the room to grab her phone. “Do not call him.” Bio said from behind her, Afolashade had not seen her walk in.
“But he can get you some drugs from the hospital on his way back home.” Afolashade said, trying hard to hide how distraught she felt.
“Keep Pereyi out of my matter, please.” Bio said.
“Biomelebonye will you shut up your mouth, that is your father you’re talking about.” Afolashade screamed.
Bio stood still for a few seconds then cleared her throat, “Do not call him, I’ve said my own. I’m going to prepare for work” She intoned and turned to return to her room, her mother’s voice trailed after her, telling her to call her office and ask for the day off, she disregarded the advice.
Checking her time now, it was a few minutes past seven a.m. She looked at herself in the mirror once again and picked up her purse, she put her portfolio in her laptop bag and her phone in the side pocket of her purse and headed out; straightening her outfit as she went. At the threshold of the compound, she crossed paths with Pereyi who had just returned from work. She grunted a good morning and brushed past him as quickly as she could, bumping into him as she tried to squeeze through the gate before he could pass. She never slipped up on an opportunity to let him know what little regard she had for him even if it were in the subtlest of ways. She heard her father’s voice but she hurried away.
Her day at work could be described as crappy at best, what’s more? Her phone was nowhere to be found.
She returned that afternoon earlier than usual, she still felt ill. The first person she met, reclining on the couch in the living room, was her father. She grunted another greeting at him and entered quickly into her room. She freshened up, changed her clothes, and lay on her bed.
“Shade.” She heard her father call a few minutes later.
“Must the whole neighbourhood know that I didn’t go to the market today?” Afolashade called back.
Bio rolled her eyes and plopped her head in her pillow. Then she remembered, her phone! She got up and ransacked her room for the better part of fifteen minutes, it was nowhere to be found. She felt devastated, all her documents, her credentials, her contacts, all gone. Then a feeling akin to despair set in. All the mementos she had of the one she loved were gone with the phone; pictures, texts, emails, IMs, all gone. She was one to keep all such things on her mobile phone and nothing else, they were special to her, they were private. She picked up a jotter and a pen from her drawer and began to write on it “J:- 081…”
She heard Pereyi yell her name but she didn’t reply, holding her breath as though it was loud enough that Pereyi would hear from the living room. A few seconds later, she continued her jotting, “0462”
“Bio!” He yelled even louder.
She shut her eyes tight and gritted her teeth. “Yes papa?” She called back and punched the air furiously. She quickly wrote the number down and returned the pen and jotter into her drawer. She went to the living room, sulking horridly. “Papa, I’m here.” She said.
Pereyi stared at her from her head down to her feet. Afolashade was seated on one of the seats, her forehead was a cascade of perspiration, her faded ‘Farewell Iya Wa’ memorial shirt was beginning to soak up the sweat, the iro around her waist seemed loose. Her feet bobbed ceaselessly on the floor. Bio looked up, the fan was working properly.
“Who is J?” Pereyi asked.
“What?” Bio replied, a tinge of irritation and a great deal of surprise in her voice.
Pereyi cleared his voice and spoke again, “Who is J?”
“It’s the tenth letter in the alphabet.” She replied, sarcasm evident in her voice.
“Young woman, you aren’t stupid, are you? I asked who J is, not what.” He snapped. Bio glared at her father, the invectives that had built up in her heart over the years rushed from her heart until they were at the very tip of her tongue. She pursed her lips and swallowed hard, choosing to keep silent. “Are you deaf?” Pereyi bellowed, “I said who is J?”
“Papa, you’re shouting. The neighbours have already had their fair share of viewing our dirty linen this month, don’t you think?” She said and turned to leave.
“GET BACK HERE!” Pereyi was on his feet, a prominent vein appeared on his forehead.
Bio stopped and turned around, “Papa, if you will only be kind enough to bring your voice down, my head hurts terribly.” She whined.
“And that is all you know to do, speak grammar. You threw my hard earned money down the drain, you dropped out of medical school just so you could study English Language. English language of all courses! And for what reason?” He pitched his voice higher in mock imitation, making a horrible mess of his facial features as he made faces, “‘So I can be widely traveled, I love it, papa, it is what I want’.” He looked at Afolashade, “This is it, you supported her nonsensical rubbish. See your daughter now.” He looked back at Bio, “Two and half years after school, common Cotonou here have you gone? No. Instead, you have turned yourself into an ordinary front desk secretary in a prostitute recruitment firm that calls itself a modeling agency.” Pereyi ranted.
Bio shook her head and looked at her mother. Afolashade’s head hung low, her chin in her bosom. She looked at her father again and it came out, “And how did medical school work for you papa? A front desk attendant slash medical records staff at Hill Nadir for almost a decade, a subordinate of your class mate’s. A great achiever you’ve become, papa.”
She paused and stared at her father, his eyes were ablaze. She couldn’t care less, all the years gone by, his numerous cases of infidelity to her mother, his irresponsibility towards his children, the countless periods of his absence over time, and his fiery tongue had all combined to have such a negative effect on her that all he needed to do now was breathe for her to strike back at him, oh how she hated him.
His voice sounded again, low, menacing, angry. “I will ask again, who is J?”
Her voice sounded again, low, menacing, amused. “Who wants to know?” She felt excitement swell within, it gave her pleasure to see him this mad, it gave her more pleasure to know she was the reason. She had never gone this far with him before. Only Tamunotonye had done it before though. She didn’t blame her elder brother for staying put in Canada, better to be an alien than be a citizen and face Pereyi daily. Tamunotonye had disappeared with some of his belongings from home one day only to resurface a few months later online. She wondered if she should tell Pereyi then that his only son was doing superbly well in Canada compared to when he was here with them, when his father had constantly taunted him for being a ne’er do well. She pondered on whether she should let on that Tam-Tam was keeping in touch with everyone else except Pereyi and that the rest of the family had agreed to pretend like they had not heard from him over the past three years after his initial contact which Pereyi was aware of. Thus far, the lie had worked perfectly well against the patriarch of the family. She thought against it, that would kill the man off immediately. It was more satisfying to make the hurt last longer.
“Bio, tani J yi? Bio, who is this J?” Afolashade asked.
Bio flinched, why did her mother have to speak? Sadly for Bio, Afolashade wasn’t very good with her timing whenever Bio and Pereyi had their burst ups, her input always had this maddeningly annoying effect on Bio.
“J is my friend.” Bio replied, her resolve was broken for that moment.
“Your friend?” Pereyi said incredulously, “What kind of friend sends you a message like ‘Forever, you are mine; even as I was yours first.’?”
Bio was startled, how did he know that? “What? How did….” She bit her lower lip. Pereyi reached into his back pocket and produced her phone.
“Where did you get that? Did you go through my phone?” She snapped?
“You have absolutely no respect for your father, you bumped into me this morning and you did not apologize, I called you back to give you your phone that had fallen out of your purse but you ignored me, you…”
“Did you go through my phone?” Bio screamed. Pereyi tossed the phone at her. Bio snatched her phone from the air and checked it, ‘Number of tries exceeded’ showed on the screen. She put it in her jean pocket, glad for the umpteenth time that she had activated the password function on her phone.
“Is he the one?” Afolashade asked.
“Is who which one?” Pereyi barked at Afolashade. Turning sharply to Bio, he yelled, “Under my roof! You are following men up and down under my roof.”
“I am twenty four years old, I am a graduate, I am old enough to have a relationship, papa.” Bio retorted.
“Look at this child o, when did your mother birth you?” Pereyi bellowed, Bio winced. “You’re twenty four years old, and that gives you the right to turn yourself into a whore and follow men about, yes? So that is what you do in that your office. You double as a secretary and a client, is that not so?” Pereyi yelled.
A whore? This from the lips of the man who gave her life? It cut her so deep that all she wanted was to inflict pain on the man, emotional, psychological, physical.
“Who said anything about me following men?” She said. Afolashade’s feet ceased bobbing just then. “For your information, J is Jennifer; my boss at work. We’re lovers….”
I AM ONE MEN