The dry harmattan breeze descends on me the moment I take my first step down the mobile stairs on the pickup attached to the hatchway of the plane.
“So are you still going to give me your number?”
I mentally roll my eyes and concentrate on finding my way to the ground. The rotund man with a single tribal mark cutting through his left cheek had done his best for the most of the fifty five minutes flight to wriggle my phone number out of me. The three inch wedge heel of my cream and red sandals connects with the ground and I breathe out a sigh of relief. Flying has never been my favourite mode of transportation.
I stop and turn to the man trailing me with the edge of his babanriga flapping around him. A young mother strolls past me, trying without success to keep her hold on her young son and a massive hand bag.
“I don’t give out my number to strangers.”
The man gives me an affected laugh, and then treats me to a far too sensual appraisal. I prepare to tell him off in the most unfriendly way I can manage when he reaches into the pocket of his babanriga and produces a black complimentary card.
“Here is my card,” he says, extending the card towards me. “Call me.”
It occurs to me that taking this man’s card is the only way to shake him off, so I pluck the card out of his fingers and without so much as a backward glance, hurry to the terminal where most of the passengers are already searching out their bags.
I tap my feet on the concrete walkway, waiting for my call to be picked. I wait in vain because the beep of a call not picked soon reaches my ears.
User not reachable
I feel the familiar weight of disappointment settle in the pit of my stomach as I stare at phone, unwilling to accept what is happening. With a tired sigh, I look at my semi-soft large suitcase and wonder if it can survive the weight of a five foot six inches female with a sizable amount of fat on her backside. The ringing of my phone cuts short my contemplation, and I look down at it, half expecting to see the name of my host, but it is my elder brother Peter calling.
“Are you on your way to Mr. Seye’s house now?”
I look at the piece of paper in my hand. Seye Akinlabi. 8 Abeokuta Street, Area 8, Garki.
“I have called him over five times but he is not picking my calls.”
“When did you arrive Abuja?” My brother asks in a worried tone.
“Thirty minutes ago.”
“Okay. Let me try calling him. I will call you back soon.”
I lower the phone in my hand and shift my weight to my right leg and try not to yawn as a stream of passengers head in my direction. I take in my surroundings. Small trimmed bushes line the walkway on either side and the car park beside it is bustling with activities as taxi drivers try to sweet talk passengers into patronizing them. I look in envy as two women wait beside a minivan watching a slightly built young man heave three suitcases into the trunk of the minivan. My phone begins to ring again.
“I am sorry, but there has been a change in plans.”
I look back at the terminal, feeling physically ill. “I am going to sleep in the airport?”
“No,” Peter says, laughing softly. Bless my brother for his knack for seeing the funny side in everything. I am not so lucky. I am the pessimist of the family. “I just spoke with Seye and it turns out he has some family problems that needs his urgent attention, so he left Abuja this evening.”
“I called somebody else.”
“My old friend Amina….she has an apartment in Wuse two. She is going to call you right now with directions to the place. So goodbye for now and let me know what happens.”
Amina calls ten minutes later. Her voice is friendly and warm.
“Hello there, am I speaking with Arisha?”
When I confirm my identity, Amina goes on to express sympathy over my plight.
“Sorry about that dear…Is this your first time in Abuja?”
Amina tells me that the airport is quite far from the city. I tell her about the taxi drivers in the car park.
“They are usually very expensive…do you have enough money on you?”
Amina thanks God on my behalf and I can’t help smiling. I like her already. There is a short interlude and Amina dictates the address of the apartment in Wuse two, but there is a problem, at least Amina thinks so…
“My younger brother is currently living in the apartment. I hope it is not going to be too much of a problem for you?”
I am too tired, my feet too numb and my eyes too heavy to have a choice.
“No, it is not.”
Another break in conversation and Amina comes back to dictate her brother’s number. She promises to call him to alert him of my coming. I thank her and the call ends. I look up at the dark sky, thank God for delivering me from the possibility of passing the night on a hard airport bench, clasp my hand over the handle of my suitcase, grab my duffel bag, and wave at the group of laughing men opposite me.
“Good evening sir,” the middle aged security guard I have come to know as Mr. Michael, greets, his head touching his chest. I sigh and close the door of my car, deciding against reminding him for the umpteenth time to call me Ladi. The day had been full of annoying incidents, like finding out my mother’s driver could not bring my car downfrom Lagos without giving in to the temptation of ruining the front bumper. I know I have reached that point where my words come out in a bark, and the last thing I want to do is scare this man who could as well be my father.
“Good evening Mr. Michael.”
The security guard beams at me and then strolls back to meet his colleague sitting on the wooden bench beside the gate.
I walk up the short step to the open doorway of the building. My journey up to my apartment is accomplished with the help of two flight of stairs, and just when I stop before the door of my apartment, my phone rings. I squint at the screen and then relax when I see who it is.
“Where have you been young man?”
I dig into the pocket of my jeans trouser to fish out the small bunch of keys there.
“I went to Maitama.”
My eye on the keyhole, I am a little impatient with my sister’s stalling.
“Well…I know how much you like your own space and all, but there is an emergency.”
I push the door of my apartment open, reach for the switch on the wall next to me and press it down, the result is a glare of white fluorescent light that washes over my spacious living room with six single leather sofas, a white and black Persian area rug and a square block of smoky cream center table. Tossing my car keys on the center table, I collapse on one of the sofas and throw my legs on the table.
“A friend of mine has a little sister stranded at the airport…”
I close my eyes and send out a prayer of deliverance, but God decides to ignore me.
“She is coming over now.”
“The last thing I want is company….and female company for that matter.”
“Jeez, don’t be such a misogynist. What happened to the happy go lucky gentleman that was my brother?”
Amina sighs, but I know she is not relenting any time soon.
“Anyway, do your best to resurrect him because a nice young lady is going to be staying with you.”
Arguing with Amina is usually a fruitless exercise. Apart from the six years that stands between us like a brick wall Amina can be formidable when she chooses, not to mention that the apartment belongs to her in the first place and is only in my possession as a gift.
“It is so easy for you to stay back in London and saddle me with a complete stranger. What if she is a killer or something?”
This draws a long cheerful laugh from my sister.
“Someone has been watching too many American movies. Killer indeed!”
So that does it. In her soft but firm voice, my sister manages to end my day in a spectacularly bad way.
“I don’t know how long she will be staying. Her brother said something about a short journalism course, however, it doesn't really matter, just be nice to her. Talk to you soon dear. Goodnight.”
I grunt my goodnight and sulk my way to my bedroom. This is one of the downsides of being the last child of the family.
“Just when I think I am going to enjoy some quiet and peace of mind, everything falls apart.” I complain to my empty room, tossing my shirt on the bed before marching to the bathroom for a short shower. Five minutes later, I am standing under the punishing needles of a too warm shower when the loud ding dong of the doorbell startles me.
I move back and hit my head against the glass of the shower stall. The swear escapes my lips before I can stop it.
The door bell gives another resounding peal again.
“What in God’s name? Can’t you just wait?”
I step out of the shower and grab a towel from the towel bars beside the ceiling to floor mirror, making sure to keep my scowl on my face as I walk to the living room door. Still fuming, I undo the metal latch, turn the key and pull the door open. A young lady in a figure hugging black jeans and sleeveless red round neck top stands in front of me, eyes wide open and a phone held out in front of her like a peace offering.
“Hi, is this apartment seven?”
A man stands in front of me, left hand holding the towel at his waist and looking royally pissed. I have a feeling I am the reason for the frown on his face.
“Yes, this is apartment seven,” he replies, he tone curt and unfriendly. “And you are?”
I offer him a bright smile, hoping to get a friendly smile back in return. No luck. His face is as hard as granite. I drop my smile nervously and seek comfort from the strap of my handbag as I hang on to it with my two hands.
“My name is Arisha…your sister –“
“Come in,” the man says, cutting me short and turning away from me, back into the apartment. I watch his receding back and note from the droplets of water glistening on his body that he must have been in a shower when I pressed the doorbell.
“That explains the bad reception then,” I tell myself with a sigh, dragging my luggage after me. The living room is tastefully furnished and looks as if it is rarely lived in. The sofas look soft and comfortable, and I yawn just by looking at them. Reluctantly, I pull my eyes away from them and look at the doors facing me from every angle. The man is nowhere to be seen. Now what?
“So grumpy,” I say quietly, walking to one of the sofas and sitting on it. “Nothing like his sister.”
I walk to the nearest sofa and sit down. I was right in my observation. The sofas are soft, really soft. I relax back in my seat and remind myself of the many dangers of falling asleep on the sofa of an angry stranger. After some minutes of staring at the bright bulb above me, I decide to save myself from going blind by closing my eyes for some minutes.
I open my eyes to see a sheet of white floating in my vision. I sit up immediately when I realize that I am staring at the white T-shirt my host seems to have changed into.
“The room is that way,” he tells me as I berate myself for falling asleep. I follow his finger and see it pointing to the door nestled between an alcove and a tidy looking dining set.
My host says nothing, merely stepping back and pushing his hands in the pockets of brown khaki shorts. He is wearing a pair of reading glasses now and I think they make him look even more forbidding. I feel his eyes burning into my back as I move in the direction of the room, my luggage in tow.
The bedroom is clean, well arranged with an inviting fragrance floating in the air. The wall is plain white and the curtains which I guess to be linen, a mix of lemon green and white. The four poster bed is laid out in green bedspread with pink and red flower patterns all over it. I wonder for a second if my host took time to prepare the room for me, but I decide that it is unlikely and I am just lucky. Feeling a re-energized from my nap in the living room, I decide to take a shower. After that, I will be unpacking my suitcase.
I am doing my best to keep my attention on the episode of swimming lions on Animal planet. I keep my attention on the brown haired white man with a full mustache on the television screen, trying to forget the annoying fact that I will be sharing space indefinitely with a woman I barely know.
Most cats are averse to water, except tigers who love it. (But then, they spend their time in very warm locations, except for the Siberian tiger.) Almost all other cats, except out North American mountain lion, prefer to stay away from water, since their body temperature when wet drops drastically – 25 times faster than air temperature. Large cats also have protective oils in their fur, which help to keep insects away and protect their fur, and these oils should not be washed off.
I stay on Animal planet for as long as I can manage, and when it begins to feel like an endless droning, I reach for the remote control on the center table and turn off the television. Picking up my two phones, a very much used blackberry and a less used iPhone, and make my way to my bedroom, but not without switching off the living room lights.
I barely sit down on my bed when my blackberry comes alive with my cousin’s call.
“I am okay.”
“You dey cry? Why your voice dey sound one kind?” Baba asks with a laugh. I hear the voices of my other cousins Dipo and Joseph in the background, but it is hard to make out what they are saying.
I manage to smile in spite of myself. With their constant joking and free spirits, my cousins know how to force a smile from me no matter how gloomy my day is.
“Is it not Amina.”
“She called?” Baba asks with a smile in his voice. “What did she say?”
“Nothing nice,” I tell Baba, reaching for one of my pillows and propping it against the headboard of my bed and resting on it. “She just called to let me know about a chick coming to spend the night, and ten minutes later she is here.”
Baba’s laugh is immediate. “Amina don dash Ladi wife o!!”
After seconds of amusing himself at my expense, Baba begins to ask questions, many of which focus on the physical attributes of the woman in the next room. I am happy to dodge them, citing a headache and sleepiness as an excuse. I end the call and stretch out on my bed, trying to shut out the sounds from the other room. The shifting, sighing and pushing refuse to give me peace and when I can’t take it anymore, I pick up my headphones, push the cord into my iPhone and fill my ears with the stirrings of John Legend’s heart breaker. No, I am not heartbroken. I just don’t like women very much at this point in my life.