Clarion? The soft whooshes of the air conditioning unit are drowned out in the presence of the more superior clip-clap from stiletto heels and brogue shoes, as they clatter on the shiny tiles that surface the floor of the auditorium, immediately followed by almost inaudible thuds as the examinees cross into the carpeted lobby. Harold…
The soft whooshes of the air conditioning unit are drowned out in the presence of the more superior clip-clap from stiletto heels and brogue shoes, as they clatter on the shiny tiles that surface the floor of the auditorium, immediately followed by almost inaudible thuds as the examinees cross into the carpeted lobby. Harold catches up with the lady he spent the latter part of the exam hour staring at.
‘I’m sorry, but your face looks familiar. Like really really familiar, but I can’t place where I know you from’, he says, putting on his best act of a ponder.
‘Is that so?’, she replies without turning her face, a hint of sarcasm in the sounds she makes. She continues to walk on towards the elevator at the other end of the lobby, the young man tailing her.
‘Yea. I mean, yes. I’m trying to remember where, but I can’t quite’.
They are at the elevator now, waiting for the descending car. She turns to him for the first time, removing her eyes from the screen atop the metal elevator doors displaying corresponding floor numbers. She takes half a stride back, her head tossed backward to view the taller figure.
‘I’m sorry. Your face does look familiar and I’m really sorry if I was rude’, she says lowering clasped palms from over mouth to reveal an apologetic smile.
‘It’s okay. I understand. The exams and all, and you must have thought it was another tacky pick-up line’. She smiles sheepishly, her uneven teeth median not enough to mar her beauty. He giggles too.
The elevator doors slides open to reveal three occupants, their head blocking out the tag line ‘Barristers At Law’, placed under the bolder letters – AKINTOLA & AKINTOLA. In the two-floor descent there is silence and Harold, standing at the rear, sees the things about her he did not see earlier. Like the way her blouse tucked inside her skirt band without creases. Like the simplicity with which she knotted her hair in a bun and the handful strands that had escaped from under the band. When she looks at him and smiles, he sees a jagged lower incisor and he sought not to even it out. In deed her face is familiar, but it is far from the reason he is going after her.
‘You shouldn’t stare’, she voices bashfully in half smiles as they emerge from the elevator.
‘We should get a drink soon…… No! Now! …… to celebrate’, he remarks, completely disregarding her last statement.
‘And what are we celebrating?’
‘Jobs! New jobs’.
She laughs hysterically, and lets out a snort towards the end of it.
‘But we don’t yet have new jobs’.
‘Between you and I, Akintola and Akintola has a 90% employment rate of those they shortlist for exam interviews. It’s mostly formality this exam, and I saw you during the exam, you scribbled throughout. I’m sure you have it down’, he finished, his eyes rolled upwards, not particularly looking at anything.
She goes into a lighter hysteric laugh and then offers her hand.
Harold watches her laugh and knows the he isn’t that funny. Maybe she laughs a lot or maybe his face isn’t hard to look at. He knows he certainly isn’t much of a charmer, but today he is on a roll and the force is with him.
It’s a month since Harold started his new job, two months since he failed Akintola & Akintola’s interview-exam. It’s closing time and he walks three buildings up the road to Dora’s office. He arrives there as she’s waving a goodbye to the chauffeur driven Mr. Akintola whom she assisted with his bag as they all leave for home.
‘You’re the one who carries his bag now?’, he asks coyly.
‘Yes. One step closer to Junior Partner’, she replies with the sarcasm he loved so much.
‘Some guys got suspended at work today’, she continues.
‘Awon Ajumobi boys’, he quips in disinterest.
‘Wait!’, she exclaims, but only mildy. She gives him a stare and then continues. ‘You had your NYSC camp in Oyo State?’, her eyes popping.
‘Yea, 2015 Batch A, Stream 1’.
‘Holy shit!’, they both chorus.
Dora stares at her finger and admires the jewel that wasn’t there the previous night. A simple silver band it was, her name engraved on the inside. Another tear drops on the slacks she is wearing. There is a conversation she remembers.
It’s a dry Saturday morning in the month of January. Two days ago it was last year. Adaora is sprinkling water around her father’s unfenced compound. This she must do every morning in other not to attack Uzor’s asthma, else it attacks back. She has a scowl, as she is only seconds victorious in her tussle with Uzor as to why he must go back indoors while she sweeps. She takes a break and ponders on her discussion with her father the night previous. She thinks he worries her a lot about her maritals. She is glad she’s returning to school that morning as she’ll rather be busied by her final year research.
Pa emerges from inside the house. He grazes the gray stub on his chin and jaws with the back of his hand and speaks quietly to his daughter.
‘I know you are now doing very well over there’, he says, his lexis painted with a sturdy accent. ‘May your mother rest in peace in heaven that she is. She trained you and your brother very well and if she was alive today, she would be telling you this same thing’. Her father takes another bite from the kolanut in his hand and chews until grimace changes.
‘I know you understand me fully when I say you’re not get any younger’, he tails off.
‘And remember what I and your mother, God rest her soul, have always told you since when you were small. The first man you know…… is the man you must marry. If not, no children. Don’t play with your life and your husband’s life. You know how it is in our family’.
The part that hurts is the part where she cannot tell him about that night she went to work with Aunty Amaka whom she was eagerly spending the summer holiday with in the city in Enugu. The part that hurts even more is the part where she lost her cherry to a teenager who paid Aunty Amaka for it. The part that hurts so bad is that part where she wouldn’t know the boy if he stood right in front of her.
Then she thinks that perhaps her father would pass and she won’t have to get married, but then she knows that there is a band on her finger and that she would honor her heart.
Dora half-dances half-glides back to the pew, her head-gear creating entropy. Her hands lock with Harold’s as she takes her seat. There was no further truth from what Bishop had preached – that when you’re in Christ, you’re a new creature; old things pass away and you become new. That in Christ, you’re free from ancestral curses and that you’re buried deep in the saviors’ palms.
She stares at her husband long enough that he notices. He looks at her face and then at her mountain-of-a-tummy.
‘My boys’, he smiles and lets out in a low whisper.
The silver band is on her finger, along with a crystal stone. Harold stretches his arm along the pew and to her back, allowing his hand to play freely until his fingers find her neck scar.
Three figures emerge from the mist of the dark morning, their hands tucked behind contralateral elbows as they forge ahead with rocking motions. The one in the middle is slightly taller than the others. Their feet are numb as they shuffle through the cold to the lighted sign. ‘I BOW’ the sign reads; the letters ‘R’, ‘A’ and ‘N’ failing to light up.
‘Una don kom? Oya follow me. Una hold my pepper for hand?’, Madam Amaka asks, the usual chewing gum not in her mouth. The shorter one on the right nods.
‘You no fit talk?’, she yells, this time irritably.
‘Yes, we get am for hand’, the young lad replies nervously.
‘Na you wan do abi?’, she says, gesturing at the taller of the pack, a teasing and slightly sinister smirk on her face. He nods. There is unease in his manner.
‘Oya come na’.
The tall one follows Madam Amaka down a lit corridor. He’s unable to take his eyes off her bouncing behind and her thick and finely exposed thighs. He follows like a noble steed. She opens a door at the end of their walk. A young girl scurries out but is grabbed there in the hallway. She struggles a bit and she’s smacked by the older lady repeatedly until she is calm. There is a streak of blood on her neck from fingernail cuts.
‘Come on, get inside for me!’ the older lady yells, shoving the younger inwards. The boy is also shoved in, more terrified than the struggling girl.
‘Oga your time dey count o’, the lady yells from behind the shut door.
The three figures walk away into the mist; the way they had come. The taller one now walking on the right side. Today, he the younger of the lot turned eighteen years old, and his friends have made a man of him. They tease him as they walk away into the blackness.
‘Harold-Harold! Harold the smasher!’, they say.
Photo Credit: DESKTOPNEXUS