Patrick tugged urgently at the piece of cloth strangling him all day. He yanked the tie off his neck, threw it on the sofa as if the sofa had offended him, undid the top button on his shirt and poured himself another drink.
I laughed. I remembered a discussion I overheard last week at the gym. Two ladies were talking about ‘jailers’ and how releasing their prisoners with an ‘abracadabra quickness’, after a very hectic day, to toss the ‘jailers’ care-freely, “onto a bed or the floor or wherever they choose to fall” is “the best feeling in the world”.
I glanced at the tie on the sofa and turned to Patrick. I know how he hates ties, but he has to wear them for work. “Ties must be to men, what bras are to women, right?” I said, with a loud chuckle.
Patrick wasn’t listening. He’d been ranting about Oyin, a girl after whom he’s been chasing hopelessly for over four years. Oyin has been going after this other guy as well, for about two years, so far without any remedy.
“…I will never understand why Oyin wants someone who doesn’t want her”, he continued, with a familiar indignation. I thought about pointing out the irony and casual hypocrisy of his statement, but I pointed my glass to my mouth instead. Patrick and Oyin were differently in the same predicament, but he always conveniently chooses to ignore that fact each time he hits a fresh brick wall with her.
“She’s like my…er you know…my map, and he… is like her… her atlas. I’m running after her, she’s running after him!” He said the ‘him’ so emphatically. It sounded like he wanted the word to turn into a blunt cudgel, travel in the air and bludgeon the other guy to death. Patrick drank from his glass, looked down and shook his head a few times.
“I’m killing myself, looking to navigate to her heart, but she doesn’t even see me, because of that smug idiot. It’s so exasperating”. He held his head in his hands and closed his eyes. “Sometimes I wonder who will first turn around, will he turn to love her? Will she turn to love me? Will I turn eventually, to give up?”
There was silence. He looked so forlorn, until he tightened his face into a determined scowl as if a little demon jolted him inside. “I will never turn around, never!” He said it with a staunchness that worried me. “One day, she will be mine, Laolu, one day, you’ll see!”
I sighed at the familiar obstinacy. It’s been a vicious cycle. He spends a few weeks wooing Oyin, she rejects him repeatedly, insisting they can only be ‘friends’, he sinks helplessly into a rant mire for a few days, takes a break off her, and when you think he’s finally coming to his right senses, he stout-heartedly rekindles himself and relaunches the unprofitable mission.
Oyin was a mutual class mate at the University, where Patrick’s woes began. We all told him then, “Oyin will never give you a half of a chance. Never!” Oyin was way beyond Patrick’s ‘level’ (as we used to say it), but Patrick believed after school, getting a nice job, a flat and a car, and being the sweetest suitor ever, would improve his chances. They didn’t.
It’s been four years and Patrick won’t quit. He’s always talking about his mentor Jacob, you know that stupid guy in the bible? The one who waited for 14 years with hard labour, to marry a girl?
“I’m not giving up!” Patrick charged again. “She’ll come around, it’s only been four years, and Jacob, served fourteen years for his Rachael right?… I can’t give up, Laolu, I can’t”.
“Then you’ll be an idiot!” I said, really irked by his unique concoction of naivety and stubbornness.
“Listen Patrick, some might find your foolhardy adorable, but I don’t think this is romantic at all. I don’t think all these…” I didn’t finish the sentence, but I wore a mocking look on my face while waving my hand in front of me, towards the imaginary things. “This is not a visionary virtue of hard work, nor an unfolding story of perseverance. It is not a quest you will be praised and admired about later, because I know it won’t end like a Disney movie. You are just being stupid and that’s the cold truth”.
Patrick was a bit drawn aback. I had never spoken to him that sternly about the matter. He put his glass down and took a step towards me. “So, what do you think? “He asked, looking into my eyes and with a calmly cynical, yet pain-laden voice. For a moment, I thought he would hit me in the face.
I said to him,” I think you are wasting precious time. It’s not obvious to you now, but this is a futile mission. You are merely boiling stones in a sieve and starting fires with fresh leaves”. I waited for a reaction and there was none. I continued.
“I mean, why do you keep punishing yourself over a girl that has made it clear to you that she doesn’t care for you?There are so many better women jostling for your attention Patrick, at work, in church, at the gym, even old schoolmates, but you ignore them all since it just has to be Oyin.
I paused again, looked at his face, it was bland. I carried on. “You are a nice guy Patrick; good-looking, brilliant, you have your life together and your potentials are amazing, but for four years, you’ve put a part of your life on hold, waiting for a crab to blink, but news flash Patrick; crabs do not blink”. I said those four words forcefully, hitting the table with each syllable as if to drive the words into his stubborn head. “Please, I’m begging you Patrick, forget about Oyin, not because you are not a good person, not because she isn’t, but because she has made it very clear you are not the one she wants. Simple!”
I was done scolding him, but from the look on Patrick’s face, he didn’t realise that. “I’m done bro”, I announced, picking up my glass and emptying it, (into my throat of course).
Patrick smiled at me. He stepped backwards, picked up his half-empty glass and walked towards the kitchen. “You can’t understand Laolu” he muttered, shaking his head, “you just can’t understand, but someday you will”.
That was two years ago, around the time I met Nneka.
I’ve often heard guys say a certain girl is the most beautiful girl they’ve ever seen. I really hated those words. They are embarrassingly cheesy and perhaps the most boring and unimaginative words a man can say about a woman he’s attracted to.
Nneka is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, and I still think those words sound cheesy, but who cares. It’s foolish trying to say simple things complicatedly; perhaps, that was a truth those guys had learnt that took me a while.
You see, Nneka’s dark skin is like ceramic chinaware; smooth, clear and delicate. I could have sworn I once saw my own reflection while staring at her skin and imagining what eating boiled yam with palm oil served on that porcelain skin would taste like.
She has this voice you can’t ignore. You know when you’ve had a bad customer service experience and you are angry and fuming at the sales attendant behind the till? You hear behind you, a voice that sounds like a whisper or a soft purr, yet it’s clear like a silver bell. You freeze, your train of thought turns to mist. For a moment, you forget where you are or what you are doing there.
You turn around looking for the owner of the voice that cut through you like a surgical blade, you see her, standing there gracefully, peacefully, like a real life mannequin, browsing a shelf. She is speaking to a shop floor attendant, who might as well be a fly or an insignificant speck of dust flying in the air. Your eyes are clamped on the owner of that voice that made you turn; the only thing they are capable of seeing at that moment.
You keep staring as she picks things off the shelf, and drops them carefully in her shopping basket, hanging elegantly on her arm like a work of art. She walks down the aisle, as if moving in ‘slow motion’. She’s is not. It’s your brain becoming torpid, your cognition and reaction time slowing down to the sloppy crawl of a snail. Every other sound in the vicinity seems muted and everything fades into grayscale.
With a gulp, you swallow hard, your eyes flare, your lips quiver, blood rushes to your head, your legs prepare to give way under your weight, your stomach constricts into a knot and you freeze again.
You recover momentarily, turn to the confused sales girl you were bullying, you paste a plastic smile on your face and say “er…don’t worry dear… come on, I don’t need to, you know, return this, I’ll just…er… buy, you know, superglue or something and fix this…er, I’ll fix it myself, er, don’t worry, it’s, it’s, nothing, okay, it’s nothing”, and then you cautiously carry your disoriented self towards the voice that has knocked you out.
That’s what Nneka’s voice does. It will instantly pacify a rampaging man, and then like a flick of a switch, transform him into a wobbly bumbling bundle of jumbled mumblings, tying his tongue into a hopeless twist then throwing his mind into a helpless heap.
That’s the impact of her voice alone. You don’t want to hear me start about her eyes; crystal balls that burn a hole into your mind, nor her legs, like slender bamboo stems, swaying delightfully in a tropical evening wind, nor her tomato-smooth cheeks that scream “cuddle me, cuddle me” nor the way her nose wrinkles near the top, when she smiles, revealing an orderly rows of teeth; pearly white, fenced by flower petal-lips that seem to say, “come, come, whisper to me”.
I miraculously pulled through the encounter with Nneka that day at the supermarket. I even said goodbye with a confidence that a few weeks after, she would be melting in my arms, like butter on a hot slab. It has been two years already. She has not given me her phone number.
I still remember those words; “You can’t understand Laolu, you just can’t understand, but someday you will”. I never imagined I could find myself in a situation similar to Patrick’s, but now I understand. Nneka is the scary fulfilment of Patrick’s prophecy.
I’ve heard guys say the easiest thing to get in the world is a girl’s phone number; big lie. What have I not done? I’ve snooped, I’ve stalked, I’ve bribed, I’ve applied all the skills I thought I learned from TV shows like ‘CSI Miami’ and ‘Criminal Minds’. They didn’t help. I’ve done things many would consider creepy; some even involved binoculars. Nothing helped.
In two years, the only thing I have succeeded in getting is an email address, and I have initiated several communications that always encountered a firewall of curtly one-sentence responses, the few times she chooses to reply at all.
Do you know those situations where you keep trying to build a conversation and the other person comes up with a well-positioned and meticulously constructed sentence, or a carefully selected word that rams the young conversation into a stonewall every time?
You carefully search through your head, looking for a desperate linking phrase, a witty remark, a word of salvation or a redemption question; something, anything to help salvage the deliberately derailed conversation, but you find none because the ‘attack’ was foolproof. The sabotage was clinically executed by a veteran like Nneka.
It’s 2:16 am, and my neighbour’s dog is silent tonight. The only sounds in this room is the low whirl of my ceiling fan and the constant tick-tock of the clock on the wall.
Gmail is open before me. I’m staring at my monitor, the blank white familiar space on my monitor.
I begin to type;
Daughter of Architect Ibru I will tell you again I am your willing fool.
And if you’ll make me Wait ten years for a ‘yes’ I’ll do it like a mere ten yards.
I will boil stones in a sieve I will start fires with fresh leaves I will wait till this crab blinks I will wait till you see me.
I hit ‘send’, and with a weary heart, I send myself to bed.