Thunder crashed overhead, the rain pouring down in sheets as she pulled her arms into her chest and tried to move further back into the wall, as if that was possible. The open hallway did nothing to stop the rain blown in by wind to whip into her, soaking her from head to toe. Alison cursed her stupidity for having gone out when she could see it would rain, whimpering in her dripping misery.
What made it even worse was that Dora, the person she had come to see, wasn’t in. Alison had boarded the horrible, broken down Hiace bus that she could have sworn was only held together by duct tape and prayer and, on a whim, headed off campus to see her friend. She hadn’t bothered calling, and now she gritted her teeth in annoyance. She had been so sure Dora would be in as she hardly ever went out, save lectures.
Dora lived in Parole Hall, one of the blocks of flats that accommodated the wealthier students, who preferred to live off campus rather than go through the rigours of life in the university hostels. Alison had come to Parole Hall in a bid to escape the noise, clamor and sheer chaos of the hostel, not bothering to tell her roommate where she had gone.
Lightning flashed across the fast darkening sky and she bit her lip, wondering how she would escape and get back to school. There was not a car in sight and all the commercial bikes popularly known asachabas had disappeared, the operators most likely seeking shelter.
Students had long since vanished, each escaping into their respective flats with their doors bolted fast. She was the only one outside. She caught a glimpse of headlights and closed her eyes as they shone straight at her. Her eyes were still closed as she heard a car door slam and wet footsteps pattered towards her.
“What are you doing outside?” a male voice shouted, competing in volume with the howling wind and crashing rain. She opened her eyes and found herself staring at Michael Egbomian, her ‘school crush’.
Perhaps ‘crush’ was too juvenile a term to label it but love it was not. Whatever it was, he had a hold on her.
He was one of those young men that didn’t escape notice and commanded attention wherever he was. He was a cliché – coffee brown, tall and appealing. An overall hunk of chocolate goodness, as she was wont to describe him. He was the guy every mother warned her daughter about and every daughter wanted against her better judgment.
“What, you want to stay out here and freeze to death?” His voice cut into her thoughts.
“My friend…she’s not in,” she said, feeling foolish at stating the obvious.
He crooked his eyebrow at her. “Well then you had better come to my place to wait until the storm passes.”
She hesitated and he shrugged and started walking upstairs. She trudged up after him and stood as he fumbled with his keys. They entered a dark apartment that smelled of Aqua di Gio and stale tobacco, not the cheap stuff but the authentic high-end type found in cigars or pipes. She heard him bump into a hard surface an utter a foul word, grappling around for something. He switched on a torch and the light landed squarely in her eyes, causing her to squint.
“NEPA.” He spat the word out like phlegm.
She chimed in. “I’m sure they will give the normal excuse of ‘the poles fell down’ or something equally stupid.” Her eyes gradually got used to the semi-darkness and she could see Michael clearly, his wet shirt stuck to his chest and showed every plane clearly.
He looked at her and she felt cornered, like he could read her thoughts. He indicated at the couch. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll put the candles on. I can’t go out in this rain to put on the gen.”
She sat down at the edge of a small couch in the living room, wrapping her arms around her body. Her hair was a mess, it lay plastered to her skull, limp strands of thin relaxed hair hanging down from a rather scraggly, dripping ponytail. She reached up, wishing she could loosen it and shake out the water. She heard him puttering around and finally saw the soft glow of the candle as he came in, a bundle of fabric in his hands. He tossed the fabric on the couch, where it landed in a jumbled heap.
“You might want to change into these.”
She reached out to the pile and held up the clothing, a nondescript T-shirt that could have been grey or beige and dark shorts with a pull cord around the midsection – the ultimate definition of drab. She chided herself, wondering at the inopportune time for her to be thinking fashion rather than comfort.
He seemed to sense her hesitation, adding, “They’re not cute but they are dry. The bathroom is over there.” He pointed to a door and she got up, picked a candle and walked to the bathroom.
As she changed, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and looked. The candle light cast shadows over her face, accentuating the surfaces and curves, making her appear stark and artistic. Steam rose around her and gooseflesh formed over her skin as she attempted to tame her thoughts regarding the young man in the next room. She found herself wondering if she was alluring enough, if her beauty was a gift to be offered on the platter of her willingness. Her thoughts shamed her and she quickly changed, walking out of the bathroom, hauling her wet clothes with her.
“Is there somewhere I can hang these for a bit?”
“There’s one of those hanger things in the hall. Hang them there although I doubt they’ll dry.”
“So…I really don’t know how to get back to school now.” She wanted to escape and get as far away from him as she could, not for fear of him but of herself.
“We’ll figure it out when the rain stops. I’m not about to go out again in this weather.” He walked into the small kitchen and came out with a packet of biscuits, chewing. “You hungry?” He reached out with the packet, offering.
She shook her head. She doubted she could swallow properly even if she tried. “Er…no thanks.”
He shrugged and plopped unto a couch, tipping his head back and closing his eyes, his body visibly relaxing.
She stood as still as a statue, observing him and marveling at his physical perfection. Her tummy churned as she watched him. He probably didn’t even know her name.
“Why are you staring at me, Alison?” His eyes were still closed just as hers widened.
“You know my name?”
“I make it my business to know the names of all pretty girls in the area. It’s a sort of…hobby, if that’s what I’d call it.” He popped one eye open, a wry smile playing about his mouth.
She opened her mouth and closed it again, feeling like a fish. He laughed.
“You think I’m pretty?” Alison couldn’t believe she had said that, sounding so gauche and inelegant. Typical JJC.
“Very.” He was reeling her in and she felt it. “Why are you standing? Why don’t you sit down?” She stood still. He indicated at the smaller sofa across from him. “You see? You have a chair all to yourself, far away from me. Is that okay? I don’t bite…much.”
She didn’t acknowledge the double entendre as she sat down, sinking into the soft, foamy seat, twiddling her thumbs and looking everywhere but at him.
“Okay, I guess we could start with the basics. Why the name Alison? It’s a very unusual name for a Nigerian.”
“My mother went to school in England and had a friend called Alison. She loved the name so much that she gave it to me when I was born.”
“Oh? I see. So…Alison…do you enjoy school?”
Alison thought it was getting comical. Here they were, with nervous energy crackling in the room and he was making small talk about school?
“Yes. What about you?”
The rain fell with thunder crashing in at a steady tempo and they talked on less personal topics for what seemed like hours. She remained upright on the chair, tense, with him across the room, at ease.
Soon she looked at the wall clock, shocked to see that it was already 8 pm. She didn’t know what to do: would she ask him to take her back to campus or would she go downstairs again and see if Dora was back? His voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Do you believe in destiny, Alison?”
Her skin tingled with sparks as she looked down, afraid to let him see her eyes lest he read too much into them. She didn’t know what to say. She did believe in destiny but she wasn’t entirely sure that was what was at play now. She didn’t know what to think. Was this an opportunity for her to tell him how she adored him from afar? Could she tell him how many nights she went to sleep with his face etched in her thoughts and then transferred to her dreams, where the impossible merged into reality? Surely he would laugh.
“So…you believe you’re not here by accident?”
“I don’t know why I’m here.”
“Maybe you do.”
Alison felt the foreboding crawl up her mind, battling with the delicious sense of adventure and anticipation. Together they created a potent mix, making her head swirl in confusion. This was here and now.
She shivered involuntarily and did something unlike her. She got up and walked to the couch where he lay sprawled, her face open, the only sound being their breathing and the drum of rain on the roof. Michael stood up, bridging the distance between them, reaching up to hold her forearms gently.
“You’re shivering.” His voice and proximity jumbled her thoughts all the more. “I really must get you something warmer.”
She inhaled sharply, unmoving, knowing what would come, what was almost inevitable. Or not.
When he kissed her, she responded with all the pent-up fire she had within.
Alison woke to the distant sound of the Muezzin calling for the prayer at dawn. She felt a slight movement and turned to see Michael sleeping soundly by her side. She sat up slowly, leaned on one elbow and looked at his sleeping form. His face, relaxed and devoid of any pretension, served to both anger and sadden her at once. This was not what she had planned.
Rain, thunder and lightning, handsome man and candlelight – such an obvious formula, and she hated herself for her failure to connect the dots. She cursed herself, Michael and even the rain for her temporary loss of sanity. Regret and defiance raged a war within her.
A steady tempo of her sense of foolishness began to beat in her head, matching the even thumping of an oncoming tension headache. She looked around wildly as she began to hyperventilate. Michael opened his eyes, the hooded lids she had found irresistible earlier unbearable now.
“Still breathless, Alison? I continue to impress myself…” he said, a lazy smile spreading across his lips. Heat flooded her face, and he must have seen her look darken, the smile leaving his face. “Are you angry? Why? I thought we both enjoyed…” He let the sentence trail, the sensual undertone unmistakable.
She got up wordlessly, picking her discarded clothing as she began to dress methodically.
“I don’t normally…no, I don’t ever do this sort of thing…” she muttered, more to herself than him.
“I’m sure you don’t.”
“I am not into one-night stands.”
“I’m sure you’re not…”
“And I am smarter than this…”
“No doubt about…”
Her head shot up, irritation filling her at his condescending and somewhat amused tone. “Would you just shut up? You’re probably feeling very good about this right now and…”
“Me? As a matter of fact, yes, I feel very good. And why shouldn’t I? You’re the one making excuses and explanations there. What happened happened.”
She stood, her emotions roiling within her.
“I have to go.”
Then she walked out of the room and the flat. There were no people about, save a few early morning traders carrying bread on trays and some mai-shayis setting up for the morning rush. Alison was able to spot an achaba and get back to the hostel. She made up her mind to avoid Michael and never to speak to him again.
Written by Sifa Asani Gowon
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