I stared blankly at the lit up screen of my phone. I was reading Lekan’s email again. Maybe I was hoping I was reading it and missing out something. Maybe it was even sent in error.
Lekan? How could Lekan have been planning to leave Nigeria and not tell me? What exactly did he mean by “Move on with your life. Don’t wait for me. ”
I called his best friend, Sola. He confirmed that Lekan had indeed relocated to the USA. Permanently. His mom also said the same. In a sombre tone that sent chills down my spine. My eyes drifted to the calendar hanging on the wall opposite my bed. December 20, 2014. The date on the email showed it had been sent four months ago.
What happened to our plans for this Christmas, Lekan? What happened to us discovering Calabar…together? Sigh.
I hadn’t even told my bestie, Amichi about Lekan’s ‘disappearance’. I could picture the I-told-you-so look on her face already. No man ever made it into her good books since her breakup with Andy. That is gist for another day.
I had hoped this was just a bad dream and I would wake up soon. But very early this morning, my phone rang. I reached out and without even checking who was calling I answered with a very drowsy ‘hello’.
I sat bolt upright in bed as Lekan’s familiar drawl came across from the other end. I launched a barrage of questions at him amidst tears and telling him how much I missed him and….
“Nkechi, stop. Just stop. That’s what I called to tell you. Stop clogging my inbox with your mails. I belong in your past. Stop trying so hard because I have no place in your future. Do you understand?”
The line went dead before any word could squeeze itself past the lump in my throat. Since then, I had been sitting in bed staring at the phone in my hand. My head was aching badly. I wanted to cry but the tears just wouldn’t come. My tongue felt like parchment paper.
I took a deep breath, hit the delete button on the email and dropped the phone on the bed. I moved toward the kitchen to get some water to moisten the dryness in my mouth.
That was when I saw the bottle of aspirin Amichi had left behind on her last visit. Movie scenes flashed before my mind’s eye. Single Black Female, dies of drug overdose. Almost simultaneously, I heard Mama’s voice in my head say “Tufiakwa” as she snapped her fingers above her head.
A loud knock on the door of my flat interrupted my thoughts. I put the glass down and went to look through the peephole. My next door neighbour, Martin stood there with some other guy, who was standing some way off. His back was turned to me. I opened the door.
“Hey, Nkechi. Sorry to disturb you. I need the spark plug spanner you used to fix my generator yesterday. My friend needs it for his car.”
“Okay. Sure. ”
His friend was facing the doorway when I returned with the spanner. Squinting, in light of the setting sun, I noticed they both wore matching black t-shirts with bold red lettering on the front.
He pushed his glasses farther up on his aquiline Hausa Fulani nose.
“Nkechi? Wow. I didn’t know it was you! I had no idea you lived here.” He pronounced my name “Inkechi”
” You know each other? ” Martin looked at both of us, surprised and amused.
” Yes.” said Farouk. “She works in my branch. Customer service. ”
I had never seen Farouk in anything other than those funny looking tweed suits he wore to work. Thankfully, he was out of sight of our customers as he worked in the computer room. I only saw him during the weekly meetings every Monday. My eyes travelled up from his converse shoes to his jeans to the black t-shirt. A pair of nicely sculpted biceps was straining through the sleeves.
“I’ve never seen you before….apart from at work, I mean.” He continued, his eyes drinking in my appearance.
The loose floral print dress I wore plus my rubber flipflops were not a particularly flattering outfit.
Why is he looking at me like that?
“Who’s Dapo?” I pointed at their t-shirts, deftly shifting the focus from me to them. The red lettering on their shirts read “SAVING DAPO “.
“Oh. He’s a really cool guy. ” Martin laughed.
” Is he ill? Why does he need saving?” I asked.
“Why don’t you come with us and meet him? Then, you can ask him yourself.” Farouk had a glint in his eyes. ” It’ll be fun.”
“Um…I really don’t feel like going anywhere. ”
“Hey. It’s Saturday. You’re always indoors. We guarantee you will have fun. Come on.” Martin coaxed.
“Nkechi, don’t leave me alone with this guy. He can be boring. I need interesting company. ” Farouk punched Martin playfully in his arm.
Lekan. I’m supposed to be here crying over you. But,are you even thinking of me? No.
“Okay. Let me change into something more…presentable. I’ll be right out.” I smiled.
“You don’t have to. You’re beautiful.”
My eyes nearly popped out.
Farouk! And I thought he couldn’t talk. Hmm.
About an hour later, we arrived at a small open air gathering at one of the quiet parks in town. “Saving Dapo” turned out to be a novel where Dapo Olaojo was the main character. A story about healing, fresh starts and love. Love, and its many expressions. As the author read from several parts of the book, I smiled, laughed and had tears fill up my eyes. Lekan and my broken heart were quickly forgotten as I fell head over heels with Dapo.
At the end, I fished around in my bag for a handkerchief to dab my eyes and by the time I looked up, Farouk was gone. I saw Martin a few seats away displaying his “charm” to two young ladies who were listening intently to whatever tale he was spinning. I stood up, trying to decide whether to go towards Martin or go buy a copy of the book first.
“Hey. Looking for me?” Farouk slid back into the seat beside me, holding two copies of the book in his hand. “Well…” “Here. I got this for you.”
“Oh! Thank you. I’m definitely going to enjoy the book from what I’ve heard here today.”
Farouk smiled. And I noticed how perfect his teeth were for the first time. Martin was going off to see some babe he was “toasting ” at the moment, leaving me and Farouk to head home together. We stopped for some pizza on our way home. We talked. And talked. And talked. I saw a side of Farouk that was very different from the office Farouk. He knew so much about books, art, movies and music. And he told me he had recently enrolled in weekend culinary classes!
He walked me to my door when we got to my house. There was a moment of awkwardness when we were saying our goodbyes. He looked like he was about to hug me. But instead took my hand, his lips barely brushing the back of my hand as he bowed at the waist.
“I did have fun. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Thank you too for accepting my invite.”
A couple of hours later, I crawled into bed and feverishly tore away the plastic wrapping around the book. Inserting the soundtrack CD of the book in my laptop, I put on my headphones and settled down to read. I opened the first page.
In small, neat handwriting,it read:
“Dear Nkechi, Please save Farouk because….he thinks your feet are the cutest he’s ever seen in flipflops.
Thank you for coming.
I smiled ruefully.
But, I’m the one who needs saving, Seun. Tell Farouk to save Nkechi.
For the first time in my adult life, I was looking forward to Monday morning. I was looking forward to going to work… and a certain Hausa Fulani man in a tweed suit.
SAVING DAPO a novel by Seun Odukoya is now available at the following bookstores in Lagos, Nigeria :
1.Patabah – Shoprite, Surulere
2. GlendoraBooks – Ikeja City Mall
3. Terrakulture, Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island Lagos
Coming soon to online stores.