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Friday, December 14, 2012

EXTRACT


Pascal noticed that the crowd at his welcome party was finally thinning. Yet another unknown welcomer walked into the living room and up to where Pascal and his brother, Askor, sat with their chattering parents, uncles and aunts and grandmother.

“Mummy Pascal, I am going o,” she said, smiling at the floor.

Their mother turned to Pascal, who got up and disappeared down a corridor inside the house. He emerged with a small pack of mini Toblerones. Pascal had bought dozens of them, just for this purpose. “Nobody will want to leave empty handed when they come to welcome you from America,” Askor had warned via email, weeks before his return. He handed the chocolates to the woman and took his place again beside his mother. The welcomer stood there for a moment, examining the chocolates like she was waiting for something more. Then with a quick bending of her knees she turned and left.

“Who’s she,” Pascal whispered to his mother.

She shrugged. “I don’t even know. Maybe someone from church.”

Pascal chuckled. So he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know everyone at the party.

“What?” his mother asked with a smile.

“Nothing,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulder and hugging her close to his side. Pascal looked around the living room, at his family squeezed into the couches in an arc around him, some people perched on the arms. All his parents’ six brothers and sisters were there, including Uncle Dominic, most of them with their spouses. His cousins who had come had slowly drifted to the canopies set up outside, within the compound, to drink beer and eat fried goat meat. His grandmother, who sat beside his father two places away from Pascal, took a break from chewing her meat. She stretched her neck toward Pascal, flapped her hands to get his attention.

“Pasical!” she called.

“Yes, grandma,” he said, leaning forward to look at her.

“I hope say you no pregnant oyibo wife for there,” she said, waving her index finger in a warning.

“No, grandma, I didn’t impregnate a white girl,” Pascal shook his head, his smile indulgent.

“Ahem,” she nodded her approval. “Those oyibo girls dey turn man into woman. And their leg no dey close.”

“Actually, grandma,” Pascal said, raising a finger. “A recent study has shown – and I don’t remember now where I read this, but it was quite popular – a study has shown that Nigerian women are the most promiscuous in the world!”

“Who is telling that kind of lie!” Uncle Dominic’s wife cried.

A frown came over his grandmother’s face. She looked around for an explanation. “Wetin him talk?” she asked.

Pascal then remembered she only understood Pidgin English and Urhobo. His father turned to his grandmother, “Him talk say…

“Popsy,” Askor cut in. “Let me.”

Askor stood from his position on the arm of the chair beside Pascal, and walked to stand in the middle of the arc, in front of their grandmother. He bent at his waist and peered at her, with a look of utmost seriousness.

“Mama,” he said. “Pascal talk say, out of all the girls wey dey this world, na Nigerian girls dey fuck pass.”

His grandmother gasped, clutched at her sagging bosom.

“Askor!” their mother shrieked. “How many times have I warned you not to use bad words in this house!”

She tried to spring up from her place on the couch, but the bodies were packed in too tight and her movements were clumsy. She fell back in an undignified plop. Askor guffawed and ran out through the front door, slamming it behind him. Pascal shook with laughter, even as his mother glared at him. His father hid his smile behind a wineglass. Uncle Dominic chuckled, shaking his head. “Clara, that your son is something else.”

                                                               . . .

The above is an excerpt from one of the stories I submitted for our fiction workshop this semester. Many of my course mates liked it, and the feedback was helpful. Some are of the opinion that I should turn it into a novel-length thing. But me and novel-length work... we have our issues. I get bored when I try to write very long pieces, and so I have a lot of 'works in progress' which I abandon. Jeanette Winterson will be teaching us next year (I cannot wait!), and she said there's no extra merit to writing a novel over short stories, and if I don't want to write a novel I shouldn't write a novel. I think I already knew this, but it was good to hear it again.

Anyway, in a bid to add some Christmas cheer to my room (and also because I've always wanted a small living plant for my window ledge), I got me a tiny little tree. It may not look it, but it's alive.

Because I like to add a picture...

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

OUT AND ABOUT IN LINCOLN

A couple of weeks ago I visited a friend schooling in Lincoln. It took about three hours by train. I found it a charming little city (town?) that seems to have more character than my Manchester. Or maybe I just haven't done enough exploring here. 

I have pictures, courtesy of Pemi (mostly) and Dunni. Much fun was had.




This pretty little river (canal?) runs through parts of Lincoln. Idyllic, no?

The happy feet of us (at the Usher Gallery) :-D

They called this 'The Prodigal Son'... And I'd thought it was '15th Century Sugar Daddy with Boy Toy'.

Outside the Usher Gallery. Top right, you can just make out the Lincoln Cathedral. The road up ahead, I think, is the one called Steep Hill Street... which is actually on a steep hill that leads up to the cathedral and Lincoln Castle. No irony there.

Attack of the birds! These guys must have been pretty hungry.

Stunning view...

This array of vegetables was on display inside the Lincoln Cathedral.

What did they call these again... prayer candles? Inside Lincoln Cathedral.

Stained glass. No Gothic cathedral is complete without 'em.

The sign says it.

Autumn colours, inside the castle walls

They used to lock people up in here, in the castle :-(

Walking the castle walls. It was freezing that day, so not ideal.

Lincoln Cathedral, towering over everything else (as seen from the castle walls).

We stopped for hot drinks at this quaint little cafe-slash-patisserie around the cathedral area. I think it looks like a dollhouse. Their hot chocolate was the best I've had yet. Sadly, I don't remember their name.

Friday, October 19, 2012

HEART OF GLASS

Image from here 


It looks hard. It’s enough to repel most people, enough to make them give me what I want… distance. The few who try to step close, they get to a point, always a point, where they stop, give one last look and turn away. Always a point where they give up. Distance. What I’ve always wanted.

It’s fragile. I saw you and I knew. Your set jaw, your unrelenting eyes, that undefinable something, they told me you would be Trouble. I’ve had Trouble before, but even it leaves me alone. Eventually. So I watch with my smile mask on, awaiting your retreat; my victory. Waiting for distance.

What I always used to want...

Now I sit alone on the floor, holding it in a shaky hand. I try a soft cloth first. Wipe, wipe, wipe. I try a little spit, and I wipe. I dip my cloth in warm soapy water. Then vinegar. I spray on some Windolene. They won’t go away. Next, scouring powder. Then a metal sponge. It’s covered in scratches when I’m done. But, beneath the scratches, they haven’t gone away.

I realise what I must do. I stand, raise it over my head, slam it into the ground, shattering it into a million tiny pieces. The wall holds me, and I slide down until my knees hit the ground. When my tears stop blinding me, I will gather the pieces together and build me a new, touch-proof, heart.

But how dare you leave your fingerprints all over my heart of glass? And how, after everything, how dare you leave?

***

On the side...

Crazy schedule at school... so much to read. I feel like I need more hours in my day. But I said, "Uche, you must post something today!" So I wrote "Heart of Glass" a few minutes ago. (If you think it's rough - and it is - that's my excuse.)

I'm starting to think that I'd like to make this blog more personal (a bit more truth with the fiction), so the tone will change a bit, if I get it right. So when I do write fiction (as this post is), it might come with little notes on what inspired it, how it relates to me maybe, and other stuff that might not necessarily interest you

For this one, I think I was thinking of how some people think I'm a hard person to know. And they're probably right. I don't say much, don't give much away; and it usually takes a long time for me to get comfortable with people. Some of this is probably deliberate on my part. But mostly, it's just how I am and I can't help it. Sometimes I'd rather be different, but... I've never been good at acting. Now I'm taking small, deliberate steps to be more open. Work in progress

Anyway, I think that, however we may look or seem from the outside, most people want to be loved (romance aside). I think that people want to share of themselves, but for some reason(s) will not. Maybe cannot? Sometimes it's because they've been hurt. Sometimes maybe they just don't know how?

Okay, I'm stopping now. This "note" is now longer than the main story. 

Till next week, hopefully. And thanks for reading.

Friday, October 5, 2012

YORK IN PICTURES


I really don't have any writing to post today, so I'm just going to cop out and post pictures.

Part of the things I determined to do coming to Manchester was travel; see as much of the UK as I possibly can, time and money duly considered. Last Saturday my hall organized a highly subsidized trip to York. I went, and I got pictures.


Some street with an obelisk
Clifford's Tower
Inside Clifford's Tower
View from top of the tower
This street was crowded because of the Food and Drinks Festival that was in town on that day.
Street performers
Random sign (thought it would be artistic)
York is a confluence town (I think). Parts of it got flooded due to heavy rains this year.
This river overflowed
They also thought this was worth capturing. See how far into the street the water is?







Friday, September 28, 2012

WHAT'S GOING ON...

I've been AWOL for two weeks now, and I left no word. I apologize.

So what's going on? Last week I moved from Lagos to Manchester, to start an MA in creative writing. So I've been here, adjusting, battling cold, finding my feet and being inundated with school work already, and my blog has suffered. Sadly.

But by next week I should be able to start posting regularly again. For now, abeg, manage this my paltry, spur-of-the-moment, unedited offering. And thanks to everyone who keeps coming back here to read, including those who read without commenting. Thank you.

OFF
I am happy. Happy I chose Manchester over East Anglia. Happy I chose this hall, got this nice flat in this quiet part of Victoria Park. I like the view from the window of my small study bedroom. I like that I don't have to share a bathroom. I still like my flatmates: three girls from Kenya, Indonesia and the UK. The first few days - registering, introductory meetings, almost getting lost - are made of pure adrenalin. I'm grateful that I can be here. Grateful for the tuition fees bursary I never applied for but got. I am happy.


View from bedroom window

It's starting to wear off now, the excitement, the newness of this place. I know a few bus routes and how to get to the city centre. Now, I don't always have to carry a map, peering into it and bumping into people in the cold. I know to carry an umbrella everywhere. I'm learning to dress for the cold. I'm making decisions, like never to buy chicken from Tesco again.

I am lonely. Sometimes. I don't make friends easily. I have my flatmates, but there's an almost obligatory feel to it. Are we friends? I cannot say just yet. There are my course mates, but we are not friends. Not yet, at least.

A few days after I arrived here, I met a friend I'd known from University of Port Harcout. He'd come in only a day after me. He's doing a masters too. We stood there outside his hall where I'd spotted him, two newbies, hugging and laughing, rubbing our palms together for warmth, glad to not have to check our Nigerian English. 

So there is one friend. 

But I get lonely still. Sometimes. And it is cold. And I feel slightly removed from... from before. Slightly unsure. I'm finding it hard to write...

I will try some new things while I'm here; things I couldn't or wouldn't try at home. I'll take trips, learn to swim, maybe learn to ride a bike. I didn't come here for just a degree.

There are some things I don't want to try. But I get lonely. Sometimes. And it is cold. It will get colder. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

ZONE F


Image from here

Marian marched to the windows and began parting the drapes. She heard him groan as sunlight streamed into the room.

“Shola.”

There was no response.

“Shola!”

He mumbled something incoherent.

“Shola, get up and get on the couch now,” she scolded, slapping his cheeks mildly.

 “My head feels like it's about to explode,” he moaned as he sat up, holding his head between both hands.

“You should have thought of that before you went and got drunk,” she said, trying not to show how concerned she was.

“She left me,” he said, staring at his toes. “She didn’t even give any reason that made sense... just said she couldn’t do it anymore.”

He looked up and into Marian’s eyes, without warning, and she felt her throat go dry.

“What does that mean, ‘I can’t do this anymore’?” he asked.

Marian could only manage a shrug. He stared down at his toes again. Struggling to keep the emotion from her voice, Marian stood, clapping her hands to spur him on.

“Get up and get on the couch so I can start cleaning up this mess you made,” she said. “God knows you’re in no condition to do it yourself.”

He raised his head to look in her eyes again.

“Help me… please...” he whispered.

Marian swore under her breath as she felt the familiar ache in her heart. Sitting there with his shoulders slumped and his legs splayed, there was a childlike vulnerability in him, and she felt again that bitter-sweet urge to shield him from all that was bad and hurtful. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and tell him everything would be fine, now she was there.

“You know what, let’s just get you into your room where you won’t get in my way,” she said instead.

He gave a weak nod.

She squatted next to him, put one arm under his arm and draped his other arm over her shoulder, and then she hefted him up and onto his feet. They wobbled into his bedroom and Marian was glad to see that he hadn’t wrecked his room too. She tried to ease him slowly onto his bed, but she lost her footing and they both tumbled onto it, Marian landing on top of him. She quickly eased her weight onto her elbows, concerned that she might have hurt him; but when she saw the dazed smile on his face she giggled. 

His smile stayed on as he closed his eyes, and Marian could not resist the urge to linger there for a moment. Even now, with his thick hair in its disheveled state, dried vomit streaking his cheek, she thought him beautiful. Like a person long denied water, she drank in his face: his smooth, dark skin and almost too big nose; his cheeks, the dimples she’d always wanted to explore with her tongue; his full eyebrows, and eyelashes you could sweep the floor with. His mouth; that barely visible line that split his lower lip down the middle. His chin; and the small mole hidden beneath his beard. Her lips parted in a quiet sigh. She had never had the chance to take him in so fully without him watching. She became increasingly aware of her body, of how it was pressed into his. It was getting hard to breathe.

She sank her hand into his hair, rubbing the tips of her fingers against his scalp. She heard him moan from deep in his throat and she smiled, growing bolder. She lowered her head to nibble on his earlobe.

“Niiice…” he sighed. Then he chuckled, “I should get dumped more often.”

The smile froze on Marian’s face and her hands slowed to a stop. Shola opened his eyes as Marian struggled off him and onto her feet. She stalked out of the room, smoothing down her dress and blinking back tears, ignoring the question in his voice as he called out her name. She rushed out of the apartment, only stopping long enough to search the living room for her purse.

You’re a fool, going around in that same old circle. He needs you now, but when he gets back on his feet you’ll be his “guy” again. Like before, he’ll move on from this. And he’ll leave you behind until the next break up. Just like before. So keep walking. Just. Keep. Walking…

She got as far as her car, parked out in the street, before her feet turned her around and led her back to Shola. Back to heaven. Back to hell.

Friday, August 24, 2012

WHERE YOU SHOULD BE THIS WEEKEND...

...if you are in Lagos and love all things literary.

This evening, there's the Farafina Trust Literary Evening, to mark the end of the 2012 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop organized by Chimamanda Adichie. Onyeka Onwenu will be performing and, of course, several notable writers will be there: Chimamanda herself, Binyavanga Wainaina, Rob Spillman, Jeff Allen and others.

Date: Today, 24th August 2012
Time: 5 pm
Venue: The Grand Ballroom, Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos

And tomorrow, Farafina will be launching the print version of Eghosa Imasuen's Fine Boys. Chimamanda will be hosting this event, and Binyavanga Wainaina will be reading from his work as well. A few lucky guests will leave with some Farafina books free!




Date: Tomorrow, 25th August, 2012
Time: 2 pm
Venue: Quintessence, Falomo Shopping Complex, Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos

Both events are absolutely free!

Friday, August 17, 2012

WHY WRITERS SHOULD WELCOME MISTAKES

Image from here



I have no stories of my own to share this week, so I'll be sharing writing tips from Daphne Gray-Grant. Here's what she has to say about the positives of making mistakes as a writer:

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes… Here are the reasons why:

1) We become less fearful. When we've fallen a number of times, we learn there's usually no huge amount of pain involved. It's more of a nuisance than anything else. So we write a first draft of something that doesn't work or is even flat-out wrong. What's the big deal? We can always rewrite it! But we won't write any better until we learn to take some risks and try writing it differently.

2) We learn more. Most of us welcome the idea of winning awards or being buried in praise by our clients, bosses and peers, but I find I always learn more from mistakes than anything I've done well. Once, in my daily newspaper days, I remember writing "they're" when I meant "their." I knew the difference – I'd just been working too quickly. Unfortunately, no editor caught the error and it was published. In a story about a famous writer. Talk about embarrassing! My mistake, however, taught me to be infinitely more careful with homophones. 

3) It teaches us to forgive. Making mistakes is part of the human condition. If we can forgive ourselves (and forgive others), our lives become much more pleasant. And, by the way, who wants to be perfect? Perfection leaves no room for improvement.

4) Mistakes mean we're progressing. As we make mistakes and continue to learn, our writing slowly improves. Often, we don't see the change – in the same way we don't see changes in our children or our parents, unless we've been away from them for a time. The bad news is we're all too close to our own writing to truly be able to judge it. And the good news? If we're making mistakes, we can be confident that we're also making progress.

5) We'll create a positive, self-perpetuating loop. If we refuse to be stopped by the fear of making mistakes, here's how things will work out: We write. We make mistakes. We learn from them. We write differently. We make new mistakes. We learn from them. We write differently. We make new mistakes. We learn from them. We write differently... (Note: You do have to be willing to LEARN for this to work!)
           
In fact, there are very few downsides to making mistakes while writing. The real mistake is to pretend we're not going to make any. Or, far worse, not to write at all.


Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book, 81/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.


Friday, August 10, 2012

AUNTY VICK

Image from here


Let me give you a scenario to chew on. You know the nosy woman in the Nollywood film who always goes to visit the clueless mother of Caro and, after examining Caro like a lab specimen while she serves drinks, turns to Mama Caro and says, “Mama Caro, can you not see that that girl is pregnant?” This nosy woman with x-ray vision is Aunty Vick.

And I am pregnant. A pregnant, teenage undergraduate. It’s a few weeks old and I have morning sickness. I stay hidden in my room most mornings, emerging only after my mother leaves for work. I am lazy and irritable, and how have I never noticed that our house smells like raw eggs? I am afraid. I am tired of trying to act normal around my mother. I’m failing, but not horribly. Not yet. She is distracted. I am thinking of an excuse for going back to school before resumption. I worry about the baby’s father; about what he will say when I present him with this new reality.

My hell just got hotter; Aunty Vick is visiting.

I have never liked her enough to smile at her, but today I do. It is a wan smile, but maybe it will fool her. I step to the side, opening the door wide enough to fit her massive frame. She sniffs at my greeting, plops her bag of goods at my feet and waddles into the living room. I pick it up and follow her, leaving the door to swing shut behind me.

In the living room, she collapses into the couch and we both pretend not to hear it creak. I place the bag on the floor gently beside her, wondering what she has brought to sell this time but not really caring.

“Let me call mummy,” I say, glad to have a reason to leave her presence. She reaches for the TV remote and as I climb the stairs I can make out the soundtrack of a Nigerian movie. I knock on my mother’s bedroom door and poke my head in just long enough to deliver my message. Then I disappear into my room. Moments later, I hear my mother skip down the stairs and I exhale.

I’m starting to drift off into a pensive sleep when I am jolted awake. My mother is screaming my name from the living room. I go into a panic, look around the room for an escape route. Those darned burglary proof bars! God knows I would rather hurl myself out the windows. There is nothing in my room with which I can kill myself; I will have to face them. I can just see Aunty Vick, her eyes wide with the scandal of it, and that hint of malicious satisfaction she would try to hide from my mother.

I consider pretending not to have heard the call; but in typical fashion, my mother bellows out my name again, decibels louder. I make the sign of the cross – for the first time in years – open my door and go down the stairs to the living room.

“Yes, mum,” I whisper.

My mother barely raises her head.

“Get drinks for Aunty Vick.”

As I leave, it’s Aunty Vick’s eyes that follow me. My mother is busy rifling through the bras, camisoles and panties Aunty Vick is selling. I enter the kitchen and quickly blink back the tears that well up in my eyes. I get the drinks – Aunty Vick’s favourites, Guinness stout and a can of malt – place them on a tray with a glass and walk back to the living room, counting the seconds as I go. With shaky hands, I set the tray down on the stool beside Aunty Vick and straighten up to leave.

“Open it and pour for me!” Aunty Vick orders. I open the Guinness.

“Hmm. I’ve been looking for something like this o,” my mother says, holding a black camisole up to the light from the windows and examining it. “But laziness hasn’t allowed me go to Balogun. Now I’ll be able to wear that lace top I got, thank God. It’s just been lying there.”

Aunty Vick growls her approval. “You have good eye. This one is very high quality; it will last you well.”

I glance up as I start to fill the glass with malt. My mother is examining a nude coloured bra that is clearly too small for her; Aunty Vick is examining my hand pouring her drink.

“Tutu, this one will size you o. Shebi you are 32B,” my mother says.

I mumble something incoherent, set the can of malt down on the tray. Aunty Vick’s eyes are on my chest as I stand up straight. I pretend not to notice, but sweat is forming on my upper lip. I flee from the living room.

I reach the bottom of the stairs and turn to look back at the two women. As I feared, their heads are close together now. They are sharing something secret. Aunty Vick’s eye catches mine. And just like that, my life becomes a Nollywood script.

Friday, August 3, 2012

THE ROMANCE PROJECT

Image from here


Warning: It's sappy, it's a bit cheesy, it's kinda old, and from my pathetic attempts to write romance. Enjoy.

“So, I hope Tonia wasn’t too much trouble today,” Cheta said. He sat on the couch, his feet up on a stool, wearing Labake’s bathrobe like it had been made for him even though it was a few sizes too small.

“Oh, no, she’s been good. Homework’s done. I gave her a bath and she fell asleep right after dinner.”

Labake sat opposite Cheta on the floor. In the dim light from the candles she couldn’t clearly make out his features, but she could feel his eyes. There was still no light and the rain wasn’t letting up. Cheta and Labake watched each other in silence. Then he spoke.

“I can’t thank you enough for this; for all the help you’ve been with Tonia. I’m so clueless, I don’t know how I’d have managed without you.”

“Come on, you don’t have to keep saying it all the time. And it’s my pleasure, believe me.”

“Still, thank you.”   

“Again, you’re welcome.”

Cheta smiled. Labake swallowed.

“So….”

“What?”

“Nothing. Just thinking out loud. I don’t know that much about you...”

“What else would you like to know?” Labake asked, her head cocked to one side.

“You could start with your family.”

Labake sighed and stretched her legs out on the floor. “There’s really nothing much to tell. My family’s a small one; right now there’s me, my mum, my younger sister, who used to live here in Lagos but has now relocated to Abuja, and my elder brother who’s in Germany with his family. My father died not long after I finished secondary school. And you met my mother the other day…”

“How could I forget,” Cheta cut in, smiling.

“Yeah… so, that’s it really. My sister in Abuja is married with two kids, and my brother’s also married and has a son, though I’ve seen him only twice; once when my brother came to Nigeria with his wife, and another time when I visited them over there. We’re quite close, my brother and I; although we used to be much closer before he moved away.”

“And your sister?”

Labake shook her head. “Nah. Not close at all. She’s always thought I was mum’s favourite, and… maybe it’s just me, but I get this sense that she thinks she’s in constant competition with me.”

“Why would you think that?” Cheta asked. In a perverted way, he was glad to learn that Labake’s family had their own issues.

“I don’t know... It’s just some of the things she says sometimes when she claims she’s joking. Like when she got her oil and gas job. She came into the house screaming, and we were all happy for her and rejoicing when she turned to me and said ‘You probably wish you were me right now, abi’, or something like that. I don’t remember the exact words now.”

“Well, maybe she was joking.”

“She certainly laughed, but I don’t think she was joking. And even if she was, you know what they say about jokes: sometimes the easiest way to say what’s on your mind is to say it as a joke. Oh, and there was her wedding. I was her chief bridesmaid, and at some point during the wedding preparations that morning, the best man told me he’d misplaced the rings, and I was really upset. I helped him search for it for a while, and then I popped into the room to see how far they’d gone with her makeup and everything; to know if we’d have time to rush out for another ring if we didn’t find the original ones. My worry must have shown on my face because as soon as I walked in she looked up at me and was like ‘Ah-ah, Labake, I know you’re angry that I beat you to it, but at least smile and pretend to be happy for me now.’ Those were her exact words, said with a smile, of course. I just turned and walked away. Thankfully, the best man was able to find the rings, if not she might have said I was the one who hid the rings to stop the wedding from happening.”

“But it’s not like you guys are sworn enemies or anything.”

“Oh no, we manage to keep it civil. And it’s not like she’s ever come out and said anything. And I’ve never confronted her about it, so… But we do get along when we need to.”

“Okay.”

“So now that you’ve heard all my sordid family tales…”

Cheta smiled. “They can’t be all bad now, come on. I’ve met your mum and she seems nice and sane.”

Labake laughed. “She is, mostly, but she still can’t understand why I chose to teach children for ‘peanuts’ when I can be making much more doing something else.”

“Well, I’m sure she’s just concerned and wants you to be okay.”

“But I am okay, Cheta.”

“I can see that.”

Labake laughed quietly.

“What?”

“Nothing… it’s just, my mum also can’t understand why I’m not married and producing offspring yet.”

“Why? She has three grandchildren already.”

“It’s not even about the grandchildren. I think she’s afraid I might be turning into an old maid.”

“And does that bother you?”

Labake frowned. “Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to meet someone and fall in love and get married and have kids and all that, but I’m really not in a hurry. It’s an important decision, and I’m not going to let myself get pressured into making a mistake.”

“But right now you’re not…”

“Seeing anyone? No.”

Cheta contemplated that for a moment, trying not to show his pleasure.

“I don’t mean to sound like your mum or anything, but why not? You’re beautiful, smart, mature…”

“Wait a minute, Cheta,” Labake said, laughing. “This one that you are complimenting me like this, it’s strange. I’m used to you glaring and looking down your nose at me.”

Cheta laughed. “But seriously… and you have a good heart. You should have your pick of men, Labake.”

She shrugged. “Well, maybe I just haven’t found him yet. I’ve been in relationships before; I’ve gone on dates, but there’s just always something missing. I don’t know what it is, but I believe I’ll know when I finally find it.”

“Ah,” Cheta sighed. “The ever elusive ‘it’.”

“Yeah, what about ‘it’?” Labake said with a smile.

“ Nothing.”

“Oh, come on. What, you don’t believe in ‘it’?” Labake teased.

“Okay, here it is. I just don’t know that this ‘it’ is a real thing. I mean, I thought I’d found ‘it’ once. And I was…” he chuckled bitterly. “…God, I was so sure.”

“And…” Labake urged.

“And it was a lie. The most brilliant, well played, painful lie, Labake. So if you ask me, I can live without ‘it’, thank you very much.”

They listened to the rain, which had slowed to a light shower, for several minutes.

“Labake, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she mumbled.

“Oh, God. I’ve upset you now,” he said, moving to sit beside her on the floor.

“Oh no, it’s okay. You were burned, and… and you have the right to your opinions,” Labake said.

She sat still, trying to stifle the panic she felt at his closeness. He should look ridiculous in that damned bathrobe.

“Well, my opinions don’t necessarily apply to you. Besides, I’ve been known to be wrong sometimes… more times than I’d like to admit, actually.”

They sat there, thighs touching, for a while. And then she made a mistake. She turned and looked in his eyes.

***

Cheta knew she could see it. He wanted to kiss her. No, not want. You don’t merely want your next breath. He was going to kiss her. He would regret it after, but he would deal with it then. He kept his eyes on hers as he ran his thumb over her cheek, moving closer.

He heard her catch her breath as he touched his lips to her neck, just below her ear. Then the line of her jaw. Then her chin. He lingered there, drawing a line with his thumb down her neck. He closed his eyes as their lips drew closer. It coursed through his veins, the thrill of finally knowing what she’d taste like.

They blinked as light suddenly flooded the room.

Up NEPA.

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