Isaac couldn’t understand why Alex had suddenly begun hanging at his laundry shop when he wasn’t running errands for Mama Saviour. For the past two days, he had noticed that he would return from an errand and would immediately rush down to the laundry and hang there until he got called out again.
Alex ignored Isaac’s suspicious stare and his whispered suggestions to his friend as to the reason behind his new behaviour. Their suggestions heavily leaned towards the sudden disappearance of Idong and they were angry that he was acting like a love sick fool, but that wasn’t it at all.
If he broke down and told them the reason, Alex didn’t know if they would laugh to death or be angrier for his gaffe.
After silently dressing up in the goat shed, Idong had requested for his phone number, though he was hesitant, he still gave it to her and she had left him on the road, close to Mama Saviour’s shop with an innocent peck on the chin.
Grudgingly, he had wished her a safe journey while deeply wondering who had seen them at the goat shed. At first, Alex had been surprised at Idong’s carefree attitude after being caught, but quickly recalled that she was leaving town the next day, and so, she wasn’t worried about the imminent fallout or scandal that might ensue if the discoverer decided to air what she’d seen.
Who would have come to Mama Saviour’s goat shed at night? Everybody knew the couple’s itinerary and he had agreed to the tryst with Idong, because, he had the knowledge that in that time bracket, both husband and wife would be busy at the shop. Everybody knew this and would certainly have located them at their shop.
Alex recalled that the person had called out ‘sister’; everybody called the shop owner, Mama Saviour and her husband bore the title ‘husband’.
The answer to the swirling thoughts in his head and the dread in the pit of his stomach stood before him when he arrived at the shop.
“Ah, I thought you wouldn’t return after coming to call me,” Mama Saviour’s husband had declared the moment Alex climbed the short steps into the brightly lighted shop. The electricity bulbs were all energy savers, the shop was busy as expected at this time and nobody seemed interested in him, but Alex suddenly felt exposed.
He felt like everyone in that shop knew what he had just done; he felt like he was oozing some sort of scent that announced what he’d just done. He felt like the anonymous person that had stumbled on them at the goat shed had already spread the word and he dreaded a replica of the vicious assassination he had faced at the village.
Over time, he had embraced the move to Uyo as a good thing, as it gave him the opportunity to start over in a new place where his sexual notoriety was not known. But this thing with Idong looked like it was threatening to be an even bigger scandal, considering how she was regarded in the neighbourhood and where they had decided to have the tryst.
People would immediately shrug their shoulders sharply in disgust and twist the situation as Alex being ungrateful and equally, disrespectful of the love Mama Saviour and her husband had for him. They would invariably drag Isaac into it and the thought of that happening was his worst fear. Jojo’s brother had been good to him, more than he had expected, so he wouldn’t want to implicate Isaac in any way. The problem was, as he was staying in his house, people would assume he was an accomplice.
“You must have passed my sister-in-law on your way without knowing her,” Mama Saviour’s husband continued when he had a slight gap in between customers.
Warning bells had gone off in his head and his eyes went to the only sitting person in the shop.
“Ekamma, say hi to Alex, he is our delivery guy. When your sister isn’t around, he’s the one you’d send to the market to get any products that aren’t available in the shop,” Papa Saviour lectured.
Mama Saviour’s sister, Ekamma, had nodded but had seemed extremely uncomfortable looking him in the eye. Alex had caught her covert looks a number of times and in fact, was quite sure that Ekamma had been the one at the goat shed.
He was embarrassed.
It was one of the reasons he couldn’t sit at the shop with Ekamma sans Mama Saviour. Alex had tried it the first day, having silently convinced himself that the girl would do nothing, and that it wasn’t her business what he did in goat sheds. But the hour long heavy silence between them had chased him from the shop to Isaac’s laundry.
Two days down the line, he was tired of ignoring the issue and he was tired of the heavy silence that reigned between Ekamma and himself. Her silence was accusatory; her eyes told him that she was aware of his sin.
Having pretended to be asleep the whole time Isaac sat with his friend, whispering why he had suddenly began staying at the laundry instead of Mama Saviour’s shop, Alex heaved a heavy sigh, got up and walked out. He saw Isaac’s guilty look but refused to address it, he was saving his energy and determination for the conversation he was about to have with Ekamma.
His determined foot steps began lagging as he neared the shop, unfortunately, every forward step, no matter how slow, got him closer to the shop until he arrived. Alex took a deep breath and climbed into the shop; Ekamma was, once again, reading another novel, that was five novels in the two days she had been at the shop.
It was another thing that she resembled Nse for; the second reason the whole thing bothered him enough to have chased him to Isaac’s laundry, was because, Ekamma could have been Nse’s twin sister, only slimmer.
She was as prim and proper as Nse had been those days in school. Looking at her everyday, her silent disapproval, especially after catching him pants down, literally, Alex had felt like making everything better, just as he had felt for Nse. He wanted to be forgiven; he wanted to be better.
“Can I speak with you?” he managed to croak hesitantly and held his breath until she finally sighed and lifted her head to stare at him with exasperated expectancy.
Ekamma was small, maybe, her head would reach to his chest, but right at that moment, she made him feel like a naughty child in the principle’s office. Alex shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably; now that she had given him audience, all his planned speech had flown from his mind.
“Please, sit down. Staring up at your great height is hurting my neck,” she grumbled and made to return to her reading, but Alex immediately complied and the fear of being ignored again made him open his mouth.
“I’m sorry,” he croaked and then cleared his throat.
“For what?” she snapped, her eye brow rose towards her weaved hair; she looked exactly like Nse in that moment.
Alex cleared his throat again and twisted his hands together. Pinpricks of embarrassment raced under his skin and made him want to scratch himself like a drug addict. His mouth twitched but nothing came out; having to acknowledge his tryst in a goat shed and apologize was more difficult than he’d imagined it would be and Ekamma’s steady stare was not helping.
Sighing again and looking everywhere else but at her, he cleared his throat, “I was just doing a favour for a friend,” he blurted out and got a wide eye sarcastic look from Ekamma.
“You don’t say,” she exclaimed and actually dropped her novel to pay him attention; she was mocking him.
“I’m serious, it’s the truth, she…” having to explain why he had agreed to have sex with Idong inside Mama Saviour’s goat shed out loud, made him see the ridiculousness of it.
“Please, explain it to me,” Ekamma said calmly and actually crossed one leg over the other, further discomfiting him. Everything she did was sarcastic.
Alex covered his face with his large hands and told Ekamma the ridiculous story that led to having sex with Idong in a rush of words. When he finished, he was afraid to look at her face, but had to, she was genuinely shocked this time.
“That is the weirdest reason to have sex, especially in a goat shed…” Alex swallowed with some difficulty and looked down in shame.
“…but,” he looked up to see a small smile on her face that gave him hope, “…but, in an odd kind of way…it’s…romantic,” she finished in a small voice.
“Romantic?” Alex asked in confusion. “I don’t think so, I don’t have any feelings for her, I was just helping her,” he explained urgently.
“Apology accepted,” she suddenly said, blatantly ignoring his explanation. “Next time, though, try somewhere private,” she advised exasperatingly.
“Of course,” Alex replied enthusiastically, silently, he thanked God for romance novels; he couldn’t think of any other explanation to Ekamma’s easy concession.
“And don’t worry, I’m not going to tell my sister; I was never going to, my mouth would have been too heavy to say it,” she said and shrugged with a small shudder as though she dreaded the prospect of having to report the situation to her elder sister.
Alex laughed and relief floated in his chest, he really liked Ekamma.
“Thank you, Ekamma…”
“Eka,” she corrected, “You can call me Eka,” she directed with a small smile.
“I’m grateful, Eka,” he said and grinned like a foolish person, he was extremely happy, and for once in a long while, he didn’t really feel the pain of losing Nse; maybe, he and Eka would work.
But that didn’t happen.
Not when Eka insisted on keeping every conversation light and friendly. Alex thought he just needed time to convince her that he would be true to her, but that never happened.
In the following week, Jojo arrived and it was love at first sight.
He had been at the shop that evening, having a heated argument with Nse about one of the characters in her never ending supply of books when he heard his name called at the entrance of the shop.
Alex knew the voice, but in the split second it took him to turn, he’d experienced disbelief and a wild hope that it would be his friend behind him. It made the hugging session very enthusiastic as he turned and found Jojo standing there with a wide grin, his eyes shifting from him to Eka and back.
Jojo’s interest was instant, it surrounded him like a halo. And Alex was shocked to find Eka behaving like a teenager with a crush, something she’d never done before. She wouldn’t look Jojo in the eye for long, then she got busy with her novel though she kept glancing at them more than she read.
“Why didn’t you call?”
“I wanted to surprise you. I bring good news,” Jojo said but his eyes remained on Eka’s bent head.
Alex feared that his name had actually been exonerated at the village and that he would have to return to it when he‘d already fallen in love with the town. He waited with bated breath for Jojo to continue but his eyes wouldn’t leave Eka’s direction.
He did not want to introduce them. He could feel the heavy pull between them and he felt thwarted that he’d found her first, had the interest first but she was obviously attracted to his friend who had just arrived.
Alex felt hurt, and not from the fact that Jojo was consistently pinching the skin at his elbow while winking at him to introduce them, he felt hurt that Eka hadn’t shown any signs that she would be more than friends with him; simply put, he was jealous.
Grudgingly, Alex introduced them with a frown on his face that both his friends ignored or were too blind with each other to notice.
“Hmm,” she answered in an eager tone and straightened in her plastic seat, her eyes widening as though she had been caught doing something bad.
“This is my best friend, Jojo, he just arrived from home and Jojo, this is Eka,” Alex subconsciously refused to move from the way after the introduction but Jojo wasn’t deterred, he elbowed him out of the way and bent from the waist down, like a gallant gentleman, to offer Eka his hand; Alex shook his head, silently wondering how Jojo knew what would endear him to her.
“I am so happy to meet you,” he murmured and Alex knew that tone of voice as the one he used on a girl he wanted to charm.
And Eka, his friend who had seemed as disciplined as Nse some moments ago, was charmed. She giggled, docked her head shyly and didn’t pull her hand from Jojo’s own even though the handshake was approaching a minute.
Alex cleared his throat loudly, “So, come tell me about this good news,” he said and practically grabbed Jojo’s shirt to drag him away from Eka. Apart from separating them with the hope of dipping whatever attraction they were experiencing in the mud, he also didn’t want Eka hearing of the terrible thing he had done at the village, it would only confirm the goat shed debacle.
Jojo straightened to his full height, which stopped his head at Alex’s shoulder and blurted out the good news, even though he’d caught Alex’s eye and understood that his friend wanted them to talk outside.
“Our WAEC result is out!” he exclaimed and laughed at the befuddled look on Alex’s face. Jojo slapped him playfully on the shoulder while laughing happily, “You should be happy,” he declared.
Eka looked interested in their conversation, which Alex knew Jojo was happy about, especially as he turned and explained to her without her asking.
“Our school’s results had been withheld and we had been afraid that it would not be out in time for JAMB results, so that we could seek for admission into the University of Uyo.”
“So, now it’s out,” Eka conversed nicely, smiling at Jojo.
“It is and my man here made the highest cut. His result was the best in the school, followed by me,” he declared proudly, enjoying Eka’s shocked expression.
“You look shocked. Is it so unimaginable that I could have some sense?” Alex asked, having recovered from his momentary speechlessness.
“Well,” she begun, her expression not denying the fact, “It’s a village school anyway,” she said and shrugged with a sly smile suggesting her enjoyment of their indignation.
Alex scoffed while Jojo was verbal, “What?! Hey, let me tell you, the result was withheld because it was a shock that kids from that village school had the best result in the state!” he declared and puffed his chest when Eka’s eyes widened and her sly smile disappeared.
“Wow,” she murmured, “That’s impressive.”
“Yeah, you better believe it, baby,” Alex said excitedly, affecting an American accent, the one that always made Eka laugh when they were chatting.
But she didn’t laugh, instead her eyes widened in alarm and she glanced guiltily at Jojo whose smile had waned considerably.
Alex caught their looks and gave up the pretence. “Seriously? You always laugh when I call you ‘baby’ but because my friend is here it becomes bad?” he asked in exasperation.
Both his friends hadn’t expected that he’d be so forward and they both seemed uncomfortable. Alex sighed wearily and gave up. There was no need holding on to a memory and trying to replace it with a physical similarity. No matter how Eka resembled Nse, she wasn’t Nse and therefore didn’t have the spark that had existed between himself and former crush.
It still didn’t stop it from hurting. It felt like he was losing Nse all over again as he gave up Eka ever being more than a friend.
He sighed and further shocked his friends, “I haven’t dated her,” he said to Jojo who instantly looked uncomfortable but smiled because he knew his friend; Alex was the most selfless person he knew and this wasn’t the first time he was doing this sort of thing.
And to Eka he said, “We can still be friends, it doesn’t have to become awkward because you like Jojo…”
“Who says I like Jojo?” Eka asked indignantly.
“It shows,” Alex said in exasperation.
“I like you too,” Jojo declared and grinned at Eka who was trying not to laugh.
Alex rolled his eyes, “I’ll be at Isaac’s shop,” he announced and walked out, leaving them to have some privacy and looking for a place to lick his wounds. Even though he’d said they’d still be friends, he knew it wouldn’t be as deep as when there was no Jojo in the picture.
ALEX OF IKOT UKAP ADVENTURES continues
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