Automatically, everything ceased being important in Alex’s life at the appearance of Nse.
Even though he’d stopped sharing important details of his life with Jojo, he couldn’t hide this one from him because it was worse than how he’d felt when considering sleeping with Miss Ukata again.
Nse was like his conscience. With her, his life flashed though his mind like a movie strip and he saw all the wrong decisions he’d made, especially his sex life. Just standing by her made him feel like a sinner, yet, he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
With thoughts of her in mind, nothing Sunshine did could arouse him. It was like one look at her face had turned a knob in his body; it was either her or nothing.
He could have sworn he’d given up this amazing crush, especially when he’d felt a bit of something for Sunshine. But, apparently, he’d been living a lie; out of sight had indeed been out of mind and the heart had obviously grown fonder in her absence. Her appearance, the vibrancy associated with her made everything else pale in her wake.
“I don’t understand you o. I’m shocked you’ve lost interest for school and I have to push you to make your deliveries. I say if her presence diminishes the value of valuable things in your life, then she’s bad for you. Nse is detrimental to your health.”
His heart twisted at Jojo’s words and he felt the intense urge to punch him in the nose and watch blood sprout from it; the image gave him so much satisfaction and his hand shook with the need to enact it. Alex shook his head and walked out on his friend who stared after him in dismay.
“I feel like the girl has a love charm on him,” Jojo was telling Isaac three days later when Alex walked into the house.
He ignored both of them and lowered himself to the carpeted floor, laying face up.
Isaac wasn’t one to beat about the bush so he jumped head on into the issue. “Is what I’m hearing true?” he asked matter-of-factly; Alex didn’t answer, his forearm lay over his eyes and he seemed to be taking shallow breaths.
“Have you tried being friends with her before?”
“Just wanting to be her friend in school then entailed him buying and gifting her with novels that he wrote small funny notes inside; he had really put a lot of effort in wanting to be her friend…”
“It’s because she was worth it! She’s worth it,” Alex snapped and then went quiet again.
Silence engulfed the air in the room giving it some weight.
“Dude, normally, I would go ballistic on you but I sense you really like this girl, so, I’ll let your tone and attitude slide. So, what happened with the friendship plan?”
“Well, her best friend sabotaged that by seducing him when she knew her friend was about to agree to be friends with him. She was furious and wouldn’t listen to anything he had to say, then she stopped coming to school – a wealthy aunt had taken her away,” Jojo recounted.
Isaac nodded, thinking pensively, while Alex silently wondered why he cared.
“So, they have unresolved issues. Have you tried talking to her; did you get her number?” Isaac asked and waited for Alex to answer, when he didn’t, Isaac kicked his side so hard Alex yelped, “Answer me, idiot!”
Alex rolled away from Isaac’s foot to protect himself and scowled at Jojo for cackling at him.
“I’m going to punch you if you don’t snap out of your depression. Answer my question,” Isaac commanded from his place on the only seat in the parlour.
“I got her number, but what would be the point of talking to her?” Alex grumbled.
“Mumu; is it because she’s girlfriend to the rich guy, who hasn’t been around for a week now?” Isaac sneered when Alex snapped up with interest. “Da, sometimes you’re slow o. Why do you thing she gave you the number after mentioning she was visiting her boyfriend?”
“A girl that is totally committed to her guy and then comes in contact with a philandering former classmate would never give out her number to that philandering former classmate. She wouldn’t be interested at all,” Isaac said sagely, he leaned back satisfied as he had caught Alex’s interest.
“Are you saying she wants to talk to me?” Alex asked hopefully.
“Well, she gave you her number, didn’t she? And I’m saying you should talk to her despite the presence of said boyfriend.”
Alex had taken Isaac’s last words to mind and it bothered him even while he tried to read for his last exam.
He lay on the carpeted floor with a rechargeable lamp illuminating his books and a pillow under his chest. It was a few minutes past twelve midnight and Jojo snored on one side of the mattress they shared.
Sighing, he shook his head and tried to return to reading but then his phone vibrated with a message. And even though Nse didn’t have his number, he rushed to pick his phone because he’d just been thinking of her and it felt like that would be her.
Rather, it was Sunshine. She couldn’t understand his sudden withdrawal and avoidance. She had been sending messages and requesting for explanations but Alex didn’t know what to say to her.
Her text informed him that she was travelling for some days. Alex sighed in relief and already was excited to think of opening conversations with Nse.
Having saved her number on his phone, it had indicated she was on WhatsApp. Alex had immediately hurried to her profile picture and saved the picture to his gallery.
Swallowing hard, he shut his eyes, took a deep breath and courage and typed out a message on WhatsApp. She would be sleeping at this time, at least, he had some time to prepare for her rejection which would surely come in the morning.
ME: I just wanted to talk.
Alex stared at the message for long before pressing send with a flick of his finger as he’d been about to change his mind. He flung the phone from himself and dragged his books closer while his heart hammered wildly.
The phone vibrated and when he looked up, no light illuminated the screen and he knew it was a WhatsApp message. His heart beat increased as he scrambled for the phone and pressed the side to make the screen active.
NSE: So talk.
As though electrocuted, Alex scrambled to his knees, his hands shook and then he decided to sit leaning his back on the wall of the parlour, his books forgotten while his heartbeat sped up.
What could he say, he wondered as his fingers tapped the screen nervously.
ME: She ambushed and seduced me.
He was referring to her best friend back at the village school and he wondered if she would take the bait or shut it down.
NSE: I know.
She knew?! His eyes widened at the words.
ME: But you refused to listen, I thought you didn’t believe me.
He typed furiously.
NSE: I was angry with myself for feeling I could be your friend.
ME: Was I that terrible? Was I that despicable in your eyes?
Alex’s heart twisted painfully in his chest. He didn’t know how to reply that but then the chat app showed that she was typing a message.
NSE: I didn’t want to share…yet you belonged to everybody…else
ME: I swear to you, Nse, I’d been clean and not even spoken to anybody while I was trying to gain your friendship.
NSE: It’s water under the bridge. We’ve grown up and moved on.
And before Alex could stop himself he typed and sent.
ME: I haven’t moved on!!!
NSE: Lol. Of course you have, I spoke to your girlfriend the other day, she’s really nice.
At first he feared she was talking about Sunshine, but then he recalled she had stumbled on him comforting Eka.
ME: Eka is my friend and Jojo’s girl and she was going through some stuff.
The single, innocuous word stank of utmost disbelief.
He was recalling Isaac’s words again and his heart tangled with hope and frustration. Could she have lied about the boyfriend? Yet, she was staying at the big house, but she had given him her number.
Alex was confused and his stomach twisted with anxiety and indecision, but, as Isaac had advised, he went with the assumption that she wanted to relate with him despite the presence of the boyfriend.
ME: Can we meet and talk?
The reply never came. Alex silently cursed at Isaac. He would have settled for the chats alone but taking it to the next level had made her run. While falling asleep, he wondered if she would ever speak to him again.
When he woke in the morning and picked up his phone, her message was the first he saw.
NSE: I hear your school has a park with stone seats. Is eight am too early?
He couldn’t breathe. When his eyes flicked to the time on his phone, he scrambled to his feet and rushed to take his bath.
“Nse!” Alex called excitedly from the small gate of the main campus. She looked up, smiled and paid the tricycle rider before walking serenely towards him. She was dressed in another blue skinny jeans and had over it an aqua t-shirt. Hair was scraped into a top bun and her makeup was light but more than the evening he’d seen her.
When she reached him her scent inundated his nostrils. He hugged her again but not as tightly as the first time, he inhaled her subtly perfume and held it in as though he never wanted to forget but then he had to breathe.
“Was it difficult to find?” he asked, referring to the campus.
“Your directions were easy to follow. And the transport system in Uyo isn’t confusing compared to other big cities.”
Alex wouldn’t let her go; his hand settled at the small of her back and he pretended it was because he led her through the throng of students going in and out of the small gate. Nse didn’t shift from his hold either and it thrilled him immensely.
“You must be referring to the big city with your university?” he coined it as a question and chuckled when she gave him a mean look, it reminded him of the looks she’d perpetually given him at the village school. He had assumed she hated him to the bone, except she’d wanted to be his friend.
“Are you trying to find out my university?” she asked with mild coy.
Alex flung his head back and laughed, “You’re such a Nigerian,” he said and noticed that students gazed at them as they walked by. “…answering a question with a question.”
“Technically, I wasn’t answering your question, I was only asking mine. Does that make me not Nigerian?” she quipped.
“Still as smart as ever,” he murmured with humour, his eyes shone with his appreciation of who she was and she saw it and then looked away because it was too intense; attraction hummed between them.
An uncomfortable silence ensued as they neared the park.
“The park with the stone seats is called Convo Park,” Alex explained with the aim to lighten the situation.
“And I’m at Veritas University,” she offered, answering his earlier question.
“Sounds expensive,” he joked as he led her to an empty stone seat, one among the many that made the cemented circle called Convo Park.
“It’s a Catholic University,” she murmured.
Alex chuckled as he settled down beside her, the seat didn’t afford enough space, so their thighs touched, “Does that make it sound less expensive?” he asked turning slightly to face her.
She looked away and tried to curb a smile.
“Your aunt must be really wealthy,” he commented, not in jealousy, but in innocent conversation.
“She’s worked at the school since inception, I think she probably gets a discount.”
He chuckled again, everything about her, her expressions, her voice her scent, everything just tickled him. Everything made him happy and light and filled with joy, like he could fly from just sitting there and conversing with her.
“Where’s the school located?” he asked for lack of what else to say.
She turned incredulous eyes to him, “You don’t know?!”
“There you go being Nigerian again; besides, I’m a village boy Nse, I’ve not left my state…”
“Lies, you were at Port Harcourt before …” she realised what she’d said, recalling the unfortunate circumstances that had required his relocating to the village, “…crap, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to remind…”
“No, no, no, don’t apologise, I’m over it,” he rushed to assure her even though his throat threatened to clog up as he recalled his past.
“My university is at Abuja,” she said, sighing wearily and scratching the side of her right eye in discomfort.
“Hmm, now I understand about the transport system not being easy to use…”
“Unless it’s a taxi and that’s pretty expensive.”
“What about Uber?”
“You know Uber?” she asked again and then chuckled when he eyed her comically, reminding her that she was answering a question with a question.
Her laugh warmed his heart and he couldn’t take his eyes off her, not for a second.
“I’m friends with Google,” he said and shrugged.
“And you didn’t know of Veritas,” she accused playfully.
“It wasn’t in my line of interest,” he commented with a shrug.
“But Uber was, how is that?” she asked with interest and turned slightly, probably unconsciously, to face him.
Alex scratched his head and shifted nervously on the stone seat. He flung his arm over the backrest, across her shoulders and tried to curb his rapid breathing. The full blaze of her gaze was too much for him to bear.
“Well…err…you recall what I did for my grandma in the village?”
“Delivering vegetables?” Nse asked with a confused stare on her chubby, angelic face, she was probably wondering what Uber had to do with vegetable delivery.
Alex nodded, “I started delivering when I got to Uyo to survive,” he said and quickly moved away from there so that she wouldn’t ask what had caused his move from the village.
“I started out with Mama Saviour’s shop…”
“Your girlfriend’s shop,” she clarified with a small smile.
“Nse, she’s Jojo’s girl. I’ve not recovered from the punch he gave me on her behalf when he felt she liked me and I liked her, but we are just friends.”
“Okay, okay, tell me your delivery thing,” she prodded.
So, Alex went ahead and talked about his business. Nse listened raptly and was awed by his obvious passion for the job which would be seen as being below his person, him being all tall and handsome and GQ model like.
Alex spoke about the lessons he’d learnt from Sunshine, of course he didn’t indicate the other part of their relationship. He explained how Sunshine had asked him to check out other successful delivery companies and see which of their business models would better fit his dream.
“Wow! But Uber is a transport company,” Nse pointed out.
Alex nodded and explained that his too was related to transport since they had to move things from place to place. “Anyway, I was just studying their model to learn and create a better model of my business.”
Nse was impressed. She hadn’t really known anything about Alex back at the village, except that he was intelligent, annoyingly handsome, the girls flocked to him and he embraced them, he had a crew which were no good and so he must have been a no good and the vegetable deliveries he’d done for his grandma had actually been coerced.
From their long conversation she had realised that he actually hadn’t been coerced to run deliveries. He had actually made his crew of friends responsible back then, which was why they’d always passed their exams. But girls still flocked to him, which was undeniable. Even as they sat at the park and he was blatantly solicitous to her, girls still walked past numerous times, smiled coyly at him and called out his name.
He smiled back at them, said hello and looked back to her or, in some occasions, he called their names and had a little chat concerning school stuff.
The old familiar feeling of anger towards him in relation to throngs of girls began uncoiling in the pit of her stomach. She could have sworn that she had over come that feeling and that it had only been a childish infatuation for the finest boy in school then; now she wasn’t so sure what she was feeling or why she was feeling it.
She stamped her volatile emotions down and spoke of her degree in English and Literary Studies at Veritas University. They laughed about the idiosyncrasies of the various Professors they’d met during their first semester. They shared the mistakes they’d made as newbies on campus and the ones done by their friends.
And so the time flew and the students dwindled on campus, darkness covered the skies and the campus street lights came on, illuminating the park, though keeping them in shadow.
“I really am sorry about what happened. I wish you’d have let me explained then. I really, really wanted to be your friend…more than your friend, but I would have taken the friendship over nothing at all,” Alex murmured, getting courage from the shadow they were in. it felt like they were in their own little world and reality ceased to exist.
“We’ve moved on…”
“I haven’t, Nse. Seriously, I keep comparing every girl to you,” he rushed to assure.
“So, you don’t have a girlfriend now?”
“I don’t,” he replied quickly, Sunshine wasn’t his girlfriend; they were just mutually using each other for release.
“And I want you,” he muttered so passionately, the breath left her in a gasp.
The mistake was looking at him in that moment, his eyes shone with his desire for her and it stoked a similar desire in her which roared to the fore and she whimpered when he leaned close.
When their lips touched, sounds and consciousness disappeared. It was electric, magic, instant connection, light…home, for Alex.
He moaned and deepened the kiss, dragging her close to his body, appreciating her softness, wishing to do more…
“Go home!” a sharp voice cracked out from no way and they jumped apart, Nse jumped further and even got to her feet, immediately walking away from the vicinity.
Alex looked around, even though he rushed after her. It was the campus security that had barked at them and he pointed his blindingly bright flashlight at them as they walked away. Alex could feel Nse’s embarrassment coming off her in waves as she hurried towards the small gate.
“Hey, Nse, don’t go that way, the small gate is locked by this time,” he hurried to her when she stopped. “This way,” he led her towards another small gate that stayed open all night.
They walked through the dark and quiet campus, it was a different feeling compared to when it was light and filled with the bustling population of students. An uncomfortable silence dwelled with them as they stepped out of the gate and met a contrasting environment.
Compared to the sleepy campus, the outside was rowdy with sellers in front of the gates and tricycles plying their routes with customers. Yet, between them, silence remained.
“I’m so sorry, Nse, I didn’t mean for that to…”
“Let’s not talk about it,” and that was the only thing she said on the fifteen minute journey home.
It was like she couldn’t face herself after kissing him and it pained him but he decided to give her time. He would speak with her the next day, he thought as he watched her hurry into the gate with a murmured goodnight and no backward glance.
The ruckus broke into his consciousness after the bolt of the gate clanked shut. He turned and saw the small crowd gathered at Mama Saviour’s shop. Alex frowned and jogged towards the shop, as he neared, he heard Mama Saviour shouting.
“Tell the truth, is he the one?! You cannot lie, I always see you with him! Everybody here knows you’re always with him, especially in this shop!”
Alex had to excuse some of the regular customers out of the way to climb into the shop and he didn’t understand the queer looks they were giving him. He ignored them as he was concerned about what was happening; his first shock was finding Sunshine standing there with arms folded over her breasts and giving him a disgusted look.
His frown deepened when she said, “He’s here o.”
Mama Saviour turned from a crying Eka, rushed to him, jumped and slapped him; it stunk, who knew the small woman could pack a mean punch.
“How could you?!” she screamed at him, further confusing him since he didn’t know what he had done. He looked around with the hope that someone would explain the problem to him.
“After everything we have done for you! We accepted you, in fact, my husband had almost offered you a place to stay when you were stranded and you turn around and do this to us!” Mama Saviour was ballistic and the muted murmurs from the gathered crowd and Eka’s sobs were not helping.
“Do what?” Alex asked in a dumbfounded whisper, his eyes swinging from Eka to Mama Saviour and even to Sunshine, apparently they knew what he had done. And why was Eka crying so heart wrenchingly, his heart twisted with dread, he wondered if anything had happened to Saviour and he was being accused of it.
His question sent Mama Saviour into madness and the murmurs increased. “Why are you pretending?! You see her crying and you don’t know your hide and seek has been exposed?!”
Alex held on to his cheek, “I don’t know what…”
“Well, result has come openly from what you people were doing in the dark…”
“I don’t understand…”
“She’s pregnant! Take her there!” Mama Saviour screamed while she grabbed Eka’s arm and shoved her on a flabbergasted Alex.
Though his mouth dropped open in shock, his hand still shot out to steady Eka as she stumbled against him.
“Jesus. No, it’s not me. I…” he turned widened eyes to Eka, “Tell her I’m not the one,” he demanded urgently, “Tell her…” he shouted at her bent head while she sobbed harder.
His eyes flew desperately around the gathered people and his breath ceased when his eyes caught with that of a dismayed Nse, she looked at him with disgust, shook her head and turned away. Alex made to go after her but Mama Saviour blocked his way with arms akimbo, his breath came in hard bursts as he turned to Eka again.
“Eka, I don’t deserve this,” he pleaded in a tortured whisper, while bleeding internally at what Nse must be thinking.
“It’s…it’s not Alex,” Eka managed to hiccup, giving the crowd what to murmur about, “It’s Jojo,” she sobbed out and Mama Saviour’s hand flew to cover her mouth, her eyes flying to Alex’s face, her expression apologetic.
Alex caught Sunshine’s expression of dismay, her arms fell from her chest and her attitude immediately morphed to guilty but Alex didn’t have time to analyse or listen to the apology she was beginning to give. He gently shoved Mama Saviour out of the way and hurried towards Nse, some of the gathered customers even patted his shoulder as he hurried through them.
Her gate was once again shut in his face. But he wasn’t going to do nothing, he immediately brought out his phone and called her. She ended his calls and finally switched off her phone.
Alex refused to give up, he banged on the gate of the big house until a mean faced security guy opened it and didn’t even have to ask before Alex started explaining himself.
“Please…Nse…” he croaked, his looked desperate enough for the security man to sigh.
“What should I tell her?” he asked in a deep, resigned voice.
“The girl at the shop,” Alex immediately recounted, pointing his thumb over his shoulder and was ecstatic that the security man actually followed his finger to the direction of the shop and nodded for him to continue.
“The girl…that girl is pregnant and they thought…” he choked and coughed.
“Calm down and tell me, I’ll relay whatever you say to her,” the security man soothed and actually seemed relaxed and patient.
Alex swallowed gulps of breath and tried to calm his pounding heart, “They thought I was responsible because I was friendly with her and walked for her sister. Nse thinks so too but it’s a misunderstanding, it’s Jojo…please tell it’s Jojo that is responsible not me. I’ve never touched that girl, and we are friends in the first place because the girl resembles Nse,” at this the security guy widened his eyes slightly in awe.
“Please, tell her, I’m sorry for embarrassing her,” Alex croaked, choking and breathing deeply to curb his emotion and not embarrass himself by crying.
The security guy patted his shoulder in commiseration, “Don’t worry, boy, I’ll tell her. You need to go now,” he said slowly and softly shoved him away from the gate.
Alex hesitated, his mouth twitched with more words but he nodded and walked away from the gate. Of course, it was later that night, after Mama Saviour had apologised profusely and Isaac had gone berserk on Jojo and Sunshine had called countlessly, that he wondered why the security guy had been so nice to him.
On deep consideration, the security guy should have been rash on him, even hostile, since he was going after his employer’s girlfriend. Another thought struck him as weird, he had seen the mysterious owner of the big house once and that man was about twenty years older than Nse, if not more. The Nse that he knew would definitely not date someone that old.
These thoughts kept him awake the whole night. He finally fell into a fatigued sleep at a few minutes to five am; his last thought was to rush over to the big house as early as seven.
Alex woke at nine-thirty am, he rushed over to the house without brushing his teeth or washing his face. Still he was too late. The security guy opened the gate and immediately his face fell into regret.
He told Alex that he’d told her everything he asked him to, but that Nse had returned to school early this morning having booked a bus online in the night.
At his words, the pain that squeezed his heart was so much his hand flattened on his chest as though it would reduce the pain. Alex nodded in resignation, turned and walked back home. He knew she wouldn’t pick his call, so he didn’t bother. All he knew was that he would overcome this as he’d once done before.
He had his business.
He had his education.
He had his brain.
He was Alex after all.
Watch out for SEASON 2