Hardy: Chapter 5

Only thirty minutes together, Vanessa and I talked like long lost friends. Vanessa was quite good at raising interesting topics for discussion, already we talked about our experiences in school, her parents dislike for night parties, her dream boyfriend whom I proudly fitted in terms of the exterior description and also the ones who sucks to her, a category I humbly fell into by her strict interior description. She talked about her obsession for wealth and everything good and more in such a short time.
She told me her parents were living in Los Angeles with her elder sisters and how they wanted her to complete her secondary school here in Nigeria before she comes home. She told me how her eldest sister Angela would be getting married to a black American businessman late this year.

Vanessa was not like most girls who flirt around a topic, waiting for and cajoling you to make your move; she was quick, precise and straight to the point with her subtle words. From what I have seen so far, I liked her but it would be vulgar, appear lewd and totally out of common sense to indicate deeper interest in her so quickly, the move would fail badly even if I sense it would not fail as badly as I had envisioned. Time was the only worthy testifier to witness whether my assumptions were accurate or she was merely foxing her real motives.

There’s a limit to all things in life, to get food, the farmer has to plan a seed first, nurture it through its days of unproductivity to be able to have a bountiful harvest in the days of productivity. That single sacrifice makes the farmer successful and if he nurtures the seed well, he reaps in hundred folds and gets great monetary returns for his investment.

So it was with getting a girl to become more than a friend, you first parade yourself as a harmless and concerned friend. During that vital period of acquaintance was the ripe time to study what she liked and disliked in a guy which would obviously be the same for all female species, that’s if you already had some experience. Then you pretend to be that dream guy and attach your straws to the depth of her heart and make sure it can’t be easily broken like titanium and then suck patiently but effectively.

From our discussions, I got to know the mystical boys from NTIC were really cool nerds who only win competitions plus she stays with her aunt whom she only sees on weekends due to the nature of her job in Abuja. When I asked her what work her aunt does, she claimed she didn’t know and care, all she knew and cared about was that she owned the house where she lived and her parents send her monthly allowance through her.

I began to ponder if she was really everything she had earlier claimed she was, she behaved decently yes, but even the devil first appeared decent and refined. She had a believable story even if she was a breezy talkative and didn’t give me an opportunity to talk when I should be the one doing the talking and she doing the listening and smiling to encourage me on. She lived alone for four – five days in a week, I couldn’t help but distrust her supposed innocence in an amoral Lagos where ‘starving’ Casanovas were consistently on the hunt for fresh saplings.

“I’ve heard a lot of mysteries about your school boys, really frightening stories about your school.” She said, trying to remove a small piece of paper that had luckily gotten stuck in her hair. 

The blowing wind was not really that weighty but it showed clear enough signs that it was going to rain soon. She struggled to remove the small piece of paper and would have scattered her neatly plaited, long glossy black hair if not for my timely intervention. 

“It’s only a tiny piece of paper.”

I allowed my hands to float on her jet black hair briefly, the softness and strawberry smell made me long for what could have been. I found the troubling paper and was eternally grateful to it for giving me a chance to feel the silkiness of her hair and smell the enticing strawberry scent that had been clouding my senses so badly.

I showed it to her and she laughed. “Thanks a lot Hardy, a piece of paper can sure cause a lot of damage.”

We kept on walking and when she noticed we had passed almost ten kiosks, she became apprehensive and insisted we returned to the party. 

“Come on Vanessa, we are almost there.” I encouraged her on.

“I’m no robot or half trained solider like you, I want to go back now before I collapse.” From the expression I could read on her face, she was dead serious.

“You can go back all by yourself if you want to, it’s a straight road back, you can’t miss your way.” I hide an obnoxious smile from her.

“What! You are just kidding right? I should go back by myself? You brought me here and should take me back!” She barked.

I debated within myself whether my gamble would pay out or not, I chose to give it a trial. She said something incoherent and we continued our journey. What she didn’t know was that I had somehow carelessly lost all the money I had on me at the party, I don’t know how but as we approached the first kiosk I was prompted to check my pocket for money. I quietly did it, hoping this would escape her notice, of course the breezy talkative but focused gazer noticed so I had to bring out my phone as a distraction.

No money? I was stunned, confused. I had somehow lost the ten thousand naira I had budgeted to spend. Good thing I still had my ATM card. If I could only make it to the ATM machine, I would save myself the embarrassment of not having money to buy two cheap bottles of soft drinks.

I could still hear her fuming at me, she was definitely mad at me for not even giving her a hint of where we were going and the uncaring way I had responded. We weren’t going to get anyway close to being friends this way; the smooth friendship I intended to create was looking like mere acquaintanceship was all I could get out of it, partly thanks to a mutual friend we shared.

Maybe I guessed wrong about her, she doesn’t look like those local girls who would seek friendship with a rich guy for ulterior motives, she was considerably rich too. Was she acting according to the scripts of the desperate Naija girl? If she was, she was playing her role perfectly without a blemish. 

I looked at her and she turned her face away, she frowned in a cute way just like Zaynab would. I noticed she kept a larger distance between us, avoiding me like she would a leper. I had to do something quickly or she would just have her drink, hate and refuse to talk me, head back to the party without me and I might never get another good chance to apologise.

I closed the gap stealthily till only a breath width separated us. Before she tried to extend the gap I touched her soft hands, she withdraw violently. I became possessed and drew her roughly till we were very close, my hormones leaped excitedly.

“Get your filthy hands off me Hardy or I will scream and cause a scene.” She shouted, struggling to break free. 

What a resilient spirit, she reminded me of Zaynab. Speaking of Zaynab, where the hell was she? 

There was something I saw in her eyes that alarmed me greatly, it was fear. “I’m sorry Vanessa, I know I shouldn’t have said what I said earlier, you have every right to know where I’m taking you to. I’m deeply sorry for behaving like a moron.” 

She stopped struggling and I looked at her, this time she looked back at me and her face transformed into a smile, the fear that alarmed me disappeared like it was never there. I thought she was cutest in a frown; you need to see her in a smile, exceptionally ravishing.

“Apology accepted, but the next time you try that I will walk off without you.” 

I nodded.

“Now release me!” 

I obliged easily and bowed my head in apology; the last thing I wanted to do was to annoy her. She accepted my apology with a nod. I smiled and extended my right hand, she shook it and smiled.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the reason why we didn’t stop at the first kiosk, it’s quite embarrassing but I lost some money at the party.” I explained as we walked towards an ATM.

“Oh! You could had simply told me you didn’t have the money on you and I would have paid for the drinks, you can then pay me back later if you wish.”

So that you would collect my S6 EDGE as collateral, no way! ✖

“No way, that’s the worst thing that can ever happen to me. Relax we are at the bank, let me just withdraw some money, then we will work into that eatery over there. Don’t lie to me that you are not hungry because I am.”

She laughed.

I walked over to the ATM while she waited outside. I withdrew twenty thousand naira and walked  briskly to meet her. Whatever she was going to order I had enough money to pay and a possible reserve if she had a gluttonous appetite like me.

“Ready to spend?” 

Strange question, I just withdraw money, what did she except, I was going to save? 

Eyes bulging out of socket after material things, another feature of a desperate Naija girl. Checked. ✔

“Let’s just go and eat, I’m famished.”

We walked into the eatery and I chose a quiet table at the rear of the eatery, luckily the eatery was devoid of customers. It was the perfect spot where you could plan a coup d’état without been overheard or suspected.

I did the gentleman thing I read in novels and which my mom consistently propels me to do whenever she was happy with me which were really rare moments, lesser than the amount of times you could spot a rainbow in a year. I pulled a chair for Vanessa to seat on; she sat down and said the customary ‘Thank you’. I stood there till I was convinced she was comfortable before I found my seat.

A waiter walked up to us. “What can I offer this young couple?”

I wanted to tell the waiter we weren’t a couple yet and he should watch his choice of diction when I remembered an English assignment on finding the meaning of couple and other related words. I initially thought couple meant a married bunch or two people in a serious relationship, I was right but it was broader than that, it could be used to refer two people or things that are paired.

Vanessa was the first to order. “A can of Fanta, three meat pies and four sausage rolls.”

I gazed at her as if to ask if she was going to pay. Hasty, greedy ordering at restaurants, another confusing attribute of a desperate Naija girl. Checked. ✔

She met my gaze and read the meaning, she replied by making her own gesture which I understood to mean I owed her one. 

The impatient, dutiful waiter coughed. “Mister, may I have your order?”

“The same thing she asked for.” 

The waited nodded, flashing an affable smile. “I will be back with your demands before the wink of an eye.” 

I winked thrice; the courteous liar hadn’t moved an inch. He left and the atmosphere around us turned cold, she wasn’t eager to talk instead she kept staring at me which made me feel attractive and yet very distressed.

“What are you interested in?” It left my mouth before I could censor it.

I couldn’t believe I had said such a thing, in all my experience and the massive deposits of knowledge I had gleaned from other territorial pros in the ‘jungle’, I had never found myself asking this kind of direct question. I normally build up a thriving conversation before I start spicing it up with sly questions.

I wanted to apologize partly and rephrase the question and start a proper relationship building conversation that we could both relate to. I was still thinking of how to rephrase it when she dropped her gaze and shyly said, “Anything fun.”

Wow! Opportunity to capitalize. “Sounds like you like fun as much as I do.”

“I thrive on it.”

The waiter returned with our order and left a bill for me which was a tiny fraction of what I had budgeted to spend. At least I could practice good economics.

“I feel like we may just become very good friends.” 

“Maybe.” She said shyly.

Occasional pretences and shy responses of a DNG (Desperate Naija Girl). Checked. ✔

Thinking of nothing better to do, I brought out my phone and then I requested for hers. “Can I see your phone?”

She grinned. “Sure, but we will do a swap.”

“Okay with me.”

We swapped phones and I stored my number on her phone. “Look Vanessa, I stored my number on yours.” I enthused. 

She was more excited than I was, she was holding such an expensive phone and she would have opened dozens of apps by now.

“I will return the favour.” She smiled without looking up, more like she smiled at the phone.

“What should I store it as? Princess or Vanessa.” She was bubbled with excitement.

“Store it as Vanessa, my best girlfriend ever.” 

The uneasy gamble seemed to have been taken lightly because she continued unperturbed for a while then she stared torturously at me. I waited for her to speak, already arranging a plethora of possible answers to combat any of the myriad of questions floating in her mind.

Her voice was low but firm. “I am not your girlfriend.”

“I know.” I glanced away in disappointment; I still had Zaynab (a better bet).

She smiled and continued her obsession with my phone, further confusing me on whether she meant I should make my move or she wasn’t interested.

“You are the type of girl every guy want to have, sorry for offending you earlier, I was wrong and a fool. Just look at yourself, you are such an angel.” 

She smiled and met my gaze. “You have a girlfriend, Zaynab right?”

I nodded, I couldn’t deny it. Foolish me for mentioning her name earlier and foolish Linda and AY for pressing it.

“That’s okay, I’m thrilled a handsome guy like you is really interested in me, it’s good to know we can be really good friends.”

Sure, good friends would work well for me especially whenever Zaynab starts her usual troubles, I could turn to Vanessa for backup while Zaynab would be fuming all to herself. The idea itself was enticing.

“If I wasn’t in a relationship I wouldn’t think twice before fighting for you.”

“Oh please, don’t suddenly act like a seasoned player.” Fear gripped me, she thought I was a player, that was bad news. 

“I know you are still interested in Zaynab and it’s okay with me, a little competition is what I like.” She grinned.

I had to rub my eyes to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. She grinned and repeated what she said in clearer terms. She wanted to compete with Zaynab? I must be the luckiest and most sought after male in the world right now but the thought vaporised as soon as I captured the real picture.

She wanted to compete with Zaynab; does she know who Zaynab was and what she was capable of doing? Could she stand a determined Zaynab always poised for a fight for what she believed was hers alone? I could sense more possibility of me ending up with none than with one of them, it would be nothing short of a phenomenal miracle for me to end up with both!

“Do you think you can compete with her?” I stared at her, deeply concerned about my future.

“Yes, you just said you wished I was your girlfriend?”

I nodded with a smile which was not as strong as I wanted it to be, I liked her but I liked Zaynab more, there was a clear gaping difference. She was attempting the unthinkable but I was glad to know I could have the two for some time till they discovered my little harmless game.

“She is giving you a tough time right now; it might just be my chance to capitalize.” She beamed. 

I forced a smile.

I picked my meat pie and devoured it slowly. She watched me as I ate, trying to read my expression. I kept my gaze firmly on the tantalizing meat pie, savouring its taste. I opened the can Fanta and sipped a little; the chill went straight to my head and reinvigorated my being. I fell in love with the food, making my present dilemma look like nothing.

“Vanessa, why aren’t you eating?” 

‘’You haven’t answered my question.” She fixed her gaze on me, her beguiling eyes pressing for an answer. I succumbed.

“My answer is clear.” 

“What’s your answer?” 

“My answer is simple, we get to know each other better, start as friends and as our bond gets stronger, we can then build a stronger relationship.” I confessed my plan.

I smiled, she returned my smile and dropped her gaze. I relaxed, sipping my drink and relieved the torture was over.

“I can work with that logic.” She aimed an even bigger smile at me.

“Vanessa please eat, I hate wastage.” I pleaded, trying to get her to give me time to think for a while. On the contrary I actually liked wasting things to get back at people who offend me, Mom, Hilda and Zaynab in particular.

“As you desire.” 

She finally began eating, picking at the food and annoying me. I had finished mine and demanded for more, she was barely half way through. I was neither a seer nor a mind reader but I knew she was hungry and was just trying to impress me. If it was indeed her method of impression, she had failed woefully. What I could tell was she was a picky girl and I better keep an open eye on my money and resources.

“You must be really hungry.” She said as the waiter brought more meat pie. 

I rushed at it but careful to eat in a civilized manner that mom would have been excessively proud of if she was here. “You have no idea how hungry I am.” 

She smiled. “I like guys with an appetite.”

I ignored her latest flattery. “You aren’t hungry?”

“I am nervous; I’ve never been out this late before.” She picked at the food.

I looked at the time, it was just 9 PM but she sounded honest and for the first time since we left the party, I saw that innocent look in her eyes again. Maybe I had misjudged her yet again, she might be a suitable substitute for the hot-blooded Zaynab in case of the inevitable.

“Vanessa.” I called gently, searching her beguiling black eyes. She looked away, giggling shyly.

“Vanessa.” I called her name again and this time she met my gaze shortly before avoiding it. 

It was a massive surprise since she had been making me uncomfortable throughout our time here and now she couldn’t stand my own intense gaze.

“Vanessa look at me.” 

She did and I saw pure innocence. She might have been telling the truth all along. Damn! To hell with my DNG theory. ✖

“As long as you are with me I promise nothing bad will happen to you, trust me, no one can guarantee your safety more than me, I know the streets like the back of my palms.” I looked into her eyes with the sole purpose of murdering her nervousness.

She nodded, beaming with a soft smile. We continued eating and I noticed she had accelerated her pace of eating; we were now both secretly stealing glances at each other. The few times we caught ourselves in the act we laughed and behaved like friends.

Our ‘camaraderie’ was getting thicker as the minutes ticked away, I knew when this was over I would miss her often. I knew I would be calling her now that I had her number but I feared how frequent that would turn out to be. She was looking like a friend I could trust even if she wanted to be more than a friend which I also wanted but for the fear of serious complications. I wished I had that sacred gift of goodbye.

We finished eating and I signalled to the waiter. I overpaid him generously, he looked at me as if he doubted I was the owner of the money before he smiled and said a courteous ‘Thank You.’ 

I nodded, I didn’t do it because I wanted to be generous but because I wanted to impress my friend.

“I wonder what AY and Linda are doing right now, I guess they would be worried sick we haven’t come back. She should have called by now.” 

“Don’t hope for a call because she won’t, she’s probably on the dance floor with AY and they would have forgotten all about our existence till they get ready to leave.” 

”What do they expect us to do, sit bored while they dance till midnight?” She frowned.

As she said midnight, it dawned on me I had nowhere to stay after the party. I could ask Vanessa to allow me to pass the dark morning at her place but it was too risky. It was going to be a sure headline on the front pages of the gossip papers and also I didn’t want her coming to early conclusions. I could lodge in a hotel but the chances of meeting one of my dad’s employee or clients was too great, I would sort it out with the guys when I get back to the party.

“They probably expect us to get to know each other and maybe dance together.” I kept my facial expression simple, not wanting her to know I was bubbling at the thought of dancing with her.

“I don’t know how to dance.” She looked at me with shame.

Shame was one of my strong points, I loved seeing my prank victims cry and express themselves in shame but there was some uniqueness about hers, every nuance of shame in her touched me.

 “I can teach you.”

“Really, will you teach me?” Her voice was soft and tender, reminding me of the melodious tweeting of the colourful birds that visited the trees in “Paradise”, the name of mom’s and Hilda’s jointly owned garden.

Those voices I considered angelic whenever I woke up and stepped out into my balcony to listen for more melodies but after seeing Hilda and mom down in the garden, I immediately forgot all about the tweeting birds.

“Yes, I will definitely teach you with no objections.” 

Her sweet voice and beguiling eyes I could not refuse. My only prayer was that Zaynab’s numerous friends and schoolmates would surprisingly spare me the agony of the wrath of Zaynab by not telling her a thing.
  
We got out of the eatery and she was still holding on to my phone, if she thought I was going to forget it with her she was under a foggy delusion. She scrolled open nearly all my apps, opened my photo gallery and saw all my crazy pictures with my friends at the ‘jungle’. She laughed and asked me to explain them, I did and she laughed the more.

There was one in which seven of us took a shot of our bare adolescent chests with only our tattered sodden knickers serving as our only covering. We all breathed in a little with stony faces, a little trick to make your chest look momentarily well developed like a brawny man’s, that strong and well ‘carved’ chest that intimidated all and wooed the girls.

We didn’t have the luxury of a gym in the ‘jungle’ or could any of us lift weights anchored with solid bucket cement to expand our muscles, so we invented a stress-free method of getting a strongly built chest with careful and meticulous study of our bodily adjustments to our environment. 

We noticed that in the ‘jungle’ since the food was barely enough to satisfy the basic primal requirement of the belly and senior men like me who didn’t eat food from the dining hall and depended on junks and contraband food items to survive got symptoms of a well-developed chest with no stress, the side effects were that they had pale faces and gaunt bodies.

We didn’t need to go on a hunger strike; a month in the ‘jungle’ was more than enough for you to develop a hunky chest without you knowing how you pulled it off. So we waited for a month, though some fools did go on a sustained hunger strike. The shot came out fine, more like our ribs showing on our chest and we looking like half zombies. I explained this to her and she laughed, hugging herself.

She showed me every picture I had ever taken that was in my phone and asked me to tell her who this and that was. I did it happily, adding a few hypes and thumb downs to each individual.

I took her phone and I didn’t see any male picture here apart from pictures of Justin Bieber, Drake, Trey Songs and other male celebrities. It was mostly her alone, her and her family, her and Linda and her varying girlfriends, some beautiful, some manageable and some ugly, some tall and some short and some fair and some dark. Not surprisingly, she was the most striking girl in all the pictures.

“You are the most beautiful girl in your school and boys don’t even go near you, that’s strange.”  

“They keep to their line, I keep to mine.” She spoke with so much pent-up anger I felt so lucky to be standing beside her.

“I guess I’m a luckiest boy in the world to be standing next to you.” I faked a grim face.

“You have no idea how lucky you are.” She smiled but didn’t look up, more like she smiled at the S6. 

I spotted a bench and motioned for us to sit, the streets though not buzzing with activities as I expected, looked quite safe and welcoming. We reclined there and kept on searching each other’s phone. I was looking for any sign of a boy in her life but the few numbers she had weren’t suggestive. 

I searched her WhatsApp conversations and saw countless of fools messaging her ‘Hi’ and even stating their full names and all the relevant and irrelevant bio-data about themselves even when she didn’t reply. I felt as if I should beat common sense into those boys, aren’t there other beautiful girls around? They have only seen Vanessa and already they were behaving like drooling dogs, if they see Zaynab I wonder what would be their fate.

Vanessa hit me hard on the arms. 

“Ouch, what’s the matter?” I massaged the spot. 

“Who is this girl that features prominently on your phone?”

I looked at the face and smiled, she had found Zaynab and she was already making Vanessa envious. “That’s Zaynab.” I proudly said, absorbing my senses with the image.

As I said those words, she looked more closely and frowned. “I will win.”

I smiled encouragingly, she smiled back. “We should be heading back; this area is not too safe in the night.”

She frowned after I collected my S6 and gave her back her phone. I had apologized enough today and I wasn’t going to apologize for collecting my own phone back!

“Let’s call a bike, remember you promised to teach me how to dance.” She finally smiled.

Teach you how to dance? I saw some pictures of you in a dance group and most captioning you as their leader, your WhatsApp nickname is Britney Spears! I also watched some deliberately muted videos and watched you dance expertly, so why the lie? She definitely had ulterior motives.

As for the bike she intended to call I couldn’t ride on it. I had an inexplicable phobia for mounting a bike since the day I had a minor bike accident when I was seven and I clearly remember mom beating me with an iron rod for daring to enter a bike without her permission. Neighbours had to intervene on my behalf to prevent me from getting murdered that day and since then she had never used iron on me. After the neighbours pleaded she swore that if she ever saw me on a bike she would bleed me dry.

“Let’s take a cab.” 

“Hardy you don’t need to show off to impress me, you have already impressed me a lot today.” She disapproved.

I felt tempted to tell her I wasn’t the only one trying to make a lasting impression, she was also trying and so far she was doing a mixed job. I felt strong adrenaline flow through my system to tell her that a cab ride from here to the party which was a mere twenty minutes’ walk was not my eccentric idea of an impression, I’d rather trek but on second thought I might just add the idea to my depleting impression schemes.

“Then let me impress you the more.” 

‘No Hardy, the Cab driver will charge you a ridiculous fee, let’s take the cheaper and faster option.” 

Before I could tell her that I could afford the cab charge, she called a bike and mounted it. I stood there trying to overcome my phobia but a phobia was a phobia.

“Hardy we can both sit on this one.” Her smile won it for her, I ended up on the bike and held her firmly. 

She laughed. “Never been on a bike before?”

I nodded. “I’ve never entered a bike since I was 7.”

“Zaynab didn’t teach you?” She laughed at her joke, I smiled too almost laughing. I suddenly liked here more even with her apparent lies and ulterior motives.

“Relax Hardy, I will teach your how to overcome your phobia and also I have a surprise for you.” She said, temporarily soothing my quaking body.

I feigned surprise, what now?

“You should hold tighter.” 

I wisely stuck to her advice as the cyclist increased his speed. 

“What’s the surprise?” I was nearly shouting to try and beat the loud engine sounds of the motorcycle and the fluttering wind.

“I’m a professional dancer.”

I already knew.

“Sorry for lying earlier, I just warned to surprise you.” She shouted to beat the machine and the wind duet.

Now she was been honest. I wondered if she knew I had come across her dancing pictures and videos and reasonably didn’t want to mention it instantly then or she had been planning it all along to impress me. I was impressed at her honesty, I clutched to her more tightly as the bike headed for the party.
  
I thought I was a real handful for any dancer but Vanessa was simply the best dancer I have ever danced with. How on earthvdid she learn all this awesome moves if she didn’t attend night parties? My friend Willo doesn’t attend night parties and he’s the best male dancer in the ‘jungle’, maybe that was how Vanessa learnt her moves too, through determination and self-practice.

I had exhausted all my moves but Vanessa still had cool moves up her sleeves, I even had to steal some to still look relevant. Before I knew what was happening, everyone stopped dancing and focused on us, the girls cheered Vanessa on while the boys were cheered me on.

“Go Hardy, Go Hardy.” 

I felt the chants of the boys propelling me a step higher. I danced my best, the crowd loved my magnificent display and cheered me on. I had never danced this good before and though my body ached, I felt a fresh fire kindling up in me to do more beyond exploits.

“Go girl, Go girl.” 

It was glaringly clear that Vanessa wasn’t well known in this territory and it could work to my advantage. She was looking tense as if she wanted to scream to her ‘illiterate’ supporters that her name was Vanessa and not girl.

Unfortunately the problem did not last long as Linda with her big mouth intervened and shouted, “Come on girls, her name is Vanessa. Go Vanessa, Go Vanessa, Go Vanessa.” 

Immediately she said it, the girls changed their chants. “Go Vanessa, Go Vanessa, Go Vanessa.”

I felt doomed as I heard those words and though my loyal boys tried to uplift what remained of my depleted spirit, I knew it was over. Those chants invigorated an already exceptional dancehall queen and she danced better and did self-improvised moves I was so sure it wasn’t of this world, paranormal! I upped my moves but still I was no match for the dance diva, even Zaynab my faithful student who had slightly become better than the teacher could not compete with her.

To make matters worse, most of my supporters joined the ‘Go Vanessa’ train and cheered her on thus inspiring a wild unquenchable fire. She made my dance steps look so antiquated like I was still dancing with the 80’s trends while she was the distant future.

My loyal boys tried to keep my spirit high by changing their chant to “Go Hardy Go. Go Hardy Go. Go Hardy Go.” 

I appreciated their attempts to support me and I would reward them handsomely during the Roka period (the inevitable period of dryness and abnormal lack in the ‘jungle’). The Vanessa train kept on getting larger and larger, I had to do something to at least have a say in why I lost.

I started limping like an injured person to the jeers and boos of many. Angry and desperate for sympathisers, I stumbled suddenly and faked a sprain at my ankle. Instead of sympathizers I got more jeers and boos. If I wasn’t so popular and invincible, I knew they would have stoned me with empty plastic bottles and sachet waters, and poured on me pails of wet sand soaked in urine to complete the humiliation. Even my supposed loyal sympathisers joined Team Vanessa who now consisted of a whole planet of males vying to dance with her.

Vanessa seemed not to have noticed I was on the floor in faked agony as she danced. She probably thought the increased jeers were because she was winning but when she heard a new chant “Dance with me Vanessa, Dance with me Vanessa”, she suddenly realised something was wrong.

She saw me writhing on the floor, only been helped by AY and Linda to get up but I refused to get up easily. I felt more ashamed of myself than in SS1 when I peed on my uniform in class during a brief nap and my whole set formed a colossal circle around me to taunt me. 

It was a trending gist for a whole term and a half, and it became one of those evergreen gist that you could reflect on whenever you were low on gist materials and laugh over like it’s still fresh. Luckily for me, my set boys and repeaters kept it a secret after I had bought two hot large loaves of swollen bread and a bottle of chilled VijuMilk each for everyone. 

I felt like I should cry like a baby, I had earned the right. Vanessa walked to me and the chant stopped, she knelt down and I didn’t see pity in her eyes, I saw care that I hadn’t noticed was there. I felt like hitting and telling her to get lost but her sincere and caring manner of approach won me over. She lifted me up easily, much to the astonishment of AY and Linda.

She led me to an empty table while onlookers watched the unfolding drama. I looked back to see loads of jealous eyes watching us. I saw Mariam, Ronke and Susan, Zaynab three best friends taking photos already! They would tell Zaynab alright, I started to prepare my defence for thr looming confrontation with Zaynab.

I got more worried when I saw Florence the chief rumour spreader in Ojo and Gwarza the chief aficionados of rumour in ABK. Even though already it was going to be on the front pages of the rumour mill and that bad-mouthing blog called Amebo Village, just having those two present here could escalate the damage to lofty heights, they could fabricate an Oscar-winning film out of anything. 

They could say I had been cheating on Zaynab for a long time and all sorts of calculated untrue things that could deepen the wound. I could bribe them to shut up but they could also take my bribe and make a story out of it!

I didn’t care what Zaynab thought, she caused it and deserved whatever she got, I wasn’t going to apologize. Very soon, with the help of Vanessa, I would summon the crucial courage to finally end our relationship that’s if she doesn’t do so first. My only fear was that like all our previous breakups, we would miss each other and come back together.

I would apologise, promising to turn a new leaf but this time I wasn’t sure she would forgive me after this, her jealous friends who I had refused their approaches countless times before dating Zaynab would encourage her to break up with me, insisting I didn’t deserve her. If they did and eventually succeeded, they better not harbour alternative plans to get me to date them because I would rather prefer to date the mad black women at Kuto roundabout!

I had confidence Zaynab would understand after some time of our possible separation and accept me back, I had done worse than this possible rumour they were about to paint with the Indian girl Mohini and after she returned to Canada, we got back together like nothing happened.

“You need to relax and clear your thoughts to feel better.” Vanessa massaged the sprained ankle.

I was tired of faking and wincing. “I faked it.”

“Is it because I’m so good at dancing? Thank God I confessed I was a dancehall queen if not you would have hated me for the rest of your life.” She continued massaging with a smile. 

If only she had an insight into how much I now hated her which she had indirectly heated up with her kind gesture she would just let me be but incredibly I had grown fond of her and couldn’t let her leave my sight, at least not tonight and end up a loser.

“I said I’m okay.” I shouted angrily.

“I know, just relax and let me grant you your wish and stay by your side.” She grinned.

I kicked. I bent down to see if she was hurt and luckily she had dodged it. Quickly I apologized regretting my action. “I’m sorry Vanessa.”

“No, it’s okay, I only wanted to help.” She left.

As she said those words I felt like apologising to make her come back but been supercilious and the presence of some never-do-well gossipers watching every bit of the drama, I could not do the right instinctive thing.

I sat down there hoping for any passing sympathisers. I heard the music playing loudly now and everyone was dancing again like I didn’t matter at all. Only die-hard-never-do-well professional gossipers boasting of several PhDs in their field kept a close watch on me for more material for their next thesis. 

Linda hastened towards me with a stern look that had the semblance of my mom’s own, I felt she wanted to slap me. I spotted AY lagging behind, trying to keep pace with her quick movement and I felt extra sorry for him. 

She banged the table, shaking me thoroughly. “You just hurt my best friend badly and if you don’t apologise I will make you pay.”

Was she threatening me? I didn’t really know how to fight but when a girl threatened I somehow knew how to fight. I hoped she didn’t mean a physical fight. I wasn’t afraid of her, after all she was just a girl and naturally boys were stronger than girls except in some extreme cases.

My guys were here and no rumour spread faster in my school and the whole ‘jungle’ community than a fight, if I lost then my status would take a beaten while her status would hit the sky. Already I was a popular happening boy in my local and extended circles, I wouldn’t consent to anything foolish that would make me lose my esteemed celebrity status.

“Aren’t you a man? Look at how lonely she is, to think that she even liked you and in return you treated her like this.” She seethed. “Do you know how many boys want to be in your shoes right now? Just look at the large amount asking to dance with her! She has steered clear of boys until now when she openly danced with you, just look at her!” She yelled. 

I did, she was sober. Some guys were flocking around her for attention, she sent them all away, waiting for the biggest meat to come.

She continued. “Come on Hardy, bruise your ego aside and follow your instinct. She wants you, you want her.” 

AY was breathlessly boiling with rage at Linda but when she turned with a smile and a magical touch on his checks that rage vanished just like that.

I stood up from my seat promptly and decided to fix things with Vanessa when I noticed my arch-rival Praise from Port Harcourt already interacting and about to dance with her. This would stain my status especially if the rumour mill and Amebo Village collaborate to post ‘Praiz steals Hardy’s golden catch.’

She was not yet mine, we were still partially friends even if I didn’t really know now how much partial our friendship would be after this incident. The rumour mill and Amebo Village never hear your side of the story, it was their desired interpretation of the story that sticks as the fact.

I approached her. “I’m sorry Vanessa, I really am.” 

“Kneel down and beg or just leave.” She quickly turned her face away.

I looked at her half hoping she was just joking but she wasn’t, she was dead serious. Kneel down and beg you? Who do you think you are? All I’m simply asking you to do is to accept my apology and feel better and let’s continue our friendship on a brighter path.

“You won’t kneel? I told you Vanessa, this playboy over here does not care about how you feel.” Praiz sneered.

Now Praiz had overstepped his boundary, backbiting me just to reduce me to nothing and increase his chances of claiming my prize, our enmity just increased in geometrical ratios never heard of before.

“If you are not going to kneel then excuse us, we were just about to head for the dance floor before you interrupted.” She hissed. 

I could not believe was I was hearing? She hissed at me? They were going to the dance floor? My night just got gloomier.

“All the best in finding another dance partner.” She teased.

I watched them leave, holding hands and laughing heartily. Fine, to hell with both of you, I could survive without her. I would get myself another pretty girl, if not prettier and display her for you both to marvel at, how hard could that be? I was Hardy. 

I stomped past them in fury, I saw Praiz smiling, if only I had the strength of Samson and the size of the biblical, all-time classical villain Goliath, I would have wiped off that condescending smile off his fair face, generously rewarded him with black eyes and soaked his tawny shirt in a pool of his own abominable blood before I eventually get thrown out of the party by the ‘friendly’ bouncers.

As I stomped far ahead, I turned back and met Vanessa eyes on me, desperately calling and hoping I would come back but it was too late, I had my pride to protect. 

I stomped on as if I didn’t care, I stomped till I got to a spot where I was sure she could not see me but I could easily watch her. Vanessa was still trying to locate me I guessed while Praiz was enjoying the prize I gave away freely.

I tried to wash my aching head off its many troubling thoughts; Zaynab was going to kill me, Vanessa had just given me the biggest black eye of the night and now I was going to end up the biggest flop of the night. I had foolishly lost two priceless mermaids because of two demonic twins: pride and arrogance. 

It wasn’t going to end like this, somehow I knew I was going to have the last laugh and the last laugh better be now. 

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