BY ABIOSE ADELAJA
(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
My heart was making more than a hundred beats per minute. My lungs were hyperventilating. I became over-alert, stayed wakeful all night, watching for something exciting and intoxicating. Khalil’s love was rapturous, windy, fast, kinetic, intoxicating, but in the heat of the passion, was something foreboding.
It didn’t occur to me that I had done something stupid with his brother. It didn’t occur to me that we were from two separate worlds and at opposite ends of the ladder. Besotted. That was the word. Because of him, I began to apply the mascara. I began to paint my lips in pink, wore artificial nails, lengthened and silkened my hair.
Because of him, I would wear my hair in a pony tail, tie my bandana askew, letting my hair fall on my neck and shoulders. Because of him, I changed my black slacks for skinny jeans -the type that was slightly shredded at the thighs, crazy and distorted- because I was going crazy and slightly distorted. I was living in cloud-cukoo-land.
Today we were at his house in Milan, tomorrow, we were in Rome. Before, at the weekends, I used to go to the flea markets to buy second-hand clothes and items. But now, at the weekends, we drove around in his convertible Rolls Royce, He steered the wheel with one hand, and in ecstasy, threw the other in the air. We went to the famous Via Montenapoleone strada, contestably, world’s sybaritic spots, home to world’s most expensive brands and labels. Swinging hands across the star-studded arcade and stealing little, little kisses, I no longer needed to look for shops shouting, “saldi, metta prezzo,’‘sales,’ half the price’. I trod with aplomb, where angels feared to tread. I felt ennobled into this rarefied class of soccer stars.
Once inside a boutique, I flipped the price tag on a red dress, calculating and trying to convert the exorbitant euros to naira;
“…you like it?” he interrupted. All I said was yes, and voila, it was added to my cart.
One day at the restaurant, I looked at the pictorial menu book, contemplating those complicated dishes with jaw-breaking names, con pomodoro, e basilico, carbonara -made even more complicated by the Italian fonts. I had no idea what to choose, plus, I had no idea why any human would waste hard-earned euros on it.
“That’s nothing,” he smirked. “Buon appetito.” And with a flippant swipe of his blue embossed, Barclays card, we were done. His bank card was ever contented to be used, and its alerts doesn’t come with a wince.
Just like that? I was tempted to say –Waste alert! Profligacy! Why don’t you just give me the money! Because I hadn’t forgotten the human misery, tragedy and poverty I witnessed at the Sahara Desert; of people living on the thin thread of the hope of making Europe! But this Khalil spares no expense on luxury. He doesn’t mind being called a sybaritic. In fact, that’s what he was-spending money like water, throwing euros around like confetti.
In the mornings, he worked out, in the evenings, we went jogging -the two of us in track-suit, running round the serene, tree-dotted alleys, muttering sweet nothings to each other.
Before he played his friendlies, he rehearsed at his private gym in the basement of the house, which opened into a ravishing blue swimming pool. He would grunt under the bench press, repeat squats, lift the dumbbells, pyro-lunge the ball, finally, bully me into a zigzag sprint. I would dribble me, moving zigzag-ishly.
One day I followed him to his club where he played a friendly match. I watched many gorgeous blondes swooning all over him after the star performance. I didn’t believe I could get jealous and insecure. Insecure because I don’t even know what I was doing with him. Was he using me? Am I about to be dumped? Was this love or infatuation?
I sort of believed Laura, the Ghanaian stylist, who told me that footballers are flirts and treated women like chewing gums.
“You are not right, Laura. What makes you think, we women are also not treating them as chewing gaams? Both the footbaallers and the women are chewing gum commodities,” she replied.
Ruth was a Kenyan woman of 40, who spoke with an incurable Swahili accent, despite living in Italy for twenty years. She also dated one of Khalil’s colleague.
“She has been unlaacky with guys. She’s dated five guys and waas jilted by them aall,” she said to me in a whisper, on a day Laura was off work.
“She haad been trying to get the attention of Khalil, but he didn’t like her. Don’t mind her my darling, she is jaast jaalous of you.”
Between her fingers was a lit cigarette, which she inhaled and puffed from time to time. She pushed back her braids and said; “…but you are blaassaaming like a rose flower,” she grinned lewdly, showing off her set of gap tooth. She had an orangish complexion and loved to wear tank tops that outlines her huge bust.
“So be smart, girl! You’ve caught the big fish, or shall I say, the big fish has caught you. Make your money off him. Shine gaal! It’s your time,” she smirked and slapped my shoulder.
I caught the big fish? Or I have been caught by the big fish? Which is which? Shine. It’s your time. Make your money off him? That night, I dreamt about those words.
I thought what I felt for Khalil was love and not infatuation or exploitation. I have never believed, like Uju, Chelsea and Somto, that I should use my body for money. That I should manipulate or exploit a guy for money. I know Khalil was a catch of a catch; meeting him was Eldorado! It was the opportunity Uju and co, were dying to have. It was the dream of traffickers and the trafficked. But I was a little bit uneasy, about it all. It was all too quick and I was changing too fast. I was no longer the Funto I used to be. I couldn’t even tell him about Christ. And Hamil! What if he returns one day, and get to know what I was doing with his brother? There was a gamut of emotion squished up within me, love, fear, helplessness, fatigue, shame, guilt.
One Saturday, after we saw the movies, he, hiding from public glare behind his dark sunshades, and I, walking along, I suddenly slumped into depression because I was unsure why he was hiding. Was he really hiding from the public glare of his fame or ashamed to be associated with me? It was 7pm, at the Kaffee House on Napoleon street, the music was wafting feebly out of the speakers in the ceiling. We sat across a table with two paper cups and the seductive smell of coffee. So I asked, “What are we doing by the way?”
“Of course we are having coffee,” he quickly rolled up the sleeve of his wine-coloured, slim-fit shirt, and lifted up one of the cups, as though I didn’t see it. “having coffee on Bar del Cappuccino Napoleon street, Rome.”
“I know we are having coffee, can you read between the lines or at least read my lips,…and then I whispered, ‘you and I….what’s this all about,” I concluded by stretching out both hands.
“Look into my eyes and read what’s in them.” he dropped the coffee and leaned his elbow on the table.
“What do you see?”
“… I see a brown-skinned girl with long brown braids, black eyes, wearing off-the-shoulder blou…,”
“That’s you in a nutshell,” he interrupted.
“You are me; and I am you…”he giggled.
“Seriously, you need to break this down,” I said tilting my head.
“Seriously…we need to build it up,” he interlocked his fingers, elbows still on the table.
“You need to make this official?”
“Oh…like signing some MoU??
“Com’on…don’t be naughty,” I picked up the place-card on our table and playfully smacked his head. He chucked me under the chin.
I surprised myself. I had become as playful and as much a tease as he was. And I even used his vocabulary, his mannerisms, I was changing fast, scarily so.
That evening, he told me his mother was from Chicago and his father from Tunisia. They were high school lovers and some 25 years ago, they had married because she was pregnant, not because she was ready. They had twins- he and Hamil. The father lost his identity, plunged into depression, launched into drinking, hits her when drunk, she called 911, issues escalated, marriage dissolved, Hamil followed daddy to Tunisia, while Khalil stayed with mom.
Khalil lived in US, played elementary soccer, discovered in Europe and became established in Italy. Hamil on the other hand loafed, and coasted.
“So wha you want? Take you to mama?”
“Yea.” I said. Yet unsure I said so.
He told me I jazzed him, because he had said he won’t fall in love, this quick because of his past relationships. His ex had called him, playful, player, who saw play everything, including her.
I wanted to ask him if he was playing with me too. But as we are about to get into the car, his phone rang. He picked it up and spoke in Italian with the other guy on the receiver, albeit, sounding testy. I rode shotgun with him, looking at my watch. The conversation lasted 15 minutes and then, he dropped angrily.
“Who was that?”
“My fucking brother!!!” he breathed out irritably, punching the steering.
“Who else?” He said, his face flushing red.
My heart sank into my bowels. Jesus! I hope he doesn’t know what I know? What would he do if he gets to know we’ve been kissing? For a while, we were both silent, as though we both knew something we both don’t want to discuss. As though the English meaning of Hamil is ‘bad omen’.
He revved the engine loudly, and zoomed out of the parking lot, swerving recklessly; climbing the rumble strips impatiently, slamming the brakes abruptly. After five minutes, he broke the silence.
“Imagine harassing me for locking up the house and going with the key?”
“Is he back from Chicago?” I asked with great trepidation, afraid to hear the answer. Hamil was my fear. My biggest fear. The reason for this poisonous love.
“He is waiting for us by the gate.”
“Yaiks!!!!!” I sighed. In wordless wonder!