Opinions And Cages | Non-Fiction

(This piece was first published on my Facebook wall in December 2015. It is a true story, and rather long, but I hope you find it readable at least.)

October, 2015.

For a few moments I could not recognize my surroundings, and twice the bus conductor had to inform me that I had reached the last stop. I alighted, feeling a little embarrassed, with my movements unsteady and my eyes trying to make out where I actually was. I should have known better than gulping down several glasses of Vodka on an evening that was neither Friday nor Saturday, particularly when there was still another day of work at that office where my only smiles came at 6pm, before ushering in the weekend in its saving glory. Sure enough, the mini-university reunion had been lots of fun, reliving old jokes and all, but there was only so much alcohol the body could freely accommodate, and with what was left of my sobriety, I could deduce that the next day at work would be a long one. Still, I boarded a tricycle to the estate housing my apartment, not quite sure if I had not paid thrice the fare. I definitely wouldn’t have known, I was intoxicated like that.

Managing to get home amidst very slow movement on my part, I splashed water over my eyes, reasoning that I would probably doze off in the bath-tub if I dared to start what I was not sure of finishing. The warm droplets provided a little bit of respite, and as I struggled to relieve my skin of the last bit of un-needed fabric, I heard my phone ring.

It was the tone associated with incoming text messages. I could not have been blamed for wondering who would have me in their thoughts in those late hours, especially considering the fact that my communication skills had deteriorated over the course of the year; I had unconsciously alienated a good number of my friends with my unresponsiveness of late. More out of curiosity than appreciation for the sender’s thoughts, I reached for my phone, and the few words I was able to make sense of in my blurred vision conveyed the message.

“Together with their families, Laura and Iyke humbly request your presence at the celebration of their union on….”

I did not have to read through to the end. I had got the gist; it was an invite to Laura’s wedding, never mind that it had been conveyed by bulk SMS, signifying a lack of bother to reach out to me individually. Laura! My instant reaction on dropping the phone was accommodating a grin on the left side of my face, as I strolled to my mind’s storehouse to reminisce on a lady who had once featured prominently in my days.

***

I first interacted with Laura on social media; we shared membership of an intellectual forum, and there was the usual teasing and banter, not to mention the fact that she supported Arsenal….but I ultimately ran into her for the first time in 2012 at Coal Country, while I tried (unsuccessfully) to win the heart of a girl named Oge. While I wooed Oge, I found Laura interesting, light-complexioned Easterner with a great sense of humour, and contact details were exchanged. She did more of the communication though, and by the time I left Coal Country, no real bond had been created.

Life has its funny way of writing scripts however, and by 2014, Laura and I began to communicate at a much more frequent pace. Fate played its cards to the effect that Laura would get deployed to my state for her national youth service year, and by the time she hit camp, I had returned home from my adventures at Afang Country. In all my chivalry, I paid a visit during the three-week torture rack she had to face in the name of national duty, and to say the least, we were getting comfortable.

She ultimately got posted to a Place of Primary Assignment not too far from my resident city, and we were both more than happy at the chance to build something (at least that was the idea running in my head). More calls were followed by more than frequent texting, and by January 2015, convincing her to spend a weekend at my apartment was not difficult.

I remember closing from work one hour early that fateful Friday, putting the house in order with unusual detail and dexterity. Laura eventually got into town amidst fears of my ability to locate her due to her phone going off. Supper that evening was boiled cassava flakes, and by midnight, we were sharing a rather large, milk-coloured bedsheet, the winds and the lack of electricity doing their bit for the atmosphere. I wasn’t quite sure of how she would react, but I began to grope, and she responded all so positively. I do not feel the need to supply details, but her lips felt like iced cake, and the warmth of her thighs cancelled out the chills from outside.

The following day had us take a short tour round the little town; eateries, mall and a short visit to an exotic shop filled with bedroom toys (she had never seen such a shop before). The final bit of our hangout was a visit to Biodun, an old friend of mine, where we had more than a few drinks and had a light argument about who would visit next. I said something about never going to see her at her end, and it was not until we got back to my place and she wouldn’t let me touch her like the night before, that I figured out I had said something not pleasing. The night was long and cold.

“You can be mad in the morning

I’ll take back what I said

Just don’t leave me, alone here

It’s cold baby, come back to bed”

Well we made up (or at least that’s what I thought) by Sunday morning, and after church service, there was the house-cleaning and the rice-cooking part. This I would disclose in a chat message conversation with Oge (with whom I still kept in touch). Monday morning came and I saw off Laura to the park, smothering her with goodbye hugs. I got back to my office, and four hours into my working day, I received a text message from Laura, which read:

“You can as well disclose to Oge the fact that I kissed you, and the position on which I lay, and even the sounds I made. I came to your place freely, to spend time with a friend, but I guess respecting me was too much to expect from you. If your plan was to pass me off as a hopeless h** who just came for the weekend to service her crush, it definitely worked! Not your fault though….I thought you were a different guy, but alas, you are pretty much the same.”

It was then that my gaffe became totally clear to me. On our way to the park I had given Laura my phone to assess the sports pages, reckoning without the fact that she could possibly go through my chat messages; she obviously looked through my “cook and clean” conversation with Oge. I composed a soothing message, trying to explain how much she meant to me, and how I had really said nothing else, but Laura responded with an even angrier text. I made attempts to apologise on each of the following seven days, but I was ignored so hard, and on the day she let my airtime burn while putting the phone away from her ears, I knew I was trying to give CPR to a dead situation.

“My stupid mouth has got me in trouble

Friends, I’ve said too much once again

Over a phone conversation the other day

Yea I could see, that she was offended

And it’s clear the way she feels about me has changed”

I felt I had done my bit by apologizing, so I decided to get the whole episode off my back, forgive myself and move on. My kiss-and-tell action (if I could call it that) definitely amounted to top-level douchebag behavior, but I just wasn’t going to let someone else’s emotions define who I was. I wiped out all traces of her phone number from my gadgets, tried to de-memorise the digits, blocked her on Facebook, and took a deep breath afterwards. The measures were somewhat petty, but I needed to clear my mental desk, and clear the desk I did. Laura soon became history, I rediscovered workplace motivation, and Life resumed its regular schedule….

One day late in March, I was to represent a client as Defense Counsel in a peculiar case. Our adversaries had handled their case negligently, had seen their suit struck out, and were to apply for the case to be re-listed. The presiding judge had a reputation for being strict, and I perceived an opportunity to pile a bit of hardship on the other side by urging the judge to award costs against them, to be paid to us. I put all my thoughts together, mentally processing what I intended to say, and I should have ignored the footsteps that broke the silence in the courtroom from behind, but inquisitiveness got the better of me. I turned, and fully robed in lawyerly attire, was Laura!

I turned to face my case file I had earlier laid out, but the damage had been done. I forgot all that I wanted to say, I kept smiling to myself throughout court proceedings, prompting the judge to ask what my problem was, and owing to my total loss of concentration, our adversaries escaped payment of the costs they had been liable to pay us. Laura’s skin was all in my head, and watching her (seemingly) carry on like I did not exist was not doing my ego any favours. Fate had been a mischievous card player, and I resolved to see this one out. I decided to wait for Laura outside the courtroom.

One advantage of being a litigation lawyer (as I was at the time) is that you could spend as much time as desired in court premises and claim upon inquiry by your boss that proceedings got to your turn late…..so long as you went alone, of course. With that leverage, I found myself pacing up and down the courtroom’s exterior halls, asking whoever was in the firmament why Laura had to show up again in the scheme of things. She would step out of the courtroom after the greater part of one hour had passed, and my soul burned at the icy casualness with which she returned my pleasantries, as though she had never known me. I had however made up my mind to fix things, and no sort of body language or speech tone would throw me off course.

“Laura, do you have time? I’d love if we could talk”, I said.

“Call me later, I really have to go back to my office….by the way, I work in this town now”, she replied.

“Wow, that’s great”, I continued. “And again, I just want to say I’m sorry for what happened…”

“Erm, J, you see, I don’t want to think about all that”, she cut in. “See you around.”

Watching her sway her hips as she made for the courthouse gates, I realized that I had not exactly de-memorized her phone number; all eleven digits were still very much in my head. Calls were exchanged (or rather, made, as I did all the calling) back and forth, and two Saturdays later, a date (?) was fixed at one of the city’s more popular eateries. The atmosphere was right: it was raining, the winds seeped in, I had a jacket on, and an Arsenal game was showing on the TV screens.

“I missed you, L”, I said, as I put my jacket round her and pulled her close. Feeling her breath on my neck again was a near-heavenly feeling.

“Ok, I won’t lie, the feeling is mutual”, Laura replied, her eyes alternating between my chin and the on-going match in which Arsenal had taken a two-goal lead. “There were days I was stranded and needed directions or courtroom tips, but then I’d remember that I was still angry with you, and refrain from calling.”

I stayed out until 9pm that day, taking Laura to yet another eatery and then a pub. I slept with a huge smile on my face that night, never mind that my wallet frowned. It felt orgasmic to be reconnected with Laura. She was a shoe-in whenever I needed company at events, and a good number of my workday break periods were spent with her, my wallet playing a role for the most part…

But the euphoria wore off soon enough. I had to tread like I was tip-toeing on a freshly mopped floor, as it was never really difficult to get this new Laura cross with me. Every utterance I made was to her a display of my cockiness, every joke on her another example of my insensitivity. Lateness on my part amounted to immaturity, and there was also the ban on PDA. No, there was no winning with her.

It all came to a head one Sunday when we decided to hang out, once again, at Biodun’s apartment. There had been the overflow of drinks, and after a game of cards, Biodun inquired as to the reason for Laura’s long absence from company.

“Ask Laura”, I responded, grinning as I pointed at her.

For me it seemed the most random response to a question, but there was one person who had apparently been offended by my statement. She had not shown it at the apartment, but then she flared up on the way home, and even after seeing her off to her place at the other end of town, she would not be appeased. The following day I apologized over a 25-minute phone call, almost swearing to stop speaking and stop drinking, just so she wouldn’t give me the silent treatment.

“I’m never speaking up again

It only hurts me

I’d rather be a mystery

Than have her desert me”

Dealing with Laura was like pouring a glass of juice into sand and expecting any positive effect, but that was not all. Her second coming coincided with rough times at my workplace: I was turning in less effort, I had lost motivation, my client base was shrinking, and my boss began to keep me at arms’ length. So much was going wrong, and my bank account kept on brooding most of the time.

Like a coach going through an unsuccessful second stint at a football club, I figured that there was no progress being made with Laura this time around. I was not comfortable with that, and after the Easter break, I decided to go straighten things out at her cubicle (the room was too small to be called an apartment).

“I like you a lot, Laura”, I began.

“Yeah, I like you too”, she responded mirthlessly.

“L, you know what I mean.”

“Jer, the signs should be clear enough by now. I don’t want any intimacy with you…at least not anymore. Let’s just be friends.”

No Intimacy! Whatever did that mean? No more ice-cake lips?! No more searching for peanut burger under my white T-shirt which she (once) loved to wear?! All those moments of ‘creating stories’, never to be experienced again?! I stared blankly at Laura. She was apparently trying to relegate me to the friend-zone, but I was having none of that.

“I can’t be just friends with you, Laura”, I blurted out, my face expressionless.

“What do you mean? Are you issuing me an ultimatum?” Laura replied, the pitch in her voice considerably higher.

“You see, baby, when you like someone a lot, you cannot settle for being ‘just friends’ with them. I am for all or nothing, sweetheart, and if I can’t get the full package, then it’s best that we leave it at nothing.”

I left the cubicle after Laura served me a bottle of hot Pepsi Cola and a plate of noodles without the dignity of an egg. I ignored her calls that evening, and when she sent a text message quizzing me as to why, I responded with a lukewarm apology. For me, there was really no need. I knew what I wanted from Laura, and I would not settle for less. Then again, I had a good number of female friends with whom I had non-romantic ties, and I did not feel the need to add another to the collection.

Communication pretty dried up from then on. I got no birthday wishes from her on May Day, but I was too busy having fun to dwell on that, and ultimately her ice-cold silence mattered little. I switched cities, ditching the Big Heart for Gideria, and circumstances would see to it that Laura became well and truly past tense.

***

“What comes to your mind when you see a wedding invitation involving a lady you were romantically linked to not too long ago? Are the girls using us guys as emotional gym bags to ‘practise’ for the real one? Is it that they don’t know who they want, or rather, is it that they have their targets in view and just mess with us? Then again, could it be that a woman’s heart is naturally elastic, enough to accommodate up to three men, and keep them happy all at once?”

Such was my thought process upon reading the text, but water to the eyes was no substitute for coffee in keeping awake, and I eventually succumbed to the combined effects of nature and alcohol. I somehow managed to beat the alarm to rising up before 5.15am (there was Gidi traffic to conquer) and dashed into the bathroom, but not before composing and sending a text message to the bride-to-be which simply read:

“Congrats L.”

It was a quick bath, and in a matter of minutes I was searching for a cleaner pair of briefs, but I could not ignore the blinking of my phone’s backlight. I reached for Muriel (that’s what I called the little gadget) and in one swipe I unlocked it, my eyes greeted to a reply message from Laura. It read as follows:

“The problem with bulk sms messages is that it sometimes exceeds the range within which it was designated to reach out to. Your congratulatory message (if I can call it that) is well received, but let it be brought to your notice that the wedding invite was not for you, and if by chance you got it, please accept my sincere apologies for the mix-up.”

The message was clear enough; I was uninvited as far as Laura’s wedding was concerned. What act of mine exactly had indelibly engraved my name in her black books so as to warrant that “extreme” decision? Was it refusing to speak to Her Majesty for months, clearly outlining what I wanted from her, or the “cook and clean” conversation? I had unfortunately not been blessed with psychic abilities by the Creator, and I would possibly never know, but for whatever reason it was, I was pretty sure that I would not have graced that occasion even if every guest was to be given a billion naira; I had pressing issues to attend to….like clipping my fingernails. Then again, I had been through too much this year to actually try impressing an individual who wished to base her gestures towards me on precedents. I shook my head, threw on my suit and headed out into the streets with my headset plugged.
***

December, 2015.

“Guy how far? You hear say Laura don marry?”

It was Sam, a mutual friend of Laura’s and mine, who had tried to catch up on me with a phone call. We had exchanged pleasantries, shared old memories, and somehow the conversation had drifted to Laura’s matrimony.

“ Oh really? I nor know o. Happy for her”, I replied, feigning ignorance.

“Erm, at that time, I asked her if she had informed you, and her response was ‘ abeg forget Jerry’ “, Sam continued. “As a matter of fact, she said I should not mention your name at all.”

“Sam, you’re kidding me, right?”

“Seriously, Jerry. She said a lot of other things about you, and none of them were nice.”

“Eya”, I responded disinterestedly. Sam got the hint, and quickly switched the topic of conversation, before eventually hanging up.

For a moment after dropping the phone, I tried to guess what Laura could have said about me, but I had other things more important than a bitter bride’s words to worry about…like Manchester United’s abysmal form, and the brand of noodles I was to eat later that day. I knew better than to make myself Laura’s prisoner, wrapping myself in shackles of her opinions about me. I didn’t have to try so hard to prove that I was a good person, and if someone could not see beyond my flaws and appreciate that I was human at best, it was certainly not my problem. I had been a douchebag in the past, exhibited total “f**k-boy behavior”, but there is something called the Healing process, and it did not include defining oneself by past blunders.

My thoughts were soon interrupted by another phone call. It was Uche, a lady with whom I had been closely acquainted with, but whom I stopped calling on the day photos of her “Igba Nkwu” popped up on Instagram. I almost ignored the ringing sounds emitted by my Samsung S3, but at least this one didn’t see me as a plague to be avoided. I had nothing to lose by being civil.

“Hey Jerry, been a while, I have really missed you”, she said..

I cleared my throat and switched to ‘sexy voice’ mode. I was not quite sure when next I would hear from someone who still thought highly of me, and I was going to make the most of this conversation.

“Erm, Uche, remember those night calls we used to make to each other, with you talking a lot?”

“Hahahaha…I do”, she replied.

I grinned mischievously, cooking up in my head a line of naughty things I intended to say.

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