The Girl Next Door
They say the best cure for a hangover is more alcohol.
This is my way of the ninja. I catch a cold, I take ice water. I stub my big toe, I punch a door. I sleep with my brother’s psychotic fiancée, I get over the shock by smashing another chick. Not intentionally, though. This encounter just sort of happened. I didn’t go looking for the girl; she came for me and the rest is for the books.
I start the day, as you well know, roughly. Having just discovered that I’ve committed an abomination I become sober and start to reflect on my useless life. I try to pray but I feel God won’t listen, that he has allowed this adversity to fall on me as punishment. I have decided to take it in stride, although I haven’t concluded on what I’ll do with Tola. All I know is that I can’t let Emeka get married to her.
Since Church is out of my schedule for the day, I call my youngest brother, Obasi to come pick me and take me to my place. Oba arrives and waits in the hotel’s parking lot while I make it downstairs. He spares a greeting without looking at my face. I try to make short conversation with him but he tells me not to bother, that I mean nothing to him. He is just twenty-three years old. The last time I saw him, he was eighteen. I tell him I’m sorry for disappearing from his life. He tells me to shove it.“Oba, I know you’re mad and I want to repeat that I’m sorry.”
“Jide…seriously, stop.” He has one hand on the steering and the other is holding his phone which has his attention. I’m uncomfortable with it, so I reach for the phone but he snatches it back and eyes me.“It’s dangerous to text and drive,” I maintain. He ignores me. I reach for the phone again and this time, I pry it off his hand. He wants to retort something nasty but I point ahead of us; an SUV is heading our way. Oba swerves to avoid.
“Just face the road, biko.” I let out a breath. I have a moment of panic; the SUV has sparked images of the event that almost claimed my life five years ago.
“Why did you even come back?” Oba asks. “You should have just remained there. The most annoying part was that we were hearing gist of how you were balling. The chicks, the parties, we heard everything. But you won’t even pick my calls, Jide.”
I look out the window. He wouldn’t understand even if I explained to him. I apologize again. He says nothing further. We drive on without speaking to each other. At some point, I turn to look at him. He has changed from the pimple-faced, hormone-raging teenager I knew. He has cleaned up nicely, with a short crop of punk dreadlocks and a script tattoo on the side of his neck. My parents must have flipped when he came home with that tattoo, my mom especially.
I study his features even more and see what everyone says about us. He is a younger version of me. He has my neatly arched brows, dark solemn eyes, thin lips and even my prominent Adam’s apple. In noses we differ. Mine is slightly flatter than his which is a perfect copy of our mother’s thin and straight nose.
I understand his resentment towards me. I was the cool brother, the one he looked up to for life’s lessons. Then out of nowhere I disappear from his existence with no explanations. Anyone would be mad.
“Turn right.” I give him the directions to my house and he drives me right to my doorstep.
“You live here?”
He takes in my neighborhood with a little frown on his face. The environment is a lot different from the ones we were brought up in.
“Yeah. You want to come in?” I ask as I unfasten my seatbelt.
“No.” He plants himself on his seat and looks away from me. Outside the car kids are playing some game of hurling rubber bands at a line drawn on the ground. Oba concentrates on them instead.
“You want to play FIFA…?” I suggest but my request is met with an emphatic no.
“When is Mex coming back?” I question.
“Tomorrow. With momsi.”
I nod. “Okay. Later.” I get down from the vehicle and watch as he drives off.
“Uncle, good morning!” one of the kids greet. I smile at him. The others chorus his greeting, temporarily stopping their game to watch me. I wave to them and push in the pedestrian gate of the compound I live in.
It’s a big compound, with two buildings. One belongs to my landlord and the other one which is for the tenants, is a three-storey structure with six apartments. I live on the second floor. My house is the one with the cartons and Ghana-must-go bags cluttering the balcony. I’m yet to fix the place up. I hate packing or unpacking. The stress is too much abeg. And that is how, rather than arrange my apartment, I get in, set up my game console and play football while I brood on what to do with Tola.
I come up with no real solution. Time glides by. I don’t realize it is 1pm until someone comes knocking on my door. I open it and there’s this sexy little thing standing there with a stud on her nose.Did I mention that I like petite girls too?This one has this ajebutter look and that wildness in her eyes that tells she is willing to try anything.
“Hi.” She’s smiling like we already know each other.
“Good afternoon.” I try to be formal.
“My name is Eleojo. I’m your neighbor. I live upstairs. I just moved in like you.”
“Okay. Your name again?”
“Eleojo. E-L-E-O-J-O. But you can just call me Ele. What’s your name?”
Ha! See me see smally, asking for my name as if we’re mates.
“Okay. I just stopped by to say hi and to ask… When do you think the landlord will fix the borehole cos I fetched water from the well this morning? And you can imagine me carrying the bucket all the way. Three times! And there aren’t even abokis around to sell water. Do you think it will be fixed by today? I mean, a pumping machine goes for twelve to sixteen thousand. We can all just contribute if he’s broke. What do you think?”
Hian! I’m thinking nothing. How can someone so small talk so fast?
“Erm…he said he’ll fix it by tomorrow, so let’s wait and see.”
“Okay, then. See you later.” She turns away and I stay back to watch her leave. Long, blonde braids that swing left and right drop all the way to a portable bum. The cheerleader skirt she has on doesn’t hide much. I can huff from where I stand and it will blow open and reveal her nudity.
But I don’t dwell on it. She’s Oba’s age mate. I graduated from her type ages ago. Too much stress, these small girls.
As I turn back into the house, the power goes out and my phone rings. Tola is calling. I take the call.
“Hi Jide, I’m ready to meet. Can I come over to yours?”
“No. I’ll text you a place.”
I end the conversation and type out an address to her. After that, I wear a fresh set of clothes and leave the house.
Tola doesn’t look all that to me any longer. All I see is this creature from hell that wants to ruin my life and my brother’s. I spare neither smiles nor courtesy when I walk into the restaurant and see her waiting. I pick a chair at her table and order a salad.
“I need answers,” I say. “I need to know why. That Bridemaker explanation you gave me is bullshit. If you’re really pregnant and Mex is misbehaving, you could have just gone to my mom ans she’ll put him straight. Seducing and sleeping with me…”
“Seducing?” she chortles.
“What you did, Tola, is contemptible.”
“Wow. We’re using big words now.” She smiles and crosses her legs, having pushed her chair back a bit. “I should tell you a little about myself since you’re going to be my brother-in-law.”
Not in this life.
“I’m the first daughter of my parents, who are both late. I live with my grandma in the States. I’m a doctor; just graduated from med school. Mex and I have been dating for four years. We’re sort’a in an open relationship. We decided it was best that way until we got married. There were no rules to it and I think that was where the problem was. I never slept with anyone else but I knew Mex was sticking it out with a few girls.I wasn’t bothered. I still loved him.Until he slept with my cousin.”
Senseless move, Mex.
“I got mad, I confronted him, we got in a fight and then he cancelled the engagement and said he wasn’t ready. I was pregnant by then but I didn’t tell him.”
“And so you flew all the way to Nigeria to sleep with me for revenge.”
“No, Jide. I came for my uncle’s wedding and then Kate’s wedding. I was with Kate and Bobby on Tuesday and Bobby was talking about you coming for the wedding. I thought well, best chance to meet you…”
“To have revenge sex.“No. I wanted to meet you because I felt you were the only one that could talk to Mex. I saw you at the wedding but couldn’t get to talk to you. You were always with your friends. I went to that after-party just to see you but by the time you walked up to me, the entire plan had changed.”
Tola stopped and sipped from a glass of juice in front of her.
“See, my cousin is a ho. She can’t help herself. And Mex is equally a whore.I don’t know this Emeka she speaks of; he sounds different from the brother I know.
“My cousin texted me and told me they had sex again. In our loft. Can you imagine? He was just waiting for me to leave.”
Tola’s features show nothing of her hurt. Not even her eyes. I’m beginning to get scared of her. She reminds me of an ex.“So when you walked up to me and came up with that dumb opening line, I just sort’a went with the flow. And yeah, the chemistry was there too. On a scale of one to ten, you’re a nine. Mex can’t even come close.”
Is that supposed to be a compliment? This girl is sick.
“I don’t believe a word you just told me, Tola.”
“Like I care. Mex is flying in tomorrow. You can ask him yourself.”
“Oh, I will. Now can I have my things?”
“Jide,” she leans forward, “don’t even think of trying to screw things up for me. Your mom already knows about the baby. She supports our being together. I hear your dad is going to be a problem because he’s tribalistic and all but I’ll handle him…”
“By showing him your tits?”
She looked bored at my question.
“No, really Tola, what do you want from my family? Is it the money? I can give it to you.”
“Money?” she cackles. “My parents didn’t leave us poor. Who do you think owns the hospital you’ll resume work in tomorrow?”
“Yeah, put two and two together. My surname is Adeniyi. My father was the late Professor Adeniyi who built the hospital with his friend. I am entitled to half of everything there, so money is not the issue.”
“Then what do you want?”
“A family, Jide. A husband, a home. Is that too much to ask from a guy I gave four years of my life to? You want me to just drop everything we shared like that? Jide, I love Emeka.”
This is the first time I feel her pain. It comes in her voice.
“Plus I’m back to claim what my father left for us but nobody takes a single woman serious around here, so yeah, Mex has to walk me down that aisle fast.”
“Tola, you know I can’t let it happen.”
“Then everyone will know we had sex. Simple!”
I rub the sides of my mouth. I’m not in the mood for the salad anymore as I see it coming on a tray carried by a smiling waitress.
“Here you go, sir.” The waitress places the tray on the table. “Anything else?”
“Ma’am?” she asks Tola. Tola shakes her head. The girl leaves. Tola pushes my debit cards to me.
“You shouldn’t go broke.”
“And the rest of my things?”
She shakes her head.
“There’s a picture in my wallet.”
“This?” Tola pushes a photo of my ex-fiancée towards me. I pick it up and the ATM cards.
“Who is she? The girl in the photo?”
“None of your business.” I pull out some money from my pocket which I leave on the table. I stand up.
“Your salad,” she says.
“Take it. The baby needs it.”
I leave the restaurant. On a cab back home, I dial Mary to text the address to her house. I need someone to talk to.
No, you didn’t!”
Mary can’t believe her ears. She is glaring at me with wide eyes.
“Why nau, Jide?”
I pull my legs up and make myself comfortable on her bed. Her one-room apartment smells so nice and feels so cozy. She loves the color purple and the décor reflects that, with dashes of green to compliment. She has a collage of photos on the wall above her small bed, memories of the best moments in her life. I find myself in more than a few photos and this triggers flashes of our past from school days when I was deceiving myself that I wanted to be a lawyer. I feel special that she still holds those memories close to heart.
I fluff a pillow and rest my head on it, having confessed my sin to her. I toy with the idea of sleeping over since my place is still a mess.
“How are you now going to do?” she asks.
“I don’t know, boo. That’s why I came to you.”
Mary is seated on an Arabian pouf on the floor. She has a serious look on her face and she seems a tad angry too. Her doll eyes have lost their sparkle.
“You’re disappointed in me,” I mumble.
“It doesn’t matter, Jide. I stopped being your moral compass when you disappeared from my life. You coming here and asking my advice on what to do after you’ve screwed up is what I don’t get.”
“You’re my friend.”
“Friend? You left! Friends don’t do that to each other! But you left! Without even as much as a ping! I called, I texted, I emailed! I was at your family house almost every weekend and no one had anything tangible to tell me! So you can’t come here and be asking for my advice like I owe you something! I don’t owe you anything! You don’t hold that place in my life anymore! And stop calling me boo!”
She flings a throw pillow at me and marches to her bathroom, I’m guessing to cry. Wow. She is really mad at me. This girl and her hot temper sef.
I do the gentlemanly thing and go after her, standing outside her bathroom door.
“So all that unnecessary vexing was you simply saying you’re not going to advise me?”
There is silence from her side for a few seconds and then she bursts out laughing.
“Walai, you’re an ass, Jide.”
“Look…I had a lot to deal with and I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to be forgiven. Is that too much to ask?”
“You’re still soooo selfish.”
She opens the door. There are no tears in her eyes, just the sound of the toilet flushing.
“You’re forgiven.” She walks past me and for some reason, I stare at her bum.
“Mary, who’s the alhaji that has been helping you arrange this your onions?”
“Nobody.” She reclaims her Arabian pouf.
“Nobody? As in…?
“No alhaji, no boyfriend, no friends with benefits. None. I’m keeping my body until marriage.” Her face is serious as she says this.
She crosses her legs, lotus style. “I rededicated my life to God, Jide. You should try that. It will save you from all this trouble you’re getting in.”
“Mary, I’m trying. I seriously am. But these girls, they just don’t want me to progress.”
Mary has her lips pressed together tightly and keeps her brows cocked up. She’s unaffected by my explanation.
“Seriously Jide, for how long? While you were away, we were hearing your gist about how you slept around. It was really bad. And now you’re back, you can’t even keep it in for one week? Haba! This same behavior cost you your relationship with Tarela and she almost killed herself.”
“Why are you bringing that crazy bitch into this matter now?”
“Because that crazy bitch was my best friend.”
“That accused you of sleeping with me.”
“She accused everyone of sleeping with you, Jideofor. Tari was in a bad place and it was all your fault.”
This is why I love Mary. She is blunt like that. She doesn’t sugarcoat things. And she knows how to put me straight. She has always been like that to me and my guys, the one person we can always go to for good counsel, our girl next door.
“And you’re going to get yourself in a worse place if you don’t stop. God gave you a second chance to shape up. What’s so hard in doing that?”
“I wish I had an answer to that question. But you don’t think I’m a sex addict, do you? I mean, sex addicts can’t go a day without doing it. Me, I can go for weeks, even months. Okay, maybe not months. But I’m not that bad, am I?”
“Your problem is something only you know its origins and only you can solve. But me I’m telling you to do something about it quickly before it destroys you. Only God knows what you’re hiding behind all that sex you’re having.”
“Maybe a small boy who just wants to be loved.”
“So back to the matter.” I sit on the bed. “The Tola chick. What do you suggest I do?”
“Just tell Mex the truth.”
“Like he doesn’t hate me enough already.”
“So you want to lie? One day she’ll let it slip just to spite Mex. It’s best you just tell him, let it all be over and you’ll have your peace. You didn’t know who she was when you had sex, so you’re innocent.”
“Not according to her.”
“I just have a bad vibe about her. And this one that you’re now working in her father’s hospital…”
Mary sighs. “It is well. Just be truthful and God will see you through.”
I feel somewhat better speaking to Mary. I don’t know if I can follow her advice, though. How do I look my younger brother in the face and tell him I’ve been with his woman? Then imagine the family hearing about it. My mom will be heartbroken, devastated.
“I made fried rice and turkey,” Mary announces.
“And you’ve been sitting there, looking at me, waiting for me to tell you I’m hungry.”
She gets on her feet and enters the kitchen. I pick a cosmo mag from a magazine rack by the bedside. It’s the latest issue. I flip through pages quickly.
“Jide you missed church today o.”
I pretend not to hear. “Boo, can I sleep over?”
“No!” she replies immediately.
“Because my bed is small and you sleep anyhow and you snore!”
“I promise to stay one place and not snore.”
“No, Jide! Just go home. I don’t want to be involved in stories that touch the heart.”
I’m not sure I understand what she means.
“Stories that touch the heart? Abeg, explain.”
“Explain what? You’re a guy, I’m a girl, my bed is small…”
I laugh, cutting her short. “Mary, boo, it’s never going to happen. Am I mad? I’d rather sleep with a prostitute than touch you.”
I bring the magazine closer to my face. A page showing different athletic sex positions gets my attention. I’m particularly intrigued by the Ex Sex. I turn the magazine sideways to understand the position better. I’m not certain it would work for me. I flip the page and suddenly get this feeling I’m being watched. I turn. Mary is staring at me with arms crossed and eyes that show I’ve done something wrong.
“You’d rather sleep with a prostitute than touch me?”
“That came out wrong, Mary.”
“So, I’m not attractive enough for you?”
“I didn’t say that. I meant…”
“So that’s why all those years you never hit on me? I was not sexy enough?!”
She raises her hand to stop me. “And there I was thinking you respected me as a human being.”
“Exactly! I respect you. And that is why I can never hit on you. Come on, boo. You’re hot.”
She really is. Maybe a little chubby but sexy as hell. Sadly, she doesn’t see that just because she doesn’t have the finest of faces. I wish she would stop dressing conservatively and try out flattering and more revealing clothes.
“I would totally come on to you if I didn’t take you as my sister.”
She nods and turns back to the kitchen. My explanation suffices, thank God.
Minutes later she reappears with lunch. I rub my palms together as she places a tray in my hands.
I start to eat. Delicious meal. I tell her that. She smiles. I flatter her some more because I can see she’s still upset over my previous statement. Me and my tongue sef. She tells me to eat and stop twisting her head. I do as she orders but halfway she stops.
“You take me as your sister? Really?”
“So you’ll be grossed out if I kissed you now?”
I drop my fork. This girl is ruining my meal. Which kain line of questioning be dis?
“Mary, I respect you as a sister. And as I said, I will totally hit on you if things were different between us.”
“I’m not your sister, Olajideofor. I don’t see you as a brother, either. So yes, things can be different between us. Not that I want them to be. I’m just saying I need to know that I’m sexy enough for you to be attracted to me.”
“I am. Baby, you are beautiful and sexy and you have depth and soul. What man wouldn’t want that?”
“You. Not that I want you to want me. I just want to know that you can want me.”
Without thinking it through, I leave the bed to where she is, put my hands on her neck and pull her into a kiss. She gasps in my mouth but doesn’t fight me. My initial assault soon turns into a gentle dance of our lips that surprises us both and I swear I could go on but something smacks me in the brain and I return to my senses. I pull away.
She is dazed but I recover from my madness quickly as I take back my position on her bed.
She covers her mouth with both hands. “Oh God.”
“Yeah, I thought as much. Now, watch the awkwardness that follows that kiss, and tell me if you would want that a hundred times if we shagged.”
Mary is still silent. And she can’t continue her meal either. The awkwardness I just spoke about becomes palpable and I don’t know why. It was a harmless kiss. I put absolutely no emotions to the act. Maybe a little lust but not strong enough to mean anything.
“Are we going to stop talking to each other now?”
She looks at me as if she hasn’t heard me but she replies. “Why? Because of that small kiss?” She picks her plate from the floor and stands. “Abeg, we’re adults.”
I follow her to her tight kitchen with my tray and offer to do the dishes but she won’t let me. We brush over the incident and gist until the clock strikes eight. It is then I call it a night. We hug at the door when I’m about to leave. There’s no more awkwardness between us.
“Thanks for the meal and the advice.”
I turn away and walk out to dark clouds gathering up in the night sky. By the time I arrive home, it is already pouring heavily. I run into the compound and flex my legs with quick hops up the steps. When I get to the staircase leading to my apartment, I see Ele sitting in the dark, the light of her phone illuminating her pretty face.
“Hey.” I stop to catch my breath. I’m out of shape.
“Hi.” She looks up. “Thank God you’re back. I thought you weren’t coming home this night, still I was waiting.”
I straighten up. “You’ve been waiting for me?”
She nods and stands. I take in her appearance. She has a nightwear on, a cotton t-shirt and shorts to match.
“You won’t believe what happened to me. I was sleeping, enjoying the rain when all of a sudden part of the ceiling gives way and drenches me right on my mattress!”
“Yes! Before I moved in, the useless landlord promised me to fix the leaking roof but clearly, dude did nothing! My whole apartment is like a swimming pool right now! While I was there sleeping, the house was filling with water. I’m so mad! All my clothes, everything is soaked!”
“Sorry about that.” I unlock the door leading to my balcony and we walk in.
I just want to chill here until the rain stops, then I can go to my friend’s house.”
I invite her in. We click instantly. Maybe it’s because for a twenty-two year old she is quite mature. Maybe it’s the fact that her nipples are straining through her nightie and pushing me to impious thoughts. Maybe it’s just because I dread facing another cold night alone. Whatever it is, the chemistry is undeniable. We talk politics, we analyze the economy (she’s studying marketing), we touch up on movies and finally, we browse the topic of sex. Things begin to heat up but I’m not going to make a move on Ele. I can see she wants me bad. It’s the manner in which she looks at me, the way she inches closer, how she’s not as interested in talking about sex as she is in doing it.
I ask if she wants to drink something. She shakes her head. Her eyes are dirty with desire. She pulls up to me and whispers something in my ear. I almost choke on my own saliva.
Well, I don’t have to tell you what happens next. Just call it a wild night. Ele might be only twenty-two but she is boss. I will never look at petite women the same way again.
Our romp ends as the rain slows. Ele wants to cuddle; I don’t but I oblige her. Soon after she’s asleep. I lay awake going through the different stages of an after-sex frame of mind. Same old empty feelings. Nothing new. Sleep comes after a long phone conversation with Ibro. He wants to take a third wife to please his family. His second wife who is the real love of his life is devastated. She’s also pregnant and full term. She has refused to eat all day or visit the hospital. Ibro wants me to come check her tomorrow morning to make sure she and the baby are fine. I promise to do so. He ends the discussion with a yawn. I yawn as well. The line disconnects and I realize I have a text waiting.
Jide, it reads, I heard you’re back in town. Can we hookup, say tomorrow. I’ve missed you. Tari.
Old things have passed away, I reply. Move on, Tarela.
I switch off my phone and sleep off in no time. But I dream of blood, of a beach on a stormy night and ghosts of girlfriends past. I wake up panting and startle Ele.
“Are you okay?” she inquires. My reply is an arm around her. I tug her close and bury her in my grasp. She thinks I want more of her but the only thing I want is to be rid of these recurrent nightmares. She slips from my arms and goes down on me. I don’t complain. Anything to drive away the demons. I close my eyes and sigh.
This is much better than sleep.