Saturday, May 9, 2015

Preview: Twenty-One Days Post #2

CHAPTER ONE: Special treatment

The next day, Oluomachukwu got to the local wing of the airport at about 5:00am. She was sleepy and tired, and wondered why she had left home so early. She probably felt that she would be caught up in traffic and miss the first flight. The alcohol she had with Okechukwu the night before still lingered in her system and it made her weak, so weak that she wished she was still in bed. At the same time, she wanted to relive the fun moment in her head and smile, but she was too exhausted to even think. She hoped that she would get stronger before she got to Abuja and that everything would go well for her.

Everything seemed rushed, especially as she was going to register for the NYSC programme two days before the closing date, leaving little or no time for damage control, in the event that there were hiccups during the registration process. She had planned to go the NYSC office on the last day of registration, that was on Friday, but Okechukwu had spoken to his friend at the NYSC Head Office and advised against that, based on information privy to only insiders. Generally, it was published on the NYSC website that Friday was the last day of registration for foreign-trained Nigerian students, but in fact, Thursday was going to be the last day.

Anyone who came to the office on Friday was going to be asked to come back a few months later to register with the next batch, that is, Batch ‘C,’ and be sent back home, irrespective of where they were coming from.

Oluomachukwu had shaken her head sleepily when Okechukwu gave her the information, because he had also asked if she wanted to wait and join the next batch a few months later. She didn’t know what ‘a few months later’ meant and she didn’t trust the NYSC scheme enough to want to wait until then. She didn’t want to just sit at home indolently while waiting extra months to register, simply because she came after the last day of registration.

The earliest flight to Abuja was to leave by 6:15am and Okechukwu reserved it. He also paid for it, even though Oluomachukwu protested. She had enough money in her foreign bank account and Okechukwu had told her that her ATM card would work in Nigeria, but at the same time, he didn’t want her to pay for anything. He also didn’t want to leave her stranded in Abuja, where she had never been to before. So he gave her some money for her return ticket as well, for her taxi in Abuja, for her feeding and for every other necessary thing he thought she might need.

Oluomachukwu needed a phone line. She had been in the country for only a night, so she hadn’t gotten a phone line yet. She felt she could just get a SIM pack from the airport or from any hawker on the street, but Okechukwu told her it wasn’t possible. A lot of things had changed in Nigeria since the last time she visited, so she had to buy a SIM card from a verified seller and register the line before using it. Alternatively, she could take an already registered line from a friend or family member. And just like many other Nigerians, Okechukwu had more than three lines. Since no one trusted phone line operators in Nigeria, most Nigerians had to have more than two lines in case of emergencies, so he gave Oluomachukwu one to use.

When everything was set, Okechukwu hugged her and waited for her to pass through security check before he left the airport and went home to get ready for work.

***

Oluomachukwu arrived at Abuja airport an hour later. There had been only twelve people on the plane, including the pilot and co-pilot, and two airhostesses. One of the airhostesses had woken her up when the plane landed. She had slept all through the flight, so she didn’t collect the breakfast pack that was served, which usually contained a sandwich with dried meat in it, a pack of fruit juice with a straw, a mini chocolate bar and a serviette. She was glad that no one woke her up for that.

She got to the arrival lounge and stopped to wonder if she knew anyone in Abuja that could take her around when she was done with her registration. She didn’t know anyone. But when she stepped outside to get an airport taxi, she saw him, the most beautiful man ever. She had met him in London during one summer holiday and he had had the same effect on her as he did now in Abuja. They had ended up dating for a year and although she had wanted the relationship to last longer, it couldn’t. The guy moved back to Nigeria without notice, and long distant relationships didn’t sit too well with her.

He had come back to London for Christmas holiday, just to see her, then for Easter, and then the next summer. She hadn’t heard from him since then, which was about three years back. She had cried a little bit and cursed him, but then she got a new job, which was the distraction she needed from the pain.

As Oluomachukwu approached the guy, she didn’t know if she should talk to him or not. She hated him so much, even though he didn’t know to what extent. After a brief moment of hesitation, she decided to be a stronger person and talk to him.

“Nnanna,” she called, but the guy didn’t turn around. She moved quickly towards him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Nnanna.”

The guy turned around and removed the earphones from his ear. “Yes?”

“Yes?” Oluomachukwu repeated, and the guy gazed at her. “You don’t remember me?” She felt stupid for asking that and the hatred she felt towards him started to become stronger.

The guy squinted his eyes as if his memory box was in them, then he shook his head. “No, I’m so sorry. Do you know me?”

Oluomachukwu shook her head too. “No.” She looked away and went to get the taxi.

It was indeed Nnanna, and after breaking her heart and causing her terrible pain, she wasn’t going to allow him take her for a desperate girl.

Before she entered the taxi, she stopped and glanced towards the entrance of the airport with the corner of her eyes and saw Nnanna holding a girl’s hand with one hand and a hand luggage with the other. Even from a distance, Oluomachukwu saw the girl’s face clearly; smile so bright that it looked like she had just been proposed to. Just then, she understood why he had acted so clueless about her. He had obviously come to pick up his girlfriend, or whatever she was to him, and didn’t want to explain how he knew Oluomachukwu to her.

After almost one hour on the traffic-free road that led into the main city, Oluomachukwu got to the NYSC Head Office. The entire front side of the building had been barricaded with large cement blocks that were meant to prevent any stray vehicles from ramming down the gates and exploding. The terror sect, Boko Haram, was still on the loose and there was no telling where and when their agents would strike. It was better to be safe than sorry.

Whenever a vehicle got close to the cement blocks and stopped, security officers immediately stopped what they were doing to find out why. And when the driver zoomed off after dropping a passenger, the security officers would carry on with their business. Oluomachukwu and the taxi that dropped her off did not escape the scrutiny. She got out of the taxi quickly, and as she walked up to the gate, she met a lot of people waiting outside and hoped that they were not there for the same reason as she was.

One security officer on duty, who appeared to be rude, told her to join the crowd of people who were waiting to be attended to, as the registration office was not yet open to the public. She had arrived by 8:00am and the gates were going to be opened in two hours.

Oluomachukwu wasn’t sure if she could wait, let alone scramble with the others to get into the building. If there was one thing she knew about her fellow Nigerians, it was that everyone was always in a hurry and they felt that the next person was constantly in a competition with them.

Oluomachukwu pulled out her cell phone to make a call after she had joined the crowd. The phone rang twice before it was answered.

“Hello?” the person on the other end of the call said.

“Oke,” Oluomachukwu said. “It’s Oluoma.”

Okechukwu smiled and Oluomachukwu felt it even from over the phone. “Glad you got to Abuja in one piece. I was worried when you didn’t call me.”

“You should have called me as well.” Oluomachukwu sulked.

“I should have, and I could have,” Okechukwu replied. “But I didn’t remember to collect your number. I got that line a while back and didn’t memorise the number or save it on my other phones.”
“Oh.” Oluomachukwu felt very silly for a second, even though she shouldn’t have. “That’s fine.”

“So, have you gotten to the NYSC Head Office or are you still at the airport?” he asked.

“I’m at the Head Office already.”

“Really?” Okechukwu sounded surprised. “That was fast and early.”

“Yeah, and the whole world is here. Plus I have to wait for another two hours to get in.”

“Hmm,” Okechukwu replied. “Do you have something to do while waiting?”

“I’m definitely not waiting out here. Can you please give me your friend’s number? I want to see if he can let me in.”

“I really don’t think he can.” Okechukwu sounded firm, the same way he had sounded when Oluomachukwu had said ‘No’ to him some years back, and that she wanted to date someone else, someone who she had met through him.

“At least let me try.” Oluomachukwu wasn’t prepared to give up. “This place is crowded. I can’t stand for too long. Plus I’m hungry.”

Okechukwu didn’t budge. “Didn’t you have anything to eat on the plane?”

“No, I slept all through and I’m tired. I feel like I might pass out.”

“Okay, okay,” Okechukwu responded. He didn’t know what else she would say just to get his friend’s number. “I’ll text it to you right away.”

“Okay, thanks.” She hung up and waited for it. And when the text finally came in, she was already pissed off. ‘Right away’ had taken almost five minutes.

Oluomachukwu called Okechukwu’s contact, a young man named Kayode. She assumed he was young because of the way he sounded, and also for the fact that he was Okechukwu’s friend. When Kayode came out to meet her, he was indeed young, and it felt as though heaven was on a mission to bless her with the pleasures of the eyes. He was the definition of ‘eye candy,’ just like Nnanna was, but in another flavour.

Kayode led Oluomachukwu into the building, and as she entered, she could hear the crowd murmur things that sounded like “cheat; bribery and corruption; impatient Nigerians; thunder will strike you; we too have connection in Abuja; prostitute...” Oluomachukwu ignored them all. She smiled as she walked into the building, clutching the file that held all her documents in one hand and her bag in the other.

***

The minute Oluomachukwu stepped out of the NYSC Head Office, she pulled out her phone and saw more than twenty missed calls. About two hours had passed and the registration process had gone smoothly for her. She never expected it to be that way, but she was glad that she wasn’t stressed. The only reason it took that long was because she had to scan and upload a missing document to her NYSC online account and make a couple of photocopies, which someone in Kayode’s office helped her to do. Apart from that, it was a peaceful process.

As she was looking at her phone and trying to figure out who had the number that had left her all the missed calls, the phone started ringing again. The same number was calling her back.

Oluomachukwu picked it up. “Hello?”

“Oluoma, I have been calling you all morning. You got me very worried, where are you?” The person sounded aggressive and Oluomachukwu didn’t know who it was. It was a female quite all right, but that was all she knew. Plus she hadn’t given her number to anyone. She wanted to ask who it was, but she didn’t want to sound rude.

“Are you still there?” the person asked.

Oluomachukwu gnashed her teeth. At the same time, she was surveying the fleet of cars that moved slowly on the road in front of the NYSC building, hoping to see an empty taxi. But she didn’t see any.

“Hello?” the person on the phone called out again.

“Yes, I’m here, sorry,” Oluomachukwu finally said. “I just need to get a taxi, so I’m looking out for one.”

“Are you coming over here?” the person asked.

Oluomachukwu had no other option than to ask who it was. “I’m sorry, please, who is this?”

“It’s Akunna nau,” the person replied.

“Oh, Akunna.” Oluomachukwu was embarrassed that she hadn’t recognised the voice. Akunna was Okechukwu’s older sister.

“Oke didn’t tell you that he would give me your phone number to call you?” Akunna asked.

“No, he didn’t.”

“Anyway, he said you were spending the night with me in Abuja.”

“He did?” Oluomachukwu didn’t recall telling anyone that she was spending the night in Abuja, except Kayode, and she didn’t think he would tell Okechukwu or anyone.

“Yes, so I wanted to call and find out when you would be done with your registration. And since it seems like you are already done, when are you coming over? You can take a taxi to Prince and Princess Estate...”

Oluomachukwu wasn’t listening to what Akunna was saying anymore, but she knew she didn’t want to spend the night with anyone. “Umm, Akunna, let me ring you back,” she interrupted her after a few seconds.   Akunna cleared her throat. “Why?”

“I still have some things to take care of.”

“I thought you just said you were looking for a taxi?”

Oluomachukwu had said that, but she didn’t remember in time. And it was difficult to keep track of what was said, especially if it was a lie.

“Yes, the cyber cafĂ© around here is packed full, but I was told there is another one not too far from here. I want to get a taxi and go there, then be back before the NYSC office closes.”

“Oh, okay.” Akunna sighed. Whether she believed the story or not, Oluomachukwu didn’t care, she was just glad that Akunna had accepted it. “Call me when you are done so that I’ll know when you would be coming.”

“No problem. I’ll speak to you later.” Oluomachukwu hung up, then sighed.

***

Oluomachukwu settled in her hotel room and lay on the bed, wanting to take a quick nap before she did any other thing. She had found herself a taxi shortly after her phone chat with Akunna and it took her straight to the hotel. The hotel had been recommended by Kayode, since she didn’t know anywhere in Abuja. She looked at her phone — thirty-five missed calls from Akunna. And as she was about to place the phone on the table, Akunna started calling again. Oluomachukwu did not pick up.

When her phone beeped once, she looked at it and saw a text message from Akunna asking if everything was okay, because she was worried. All Oluomachukwu wanted was some time to rest and didn’t want anyone disturbing her, family friend or not. She looked at the time, it was 4:35pm, so she texted Akunna back, saying that she couldn’t talk, because she was still at the NYSC Head Office.

Akunna simply replied “Okay.” Oluomachukwu sighed, relieved. Before she finally placed her phone on the table, she heard a knock at the door.

She scooted off quickly, and after looking through the peephole, she yanked the door open.

“Hey,” she said. She smiled at Kayode as she made way for him to enter.

Kayode returned the smile and entered. He was holding two big white bags. “I come bearing gifts,” he said, then gave her the bags. One was heavier than the other.

Oluomachukwu was very excited. She brought out the takeaway from KFC from the lighter bag and six bottles of alcoholic drinks from the heavier one. She hadn’t realised how hungry she was, so she quickly served the drinks, then they began eating, drinking and talking.

“Your registration was successful and as you requested, I worked your posting to Lagos State.”

“Thanks,” Oluomachukwu replied, not taking her eyes off the fries and chicken.

“Why do you even want to serve in Lagos?” Kayode asked.

Oluomachukwu shrugged her shoulders, then licked her fingers. “I don’t know. Familiar territory, I guess.”

“I doubt there’s any familiar area in Lagos for you, or even in Nigeria.” Kayode laughed. “I should have worked Abuja for you, so that you would stay with me.”

Oluomachukwu looked up at him, with eyes that could shoot fireballs.   Kayode laughed again and raised both hands. “I was just joking, take it easy,” he said, as he continued laughing.

“Okechukwu is the only one I have in Nigeria for now and he is in Lagos,” she said.

There was a brief silence, which was interrupted by her phone vibrating on the table by the bed. It did the same thing about three times.

“Aren’t you going to get that?” Kayode asked.

“No.” Oluomachukwu was eating the last tiny bit of chicken on the bone she was holding.

Kayode went and took the phone, and Oluomachukwu didn’t object. “There’s just a number calling you, but no name. Who is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” She sounded quite annoyed. She had a feeling it was Akunna again. “Just put the phone down.”

Kayode didn’t put the phone down. He answered it, and the second he said “Hello,” Oluomachukwu jumped up from the bed, hopped towards him and snatched the phone, angry. She had flung the chicken bone in the process, and with her greasy hand, she held the phone to her ear. Okechukwu was saying “Hello” multiple times. He had called with a different number that she didn’t have.

She hung up, then looked at Kayode. “What was that for?”

Before he could reply, her phone started ringing again. Okechukwu was calling her back, but she didn’t pick it up. He called a few more times and she still didn’t answer.

A few seconds later, Kayode’s phone started ringing. He looked at Oluomachukwu. “It’s your cousin calling me. He probably wants to know how everything went today.”

Oluomachukwu didn’t answer. For a second, she didn’t understand what Kayode had said, because she didn’t have any cousin who would call Kayode to ask about her or her registration. But then, she figured it was Okechukwu and was amused that he had told Kayode they were cousins. And she thought she knew why — Okechukwu obviously didn’t want Kayode to make passes at her. But the only way Okechukwu would have guaranteed that was if he had told Kayode that she was his girlfriend, and even at that, it wasn’t promised.

Oluomachukwu took her cell phone with her into the bathroom. Kayode had picked up his call, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. While in the bathroom, she called Akunna back to tell her that she was coming, even though she had no intention of going to Akunna’s place. The call was brief and after Oluomachukwu hung up, Akunna sent her the address via text message and told her to get a taxi over there immediately. It sounded as though Akunna was afraid of Oluomachukwu being kidnapped, or even worse, being blown up in an untimely explosion.

Oluomachukwu replied “O.K. thanks” to her, then she remembered why she didn’t like visiting or even staying with friends or relatives. Most of them were too bossy and nosy. They loved to order people around, especially if they were housing the people, or supposed to house the people, and they would make sure to constantly mention that they own the house and pay all the bills.   When Oluomachukwu went back to the room, Kayode had gotten off the phone.

“You didn’t tell your cousin that you were spending the night at a hotel?”

Oluomachukwu’s phone started vibrating in her hand before she replied. Okechukwu was calling back again. “I didn’t,” she replied. “And you shouldn’t have.”

“I didn’t either,” Kayode said defensively. “I told him I was still at work and that you have to come back to the office tomorrow to finalise your registration.”

“Okay,” she replied, then picked up. She placed her index finger over her lips, indicating to Kayode to keep quiet. She couldn’t risk Kayode even breathing loudly and being heard. “Oke?”

“I’ve been calling you, where did you keep your phone? Akunna has been calling you too. Where are you?”

Oluomachukwu was offended by his questioning and tone. She suddenly didn’t want Kayode to listen in on what she was going to say, so she went into the bathroom. At the same time, Okechukwu was asking if she was still on the line and if she was with someone.

“Oke, I’ve been busy with my registration,” she started. “I had to leave the office twice to get some things done.”

“I called before and a guy picked up.” Okechukwu was evidently angry. “Who was it?”

“That’s strange,” Oluomachukwu responded, sounding clueless. “Because I’m not with any guy and no one picked up my phone.”

“Okay, please, call Akunna. She’s waiting for you and she’s worried. She said she has been calling you and you’re not picking up.”

Oluomachukwu wanted to ask him why he had to tell Akunna that she was in town, but she decided not to. “I’ll see Akunna much later.”

“Okay, cool. Keep me posted,” he said, then hung up.

When Oluomachukwu returned to the room, Kayode had already finished eating and was taking shots of brandy. Oluomachukwu went to join him without saying anything.

“Hmm,” Kayode started, after he took another shot of brandy. “Your cousin sounds like he is your boyfriend.”

Oluomachukwu couldn’t help but laugh. “All the guys in my family are overprotective. So you can’t blame them.” She decided to play along with him.

Kayode grinned at Oluomachukwu mischievously and she also smiled at him. There was an awkward silence after that, so she looked down and closed her eyes only briefly. When she opened them, Kayode was staring at her, his eyes traveling all over her body. He licked his lips when his eyes met with hers. Her look was so intense that he almost dropped the glass he was holding. He then carefully put it on the table and turned his stare back to her.

Oluomachukwu also had some shots of brandy and it was burning inside of her — the type of burning only the touch of a man could temper. Kayode saw it in her eyes and approached her. He attempted to kiss her and she did not resist him. She wanted to blame it on the alcohol, but she had not drunk enough to make her that intoxicated.

They started to kiss slowly and gently, as they took off their clothes, and that was the last thing Oluomachukwu remembered of the moment.

*****
Copyright © 2015 C. M. Okonkwo