By Osa Mbonu
I had asked mama Ozioma to bring Amaka to my flat, not because I was shy to speak to Amaka myself. It is true I used to be shy when I was a boy, but at 37 I was no longer a boy, and if ‘toasting’ girls, as we used to call it, was a school, I had graduated from it many years ago with cum laude.
I did not speak to her directly by myself for two reasons. One, as I had hinted before, Amaka hardly left that slummy compound. She was always busy – cooking, washing, sweeping or doing other chores. I can’t recall ever going into that compound for whatever reason, so it would have been odd for people to see me there, even if I had been daring enough to attempt it.
Secondly, even if I had had access to her, I did not want to send the wrong signal to her; I did not want her to get the impression that I was toasting her to be my girlfriend and nothing else. I wanted her to get it clearly that I was coming to ask for her hand in marriage. And I had no doubt that mama Ozioma had let her in on that. So before she stepped into my apartment that day, she had already known my intention.
She sat down at one corner of the three-sitter upholstery chair in my sitting room while mama Ozioma sat on one of the singles. After I had offered them something to drink, mama Ozioma left, telling Amaka that she would be back soon.
I went and sat down beside Amaka after mama Ozioma had left. “You may have seen me only a few times but I have been watching you every day since you came to stay with your sister in that yard,” I said, going straight to the matter. “From the first day I saw you I believed I had found the woman I wanted to marry. So I pleaded with mama Ozioma to bring you to my house so that I could speak with you and perhaps start a relationship with you. I am sure that you will fall in love with me if you come closer to me and get to know how hard I have already fallen for you.”
She smiled. And it made me happy that I had made her smile. I asked her some questions to encourage her to talk about herself,but she only answered my questions briefly. Somehow I noticed she was ill at ease. I had watched her from my bedroom window laughing and cracking jokes with mama Ozioma, her sister, mama Uche and other people in her yard. I wanted her to laugh and crack jokes like that with me. Understandably, she could not do that with me who was still almost a stranger to her. I hoped that with time, as she gets to know me better and relax in my company she would loosen up.
All along, I had deliberately restricted our conversations to domestic and soft issues without bringing up any academic or conceptual analysis of issues in order not to further heighten her already discomfited state. Already too, somewhere in my subconscious faculty, I had come to the knowledge of her hidden ignorance of many things which even young people ought to know from reading elementary books. That did not bother me because I believed I was in love with her. I also believed that when she comes into my life I will make her to fall in love with books and send her to the university.
Mama Ozioma never came back as she promised to. We both knew why. Amaka stood up to go. I tried everything I could to get her commit to another date, but she was evasive. I sensed it could be she was wary of coming to my house for fear I could take her to bed which wasn’t a priority for me, so I suggested we could meet at an eatery nearby or bar where we could have some soft drinks and eat pepper soup. Still she said nothing.
I led her downstairs and she left. She never came to me again. I did everything to meet her again but to no avail. I told mama Ozioma and she promised to find out what was in her mind. Days dragged into weeks and weeks into month.
Within that same period I did not see mama Ozioma again. Later, I learned she had travelled to the village. One day I braced up myself and went to the slummy compound, pretending to be looking for mama Ozioma. It was mama Uche, Amaka’s sister, who attended to me. She came out of their room when she saw me knocking at mama Ozioma’s door.
“They are not around o,” she told me.
“Where did they go?”
“They have travelled to the village,” mama Uche told me.
I looked past her into her room. Amaka was there. She saw me but did not come out. After discussing with mama Uche I returned to my apartment, demoralized. Her elusiveness further intensified my interest in her. I told myself that she was acting hard-to-get as most good girls did; that she will eventually submit herself to me.
One Saturday I sighted mama Ozioma in the compound. I was happy she was back. But on the Sunday, I saw something else that broke my heart. One man visited the slummy compound. From the way the man interacted with Amaka and mama Uche I concluded that they both knew the man before. After sometime, Amaka dressed up and together with the man left the compound holding hands. I became angry and so jealous. I could have endured it if the man had appeared to be better than me – physically, financially (judging from his grubby clothing) and God knows what else.
“So, it is because of this riff-raff that Amaka rejected me?” I said angrily to myself as my eyes followed them both down the road. ‘Riff-raff’ was a condescending phrase I ought not to have used but I was blinded by my anger and jealousy.
See you next week.