When she said, ‘Saa, so you have a sister who attended St Patrick’s,’ you knew instinctively she’d always – for days or weeks even – wanted to say it, only the opportunity never presented itself, only you never presented her with the opportunity. You’re a guy who doesn’t feel the burden of ‘acting man’ to a girl, to girls. Or maybe you feel it, sometimes, but you don’t ever let it give you a cricked neck, you hurl it down just as the first throbs of a crick begin.
Now, you were here because you had to be, because Oge needed help with getting typed the exam question papers. That’s why the opportunity presented itself.
‘Which of my sisters?’
‘How many sisters do you have? Do you have more than one? Do you have more than one who attended St Patrick’s? Your sister, Afọma naa.’
‘So you know Afọma!’
‘Haa, Afọma was my classmate.’
‘Oh! So you’re a small girl, and I’ve been thinking you’re my senior.’
‘Saa, no oo! I’m not your senior oo!’
What followed was a tale, by you, of Afọma’s academic progress since St Patrick’s, all of which she, by her responses, appeared to know already.
‘Who told you I was her brother?’
After school, you found her and her colleague – they are student teachers on teaching practice – standing by the roadside, apparently waiting for a commercial transport to board.
‘Do you think any vehicle is ever going to pass this way?’ you said. ‘Better begin to trek.’ They laughed and you passed by, walking along by the roadside and looking over your shoulder now and again to see if there was any approaching transport.
When you eventually waved a bus to a stop, you boarded to find her beaming face. ‘Where, then, is Aunty?’
The bus reached her stop and she moved to pay the driver, but you asked her to forget it, you’d pay for her.
‘Saa, thank you,’ she said and alighted.
The next day, you went again to help Oge. When it was about time to go, she asked you to please wait so you could go together.
‘You know,’ you said, ‘I don’t like waiting till school is over. You’d board a keke and a student would board, too, the same keke, and expect you to pay her or his fare.’ Everyone tilted their heads back in laughter. ‘But let me get ready downstairs,’ you continued, ‘clean up myself and get my books.’
So you went together – waited for transport and eventually boarded – all the while chatting about management’s subtle manipulation. She got to her stop and alighted and, without the least care to pay the driver, was already waddling away when you called out, ‘You’ve not paid the driver oo!’ She turned, and you thought her ever-smiling face was flushed with embarrassment.
Meanwhile you said to the driver, ‘Or Driver do you wish to leave her?’
She walked up just in time to the passenger side window to hear the driver’s reply. ‘No oo! I thought you were going to pay for her. I heard your conversation, it was deep. You know, this is we men’s plight, a man and a woman would board a bus and the man would be expected to pay.’
She rummaged around in her handbag, saying, ‘Driver sorry oo. Please don’t be annoyed.’ She glanced at you – the embarrassment now gave the smile a sheepish edge – when she’d paid, before turning to leave.
To the driver, evidently one of the majority of men who foment the plight he bitterly complained about, you just said, weakly, ‘You should have asked her for her fare, or at least asked me if it was on me, before assuming.’ Action truly would have spoken louder than words, for the first thing that occurred to you was to let her go, with the fare, and make the driver pay dearly for his rashness. But you didn’t want her to leave with the notion that she got her own way, perhaps for the umpteenth time, with a guy, certainly not with you. Deep down, though, you knew there was a slight chance that, like her apology to the driver might have suggested, her sheepish glance regardless, she forgot. And you have left that chance open.
Ichi, 02 – 04/12/2016