STEP FOUR: NOW THAT THE FIRST DATE IS OVER, WE…
Roses are red
Violets are blue
It is rare to know what exactly to do
I wake up happy. I go from asleep to awake in .001 seconds. My eyes are open, I am clear and smiling because it’s a beautiful morning and I just had a good night. Is it corny? Yes. But be grateful I didn’t say I woke up feeling like I can fly. Like it is a sunny, breezy day and I am whistling, in my own music video about to break into the moonwalk.
It’s 4:00am. It’s still dark. It’s deathly quiet. The unholy kind that makes you think about all the witch stories you heard as a child. I hate mornings. Most days I sleep exactly four and a half hours and if that isn’t an ungodly number of hours, I don’t know what is.
Again, I hate mornings. So why am I awake every day at this time? Because the traffic in this city is hell and if I want to make it to the fish market for the herring and trout I need for the day’s menu, or run errands or visit with people before I report to the kitchen where everything else disappears until closing time, then I have to be up now. (I am the annoying friend who shows up at 7:00am when you’re trying to get ready for work, and your baby is screaming its head off, without calling first, just to say hi. I spend so much time at work, I have to do this to convince myself I am still human).
I do the mundane things. I get out of bed. I take a bath. I get dressed. I douse myself in perfume until I smell like a god. I pick up my phone. I am tempted to message Sarah except for two things. First, it’s way too early in the morning- no need to bring her into my hell. Second, it’s too soon after the date.
“Let’s not get desperate Jer. That’s how men get friendzoned.”
It turns into one of those days. There are a million things to do. People flood the restaurant. It is complete chaos. My staff keep making blunders. A mistake is made and everyone quiets waiting for me to blow up. I ignore them. Not today. Today I’m in too good a mood to care.
Around closing, my friends Lanre and Timu show up. What happens when you’re a chef is your friends randomly come around like orphans wanting you to feed them. We sit at a table for four near the wall. While they eat they talk about work and gossip like girls. I listen, absent-minded.
“Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm.” I reply. I wait until there is a lull in the conversation, to make it look like I have not been itching to talk about this since they sat down, and casually slip it in about Sarah. I think I am very smooth, but apparently I’m not.
“This is what happens when you stay in the kitchen too long. You meet a chick and start sounding like you want to cry,” Lanre says laughing.
They have all kinds of important questions about her.
“Is she fine?”
“Can she cook?”
“Yes, yes, I can nau.”
“Look how he is. Enjoy it,” Timu, the married one says. “It will pass.”
“No, it won’t,” I say firmly…or maybe stubbornly.
“Enjoy it-e,” he says, absolutely sure of himself like he is a morbid fortune teller. “It will pass.”
He’s wrong, I know, but still I feel the thought burrowing into the back of my mind.
I wake up languid and stretching, feeling like I do when I have the dream that I just painted the room of the President’s secret love child from his favourite side chick and they just paid me a couple of millions to keep it quiet.
I think of last night and I smile even more. It was a good night, right? They say you can tell a lot from first impressions and this one has me thinking I might never go on another first date again. Hallelujah!
I smile and stretch and open my eyes, and almost scream. My mother is sitting on the edge of the bed watching me grimly.
“Maaaa,” I complain, my heart is hammering like I am about to die. “STOP doing this.”
Am I the only one whose mother likes early morning lectures? I guess I shouldn’t complain. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and see her standing over me, just waiting for me to sense her presence and wake up so she can tell me to be careful with men on Facebook. When I complained she’d say, “But I didn’t wake you. I was just standing.”
“You came home late,” she says.
Oh God, I know where this is going.
“Sorry,” I mumble. I am 28 years old and still I have a curfew.
“Where did you go?’
“I just went to eat.”
I have two choices. I can tell her about Jeremiah which I really, really want to do, just because all of a sudden my mouth is running and I want to tell everyone, or I can keep it to myself, because if I do, she will start picking aseobi and I am not about that life.
“No one,” I mumble.
I fall onto my back and cover my eyes with my left arm.
“You went by yourself?”
“With a friend.”
“He doesn’t have a name?”
“I didn’t say it was a man.”
It is an irritated ‘humph.’ A ‘you are getting older’ humph. ‘Why can’t you be like your sisters?’ ‘You’re older so why can’t you set a good example?’ I’ve heard it all before. Still stings.
Nature calls. I get out of bed to attend to it. I check my phone a million times. Shouldn’t he have texted by now?
I leave home for work around 9:00am after traffic has eased. I generally work two to three jobs at a time. Now I’m working on Joshua’s room and a Princess wall for a three year old girl. Her parents are not the good kind. Her father is a rich something at a bank and he wears it like an announcement. He insists I work on weekends so he can be there to supervise the progress. He stalks around the room behind me as I work, as if this is a test and he is an olden day’s school teacher standing over my desk, watching me write.
Today he tries to intrude. He appears at my side and points to the smaller frogs behind the Frog Prince looking up at Princess Tiana. “I don’t like those ones.”
I ignore him. I am in the centre of my zone. If he draws me out it will take forever to get back in.
“Did you hear me?”
Internally I take a deep breath. I forfeit my zone.
“I haven’t finished it yet. Sir.”
“Oh,” he says. “Okay.” As he turns to leave he brushes my ass slyly like it is a mistake. But I know it’s not a mistake.
Without having to think about it, I drop the brush in my hand, swivel and slap his hand so hard it hurts me. I don’t even know where the words come from but they are spewing from me in a fluid stream. “Don’t you ever, freaking ever, touch me again.”
I go on for a minute until his wife appears in the door way and I look up at her staring at us suspiciously. No, she is staring at me suspiciously. Why do women always blame women? I jump off the ladder and start shoving my brushes into the bag, dirty. I gather my things together. Collapse my ladder and secure it under my arm and leave them in the room. They can keep their half painted wall.
I dump the stuff in the back of the car and stew in silence. The customer is always right ke? You touch me, you get what’s coming to you. But by the time I start to calm down, I start to think I overreacted. I work on referrals. I need to become successful and accomplished so my entire family can feel bad that they doubted me. My mood is plummeting quickly.
My phone beeps and I dig it out of my pocket. It’s a message from Jeremiah. Life still sucks, but I can’t help but smile.
Every weekend I like to go to different places, tasting other people’s food. I don’t discriminate. Sometimes it’s Iya-Basira with wooden benches and rubber bowls for you to wash your hands in, and other times it is big name restaurants that have waiters in uniform who bring you bills you’ll regret tomorrow.
This weekend it’s a sports bar in a corner of town. I go alone, always. Other people are a distraction. They want to talk and make conversation when I really just want to eat.
It is loud and rowdy. It’s Saturday night so the place is full of people watching a football match. I like football as much as the next guy, but I don’t have the same fascination as most people. I have my teams. I have the jerseys. But I don’t have the time to follow every league in Christendom. This one is a minor match between minor teams no one should care about.
I sit at the bar and order my food- their most popular item; a burger and a spicy chicken salad. After I order I put on my timer and wait to see how long it will take. 26 minutes. Too long. I approach the food seriously. I drink water to clear my palate. Take a bite. Chew it slowly, trying to place the ingredients and decide whether I like it or not. First impressions. If you don’t like it with the first bite, you don’t like it. This one is just okay.
I am eating and texting back and forth with Sarah- she has a great sense of humour- and Lanre at the same time. Someone taps lightly on my shoulder. I half turn in the direction and see a face I haven’t seen since Uni and inside me, I harden. Nene. She is pretty and, since we’re being polite, generously endowed. That was always my type.
She is all smiles. She seems genuinely pleased to see me. She’s going on… Long time. You look good. What are you up to?
Nothing in her says, ‘I feel guilty I screwed your father for a little bit.’ But then I don’t think she knows that I know. And really, no need to be unfair to her, who didn’t he chase?
I look down at my food. I’ve lost my appetite. You know all those old, dark questions about yourself you like to pretend are not there? They start to rise again. About the type of person I am. About the possible things our childhoods have programmed into us. Things that may be lying under the surface, waiting for the right moment to pop out and mess us up. People have always said I am a lot like him. Like father, like son. I’m never comfortable when they say that.
She finally notices my lack of interest in this conversation and rises to leave. Now that she has successfully ruined my mood. I push the food aside. I doubt I could taste it now anyway.