About this writer
I stood naked in the unfamiliar bathroom, aware of my penis standing out from my body like something foreign. Barely three metres square, it had a neatness absent in the room I had passed through, where my clothes now lay on her bed—this girl, Sarah, I only just met. Generic white tiles on the wall, a sloping floor, a tap on the wall running water into a red plastic bucket. I smiled to see the placement of the soap holder—Palmolive, just like in my bathroom. She smiled too.
She shrugged and turned off the tap.
“Let’s bath. I dey fear cold water sha.”
“Really? We should have boiled the water then.”
“You don’t like cold water?
“Not particularly,” she repeated, snorting.
It was about ten p.m. and I was locked in with this girl I’d just met in a part of sweaty hot Lagos I only knew existed today. Lagos was a lifelong love story, dreamed of as a child in my city of Jos three thousand kilometres away and the same number of feet above the sea line—another country really, a place where we lived life with the ease of mats in breeze and ate fried Irish potatoes and coffee for breakfast. Lagos was a rush of serious faces everywhere, expensive cars, yellow busses and the haranguing of bus conductors who looked like mafia hoodlums—all this mix was modern, exciting and dangerous. I had checked out of my hotel room in Lekki just before noon, stashing my bags at my boss’s duplex still in Lekki, had a lunch of white rice with more meat and fish than I could finish. The journey to this bathroom that smelled of lavender air freshener, clasped there at the corner with the WC, had started with me leaving with my cronies for Freedom Park, and the reading earlier. She had sat in the audience of about sixty in a pastel lemon green skirt with black palms seeming as if sketched onto the fabric, and a white semi-transparent dress; I wasn’t sure if she was wearing lipstick or if that was how they were naturally—there was something potent, yet muted, beneath her appraising eye when I caught it eventually. A car horn sounded from far outside the apartment.
“You come from Jos,” she said, chuckling, placing her arm against the wall of the bathroom so I saw the concave of her armpit, shaved and interesting looking. “Jos is really cold, isn’t it? You suppose done dey used to the cold na.”
I laughed nervously. “You no well, person fit dey used to cold. Maybe that’s all the more reason to be wary of cold water, isn’t it?” I felt my pidgin English’s inferiority, compared to hers.
I looked her in the eye. We had to bath. And I had to ignore my penis. “Okay, let me help you,” I said. I cupped a palm full of water from the bucket, she watched me as if amused as I let it drip to her chest and run over her breasts. She tensed when the water touched her. We both smiled.
“First cut is the deepest,” I said hungrily, before fetching a bowlful of water and pouring it over my head—feeling the sudden shock of it and the pleasurable rush of heat as my skin sought to make amends.
I poured some water on her body, her low moans when the water touched her excited me. Then I rubbed the Palmolive over my body, was she appraising me? I touched her then, this girl my eyes had met at a book reading hours before—I lathered the soap on to her skin, her chest, arms, between her breasts which were palm sized yet full, she was silent. I exhaled. We were having our bath.
Reaching her part of town had taken the best of an hour and a half, hopping into three busses from Obalande and at the back of my mind all the while was a faint buzz, of danger or excitement and desire I could not say which. We had been sitting with a few friends from the reading for drinks at the when said she liked intelligent men, which was when I had looked at her and found a veil over a suggestion in her eyes. I had taken the bait, like a fool when he wants a woman, fully and without thinking. An hour after she said this, our little group of six dispersed, leaving I and her with the burden of deciding what to do with ourselves—it was 8 p.m. We walked from the Park through CMS to get to the bus stop, somewhere before the eponymous bookshop, I put her palm in mine. And she did not resist when I slipped it out and placed my palm, confident and protective, on the side of her hips as we walked in step like lovers already through the dwindling urban crowd. I always steal glances at eyes in towns at the end of day—I like to think I want to see those in whose face faith still burns, and those other urban faces ground down with the flame going out scare me in a personally delicious manner.
As I bathed, I watched her bathe. I watched her run the water over her body, brown and voluptuous and watched her palms, in silence, run over her skin washing it clean of sweat and concerns. I watched her squat a little and wash her vagina and it gave me a perverted pleasure—perhaps no luxury is equal to watching a woman bath? I had not imbibed such wealth since Tutu left me. And, even with Tutu, we had stopped being intimate a year before the farce of our dazzling affair came undone to ourselves, clear as it was to anyone else. And, now, here I was feasting with this Isoko girl with the calm eyes, this girl who liked intelligent men. And I wondered if she kept intelligent men, like a collection? I wondered if I was intelligent, or just, as a writer, intelligent enough? Was I a con? I felt possessed by a madness to touch her—but I resisted. I ran more water over my torso and took down the towel.
“I’m done,” I said, opening the bathroom door.
I imagine a fiction I created in my mind of Spain—of wild flamenco dancing and sangria drinking and a country where everyone is dark haired. There was no sea in this fiction yet, now, I think there should be. I think of how Andalusia rhymes with sea, a sea of people who came to see the bullfight Federico made memorable—a la cinqo de la tarde! I will not see it! And alone in the room I thought of Spain and that hall of fever and the knife thrower and the girl shrouded—and the daggers flying and pinning her outline on the board behind her. Stillness. I think of those daggers flying to find their mark and I wonder what two daggers say to each other when they meet on their way to stopping. And fate?
“We should stop at a pharmacy.”
“To get condoms.”
“You’ve already decided I’ll sleep with you?”
“I haven’t, cannot. I hope you do.”
“I like that word. I’m fatal.”
The silence had wrapped around us like an oracle intent on coming true—I thought how I was creating fate by speaking about it. What was I doing near midnight heading home with a woman I just only met? Everything was dark and forbidding like Spain, but my hands were on her hips, our steps light and steady.
“My house is a fifteen-minute walk away. You may think I’m taking you to a ritualists den, some parts of the way, but, no fear heh?”
“Who knows why?”
I watched her enter the room naked, and I watched her put on a flower print nightgown. We watched each other with interest, without a word. And then she came to the bed and sat at its edge.
“So, what’s your story?” I asked, finally.
She did not answer. She now lay across the bed, face down looking at me. I pivoted around and hiked up the flower-print shimmy, taking in the back of her thighs. I kissed her left buttock and drew her up to face me. Words would come later. We fucked, we ran through the four condoms in the pack. And then, lastly, I remembered something else—she had said she liked intelligent men. I thought of Prophet Ibrahim and that ram he was to sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac—I saw the lamb and the patriarch suspended above the sea. And it seemed normal to be here in her arms, this strange girl, gypsy like me. And I felt the knife plunge into my vein, above the sea, and felt all the blood in my body become one drop and imagined that falling off me, like reason, and heard it hit the surface of the water. And the entire world turned crimson.
The sex was so-so.
I had watched him watching me in the bathroom—I liked that he did not touch me—like I was a meal. I wanted to be savoured, he savoured me. I watched him watching me. I liked that when he bathed me, he didn’t linger on my breasts, did not squeeze them. And that was when I decided to sleep with him. Not before, not even when we met and his smile did something decadent and wrong to my insides. I liked him, yes, and now I’ve just slept with him. And we just met today. Sarah!
We met at a book reading, his book, and he had arrived late—an hour late. The compere improvised, until there came in this man in a milk coloured caftan, with an outlandish black backpack hanging behind him off one arm only. I had just bought his book; it was dedicated to his daughters and their mothers—there was something irresponsible about that. Yet, he kept us waiting and, without meeting him, in that hall at a bookstore at Yaba, I thought he kept us waiting deliberately. He came in with a woman, his publisher. And, soon, he was ushered to the little dais. He wore a bracelet on his left wrist—what sort of man wears a bracelet on his wrist? Was he a homosexual—I had heard stories about cultural homosexuality in northern Nigeria.
I remember next sitting with him and his friends, drinking beer at the Freedom Park. But, before that, other details exist that I recall hazily. He spent the first few minutes on the dais joking and cracking up the hall, he did it well and I forgave him for coming late. The compere read his bio—he had sinned a lot of sins, mostly the corporate prostitution type, in his short life. He wasn’t yet thirty, he did not believe in marriage. I wanted to get married. I believe in marriage. What sort of man says he doesn’t believe in marriage—aren’t they supposed to lead women on and then break our hearts, what was it; I don’t think I’m ready to settle down yet? He was such a conceited, cute looking bastard. His eyes raked over the hall but they did not pick me out. I was just any girl. Then he settled to read. I hated him, the confidence of his bowed, balding head as he read from his novel; I hated his voice, how sure it sounded and I hated the mole on his cheek. He was reading about a girl who was ripping a sheet of paper to shreds. I caught his eyes midsentence when he looked up—he winked and smiled. I remember him autographing my book and saying with his eyes to wait. And the next thing, we were at the Freedom Park with his cronies drinking beer and pepper-soup. It was getting on to 7:30 when they left. He paid.
“So, Sarah, what do we do to us?”
“I’m going home.”
“And you’re asking if I’ll come with you?”
We scraped our white plastic seats on the dirty terrazzo floor of the Park and stood to leave. It was a calm Lagos evening, the air from the sea filtered and heady as we walked silently through the inner Marina. We made to cross an intersection and he put his palm on my hips, to steady me—I let him leave it there, I leaned into him and I wondered whether he was circumcised or not. I’d heard stories of northerners being uncircumcised. He stopped in front of CMS Bookstore, gasping—My God!
“It’s so historic,” he said.
I crossed the street and stood in front of the bookstore so he could take a photo. Then he crossed over to join me, then he kissed me and we walked on to the bus park. The night market was just starting, I wonder if he noticed that, the lanterns casting golden lights on the faces—I wondered what he saw, and if he was looking at us as I was.
“I stay far away.”
“Then let’s go.”
It took us two hours and three bus changes to reach my house. I felt him become afraid during the fifteen minute walk from the road to my little apartment at the heart of Ajah. I joked. He relaxed, but said he would spend an hour and leave for his friend’s house at Lekki. I found that funny.
Now he’s lying on the bed, naked, my bed, naked as I. And he has just asked what my story was. Sonofabitch, what sort of man asks that—what sort of a man asks that of a one-night-stand?
So, I told him. About my parents and my schooling, about the school at which I taught and about the difficult years I had spent when I left the East for Lagos with a man who was to marry me but did not. I told him about how I had chased another man with a knife and he chuckled. I told him about the year I had been alone and homeless in Lagos and I knew he guessed more than what I had said.
“You must see me as a Lagos girl,” I said, bothered.
“Girl in her late twenties has a job and an apartment, who sleeps with strangers. Someone once told me all I needed to complete being a Lagos girl was a car. When you buy a car, you’ll be a real Lagos girl.”
He drew me close to his body. He was spent, maybe too much excitement, the sex had been so-so and two of the condoms had been more or less wasted—but then, he had used his tongue and brought me, so, I was good. Yet, he drew me close to him so my body lay across his on my scattered bed in my cramped little apartment. We seemed draped on each other.
“I’m not that sort of man,” he said and kissed my brow, “I’m proud of you.” He liked kissing. He kissed everywhere. I liked that, his touch and his tiny, plenty kisses like little fish lips nibbling my flesh. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah!
“You’re a frontierswoman, Sarah. Who knows why we want to fall in love? But I want to fall in love with you because you are a frontierswoman—somehow, all you’ve told me, you don’t sound cynical about men or life. And, what is this little apartment but a frontier. There’s a battle going on, of what you can be.”
“A battle? Against what, lover, tell me.”
“Against what you can be. I’ve taken sides already. You’ll win, just wait and see. And, I’ll tell you when you do—I told you so.”
I pulled away so I could look at him, he stared back calmly. Most men can’t look honest when they are naked. You’d always just know, and I had often pretended to not know—and then disappear, content to have been a fleeting conquest in their minds, knowing that I had been reprieved from pretending not to know by never seeing them again. But he seemed honest. What sort of man seems honest while naked, for Godsake?
“Sarah, I’m sleepy. Leaving Lagos tomorrow. But, we’ve gone far today, tonight. A marker for tomorrow—you’ll see. My frontierswoman,” he said, drawing me to him again until he fell away in under five minutes. I watched the heaving of his chest for a long time, and noticed how little he breathed, naked except for the bronze bracelet on his wrist. I fingered it.
He didn’t snore. The Chinese clock I’d bought months ago started chiming for midnight and I picked out the shadows falling on my curtains from the outside, from a place vague, like uncharted territory. I felt held in place as I watched him sleep, and I prayed for dawn not to come.