I was pleasantly surprised when she invited me into the house after I had introduced myself and said I wanted to speak to her. I gaped as she led me into that magnificent compound. I was nervous, confused and at the same time afraid. She excused me for some minutes in order to put her things in the room. I lied to her that I was all right when she asked what I cared for. I was, in fact, very hungry and thirsty, but her very presence was more satisfying to me than a royal banquet.
But I was still afraid. What would happen if her father came and asked me what I wanted in the house? Would I be able to tell him? How was I going to start it? Thought after thought came racing through my confused mind like the well-fed puppies running about playfully in the compound.
For a moment I forgot my mission and watched the two hairy pets chase each other round the compound. They were of the same size and one could not tell the older one from the younger. Their brightly coloured fur was what differentiated them. One would chase the other to one end of the compound, and as if in a well communicated gesture, the fugitive would fall. The superior in this case would pounce on it with its jaws wide open, only to hold it tenderly and playfully. Then after sometime, it would turn and run while the one on the ground would pursue it to the other end of the compound and repeat the same playful fight. It was then that I understood the literal meaning of the Akan proverb: “If you fall me and I also fall for you, we call it play, says the dog.” But would the object of my interest in that house ever fall for me, I thought?
Inside one of the rooms hummed Nigeria’s Francis Afunuro’s Songs of the Saints. It was my favourite album not because of the originality of the songs but because of the musician’s ingenuity. These were popular hymns which had had given a good rhythm, and the musician’s compelling voice made that piece of music spellbinding. I never fail to admire the Nigerians for that. No wonder our music shops and bookshops are filled with their music and books. This very track, which caught my attention so much was entitled, To God Be the Glory. It was usually sung at wedding ceremonies so the rhythm seemed to add some level of urgency to my mission. It calmed me down as I took time to go over the message I had rehearsed number without times ever since I met her in the library.
When she finally appeared, my heart missed a beat and my mind went blank as never before. She took her seat at the other side of the table, opposite where I sat masking the fear that almost paralyzed me. We introduced ourselves briefly and it was now my turn to say why I was there. It was not an easy task and every vestige of courage seemed to part company with me. Even my throat failed me when I wanted to clear it. She sat still, wearing neither the faintest smile nor a frown. That brief moment of confused silence was like a decade to me. It reminded me of my favourite lines in Nartey Lawe’s poem, So Many Rivers to Cross:
I have reached a stage
Going forward is perilous
Flinching back is cowardice
Remaining still is suicidal
But I’ll persevere! For life without a challenge is worthless.
So I persevered! “Lily,” I called, for that was her name. My voice quivered and faltered. But I persevered. “I know this whole business of my being here may sound very silly, but that is how stupid love can drive even the wisest and most intelligent of men into. I cannot hold it any longer so pardon me if what I’m going to say will hurt you in any way,” I managed to say. I think how I started it did the trick. I had learned this trick of attacking one’s glaring weakness in such a seemingly defenseless situation from one crippled cobbler at Kete-Krachi Lake Side called Major. Anytime he picked a quarrel with someone, he would first tell his opponent his (Major’s) weakness or pitfalls. “I know that all that you can say about me is that I am a cripple and I’m this or that. What about you?” he would begin, and then launch into a tirade of insults. His tongue was as hot as small pepper and no insult from his victim made any impact.
I picked his approach and at the end of the day, I praised myself for a good job well executed. I told her how I felt the very first time I saw her in the library and how thinking about her had enslaved me. Then I told her my intention. My voice was steady and confident. The presentation was coherent, to my utter dismay. It was as if I was possessed by some courageous spirit at that moment.
“Hmmm!” she sighed. “You said we met only once in the library and where you said you stay is quite far from here.”
“Yes,” I said.
“How did you get to know my house?” she asked.
It was an opportunity I was waiting for and now that she gave it generously without knowing, I seized it and used it to the fullest. Prolonging the conversation itself was more than a privilege but narrating the whole story of how I got to the estate that evening added another weight of credibility to what I had said about my longing for her.
She sighed again, cleared her throat and spoke. “I cannot tell you anything now. Give me some time to ponder over it and get back to you,” she said in a voice that did not give the slightest clue about her stance. I obeyed. What else could I have said? I asked for her number and instead of giving it to me, she took mine and advised that it wouldn’t be proper for me to come to the house again.
“Wait until you hear from me,” she said finally.
When she led me out of the compound, the sun had already gone to bed at the other end of the Atlantic Ocean. A taxi was returning from the next house and I had to board it. I had exhausted almost all the money I had, and what was left could only make do with a trotro, and not a taxi. And I knew it. But I hailed the cab and jumped into the back seat and waved Lily. She waved back and for the first time, I noticed a look of surprise in her eyes. As soon as we were out of her sight, I told the taxi driver that I would alight.
“Why, you no dey go again?” he queried in pidgin English. Even though some of them could speak very good English, they preferred to speak pidgin, especially to the young guys. Pidgin English was the latest fad among the youth. Right from the primary school to the university, students spoke it freely and well. While some spoke for the fun of it, others found it as solution to their grammatically handicapped sentences. Pidgin was no longer a preserve of the illiterate and semi-literate.
“Com sit make I carry you go and come,” he urged when I lied to him that I had left something I needed to pick at Lily’s place. I had already alighted and was moving away from him. When I insisted I was not getting into the car again, he got the trick and became furious. Such tricks were no news to taxi drivers.
“Idiot!” he insulted. “You think say me I no sabi your plan? You no get money way you dey chase woman for East Legon. The girl you dey walk plus, you think say ebi poor fools like you dem class?” he cursed and hissed bitterly but I paid no attention to him. He drove on and I turned and made for the main road, which was about half a kilometer away.
I went home happier than ever before since I met Lily. I had not achieved my aim yet but for the first time, I had been able to clear my chest. As I lay on my bed that night, I reflected on my encounter with her and saw her in my mind’s eyes as if she were physically present. I didn’t care about any messy impression I might have left in her mind. After all, our elders say where there is no shame there is no honour. Besides, I had thought seeing her again was beyond the boundaries of my wildest imagination. I also reflected on my chances of winning this precious jewel.
It was at that moment that the reality of what the taxi driver had said dawned on me like day. Was I qualified enough to date that sophisticated young lady? She wasn’t an ordinary young lady from an opulent home. She was a medical student who was left with only two years to become a medical doctor, the most respectable job in our part of the world. But from my little encounter with her, she was an exceptional young lady, or so I observed. In all our conversation, she showed no signs of pride or arrogance. She looked shrewd and sounded very enlightened. No wonder she was reading medicine in the nation’s premier university. At a period in the fashion industry when it was a not uncommon for young ladies to walk about practically naked, Lily was an exception, at least for the two times I had seen her.
Beauty wise, she was indescribable. I fed my eyes on her bewitching beauty when we sat facing each other earlier that evening. A once-in-a-life-time opportunity, I termed that encounter. Quite apart from those qualities, there was something about her I did not (and still do not) know. It was a magnetic force of attraction that kept my soul to hers. Even if every other quality of hers was scaled, I’m sure that invisibly invincible force would still hold me to her.
But that was not enough reason that she would accept my proposal. Did she feel the same way about me? Another batch of skeptical questions followed this thought.
Why did she decline to give me her number? Why did she have to tell me to keep off her house? Even if she agreed, where would I entertain her? Would she ever come to me after seeing my room? Could I afford to take care of such a high-class lady as the driver rightly said? Monkeys, they say, play according to their sizes but that is how crazy love can cause even sensible men to do. I had just finished my first degree in Political Science and had been posted to a remote basic school to teach social studies for my national service. How well positioned was I therefore to handle her? Besides, getting a degree was in a matter of four years, but getting a job could take a decade or more in my country.
A faint heart, they say, never wins a fair lady so I persevered. I knew my chances were thinner than the edge of a circumcision blade but I took solace in the biblical saying that “the just shall live by faith.” I also prayed. “God, if she is the right person, then let her agree to this proposal.” It never occurred to me that I could be a Mr. Wrong searching for a Mrs. Right. But it was usual. Men never think that way. So I prayed, though with little faith. I always wondered if God ever answers such prayers.
Three barren months had passed since I met her and nothing followed. I called every strange number I missed on my phone after meeting Lily, but it was one person or the other, sometimes idiots who had no idea whose number they were dialing and would insist they wanted to speak to me. Sometimes it was callers who had lost their way but would not wait to hear who was on the line before they started narrating their family problems or gossiping.
Then one evening the call came.
It was Lily’s call!
TO BE CONTINUED…