6:30pm. It had been a long day at the office for Seyi Olofintuyi, who was just returning to the apartment which had served as his shelter for the past three months, in this part of the country where dogs occasionally found their way into the diet of the locals and the females reportedly had bedroom prowess as part of their genetic composition. He hadn’t found himself here on his own volition, it was the Federal Government who had been responsible for bringing him here to compulsorily serve his fatherland for a period of eleven months. He had initially wished he had influenced things at the top, and he had further grimaced when the letter revealing his Place of Primary Assignment had him realise that he wouldn’t be dwelling in the capital city. He had since adapted and blended in well though, and besides the level of power supply (or lack thereof), he was loving life in this small town.
A knock on the door meant that his attempt at taking an evening nap was going to fall through. He had only just stopped short of barking “who dey there?” as he went to go check out the individual who had been rude enough to interrupt, but as he found out who it was, his face converted a scowl into a wide smile. Finally, a reason to brighten up on this long day, he reasoned. After all, Ndifreke had shown up. Ndifreke was the 18-year-old, light-complexioned lady who had been making Seyi’s life a whole lot more comfortable since he rented this apartment, a move fuelled by the idea that staying in a lodge meant for corps members was incompatible with a status as a lawyer (never mind that he had only a few months under his belt.) Ndifreke’s arrival meant that he needed to gird himself for something enervating but rewarding, more so as he had not seen her in over three weeks .
He had first met her at a computer centre (there were surprisingly a good number of them in that town) where he had gone make photocopies of some legal documents for his boss (whose lack of an office photocopying machine still baffled him). He had noticed her firm (while not so large) bust, her dimples and the matching gluteus maximus, as well as the fact that her spoken English was well above that of the locals he had interacted with. His killer wink was followed by a soft “hello Sir” from her, and after a smooth conversation from which he found out that she actually worked there, his phone’s contact list was treated to a new addition.
It did not take long for him to convince her. While she enjoyed making fun of his attempts at the state’s local language as well as the way he pronounced names of local government areas, there was a lot that attracted her to him. His six-foot frame, his well-tailored suits, his polished accent and his stories about his university days and courtroom ordeals made him too hard for her to resist. For her, there was just something exotic about this guy from the West, add that to how she felt whenever he treated her name to his accent.
Soon enough, she began to live for those weekends and midweek evenings when he would get her to scream “Oh Abasi mmi”, and when she would brush her teeth with his joystick. Seyi on his part learnt that she “had potential in horse racing” (while she was relatively tight below, she was no novice), and she had him find out that the rumours about the meals from these parts were true (damn, Afang soup felt like Heaven!). He didn’t have to worry about laundry either, she was toujours at his beck and call. Not that hers was the only fountain he tasted in the locality (there was Imaobong from the next street, as well as Chidinma who had been assigned to a secondary school nearby for her service year), but Ndifreke’s had come to be the most consistent and accessible. For her, a few lousy calls, insincere whispers of “Ami mama fi” (I love you) in her ears now and then, half-hearted JAMB tutorials and a solitary visit to her widowed mother’s house/kiosk were enough.
So it was surprising when she treated his hugs to a lukewarm response, and snubbed his kiss altogether. He finally noticed the unusual dullness on her face, and when his attempts to cheer her up fell flat, he began to inquire what the problem was. It was then that she brought out a neatly folded paper from inside her revealing tank top. Upon reading the contents, he discovered why she had been away for three weeks, and complained of weakness and vomiting whenever he called.
“Jesus!” he exclaimed. But what did the Saviour of the world have to do with what he had been doing, and what had eventually happened? Was it not he who always made sure that the ‘Jesus calendar’ in his room was taken down from the wall whenever Ndifreke was to show up, to avoid developing a guilty conscience as to his intentions? Had the Bible on the right hand corner of his table not accumulated dust from lack of use? “How did it happen?” he began to ask himself. He always went downtown with his bulletproof vest on. His memory picked the pieces in less than a minute. It had been the Wednesday after Valentine’s Day, the day he had chosen to skip his Community Development Scheme (CDS) meeting and do nothing all day. She had shown up in the evening, shortly after he had helped himself to three large bottles of Alomo. They had got caught up in the moment, thanks in part to the adult movie clips on Seyi’s phone , and for reasons only Heaven knew, they chose to ignore the usual precautionary steps. He had let out the emission before he could do the temporary pull-out, but had told Ndifreke what to do when she got home.
“How about the instruction I gave you that night?” he asked angrily.
“That lime nonsense did not work, as you can see”, she retorted. “By the way, my mother has said I should ask you when you will be ready to meet the family. She has already informed two of my uncles who are elders in the clan, and they like the idea of the marriage taking place in a short time.”
The marriage?? Marriage!!! What was he going to do? He couldn’t spend the rest of his life with someone who only took up his last name all because she was too ignorant about birth control. A shotgun wedding was not his idea of settling down in the future. How could he possibly settle down in these parts? Sure, the people were hospitable, the meals were fantastic and the pubs were significantly many, but he had other plans for his life and his career. For all he knew, she lacked exposure just like most of the people here, and her accent would always give her away with respect to her state of origin.
“When are you coming mbok? I need an answer for my mom!” Ndifreke asked in a demanding tone, cutting into his thoughts.
At that moment, his mind re-echoed the words of Justin his fellow corps member, who usually teased him by saying “you and this your Ndifreke package, you sure say you go fit go back house after service so?” (Justin had vowed never to play with the natives, preferring to go with fellow corps members instead whenever he needed to let out some steam). He remembered the jocular warning of the State Co-ordinator about ladies from this region during the three-week orientation programme (or torture, to give a better description), and .
As Ndifreke stormed out of the neighbourhood and into the night, apparently incensed by a lack of response from Seyi to her (and her mother’s) question, he realised that things could be worse than he thought. The fact was that he had gone in without shielding himself, and well aware of the reputation of ladies in the locality, he decided that he had to go check himself, so as to find out if he had done to himself what David Moyes had been doing to his favourite football club.
Pacing up and down the reception room of the town’s General Hospital a week later as he waited to get tested for the one thing he didn’t want to live with, Seyi began to ponder on the possible effects of his indiscretion. It was not just about the probable forced marriage. There was the fear of sanctions from the NYSC, fear of public ridicule, fear of a stalled career. Well he always had a way of making light of situations, and he chose to look at the bright side. Childbirth and ultimately population increase were a part of development, so he could be said to have developed the community in his own way, never mind that it was a lot different from erecting a signpost or constructing a borehole. That was what came to mind, before he got back to terms with reality as his eyes caught a bold inscription on the door of the reception room: AIDS IS REAL, BE CAREFUL.
“Under the sun and in the rain….”