Oron, Akwa Ibom State, 2014.
The lights in the room were turned off, but then they were not exactly needed, not this breezy late Tuesday evening. The moderate brightness from Mark’s laptop was deemed to be enough for the room, and besides, the low lighting created a cinema effect. Yes, it was another movie night in Flat C, the bubbliest flat in this lodge designated to the corps members deployed to this old town, where fish had a swollen population and ladies were fluent in the language of love.
Mark’s room was a beehive that evening, and not without good reason. Five of the seven occupants of Flat C were females, and all five of them were glued to the screen of Mark’s laptop as they negotiated scene after scene of yet another Bollywood movie, “Kai Hoo Na Ho” (Mark loved those, pretty unusual for a guy). Clara, Ruth, Kehinde, Akpevwe and Chika all flanked Mark and his roommate Fred, stretching across two mattresses. There was so much body contact, giggling, pinching and teasing, a great atmosphere in many respects….but Mark had a little burden on his mind.
It felt good, how these ladies made his life as a corps member a lot more interesting, how he didn’t have to worry about cooking, how he never had to feel alone. They were beautiful, each one of them, and every time spent with them was smile-worthy, but whenever any of their faces graced his Blackberry Display Picture, he always struggled to come up with a response whenever his male friends asked him, “which of these girls you dey kpansh sef? You nor fit get all these assets and appurtenances for your domot, kon leave bush to lie fallow like that na.”
They were comfortable with him, maybe too comfortable. The friendship with these ladies worried him, as it seemed that nothing could develop between him and any of these ladies further than what existed. Other male corps members, out of a little jealousy, would address him as a “ladies’ man”, but he knew better. At this rate, chances of intimacy in its most basic form with any of these girls were next to none. He began to feel a sense of déjà vu. He had seen this all before.
Benin City, 2012.
It had been the final session of Mark’s undergraduate days. He had been a pretty bright student, with the added reputation of being a nice guy, and along the line, he had got acquainted with a trio of ladies. Alexi, Sarah and Kate were a close-knit set of friends in the same faculty with Mark, though in a class below. Mark had been friends with Sarah long before, and in time he got closer to the other two.
Eager to preserve his reputation, Mark would spend time with these three, assisting them when it came to assignments, footing their bills at restaurants, and staying late to watch “Family Guy” with them whenever they camped at Sarah’s room. Each used him as an “emotional scarecrow” whenever they wanted a random guy off their trail, he was pretty much their escort whenever they needed to return home after reading at night, and at dangerous periods when robberies and cult killings seemed to be on the rise, he would even spend nights with them, albeit on the floor like a watchman.
They became so familiar with him that one evening after hanging out, all four decided to relax at Sarah’s room, and Kate began to undress, apparently oblivious of Mark’s presence. She had gone topless, and while Mark had seen that, he turned his head away, pretending not to notice. The other two ladies were pretty absent-minded as well, and it was not until Kate proceeded to her underpants that Sarah regained mental consciousness and screamed “Mark is in the room!” They forced him out temporarily, and Kate felt a little embarrassed. When he got back in, Alexi made a joke about how they had not noticed Mark’s presence because he had become like one of them. He had not taken any offence, but he perceived it as a red flag to any future amorous endeavours.
Mark’s fears were confirmed soon enough. Not too long after his graduation, he found himself drawn to Alexi, and decided to make his feelings known over a meal of chicken and chips. Her facial expression was one of shock, and she promptly turned him down.
“Ah ahn! Mark, you can’t be liking me, or either of my other two friends, in that way na.”
“Well, Alexi, that’s how I feel about you.”
“No, no, Mark, that’s not right. I should be the one trying to hook you up, not you hooking up with me.”
“Alexi, I like to think that every romantic relationship is built from an existing friendship, and…”
“Not in this case. How do you think it will look like? Guy, going out with you will feel like incest.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, incest. You see, Mark, you are just like a brother to us, that is, Sarah, Kate and I. We love you, we really do, but not in that way.”
The look on Mark’s face was priceless. He had seen the door of Alexi’s heart slammed to his face, and to add salt to the wound, he had been brother-zoned! He knew what that meant. Not in the present life, or in the world thereafter would he get so much as a kiss from any of those three ladies, not even in a state of intoxication. A guy stuck in the Friend Zone could still get bailed out, but it would take divine intervention to climb out of the steep walls of the Brother Zone.
He blamed himself. He should have seen it from their responses whenever he used them as his profile picture, or when he sent one of those his sugary text messages. He should have had a stronger perception of the vibes he was getting from them. He should have diluted his niceness, his chivalry, his eagerness to please. His fate had been totally avoidable.
“‘He is so nice, I should date him’, said no girl ever.”
Mark smiled as Clara and the other ladies danced around him, imitating the moves from the Indian film, but his head was a traffic jam of thoughts. Ruth and Akpevwe had worn wrappers to his room, and they had been so comfortable adjusting it every now and then. Maybe they had begun to see him as a brother as well, or maybe they had even begun to see him as “one of the girls”.
No, he could not allow himself to be brother-zoned yet again. It had hurt with Alexi, and if it happened again, it would be a long service year for him. Moreover, being in the company of Clara and friends had a way of “scaring off” other ladies who just might have been interested in him, and if that trend continued, he would end up not getting any. He thought deeply, in full realization of the fact that something had to be done.
Two weeks later, Mark moved out of the lodge and got an apartment with Femi, an old friend of his. The ladies were sad, and Kehinde was particularly mad at his decision. He wept as he took out his belongings, and he promised to visit them regularly. He knew he would miss being with them more frequently, but he was convinced that his decision was all for the best, besides, absence had a way of making the heart grow fonder. He had emotional needs, and he had to resort to drastic steps such as this, or face a long year of involuntary celibacy.
Laura’s Cubicle (her place was too small to be called an apartment),
Delta State, 2015.
“I like you, Laura.”
“Yeah, I like you too.”
“L, you know what I mean.”
“Mark, we’ve talked about this before. I can’t get intimate with you….let’s just be friends, please.”
Mark, through with serving his fatherland, had returned home, and had got acquainted with Laura, a light-complexioned lady from the East, who had been deployed to his home state for her service year. They had got close, and enjoyed each other’s company, but Mark wanted more, and Laura was giving him a hard time.
“Err, I can’t be just friends with you Laura”, he suddenly blurted, his face expressionless.
“What do you mean? Are you issuing me with an ultimatum?” Laura replied, the pitch in her voice considerably higher.
“You see, baby, when you love someone, you cannot settle for being ‘just friends’ with them. I am for All or Nothing, sweetheart, and if I can’t get the full package, then it’s best that we leave it at nothing.”
Mark left the cubicle after Laura served him with a bottle of hot Pepsi Cola and a plate of Indomie Noodles without the dignity of an egg. He would end up not picking her calls that evening, and when she sent a text quizzing him as to why, he responded with a lukewarm apology. For him, there was really no need. He knew what he wanted from each lady he came across, and he would not settle for less. The maturity of his actions would be an issue for another day, but he was of the view that Life was too short to waste time on fruitless ventures. He had many female friends with whom he had non-romantic ties, and he did not feel the need to add another to the collection. Sisters in the form of friends existed for him all over the place, and no new ones were needed.
He hasn’t communicated with Laura again, to this day.