June rolled out of bed, landing her naked body on the rug. She looked up at the wall clock then blinked for a second take. She could not believe she’d been asleep for over 8 hours. She searched for her phone frantically, finally finding it inside the left leg of her sneakers. These night shows were beginning to take it’s toll on her, but she knew she was paying her dues towards the big leagues. Only the sappy romantics and insomniacs in search of love listened and called in to the night show in her opinion. She could not bring herself to empathise with them, because often enough, the solutions were starring them in the face, they’d never just admit it. She scrolled through her missed calls – Tochi, Priscilla and 2 unsaved numbers. Next she checked her messages, she found about 13 IMs but nothing anywhere from Becky. “She’d be in lesson now.” she said as she dialled Becky’s number.
It rang out and she put the phone away. She couldn’t stop wondering why Becky had not tried contacting her. Had the date with Alfred been good or bad? She didn’t want to call Tari to speak with Becky, his phone would definitely be in “Do Not Disturb” mode at this time anyway. As she brushed her teeth, she tried to think of a guy she’d come across who had been as unexcited about the prospects of having her as Tari was. She found none. She gave him points for being cool but deducted for lack of passion. She didn’t like a guy making himself into a warm carpet for her to thread upon but at the same time she had to at least see he was glad she was with him. The most exciting time they’d spent together was the night she had unexpectedly shown up at his place. Why was that different from the others? She sat on the toilet pondering. After a while, she smiled: She had found it! She pumped a fist in the air.
It felt like eons, but it had only been a few mins. Becky sat still dazed from Tari’s pronouncement. He had simply walked into his room and shut the door with a soft click after it. “Fired?” she murmured. The import of it was far reaching. All her plans to send money to her mum and siblings, change her phone, get a few new clothes. Then she thought of June, the subtle warning June had given her at the beginning and the last time Tari had complained. Okay, he had said he was not complaining but he hadn’t given her many chances. She felt like a failure. “How could I have blown this? How?” She pondered on what to do? She could save her pride and leave, go home to June and explain herself or she could at least try to salvage the situation. She didn’t realise it but the tears were freely flowing down her cheeks. Alfred had returned and squashed her happiness again.
“Who is Alfred?” she suddenly heard Tari’s voice. She jerked to her feet, banging her knee against the side stool which toppled and tossed Tari’s laptop across the floor. “Jesus!” she screamed. Tari took 1 look at the laptop then looked back at her. “You’ve been crying.” he said in a soft voice that made her wonder if he was capable of raising his voice. “Gosh! I’m sorry Tari. I’m so sorry.” she tried to get past him to the laptop, but he blocked her path. “Sit down.” he said in a tone she could not argue with. He had not raised his voice, but she felt the steel in it. She did as he said unable to meet his inquiring look. “Did you lose someone?” he asked, righting the stool and sitting opposite her. She shook her head. “You want to tell me what’s going on?” he pressed. Now she was sobbing uncontrollably. He got up and returned with a box of paper towels and a glass of water.
He sat quitely looking at her. He now had a good guess what the issue was, hearing her murmur the name Alfred over and over, punctuated with sighs and hisses. She had not even heard or seen him return and stand before her. “Man issues” he thought. He wondered what this Alfred might have done to shake her up so badly. He needed not add to it. He’d been rash in his decision. The stress from this new project was getting to him. She looked up at him, tissue over her nose. The eyes were bloodshot, but at least the tears had stopped. “Thank you.” she said. “Tell me about it.” he replied. She sighed. “Do I really want to open up to my student? June’s boyfriend? Can I trust him with such information?” She pondered. “Where do I begin?” she asked. “From the beginning.” he said handing her the glass of water. “We have all day.” he added.
Becky told him. The whole story, she left nothing out. He was a good listener, he hardly moved except when he’d gone to refill her glass of water. She broke down in tears a couple of times along the way, he did not once show an ounce of impatience. He just waited quietly for her to get herself back together and carry on. “The cab dropped me at your gate, I walked up here and got fired.” she said smiling weakly. He smiled back. “Its ok.” Tari said and finally picked up the laptop. The screen had a fine line across the top left corner. “I’m sorry.” Becky said on seeing the damage, she wished the floor would open and get her out of the flat. She was terribly embarrassed. “Its fine,” Tari said shutting the laptop. “So, what are you going to do now?” he asked taking a seat on a couch before the TV. “I don’t know, honestly.” she said. “Don’t rush it, it will come”. he replied.
“Can we…continue the lesson now?” she ventured. It was a prayer. She was asking for her job back, but had to be tactful going about it. “Not today. Next week.” he said. She felt an avalanche of relief. He picked up the remote and turned on the TV keeping the volume low. He didn’t want her to feel anymore awkward than she already did. “Tari?” she called, “Yeah?” he answered turning to face her. “Thank you.” she said. “Its Ok.” he replied. “Do you want to chill a little more or are you put together enough?” he added. “I’m set. I need to go lie down.” Becky replied, hoping he’d extend his graciousness a bit further and drop her off. She was very thankful Dan was nowhere around, it would have been a million times worse for her. She was also thankful he was making her exit bearable. She had worried about how she’d leave after all the awkwardness.
“Ok. Let me get the keys and drop you off.” he said and left for the room. While he was gone, Becky looked through her phone. On seeing the missed call from June, she called back. “Babe, how did it go?” June asked when she’d picked up. “Long story, jare. You are not home, apparently.” Becky replied. She could hear the noise of the Abuja traffic in the background. “No. Going to see Priscilla for the fittings.” June replied. “OK. well talk when you get back.” Becky said and hung up. Tari was back with the keys, “Shall we?” he asked. “Yes.” she replied, packed up her stuff and exited ahead of him. They both went down the stairs in silence and got in Tari’s car. “Any news about your trip yet?” she asked, not only to make small talk but to also assess how much time they had left to finish up the lessons. “None yet. Annoying, but what can I do?” he replied.
She noticed he was looking sort of gloomy. She could not be sure, but had she had the guts, she’d have asked him what the matter was. On getting to her place, she could not find her keys. Luckily she was still in Tari’s car expressing her thanks when she noticed. “Is there a problem?” he asked when she started going through her bag frantically. “Cant find my keys.” she said, rummaging through her handbag. “Are you sure you took it from home?” he asked. “Yes. It must have fallen out at your’s.” she replied. “You sure its not in there?” he asked pointing at her bag. “You know the way your bags can swallow stuff.” he added teasing her with a crooked smile. She laughed “Its not here, jooor.” she said now shaking the bag at ear level between them. “Did you hear it?” he asked. “No.” she replied. “Me neither.” he said, engaged the gear and drove off. “Let’s go back.” he added.
She could not bear to look at him. “Lord! Please, let this embarrassment stop. I’ve had enough for one day.” she prayed silently. They searched his place together and came up empty. “If you’d dropped it here, I would have seen it, Becky.” Tari said after a while. “Oh? Why didn’t you say that at my place?” she queried. “Well, you were sure it was here and I was not about to argue with a woman.” he said laughing. “Its not funny, Tari.” she said but was laughing too. She called June. June had not seen the keys either and was at Priscilla’s already. “I guess I’ll just chill till June’s on her way back.” Becky said resigned. “Ok.” Tari said in a tone of finality, turned the TV on once again and took a seat before it. “Make yourself comfortable.” he added to her. “Thank you.” she said taking her usual seat. “Would you like something to drink?” he asked. “Water’s fine.” she replied.
Tari came back with a glass of water and a some juice. “Here.” he said, handing her the glass and placing the juice on d stool beside her. “Thank you.” she said. “This love thing, does anyone ever have it good?” he asked. It had come out of nowhere and caught her by surprise. “Well, there are some happy stories. Some folks do get the ‘happily ever after’ endings.” she said, making a quote in the air with her index fingers. “Happily ever after? You really believe that fairy tale stuff?” he asked laughing. “Well…, I guess.” she replied shyly. “Are you funning me, right now? That stuff’s for children’s books and stuff like that!” he shot back. “Are you saying it never happens?” she fired at him. “Yes, it does. In children’s books!” he said making her laugh. “So, what do you believe, Sir?” she mocked. “I believe in the continuous pursuit of happiness.” he said, then sat down.
“The continuous pursuit of happiness?” she asked. He nodded, then said “Let me tell you a story.” “Okay?” Becky replied, now very curious. In her opinion, Tari was not one for many words and winding expositions. It seemed completely out of character for him to want to tell a story. Apparently, she didn’t know him that well. Anyway, she had no reason not to listen, there was nothing else to do and nowhere to go for now. “Go ahead.” she pressed. “There was this boy I knew growing up in Port Harcourt…” Tari began one of the most heart wrenching tales Becky had ever heard. About a boy who’s parents had gotten married against the wishes of their own parents. A tribal conflict had been the point of contention. Bride and groom where from neighbouring tribes but were forbidden to marry because of an ongoing feud that had claimed the lives of many on both sides for decades.
According to him, the couple had met in the University and had gone ahead to get married in defiance of their parents and their societies. It was love and had gone well for a while. The couple had 3 surviving children, having lost another 3 at different stages of infancy. Then the fights started. A month never went by without friends and neighbours having to interfere in a domestic dispute between them. The name calling became regular – all manner of accusations about witchcraft, occult and adultery. Then the man’s drinking began to get out of hand. The woman’s patience came to an end when the man lost his job, she began to threaten to take the kids and leave him “to die in poverty.” She worked with a multinational and could well take care of herself and the kids. She began to process a transfer out of the country and the man had promptly seized everyone’s passports.
The fights came to a head one night when the woman had demanded their passports. The man and gone into his room and returned with them, then ripped them to shreds before his wife and kids. During the squabble that ensued, the eldest kid, a girl of 12, having had enough of it all, leapt from their 2nd floor balcony. “Oh, my God!” Becky murmured. Her eyes were fixed on Tari as he told the story almost mechanically. But she could tell he was back in the past, at the scene, seeing it all. It was vivid, the picture he painted. He went on to tell her how the little boy, about 10 years old then, had run downstairs to try to save his sister’s life. Neighbours had joined him and rushed the unconscious girl to the hospital. “No one minded the parents when they arrived at the hospital.” Tari said. “They were known for domestic violence.” he added.
“It was 4 harrowing years later before the girl died. She never fully recovered from the fall. The parents had separated during this period but the boy had refused to live with either parent. Choosing instead to live with an Aunt.” Tari explained. “Oh, my God!” Becky repeated over and over. “But guess what? The little boy eventually grew up fine. Did well in school and with the help of his Aunt got to attend the best schools and lead a semblance of a normal life.” Tari said. Becky felt the weight on her chest get a little lighter. She tried a smile, and Tari smiled back. “Anyway, so he thinks love is the answer. His parents had lost the love they once shared. All he had to do, as a young man in the University, was pour love on whoever he dated. Be the best man for her and all that. Everyone understood the language of love right?” he said. Becky nodded as she wiped a tear.
“Wrong!” Tari shot back. “All he got in return were heartbreaks. The present one grander than the last.” he added laughing bitterly. “Sad. But I guess that’s life.” Becky said with a sigh. “Yeah! Life never cuts you any slack in spite of what you’ve been through.” he said. “Yeah. Its all so depressing.” she said weakly. “Anyway, this love stuff is grossly overrated and often misguided.” he declared. “So? You also don’t believe in love?” she teased. “No further comments.” he said with a grin making her laugh. “I understand, though. You hear somethings and you just feel like giving up on dating and marriage and stuff.” she said, her mind back on her own situation. “Its tiring. You meet, go on dates, get to know each other, hang out, visit, meet each other’s friends and family, maybe have sex and all that and then Boom! It suddenly hits you in the face – It can’t work or its going nowhere.” he said.
They talked a little more about relationships, recalling stories and incidents. Becky, however, noticed he never once talked about any that involved him directly; it was always “One guy.” or “A friend.”or “this chic back in school”, etc. This was quite curious but she decided she’d let it slide. If he didn’t want to dredge up his past, it was not only fine but safe, considering she was his girlfriend’s friend. Becky’s phone interrupted her in the middle of something she was saying. “Excuse me” she said, getting her phone from her bag. It was a PING. She looked and found it was from June with a message: “home. whr r u?” “Its June, she’s home.” she said, replying quickly: “Been at Tari’s. Lost my keys. On my way nw”. She got up and picked up her bag as Tari retrieved the car keys from the dinning table. “Set?” he asked. “Sure.” she replied.
June locked the door behind her. One sweeping look over the living room and she found Becky’s keys in the couch. “Careless girl.” she said, picked it up and placed it on the table. She sat down exhausted. A friend was getting married and she was on the bridal train. Her friends were wedding in numbers these days and more often than not, she was wanted on the train or as the chief bride’s maid. It was tiring – colours, fabrics, fittings, shoes, etc. The annoying part, for her, was the fact that most of the dresses were useless after the event. Either the colours, fabric or style discouraged her from ever trying them on again. She got out her iPad and got to booking her flights for the trip. The wedding was to be held in Asaba, a city she had fallen in love with on previous visits during her University days, back when she was dating the younger brother of the bride-to-be. She smiled.
It was arguably one of her most exciting and passionate relationships. He was an 80 in her books, but he was younger, and though she had not let on that his age was an issue for her, she had known they had no future together. And so when he’d hit the limelight as a musician, she had slowly exited his life. It had been a secret relationship, they’d not wanted Pricilla, his elder sister, to know about them. These days, he was not so much of a hot item anymore as an artiste, he’d shifted focus to production. He’d also started trying to worm his way back to her heart. She knew the drill, she was not swayed. But it would be nice to see him again and catch up, which is what she had told him when he’d called her excitedly after finding out she was going to be on the bridal train. He said he would be coming in from Lagos and looking forward to seeing her again.
Tari pulled up at the house. As they both unfastened their seat belts, Becky said “Tari, may I ask you a favour? Big one.” He looked her over, then asked “What would that be?” “Gosh!” she thought, then said “You know? What happened today – the firing and all that.” “It never happened.” he answered. Becky smiled, relieved, as they got out of the car and walked to the door. She was going to tell June about what had happened with Alfred but not about her breakdown, firing and rehiring. “No, June would not be pleased.” she thought as she knocked on the door. June opened with warm hugs for them both. “How was it today?” June asked. “Fine,” Tari said, then “Isn’t that your bunch of keys?” he added pointing at Becky’s keys on the table. “Yeah, don’t mind her, oh! I found it in the couch.” June said, making everyone laugh.
Becky went straight to the bedroom and fell in bed. “The continuos pursuit of happiness” she said.