That urge to wrap his hands around her wandering fingers, feel the softness of her afro-hair, place his hard palms on her warm cheeks, taste her sensuous mouth, cradle her head on his chest, and worship at her altar was what had been unfolding in his head for several days. No doubt, he had been waging an infinite war within himself. He wished today was like yesterday or any other day he could excuse himself. He sat behind his desk in the cubicle which he called office; the office was demarcated by thin aluminum and glass; and from his vantage point, he watched her sprawled on the long iron chair.
He was trying to type something on his portable laptop, playing with words to create his next best story. He had a story deadline to meet. So far, he had not been making any progress. He had gone on for weeks, rummaging his mental fictional library, walking in time and space, while ignoring the story a part of him was obliged to write. He was done with the files on his desk and was counting down to the alarm. From where he sat at the corner in the large hall, he could see his colleagues move from one demarcation to the other. He watched them trade broken sentences, which is usually the norm. It is an hour to the countdown.
He did not want to walk down the bus stop today with her by his side. Gone were those days, those moments when he looked forward to her encroaching presence. They were no longer what they used to be. He stole a glance at her; she was asleep with her arms interlinked under her small busts while he contemplated the ignored story. He was reluctant to pen it down, but his mind wanted to get the story out, to halt the madness. It was their story. Yet, at the back of his naked mind he knew they were not done. Somehow, he had paid his dues. It was time for him to forge ahead.
He had no reason for his conflicting thoughts. The bitter truth was that writing their story would automatically erase any lingering hope of re-crossing that line. But then, there are lines you cross, and never to look back. This is that line.
He blinked, as she stirred from her sleep. He stared at her charming face, fighting the temptation to seal her lips with hot kisses. Accidental tears dropped from his honey colored eyes. It brought with it the bitter reality of the rituals her lips had performed both in his absence, and presence. He shut his eyes and bit his lips so hard they leaked blood. There was the urge not to cross the line. Could he end what had no end? He opened a new page on his Microsoft word, and began.
It was madness, it always starts with madness. Like a luscious sauce with the right amount of ingredients, ours was a story with the right amount of mania, or perhaps too much of it. He was not sure he would turn in the story for publishing, but like a sojourner, he knew the story would eventually find its way home. Trusting and believing in its candour.
He hit a hard rock on how to start a story that has no beginning. In truth, he had no idea how to write their story, though, write he must. It was his therapy. All he knew was they happened within the space of fifty-one days. So, against all the forces in his being and all the rationale with seats in his head, his soul cried for help. Capitulatory, he laid it down for the world to see the tissues beneath his flesh.
The first day I resumed work was not the day I noticed her, despite the fact that our offices shared a border. My failure to notice her was neither because her height was above average that I could not see her natural hairstyle from my seat, nor the fact that she was always humming to one beat or the other. Rather, it was because I was so nervous about my new telecommunication job. I was worried about fitting in like everyone else in the world. I knew it was not my field, but landing here had been extraordinary. All I was concerned about at the moment was learn to get better at the job. A week after adjusting to the job, I learnt her name…
He swallowed hard at the thought of her name. He could not dare to construct it in the frame of his mind. She had a name, or you could give her a name, either way was satisfactory. He took a sneaky glance across the office border once more. She was wide awake, fiddling with her phone. He knew if she stretched her neck, like the good old days when she sneaked up for a kiss, she would see what he had been up to.
He decided to shut down his PC, when he heard her hoarse voice.
“What have you been up to?” He turned his head in her direction, while his hands closed the laptop. He watched her flash him one of her sweet smiles.
“I was just trying to…,” he was cut off by the alarm, and was saved by the bell.
He turned as he started packing things in his exhausted backpack. She was unconcerned about the alarm; her large bulging eyes fixated on her phone. Instantly, he got the message. Today was taking yesterday’s direction; she was staying behind. He avoided her icy blue eyes as he said goodbye. He beamed to himself, knowing he still got one last trick up his sleeves.
Despite the heavy sedatives he consumed, he fought to stay awake in his white undecorated room, and wandered in his sins. He wished the day would break in a blink of an eye. He scanned the room. “Where is my bag?” It was definitely not in this spotless and untainted room.
He continued with the story the following day at lunch break when she stepped out.
We had clicked a week after my resumption. She had caught my attention with her gait, curvy figure, intelligence, and smartness. Thinking now about the latter, it made me question my objectivity. We exchanged long words and short sentences in our free hours.
We questioned these very four walls of our confinement, put labels to every object and subject worth analyzing. Most times our deep laughter would resound beyond the cubicle, other times we would trade smiles and relish in nostalgia. I was no doubt, getting good at the job with her by my side.
We walked down to the bus-stop each day with new fondness and commitment to this shade of friendship, before going our separate ways. I always responded to her enthusiasm with smiles; the same way I looked forward to spending the day with her. Momentarily, the whiteness of my room that maps my existential loneliness had begun to form a rainbow.
We became more aware of each other’s sexuality. As much as I tried to conceal my feelings, she kept baiting my hook, until we were both submerged. She took a bold step, which was not surprising, on one of the busiest days at work to kiss me fully on the lips.
The throbbing in his head had increased. He remembered taking his pills hours ago, but she was a new generation of migraine with no prescription.
We waited till the evening alarm rang. We waited till the last bald head in white disappear and his footsteps muffled. We waited patiently, ardently, with burning hunger to set our feelings in motion; to instigate the first sin.
Undeniably, he was in a new world of his own and the reality of it gave him a pleasurable chill. The two became a pair—an item—while the feelings that grew in the garden of his heart became too territorial and wild. He could see the same in her almond shaped eyes.
As days dragged into weeks, so did the gravity of our sin until I began to feel the presence of shadows.
Funny, how your life can change in an instance. I was in a utopian mood when I saw him walk into the office.
She welcomed him with a provocative hug and a posh kiss. All reasons left me as I gaped at them. In that very instant, I took in everything about him. I could hear their laughter resonate. I could see the flirtatious looks she gave him intermittently. I pushed back my chair, stood up, and walked out the hall with strides of one walking on burning coals.
The look of maniacal rage overshadowed his face. His mind was flooded with too many unrequited questions.
On our way to the bus stop, I summoned the courage to ask her about that scene. I had been waiting for Godot since the guy left. She stated clearly that he was her beau amidst lost explanations. Her beau? I knew she does not have one when we started screwing like rabbits. But, when? I wished I would not feel the way I felt. I wished that I had prepared for such a scenario. I wished things I never know were wishes. Where was her sense of loyalty? Not to me, but to herself.
That night his head hosted the first African Halloween party, it was a rough night the sleeping pills couldn’t save. It took him days to cope with the news. He knew there were things he had to accept. For one, the idea that she doesn’t belong to him; that she wasn’t his. And for another, she was entitled to her freedom; freedom to make emotional choices without being choked. Landholder; the reason he generously bestowed him with the name was lost to him. But, somehow, he had come to terms with reality.
The Landholder came more often and those were the days I dreaded going to work. I couldn’t remember the last time I was elated about work. On those days, I ensured to take more than my prescription, and it helped me stay sane. Yet, no matter how many times I excused them, I could envisage them commit series of sins, our sins, within the same cubicle.
How he knew, he couldn’t tell. This drove him nuts. He was a man in denial.
On days when Landholder wasn’t around, she tried baiting my hook like old times and we continued indulging in our sins, fierce was the passion.
We saw reasons to stop. We tried resisting. We made so many pacts. But we usually end up waiting for the last person to leave.
She was his weakness — he was completely in her power.
I remember one of our banters. She had offhandedly stated why she couldn’t have feelings for me; “I am a harlot,” she looked askance at my face.
“But, I never charge them,” she continued, “I do it for the fun of it”.
“Like to sexually explore or what?” I asked calmly.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Like, I just want to. Maybe because I can,” she said this with her usual mirth.
I was not awestricken. I knew if I had asked her out, she wouldn’t have accepted me.
Few days later, I was leaving the office on an official assignment when I bumped into Landholder. Oh! God, they were definitely going to explore again. I remember I paced randomly for the best part of the day. That day was one of my worst days.
I was still laden by what I had imagined they’d done, when other participants began unfolding like a deck of stacked cards. One looked gigolo. The next, a tarantula; most of the others, ineffable. When you witness these, you see the modern-day scavengers.
Gigolo came to the office almost every day and stays behind with her as we did. I needed no clairvoyant to tell me what happens after the last person exits. She had succeeded in making me see the error of my ways.
The walls of his room began fading to grey, the garden of his heart withered. He lost the zeal for work and his Sun remained stuck beneath clouded skies.
The bus-stop became further. I missed her more than I cared to admit. I could feel the encroaching presence of shadows in the cubicle, where I had once made my mark. There are many things I could be, but there was one thing I wouldn’t take chances with—shadows. I knew she might have thought it impossible for me to resist her. Well, she hasn’t felt the power derived from pain. Her delusion is in for a shocker.
I could clearly see the justice of my decision in crossing the line. Peradventure, in the nearest future, if we ever found ourselves the last to leave. I vowed not to dance to her tune, scream her name or chorus her moans. Just like now.
He forced his mouth shut, and stared over her shoulder at the walls of the office. The walls reminded him of shadows. It helped him uphold his vows while she pleasured and screwed him to her orgasmic gratification.
He had won. It was all the evidence he needed to prove they were officially over. And for the first time in so many weeks, he couldn’t hear the silent plea of his soul.
“No screaming today, Nlmsynk?” the nurse flashed him an encouraging smile when she was done giving him an intramuscular injection. She was elated with his calmness, the first in months.
It was time for his 40-60 minutes a day in the yard. She wheeled Nlmsynk out of the treatment room, down the big white hall where patients lingered after recreation time, past the wing of his PICU ward, and into the open yard where he could inhale nature’s freshness and see the clear blue sky.
Temitope Akinleye is a writer of short stories, poems, and articles. Her work has been published in Sankofamag, BAadvocacy and Citizens Rights Watch. She was a finalist for the 2016 AfrohBooks Short Story prize. Temitope currently lives in Lagos, Nigeria.