FOREWORD: Guess what, folks… Chestnut has written his first piece for KD. It’s a work of fiction, and loaded with so much wit and humour, I couldn’t help my laughter as I read. It was reading I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m sure y’all will to. Check on it – God Of The Sea.
I think I smelled him before I saw him. It was a heady scent, strong enough to command attention, but subtle enough not to be overpowering; the kind of scent you knew came in a fancy, expensive-looking bottle, with a fancy, expensive-looking designer label.
That morning, as I drove to the hotel where the seminar was to hold, I didn’t imagine anything of significance would happen that day. I thought it would be just a seminar, like I had attended a hundred times before. I was wrong.
As I sat listening to the opening speech by Dr. Hassan Arogundade, I kept fighting the urge to bring out my phone and start scrolling through my favourite blogs; I was that bored already. And then I smelled him. It was strange, because I was remotely aware that other participants who came in later than I did had been taking seats behind me. But when he came in and took a seat two rows behind me, my awareness was no longer remote; it was fully present, even though I didn’t turn my head to look. It was definitely his perfume that first caught my attention. I’m normally not big on perfume; I never even wear it myself. A good deodorant stick and body-spray has always been good enough for me, but this…this heady scent coming from behind me had me in a strange mixture of alertness and numbness, almost like I was on the verge of getting drunk, but not quite.
I wanted to turn, to look behind me and see this individual who demanded my full attention even without saying a word or being aware of my presence, but a part of me was scared of what I would see. As Dr. Arogundade finished his speech and was going back to take his seat amidst the applause, I realised I couldn’t resist the urge to look back anymore. Maybe I could do it surreptitiously, maybe nobody would notice that I turned to peruse the few faces behind me. But I didn’t even have to ‘peruse’ for long, for immediately I turned my head, I saw him and our eyes met. In that moment, I understood the cliché, ‘Time stood still.’ Time indeed seemed to stop right then. I tried to tear my eyes away quickly and turn my head, but I don’t know if I was quick enough; my head felt like lead and my heart-rate inexplicably quickened. The last time my heart quickened like that was during my university days, every morning, when Ikenna, the crush of my young-adulthood, walked into class with that reckless grin of his. This man sitting behind me was not Ikenna though. This man’s face was cherubic in all the right places, rugged in all the right places. In those dangerous seconds when our eyes met, his eyes held my gaze. His face had an aura that seemed totally unafraid, sure, and almost daring even…like his eyes were taunting and saying to me, “Now that you have seen what you wanted to see, I dare you to do something…ANY-thing, about it.”
I knew the seminar was mentally over for me that day. How could I concentrate (on a seminar that I wasn’t really interested in, to start with) after seeing the face I had just seen, and with that maddening scent which I knew was coming from the body that bore the face? I didn’t know what pheromones actually smelled like, but this must be it.
Speaker after speaker came on stage to give their speeches and present their lectures. I was vaguely aware of a projector and a power-point presentation (or it might have been two, who knows?) somewhere in the mix, but I kept staring blankly ahead like a brain-damaged child. None of what was happening on the stage in front made any sense to me; I might as well have had my eyes at the back of my head, because that was where all my attention was.
Finally, the MC announced that it was time for a tea-break; the moment I had been anticipating and dreading, all at the same time. Anticipating, because I could finally get to ‘see’ him, and dreading, because I might finally have to ‘face’ him. The other participants started to get up from their seats, milling slowly to the “tea” area, amidst murmurs of quiet, “professional” conversations. I didn’t get up. I couldn’t, not at once. My body felt numb, my legs felt heavy and there was a thunderstorm of anxieties rumbling in my belly. Eventually, when I was almost sure that I could stand without toppling over like a pile of badly stacked books (and after I had gotten strange glances from a couple of people who must have wondered why I sat there during the very “crucial” tea-break; this was, after all, one of the perks of seminars like this – the sumptuous food!), I stood up. I looked down at myself before I moved. Thank God I had pressed my pants before coming. But I wished I had worn one of my form-fitting shirts, the ones that showed off my broad chest and good shoulders.
As I stepped out to the tea area, my eyes developed a mind of their own and started to hunt among the crowd, searching for him. I didn’t have to look for too long; there he was, some metres away with his back towards me, standing and chatting with two people, a young man and a young woman. Just as I had guessed while we were still seated inside, he was tall, probably the same height as me, and slim. And you could tell that he had a taut, firm body underneath his clothes.
What to do? I was confused. I was scared stiff of daring to approach his circle. And at the same time, I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t, at least, attempt to make ‘first contact’.
As if on cue, the other man in their circle spotted someone he knew and left. The woman did not leave. Nor did she seem to have any intentions of leaving anytime soon. She was pretty, young, but probably at an age where she thought her ‘time’ was running out; she didn’t have a wedding ring on her finger, and you could tell, from her short black dress, an inch above the knees, that she dressed with a goal in mind. This was a woman who had a mission. Maybe she was looking for a potential husband…or maybe she just wanted a good shag. Who knows? But whatever she was looking for, she seemed to think she had found it in the tall, arresting man standing in front of her. He said something, she threw her head back and laughed heartily…a bit too dramatic. She casually touched his arm. She was being flirtatious, unashamedly so; she didn’t care who saw (nobody was watching them but me, anyway…and she didn’t see me). He said something again and she laughed heartily again and casually touched his arm again.
BITCH, YOUR MOUTH! I wanted to scream. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO LAUGH WITH YOUR MOUTH, NOT YOUR FINGERS! STOP TOUCHING HIM!
Just as I was praying to all the gods I knew to swoop down and strike her dead, her phone must have rung, because she brought it out of her bag and excused herself. This was my opportunity, he was finally alone. I had no clue what to do, but time was running out and I had to make a move. Even though I had no idea what I was going to say, I started walking briskly towards him, before I could have time to over-think it and chicken out. I was walking too fast but I couldn’t stop my feet; they just kept moving. And just when I thought I was going to bump into his back, he turned around, and he was facing me. If I hadn’t stopped just as he turned, my lips could have landed on his lips; our faces were that close, close enough for me to kiss him, if I had the guts, and close enough that, that heady perfume of his made me feel light-headed.
I didn’t know how to break the ice, but he surprised me by speaking first, “Hey, do you know where the Men’s Room is?”
I was startled. I didn’t expect him to speak. He didn’t speak with an accent, so I couldn’t place what part of Nigeria he hailed from. I knew where the Men’s Room was. I knew where the Ladies’ Room was too; I had been to this hotel several times before. I had no intention of pointing the bathroom out to him though; I would take him there myself.
“Yea…actually, I was just heading there, so you can come with me,” I said.
“Okay,” he responded.
I suddenly realised I shouldn’t have said that I was going to the bathroom too, because the bathrooms where in the opposite direction from where I was marching before almost bumping him to the ground. But I had already committed myself, so I stupidly turned around and walked, with him following closely behind. He didn’t seem to notice the discrepancy of me initially walking ‘away’ from the direction of the bathrooms that I claimed to be heading to, or if he noticed, he seemed content not to draw attention to it. And I was fine with that.
In the bathroom (that I didn’t really need to use), I dared not use a urinal that was too close to his. I stood in front of one that was five urinals away from his and prayed that my bladder would release at least a trickle. He did not, however, seem to notice my lack of water-works; he was too relieved at emptying his full bladder, and I could hear a small sigh escape his lips. I could imagine that sigh in other scenarios too. From the corner of my eye, I could see him finish up and stuff his cock back into his pants. I did the same, and we silently washed our hands and picked paper-towels on our way out.
“I really needed that,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve been holding it in since I got here.”
I wanted to say something smart and funny and witty, but a nervous laugh and alien sounds were the best I could come up with. My throat felt dry, parched; this thirst was real.
“I’m Donald, by the way,” he said, extending his right hand. “Or Tochi, if you prefer tribal names,” he added, as I took his hand in mine.
Once more, our faces were close together, so close I could smell his breath: the minty smell of toothpaste, mixed with a faint hint of chocolatey-tobacco.
Dibsons, I thought. The chocolate-flavoured brand. A very faint smell, but I could tell that was the cigarette he smoked, because it was the same brand I had been smoking for seven years. He, like me, probably smoked a stick or two before leaving his house (or wherever he woke up) that morning. The thought of this made me feel a little bit of foolish excitement. It was a private thing we had in common. Something we would have to do behind closed doors, away from prying eyes, if we wanted to.
“I’m Morris…or Obinna, if you prefer tribal names,” I said, with what I hoped was a confident and charming smile.
He laughed. My life was complete. He had laughed for ME…JUST for me. That laughter was everything to me, and I would have happily quit my job and enrolled myself in a clown academy, just to learn different ways of making him laugh…for me.
The tea break was almost over. I realised he hadn’t had anything, and I asked him.
“Oh, I don’t eat breakfast,” he said. “It leaves me feeling disoriented. You haven’t had anything either, have you?”
“I don’t eat breakfast too.” I don’t know why I said it. It was a lie. I loved having a big hearty breakfast whenever I could, but in a weird way, I didn’t want to disappoint him, this outrageously beautiful non-eater-of-breakfast. His way must be the right way, and I wanted to go his way. Breakfast was bad. Breakfast was the enemy. Plus, it could be one more thing we had in common, this non-eating-of-breakfast.
“You don’t?” He looked a bit taken aback.
I shook my head. I wanted to add, “It leaves me feeling disoriented too,” but I decided not to; there IS such a thing as overkill.
Tea break was over. We went back into the conference hall to continue the seminar. I knew I definitely wanted to sit beside him. What I didn’t know was how to sit beside him. Should I change seats and move to the seat next to him? Would that seem weird? Or should I ask (beg) him to change seats and move to the one next to mine?
Once again, he came to my rescue. “I should get closer…”
Closer to me? My heart started doing back-flips again.
“I’ll probably see the presentations better that way…”
Oh, he meant closer to the stage and the screen. I hoped he didn’t mean too close and all the way to the front row. “There are some empty seats in my row,” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
Apparently, my row was close enough to the stage for him, because he picked his laptop bag and stationery and settled himself into the seat beside mine. So he remembered exactly where I had been seating! Maybe he didn’t find me totally gross…maybe he even liked me already, I thought happily to myself as I sat down. Somewhere at the back of my mind (and the back of my stomach), I could feel the hunger pangs from not eating any breakfast. But it was worth it. If I had to starve for love (lust?), then so be it.
The next speaker was a young Nigerian professor from a university in Mozambique, who had, somewhere along the line, cultivated a funny accent that I couldn’t trace to any part of this planet. As he spoke in that mysterious accent, Donald leaned toward me and whispered, “This is the first time I’m seeing a real-life university professor with a head full of dread-locks. It’s not something you see around here often.”
He chuckled and I chuckled. I would have chuckled along with him a thousand times if he asked me to. He brought out his phone to read a text. From the corner of my eyes, I could see him scrolling through the message. I’m sure Professor Dread-locks was giving a wonderful lecture, but I couldn’t hear him; nothing was more important in the world to me at that moment than the text Donald was reading. Could it be from his girlfriend? I didn’t see a ring on his finger, so I guessed he was not married. From his boyfriend, perhaps? An illogical wave of jealousy passed faintly over me. Illogical. Here I was, jealous of a person of whose existence I wasn’t even sure, over a person whose last name I didn’t even know.
He leaned toward me again. “My friend, Peju…she just sent me a text. She was here before the break, but she can’t come back…an emergency with her baby.”
It was then I realised I hadn’t seen the pretty young lady that had been trying to steal him from me. I said then, “Oh, you mean the woman you were chatting with earlier? In a black dress?”
“Yea, she’s an old classmate. We both graduated from OAU.”
“Oh. Her baby…I wouldn’t have guessed she was married,” I said.
“Nah, she had the baby last year, but isn’t married to the father yet…all these obodo-oyibo fiancés.”
“Oh,” I said simply. I felt a bit foolish that I had been jealous of her for no reason. I smiled to myself.
The seminar ended later than I thought it would on that first day (it was a three-day seminar), but every minute was worth. I would gladly have stayed another six hours, sitting beside Donald, taking in his delicious scent, having him lean in and whisper to me from time to time…
As we walked out of the hotel lobby, Donald with his laptop bag and leather folder, and me with my blank jotters and blank notepads and equally blank head, I tried to find out more about him. “So, are you based here in town, or are you one of those out-of-town participants?”
“Na for this town I dey o! I’ve been in this town since after NYSC. Almost five years…”
“Really? I’ve been here for about three years now,” I replied.
I wanted to get his number, or pin, or Facebook ID… Something… But I didn’t know how to ask without seeming too eager.
As we got closer to the parking lot, he turned to me. “My car is parked over there,” he said, motioning toward the general west wing of the parking lot. “Did you come with a car?”
“No.” I shocked myself yet again with my response. I knew for a fact that I had a car. I also knew that I drove that car to the hotel that morning and that it was also parked in the west wing of the parking lot. I was turning out to be full of surprises for myself, from myself. First, I had to coax a reluctant bladder to empty its nonexistent contents. Then I transformed myself into one of those rare mythical creatures that don’t eat breakfast; just water and oxygen in the mornings. Now here I was, blatantly denying the existence of a car that had served me loyally for ten months!
“I could give you a lift. Which way are you going?” he asked.
I wished I could ask him which way he was going, so I could say, “I’m going that way too!” But that would have been creepy. So I told him which way I was going.
“Oh, sorry bro, I’m not going that way, but I could drop you somewhere you could pick a cab. Would that be okay?”
“Sure. Na you try pass sef!” I said, even though what I really wanted to say was, “Why don’t you come to my house? Why don’t you take me to yours?”
We got to where his car was parked. A black BMW. Coincidence is a wily bitch with a sneaky sense of humour, for right next to his car was…MY car! There it was, in all its redness and glory, my trusty Toyota, sitting right next to Donald’s BMW. He must have replaced the person who was previously parked beside me. I swallowed a lump in my throat and guiltily averted my eyes. Donald opened the doors to let me in. As I slid into the passenger’s side, the corner of my eye caught my car. Oh, if cars could talk, mine would have said, “Why have you betrayed me, Obi?” I felt guilty and ashamed; I couldn’t even bring myself to look at the vehicle, but it was too late to turn back now and I’d be damned if I would pass up this opportunity to ride shotgun with Donald.
We drove in silence for a few minutes. He was a good driver. The way he handled and maneuvered the steering wheel…his hands were skillful. I wondered just how skillful those hands could get…
Each minute brought me closer to our separation. I needed to make the most of the limited time I had to work with. I needed to make an impression. I needed to penetrate his core.
Penetrate his core… I snickered to myself at the innuendo in those words.
“Something funny?” he asked with a smile, waiting to be let in on the private joke.
“Um…nah… I was just, em…thinking that that Professor Tunde from Mozambique… His accent sounds like something you hear in a sci-fi movie about alien-invasions.” I definitely was not good at improvising, but this seemed to work for him.
“Aswear! The guy dey talk like who carry hot idonyo for mouth!”
I didn’t know what the hell an idonyo was; I definitely hadn’t seen one before, nor had I ever held one, hot or cold, in my mouth. But he laughed at his own joke, and I laughed with him.
As we stopped at a red light, he sighed. “Meeeehn! I need a cigarette real bad.”
I didn’t have any, but I wished I could find him a stick of Dibsons. I wished I had a plantation of tobacco leaves and an orchard full of cocoa pods to produce an inexhaustible store of chocolate-flavoured Dibsons cigarettes, just for him.
“Dibsons,” I said, with a knowing smile.
He turned to look at me. “Wait…how did you know?” He had a half-amused, half-suspicious look on his face.
“I could smell it on you. And I can’t miss that smell because that’s what I smoke too.”
His face slowly broke into a wide grin, and I thought my chest would explode. The light turned green and we drove on.
“Bad guy! Nothing do you!” he said with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
If only he knew that something was indeed ‘doing’ me right then!
“But wait o…don’t tell me I was stinking up the hall like a chimney back there,” he said, sniffing upper arms of his shirt.
“Nah. It was just a faint hint on your breath. I could only detect it because I smoke it too.” He smiled. I continued, “Anyway, that perfume you’re wearing is strong enough to mask any smell.”
We had gotten to a bus-stop. This was the farthest he could take me. This was where I had to get down and take a cab. I felt a small sense of loss and regret. I had to console myself that I would see him the next day, since the seminar was still on for two more days. I could go home, re-group and come back stronger and better the next day. I would not be caught by surprise this time. I would have my game-face on, ready to play. I still felt sad at having to leave him though. I wanted to tell him that I would not mind riding with him all day, while he ran personal errands and did personal stuff.
Instead I said, “What’s it called? Your perfume…what’s the name?”
“Poseidon,” he said with a god-like grin that suited the name.
“Poseidon? That’s, like, the Greek god of the sea, yea?”
“Ha! Someone knows his Greek mythology!”
I smiled. Had I impressed him? My face felt warm. I thanked God I had black skin.
“So, we’ll see tomorrow nah, abi?” he said. It was more of a statement than a question.
“Sure. Thanks a lot for the lift, bro. I owe you one.”
“You’re welcome.” And he drove off.
Just like that, he was gone. But his scent remained, lingered in the air around me…or maybe it was just in my olfactory memory; I couldn’t tell. I watched the black BMW until it disappeared.
“Poseidon,” I said softly to myself. I hailed a cab and had the driver take me back to the hotel, so I could pick up my trusty Toyota.
Written by Chestnut