Fiction

UPSIDE DOWN

UPSIDE DOWN

It is just a few minutes past ten in the morning when Tina brings the car to a stop beside a red Camry in the parking lot.

“We are here,” she says turning to flash you a dazzling smile.

You open your mouth to ask her who it is you two have come to see but she silences you by placing a finger across your lips. “Don’t talk?” she says. “Just come”

She opens the door on her side and slips down, out of the car and you follow suit. When you come down from the car you notice that your heart is still beating fast, but not as hard as it was initially when you entered the car earlier this morning. Then you had thought she was taking you to see her parents. You don’t think it makes sense for a girl to take a guy she just started dating two weeks ago to see her parents. But Tina doesn’t care about things like that.

She is a crazy person; the craziest person you’ve ever met. Well, now you are sure it is not her parents that you two are here to see. They can’t be living here. This is a place for students; the TNT lodge, one of the most sought-after lodges in Calabar, for those who have the money and one of the most dreamed about lodges in Calabar, for those who don’t have the money.

The lodge is laid out on a large parcel of land. Four buildings in all, all built on four levels. All the rooms in the buildings are spacious and self-contained. The water supply is steady. A giant electric generator provides electricity. It is always on in the morning, from five am to eight am and in the evening, from seven pm to twelve am. The cars in the parking lot are intimidating. They make you forget that you came here in a neat Toyota Camry.

Among the cream of the cars are the latest highlander and Nissan SUVs. The mere thought that these belong to students like yourself does not do your self-confidence any good. The fact that the only mobile thing you own is the Leggedes Benz which you came into the world with is making you uncomfortable here.

“Baby”

For one who is so attuned to your feelings that she notices your discomfort even when you try to hide it, Tina is looking too pleased with herself to give a damn about how you are feeling now. You walk slowly to where she is waiting at just the entrance of the building closest to the parking lot. She bats her eyelids and holds out her right hand for you to take.

“What did you bring me here for?” you ask taking the hand.

She doesn’t say anything in reply but turns instead to lead the way inside.

“Baby naw”

“You will see”

Your brain goes into overdrive, the way it usually does when you’re expecting the unknown. You have always been a worrier. The kind of person who will find it hard to sleep a wink if he doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring. This is why you rarely sleep well every night. Since you met Tina this has been amplified. You have become more alert than a guard dog. Always looking for signs; signs of what you can’t even put a name to.

You met Tina for the first time on a cold, rainy day when you were surfing through the internet, chatting on Facebook messenger and logging into facebook intermittently to check how many reactions the controversial post you made earlier that day had garnered. It was when you saw Free Bird’s post that cupid decided to strike. The post was just a single word: Konjified. You thought it was funny and typed LOL. Ten minutes after you hit the send button she was in your inbox with a request. Let’s meet.

You were surprised and wondered if it was a joke or she was serious. Asking for a meeting after telling the world that she was konjified could only mean one thing: she wanted it. But was she for real or was she just pulling your legs?

You sent her another LOL and followed it with for real? She replied yes, for real. Seeing her reply increased your pulse rate. Unless she was a scam the girl was smoking hot. Although none of the pictures on her Facebook account was hers a lot of her online friends still thought she was smoking hot. She always said so. When she came under pressure by her e-friends and followers to put up a picture of herself she only posted the silhouette of a shapely woman claiming that it was her.

Nobody accepted it. That was when you chatted her up, on a Sunday evening when you were feeling reckless and fearless. You slid into her inbox to tease her about her claims and she replied with more silhouettes, each hotter than the last. You were hooked, yet you mused about the possibility of you chatting with a guy who was playing at being a hot girl. Funnily enough, she agreed that that possibility could be the case.

From that day the two of you became fast friends, chatting almost every day. While you told her about yourself, where you were from, where you school and your course of study she told you different stories about herself. The stories were so outlandish that it was at once apparent that she made them up. One day she was the princess of some kingdom in the west whose wicked uncle wanted to kill because he wanted to get back at her father for some mysterious wrong he suffered at her father’s hands before she was born.

You played along, taking the part of the prince charming who would ride in at the nick of time and save her from the wicked uncle. Another day she was an air hostess who was battling the seduction of the orient. A young handsome man she had met in the Middle East was wooing her with the promise of a beautiful life if she would become his wife. But the man was a drug dealer and although he was every woman’s dream she couldn’t get married to a criminal.

You asked her questions about the man and learned how romantic he was. Yet on other days, she was a student of Unilag who was trying to avoid a randy lecturer that wanted to have sex with her.

All through that time she never dropped any hint about her true identity. Instead, she would encourage you to open an anonymous Facebook account like hers so that you could enjoy the kind of freedom she was enjoying. Freedom to write and post whatever she wanted to post without worrying about her family name, or what people would say about her. Freedom to write about the things she was not allowed to talk about in her workplace.

Then that rainy day, when cold was seeping into your bones even, making you wish for something warm, she asked to meet. So you sent LOL and asked if she was serious and she answered in the affirmative. Wondering if she was just yanking your chain you asked her where and when and she replied with: now at Spar Mall your brain stopped working for a brief moment and you asked yourself if this could really be true. You asked her the one beside Cultural Centre? And she replied is there any other one in Calabar?

“Are you nervous?” Tina asks.

Your reply takes a while to come because pulling out your head from the memories that have engulfed it is a task that takes some time.

“Yeah, I am,” you say. “I don’t know if you are taking me to a den of ritual killers”

She laughs and slaps your arm. “I’m not, yeye”

“Then where are you taking me to?” you ask.

You think it has to be one of her friends. She has three friends who are really close to her. Although you two have been dating for close to two weeks now you are yet to meet any of them in person. You are okay with that because you are not even eager to meet them. They are all likely to be people above your class.

Girls that use the latest iphone like Tina or were now driving their parents’ spare car or were driven around by their boyfriends or sugar daddy’s driver. You were still among the men who were still earning less than fifty thousand naira a month. Heck you are still a student. At twenty five years of age you are still a two hundred level student of Economics, struggling to make a first class in a department where first class students were like the eclipse of the sun, only to be seen once or twice in a lifetime and hating every moment you spend in the hostel, a place that has been your abode for two years now.

A first class will guarantee you a job. It will take you out of the overcrowded hostel. Without it, you would continue life as a freelance graphics designer who might make up to hundred thousand this month and less than twenty thousand the next. You will end up going back home to your late father’s house where you will have to depend on your mother for breakfast and dinner in order to save costs while you hunt after jobs on the internet and in different offices around the country. You are nothing beside them.

Tina is leading the way up the staircase. Two beautiful girls in blue and black bum shorts walk down, past you two and you are tempted to look, especially at the one in black bum shorts. The crop top she’s wearing is showing off her flat tummy. But you rebuke the devil and trudge on, behind Tina, focusing instead on her behind. It is impressive, the kind most women want. But Tina isn’t satisfied with it. She wants more; something like the what Nikki Minaj has. Now she’s looking at you and is moving her lips without saying a word.

“What?” you ask her.

“Baby check out that ass” she whispers pointing at the girls. You do not turn. Instead, you tell her that she is mad.

Tina is mad. She is a lecturer in the University of Calabar, where you school. Now as you watch the gentle jiggling of her buttocks as she leads the way up you ask yourself if she is really your girlfriend if she should be your girlfriend. You have been asking yourself that question since that day you two met at Spar Mall, over two bottles of Smoov, paid for by her and you ask yourself that question every time she insists on paying the bills when you two are out.

You think that women like Tina are like the wind and you may convince yourself that you can hold them because they choose to stay with you, to caress your skin and play with your shirt. But one day when they get bored with their play thing because that is what you are, they will move on.

“We are here,” Tina says when we reach the first floor. She walks up to the first door in the corridor and produces a key from her bag.

Okay. If she is bringing out a key that means that there is no one in the room. You two are not here to see anybody. You watch without a word as she unlocks the door. Tina has an apartment in the staff quarters in the school. That was where your first meeting with her ended, in her bed, inside her. Till today she still hasn’t told you why she chose you. Although she is still Free Bird to you on Facebook she now has a name and a face and is now your girlfriend.

“Come in,” she says entering the room.

When you enter after her she closes the door and hugs you from behind. It is then that you understand why she brought you here. At once you feel giddy with delight and cold to your bones with a dark sense of foreboding. You remember the day you were telling Tina about the hostel where you stay. That was when she was still only Free Bird to you, playing at being the daughter of a wicked politician in the east. You had told her then because she was anonymous to you. She didn’t know you in person, would probably never will. She was a friend who was nobody. Someone you could tell things and forget you told her about them.

You told her how noisy your roommates where; how you had to go to the class in the evening to read even though you hated reading in a place full of people; how you had to wait till twelve or one am to sleep some nights because some idiot had gotten the notion of turning the room into a party hall, or because some people were in the mood for arguing about some nonsense situation in the country that wouldn’t change no matter who they blamed for it.

Now Tina has brought you here, away from all that noise, to the paradise you could only dream of. But your joy is an uneasy one. You know why but you don’t want to admit it.

You believe in equality, but you still feel uncomfortable when a female does spends money on you. Tina has been doing that since you two began to date. It is like she has made you a personal project for the year ending. First was the date, second was the shopping at the mall the next time you two met there. The third time was when she gave you her wallet to purchase an app for graphics designer from an online store even though it was expensive.

When she started talking about renting you a room in a good place you put your foot down. That day you even refused to let her buy you lunch, insisting instead on paying for your food and hers. It led to a serious quarrel between you two. She wanted to do things for her boyfriend. You didn’t want to be dependent on her.

Now you are here, you are finding it hard to plant a frown on your face. Even though you are afraid of tomorrow, even though you are afraid of when she may get tired of her play thing, her pet project and move on to the next thing, even though years of home training are trying to get you to reject this situation, telling you that you are the man, the one who is supposed to do the providing, even though it is hard to be constantly on the receiving side, you know deep down inside you that this place is what you need, what you’ve needed for a long time. You know the most you can manage to do is to put a mock scowl on your face to look at her and ask her but why? Before you hug her back and tell her thank you.

The matter of helping others

Written by Samuel Ifeanyi Gaius

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