He got his things and left.
At the door he hesitated, like he wanted to say something, anything. He swallowed hard, making the lump in his throat bob up and down, and ran the fingers of his right hand through his thick hair. This was awkward. Really awkward.
He had stood at this same spot countless times before doing the same thing, almost the same thing; leaving.
In the past it had been leaving for work, the mall, his own apartment, a myriad other places, but always to return. She would lean forward and kiss him, lean into the kiss, leaning against him. He would hold her briefly before releasing her with a promise to see her soon.
“See you soon,” never “bye-bye”; bye-bye is so final.
Not today though.
Today, it was bye-bye. Fare thee well.
The sadness in her eyes before she dropped them to the door handle tore at him.
Again he tried to speak, and again he failed. He still stood there as the door made the slow journey towards him. The soft click as the latch engaged, the wood inches from his nose, the blur of his vision, they all spoke of the finality of this departure.
“How did I get here? One day I was minding my business, being the cock of the walk, next thing I know I am standing here in her doorway feeling cuckolded. As close to a feather duster as they come.”
He had met her at a friend’s birthday party in August of last year. He had arrived at 4pm, the time on the sms he had received inviting him. There were only two other people there: the celebrant, Tari, and a girl he had never seen. He thought it odd as he was tight with Tari and they travelled in the same circles, so they essentially knew the same people. They got introduced, she was Tari’s childhood friend who had left the country just after secondary school, and only come back for the National Youth Service program.
They had hit it off immediately. He was drawn by her wit – the way she could turn a phrase, keep a straight face with only the gleam in her eye to give her away when she said something deliciously mischievous – and her looks did not hurt either. He spent the entire evening by her side, only leaving to get them drinks and some barbecue, each time he raced right back.
They had kept in touch after that and had gone on a few dates. The more time they spent together, the more there was to her he realised.
Infatuation. That is what friends had called it then, but it did not matter to him. He had found someone who totally got him.
They just started going steady. No words said, no questions asked. They just went from friends to lovers.
He spent a lot of time at her place, she had a place of her own while he still stayed with his parents. The arrangement worked for them. They spent almost every free time together, and there didn’t seem to be enough of that. He had work,and she had… Well, NYSC.
Tari’s birthday the next year was almost as much about them as it was about her. Tari didn’t seem to mind.
He was teased by all the guys, and the girls ooh’d and aah’d. The heat he felt behind his ears most of the night was not from the alcohol, he was sure. She seemed to be enjoying it, laughing and teasing her friends right back.
So how come just a few weeks later he was standing in this place?
They had gone away to Badagry for the weekend to mark their first anniversary. They had the whole weekend planned: tour of the slave island, walks on the sand, swim in the sea, fish, coconut milk and sex on the beach. He had a surprise for her and could not wait for Sunday evening to share it with her.
The weekend progressed almost exactly as they had planned and, for a fleeting moment, he wondered about it. Things do not usually just fall in line like dominoes.
Sunday evening came and he went for a walk by himself on the beach to get his nerves under control. This was a big step he knew, and despite feeling like the right thing to do, he still had a niggling doubt so he went for a walk to clear his head.
He let himself into the chalet with the electronic key. He was about to call out her name and turn on the light when he thought he heard voices. He stood there, a frown on his face as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He picked his way across the siting room, and it was not until he reached the bedroom door that he realised he was walking on tip toe and holding his breath, a frown creased his forehead.
They had agreed on no technology beyond electricity and air-conditioning. They had not even turned on the television the entire trip.
He stood in the doorway and listened to her wrap up a phone conversation. He caught the tail end of her her part of the conversation, and each word he heard her speak cut him. As quietly as he had come, he went back out. This time the walk was longer. He could not help thinking about dominoes all the time. It must be how crushed he felt.
Dinner was a sombre affair. He did not raise what he had overheard, but she seemed to know; she would not look him in the eyes. On the drive back to Lagos, he kept his eyes on the dust and asphalt straight ahead, unseeing.
Back home, she made a few attempts at conversation, but each one fell flat. Finally she rounded on him.
“Just ask, dammit!”
He did not intend to make this easy for her, so he just stood there, hands shoved into the back pockets of his brown khaki cargo shorts, his back against the wall. He stood there watching her for what seemed an eternity before his lips parted and a croak he did not recognise said “So you packed a mobile phone…”
She launched into a story of a fiancé in South Africa who was no longer in South Africa; he was back in Nigeria. They had gotten engaged, but had separated two months before she came back to Nigeria. She had been torn up about their separation, but now he had followed her back to Nigeria in the hope that they could deal with their issues. And yes, she still had his ring.
His chuckle startled him as much as it confused her. Without a word, he walked into her room. Her room. He was surprised at how quickly it went from our room to her room even in his head. To her credit, she stayed away from him. When he came out thirty something minutes later, he was still wearing the grey polo-necked shirt and brown cargo shorts. He also had his backpack slung over his shoulder.
As he turned and walked away, a question popped into his head: “What does a guy do when he finds out he was in a relationship with a girl who didn’t exist?” “He got his things and left.” His phone vibrated in his pocket and even as he reached in to get it, he had a suspicion who it was.
“I am sorry…”
Silence. He pushed the ‘end call’ button and slipped the phone back in his pocket, hitched his backpack up a bit higher, pushed the gate and stepped out onto the street.
“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullsh*t” This is Franque’s creed. A pretend writer and a pretend flier. He wings his way through life, enjoying whatever life brings. Follow him on Twitter @franque_521