Sitting outside his front yard, choking from the air saturated with generator exhaust fumes and itchy legs from sand fly bites. It was night, the moon was out and his arms around me. Watching the moon as it sat immaculately above the sterile air of the estate, homes stretched identically across long terraces forming lanes of what had been labelled peculiar street names. His was “Turbine close”. Each house stood tall and painted with a cream emulsion lacking even more character than its residents. Everyone here was an oil giant and investment magnate. So they felt no inkling to know their neighbours.
The roads were bare by day and even drearier at night. There were no sounds of children, chuckling of babies or laughter of lovers. A darkness that spread like melting butter or at times dead souls trapped and searching for a heaven or a hell. That was the taste and smell of Turbine close.
Still bound together by the asphyxiation of the black smoke, in a light whisper he uttered in my left ear “I love you”. He told me he always remembered every event in his life with a song. I asked him what my song was. With his toothy grin and his brown pupils permeating into mine, he said “Roxanne”. It was the song we danced to the day we met. Tonye’s birthday party. My body was draped in a blue silk dress and my lips coated in a scarlet red. That night I danced like a whore. Gyrating my hips and bottom as though it has been disjointed from the top half of my body, sweat made the silk stick to my skin and I felt almost naked. That same nakedness I would later feel every time his eyes skimmed all over me. In our almost bare living room, when he would hold my waist in a tender grip and sing the cadence of the song into my ear as the hairy stubble on his cheek rubbed and scraped mine. Again he would whisper “Roxanne you don’t have to put on the red light…Roxanne…”
While the song played, he would roam his fingers through my back and then cusp my breasts in his gritty palms. He would rub and squeeze lightly as I let out an innocent moan and would start to breath heavy. It was as though I didn’t intend to make the noises but his palms, fingers and lips instilled a kind of pleasure that I had no right to refuse. He let himself inside of me with an air of experience. Gently, but thrusting with life and vigour. As I closed my eyes, I would feel his breath meander all over me. And the warmth was telling me that I would be taken care of.
We would lay on the large brown velvet sofa as the magnolia walls stared audaciously without blinking while Sting’s voice and reggae rhythm guitar would reverberate around the room saying “You don’t have to sell your body to the night, Roxanne”
I had a little too much to drink that night and somehow the sound that blared from the speakers seemed even more elevated. As the thump echoed through the room, I hoped he would save me from all the lecherous men that wanted a dance but instead he watched delightfully at my predicament. He would rescue me from the corner outside the rest room where a young man in a navy suit flicking the ash of a Dunhill stick was trying so desperately to chat me up. He walked over towards me and the suited gentleman, pretending we had known each other for a while and I quickly excused myself from my smoke puffing admirer. As we walked towards the bar he revealed a cheeky smirk saying “you are quite interesting to watch”. Then I turned towards him crippled with a culmination of embarrassment and shyness, I replied hesitatingly, “you really took your time to come to my rescue”.
We stood at the bar and we talked for a time. He was fifty four and I had just turned thirty. Throwing complements at his intelligence and well roundedness he would claim he was old so his intellectual competence was a thing of default. He was an architect and used to teach space management and sustainable design at a University in Chicago. It had been ten years since he had moved back to Lagos running an architectural consultancy firm which he named Sebastian Cole limited after his grandfather who moved from Freetown to Lagos in the 30’s to run a textile mill.
He was tall and his cheeks sagged a little. You knew he must have looked cute and those cheeks must have been pulled so much as a child. His eyes were round with a little bulge. They seemed they would turn red with a bit of irritation at disposal. That same little bulge extended to his stomach. He was old enough so it was permitted. His skin had a dark caramel tinge to it and wisps of grey seemed to be sheltered within the mass of hair covering his head and jaw line.
He said he would like to see me again and asked if I wanted to go out for a drive. We drove around in his glistening black Megan, then we settled on going back to his place in Lekki.
His house had windows the size of walls and there was no ceiling in the living room. There was a sunroof that gave way for the moon shine. He said there was an automatic makeshift cover for when it rained. And the open plan kitchen was covered in a shiny stainless steel. I roamed my fingers across the steel table top and the coldness felt inviting. Somehow, I knew I would like it there.
A spiral stairwell at the side of the dinning area led to the three bedrooms on the next floor. It reminded me of a house I once saw watching grand designs and the space seemed to engulf us both. I gulped the glass of water he offered as my throat was parched from thirst while he topped up his thick rimmed short tumbler with whisky and oddly shaped ice cubes. As I looked intently at the contents of his oak book shelf, I knew I would spend the rest of my life with this man twenty something years more advanced than I was. Stacks of compact disks looked at me seductively from the fourth row. Miles Davis, Cassandra Wilson, Herbie Hankock, Winton, Bradford Marsalis and Lena Horne. “I’m sure you are wondering why I don’t have any Charlie Parker, I find his sound a bit cacophonic” he said. I loved Charlie though, the mutinous sound of his trumpet, and his composition that made me feel that jazz was allowed to be as exhilarating as it could be angry. The first row was filled with history. East Timor, The Partition, The Third Reich, Mussolini, Livingston, Rhodesia, The Berlin Wall, Biafra, Madam Tinubu, Castro, Chairman Mao, Mein kampf, Nagasaki and Pinochet. He would teach me about the world I was in and the one I would inhabit.
That night we didn’t go to sleep. He told me about Rome and Vienna, Vermeer and Gaudi, the Aztecs and the Medici. He told me how the Anglican cathedral in Marina started to shape his world at the age of twelve. He was mesmerised by its high ceilings and Grecian columns and when the organist played during the church services on Sundays, it seemed as though the buildings had a strange kind of life to it. Somewhere in between his Diego Riviera and Onobrapeya pieces hanging on the spaces of magnolia walls, whatever it was I thought I knew was to become obsolete.
Twelve months from that day, we would invite a few of our friends and family to that living room on Turbine close. I was draped in a cream silk dress that was held up with flowery rushing from my left arm across my right shoulder to the back of the dress. The chest area would be stiffened with hidden corset bones as my skin glared iridescently from the sun coming through our windows and roof. The silk of this dress was loose and billowy. My hair was curled in loose ringlets as it caressed the nape of my back and the parting on the right side was covered in Hibiscus flowers. My lips had been dipped into the same scarlet red of the day that he met me and the lids on my eyes thinly lined with liquid coal. He leaned towards my cheek as he slid the ring down my finger and in his staccato whisper he said “now I have my own Aphrodite”
Two years later, our daughter would be born. We would call her Hera because her father had a pre-occupation with Greek and Roman mythology. He had told me our next child if a boy would be Eros or perhaps Odysseus or even Orpheus. He still seemed undecided but if a girl, then Rhea or Juno. Hera had her father’s slightly bulging eyes and my heart shaped thick lips. She had a dimple on her left cheek and her skin wasn’t as densely caramelised as her fathers but neither was it as fair as mine. She was born with a full head of thick, black, coarse hair and the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck almost suffocating her. It was why her father’s mother had named her “Aina”.
She was a solemn baby but grew to be a precocious child. Pulling out worms from our backyard then moving on to torturing caterpillars and hibiscus flowers. She read stories to her teddy bears in the shed her father had built in the same back yard. She often went on trips with him to Uguta and Ogoja to watch him work on some of the windmill and solar panel projects he was working on. Some of the state governments had been put under pressure by international bodies to attain some kind of progress with regards to the Millennium development goals and especially environmentalism. That year, just after the elections, the federal government had approved a billion dollar budget spread across certain states and catchment areas for the sole purpose of sustainable energy projects. His firm had been contracted to be project managers.
Hera took a lot after her father and always liked him to take her to school most days. They would have conversations like adults negotiating and at most times she spoke like she was the madam of our manor. I remember when he used to watch her chuckle till she fell asleep in her cot and then place a dictaphone to record the grunts and noises she made in her sleep. When she had a cold he would slither her chest in Camwood Oil and when she had a fever it was Palm Kernel oil. She hated the smell of both oils, and couldn’t understand why Palm kernel oil had to have a very ugly dark colour. She only liked the smell eucalyptus oil when I squeezed drops in her pillow if she looked worn out from playing or had a head ache.He would cuddle her when in one of her moods or when she had to take injections at the hospital in Victoria Island.
During the school holidays, he would watch her run around the house because he was getting older and his legs were beginning to fail him. Hera was as attentive as her father and as intense as me. They would sit on our brown sofa watching DVD box sets of Dexter and Peanuts. On Sundays, they would watch “The Simpsons”. It was their own tradition. She would squint her eyes and contort her lips as she concentrated, in the same way she did when she watched wildlife programmes narrated by David Attenborough on cable television. “Daddy why is this..daddy why is that..” she would ask, barraging him with question after question. But patiently with intermediate pauses in his sentences, he would answer every single one.
Twelve months, two years and another twelve years after he took his last breath laying next to me on our living room floor gazing at the moonlit sky, though our glassy roof, I hear Odysseus rummaging for some juice in the fridge, Hera taps away at her computer on the dining table and I am hearing Roxanne playing in my head as a hairy cheek caresses mine in that staccato whisper “I love you”.