He doesn’t know he does it. That slight quiver in his smile. The little wink in his eyes. Through the glasses. He cannot see. That each time he calls you get palpitations. Fire in your bones. He must not know. For then he would see the struggle, not to keep talking when you meet him, not to hold his hand. You want to tell him, while he drinks and laughs away, while you pretend that the same things are making you laugh, that there is this heat in your stomach turning the cold drinks into hot coal, scalding you, because you cannot bring yourself to say it- you cannot tell this married colleague of yours that he is all you dream of. You will probably give him a heart attack; he will not see it coming.
He stares at you as you turn in your seat. ‘This seat is a little uncomfortable,’ you say adjusting the chair, turning away from his gaze before he asks if you are ok. When it gets too much- when you can no longer bear looking at this tint of brown in his eyes- you get up and go to the bathroom. You think as you pee, that if he sees it in your dark brown eyes, if he asks what the matter is or if you are ok, you will say no. You are not ok. You cannot be ok when he cannot see that you cannot breathe around him.
You go back to your seat. He doesn’t notice. He starts instead to talk about bush bars in Abuja. About whether it is correct to call them bush bars or gardens and why he thinks it is rude for expatriates to use the term ‘bush bar’.
‘How can they call what normally should be a park a bush bar? How is this place a bush bar?’
He points at the plastic seats, the concrete building behind you and the stage where several amateur artists perform. You are distracted, staring past him to the dense blackness beyond the bright lights, idly trailing your left hand along the sweating bottle of Snapp.
Tonight he does not offer to drop you off at home. There are three others who depend on him for a ride home. He takes you to Berger junction instead, where you can get a cab to Lugbe.
‘Goodnight Mary,’ they all echo as you get down from the front seat of his cold Mercedes. Your mind separates the different voices like you would separate the different instruments while listening to an orchestra. You hear his, coarse, but low, separate from all the others.
There are two vehicles going to Lugbe. A red Abuja Urban Mass Transit bus and a Golf car.
You start drafting the message as soon as you slam the door- the last passenger behind the green Golf that will take you to Lugbe. The text that you know will cause a ripple. You edit obsessively until you arrive at something simple but effective: “I am thinking about you Solo.”
You roll your thumb over the Send button. That is when she starts. The woman with the wiry hair on her chin.
‘Brodas and Sistas, I greet you in da most holy name of da living Jeeeezuz Chrais.’
You search your bag for your headphones. They aren’t there. If you hadn’t gone too far you would have dropped and taken the Mass Transit bus where you remember seeing the sticker: ‘No Hawking. No Begging. No Preaching.’
‘Are you a lady that has come to Abuja and is doing Abuja marriage? Living with a man in sin? Fornicating and bringing da wrath of da Almighty upon your soul? Or are you drinking from stolen waters sleeping with a man that has a family? Fear da everlasting fire that burns with sulphur, whish no man can quensh…’
Although you are irritated by this, you cannot stop the process that has been activated. Visions of eternal fire. You grit your teeth, look at the text and start to delete the words.
You type a fresh text that reads, ‘Thanks for the ride.’ You press send and try to think of something, anything but fire.