I pull out the leaflet inside the pack of condoms. It has no name; it just says Latex Condoms and has the logo of the Federal Ministry of Health on the top right hand corner. I am not sure why I do this; I am not curious to find anything I do not already know. Perhaps I am nervous. Capitalized is the heading IMPORTANT. I have always thrown the leaflet together with the pack far away beyond judgmental eyes. Never in the dust bin. Usually in some algae infested gutter in the dark.
I read as I wait.
Use a new condom every time you have sex- before foreplay, before penis gets anywhere near any body opening...
I look out through the steel bars in the window, rubbing the rough hair on my chest, thinking for the first time if I should shave them. The neighbour’s light purple bed sheet covers the algae coated fence from my view. It is June in Lagos: every rough concrete surface is covered in algae, it rains every other day and mosquitoes breed in the countless pools of stagnant water around. Today I am prepared. I do not want the look of exasperation on Anna’s face yesterday when at midnight I realised there was only one condom. Somolu was not a place to go looking for condoms at midnight especially as I had already heard two gunshots before then.
‘So much for preparation’ she said in her Italian accent, rolled over and slid under the sheets.
I wonder if my neighbour next door heard the loud noises from my room last night especially as I can now hear him telling his five year old daughter to stop throwing the remote control around. The house is a vertical block of five studio apartments cramped into a tiny plot of land so that there is space left to park only two cars and a narrow backyard where the sagging clothesline is.
Yesterday I turned 30, but I did not tell Anna. She had said a few weeks ago, when I asked about her ex-husband, that it was better if we did not share such intimate details. 30 is an intimate detail for me. It bears all the dreams I had carefully formed at 20. At 30 I would have worked for 8 years and had a flat of my own, married the woman of my dreams who I would have met at least by 28, had a little kid and at least a decent car (preferably a Mercedes) that would take us all across Lagos- to work on Weekdays, to the beach and mall on Saturdays and to church on Sundays. At 30, I would have become partner in the law firm where I started working at 22. ‘In 7, 8 years’ the Managing partner said, ‘a hardworking dedicated associate should have made partner. The really exceptional ones might even do it in 5 years.’ I gave myself the upper limit.
I would have wanted Anna to listen to my new dreams- now not so intimate- formed for me by reality. That I would want to get a stable job, any job really that can give me a living wage and time to write; that I would like to buy a second hand Japanese car, any type really, that has low fuel consumption; that I would like to start attending literary events at Terraculture on Saturdays and buy some cheap boots to play football on Sundays to shed this weight that is threatening to give me a pot belly; that by 35 I should be able to afford a small flat in Ojuelegba which is a fairly central place in Lagos and maybe have a kid. But Anna would say, stop talking and just fuck my brains out.
I look at the condom leaflet again. My eye rests on ‘before penis gets anywhere near any body opening’ which I’d underlined. I wonder what I could have done before I became this way. Before I lost faith. Before Anna’s visits became all about fucking her brains out. Before I became a lawyer who did just about anything for money.
I still know Bible verses offhand. Church hymns take over my consciousness now and again and I find myself humming a tune which means nothing to me. God is now a gaping hole in my heart. I am not a disbeliever. I just don’t care anymore.
Anna is an atheist. I find it convenient. I don’t want a Nigerian Pentecostal girl who will leave invitations to Crusades on my bed after we have had sex or who will ask me why I don’t go to church when she is lying naked in my arms. But Anna doesn’t eat meat especially in Nigeria. She thinks the way most people kill animals is brutal and unsustainable. She used to eat fish once in a while until she saw catfish being bludgeoned to death in a beer garden. It’s hard to find people who sell food for vegetarians on Shipeolu Street. Everything has or is cooked with meat. Except beans or moi-moi, both of which I cannot stand. Even the smell upsets my stomach. I love meat.
My friend Uduak does not like Anna. Everytime Anna tries to ask her questions about her hair or work, wielding a small notepad and pen, Uduak rolls her eyes and tries to avoid answering. Anna has given up trying and finds other people to interview for her Italian paper who has paid for her trip to Nigeria. She also freelances so she searches for stories. This is how we met. She was at a fundraising event organised by a group of women to support girls suffering from VVF. I was the MC. We went on about stereotypes and race and literature and world politics. Uduak was there too and whispered to me that she hated these white journalists who scrounged about for stories in Africa. I agreed.
But I like Anna. I ignore the fact that she is a white journalist appearing to make a living from our sad stories and writing about things she may never understand or care about. And almost in return Anna doesn’t care that I snore loudly, even though I think she became more tolerant when I told her she snored once when she was recovering from malaria.
I think I like that Anna doesn’t care about anything, well anything apart from me having enough condoms. She is due to leave Nigeria in two days and it makes sense not to care. I am thinking this when she knocks my door.
‘Did you walk? I didn’t hear a taxi pull up?’ I say to her as she walks in.
‘Yes Gboyega, I walked. I needed to clear my head. Do you have any cold water?’
‘Yes, are you ok?’
I am relieved. I imagine she doesn’t want too much talk and I should get to the business of the day. I bring her a glass of cold water and take the condoms from the table and drop them by the bedside stool. She drinks quickly and glances at the condoms.
‘Sit’, she says.
I smile and wrap my arms around her waist kissing her neck.
‘This is all so straightforward’, I tell myself.
I slip my hands into her t-shirt and work my way slowly behind to unhook her bra. Two pins. I am getting good at unhooking bras and I smile to myself as it comes loose. My free hand reaches for the nipples. She likes that. She says I do magic with her nipples.
But she is still, her hands still holding the cup, tightly.
She pulls my hands out and moves away.
‘I said sit, not smooch me’
‘Oh, I see someone’s in the mood for games’
‘No games, I want to talk.’
‘Since when do we talk?’ She frowns and I see her nose starting to tremble.
‘Since I broke my own rules and...’
She covers her face. I stretch to hold her but stop, not sure whether she wants to be held. This is weird.
‘And what?’ I ask.
She pauses. For many seconds.
‘And fucking fell in love, that’s what.’
Her whole body is trembling and she is crying. I still don’t hold her. My head is about to explode. I don’t want to feel this- this coldness in my body, this pain in my nose like I am about to cry.
‘Hold me? Please?’ she pleads.
I hold her, first by the arm and then slowly wrap myself around her. I don’t know why my eyes have decided to close. Why my brain is shutting down. Why I feel like this. Why this tear is rolling down my eyes.
Her body stops trembling and her voice comes clear:
‘I don’t want you to fuck me anymore. I want you to love me. Can you? Love me?’
We are both crying. I don’t know why. But we are both crying. I kiss her and inhale deeply.
‘But you are leaving tomorrow,’ I tell her.
‘Not if you say yes.’ She looks away, fear in her eyes.
I hold her face up to me. Her eyes have changed from green to hazel. I do not understand the constrictions in my chest and why I cannot control the flaring of my nostrils. I stand there like an imbecile, my head blank, willing the words to come. But there are no words.