Toast to Togetherness

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By Jude Nwabuokei

I got to Chioma’s place in the nick of time.

We had agreed days earlier that I would come over to hers so that she would groom me in the art of performance poetry, which I was hoping to delve into, considering the fact that written poetry has lost its pull on today’s phone-active humans. The genre was struggling and not selling.

It was a shared apartment of three bedrooms. The flatmates receive guests in the living room while the bedroom was for special visitors, as I later got to find out from Mohammed, the gate-man who manned the compound. So I could not help feeling special when Chioma ushered me into her room. It had a fruity smell, probably from spraying one of those Eau de Toilette body sprays that come in different fragrances.

Our friendship started one Thursday evening when I saw her on the bus I was about to board. She had a braid that made her head look like a pineapple. I moved into the bus and sat close to her. I couldn’t help but strike a conversation.

“What can I do to get your number?”, I asked, not caring for the eight or so other passengers in the same space.

She smirked. “Is that the latest line you guys use now?” Her tone was terse and sarcastic.

“I simply said the first thing that came to my mind,” I replied, forcing a giggle and hoping by gosh i wouldn’t come across as rude.

“You sound like an impulsive fellow,” she said like a professor making a rare observation.

“I like to see myself as someone who likes to take a chance,” I said in a muffled tone as I realised that we were the only ones speaking in the bus. She turned to look out the window for moment. It was not hard to sense that she was weighing the options: to give or not to give?

“Ok, here: 08033…”

“What can I offer you?” came the customary question, bringing me back to the present. 

“A slice of your knowledge, skill and experience,” I said in a flash.

“Then let’s start with you, let me hear one of your poems so that I can see your creative colour,” she said as she sat closer to me. I saw a closer view of her chocolaty skin, the smell of that fruity fragrance became stronger; for a moment, I focused my gaze on her full lips, foregrounded with a lip liner, a thin line divided her lower lip.

“I’m waiting,” she crooned impatiently.

“Oh yes, forgive me.” I tried to sound as mellow as I could. “This poem is titled ‘Give me a woman’. I paused; she looked intently at me, like some police officer interrogating a suspect.

Give me a woman

Who feels my love without the ring

A woman, who sees the worry-lines on my forehead

Even in a mask of smiles

Give me a woman

On whose bosom I can rest my

Bustles and burdens

That I may have no need for wine

 

Oh! A woman

On whose tender thighs

I may send sleep on needless errands

Give me that woman

Who can lift me from the shadows

Lift me from the doldrums

Make me a baby

 

“Awwww, that’s so passionate and intense. It spoke to me, It felt like a prayer, I love it.”

“Thank you”, I whispered.

“Why are you whispering?” she asked.

“You are sitting so close that your ears are not far. I might as well whisper into them.”

“What sort of communication is that; hope you don’t have funny ideas?” She quipped.

“No ideas, no strings, trust me,” I replied with a smile, in a bid to reassure her.

“Ok before we continue, let us have something to drink, how about a beer?”

 

I was about to refuse but the gaiety in her voice did not give me the courage to do so. I was not going to let my “no drinking” policy ruin my chances.

She went out and came in a few minutes later with two bottles of 33 Export.

What was it with this beer that even Chioma was about to offer it to me? My mind went back to my previous hangout with Kazeem, my close friend right from NYSC days. My friends knew that I had a reputation for being a teetotaler. I was a non-drinking, non-smoking but philandering kind of dude with my fair share of softer skin and red curtains.

My friends were the groove of every party with all the paraphernalia of their office−the ever-present “33” beer, transparent mugs, scented cigarettes and ladies who looked like mannequins–not my type though, I was the typical African man who loved the girls plump.

“O, boy, have you been called to the bar?” !” Kazeem called, his goblet of “33” close to his chest. Music blaring in the background, folks are dancing, grubbing, chatting. That was his way of welcoming me to the Paradizzo, a bar in the Shomolu area where they met usually on Friday evenings after work and drank beer in rounds with so much ecstasy that one would think they just had an orgasm.

“I’m not a Lawyer so why should I be called to the bar?” I replied, feigning ignorance of his intent. “Mumu, comot for here jare,” he retorted. Of course, he sensed my pretense.

Again, Chioma jolted me back to reality. “Here you go.”  She handed me a glass of the gold-coloured beer with the frothy head.

“Let’s make a toast to possibilities,” I said, raising and clinking my cup with hers.

“No, let’s make a toast to friendship,” she interrupted defiantly.

“Ok then–to friendship.” As I gulped the beer, I couldn’t help but wonder where this fledgling friendship would lead us to.

Mr Nwabuokei is a journalist and producer with Radio One 103.5FM (an arm of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN)

 

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