REGINA AND HAKEEM had become something like an item and it had been a week since the blue caravan. The semester was a month and a half old and Peter had turned 26. Hakeem had taken Regina to the birthday party at Peter’s house. Peter was the oldest of the final year political science students, and incidentally the smallest of the guys in their class. He was generous and free-spirited. He gave cash and gifts to lecturers who would manipulate his grades and appeal on his behalf to the lecturers who could not be won over with his money. Despite being four years older than them, he forged a strong bond with Ovie and Hakeem.
“Guy, you sure say you and Regina no dey do anytin?” asked Ovie. “Are you sure you’re not eating that fish?” Hakeem was seated in one of the varnished mahogany chairs in the back of the social sciences class, while Ovie and Peter sat on the table in front of him with inquisitive eyes. They didn’t buy his story: “we are just friends who are becoming closer.” Hakeem and Regina both agreed that they would keep their romance a secret. What they had between them felt premature and didn’t even have a name, but also felt unique and special. They hadn’t brought up the ‘what are we?’ question at any point. They would just meet up – sometimes at his place – and talk about stuff they felt like, then end with a hug and a kiss. Both of them showing up at Peter’s birthday party together raised eyebrows. She was reluctant to go, but Hakeem convinced her that it would be an opportunity to hear and watch his friends speak their Pidgin (it wasn’t just the way they spoke, it was also about their expressions when they did). Besides, they had just finished their continuous assessment tests, which gave her a little window for indulgence. After eating at Mama Osas’ canteen with Peter and Ovie, Hakeem headed home on foot, while they stayed back on campus to ‘catch fish.’ Mama Osas’ tomato stew with marinated beef was so good that he would intentionally skip breakfast before leaving his apartment just so there was enough space in his stomach to house as much rice as he could. As he picked his teeth with a toothpick, he wondered why it seemed like the dilapidated canteens with leaking roofs and the uneven floors had the tastiest food. He also wondered if the conditions of these canteens’ kitchens were the slightest bit sanitary. A picture of a middle-aged woman sitting on a stool with a crying baby tied to her back while she stirred the contents of a huge pot popped up in his head. Firewood crackling from the searing heat of the fire, her legs spread wide, and sweat dripping down her hardened face.
A loud uproar woke Regina up. She opened her eyes and looked down at Seliat’s bunk which was below hers. Her roommates and three other Challenge Hostel girls were crammed into the bed, staring at Seliat’s laptop. Regina squinted to see what they were watching so intently. It was the season finale of Lovers Liaison. Seliat always downloaded the latest episodes from a website she didn’t disclose, instead of waiting for the popular bootlegged DVDs to show up in film shops. Priya, the antagonistic jealous ex of Rohit, a successful medical doctor, had hit Aisha with a car. “Sorry we woke you, Bunkie. This ashawo Priya just jammed Aisha with a car,” explained an agitated Seliat. Regina climbed down and squeezed herself into the already crowded bed. Close to the end of the episode when Rohit found out about the ‘hit and run by an unknown person,’ and the doctor had pronounced Aisha dead, Priya showed up at his house some days later to console him. She rubbed his shoulders and was about to lean in for the kiss she had been dreaming of when Aisha walked through the door with bandages tied around her head. The girls’ voices erupted in unison. It was so loud and sudden that Regina jerked instinctively that instant. Jumoke, who had slammed her head against the iron bars supporting Regina’s mattress while celebrating the desired turn of events, began to nurse her throbbing head while a genuine grin crept up on her grimace. In that moment, Regina felt like she had just had an epiphany, a sudden realisation. She observed their expressions and looked back at the laptop. The melodramatic editing, the unnecessary music, the way the camera seemed to pan around all the time with no real purpose. She suddenly realised she didn’t like Lovers Liaison. She also wondered why it took her so long to realise this. Perhaps she had been watching too much of Oz on Hakeem’s laptop, she thought to herself. She had only watched five episodes of the American series about life in prison, and it was starting to grow on her. She felt her phone vibrate in the pocket of her shorts. She had turned off ringing when she was studying in the library earlier that Saturday morning.
“Take it easy, sir. Slow down,” said Regina with a smile.
“Ello bae. I milzz you zo mush.”
He had been teaching her how to talk like Falz the Bahd Guy’s alter ego. She had seen some of the rapper’s videos on Jumoke’s Instagram and thought the Yoruba accent was hilarious. Hakeem asked her if she would like to attend his church and suggested meeting at a specified place on the Sunday morning so they could go together. She had thought of inviting him to hers earlier.
“OK, No problem. Notify me your plaze of preferenze,” she replied.
* * *
HAKEEM GREW UP in a Old People Church-attending home. An Old People Church was the kind of church that was attended by The Old People. The Old People as in ‘old people.’ Parents who wore matching lace outfits with their children; women in their mid thirties who were in desperate need of marriage; the straight edge, ascetic men in their early thirties who looked older than their ages, who carried the biggest Bibles and said ‘you are blessed’ often, who spoke in thunderous tongues. New Generation churches generally felt contempt for The Old People churches, and The Old People churches felt resentment with a dash of envy for New Generation churches; the Protestantism dichotomy in Nigeria. Hakeem’s father was a Muslim, but the indifferent kind who never went to mosques. Hakeem’s mother would take him to her Old People Church when he was a boy. They lived in Southern Kaduna. After the long services, she would stay behind to exchange pleasantries, constantly curtsying for the pastors and elders. A hungry and deflated Hakeem would sit in the back of the main church with a frown, watching her laughing and chattering, hoping every greeting would be her last of the day. Her longest conversations were usually with Aunty Sandra. The huge and lightskinned Aunty Sandra who Hakeem used to subtly watch his mom gossip about with her hair dresser Amaka. “I heard she has done two abortions before,” she once told Amaka who widened her mouth in surprise and then shrugged. “Somebody that doesn’t know her past would think she is one kind of saint with her scarf and her small voice,” she added. Hakeem’s mother’s actions always surprised him because he thought her and Aunty Sandra, just like everyone else did, to be close friends. Why did she do this to her close friend, he would wonder. Everytime Hakeem saw his mother laughing and joking with Aunty Sandra, he would feel sorry for her as though his mother was betraying her. But, then again, Hakeem would wonder if Aunty Sandra had her own gossip mate in her own gossip cave with whom she talked about his father’s piling debts or his mother’s – her friend’s – secret affair.
They walked into Royal Destinies Ministries together. He wore a skyblue longsleeved shirt, black jeans, and black loafers. She wore a pink knee-length dress with flower patterns and a pearl necklace. As they walked down the aisle towards the front where Peter was seated, Regina could feel the curious eyes poking her. She could see two girls she knew from mass communications whispering to each other while they looked in her and Hakeem’s direction. The thought of people scrutinizing her outfit and analysing her body language terrified her. But she could also feel a rare excitement. She knew Hakeem was the object of many girls’ desires and she imagined herself sitting next to him, clasping hands with him and resting her head on his shoulders while other girls sneered in jealousy. She felt herself slipping into the pit of pettiness where so many girls she knew were resident and she found she couldn’t stop herself.
Hakeem had considered accepting Ovie’s church invitation until he discovered the church’s theme for that month was ‘Leave Me Alone, Run Mad, Or Die. The Choice Is Yours.’ Hakeem’s church was a New Generation Church established close to the school. The pastor was lightskinned, had relaxer-curled hair, and spoke like an American even though he had lived his entire life in Upper Sakpomba. The ushers were young and attractive. Many female members wore tight-fitting or cleavage-showing clothes, but no one came dressed in an overly outrageous fashion. The choir masters and guest singers had invented foreign first names and surnames; Joan Jackson, Psalmist Michael Marvellous, T.K. Wonders (a 300 level sociology student whose real name was Tarela Tamaraebimowei), Loveth Liberty. Songs that were sung had phrases like ‘you are beautiful.’ A neutral afropop song with no obscenity and another one that contained God references were rendered.
After the service, an usher approached Regina and told her the pastor wanted to see her in his office. Hakeem was willing to wait for her, but she told him he was free to go watch his Manchester United game which had already started. The pastor’s office was a small, fragrant room with a ceiling fan and walls painted white. “Hi. I’m Pastor Ezekiel. You may sit.” He told her he had no knowledge of her existence before he saw her in the congregation. His hair was shimmering and his smile was one-sided. A curious intuition pushed her to look at his wedding ring finger; it was bare. He went on to tell her he had a vision about her when his eyes met hers during the sermon. “Is your mother late?” Regina’s eyes instantly widened. How could he have known this, she thought to herself. She told him yes and explained to him how her mother had died when giving birth to her and how her father’s second wife effectively became her mother. “There are people on both sides, your father’s and your mother’s family, who have seen your bright star. They don’t want your progress. I would suggest you hold on to God more than ever,” he said. He suggested Bible verses and told her he would love for her to attend his church again. “Don’t worry, Regina. You’ll be fine,” he told her before she left. While on the commercial motorcycle she took back to campus, another startling realisation hit her; she remembered she hadn’t told him her name.
Once upon a time, Hakeem dated Treasure. They were in 100 level. She was new, naive, and carefree. Things between them were going swimmingly until she met The Big Nyash Girls in the second semester. The Big Nyash Girls ‘opened’ her eyes. They made her realise that she wasn’t like regular girls. Regular girls had ashy knees and elbows; Treasure didn’t. Regular girls had regular faces; Treasure’s was angelic. And most importantly, regular girls had regular nyash; Treasure’s ass was supreme. All of a sudden, she stopped picking Hakeem’s calls and stopped messaging him. She had outgrown Hakeem. She began to constantly hang with The Big Nyash Girls. Going to clubs with them, meeting rich men with dubious money. Soon enough, she became one of them. She eventually dated Mohammed, Abraham, Meshack and Ben who all dumped her after hitting that ass from behind. Those guys couldn’t possibly be held down by one girl. After Treasure, Hakeem started working out, wore better-fitting clothes, and his impressive grades started drawing attention. Over time, he became the face of his faculty. His days in the wilderness were long forgotten.
Hakeem let in the uninvited Treasure. She sat on his bouncy, two-foot-tall mattress that lay on the floor close to the wall. He lived in a one-room apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom; a self-contain. On the television, highlights of Manchester United’s win were being replayed. Hakeem finished cleaning his kitchen and sat with her on the bed. “I was just in the neighbourhood, so I decided to say hi. You, you are a fake friend. You forgot about me, abi?” There was something about her face that wasn’t quite the same. It looked bare to him and her facial expression had a tinge of desperation. She had lost her lustre. While she scrolled through her phone for a picture of them together, he noticed her symmetrical hips and her fleshy thighs spread over his mattress. She was wearing leggings and her cameltoe was visible. He instantly had an erection. He hadn’t had sex since before Regina. Regina, he suddenly remembered. “Treasure, you have to go now. I was expecting a visitor before you came.” A sadness crept up on her face, something like an expression of regret. Perhaps, she felt her unceremonious dismissal was his way of exerting revenge on her. He just wanted her to leave so he wouldn’t be tempted to have sex with her. As she walked away, Hakeem lustfully watched her watery ass dance. He was already feeling the potential side effects of his relationship with Regina. His wrists were beginning to feel sore from the shackles of commitment.
Regina arrived at his place around 9 p.m. Hakeem still had some petrol from the day before left over in his generator just in case ‘NEPA people start to fuck up again.’ He wouldn’t need to use the generator that night. She wore a short tight black skirt and a red shirt with MY MONEY GROWS LIKE GRASS printed on it. “I know you want to open your mouth to insult me for wearing this shirt, but before you start, just know it’s not mine. It’s for my roomie Ese. I washed all my clothes today and all I had left was this skirt.” She always tried to explain everything she was wearing or doing that he might potentially find questionable before he could get the chance to ask her what the hell she was thinking and he always found this kind of cute. “I didn’t even say anything.” said a smiling Hakeem with his hands raised in innocence, his dimples deepened. She knew spending the night would bring with it the possibility of sex and she was prepared. She hadn’t had sex since the mid-session break of 200 level when she went to Daddy’s house in Lagos. It was with Charles, her neighbour. In her head, she imagined he would be smooth and skillful, but he turned out to be clumsy and talkative which she felt was ironic because he never talked much before they did it. “How does it feel? Do you like what my finger is doing? Help me put it inside.”
The air was thick with tension. There was a Patoranking video playing on MTV Base, but their minds had drifted away from the moving figures on the 25-inch plasma TV. The inevitable was impending, but no one would make the first move. Hakeem suddenly turned towards Regina and she instantly did the same, as though her entire being had been anticipating some kind of signal from him. Their backs were rested against the wall. The lightbulb was off and the volume of the TV was barely audible. He kissed her and she reacted, slobbering and climbing on him like she was possessed by a strange, violent spirit. Even Hakeem was startled, but pleasantly. He reached up her skirt and found out she had no underwear on.
“I told you this was all I had left.”