Sunday, April 26, 2009

A blouse of soft blue chiffon folded back at the neck into cascading petals draped across her right shoulder. Paired with a slate grey pencil skirt that hugs her ample derriere like a jealous lover with a slit on the side to hint at the barest evidence of chocolate thigh. Thighs that lead to legs toned by constant exercise and anchored in the soft cushions of Mona Matthew, 5 inch stilleto pumps. Her back is straight, her spine taut to hold up a head crowned with half braids swept into a french coiff. Her face is expressionless, the makeup masking emotions artfully applied with the expertise that comes with years. She is stunning to behold. If only her eyes were not as cold.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cows and other things

"In your country, what would they say about a woman dating a much younger man?" His voice was soft and almost tentative as he asked but his gaze was direct and unwavering as he awaited my response. I had just taken a bite out of my sandwich filled with chicken salad, lettuce, tomatoes, hot peppers and olive oil and so, he had to wait a bit.It wasn't that I had much to think about before giving my answer, I was just a little taken aback that he had switched topics so suddenly.

We had been discussing waking dreams, a way by which one can communicate with the divine by simply paying attention to what is going on around you. We agreed that so many people were more concerned with finding their "burning bush" or "writing on the wall" as signs and so missed it when messages came from an unlikely or seemingly unrelated source. For almost an hour, we laughed, joked and shared experiences over a sandwhich and some chilled drinks. I was in a great mood and in great company. He had been open with me with all my questions about his home country of Mexico, his trip over to the event we were at as well as other things and so I felt that he genuinely wanted an answer; which made it more interesting. I wondered what Nigerian woman he was interested in.

"Well," making a quick sweep of my front teeth with my tongue and swallowing to clear my mouth, "the general population is not open about anything that goes against the general order of things. It is more acceptable for a man to date a considerable younger woman which most of them do because they take on mistresses and multiple wives."

"So, people would be against you dating a younger man?"

I thought about it and smiled, "Yes, they would but I would not be concerned about that. It is my life and no one else."

He nodded and reached for his fruit.

"Why?" I asked jokingly, nudging him with my elbow, "you have someone younger that you would like to hook me up with?"

He smiled mischievously, "What if I do?"

I grinned, "Well as long as he can deliver the exact number of cows that my father asks for, we are cool".

"Really?" he asked and his expression was so surprised that I immediately burst out laughing, "you have a bride price?"

"No," I shook my head, "no, but some ethnic groups will ask for one. If I were to have a Yoruba wedding, a traditional one, the exchange of bride price would be more symbolic than anything else. Yoruba women are not for sale."

"But if you had one, what would they ask for?"

That was an interesting question for me because I really did not know. "I know there is an exchange of gifts between the families and his would have to come with things like yams, pepper, expensive cloth, palm oil, salt, sugar and some other things but the exact amount, I have no idea."

"Your culture is interesting." he said simply and I mused over how much he had grown. The first time I had met him, he was about thirteen and at then he had looked a bit like a girl, with shaggy over grown hair and the pleasant smoothness of baby fat over his features. Now, he was nineteen going on twenty, with the sharply defined features of a young man and a voice lowered to a deep baritone by his training as a musical theatre performer. So far, at the weekend event we were at, I had been meeting young people like myself who had changed considerably since the first time we had met. I was becoming an adult and would be leaving their circle of youthfulness and they were coming into their own. In so many ways, I felt protective towards him because I had known him before he was a man. The irony was that I had stopped growing and now, he towered over me.

"Hey guys," Arit poked her head behind the curtain where Benicio and I had been grabbing a quick lunch. Once more, I was reminded of yet another person who had grown up. Arit, had been sixteen, carrying around baby fat, a mouthful of metal and a face full of adolescent acne. All that was gone and all that was left was a very attractive woman with the most beautiful coffee coloured skin I had ever seen. She and I were twenty four and would be leaving the youth programme as well. Like me, she was also Nigerian.

"Hey," Benicio said with a small smile. Had I not been watching I would have missed the way he suddenly tensed up and sat up straighter when Arit spoke. My ears all but perked up and it was all I could do not to gasp and scream. It was Arit. It was Arit. That was all I could think.

"You okay, luv?" Arit asked me. Years in London had peppered her vocabulary with these little additions to sentences. I quickly arranged my features and smiled.
"I'm good, you needed something?"
"I hope I am not interrupting anything..."she said apologetically.
"Oh no, no" I assured her, "whatcha need?"
"Benicio." she said.
Oh really, I thought to myself mischieviously and winked at Benicio. It was all I could do not to chuckle as a soft flush began to spread over his neck and up his face. He could not get off his seat fast enough.
"I will be back," he said quickly, "what do you have next? or will you be here?"
I lookd at my watch, "Oh, I have to run upstairs to my room and get something from my bag and will probably be there for a few minutes to freshen up before I come down for the workshop with Eleanor".
He began to reach for his leather jacket. I had been teasing him all weekend about the thing. He wore it well but I enjoyed messing with him. It was very easy and entertaining to do.
"You are on the eight floor, right?"
"yeah. 818."
He picked up the remains of his lunch and propelled them across the room to neatly land in the trash.
"I'll meet up with you then. Then we can go for the workshop together."
"Go..." i urged him because Arit was waiting quietly. I waved both of them off and they were gone.

I could not find my lip gloss. I had hidden it in my suitcase because I was afraid that the security people at the checkpoint would throw it away. i was not very sure what size of gel or anything was acceptable to pass the security check and after loosing almost $50.00 worth of lotions, creams and gels at one time, I was not taking chances. Now, everytime I flew, I arrived at my destination with ashy hands and dry, parched lips. I knew I had kept the darned thing in the suitcase but could not find it. I was so engrossed in my monlogue, as I traced my actions leading to my packing aloud that I did not realise that there was a knock on the door. The person was probably on their third round of knocking before I jerked out of my reverie.

I rushed to the door and opened it without checking. It was Benicio, his guitar and his smile.
"You alone?" he asked as he stepped through the threshold.
"Yeah, " I closed the door and walked past him to my suitcase, "I was trying to remember where I put my lip gloss."
"Out loud?"
"Yes...I talk to myself." I said, then added "sometimes" because of his expression, "you done with Arit?"
"Yeah, she needs backing up for her performance."
"Ooh, tonight at the gala?"
"Yeah, you're performing right?"
"Yes. But I am singing acapella."
"Then I cannot wait, you have a beautiful voice." he said simply and I was surprisingly pleased.
"Thanks. I should be getting to rehearsals if only I could find my gloss" I waved my hand across my suitcase with clothes strewn all over.
"What does it look like?"
"uh, it is in a tube, like a marker, not like a pencil. wider. colour is a burnished copper red...."
"you mean, this?" he asked, bending down to pick something up at my feet. It was my highly prized gloss. I felt instantly stupid.
"Thanks. The silly thing was hiding" I applied some to my lips. They had been desperately dry.
"I can only imagine," he laughed, "with you talking to yourself, what was the poor bugger to think?"
I feigned surprise, "Benicio Alvarez, are you mocking me?"
"Why, m'lady," he returned in his best British accent, "I would never dare such a thing."
I bent down to pick up clothes and place them in the suitcase.
"You ready?" I asked of him when I stood up, making a cursory glance at my reflection in the mirror that I was okay and my hair and make up intact.
He nodded.
"Let me just get my coat." I moved to go past him to the closet where my coat was hanging. "I wonder what Eleanor has..."
He reached for me as I moved past and in one fluid move, drew me to him and covered my open mouth with his. I was too shocked to react. His lips were soft and probing, his breath warm and minty. He must have chewed some gum before coming to my room. I moved back and he moved with me, persistent and determined. The strap of his guitar bag pressed hard against my chest. Alarm shot through me as a small warmth began to crawl through my stomach. I continued to move backwards, trying to step away but both his hands were now around me, one at my neck anchoring my mouth to his and the other at my wait holding me to him.
The bathroom door was behind me, a barrier for further movement and I rammed up against it. The force jerked us both and he pulled away, slightly.
Breathing had quickened and we were both dazed.
"Benny", I said softly, more like a question. He must have sensed the tone of my voice because he jerked away. Clarity came into his eyes and slight alarm.
"Tuza..." he began.
I shook my head to collect my thoughts and to figure out why my heart was racing.
He moved further away and shoved his hands in his pocket.
"I am sorry..."he closed his eyes in mortification. "I am sorry..."
I shook my head. I could not speak. I was too stunned. What had just happened? What had I been thinking? Had I actually been kissing him back? Was I really really sorry that he had done that? What were we doing? This seminar was no place for this. He was nineteen. Nineteen. I was six when his spare parts were formed. I was too young to be robbing a cradle. He was younger than my baby brother. What just happened?

I could not form a coherent thought in my head.
"Benicio", I asked, "What about Arit?"
He opened one eye and looked at me with puzzlement.
"At lunch. You were asking. I thought it was Arit?" I was now myself even further confused.
He stared at me for a minute and then realised what I was hinting at.
"No, " he shook his head, "Not Arit. You. But she knows."
"Knows what?"
"How I feel about you. How I have always felt about you."
I was grateful God had designed a hinge for my jaw attaching it to my face because it surely would have hit the ground.
"I am twenty four" was all I could say.
"I am nineteen" he responded simply, "you said you wouldn't care."
"But you don't feel the same way," he finished, his voice filled with a soft sadness that suddenly made the scenario painful.
I did not know what I was feeling. But I knew I had kissed him back. I knew it and I was alarmed. What had I been thinking?
He sighed and reached into the front pocket of his jacket. He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to me.
My hands shook as I reached to receive it. My head was swimming. It was a folded piece of blue construction paper.
I opened it. Glued into the folds was a picture of a fat cow.
"I thought, I'd get cracking. I have no idea, how many your people are going to ask for."
I tried to speak. It was the most beautiful magazine cut out of a cow I had ever seen.
"Benny..." I looked into his eyes. His stare was unnervingly unwavering and yet softened with thinly veiled hope and longing. No one had looked at me like that. "You cannot know..."
"I have felt like this since the first time I met you. I thought it would go but it hasn't. I am sure you must have at one time, wondered why I am always around you when we come together and why I constantly write you online..."
It was true. I had more emails between us two than with anyone else. He was one person outside the group that I kept most in touch with and we called each other quite a bit. But we had not discusses anything romantic. But we had talked. Alot.
"It's okay. I understand and I am sorry, I just acted so rash. I just had promised that I would not go home this time without letting you know how I felt."
I sighed, "And how do you feel now that you have."
He smiled, a wide genuine smile, "Relieved that you know and I can stop censoring everything I want to say to you. But I am scared, you don't feel the same way and I will never have you back if I can't have you this way."
"I don't know what to do or say, Benicio." I said simply. Because it was true.
"You don't have to say anything." He adjusted his guitar and passed his hands through his hair, "I have to go now. Arit is waiting."
"You said she knows?"
"Yes, she gave me the push to make this move and I am going to tell her it was a disaster."
"It wasn't." I told him, "I am surprised and I have to evaluate things. "I moved closer to him, "even if I can't give you what you want, I will always be here for you. I will always be your friend."
"I want more. I want you."
"Thank you."
We were silent for a minute. Then we did what we always did when we parted. We embraced. This time it was different. I was now aware of him. His form, his feel, his scent, his arms....him. I could barely wrap my head around it all. Why, couldn't he have been six years older? I would have jumped him myself. He buried his face in my hair and I held him in what I hoped would let him know that no matter what, we would be fine. Because I was going to make sure.
He pulled away, smiled and planted a soft kiss on my forehead.
He moved to the door and turned around as he opened it, "Just have it on record...I have submitted my first cow."
I laughed.
Then he was gone.
I made a mental note to break Arit's neck when I saw her downstairs. But for now, I took a moment to admire my first bride price offer. My first cow.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

He just stood there.

Looking at me.

Even after I pulled out the knife.

He just stood there...