My phone wasn’t coming on. I paid the Okada man with all the money I had left. If I hadn’t taken a cab to Eko Hotel, or bought that expensive bottle of Coke, I’d still have enough money to get back home if by some extreme bad luck Johnny had been trying to call me, had come to Marocaine and not found me, and had gone back to the hotel.
I could walk the short distance back to the hotel but that would be asking for trouble. Enough girls have been arrested for prostitution just by walking alone at night. I didn’t want to add police bail to my financial problems.
As usual there was a queue at the Shawarma kiosk. This was good because it meant I could delay ordering till hopefully Johnny arrived. I took my phone apart again to see if I hadn’t dried it enough. A new phone was going to set me back more than I cared to even imagine.
Standing in queue, drying my phone, and looking around for Johnny’s face, I started to think of my life - the last few minutes of it; the madness, the mistakes, the hard choices, the poor parents, the constant brokenness. I felt like my life was coming loose at all its joints and the loose pieces were floating away from me and there was nothing I could do. I was losing control. I had lost control.
“Omoge, you dey cry?”
I looked to my side and there he was. I didn’t know I was crying. I flung my arms around him and buried my head in his neck.
“Baby, what’s wrong?” He gently pushed me off him to look at my face. “Why are you crying? I’ve been trying to call you since.”
“My phone is spoilt,” I said, and fresh tears rolled down.
“Your phone? Is that all?”
I nodded and started to laugh. I showed him the phone and told him how I’d spilled Maltina all over it at the Hotel.
“You silly girl!” I could see how relieved he was to find out it was only my phone.
“Let me see.” He took the phone from me and tried to take the battery out. I had to help him.
“But, how did you manage to pour Maltina on your phone? Your mouth dey lick?”
Even though he’s lived all his life in Nigeria, it still tickled me to hear him speak pidgin.
“You shouldn’t have tried to switch it on,” he said as he also had a go at drying the battery.
“If I don’t switch it on, how will you call me?”
“You have a point. But next time you pour water on your phone, or Maltina, just remove the battery and the sim card and put the phone in uncooked rice overnight.”
“Johnny! Rice?” I assumed he was pulling my legs as usual.
“Yes. It sounds funny, shey? But it works. The rice acts as an absorbent agent. I’m not kidding. Just put it in a bowl of rice, uncooked, make sure all of the phone is covered then wait till the next day.”
“Omoge, have I ever lied to you?”
He sounded serious so my first instinct was to look around for uncooked rice. All around, there were young boys selling sweet, cigarettes, and condoms. Could they possibly have rice as well?
“What about Noodles?” I asked him.
He thought it was a joke so he laughed and I laughed as well. I kept looking for a rice seller then I saw the younger sister of the girl from Eko Hotel. My heart leapt. I quickly searched for her sister and the man. The couple were between two parked cars having what looked like an argument. I quickly turned away but not fast enough: the sister and I had made eye contact. Shit!
“Let’s forget the Shawarma and just go to the Hotel,” I told Johnny.
“Are you crazy? Make I forget my Shawarma?”
I looked and the sister was with the couple. She told them something then pointed at me. The way they all looked at me I knew it was only a matter of moments before they brought yanwa to me.
Someone who knew Johnny had seen him and they were now talking a few steps away from me. I wished I’d told him the truth about my phone. If these people come to cause trouble now he would know I lied to him and I would have a lot of explaining to do. For whatever reason, lying is always the first instinct with me, I’ve noticed this. Even when I don’t need to lie, I lie. Maybe it’s because I’m hiding so many secrets at any point in time and it’s always a safe bet to lie about everything in case I mistakenly reveal any of my skeletons. Anyway, this particular skeleton was now walking towards me.
The man caught up with his wife-to-be and struggled to hold her back. She looked at me as if she could kill me. He sister was standing beside them, arms folded across her chest, but I knew she was only waiting for her sister to start with me then she would join in and they would pull out my weave and tear my blouse.
I could do nothing but wait and pray. If Johnny wasn’t here, I’d have run.
The man took the lady away and the sister followed them. I kept watching as he put the two women into a car with a driver waiting. He closed the door and continued talking to her through the back window. I prayed.
“Omoge, take, for the Shawarma” Johnny said and he handed me some money. “I’m going inside with Sanji. You remember Sanji? He used to come to the house.”
I didn’t remember Sanji. We greeted like we knew each other, anyway.
He left with his friend and by the time I checked again, the car was gone. I looked around just to be sure. What would I have done if they had come to beat me up?
When it was my turn, I paid the Shawarma man and told him to bring it inside when it was ready. I just wanted to be with Johnny.
He was at the bar with his friend but immediately he saw me he switched his attention to me. I told him they would bring his food when it was ready and he asked me about mine. I told him I wasn’t hungry and I gave him his change.
“Baby, there’s something you’re not telling me,” he said.
Sanji, thankfully, choose that moment to excuse himself. I took his stool at the bar, ready to endure twenty minutes of Johnny probing.
“I need a job,” I said.
“Have you finished school?”
“No. But I need a job. A part-time job. Or I can change to a part-time student.”
“No. What kind of job are you looking for?”
“Anything. I just need to be making money.”
“Anything is nothing. Do you have a CV?”
“No. Not yet. Will you help me write one?”
We sat and talked about my prospects of getting a job while still in school. He didn’t ask me why I needed a job now, but I knew he understood and he was probably thinking of ways to help me with money. But I didn’t want charity, just like I didn’t want to keep sleeping with men for money. I wanted my own money. Money I wouldn’t be ashamed of. Money I could pay tithe on.
“I was going to tell you something tonight,” he said, “I might as well tell you now that you’ve said you want a job. I’m going into partnership with some guys. We’re opening a wine bar in Lagos.”
Johnny can use the toilet one hundred times when he’s drinking. He excused himself for the first of what I was sure would be many times and I sat there slowly feeling the pieces of my life coming back home. His partners were based in Abuja, one was Italian and the other was a Nigerian who just returned from the UK. They had already found a suitable place in Ikoyi and if things went well he was going to move back to Lagos permanently.
Even if he didn’t get me a job at his wine bar - because he wasn’t sure that kind of work would be right for me - he said he might need a PA to help him with his schedule that was going to get busier. He also joked that I could even move into his house and be a 24 hour PA. A joke, but I knew he meant it and he was only testing my reaction. About my phone he suggested that I just get rid of the thing and stop disgracing myself with ‘old-model phone.’ He told me he would buy me the latest BlackBerry once shops opened tomorrow. I tried to decline the offer but he told me to “Shut up and watch my drink” while he went to pee.
Thank you, God. Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God!
Then I saw the man from Eko Hotel walk in. He walked through the bar peering at people sitting at the tables as if he was looking for someone. I wanted to hide but something told me it was time to come clean. My prayers had just suddenly been answered; I’d just been given my second chance, it was time to make all amends. I would confess everything to him and let him know that the woman he planned to marry hadn’t tried to poison him.
He saw me and I waited as he made his way to me. I checked that Johnny hadn’t finished.
When he got me I was ready to open with apologies. He leaned in and spoke into me ear.
He said: “If you ever pull a stunt like that again I will make sure you live to regret it; you and your fat friend.”
I watched his back as he walked his swagger walk out of Marocaine.