The chiming of the school bell on Friday was always relieving. It felt as if I had been told to let go of bags and bags of burdens. Teachers had one hell of a job to do. I realized so after two months of having to stay wide awake into the ungodly hours of the night in order to mark the assignments I had given my students, make it to the school before 7AM in an effort to set the example of punctuality to the students, and yet, get no sleep until the day was over.
Hence, with all the stress of five out of seven days in a week, I was always very grateful for the bell that rang on Fridays. I knew I would recover all that school work had stolen away from me over the week. So, just as soon as I heard the bell, I stacked all my students’ books into my bag, climbed to my weary feet and began walking towards the gate.
“Uncle Johnson!” Someone called behind me, and there was that sort of feminine softness in the voice. Reluctantly, I turned to the direction I had heard my name, unafraid to show my angry, ugly frown. There she stood, as ebony as ever, Isabel, my colleague, and the only teacher who was about my age in Ivory High School where I taught.
She walked up to me, beaming like she had the map of a treasure island in her possession. “Are you in haste?” She asked me, a smile of the fiercest mesmerism cocking her lips. Shyly, I said I wasn’t in haste. I was indeed hurrying homeward to catch some sleep, but I just didn’t know how to wave off such an inviting beauty before me.
“Oh, I thought you told me that you had laptop and I could use it to compile the results of my students,” she said. I looked hard at her, uncertain of when I had made such a promise. I decided I had a lot on my mind and that was why I couldn’t wrap my mind around the time I had told her of my laptop and agreeing that she would use it. She wouldn’t lie, would she? I asked myself.
“Okay,” I drawled. “Do you want to use it today?”
She squinted her eyes, probably doing sums in her head, and how lovely she looked! “I think so,” she finally said. “Can I come over to your house and use it? Please.”
I stood a while, staring at her. She had made the plea to be allowed to my house as if she had been there in the past. She had made that plea so casually that it pleased and annoyed me at the same time. She could have other unsavoury motives for coming to my house.
“Yes, you can come,” I said almost subconsciously, a humourless smile cocking the corner of my lips. She thanked me and joined me on my path. When we got home, I thought it would be quite uninviting to usher her to the work table in the living room and hand her the laptop without treating her to a confection at least. I ushered her to one of the couches in the sitting room, and enquired about what she would like to have. She had said she would want nothing at first, but upon my persistence, she agreed to have water only. Albeit, when I brought a glass of orange juice and some of the peanuts from the jar in a saucer, she didn’t refuse it.
Feeling I wasn’t yet as welcoming as supposed, I turned the television on and asked for her favourite television channel. She was quick with the answer this time and I switched the channels to what she enjoyed seeing. In a couple of minutes, she was laughing hard at the comic lines from the TV show she was seeing. I knew I had played a host quite well, and just when I felt I should get the laptop so she can begin the work she had called at my place for, from outside the house, I heard the pulling of our gate: a rasping, whining sound.
My family wasn’t the only ones who lived in the compound. There were a total of five flats, and four families occupied four different apartments. The remaining apartment was occupied by students. Each of the six rooms (including the sitting room) of the apartment where the students stayed housed two or three students. Hence, we had quite a number of neighbours. However, when the gate was pushed open, there was something manly about it, something patriarchal, something that reminded me of my father and how grave a trouble I was in.
Hoping it wouldn’t be him, I peeked through the window, and towards the main house, a six feet, brawny, coffee-coloured man elegantly walked. He had a stuffed A4-sized brown envelope, and with every step he took towards the house, my heart sank at the realization of how bizarrely misunderstood I would be if he found that I had a girl in his house. I was still peeking at the window, aware of my pacing heart, as I did sums in my head of how quick a smack would cut across my face when my father would eventually come in.
Realization came falling and breaking before me like a raw egg let out from quite a height. This was not my house. I shouldn’t have allowed a guest into my father’s house, and more criminal, a female guest. I jerked my gaze hurriedly at Isabella, and nodded in agreement with the voice of reason that told me I was finiahed. I had only, at that brief moment of inspecting her, seen how her artificial lashes jutted out like tiny fingers, how her close-fitting blouse, with its low neckline, showed an ample amount of cleavage, how her skirt, hugging her skin, revealed smooth thighs, how she sat with her legs slightly apart, how uncivilized her laughter was: chortling, from ear to ear, an octave too high.
‘Dad will not take it lightly if he sees Isabella here,’ I said at the back of my mind, realizing how immature my next line of actions would turn out to be. I had brought an unknown girl to my father’s house, we were all alone, seeing lovely Philippine telenovelas, I had poured her a drink my father had bought with his money, she had eaten out of the peanuts he brought home yesterday, she had sat on his couch. With all of these, I knew, just as most spawns from an average Nigerian home would know, I would be accused of having taken her beyond the living room. This girl must not be seen, I said to myself.
At once, I sprang to my feet and said with so much unease, “My father! My father!”
As if she understood, or maybe she did understand what average Nigerian parents would think of young persons of opposite gender basking in aloneness just as she and I were, Isabella sprang to her feet and yelled, “Jesus!”
“Please, hide in the toilet! Hide, go, go, go!” I said briskly, tugging at her arm as I led the way to the toilet, shoved her in and shut the door. I made a quick prayer to the custodians of fate to not let my father have any need of the toilet when he would walk in. Afterwards, I hurried to the sitting room, lifting the glass cup and saucer I had used to serve my guest from the centre table. I heard a door open from inside, and Isabella tiptoed out. I glared at her, willing the words ‘Get back in there’ to form in my throat, but I just couldn’t get the words out before she spoke.
“My shoes are outside!” She said, and I just knew it was over for us. With that realization, my father pushed the door open and walked into the sitting room. For a while, he stared between me and the girl he had never met. I could see it in his eyes, the question he wanted to ask – “What is this girl doing very close to the passage that leads to the bedrooms? Is that where you are both coming from?”
He made a face and walked past us. Just when he had shut the door to his room, Isabella and I said, “Good afternoon, sir.” For a couple of minutes, I stood, willing the floor beneath me to swallow me.
“I will be taking my leave now,” Isabella said, and slowly walked to the door, and left. The next morning, we both ignored each other when we met in school, and that was how whatever friendship we would have enjoyed together gave way to profound strangeness.
Johnson Onyedikachi is an eighteen-year-old Nigerian creative writer who has unpublished manuscripts of poetry and plays. He recently picked interest in crime fiction and in August 2019, enrolled in an online course where he gained proficiency in article/journal writing including the use of referencing formats (MLA and APA style). He is hopeful that he will be successful in writing.