The cock-a-doodle-doo from the rooster meant it was 15:00hrs; hence, the frenzy in the market. It was the great battle day in Umunze village, and even though fight days were deemed quite interesting by all the villagers, this one was not to be missed. No one wanted to be told the story of how the fight had happened. Fight days in Umunze were so hallowed that neighbours came along also.
For the second time ever, Odenigbo was to put up his dukes with Akunze in a bid to walk out of disgrace. Last time out, both wrestlers had gone all out, but Akunze came up as the victor, retaining the title as undefeated. Odenigbo had also been undefeated until he had to face Akunze. Now, he (Odenigbo) was seeking his revenge.
Ide was among the many youths who had gathered, expecting a sight for sore eyes. He stood on his toes in an effort to see over the tall men in front of him. In an instant, gentle, soft hands, grabbed him by the shoulders, bringing him back on his heels. Quickly, he turned and appeared dazed.
“If you stand like that, I won’t see anything,” the girl who had to be the culprit behind the touch said to Ide, staring up at him with the rarest of deep black eyes. Ide was some three heads taller than she, but he thought he had never seen any girl as beautiful as she. Her skin was a tanned caramel, her nose slightly pointy, her lips peachy, and her voice, Ide thought, had to be that of a love-god.
“Please, forgive me,” he said abruptly. Wishing he didn’t have to, he turned forwards. Within a few minutes, the girl stepped up beside him. The fat, squat man who had been standing there had moved a bit, making space for the girl to squirm through. Ide turned to her, and smiled his most genuine smile. The girl smiled back, and he was again thinking of the beauties of the secret homes of gods. He couldn’t think of anything else that could match her comeliness.
“I am sorry for earlier,” he said, his eyes fixed on her. She probably didn’t hear.
“Let’s find a way to get to the front,” she said, a childlike lilt in her voice. Smiling at her, Ide nodded. He looked at the youths in front of him, and then, he flicked one of them in the ears. The youth turned sharply to face Ide, and without giving off anything, Ide pointed at another youth. At once, the one who Ide had hit slammed the youth whom Ide had falsely accused. As he had guessed, a fight broke out between the duo. With delight, Ide took hold of the girl beside him and eased to the front, manoeuvering the combatting men.
Again, the girl smiled at him. He knew he had impressed her. The battle at the centre of the field began shortly after the titled men had all gathered. It was quite an exciting contest with the spectators cheering each time one of the wrestlers delivered a fine hook to the other. Odenigbo had the upper hand as he was throwing jabs like he had been possessed by an unforgiving evil. However, he fell for Akunze’s fake out, and got a deadly dig in his eye. Odenigbo toppled and Akunze took the chance, throwing more blows.
Akunze, once again, came up as the victor after feeding Odenigbo the dust of the field. The villagers cheered and sang his praise. Ide and the girl were just as glad as everyone else. With the wrestlers done with the entertainment, the villagers were beginning to disperse.
“I have to return,” the girl told Ide, slipping out of his hold.
“So, you are not from around here,” Ide said.
“No. My name is Ije. I am from Amadiobi,” she told him, and as an afterthought, she added, “We will see again.” She started down the path that led out of Akunze, and Ide stood, smiling after her. He was consoled that she looked forward to seeing him again, but he didn’t know their paths wouldn’t cross again in this age. He would have got her number, but it was 1602. There were no phones then. He would have asked her name at least. He felt so trapped in between would-haves.
He added the last of the characters in the poem, and looked it over, being only half satisfied with what he had written. It is always so with a muse, he was thinking. You get it, and it is all too beautiful in your head, but it never comes out the same way on paper. He scratched the nape of his neck and lifted the paper to read:
We have happened in many lives before
In many ancient geographies
But you were never mine
In any of them
So, in this time and place
When I clutch you tight
When I hold you ungentlemanly
When I hold you longer than I should
Don’t judge me
I am just a lover
Who is not willing
To lose love again.
He sighed and glanced at his watch and figured it was 18:30hrs. What had he been thinking to not have been ready for the day’s fight night? GOTV box nights happened every weekend, and there was hardly a night he had missed. And even if he did miss any, he knew he wasn’t going to miss this one. His favourite undefeated champion was going up against one of the toughest in the division who was all out for revenge after coming out as the loser in the last tie. However, the poet thought that his favourite was going to beat his opponent again.
Within a couple of minutes, he was dressed in a green shirt, black slacks, and black shoes. He wore his costly cologne, and headed out of his house. He knew that the second tie would pull droves of spectators to the arena. He couldn’t waste more time trying to look better. The time was 19:23hrs when he got to the entrance. Surprisingly, the entrance wasn’t crowded. There was only a guard and a lady. He headed to the po-faced guard. The guard seemed to have been angered by something. When he got close enough, the lady told the guard something that the poet didn’t quite catch.
“Madam!” The guard bellowed aggressively. “We no dey sell tickets again! No dey disturb me!”
The poet handed the guard his ticket, and after looking it over, the guard waved the poet in. In his stride, the poet side-glanced at the girl, and he thought she was the loveliest thing he had ever seen. Those peachy lips of hers, and black beady eyes, struck a feeling of déjà vu. He had seen her somewhere. He had known her before, but he just couldn’t make anything out of it all. She turned and their eyes met. In that instant, nothing else mattered. Not even the guard’s questions, or the queue that was being formed. Nothing else mattered except that a poet thought he had found love.
In a moment, he was released from the spell, and he called to the guard, pleading with him to allow the lady enter. The guard was adamant, swearing on his mother’s grave never to do any such thing, but he had a change of heart after the poet stuffed several five-hundred naira bills into his hand. The guard smiled at the poet and waved the girl in. The poet fell into step with the lady who was being full of gratitude. They got into a dark path, and there was a throng of people who were once more being checked for their tickets by another guard. After this inspection, they would be ushered into the fight arena.
“This is too much crowd,” the girl said. “Can’t we do something to get to the front?”
Smiling, the poet turned to one of the men in front of him and slapped his head. The man jerked, and the poet pointed at another man. At once, a fight broke out between the accused and the misinformed. More people joined in the fight, and with ease, the poet and the lady eased to the front. The poet handed the guard a ticket and some five-hundred naira bills and went further in. The fight had already begun, with both boxers throwing ferocious jabs at each other. The poet, holding the lady’s hand, proceeded to the seats.
“It feels like I know you from somewhere,” the poet said, smiling.
“It feels like I have always known you,” the lady returned.
“I am Ide.”
“I am Ije. And I love wrestling, boxing…” she broke off in laughter. Ide joined in.
“In the 21st century, people keep in touch by exchanging phone numbers.”
“Funny you. 0–9–0…” she gave him her number, and they would spend the night, staring at each other, trying to remember.
Johnson Onyedikachi is a teenage 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 wrote in via email@example.com