“When women hold off from marrying men, we call it independence. When men hold off from marrying women, we call it fear of commitment.”
― Warren Farrell
The incessant knock at the door is infuriating. She yanks the door open with a murderous look. It is, however, too late to soften her expression. He tries to hide his disappointment and fails miserably.
‘I thought you would be happy to see me’, he says.
‘I am happy to see you. Come on in.’ She swerves when he leans in as if for a hug and continues, ‘doesn’t mean you should be all over me’.
She takes in his unkempt appearance and his skinny body straining from the weight of his back pack. She gives him a questioning look when she notices his traveling bag. She raises her hand to silence him.
‘I hope you are not getting any ideas. I share this flat with a friend. Two, I need all the space I can get. You are lucky that my friend is out this evening. By tomorrow, you would have to look for another option. You can drop your bags in my room.’ She points at the room at the first room after the sitting room
After dropping his bags, he sinks into the bed. He can smell her here – the smell that comes with the wind just before a heavy rain fall. He buries his head in her pillow and is about to breathe her in when her voice interrupts him.
‘What are you doing? I just put something together for dinner. I am sure you are starving.’
‘Thank you. I should have told you I was coming. I just wanted to surprise you. I am sorry for the inconvenience’
‘Whatever. Dinner, for me, is usually a kind of picnic on Friday evenings. If you are too tired we can stay inside. If you want to take a bath before dinner, it is okay too. Give me a minute to set out all you may need’.
******* ******* ******
The evening breeze has a therapeutic effect. It is heavenly. Dinner is the better than he had anticipated. He watches her as she finishes the last morsel of Semovita. She looks up almost immediately.
‘Instead of staring at me, you could watch the sunset, you know. It is soothing and breath-taking’
He turns and sees the sun dropping out of the sky. He sighs
‘It doesn’t really set, though. It just drops out of the sky.’ He turns to look at her, ‘Thank you for dinner. It was really good. I don’t feel like leaving this place. I haven’t felt so relaxed in years.’
She laughs. ‘Now, you know why I don’t want to come back to Lagos.’ Her face turns serious immediately. ‘I hate to be a spoil sport, but we can’t be here for too long. It gets quite chilly after dark.’
On the way home, they both struggle with breaking the awkward silence. She clears her throat.
‘You are probably expecting to sleep in the sitting room. I can’t let you do that. It is very uncomfortable. We will share my bed’. She comes to an abrupt stop and faces him. The protest dies in his throat. She peers into his face like some stranger. ‘That’s what I thought. You can wear my Pjs. It is unisex and it is not pink either’.
He replies in a clipped tone. ‘You don’t have any right to order me around and you know it. You confound me. You say you are happy to see me but you act like I am a burden. I didn’t think you wanted me here. But I just realised, and we both know, that you could have sent me away the very moment you saw me at the door. It wouldn’t hurt you if you just admit that you care about me’.
She shakes her head as if to deny the accusation. They remain silent, each lost in thought, till they get home. The stress of his journey is beginning to take a toll on him. He totters to the bedroom and manages to change into the Pjs. He welcomes her scent as it envelopes him. She, on the other hand, is unable to contain her rage. How dare he assume and still be correct? How dare he leave her feeling vulnerable? She paces till she is calm, then she sneaks into the bed. She holds her breathe as he stirs. She catches her self as she is about to reach out to him. For now, she must be content with watching him sleep. And that is exactly what she does, until she falls into a deep sleep.
****** ****** *******
Her eyes fly open. His face is hovering dangerously over hers. She returns his smile.
‘You are certainly a morning person’ he whispers. ‘I tried to make some coffee but I found none. I could have made tea, though. It is just that the water isn’t hot yet’.
She laughs heartily, ‘Liar’. She stops abruptly when she noticed that he is fully dressed. ‘I should have you come over often. I slept like a baby. You didn’t have to take what I said literarily though. I was a grumpy old woman yesterday. You know what? Let me fix breakfast.’ With surprising agility, she gets up from the bed and moves towards the kitchen.
After toasting few slices of bread and making two cups of tea, she calls out to him. Her eyes widen in surprise when she sees him carrying his luggage. ‘What’s going on? At least have breakfast and let me take a bath so I can see you off.’ he drops his bag at the entrance and walks towards her purposefully. He tries to hold her in his arms and releases her when she stiffens. He tries to kiss her, but she turns her cheek and all he gets is a peck. He throws up his arms in frustration.
‘I am leaving the country’, he yells, ‘I didn’t know how to tell you. My plane leaves in the next two hours. You…’ For the first time since he has known her, her face is not expressionless. He reaches for her, but she regains her composure and steps aside.
‘How is your leaving the country supposed to be news to me? You over estimate your importance in life, dude. You are old enough to do as you please. It is your life, and you should not live by whatever others feel. Besides, it is not like you have not made up your mind already’. She looks at his luggage pointedly
He takes a deep breath. ‘I promised myself that this would be very amicable. I am not here because I think I am important to you. I am here because you mean a lot to me. I have always laid out all my cards on the table, babe. And you have always known how I feel about you. You drive me crazy because you are neither here nor there. You are wrong, you know. Do you know the most important reason I am here? I was hoping that, somehow, you will ask me to stay. God knows I would have. I was hoping that the thing, whatever it is, holding you back would have set you free by now. I tried, babe. I don’t think I can do more than I have done. I am leaving, babe. I don’t know if my feelings will ever be the same. I just want to tell you not to ask too much of me’.
She turns towards the wall. ‘Bye Josh. You will be late for your flight and I am sorry I won’t be able to see you off’. She blinks back her tears as she faces him. ‘Let me call you a cab’. He smiles weakly. ‘Never mind. I did that already’. And as they stand facing each other, him with tears streaming down his face, her dry-eyed, she puts out her hand and touches his face. ‘Don’t be a stranger’, she says. He savours the touch and she lets her hand linger. ‘Bye babe’
As soon as the he shuts the door behind him, her tears begin to fall without obstruction. She flops to the floor and lets it all out. But it is too late now. It is all over.