Fiction

The Contract: Fiction by Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald

Contract

Image: Pixabay.com remixed

I couldn’t talk about myself without talking about my friend Felix aka Fizzle. Classic asshole: proud, clever, arrogant, handsome and selfish most of the time. Backspace that, all of the time. Going by the laws of approximation, the times he’s not an asshole were so rare as to not exist. He was also unfortunately almost always having his way despite all his vices which led me to a confusing but amusing combination of admiration and disapproval.

He was most surprisingly, a good reason for who I was, or who I aimed to be. Did this mean though, that I wasn’t really that person deep down? That I didn’t really want the qualities I strove for? Was I ‘fake?’ Did I spring from my friend Felix, unconsciously and unwittingly? Like the dark shadow cast by the light of him and his kind? It’s funny to think of them as light and us as dark when it was really the other way around. I shook myself of these thoughts for I had to go to the school’s sports complex to meet my vice-ridden roommate and only friend. Oh, and the girls. I sighed in pleasant expectation.
I always enjoyed watching them, from the safety of my invisibility cloak while they watched us play. By us I meant the rest of the male gender with me exempted. I didn’t engage in any sports. The only thing I exercised was my mind.

Until I saw the girls.
How hypocritical of me. I spent day after day judging Fizzle’s amorous and perverted ways; yet here I was, staring lustfully and musing wistfully about love trysts with them after I had charmed them with my insightfulness, deep thinking ways and knowledge gleaned from the thousand books I had read.

I slapped myself awake. Who was I kidding? That never worked. The trip through that labyrinth always led to the same juncture; I was boring and hopeless and would never have myself a lady love. And what is more, I might as well quit flirting outrageously with them in my head then condemning Fizzle’s ways afterwards. But at least, I argued with myself, I only did it in my head. I didn’t go off preying on their gullibility as Fizzle did with lies and false ways to seduce them to his bed. Well our bed actually, though only one of us ever utilised it in this manner. Then slam!!! Shouting and whooping drew my attention to the court where Fizzle just scored a…was it a leaping slam they called it? When one leaped off the ground with both feet and slammed the ball into the net then hung on with so much swagger before dropping down to the applause and catcalls of the girls. I sneered internally. Fizzle had his act airtight.

As if in confirmation of my thoughts, I heard a dainty voice say, ‘That was beautiful.’
‘What?’ I said incredulously. I didn’t know I had voiced my disbelief out loud, or that it had shown in my tone.
‘He’s good,’ the voice affirmed. I shook my head internally. There was almost nothing, in fact nothing beautiful about Fizzle. And he was certainly not good. Nor could any other positive adjective be used to describe him for that matter. I shook my head inwardly at the folly of the fairer sex, for while possessing of physical attributes, they are yet wanting in intellectual ones. And therein lay the tragedy of if it all.
‘The Lakers game last week. Did you watch it?’
‘No.’ I replied.

‘That move right there was the one that ended the game.’

She huffed at the unimpressed look on my face. One had to comprehend before being impressed. And I knew nothing of basketball or spectacular ‘dunking’ moves. She continued to watch the game while stealing glances at me archly, surreptitiously studying me to determine, no doubt, what manner of strange organism was disguising as human. Finally she stretched a hand in what I later understood to be an introduction. ‘Mary.’

I stared at the hand confusedly for a second. She repeated: ‘Hi I’m Mary.’

‘Efe’ I said.

‘Mmmm. So who’s Efe? I’m a hair enthusiast, blogger, and much more.’

I was caught off guard. Conversation? Wonder of wonders.

‘Uhh.’ I stammered. I am a walking arsenal of wit and punch lines but I’m always caught off guard when it’s time to shoot. There’s a reason surprise attacks have been effective in warfare all through history and I’m always surprised when a female talks to me first since that has happened so rarely. {If never could fall into the ‘rare’ category.}

‘I’m a write… writer’ I stammered. ‘Writer and poet.’

‘What’s a poet?’ She asked with furrowed brows

Wham!!! Explosions went off in my head. I almost couldn’t believe it. I mean… I knew females were mostly fickle and empty headed and only good for looking at. But to not know what a poet was! The world might as well end now. I felt intense betrayal at the universe for having been made to live in this world – a world that knew the basketball moves used in the latest games but nothing of what the sublime art of poetry meant. I felt the betrayal keenly.
My sorrow must have shown on my face for she suddenly burst out laughing. ‘Hey I’m trolling you. Why would anyone not know what a poet is, even if for some reason they didn’t like poetry. Why, I’m a writer myself.’
‘Really?’ I asked, hesitant to rush to believe lest another one be played on me.
‘Yup.’ She slipped out a piece of paper and wrote on it. ‘That’s my blog address.
I looked at it and read ‘shewriteswell.blogspot.com’

No kidding. Wow. I was excited and almost disbelieving and thinking of what angle to continue the conversation from, when Fizzle walked in. Apparently the basketball game was over. He walked straight to her, ignoring me and stretched his hand like it was the hand of Midas. She took it daintily. ‘Fizzle.’
‘Mary.’
‘Stopped the killing of twins recently?’
She laughed.

‘Uhh.’ I interrupted. ‘Can I get your number?’ She looked at me for a while, seeming to consider it.
‘You already have my blog address. Why not hit me up there, check my stuff out, Poet.’
Fizzle leaned forward smiling and put a hand affectionately on my shoulder. ‘My bro here Efe will need to call you to give you direct feedback on how he finds the blog.’ He said this while pulling his phone out of his pocket and handing it to her. She took it and typed her number in it. Fizzle patted me ‘Time to go bro. Need to shower.’ I clucked in disapproval. I had wanted to stay and continue to chat with the girl. As we turned to go the girl called after us,
‘Don’t forget to hit me up on what you think about my blog.’ As she was saying this, she was looking at Fizzle. I sighed. He didn’t even reply, just waved…how rude…

We were walking down the road to the school gate, in silence. I was quietly replaying the entire moment in my head, thinking of ways the conversation could have gone on more smoothly, and determined to utilise the new lines and responses I made up the next time I was hit on by a female, if lightning struck my spot again. Oh well. The evil Felix was also walking beside me, flipping through rubbish rap music on his iPod. I thought about how he came in those last moments to steal my shine. Leaning closer to tap him, I caught a glimpse of what he was listening to. It was Kanye West’s Yeezus album. I sighed. Why would a girl give her number to anyone who listened to Kanye West?

‘Yo fizzle.’ I tapped him. He looked up with a raised eyebrow. ‘The number,’ I mouthed, knowing he couldn’t hear me. I could hear the screams of arhhhhhhh in the Yeezus song. Kanye West fans should wear a sign saying ‘don’t talk to me, I’m an asshole.’ Fizzle looked uncomprehendingly at me. I repeated, sliding his headphones from his head: ‘The number.’

‘Oh,’ he said and brought out his phone.

‘Does listening to Kanye in loud volumes fry your brains so you don’t understand stuff?’

‘No. It makes us so cool, girls give us the numbers guys who don’t listen to him request for.’

Ouch.

‘Still, lemme have it.’

‘Sure,’ he replied. ‘She doesn’t have ‘ass’ anyway. Her boobs are okay but I can’t deal with a girl without ass.’

‘Because you’re an ass?’ I sniggered

He looked at me calmly for a second, then smiled a dark smile and patted me on the shoulder. ‘Because you, my bro, haven’t gotten laid in a century. So I thought I’d let you have this one. Though it’s not like you’ll manage to do anything.’

I sighed. This was all true. Not laid in a century, but that I would probably bungle this one like all the rest. True too. I sighed. It wasn’t my fault though. The girls of these days just didn’t get my kind of wit. I usually ended up being ‘boring.’ The ones that weren’t bored always got frightened because I was ‘too intense.’ Most girls seemed to like it Fizzle’s way. Easy talk, chill and ‘knacks.’ I needed someone I could bond with emotionally and share the deep stuffs of life with. Bond. I sniffed at myself. For a second, I pictured myself walking up to a girl and saying: ‘Hi my name is Bond. James…and I would like to bond.’ Hahahaha. That wouldn’t work.

I finished copying the number and handed Fizzle his phone. Not before deleting Mary’s number. You can’t trust these hoes as they say. Fizzle smiled as I handed him back his phone but said nothing. He knew what I had done. The idiot was devil smart sometimes, but best to be safe. {Never know when he might get bored and decide to sample Mary’s little lamb}. And you can’t trust females either. Not that they are evil but you just can’t trust the lamb not to be eaten by the wolf.

When we got home, I called Mary immediately. Fizzle shook his head at me disappointedly. I ignored him. No way I was playing by the rules of wait and create suspense, don’t look desperate and all that. I didn’t play those kind of games. I was for real. Mary was a pleasant chat, in the absence of Fizzle. I had checked out her blog, passably good stuff. A lot of potential actually. She wrote mainly about social issues and seemed to be a lot aware of what went on in society. Not just our society but all society. From rape not being the victim’s fault despite scanty dressing, to gay rights. Who in Nigeria cared about these things really? But it showed she was smart, and a good writer. Maybe not enough to win a Pulitzer someday like me. But with work, who knows…

She followed my blog too, was in total awe of my write-ups which were quite fantastic. I wrote poems and dark stories, fantasy and sci-fi, thriller, all the interesting stuff. The following days were days of pure bliss. We followed each other on Pinterest and Facebook, where we found we had some common interests. She had a larger following on twitter than me and was more popular. Guys hung on her words all day and retweeted her lines. I knew what they really wanted though. She wasn’t on Instagram. She hated the shallow, vain picture posting and showiness that went on there. A woman, and man she believed should be valued for more than what they possessed on the outside. Hmmm… Deep. After four days of interacting with her, I was fully convinced. I had found a mate and a soul mate. I added the rhyme happily in my head.

So we had a date fixed for the next day by 5pm. Somewhere chill. With the wind rustling the leaves of the trees and inspiration stirring the words in my chest, I would finally say the right words and she would be mine.  I remembered I had no money, I wasn’t expecting my allowance to be sent till the day after the date. ‘Fizzle’ I called. ‘I need your help.’

He listened with a bored expression as I explained the situation.
‘Well I only have the three grand till next week’

‘I’ll be giving you back when they send my cash.’

‘Then I’d be broke till then’ he says. ‘Can’t give you 2k and be left with just 1k. Might have a parole myself.’ ‘Sides’ he adds with a smirk ‘she’s not all that.’ I was getting angry now.
‘If it were me I would give you.’

‘True’ he agreed. ‘That’s why you’re so special. Kindness is rare. If we were all like that and everyone reflected your kindness back to you, it would be ordinary, you would be ordinary.’

‘I see. So you won’t give me money because you want to be unkind so kindness can remain a special quality only I possess?’

‘Exactly.’ He smiled like the devil.

{This was depressing.}

I was thinking of another alternative when Fizzle called out. ‘You’ll find 3k in my Jean pocket, take it.’ I melted inside. Fizzle is not so bad sometimes. I check the pocket of his Jean trousers. Inside is exactly three thousand naira. Wow. I called out ‘Isn’t this all your money? If I take it how will you survive? Besides I only need the 2’

He sighed audibly.  ‘Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. Take the 3k. Tomorrow, don’t go to chill in school or any rubbish like that. Take her to Ozone so you can make out with her while the movie is going on.’

My eyes shone. For once I was thinking of heeding Fizzle’s words. Then my face fell. I can’t take the 3k because it was all the money he had and he would be left stranded. I told him so.

‘You and your consideration. I swear you’re just a retard.’ He insisted that I take it.

‘I wanna do the cinema thing’ I told him. ‘But I can’t leave you dry.’

‘Retard’ he said. ‘I have another 500 in my wallet.’

It crossed my mind that Fizzle might be lying. I wasn’t joking. Fizzle really was a selfish prick. Why, there was a time I couldn’t leave my money around. He would steal them, even when I hid them deep in my bag. And carry on with a straight face spending it. I was not convinced of his sudden altruism. If he was offering me 3k he must have a lot more money. I checked his wallet to be sure. The truth shocked me. He really had just the five hundred naira left.

I felt sad and strangely triumphant. This was a long shot from stealing from me and not caring about anybody to sacrificing all his cash for me. It was my doing though. From the time he stole from me, I sought to win him over with kindness, leading by example. I never fought him or ratted him out. Instead, I was offering him cash when I saw he was broke and leaving it around for him when he refused. Eventually I housebroke him. He stopped taking my money (‘cause there was no need) and every once in a while he would carry out an uncommon act of kindness and sacrifice that even I would be hard put to match. At that moment I felt high and truly happy. There was good in the world and it could prevail. Even the souls of the ones we thought hopelessly lost could be won back from the darkness.

That evening I heard him call his ‘parole’ to tell her he wouldn’t be seeing her till next week because he was ‘hanging with his goons.’

That was Fizzle. He never gave his girls any reasonable excuse for not turning up even if it was true. When he was ill, he was smoking up and high, when he was broke, he was hanging with his goons. I smirked inwardly. Always eager and ready to be an asshole. Oh well. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It would take time but I would eventually save him. But first, Mary.

The pounding of the carpenter’s hammer on my neighbour’s door woke me from my dream I sighed. What could they be fixing this early? The world? It was too late for that. I smiled at myself. Then it dawned on me. How could I have forgotten till this morning? I had an appointment with a doctor at University of Lagos Teaching Hospital. No matter. The appointment was for 12 noon. I would be back long before the 5.40pm movie. I freshened up and got on my way.

I thought about the doctors and the hospitals a lot during the journey. I couldn’t read with my phone ‘cause my battery was bad and leaving the screen on ran it down fast. I should have brought a hard copy book. Going to the hospital was never pleasant, that should go without saying. The doctors were always overworked, the nurses irritable and snappy, the ones that weren’t lazy and lethargic. But it wasn’t this that worried me. It was what the doctor might say. I was born with chronic sinusitis which had infected my ears. I remember the doctors in my childhood explaining patiently that ear, nose and throat were connected and that that was why there were ENT doctors. So I had a constantly runny nose, and perforated ear drums which led to hearing loss, constant cough and headaches. It all got worse in cold seasons of course. I had lived with this for all of my 19 years. But lately it had gotten worse. The headaches were getting stronger so I had booked an appointment with the ENT doctor and I worried about what he might say. In times like this an overactive imagination can be more harmful than helpful.

It turned out reality outdid my imagination. The doctor droned off in a bored voice, ‘So you will be coming back next week for the procedure.’

The ‘procedure’ as he called it was a minor surgery to remove the infections blocking my sinus. I didn’t even have to go under like I did for the antral washout one year back and the reconstructive surgeries for both my eardrums. So I would be awake and mildly anesthetized to numb the areas to be operated on and the blockage would be cleared. I thanked Dr. Jide and was on my way as fast as I could. My movie was 5:40 pm and it was already 3.20. Also my battery had just one bar remaining. As you can guess, my phone died in the two-hour traffic on the way home. Lagos was like that. The most populated city in West Africa, grossly so, with bad roads that got clogged when it rained so that traffic jams sprung up regularly to prevent you from one-time hook-ups with the literal girl of your dreams. I mean I really did dream of her.

When I got home there was no electricity and I couldn’t get a way to charge my phone till after 8pm. By which time I dialled Mary’s number and she wasn’t picking my calls. I sent messages explaining about being caught up in traffic. But nobody believes the traffic lies anymore, maybe because everybody in Lagos used them. I even called with other phones three days straight but she would hang up once she heard my voice

‘So bro., it probably wasn’t meant to be.’ Fizzle patted me on the shoulder with a smirk.

‘Would it be so farfetched if for once in my life something worked and I was happy?’

‘I won’t place my bets on that bro.’

‘Really?’ I asked fixing him with a glare.

‘Don’t take it personally bro. Plans generally almost never work. Bet on losing and you will win more times than not, unless you’re special, like me. But you know you’re not.’ I didn’t bother replying. Thus it was that I gave up on my happiness and dream of finding love. But even when you leave life alone, it doesn’t leave you. It follows you, knocking you on the shoulder to remind you of your losses. Cruel thing.

I saw her two days later on my usual forays to the sports centre that Saturday. Maybe she was waiting to meet me again, rekindle lost love. But no, she was sitting with a guy. I ducked behind a store to watch them. It was him, Tolu. He was one of the most notorious playboys ever. He was in my faculty, 300 level. What could she be doing with a guy like that? She should know better.

I sighed. Not as smart as I thought. I decided to get a drink and gala for my grief. While turning to continue watching them, who could I see coming to get drinks too? Yes both of them, with me in full view and nowhere to hide. The next few moments were the definition of awkward. ‘Hi Mary.’

‘Oh hi,’ she replied with a totally straight face as if we didn’t have a history and she hadn’t been ignoring my calls for several days. Then I watched my chance for happiness walk off with one of the most colossal assholes and playboys ever. He would be in her pants in a few days and then take off.

I called her that night. And she picked the call. But it didn’t go well. ‘What are you doing with that asshole Mary? You must have heard gists about him.’
‘I have,’ she said levelly.
‘And?’
‘And he’s not so bad.’
Maybe it was the combination of the fact that she had not picked my calls for days to hear me explain my good reason for not showing up for our date then finally did pick the call to tell me playboy extraordinaire wasn’t so bad.
There I was getting my calls ignored and that… that thing was not so bad.
I told her exactly what I thought of him and her judgement.
‘It’s my choice to hang out with whomever I want,’ she replied
‘Even if he’s a no-good lowlife who only wants you for what’s in your pants?’
‘Like I said, my choice. And free will dictates I choose whomever I want who won’t stand me up.’
‘I already explained…’
‘Traffic. Right?’ she says.
‘Besides,’ I said, ‘he’s bad news. And yeah, your choice and free will, bla bla bla. Is exercising free will more important than making the right choice?’

But I was talking to myself for she had hung up.
Eventually my appointment came up and I went to see Dr. Jide. Some of the instruments he would use for the ‘procedure’ were finished. He had to make do with something smaller. And I was there listening to him complain about how useless the tools were and how the procedure would be almost pointless. Which didn’t do much for my confidence. Eventually he settled down to it. ‘Minor operation,’ he called it. But it was one of the scariest incidents of my life, though it wasn’t so painful. At least until after the procedure. They gave me something to numb my nose and mouth, then got two long, sharp, metal objects, plunging them down my nose and all the way through my sinus. I could feel the give of it piercing through something in me. Not painful like I said, but terrifying. My sinus was close between my eyes. Any mistake and he would run me through. Like I said I could feel the give and the blood running down. This was blood from my body. Not my arm or thumb being pricked. This was my lifeblood from deep within me. After that he got some kind of machine with a tube attached to it, affixed the instrument to my nose and activated the machine. Then proceeded to suck out blood and mucous

This was meant to free my sinus and make it easier for me to breathe. A minor operation. They gave me drugs for the pain and I got tissue for some minor bleeding. Whatever they gave me for the pain during the procedure started to fade on my way home. It was a lot of pain, though nothing I couldn’t handle. I had to keep a wad of tissue to my face the whole while which I bled into. In the bus home, there was a lady a preaching the whole time. Jesus loved us, we had to believe and accept him as our personal Lord and saviour. We didn’t have to do anything, just give our lives to him. Hey. I thought we didn’t have to do anything but ‘believe and accept.’ I kept silent though but sniggered inside. I dared not do it aloud for fear of drawing the fire of the lord on me. That and the pain of my bleeding nose. She kept on. The lord could solve marital issues, financial issues and heal the sick. This last seemed to be directed at me. I won’t lie she had me at that. So I listened to the rest of her sermon till we dropped. Apart from the curing the sick part though it was absolute nonsense.

I was only nominally a Christian. In my family we only went to church once a decade and even then on social occasions. My parents were too logical and thoughtful for all the hand clapping or hymn singing that went on there. And the failed logic of it all. We the children just sort of imbibed the attitude. So it was with a bit of scepticism that I listened to her message of healing. If I wasn’t in pain and bleeding into a wad of tissue paper I am sure I would have plugged in earphones to drown out the noise. As it was, I listened. And before we got off at the end, she shared tracts. I declined. Old habits die hard. The bus finally came to the final bus stop and we got down. She followed me after collecting the contacts of some of the passengers.

So she was directed by the spirit. It had led her to me. She wanted to let me know the healing of the lord was for all. All I had to do was believe. Give my life to Christ and accept him as my personal lord and saviour and I would be healed.
‘Wait.’ I said. ‘This healing you talk about is physical, yea? Not spiritual healing but healing of physical ailment?’ I couldn’t help it, I was curious.

‘Yes,’ she confirmed. My chronic sinusitis would be healed.
I felt goose bumps. I had not told her I suffered from sinusitis.
There was something here.
‘So what’s it gonna cost me?’ I wanted to know.
‘Nothing. Just accept Jesus as your personal lord and saviour.’
That moment I felt my bleeding reduce and the pain too as I looked at her. Unless it was my imagination.

It would cost me nothing. That didn’t sound right. I remembered a conversation I had with Fizzle a while back on why good guys didn’t get girls.
Everything is a contract, he had said. A deal. Give and take, something for something. Everybody is getting something and giving something. The bad guys get the girls because their offers are more interesting. They sell confidence, fun, easiness and they get sex. The good guy is honest, sells his insecurities, tedium and responsibilities. Guess which one girls buy more? The more attractive package. Something for something. You just have to have a more attractive offer if you want to sell.

This was back when he was trying to make me like him. He insisted it was the way the universe worked. As an Engineering student he could confirm it was the physical law of the universe too. Something for something. I didn’t become a playboy from that lesson. But I did take something from that conversation. Something for something. And here this lady was offering me healing of an illness that didn’t have a cure, advanced technology the world didn’t have and millions needed if I just ‘accepted Jesus as my personal lord and Saviour.’ There had to be more, some hidden price; payment in some way. I had to fulfil some part in the deal I didn’t yet know the whole.

‘I think I’ll pass,’ I said and walked away. I have thought about that day a lot. And wondered if they really could have cured me. But I realized that wasn’t the point. They weren’t telling me my part in the deal. The part I had to fulfil in the contract. And it was always there. After I left there the bleeding started again and the pain came even stronger, till I took my painkillers and felt a bit better. I told Fizzle about it that night. He laughed and called it a scam. Shortly after I got a break. She called me. Mary. I kept her number even when I lost hope. So I knew it was her.

My head was still throbbing and my nose raw but my lips still curled into a genuine smile. What is it they say about silver linings? A lifetime of pain to look forward to finally to be cut shut likely by respiratory failure. But a girl liked me right now. For the brief few weeks her attention span would last. I grinned and picked the call emulating fizzle’s smoothness perfectly… ‘Hi Mary. Missed your little lamb?’
She sniggered.

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Image: Pixabay.com remixed

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