The first thing I notice about Ereli is the trembling in his fingers, accentuated by the jerky up and down movement of his legs, his bare feet thudding softly against the carpet. I would notice his eyes later in the night and revel in how rich his laughter sounds and how impossibly coarse his hair feels passing through my wandering fingers. Over and over again. But for now, I am mildly surprised that his voice cracks slightly when he talks to me, all the way from across the room, sitting on a green plastic chair, while I perch on the narrow bed, my legs clamped tightly together, in a hypocritical show of primness. The air is thick with uncertain anticipation, non-existent promises masked behind small talk and awkward bouts of laughter. He is not what I expected. He is younger. He tells me about his final year shenanigans. Project. He barely has two more chapters to go, is confident to beat the deadline date, hopes to do well during defense. I tell him about my job as a secretary. I leave out the long week I had had. I stick to general tidbits of what I do at the office. He tells me about the last movie he had seen. A sci-fi uber fantasy something-something that I forget all about the second he finishes telling me about it. In return, I tell him about my favourite genre of music and how I hope to go for NYSC sometime in July. We soon run out of things to say to each other. There is a long pause that is stilted by awkward half looks and loud throat clearing. It stretches out forever and the relief only comes when he crawls over, to join me on the bed. He is still trembling. We are still giving each other those weird half looks.
“I have never done this before,” he confides, and I am surprised that I believe him.
“Me neither,” I say, and I think he believes me too. I like to think so as we finally lean in, albeit nervously, and close the space between us.
We kiss for a very long time. Dusk dims and the darkness of night sets in. It welcomes the fever of our passion. It fuels our confidence. Our hands roam everywhere, inciting and drawing out the moans from our trembling lips. He kisses well enough, and if this was another universe, where we had become friends first and let the attraction build overtime, I would be seeing fireworks right about now. But there are no fireworks. Just a nice feeling in my chest. When he finally thrusts his fingers into my body, it is painful and I bite on my bottom lip to keep from wincing. He shudders quietly against the crook of my neck the entire time in which he fingers me. When he finally thrusts his penis into my body, it is difficult to get it all the way in. He moans and grunts and pants when my body grips and seizes all around him and I am baffled at how something that is obviously giving him so much pleasure could cause me so much pain.
He begins to move within me and I want it to stop. I grip his shoulder blades, stare holes into the ceiling, count backwards in my head. I start from fifty and I barely make it to forty-five when he finally speaks, whispering the words against my lips. His voice is raspy. Lustful.
“Are you okay?”
“Is it painful? Do you want me to stop?”
“Yes to which one?”
“Yes to both.”
“You know, you should tell me what you like, what feels comfortable for you. Believe it or not, but I’m not as experienced as you think I am.”
“But Igbi told me that you had experience. She said you told her that you’ve had sex before.”
He laughs at this. “I’ve done things. Many nasty things. But I’ve not had penetrative sex before.”
“Oh.” I try not to let my disappointment leak, but it is difficult. No wonder it hurt so much. He was even more inexperienced than I was and that was saying something.
“We don’t have to go on if you don’t want to,” Ereli is saying to me. In one swift motion, he slips out of me, and I wince at how sore and tender I have become.
“I haven’t had anything down there before. It’s why it’s so tight,” I confess into the darkness. I am especially grateful for the darkness.
“Really?” he asks. His voice comes from the ceiling. It is how I know that he is now lying on his back, gazing up at the blackness of what is supposed to be the ceiling.
I think for a moment about how much to tell him.
“Well, my ex-boyfriend tried fingering me once but it was painful and so we stopped. I haven’t tried anything else since then.”
“I see,” he says. “Well, aside from penetrative sex, I’ve done everything else. You name it.”
“Was it with your girlfriend? Or a random hookup?”
“I told you, this is my first time trying the random hookup scene. The person I did most sexual things with was my secondary school girlfriend. We were both fifteen years old.”
“You mean to say that you never dated in secondary school?”
“But you had crushes.”
“Of course. Hah! I was the queen of crushing on guys but my fear of my parents and my school’s strict rules didn’t let me act on any of it.”
“What secondary school did you go to?”
“Inode foundation secondary school. And you?”
“It is situated somewhere in the middle of G.R.A. You won’t know it.”
“I can’t wait to get out of this Benin city,” he confides, rolling on his side and pressing his head firmly against my chest, intertwining his limbs with mine and wrapping his arms around my waist. I am startled at how natural it feels. That is when I realize that I have been running my fingers through his hair. It is impossibly coarse and coils around my fingers with every single stroke.
“Why do you say so?” I ask him. “Not that I don’t already know. But tell me anyways.”
He chuckles. “Edo state is crap. Trash. Cast. After graduation, I plan to relocate to Ibadan.”
“Give me a reason ee.”
Again, he chuckles. “Okay. In 300 level, my department went on a trip to Ibadan. That night, my friends and I had gone out and gotten lost. We installed google maps and used it to navigate the city. At some point, we came across a market square building and went in to buy random things. By the time we finally found our way back to our hotel, it was pretty late. But I’ll never forget that day. I want to go back to that city. I can actually picture myself living there.”
After he says this, he leans in to kiss me. It is soft and lazy and our tongues barely touch before he pulls away and settles his head against my chest again. “What about you? Do you see yourself living in Benin for long?”
I scoff dramatically, deliberately done to incite laughter. “Not me. Once I go for service, I don’t intend to come back to this state. I’m thinking of settling down in Delta State or Lagos.”
“Lagos life is hectic sha,” he comments with a snort. “I remember when I went to live with my uncle in Lagos. Can you believe that I never saw that man once during the day for the entire two months I stayed with his family?”
“No jokes. As early as four am, he would leave the house and return by eleven pm at night. Hmmm. Lagos life. No be me and Lagos life.”
“Now, you’re scaring me,” I laugh, hugging him back as tightly as he has been hugging me.
He laughs too. “I’m not trying to scare you I’m just telling you the fact. To let you know what you’ll be signing up for should you decide to settle down in Lagos.”
“So, what’s your favourite colour?”
“Which one is that one again?” he pretends to groan and I laugh. I don’t object when he tugs me forwards, until I am lying on top of him, his hands running all over my bare back, past my buttocks to the back of my thighs.
“It’s the darkest shade of purple. Purple so dark, it seems icy, black even. What’s your favourite colour?”
“I don’t have sha. But if I was to pick, I’ll choose black.”
“Of course,” I snort. “That is such a conventional boy colour.”
“You asked na. Ehen, you were telling me about Indie something-something.”
“Indie rock,” I supply.
“Yes. What’s your favourite Indie rock song?”
“War of Hearts by Ruelle.”
“Hmm. I’ve never heard about this genre before. Shei it’s a new one.”
“It’s new sha, but not so new.”
“Okay. My favourite genre is Nigerian hip hop. But before you attack me again, it’s those not so known naija hip hop artists that I enjoy listening to. Brymo is my favourite. You know Brymo right?”
“Of course I know Brymo.” As if to prove my point, I begin to sing an old Brymo song and as expected, he laughs and I revel in how rich it sounds.
“Okay. I know for a fact now that you know Brymo,” he teases. “What’s your favourite food?”
“Starch and banga soup with catfish. You?”
“What?” I scoff an incredulous laugh.
“Yes. Bread. Just bread,” he repeats and I’ll never forget the way he says bread. I do not find the chance to ponder on his words because he is kissing me again and it is deeper and more passionate this time. We kiss so much that his lip bleeds and my jaw begins to ache. His smell is all over my body, his taste heavy in my mouth. And then, it is time for me to go.
I am dressed in less than a minute and the entire time, Ereli tries to check out my face properly with his phone’s screen light.
“Can I put my torch on? I’d like to see your face properly.”
“Sure,” I chuckle, letting him, trying not to wince from the glare of the torchlight.
“I should see you off to Igbi’s hostel,” he offers, already getting off the bed and reaching for a custom made jersy shirt.
“You don’t have to. I’m a big girl. Besides, it’s not too late.”
“I insist,” he smiles, crowding my personal space and backing me against the door. My breath hitches right before he leans in and kisses me again. It is wild and deep and sensual. We let ourselves be caught up in the moment, our arms wrapped tightly around each other. At one point, he pulls away slightly, grazing his nose softly against mine, his eyes gazing deeply into mine. And for the umpteenth time, I forget. That up until three hours ago, I had never met him before. Three hours ago, I didn’t know his name or had any clue of how the colour black, bread and Brymo would go on to haunt my dreams that night, along with memories of his kisses.
“I’ll see you off to Igbi’s hostel. Off to the front door if I can. Alright?”
In response, I brush my nose against his the way he had done, smile and lean up to kiss him again.
“What was it like?” Igbi whispers hotly in my ear. As an afterthought, she darts her gaze in the direction of the kitchen, where her roommate, Joseph is busying cooking indomie noodles for dinner. As if to reassure our paranoia, the sound of an iron spoon hitting a pot resounds across the walls of the kitchen. Relieved, she exhales and returns her gaze to me, quirking an inquisitive eyebrow, her lips stretched up in a stupidly wide grin. It is infectious and I let myself be pulled in, still reeling from my high, courtsey of the thousand drugging kisses that had been administered to my mouth. And then, I tell her everything. I do not leave anything out. My lips have become twin dams and they gush and spurt the words out so fast that they tumble and fall upon one another. Fevered words peppered with the occasional giggle and the much too frequent bouts of giddy laughter.
The compound of Silver Oaks hostel is dark for the most part, save for the dim glow of electric lanterns shining through mosquito nettings, from which I can spy random dark heads bent over textbooks.
“We’re not expecting NEPA to bring light this night, not after the rain that fell this afternoon,” Ereli informs me, amidst a tsk, just as we approach the front door to Igbi’s room.
“It’s a good thing I live in town then,” I tell him, amidst a cheeky grin.
“Really?” he muses, and there is something about the way he says it. Perhaps it’s the way his face is suddenly a foot away from mine. Or perhaps it has something to do with how we are the only two people standing in the darkness of the hallway, with nothing but fresh memories and attraction between us. He is standing closely at my side, his body attuned to mine, looking at me as if seeing me for the very first time and something about that look has my pulse racing yet again. I still look back to that moment sometimes and wonder what would have happened if I had lingered for a second longer, before rapping on the door.
I am lying on Igbi’s bed, staring up at the near darkness of the ceiling. Her roommate, Joseph is asleep now, the light from his laptop the only source of light in the room. It is how I know that Igbi is not asleep. She is still grinning at me, still giving me those knowing half-looks. I can smell the noodles from dinner on her breath when she puts her phone away, looks me right in the eye and says.
“I knew I had made the right decision hooking you up with Erelifeoluwa. Don’t forget to thank me when he asks you out and you both start dating.”
“Stop,” I rush the word out, shutting out her joking attempt to appeal to the romantic in me. “It was just a one time thing okay? I don’t intend to see him again.”
“Are you sure? He seemed pretty attached to you.”
“How do you mean?” I ask, even though I know exactly what she is talking about.
She snorts. “When we had seen him off, believe it or not, but he kept stealing glances at you and didn’t want to leave.”
“That was because you kept talking his ears off about your final year project and zodiac signs and our misadventures when I was still a student here.”
Igbi giggles at that. “And then, there was the time he didn’t want me to take his picture but when I wanted to take a shot of the two of you together, he was suddenly on-board.”
“Of course, he didn’t want to have his pictures taken. Who takes pictures at night?” I laugh, remembering the moon light snapshots Igbi had sprung on Ereli and me. In every single snapshot, he has his face hidden behind his palms. In the shot where my frame is captured, I am doubled over in laughter, tears pooling in the corners of my eyes, and I wonder, if I would still remember that moment five years from now, if I would even recognize the girl in the blurry moonlight photo, or recall why she had been laughing so much.
“Also, don’t think I didn’t notice when he had reached out to tickle you, when he thought I wasn’t looking,” Igbi adds, interrupting my train of thoughts and I laugh.
“That meant nothing!”
Again, she snorts. “Keep deceiving yourself. Seriously though, I still can’t believe you two had spent all that time just kissing. And talking… He must really like you.”
“He was just being nice and considerate.”
“So, are you serious about this being a one time thing? You’re really never going to hook up with him again?”
“Okay. I believe you.” Igbi is giving me that knowing look again and chuckling to herself but I do not say anything.
I watch Igbi fall asleep and not once do I think about Ereli. I do not think about custom-made white jerseys or a tickle stolen underneath the moonlight. I do not think of secretly shared smiles and hasty, fleeting pictures taken in the middle of a rough sloppy off-campus road. I most certainly do not think about that one final moment, when we had bid ourselves goodnight, when I had chanced a look back at his quickly disappearing figure, to see him already looking at me.
I do not think about how quickly I had looked away the moment my eyes had caught his, neither do I think about how that is the last time I would ever see him. And some days would pass before I would truly understand and come to grasp the reality of our ending.
I would go to sleep that night and I would taste his kisses in my dream and it would taste like passion and nightfall and laughter. It would taste like the colour black and every flavour of bread and night-light cities navigated through phone GPS. Unplanned. Uncharted. Unforgettable.
Image by Erich Röthlisberger from Pixabay (modified)