Our girl Victor tells Kelechi that butterflies have begun to fly in her belly when she thinks of him and this is bad, this is very bad. Kelechi purses his lips, smiles a small smile and says thank you. Victor shakes her head and says she knows how this will go: she will trick him into liking her back and they will be fine for months but then they will break up and become tiny, one-section antagonists in each other’s lives. He says this isn’t a short story; stop living life like it’s a short story and she says isn’t it? Isn’t it? She walks out of the lecture theatre, past the classes and the beheaded statue at Stadium Crossroads and the school gate, and climbs up to her room on University of Nigeria Avenue.
Toyin is on the bed, painting her toenails the warm yellow of a danfo bus. She says, welcome; I am meeting Danladi for dinner tonight. Victor asks who the hell Danladi is and listens as her roommate describes the tall guy at Kelechi’s birthday party last Tuesday, the one with the mole-like-a-raisin on the back of his palm nau, the one that said her name was arousingly feministic nau!
Victor says, oh. Remember to come in silently so you don’t wake me and remember to put whatever you get for me in the freezer. And, yes, remember to be safe. Toyin says yes of course. Victor has a bath and eats biscuits soaked in milk and pretends the words in her taxation textbook don’t look like obese wingdings. Kelechi texts to ask if they can hang out tomorrow and she waits three hours before she texts, k.
She says his Naruto sweater is ugly the next day, as they settle at a table at the mall. He guffaws. She says she knows they started talking only two weeks ago and who falls in lust with someone they get paired with for a class project? It’s just very Twilight-ish.
He sighs. This isn’t a short story. Stop living life like it’s a short story.
Well, she says, you must forget what I said yesterday because it was just hormones, or something.
Kelechi exhales and says sure and goes to get the shawarma.
Afterwards, she tells him she needs to get the cheap kind of Nescafe at Shoprite. As they walk past the male products section, something catches her eye: rows of blue-and-brown tubs that say Beard Elixir in kinky font. She holds one up for him to see. He chuckles. She says she will buy it for him and puts it in her basket. He picks it up and examines it. I know these people, he says. Sxuttlers? Their main factory got looted and burnt last month. It’s in South Africa. She asks if it was owned by Nigerians. He says haha, very funny. And she says no, it really isn’t, and returns the tub to the basket. My aunty calls it ex-no-pho-bia, he says. Can’t pronounce it right, no matter how hard she tries. He chuckles. She looks away.
As they walk to the mall’s exit, she tells him somebody’s blue panties came out of her building’s tap this morning. It didn’t look old at all and its petite bows were intact and wasn’t that the funniest thing? He asks how her neighbours took it. She tells him a guy saw it first, and that he just threw it into the waste bin and carried his water inside. But this middle-aged religious woman on the first floor −you know, the kind that every building has?
She picked it up with a stick and left it to dry in the sun and burnt it in the middle of the yard. He bursts into laughter, and she stops and looks into his eyes, tiny behind the huge glasses with fuchsia frames. She tells him he was wrong though and he moves so that a Caucasian in a straw hat can walk past and says what about?
This is a short story, she says. However else can you explain it, the vagueness of characters, the narrative that leads nowhere, the randomness of components like they’re merely items in folded paper that a creatively blocked writer capriciously picked as she listened to the rap version of Habanera? Toyin, Danladi, why are they here, even? How do you explain the expectation of a big one-line reveal in the end, or worse yet, a pretentious, flat anti-reveal? And isn’t Caucasian racist since Negroid is? Wait, is Negroid racist? Isn’t everything racist?
He tells her she is overthinking things. He asks, do you want to hear something so personal there really is no reason I should tell you, so random it’s totally unnecessary?
She says of course.
He tells her about a bull that got loose in his neighbourhood two years ago and how its mad singleness of purpose as it raged through shops and barrelled into cars gave his twin brother the courage to tell their parents he was suicidal.
What did they say?
He kicks a soda can lying next to a waste bin and it rolls and stops at the gate’s base. They step outside and walk to the row of tricycles headed back to school. He gets into the foremost one and she follows. My mum asked him how they allowed him to get yellow frames because it was just ridiculous.
And your father? our girl Victor asks.
He said yes, Tochi, it really is ridiculous.