For Want of a Child V – Seun Odukoya

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“You’re unusually close-mouthed for a guy,” Idowu said.
The restaurant they were in was nice – and quite quiet for that time of day. Frank nursed the bottle of water on his table and stared at the woman sitting opposite. He couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t feeling more irritated than he was.
“There’s nothing quiet about you – typically,” he retorted and almost raised his hand to slap himself. “That was unnecessary,” he continued. “I’m sorry.”
Idowu waved his apology away, smiling graciously. “It’s okay – I understand. It would be nice to hear some voice other than mine though.”
Frank took a swallow of his water. “I’m not an interesting person – I like work and sleep and food.” He paused. “I only recently started smoking again.”
She squeezed her nose at him, looking quite young all suddenly. “How come you don’t smell – like most of them do?”
Frank made a rattling sound that was supposed to be laughter. “You hang around smokers abi?”
Idowu nodded. “1 – 1.”
Their laughter was soft and careful – if jovial. Frank kept catching himself staring at her chest, and looked away every time their eyes met. He didn’t mind her company – it wasn’t like he was getting anything done at work in the first place. But he was feeling awkward around her and it wasn’t his fault.
He hadn’t done this in a while.
“I haven’t done this in a while,” Frank said. “I don’t know how it works anymore.”
“It’s simple. You talk, I listen – I talk, you listen. It’s basically a ‘getting-to-know-you’ kind of exercise.”
“Hmmm,” Frank said. “Okay. Why do you want to marry me?”
Idowu coughed into the glass of juice she was just drinking from, hastily putting it down as she started to choke. Frank looked on, horrified as she continued to cough and beat on her chest, attracting the stares of other customers at the restaurant. A serving girl bustled over, opened the bottle of water she was carrying and shoved it in Idowu’s hands.
“Here ma – drink a little.”
Idowu nodded, weave bobbing as she took small sips of the water. Slowly, her coughing subsided – and then stopped – but her chest continued heaving.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and then she raised her face slowly to look at Frank. “Nice question. That would make it 2 – 1, abi?”
Frank hesitated, but when he saw she was smiling he smiled back. “I cannot allow you to be shinning off me like that na,” he joked – and then his tone became sober. “Are you okay?”
Idowu coughed softly before nodding. “Yes, thank you.” She pushed her hair back and smiled. “Really not the best impression for a first date, right?”
Frank looked blank. “Who said anything about a date?”
Idowu blushed. “3 – 1. Well done.”
Frank smiled, moving his bottle of water aimlessly over the table. He let his shoulders sag and he slumped into his chair. He was starting to enjoy himself – he was starting to enjoy the company.
“Do you have a car?”
“Sure,” Frank answered. “I drive a Corolla. Has some issues concerning the wheel shaft and so on – so it’s been at the mechanic’s for a while.”
“I understand.” She paused. “So – so I heard you recently got divorced.”
Frank sat up and frowned at her. “Yes I did. So?”
Idowu waved long, tapering fingers in front of his face. “Look, I’m not trying to fight you. Getting a sense of you however; is important. I’d like to know you before I decide if I just want to sleep with you or keep you.”
Frank sniggered, intrigued in spite of himself. “And I don’t have a say in the matter?”
She smiled at him. “How well do you know women, Mr. Frank?”

*********************************************************************************************

“…lot of pressure from both our families about her – our – childlessness. And honestly, I think somewhere along the line, we started to grow apart. I just didn’t see any reason to continue a lie so I …” Frank shrugged.
“I cannot imagine what that must feel like. Pele.” There was a pause – and then, “So what happens for you now? I mean, do you want a wife or do you want a child?”
Frank sat up – and then back down. He hadn’t really thought about it.
“I haven’t really thought about that – about moving on or what the next thing is supposed to be. It’s my first day back at work after so long, I’ve started smoking again after so long…” he shrugged. “I’m still missing my wife – a lot – so for now I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
“Work – that’s tailoring, right?”
Frank nodded.
“Can you actually sew – or you just own the business?”
“I’m an international tailor,” Frank remarked dryly.
Idowu chuckled. “Male or unisex?”
“Actually, I cannot sew male clothing to save my life.”
Idowu’s mouth dropped open. “You cannot be serious.”
Frank shrugged. “I thought guys were more sexist that women. Another stereotype, right?”
Idowu held up her hands in surrender. “I surely apologise. I find male hairdressers and guys who can make female clothes fascinating – I just have never met a male tailor who can only sew female clothes.”
“That should help you remember me,” Frank said.
“Oh, I don’t think I need any help with that!”

*********************************************************************************************

“Oh – I promise. I will call you.”
“You better.”
Frank froze as Idowu leaned towards him – and then he relaxed as she kissed his cheek softly. “What did you think I was going to do?” She asked as she leaned away.
He shrugged. “I try not to think that far.”
Idowu laughed – and then shivered. “The weather’s changed.”
“Yes it has,” Frank answered, and then stepped off the restaurant’s sidewalk and towards Idowu’s CRV. “Unpredictable as always.”
She opened the door and got in. “I meant what I said about you calling,” she warned.
He nodded. “I know – and I meant what I said about promising to call.”
“Okay.” She waved and drove off.

*********************************************************************************************

“But Afo, you said my car would be ready yesterday. I didn’t even call you then – so that it wouldn’t be as though I was disturbing you. And now it’s still not ready?!”
Calm down, Frank told himself, snapping his fingers to resist the itch for a cigarette as Afo his mechanic mumbled an explanation. Not having a car was becoming a pain, a bother – an inconvenience.
And he told the mechanic same.
“My not having a car is becoming a problem. There are only so many places I can take a taxi or jump on okada to now.”
He went quiet – and then said, “Okay, alright. We’ll see.” And hung up.
Poking his head around his office door, Frank called to James. “James!” he yelled.
And when the boy came scampering up he said, “Help me find a cab that can take me home.” He cocked his head sideways and then asked, “Anything happen while I was away?”
James nodded. “The Alhaja don come collect her clothes – and she don pay balance. Some new orders came too – mostly school uniforms and choir gowns. I thought you’d want to look at them tomorrow.”
Frank nodded. “That’s till tomorrow then. Please get me a cab.”
James nodded and ran off.

*********************************************************************************************

“Fola!”
There was no answer. His knuckles smarting, Frank lifted the front door carpet and took out the house key.
And then he opened the front door.
“Fola!” he yelled again, snapping on the hall light. The other parts of the house was in complete darkness – and the sitting room was silent; highly unusual if Fola was in the house. And his wife wouldn’t be back yet.
But what about the kids?
He left the hall light on and made his way towards his room upstairs, careful not to bump into anything. He was fiddling with his room key, trying to find the lock when it occurred to him that his phone had a flashlight.
Just then, the key slipped in and he opened the door. The room was cold in spite of the AC being off – so he threw on the light switch and shut the door. The AC stayed off.
He put his phone on the bedside table, and then his keys – and was reaching for his wallet when he remembered Efe’s invitation to dinner. Frank groaned loudly – but continued unloading his pockets.
I hope she doesn’t think I intentionally freed her o.
I just forgot.
He was removing his trousers when he heard the main door open. Hastily he slipped back into his pants and stepped into his bathroom slippers. And then he hustled out of the room, buttoning his shirt as he went.
“Fola!”
It was Stella yelling. As Frank got to the stairs he heard her say; “Oya go and sleep. I don’t have the strength to supervise you bath yourselves – so we’ll do that in the morning. Goodnight.”
He heard some mumbling of what he imagined to be ‘goodnight mummy,” but didn’t know for sure. He waited until the children’s rooms closed – and then he continued downstairs.
“Good evening, Stella.” Frank said to the woman who was stretching and yawning over the kitchen sink. She whirled around, and her frown deepened when she saw who it was.
“I thought you and Fola went out together – went out and forgot to go and pick my kids. Where is he?”
He couldn’t hide his surprise. “Forgot to pick the kids? Are you saying you’re just getting them from lesson?”
She didn’t answer him. “Where’s Fola?” she asked again.
“I – I haven’t seen him all day. I went to work!”
Stella looked at him – and then she exhaled, all the animosity leaving her body with a rush of air. “I’m sorry, Frank. It’s just – “ she sighed. “I don’t understand how he forgets the children in school!”
She shut off the running tap and wiped her hands. “So you’re not one of his drinking buddies?” she asked.
Frank turned away. “I don’t drink.” He stopped at the doorway, and then turned back towards the disgruntled wife. “Have you tried to call him? Something might be wrong – “
“There’s nothing wrong, Frank. Your friend my husband is just irresponsible. This isn’t the first time.”
Frank surprise was evident in his gait as he suddenly seemed to lose air like a deflated balloon. “Wait – what?”
Stella chuckled as she took a pure water sachet from the fridge. “He’s been coming home early since you got here because you stay at home most of the time and he didn’t want you to be alone. So he gets the kids and comes home to stay with you.” She cut the water sachet with her teeth and drank some; dentures gleaming like neon in the dark. “The moment you started work he returned to his old habits.” She looked at Frank. “You told him you were starting work today, abi?”
Frank nodded. “Ayuwa,” Stella said and snorted. “At least you aren’t as irresponsible as he is – or maybe your wife would say different.”
She trudged past him out of the kitchen, and as Frank looked on thunder rumbled in the distance.

Tomi Adesina

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