CHAPTER 6: LEMONS & LEMONADES
All promises were made
Not all were kept
Some we remembered,
Some we deliberately dismembered
All promises are strong
Like bonds on bonds
Yet all we break.
For reasons, mostly our sakes
JJ was ill besotted at life. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonades. He swore at the originator of that statement. The sun was in its dying state and JJ eyed it. It looked in control as if it were aware what the next day held. The sun was content with where it was and what it had. The morning belonged to it and not the night. That was perfect for its portfolio. Such power. JJ recognised power as contentment with one’s portfolio. The poor man, he figured, was only as powerful as his contentment. As the rich man. As he, JJ. Right now, Jide Jackson was powerless. He basked in the sombre rays, sifting thoughts, waiting for the right one to latch on. His wandering mind settled on General Habhu. The man, once again, proved elusive. JJ’s face squeezed in disgust. His contact in Kaduna made sure to arrange the meet-and-pick with the General’s aide. It should have been easy slipping in the bomb. But the fat man used his god-like paranoid antennas to sniff out the danger and fly out of the country.
Kill the General while in a camp for crazy people. His alibi was foolproof.
A butterfly fluttered by, eager to find haven before dark. It landed on a blade of glass and surveyed the lay. The butterfly complemented the sun, red as burning coal, free as blowing wind. JJ scowled. This place was to mark the beginning of freedom. Albeit, pseudo. His life had always been one big confluence of lies. His parents lying they would come back but dying in a car crash. The doctor lying he and repressed amnesia and could not remember the event -meanwhile he saw it and dreamt of it every night – which was why he rode a power bike. Big Da and Sweet Ma lying to be his biological parents, despite the fact the glaring truth was smack in all their faces. The first gang he joined lying he was an ideal leader because Labake lied he was the leader of the group of rapists. JJ scrunched his face as Labake’s face and voice came to mind. He never liked her. Her nickname was C-Bucket back then. It was a surprise to all students that she could claim rape. The parents, however, did not take likely to torn panties, dried semen, and bruised face. JJ made a point never to interfere with domestic affairs again.
Now though, his task was to come up with a plan for Emeka to secure a date with Leah. Why? The disciplinary committee hearing was a nasty piece of business. JJ wondered why he even bothered his mind with it. He did not fancy Ter. Leah annoyed him with her goody-two shoes persona. Emeka clung to him closer than wet clothes. He should not care much for this bunch. Yet JJ found himself drawn to the drama. Was it because he wanted to see Ter cry? Or Emeka happy? Or Leah…he wasn’t sure what it was about Leah pulled him in. True she was exuberant and matched him in wits and looked pretty under the right light – which shone all the time – and had a pleasant enough personality and was sexy the way she twirled her thumbs when in doubt…but still…
His eyes followed the rise of the butterfly as it flew towards the almost set sun. It fluttered its wings as if to make up for lost time. As it grew tiny in the distance, JJ closed his moistened eyes. What was wrong with him? Did the General’s death hold so much grip on his heart? He was shattered when he realised the man who used him to murder innocents for so long was gone from his grasp. Forever. For a long time now, JJ sort redemption. Ever since he found out his smuggled weapons supported terrorism, rather than fought against it. JJ wept for days on end. His sins combined were red as scarlet. Then steel coalesced on his heart and he decided his two-faced contact – the General – must die. Killing him ought to dose the pains and nightmares; maybe even rid him of some of his atrocities, making him white as soya milk, or at least as grey as a cloudy day. JJ’s plans were without holes, yet they all failed, and the General roamed free, taking with him JJ’s last chance at redemption.
He pretended not to hear his name. Then he remembered Emeka’s fondness with kicking.
“Where have you been?” Emeka asked as he sat beside JJ. He wore light blue jeans but was oblivious to the dirt on the field.
“You are like the connoisseur of rhetoric, ain’t you?”
Leah might have understood the jab. JJ scolded himself for the thought. He sat bolt upright as if a spider had crawled up his nether regions.
“OK. Time for action right?” His pitch high, earning a raised eyebrow from Emeka.
“Yes, but before that,” Emeka swivelled on the dirt and faced JJ. JJ could make out his wide grin in the semi darkness. His eyes shone with excitement and he sucked in air, like one preparing for a sprint, “you should have been there for Faith Time. It was…I mean I’ve been to church a couple of times with my folks but it was nothing like this. We discussed, we argued, and there was only one facilitator with us who knew what’s up. Like he let us ramble, and then he brought all our different points together, and formulated the answer. So at the end, there was no stupid and wrong question but there was the answer.”
“Really? No stupid question and you say you participated?”
“Gerrahere jor. But for real. You should have seen Leah. She’s not like the expert yeah but you can almost taste her hunger for answers and stuff.”
“That’s tasting sounds sexual Emeks.” JJ said, swatting a buzzing mosquito from his arm.
“We talked about sin and forgiveness and…”
“Really?” JJ interrupted. “What exactly did y’all discuss about forgiveness and sinning?”
“I think the faith lingo is sin not sinning JJ. Well, Jesus died for our sins and washed them away. So that we don’t need to bear the guilt anymore. One scripture was quoted that said we should lay down our burden at his feet.” Emeka replied
“This Jesus concept has always seemed so abstract. Like how would I lay down my burden at his feet? I like practicality and not abstract speaking. I would rather am told how to lay down whatever is troubling me from an application point of view. Don’t just tell me to do it. Freaking tell me how. That’s being my major ish with church. Loads of these preacher dudes tell you what’s up in an abstract form.” JJ made a heavy sigh. “Anyway, I didn’t think you came all the way to preach to me. You are hardly saintly yourself, chasing after a woman’s pants.”
“JJ I swear I’ll spit in your eye if you insinuate again that I’m trying to screw Leah.” Emeka said, balling his fists on the grass.
“Are you saying, for the records that in this romance thing if Leah drops her pants for you you’ll run away?”
“I’m not…I won’t…JJ please can you just focus on the task at hand?”
JJ smirked and dipped his head. Now though, there was a solid reason why he did not want Emeka and Leah together. Leah was not in Emeka’s league. JJ knew he would never say that aloud.
“So we’d be clear though,” JJ added, “this won’t be some candle light stars freckled table for two romantic date. Let’s be clear on that. First, this camp will fry your ass, second I don’t do mushy. We clear?”
Emeka nodded. Then swallowed. “Does this plan have what I will say to her during the date?”
JJ’s mien told the answer.
“For one, we get to rejoice over Ter’s misfortune. I for one will enjoy that. He will watch you dance close to his darling and not be able to stop you. Except maybe to threaten you in quiet corners.”
“Yeah. Ter. Gone. Got it. Threaten my life. Got it. So O Wise One, what’s the plan?” Emeka asked.
JJ gave a Cruella worthy grin like a man who held a world-shattering secret.
JJ waited at the bend of the lecture room building. Men like Emeka had no clue what it took to get girls. They called it mere luck, or charisma. They worshipped such women-getting men, exalting them and reducing their own self-image. As a result, an Emeka assumed a Jide had more chance than he at securing a date with a Leah. JJ smiled -Emeka was damn right. JJ had honed the fine art of sultry and Pandora box opening over the years. It was a needed skill as the 16 Buff Gang Leader, Head of all factions across the compliant schools. His power of persuasion was legendary; it brokered repeated booty calls with some of the most illustrious sirens. He remembered Tunrayo, the vixen who moved from the States into the neighbourhood next to his, for a two-week vacation. Bullied into action by demands from his peers, JJ swept into her life. He manipulated his way in during the first week and by the next week penned her into his choked booty timetable. JJ was a master at seduction.
Yet, his palms kept clamming.
He saw Leah walking out of the building and towards him as predicted. The wind blew at her dress and she flung used one arm to keep it from showing her business. The green field provided a lovely backdrop to her butter coloured mono strap flower dress. It was fitting, showing off her flat tummy and trimmed arms. Against the girl by her side, she was like the moon to the stars. Although, the companion was as bright as Leah was. JJ frowned; he was not expecting company. Once he fixated on her, he recognized her as Mamita. Mamita? When did she get close to Leah? He had avoided her the past few days. Although, their escapade the first night was hardly a mistake – he would call any subsequent frolicking a terrible step. As the duo came into view, Leah marched ahead, furious.
“Were you lurking?” Her grip tightened on the bag straps, her knuckles pale with anger. “Please tell me you were.”
“Oh Leah,” Mamita sang as they caught up, “this is JJ. You know him right? Of course you do.” When Leah did not respond, she continued. “Remember when we played hottest guy on camp and we were to write on a sheet of paper our top three countdown? You and I wrote…”
“Thank you Mamita for the detailed reminder.” Leah snapped.
JJ fought to hold back his smile. So Leah fancied him.
Imagine that. He shook himself. Emeka was the focus.
“I need to speak with you Leah.” JJ ventured.
“You need to speak with me my ass.”
“Mamita,” JJ arched to address Mamita, standing closer to him than Leah, “could you excuse us for a full minute?” He took extra time to wink at her.
“No she will not excuse us for…” Leah began.
“OK.” Mamita spun and moved away.
JJ watched her while Leah glared at him. Mamita glanced back more than once, confusion etched on her face. JJ decided he owed her. He turned to Leah and flinched.
“Begone Satan. Bring Leah back. What’s with this devilish look?” JJ asked
“Do you have any idea whatsoever what would happen if people find out that I’m standing with another…you here discussing alone?” Leah fumed.
“People would assume you and I are an item same way you and Ter were? Are? That means they would label you as a…” He paused. Leah’s look dared him to finish. “Very social person.”
“What do you want JJ?”
JJ bowed his head like a gentleman at a ball, embarrassed at his next request. His downcast eyes wandered to Leah’s open toes in her flats. They lingered on her calves, tracing each length, each contour. They travelled upwards, savouring the scenery, her legs, the helm of her skirt just at her knees…JJ raised his head sharply like a wary deer, staring straight into her amused eyes.
“What do you want JJ?” This time her voice toned down.
“Here’s the thing,” JJ slurred. It was clear he would be picking his words. “My personal counsellor is real strict and harsh. And I’m not just into what is being taught because it’s a load of wool. But I have this assignment to do which if I don’t, then no lunch for me…you know the drill.”
He hesitated and Leah nodded to fill the silence.
“The assignment is to do this piece of poetry that would reflect my thoughts on women.” He blurted it out as fast as he could causing Leah to burst into laughter. She caught herself and stopped.
“So what do you need me for JJ? I don’t think you are appreciating my time here.”
A shadow crossed JJ’s eyes, but he kept his calm. “I can’t do poetry to save my life.”
“And I can?”
“I hear you are the best in this camp.”
“Says who? Who did a competition and won?”
“Leah,” JJ looked her dead in the eyes. He parted his lip a tad bit and his nose flared. He did not blink, holding her gaze. He took a step forward, one she did not notice. The air cackled in the distance between them. Her ragged breath crossed the distance to him and she curved her head to maintain the gaze. “I am sorry. I didn’t know there were guys awake. It’s not in my code to interfere with other people’s business. I don’t know what you and Ter had going on and frankly I don’t care but I am sorry it had to end the way it did, starting from what I did. I am sorry Leah Abba.”
JJ surprised himself by his own sincerity. Sure he meant to apologize but not with so much…candour.
“Well,” Leah began, her voice softer than before, “I’m not expert at poetry but I might be able to help here and there.”
“You are sure about this?”
Leah smiled and gave a small nod.
“OK. Should we meet at say the room behind the Money Booth after activities tomorrow? 8PM?”
Leah seemed to consider it for a while.
“OK. I’m coming along with Emeka.”
“Why?” Leah said, her eyebrows rising. “Are you scared you would do something to me if we are all alone? In the dark?”
Flirting? Leah Abba just flirted with me? JJ matched her smirk, winked, turned and swaggered off. Sometimes silence was golden.
“What are you planning?” Ter asked. His cheeks puffed, rage danced round his eyes. He closed the distance between himself and JJ. One more step and their bodies might touch.
“Let me see,” JJ began, counting off his fingers, “survive this camp, start my own coy, make stupid money, oh and get laid soon in this camp.”
“You dirty bastard.” Ter spat.
“Sex is dirty? Sex between two willing parties is dirty? Who are you? Virgin Terry?”
Ter took a threatening step forward, to which JJ retreated. “Listen pretty boy. If you so much as hurt the air around Leah. I will make your life a living hell. You got that?”
“And how do you intend to do that dear unwanted bodyguard? If I hurt her, that is.” JJ asked. His voice was thick with emotion. He tolerated Ter’s blocking his way as he went to inform Emeka of his progress and the set up date. He allowed Ter puff in front of him like a wounded hippopotamus. But no one, Ter especially, threatened him. To each it’s price.
“You just try and see. And you’ll understand that to everyone there’s more than meets the eye.”
“I’ll advise you listen closely to your advice.” This time JJ’s voice was as low as the growl of a suspicious mongrel. He looked straight into Ter’s eyes as if he could make out his soul. JJ half-hoped Ter would hit him. But every gang leader worth his salt knew private beating was never worth it. People distort the stories. The first to tell the tale always gained the crowd sympathy. Public humiliation however, always got the job done.
JJ watched Ter leave in a huff. JJ pocketed his hands and made his way to the hostel, philosophizing on how pissed off at life he was.