CHAPTER 16: COINCIDENCE
Let’s meet on a plain field
Where sunshine doesn’t ruin the feel
Let’s meet outdoors
Baring emotions outwards
Let’s meet for old times
Starting again not on borrowed times
Let’s meet with substance
Our wounds healed, our minds right
Let’s meet with a level head
Man and woman basking clear
Let’s meet and deliberate
And make dreams and then storms
Let’s meet in a surreal of new sightings
Together, we will wine, dine, live and die..
The trio walked into the living room from the corridor. The room, painted cream, smelt faintly of fresh lavender. The ceiling light cast a soothing reflection off the smooth walls. Their voices echoed in the empty space. The husband walked and knocked against the walls, listening to their solidness. The wife kept pointing to the different angles of the rooms, speculating, imagining and arranging make-believe furniture. The third man smiled, encouraging the couple to take their time.
“I like it quite alright. I really do.” The husband said as he turned to the man who was their guide. He looked up at him, for he was a head shorter. The husband knew the guide must be well off, a first rate sales man. Judging by the jet-black suit and the crisp sky blue shirt, with the Police shades tucked in the suit breast pocket. He had a knack for dealing only with people of a certain standard. The husband had noticed the shining black shoes and matching belt and cuff links. He had even let the man palm his wife’s lower back.
“Are you sure of this Mr. Jackson? My husband and I very much like this but we need to be certain.”
Jide Jackson smiled his best I-want-the-best-for-you smile, took the lady’s hand in his, held on for some moments and then linked it with her husbands. Taking a deep breath, he looked round the large parlour speaking with staged low volume as he turned. “I agree. This might very well be an overkill. It is spacious, has loads of potential for beauty homemaking, has a view of the estates outside the walls, but the price, the price is non-negotiable – especially in this Buhari regime, if you catch my drift. I assured you I’ll get you a tailor-made best. This is it. I’m afraid I can’t serve you anymore. The reason is simply that none of the other available houses is at par with this. For the rest, the price might be within your stated budget, but the ambience wouldn’t be within my stated best. Well,” he clapped his hands together wrenching his clients from the dream state his voice had created, “I’ll call the agency and tell them the house is still on the market. I’ll try talking them into price reduction, but like I said, there’s a lot of salary to be paid so that talk might not prove positive for me and…”
“We’ll take it.” The husband said. His eyes riveted on his wife as he raised her hand to his lips. He looked at JJ and with a resolute nod, he laughed. “We will take it Mr. Jackson.”
JJ beamed, this time a your-baby-is-the-cutest-ever smile. “I’m certain you’ve set the tone for a blessed family. Now if you will accompany me this way, let’s go sign the papers.”
“You did it, didn’t you?” Emeka asked
“I can’t hear you. You are sounding muffled.” JJ replied into the mouthpiece.
“Sorry jare. I was trying to set one lens like that. Can you imagine this client telling me she wants nudes and semi-nudes. This people are not fearing God oo JJ. Anyway, you did that thing where you take the wife’s hand and place in her husbands didn’t you?”
“Flee from all Karashikas my man. Yes oo. You of all people should know I’m a master at setting up dates.”
“Abegi. Dates that don’t work. That’s how you made me waste my best poem. I’ve told you my inspiration dried up that day. Go and buy me some inspiration that you owe me.”
“With the new $350,000 in my account right? Good stuff.”
“So remember the tithe that…”
“Sorry Emeka, I’m getting another call from an unknown number. Let me call you back in a bit.”
JJ cut Emeka’s call and picked the next. “Hello?”
“This is Jide Jackson. Who might I be speaking with?”
“Ah ahn, JJ you don’t have my number?”
“I’m sorry I don’t. Who’s this?”
“It’s me na. Gbemi.”
“How come you are calling with another number?”
“Because you won’t pick my calls. So I tried another tactics. I just want to talk that’s all. I’m not asking for anything more.”
“First, you always call me while I’m at work. Second, you call too often. Third Gbemi, you are always asking for something more, which I don’t have to give. I won’t compromise my standards Gbemi.”
“So I’m a compromise of standards now ehn.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. What…”
“Please please please it have do. Five years ago you couldn’t wait to chuk me. Now that you are born again we won’t hear word. Will you be the first Christian to have sex with a woman? Abi are you holier than Jesus?”
“Hence…my not picking your calls.”
“Go to hell JJ.”
JJ tossed the keys on the centre table. He flopped into a settee and sagged. He stretched his feet on the table and pushed the POWER button on the TV remote. His house was as immaculate as he had left it. The fluffed throw pillows felt spineless like a baby’s backside. The petite dining table had a tray with teacups turned upside down, coffee, jugs of water and milk and some unopened biscuits. His fridge hummed, appreciably filled with wine, drinks and sachet soup.
His company was doing fine. It was tough as a real estate agency, especially against the Omo Oniles but JJ had always had a way with ruffians. A past gangster himself, he spoke their language. He had sold them the value proposition of doing business with him – more highbrow clients, faster sale of land and apartment buildings, tax reduction due to quota in economy building etc. His company was growing well.
Barely three years old and they had more closed deals than most of the established agencies in five years combined. His team were some of the most vibrant individuals he had worked with. They knew how to value land, pick appropriate contractors, and supervise building projects and so many other initiative-driven activities.
“Thank you Lord.” JJ said aloud. It was five years from when he had given his life to Christ before Big Pa and Sweet Ma. Five years of growing in God and he knew he knew nothing about God yet. He enjoyed all his moments and years in Him. A newness was upon him. He no longer walked about with a dead weight upon his shoulders. One or two of his former cronies had seen the visible changes in him and have followed suit.
Only one thing lingered on his mind, solace not forthcoming. Leah Abba. The last time he laid eyes on her was on that fateful night, when she told him of her mum. Dr Sulo’s last words something rang in his dreams, other things at odd hours of the day.
“By the way JJ, she doesn’t want to see you – you are the reason she is in there, she says.”
Emeka said The Clinic discharged her right after JJ was expelled. Now, she could be anywhere in the world. JJ knew he would never see her again.
It made his heart hurt.
The incessant ringing of his phone jolted him awake. He looked at his surroundings. He had slept off on the settee, reminiscing about the past. JJ looked at Caller ID: Emeks.
“Since the days of camp you’ve being irritably great at disturbing my sleep.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” Emeka rolled on, “and why might I ask O Mighty Sleeper, are you sleeping?”
“It’s something we humans do when we are tired. Tried it before?”
“You’ve forgotten haven’t you?” He ploughed on when JJ did not reply. “This night’s is FTL Concert.”
“No way.” JJ jerked from his slouched position. “Faith Truth Love? I’m about to miss it because of sleep?”
“You can thank me later. I’ll drive over. Be ready in 15 minutes.”
“I need only 5.”
The concert was at Tafewa Balewa Square. By the time JJ and Emeka arrived, the arena was full. The music was so loud, some worshippers decided to camp at the gate, without joining the multitude looking for seats inside the arena. The floodlights illuminated the sea of heads all wearing coloured headbands. They had received headbands at the point of entry into the arena. JJ had his lemon coloured headband while Emeka wore his bright orange. Several drones flew overhead with video camcorders affixed to the bodies, feeds sent directly to giant screens all over the place. TBS could take close to half a million people, but from the camera feeds, TBS seemed to have exceeded capacity.
“This is amazing Emeks. This number of people gathered for prayer and worship?”
“It truly is. Nigeria is great. We need to find ourselves a seat JJ.”
“Let’s go up. See Aisle J has some empty seats.”
“But man, I need to pee. Where’s the bathroom?”
“See JAMB question. Am I the one that installed the bathroom for them? Go and look for it na. I’ll keep seat for you.”
JJ wadded through the horde, frantic for the loo. He saw every other kiosk except the mobile toilet. The food kiosks had women who strongly suggested to passers-by that their wares were best amongst the picks. JJ noticed a kiosk selling music CDs. He would have chuckled at the irony but for the fear of wetting himself. He, finally, spotted the toilet a little way off. Murmuring bitterly, JJ stood behind the last man on the rather long queue. The man thought to strike a comradery conversation but JJ gave him cold shoulders. His entire focus was ensuring he kept the pee at bay.
Many seconds later JJ sauntered out, relief etched over his face. He walked towards Pillar C, his makeshift landmark for making his way back. Emeka was gyrating at a far distance, farther than Aisle J. Why would he go for those seats? JJ was about to climb the first step when he saw something that made him stop.
He saw Leah Abba.
JJ blinked and she was gone. Shaking his head, he reminded himself not to be childish. He had taken two more steps when the thought came to him, what if she was the one you saw. JJ spun, weaved, and ducked as he chased after the woman he had seen. Or thought he had seen. The flux pressed around him, making his pursuit impossible. JJ stretched, bumped and said more sorrys in moments than in his entire lifetime. After a few more hits, he resigned. He had lost Leah once. Losing an apparition was not surprising.
Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you may call me
The crowd echoed the words of the song with fervour and spirit. The stage was a mammoth platform with stacked speakers and blinding lights. The artists were like grasshoppers on it. Yet the collective power swept across the arena like a whirlwind in a room.
JJ and Emeka raised their hands, each man lost in his sonorous acclaim. They had spent the last hours screaming and dancing. Their voices were parched and dry, lungs burned with hot energy. JJ opened his eyes for a moment and saw her again. His apparition. Leah’s apparition.
This time, JJ moved.
He caught her right before she turned the pillar and stepped into another group of worshippers. He caught her right before she walked into the black of the night, aware from him, a third time. Leah Abba turned when his hand grabbed hers, stunned, her face registering mild anger. When she saw him, her scream was louder than the instruments at the far stage.
“I forgive you for running away JJ.” Leah said. They had left TBS for the quieter streets. Now, they sat, shoulder to shoulder against a streetlight, insects buzzing round them. Leah was sporting a Harlem tee shirt on shredded jeans. Her hair was red and she had several rings on her fingers.
“It was more than you think.”
They sat in silence, letting memories and wishes fill the space between them. JJ twiddled his thumbs, anxious to say something appropriate. Leah broke the silence.
“You seem to have lost some of your wits.”
“You seem to have gained some more charm.”
“JJ…” Her phone rang. Leah frowned and looked at the screen. ‘Where are you?’ She sighed and pocketed the phone. “What?”
“I have to fight off another Ter?”
“Listen. Let’s talk about five years ago.”
“Let’s not. I’ve moved on.”
“So have I. And that’s why we can talk about it.”
“What’s there to talk about JJ? I tell you I’m screwing my mum and you bail out next day, no scratch that; same night. What exactly in this summary do you want to talk about.”
“Great. The man gets his wit back.”
“You know how your best friend or best friend’s dad dies and you are blaming God for it because when she was sick you prayed hard for healing?”
“Great. The man gets his holy on.”
“Yeah, I’m with you.”
“Even while you blame God, you know in your…heart…that there’s more to it than meets the eye.”
“I’m…” An unbidden smile played on Leah’s lips, “OK I’ll grant you this JJ. I think there’s more. But I don’t think there’s a point now.”
“Leah,” JJ took her hands in his, “I was on a self-centred quest. I was selfish, self-indulgent, and too self-conscious. Right around that period I got a letter from a source stating that a long arch enemy of mine was in town and it was the perfect time to exact revenge. I initially held off not going because of you Leah. We had something beautiful brewing and I wanted that. But my demons wouldn’t let me be great. My belief then was that killing the man would grant me some sort of redemption. I was wrong. Only Jesus can and only Jesus has. I was fragile, a push away from breaking. Every night I saw death. My parents’, the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, everyone I had somewhat killed. I was straining under the heavy weight.
Then I had a row with Emeka. No, not as flippant as I made it sound to you that night. I…I hit him in a humiliating manner and he spoke from his heart and flipped me inside out. I felt weak, like a failure. And then you Leah. You confide in me, something that big, hoping that I would bring you solace, comfort or respite. The weight of it all. I couldn’t bear it. I bailed out.”
Leah was quiet for several minutes. She swatted at an insect, smearing its shattered body against her jeans. She stared at the stain for a while.
“When you left, I felt alone. I snapped. Dr Sulo told me I would chant your name in my dream sometimes.”
“She tell you I was expelled?”
“Expelled? How’s that possible?”
JJ tilted his head to the side, pouting and blinking “I came back Leah. I came back for you.”
Leah burst into laughter, slapping her palms on her thighs. Her hair fell over her face as she doubled over. Her voice filled JJ’s ears with music of a different sort. His heart ached with desire as he watched her. He knew then that he would always hear that laughter. He would be the one to make her laugh. “No JJ.” She spurted amidst sucked breathes. “You were not to get any laughs or green lights from me. Why would you make me laugh this hard?”
“Heart Leah.” JJ said, his voice grave. “I don’t believe in coincidences. I lost you once already. I believe our steps have jointly being ordered by God. I saw you twice tonight Leah. Twice. I’m not losing you again. Many disparate elements came together to make what happened five years ago disastrous. But we have the rest of our lives to deal with that hurt.”
“Dude, that sounded so much like a proposal of sorts.”
“Are you married Leah?”
“Do you have a boy…never mind that.”
Leah hesitated, “Why?”
JJ smiled, more serious in this moment than ever in his lifetime. “It doesn’t matter.”