“Stay, he said.
I looked down at Josh who had taken hold of my left hand and was regarding me with puppy eyes; the look in his eyes is all the convincing I needed. There was something about his eyes that made me want to drown in them; his irises were unusually large and dark and made me feel like he could see into my soul. He had the type of ears I like to refer to as ‘butterfly ears’; ears I would tease people about suddenly looked attractive to me. He had pink lips and I started imagining what it would feel like to kiss them.”
My friends Tsola and Ayo had invited me to a dinner party they were having for their third wedding anniversary. I arrived at the venue, RSVP Restaurant, in Victoria Island at about 6 P.M on a Friday evening, in my new Maki Oh shift dress and a pair of white sandals. My make-up and hair were on fleek. I had taken time to dress especially beautifully for the occasion, and so I was quite disappointed when I showed up and nobody else had arrived. I tried calling Tsola but her number was switched off. I sat alone at the table reserved in Ayo’s name for about fifteen minutes, sipping a cocktail, scrolling through my Instagram feed, and leaving angry texts for Tsola on iMessage.
Finally, another guest showed up, a tall lean man who looked like he was in his early thirties. He had on a black jacket with red patterns printed on it which I immediately recognized from the Orange Culture 2014/2015 spring/summer collection, and a well-fitted pair of dark blue jeans. He asked if I was for Tsola and Ayo’s dinner, and then introduced himself as Josh, a friend of Ayo’s. I shook his hand, my palms cold and sweaty; his, soft and warm.
“I’m Nancy, but you can call me Nay, everyone calls me that.”
“Nay, that’s a nice name. I’m actually Joshua but I hate when people call me that.”
I laughed. “Yep, that’s what I’m gonna call you.”
He laughed as well, and said, “Don’t you dare.”
Just then his phone rang, and he excused himself and walked outside to receive the call. I sat there alone, feeling self-conscious. When after about five minutes he hadn’t returned, I started to get annoyed then I remembered I wasn’t on a date and chided myself. At that moment, he returned with an uncomfortable look on his face and sat down.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, “Where’s everybody?”
“So I just got off the phone with Ayo and …” His sentence trailed off as he laughed awkwardly.
“And what?” I asked impatiently, a hint of annoyance in my voice.
“They aren’t coming” he said, “Well apparently they set us up on a date.”
“Fucking hell,” I muttered under my breath, and picked up my phone. “I’ve warned Tsola against these her foolish pranks.” I sighed and dropped my phone, looked up and caught Josh staring at me with an amused look on his face.
I covered my face with my hands for a few seconds, careful not to ruin my makeup, “This is so embarrassing.” Standing up, I picked up my purse and said, “I’m just going to go home now.”
It was in this moment that Josh looked up at me with a pleading expression on his face, took my left hand in his, and said, “Stay.”
I sat down.
“Listen … I really do not want to be on a date right now, nothing personal,” I said.
“Of course,” he replied quickly, “It’s not a date; it’s just hanging out here, together.”
I sighed, and mouthed a silent “Okay”
“Sooooo …,” I said, looking around the room and then back at him.
We spent the next two hours talking endlessly over a delicious three-course meal like old friends, making jokes, laughing and teasing. Before ordering each course, we analyzed the menu together and joked about our opposite preferences in food. We both had seafood for our mains, our love for seafood being one of the things we found we had in common. While we waited for our dessert, our light conversation drifted across personal boundaries. I found myself telling him about my fear of commitment and how I avoided dates and relationships.
He laughed and then said quietly, “Aha. I see why you were set up on a date then.”
I smiled, “Yeah … So what’s your story? Why were you set up?”
He laughed, “I’ve been single for about three years now,” he gave me a mock glare when I started laughing. “Don’t laugh at me, Miss Commitment–phobia.”
“No vex!” I said playfully, “Go on.”
“Well I’ve been third-wheeling them a lot recently and I guess they’re sick of me.” He said this clutching his chest playfully.
I burst into a fit of laughter at this point, picturing him tagging along with Tsola and Ayo to the cinemas, shopping malls and even dinner dates. Just then our dessert, “Chocolate tart a la mode” which is basically chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream topping, arrived and we dug into its creamy rich deliciousness.
We finished the dessert, sorted and split the bill, and headed outside to the parking lot.
As we stepped out of the restaurant, a gust of cool air hit my face. I looked at my watch and it was quarter-to-nine, I hadn’t realized so much time had passed. “Could you walk me outside to take a taxi? I didn’t bring my car.”
“Where do you live?”
“Gbagada,” I said slowly, aware of what was coming next.
“Whaaat? You can’t start heading there right now unless you want to sleep in traffic.”
“I know,” I sighed, “You know what, I’ll just go to Tsola’s house, and I’ll find my way from there. I need to spank her anyway.”
“Good idea. Come on,” he said, beckoning to where his car was parked, “I’ll drop you off.”
“Aww, nice guy,” I said jokingly as we got into his car.
“At your service ma’am,” he said with a mock bow and we both laughed.
As he drove out, he turned on the car radio and Coldplay’s Magic came on. We both started singing along as he sped into the night. When the song ended, I turned off the radio, adjusted myself in the seat to face him, and said, “I had a really nice time tonight, Joshua.”
“Me too,” he said, smiling. “A nice not-a-date.”
I laughed lightly, “Yeah it wasn’t a date.” I felt a tinge of disappointment. I mean, of course I hadn’t wanted to be on a date but I’d hoped he’d say it was one anyway. Silly. I quietly chided myself.
I continued watching him as he drove, studying his side profile, the little mole by his right ear, the way he absently wet his lips by licking them, the way he frequently stole quick glances at me and smiled, his light grip on the steering wheel …
“What is your biggest fear?” I suddenly asked him.
Without missing a heartbeat he replied, “Failure.”
“Yeah. See, I’m the only son of my parents you know, and there’s just so much pressure from them, my sisters, and even my relatives to succeed and be extraordinary and special and great.”
“And?” I urged him on.
“It just makes me so afraid of disappointing them. What if I wasn’t born to be great? What if I was born to be an average man living a quiet average life? What if I want to be normal?”
He sighed and a thick silence descended upon us, the kind an elaborate writer would describe as being pregnant with words, or being deafening. When I asked the question, I had expected him to talk about heights or snakes; I hadn’t expected him to actually tell me his biggest fear. I had a sudden urge to touch his hair and I did; I reached across and just touched his hair tenderly, and never before had a moment been so perfect.
“Let’s go to your place,” I said quietly.
He started to say something, an objection, an agreement, a suggestion, I have no idea, but he didn’t, instead he nodded, and changed routes.
We made love that night, like old lovers reunited. Our bodies moved together in perfect harmony, with so much intimacy, so much familiarity, just like in the Harlequin novels I had read as a teenager. There was no urgency, we didn’t rush it. We took our clothes off; hardly talking, just smiling and looking at each other as we got into his bed and under his covers. We made love like we had all the time in the world. The night was perfect, complete with awkward moments; one time I hit my elbow on the headboard and had to take a moment to process the pain. Even such moments were perfect. Josh slept off before I did, and snored lightly, and for the first time, I didn’t mind sleeping beside a snoring person.
When morning crept in through the slits in the window blinds, I felt my heart drop into my stomach. I was naked in Josh’s bed and he was fast asleep beside me, his left leg sprawled carelessly across my body. I carefully moved his leg, not wanting to rouse him, and got up quietly. I started picking up my clothes and underwear strewn around the room, intending to dress up and leave without waking him. I didn’t want him to wake and think that we needed to have the “Last night didn’t mean anything” talk. For some reason, most guys think it necessary after an apparent one-night stand.
I heard Josh stir just as I was struggling to put on my sandals and I froze. I turned around carefully, looking everywhere but at him. He was lying down sideways with his palm supporting his cheek. I could feel him studying me with a slight smirk on his face.
“What are you doing?” He asked when I finally met his gaze.
“I’m … going home,” I said slowly.
He studied me for a moment, a glimpse of confusion in his eyes. He finally smiled, patted the empty side of the bed beside him where I had gotten up from, and said, “Stay.”