GHOSTS OF LOVE PAST

“Two hundred! How now?”

I shook my head at the woman behind the barbed net, looking at us like she was puzzled. I smiled, she did not know that I knew exactly how much it was supposed to be. I took a step backwards, then another. I tugged at my best friend’s arm. We are not buying from this kiosk.

“Babe let’s go.”

We walked up the street; threading carefully so we did not step into any of the rivulets of dark waters or puddles of green algae. The road had once been tarred, you can tell when you walk on it because every now and then dark tar peeks through the waters, litters, and sand. I looked to the sides of the narrow street; there were no drainages, there were also no household bins. There you go. Answer sought, problem solved… that smug, intelligent voice in my head.

A few metres away, we stopped at another kiosk. I peeped in, trying to determine if they would have what we sought. My best friend started to laugh.

“Babe, you just crazy. Ask them if they have and save us your eye-straining.”

I raised my right shoulder to my right cheek in defiance, not looking at her, my eyes stuck on the burantashi carefully hidden away from the eyes of all except the seeking ones. I wondered if anyone in the self-righteous street with five churches, two beside themselves, and three mosques patronised the shop for burantashi. I was wondering the contexts burantashi use could be condemned and justified when I heard:

“One-fifty.”

She must have asked him for it while I was busy thinking thoughts that were none of my business. I looked up then, straight into his eyes. He shifted uneasily. Aah! He knows I know he wants to cheat us. My best friend noted the silent exchange and nudged me. I faced her then, and we laughed. Together, we faced the man who was looking very uncomfortable. I would have asked him his last price but she spoke:

“He’s not worth looking at, there are many other kiosks up the street, and I feel like strolling.”

We walked a little further up the street before she asked me:

“How much do you think it should be?”

“No more than hundred naira. Up North I got it for thirty, so it should go for about fifty, adding transport. Let’s however imagine BH has caused a lot of shit, so maximum should be hundred.”

I looked at her then and she nodded, agreeing with my maths and perhaps the logic of it.

“In that case, let’s look for a Mallam. These other people probably buy from Mallams and would want to add their own profits plus play on the naïveté of people.”

I thought that was a good idea, so I nodded. We headed for the main road; she had said there was a Mallam with a stocked shop there. We met the closing-hour rush of people-needing-to-get-something-before-getting-home when we got to the mallam’s shop. Since we were in no hurry, we stood apart from the throng of people shouting “Mallam” and requesting different goods.

Some minutes later the crowd had thinned and I was about to go to make our own order when I saw him: tall, dark, and a little too handsome. Something tugged in my memory and I took my eyes off him. I didn’t want to remember.

I walked on to the front of the mallam’s peephole, where I noticed he was gathering his shop with the kind of incredulity you witness only in dreams. He crossed the road with his shop, so I tapped my bestfriend who had been looking in the other direction to show her what had happened. A trailer stopped us from crossing the road immediately and blocked our view for too long. By the time it was gone, the Mallam was out of our line of vision. We crossed the road, sure that we would find the Mallam despite the darkened sky. He couldn’t, afterall, have disappeared. He was, after all, a businessman. He had merely shifted his shop to get on the spacier side of the road, the one more conducive to night-sales.

“Where the fuck is he?”

It felt like minutes had gone by and I hadn’t located the Mallam. In truth, it couldn’t even have been up to a minute yet. I am just an impatient person who particularly hates looking for things I do not expect to have gone missing in the first place. That is usually worsened when the environment is dark, and I do not have my glasses on. Unfortunately, all these were ticked on the checklist that evening so I was working myself to a fine temper. Not making things any better, my best friend had strolled further up to the main road to find something else, so I was vexing all by myself.

“He might have settled somewhere in that row of shops”

I looked in the direction from which the voice had come. It was that tall dark too handsome fellow of earlier who made something jog in my memory. I looked quickly away and in the direction he was indicating. I could not even see any row of shops. All I could see was orange fires from kerosene lamps. I frowned; annoyed at my eyes, and at him for having better eyes. He walked on beside me, silent, till I almost tripped over something I had not seen. He pulled me against him, and caused a riot of voices in my head.

I like his touch. Lord, please he shouldn’t let go. Wait, he touches like… No, let’s not think about it. But I know this body. No. He cannot be… He isn’t… But his touch… No! No he isn’t. He doesn’t sound like….

Immersed in the voices in my head, trying hard to keep the ghost he conjured from surfacing, I did not realise we had not moved since he saved me from tripping.

“Where are your glasses?”

It was deep, hushed, gruff… like he was trying to keep emotions in.

“In the…”

My heart skipped a beat; then started to beat real fast. I could hear an eerie theme song in my head. You know, the type that starts playing and goose bumps pop on your skin because you know something bad is about to happen.

How does he know I wear glasses?

I stayed frozen, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I did not want to know what he was going to say next because I feared he might say something I didn’t want to hear. More accurately, a name I did not want to hear. Yet, I was desperately curious to understand what was happening. I opened my mouth, closed it. I opened it again; and this time words got through, though as a stuttering monosyllable.

“You… you…”

I paused, took a deep breathe, convinced myself I could handle the worst of my potential reaction to who he reminded me of. I tried again:

“Who are you?”

He pursed his lips. The light from a car illuminated his face so I saw his eyes and the long lashes. I also saw the way he was looking at me. Only one person ever looks at me like that. He is… He shouldn’t be able to be… He can’t be… Oh fuck! He is…

“You know. I am.…”

Fisted hands pulling on sheets of cotton, tensed body shivering from the harmattan cold and jangled emotions, eyes wide open searching the dark, heart beating too strong too fast… A dream. Just a dream. It was just a dream.

I chanted the words in my head, the images of who I know it had been flashing behind my eyes. I refused to think about him, refused to dwell on the ache I had buried deep years ago. I didn’t think of why he had haunted my dream. I tried not to think at all. I focused on breathing, exhaling through my mouth to even my breath faster.

I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Then another. Fuck! Wanting him hurt. Even in a dream, it still hurt.

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