At the Restaurant
Note: The next three stories in the series Smudging the Line are fictional. These stories border on the paranormal/horror. They revolve around the protagonist, Luisa. Any semblance to real people is coincidental.
When I am not listening to people tell me about the problems in their lives, I love to write. I am a psychologist, who derives pleasure from writing random things. Occasionally, I flatter myself and dare say I’m a writer. I write about mental health.
It is incensing how most of us Nigerians, think we are not susceptible to having mental issues. On telling an average Nigerian that you are depressed, the next thing the person says gets you debilitated to the point you feel your soul really crumble. “Depression is the work of the devil,” he/she says. Please, how does the devil cause depression? These people, despite the advent of science and technology, are stuck in the Dark Ages. They explain everything with a deity and religion.
I suffer from bouts of depression, too. It hurts when I have to cut off people in my life in order to “heal” myself. When I was younger, I pulled that stunt, and my lover at the time moved on from me. How nice of her!
Asides depression, I suffer writer’s block. I’d go a month or more without writing anything. What do I do during those days? I simply read. Reading, to me, is travelling through time and space, over lands and seas, on a spot. But, sometimes, you have to see things for yourself. Hence, I travel. Whenever I can’t write, I drive to the fast food restaurant nearby my house in Surulere.
Last week, I went to the restaurant to escape the quietness of my home. My husband, Mezie, had travelled to Enugu and I was missing him so much that I thought I was going to pull out the hair on my head in one demented act of frustration.
With Anne Rice’s Pandora in my hand, I took in the aroma that wafted from the kitchen and I felt bliss. Good enough, the restaurant staff have come to recognise me as a “devoted” customer.
Sometimes, when people sit at the restaurant for too long without buying anything, the management literally shoos them away like vermin- only that they don’t carry brooms. On occasions like that, I hold back myself from laughing. Well, I don’t blame these people that sit in restaurants without buying snacks. First of all, not many people know of the parks in Lagos. They’d probably have gone there. Secondly, it’s possible they came here to escape their lives. What if they were immersed in the sticky waters of sorrow and appetite was far away from them? You can’t be so sure of what a person is going through until you ask them.
About thirty minutes into sitting at my favourite spot in the restaurant, I heard someone ask, “May I join you?” It was a man’s voice. It’s always a man’s voice.
Tearing my gaze away from the novel became a chore. Within less than few seconds, my mind processed that if I ignored the question, if I pretended that no one was there, the man would go away.
I was wrong.
“Excuse me,” he spoke louder. My silence made him stronger the way diseases get resistant to antibiotics. “May I sit with you?”
Languidly, I looked up from my novel and stared him square in the eyes. Trying to hide my irritation was not of concern to me, “I didn’t get you, what did you say?”
At this point, I love to state that you should never repeat yourself if a woman asks you “what did you say?” She heard you the first time. The fact that a rational person could arrange words to make an asinine sentence probably had her bemused. If she asks, you had better rephrase and restructure your sentence. Sadly, the guy, who asked that ludicrous question, wasn’t armed with this knowledge at the time. I hope he reads this.
With a big grin on his face and an extra dose of confidence, he asked for the third time, “May I join you?” I could see his big, dark hand gripping, almost about to pull, the chair adjacent me. Ostensibly, he was so sure of himself that I’d acquiesce to him joining me. What a prick!
Without breaking eye contact with him, I replied, “No, you may not. I am busy,” I raised my book in a way he’d see the title. I expected him to take the cue and walk away. But, no. The society in which he lives in believes that a woman sitting out all by herself is doing it to garner attention from men. Isn’t it interesting how men believe we do everything for them? If you dress good, someone asks you, “Who is the guy you are dressing like this for?” If you don’t dress good, they’ll say, “Dress well! You don’t know if this is where you’ll meet your future husband.”
From the look on his face, I knew this guy didn’t know how to take “no” for an answer. Shrugging, I went back to my novel.
“What’s a pretty woman doing all by herself on a nice day like this? I was sitting with my friends and you caught my eyes and I decided to chat you up.” Did I mention he had a phony accent? I couldn’t place it. It sounded like Jamaican Patois and Arabic with an Irish Brogue! Lord! If his accent wasn’t original, what other things about him were fake?
Seeing I was focusing on Pandora, he said, “Okay, if you can’t talk, can I have your number?”
I laughed in diabolic powers and I thought he would certify me certifiable. Just like that? In 2017, a stranger was expecting me to give out my phone number as if we were old pals reconnecting. Really? The world has become like this? What a wowwity!*
Eventually, I lucidly told him, “I do not want to give out my number to you.”
“Why?” He smiled to hide the exasperation growing in his tummy.
“Are you asking why?” Glancing up at him, I give him that cold stare that comes from a frozen place. Every girl needs to master the art of the cold stare. That way, she can freeze every rubbish person and thereby deactivate that person’s idiocy.
Regressing an obnoxious man into childhood might be a good tactic in dealing with him. You simply sound like his mother by being… authoritative. Didn’t they say that Jesus used his authority to expel demons? This is in no way an analogy. But, when some boys are called Yoruba Demons, what should I think?
I held his gaze and stated, “I do not want to talk to you.”
“You don’t have to be so rude,” he was about picking offence. “That’s what’s wrong with you girls nowadays,” his accent was miraculously becoming more Nigerian and I was happy I didn’t have to endure one more sentence of his Arapatois*.
Firmly, I stated, “My no is final. I am through with you. Please, leave whenever.” Being rude was in place, you know. You can’t reason with a foul stench, do you? You take mean measures! He could have left me alone when I said I wasn’t interested. But, male ego.
I knew I battered his ego. In a desperate bid to make me feel bad, he said, “When you are forty and single, you will know.”
Once more, I looked him square in the face with feigned surprise like he had said the stupidest thing ever. Stifling a chortle was difficult. I could have told him that despite me not wearing a wedding band, I was happily married. Not all of us love wearing rings- it doesn’t make us less married. In fact, I know of married people that fuck different people with their wedding rings on their fingers. I dare to imagine that some men, maybe women, probably finger-fuck their mistresses with the ring finger. Pah! Why not take off the ring?
Arapatois stood staring at me with anger shimmering in his beady eyes, which reminded me of a shifty character I’d read about, “And that was meant to get me angry? Did I tell you I wanted to get married? Please, please, just pick what’s left of your dignity and go.” I chuckled and waved my hand contemptuously at him.
“Ashawo*,” he said venomously.
Without looking up from my book, I retorted, “Ashawo no dey fuck ‘imself*. You, sef*, na ritualist and yahoo* boy.”
“Ugly bitch,” I heard the vitriol in his voice. This guy was too petty. I simply ignored him and went back to ancient Egypt to follow Pandora’s new life. I figured I had deigned enough. Moreover, as one Gordana Biernat wrote, “Drama can’t grow unless you feed it with your energy and presence. Turn around. Walk away. Let it go”
When the guy saw I was done with him for real, he went on his way. And it was comical watching his walk of shame. It made me think of a dog walking away with its tail between its legs.
You see, as a girl as a matter of fact, you need to develop o de-eshi!* I mean, tough skin. Many things and people are out there to break you physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, intellectually- you name every aspect of your life you can imagine. For you to get through life, you have to stop caring about the opinions of irrelevant, random people. I tell this one thing to my clients, “We are prisoners to what we feel people would think about us.” Another thing is this: “The things that get to us are the things we allow.”
Even after he had gone back to his three friends, he gestured at me and his friends looked my way with mouths agape. In reply, I smiled sweetly and waved gracefully at them.
As a precautionary measure, I waved at one of the staff, a young brawny guy, who I estimated to be in his early 20s.
“Hello, ma,” he grinned and gave a slight bow. I felt fifty years older than my actual age.
“Please, those guys sitting there,” I pointed at them. He raised his head and his eyes followed the direction of my finger. “You see them? I don’t want them to disturb me again. If any of them comes close to me, call security.”
“Thanks, dear,” I nod at him. “And, please, can you help me get stuff from the counter?”
“Sure, ma,” he still had that grin on his face.
Were he a girl, I’d have asked her to drop the “ma”. Like, we’re all girls; nothing wrong with a little familiarity. But, taking into cognisance that he is a boy, I needed to draw a line. Boys are too mushy. They take any act of flirting seriously. Sadly, flirting with a man is like jocosely waving streak before a dog. The dog won’t understand it’s just for laughs. A girl might be sexting with a guy and doing fifty billion things at once- group-chatting with her girls, cooking, laundering, writing a proposal, manicure- while the boy gets way into it. You can’t play with these boys anymore?
Fifteen minutes later, a couple, a heavyset man, who had a bulging stomach with three tribal marks etched horizontally on both sides of his cheeks, walked to my direction with a thick woman walking behind him. I guestimated they were both in their mid-forties. On approaching me, the man pointed at the seats opposite me and asked in an Ibadan accent, “Anyone here?”
From my gesture, he deduced that I didn’t understand Yoruba. That wasn’t what I wanted them to think. I wanted to gesture that there were other seats but clearly, he misread my gesticulations. Again, he asked in English.
“No, no,” I smiled at them. It was a public space for everyone. There was no point stopping them from sitting wherever they wanted, “It’s free.”
“Okay, okay,” he said eagerly as he pulled out the chair for his wife. After she lowered herself into the chair, he sat. Really? She couldn’t pull out her seat? Would her hands have disjointed from her torso if she pulled out her seat by herself?
You see, being treated like a lady is patronising. Very patronising. Being treated like a lady means accepting that you are weak. Some people don’t understand the Medieval knight and lady dynamic. Emphasis on “Medieval”- times have changed.
The other day, I saw a picture of a man spreading his jacket on the ground for his woman. It was revolting that this woman was wearing stilettos. I wondered what message that picture was trying to pass across to the world. Emasculation? I am against emasculating men! No one is superior. That picture was pretentious. Very, very fake.
Sometimes, when I’m on the BRT, I see some men stand for women and I wonder, “Who asked this one to stand up?” Evidently, the woman isn’t pregnant or anything. If I see a pregnant woman or anyone with small kids, regardless of their gender, I would stand for them to seat. That is the humane thing to do. If a man were ill and weak, I’d do the same. But, standing up for an able-bodied person to seat?
The man was back from the counter where he went to get food for himself and his wife. It is refreshing to see couples that have been together for over a decade act like they recently fell in love. Putting in effort is what makes marriage work, I guess. You need to work for something to work. It’s part of human nature to grow complacent when you get the person you desire. You stop wooing them and paying attention to the small things. No rendezvous. No date. Not nice.
Looking at the plate of soup filled with every sort of assorted meat in the world, the woman regarded the food in mild disgust. With that look on her face, I imagined Efunsetan Aniwura regarding a slave in derision like he or she didn’t deserve to be of service to her. The woman pouted and with her lips raised, almost touching her nose as if she wanted to stop inhaling a stench, she spoke in Ibadan Yoruba, “Don’t do this. I want fish.”
I was two inches from laughing at the comic scene before me. The bewildered man, with his mouth agape, exclaimed, “Ah, ah,” gesturing at the food, he looked around as if to make sure there was no audience to their act. Quickly, I averted my gaze lest he caught me staring at them. The way his mouth opened with the salient tribal marks made me almost burst into hysterical laughter. I heard him ask, “Isn’t the meat and snail enough?”
“No,” I imagined her pouting like a spoiled brat that insisted on licking a lollipop. “Mo fe je eja. Eja tutu.” (I want to eat fish. Ice fish.) You need to understand that things are funnier in indigenous Nigerian languages. The way she said it made me almost reel from laughter. I was scared that I’d start laughing and fall off the chair and in the process break my neck. How would I explain that to my husband?
“But, I’ve already bought this,” the man didn’t want to make another trip to the counter.
“I want fish,” she insisted. “Don’t you know you are about to eat fish?” I looked up at them pretending I wanted to take a sip of the bottle of water before me. Behold! The woman was referring to herself as “fish”. What the actual fuck?!
I choked and sputtered the water I sipped and they looked at me. Served me right. I waved at them to signal that I was fine.
When the man figured it was useless arguing with her, he docilely went to the counter, like a going on errands for his over-demanding mother, to get her fish. You should have seen how she lit up, as if she were a fluorescent bulb, when she saw her plate of efo riro* garnished with assorted meat, snails, and most importantly, fish.
I couldn’t help but hear snippets of their conversation.
What I discovered was grave.
These two were cheating on their spouses.
How? I regarded and appraised them. Wasn’t it expected that if you are cheating on your spouse, it should be with a younger lover?
Atlantic Star’s Secret Lovers came to mind hearing them talk about how they had to be discreet about their liaison. From the sound of it, they were family friends. Really? Family friends? But, who was I to judge? There’s a thin line between observing and judging. I try not to cross it.
Through the minutes, I endured hearing them talk about the risqué things they were going to do to each other in the room the man had already rented somewhere in Yaba.
The focus of my attention shifted on seeing a trio, a guy and two girls, come in and seat adjacent from me. The first thing that came to my mind looking at them was Athena and Aphrodite with Hephaestus as the third wheel.
These girls were gorgeous! But, he was… hmmmph!
In the actual sense, I instinctively knew that the guy was dating the girl that sat at his side, Aphrodite. Aphrodite had probably insisted that Athena tagged along. Had he known that he would be the third wheel, he would have insisted that Athena stayed wherever she was.
Aphrodite and Athena were gushing over each other and tumbling in each other’s eyes. They leaned in to each other with their faces few inches apart. What were they waiting for? They should have just kissed. Lesbian PDA is always welcomed to me.
There was the Hephaestus sitting, not uttering a word, and swiping his phone’s screen. For a minute, I felt pity for him. In that moment, I understood Johnny Depp’s ire at his ex-wife, Amber Head.
If anyone told me the girls were more than besties, I wouldn’t have argued.
They ordered snacks, ice cream, and drinks. Nevertheless, the guy didn’t take anything. Honestly, I was waiting for Athena to offer her friend a scoop of ice cream with her own spoon. Wouldn’t have been gloriously divine? Probably, with their gaze transfixed on each other, Athena would reach across the table to clean up the ice cream on the side of her friend’s lip with the pad of her thumb. Maybe while about to withdraw her hand, Aphrodite would hold Athena’s hand firmly in place and suck in her thumb. That would have been heavenly!
Some people are yet to accept that most women are not heterosexual. A friend of mine, Ugo, once said, “Straight women are mythical.” I had argued with her taking into cognisance the Kinsey Scale. Maybe 10% or 30% of women were strictly heterosexual. Then again, there might be a chance that these 10% might have fantasies of experiencing Sapphic eroticism.
The couple sitting near to me were still at it. I felt I was intruding their conversation. All my effort of not trying to listen to them culminated in futility.
Ultimately, I gave up and decided it was time to leave. Aphrodite and Athena were still loved up. Hephaestus was there swiping his phone and forming activity. How sad.
Later in the evening, at home, I was feeling inspired and I decided to put up a post on my blog.
“When you think of it, women express emotions freely. The society teaches us that being emotive expressive is “girly” and feminine. This explains why boys cloak their feelings. It doesn’t mean boys are not emotional. They have been taught to believe that being expressive is for girls. Hence, to prove their masculinity, they conceal their feelings. Maybe they don’t cry to prove that they are strong. All their lives, they are taught to prove their masculinity. They have to work extra hard and make money to get the prettiest and nicest girl. In turn, girls, have to be cute and pretty and sweet and mild and meek in order to get a rich man.
“In order words, a successful man is one that gets rich. A successful woman is one that gets a rich man.
“There you have it. Different genders are taught to aspire to different things without taking into consideration that the members of these genders are human beings with inherent talents and temperaments. They are taught to aspire to whatever in life based on anatomical difference. Some boys that love cooking are dissuaded from pursuing a career in catering because “it’s girlie”. How these gender roles restrict us!
“It would make sense if we all imagine ourselves as oceans and labels, cups. Can a cup hold an ocean? We are like oceans- vast, infinite, profound, and ever changing. Seeing ourselves as belonging to a particular label might be an impediment to the way we express ourselves as human souls.
“Going with Plato’s conceptualisation of the soul, it’s made up of three elements; logos, reason; thymos, masculine; eros, feminine. We have both masculine and feminine traits.
“The traditional gender traits for men are “bossy, dominant, assertive, and aggressive.”
“For women, it is, “passive, meek, mild, and nurturing.”
“Nevertheless, we have seen individuals of the opposite sex exhibit traits of the other sex. There are choleric women and phlegmatic men…”
I looked up and the time was 8:37 PM. I should be in bed, I thought to myself.
Lying in the queen-sized bed, I rolled over to Mezie’s side. How I missed him! He had been away for two days. But, Time seemingly stopped moving. Two days felt like two lifetimes.
I played memories from earlier in the day.
The thought of the woman that wanted to eat fish came to me. Against my volition, I curled myself into a ball and launched into frenzied laughter. Mo fe je eja, I giggled when I put myself together after laughing.
It was a good thing that I went to the restaurant that day. I had fresh things to write about. While in bed, I made a mental note to write about marital infidelity.
Feeling fulfilled, I let go and allowed sleep carry me on its boat as we traversed the river of dreams. Don’t they say our dreams are powerful indicators of what could be?
Wowwity is the adjective of “wow”. The writer might have coined this word.
Arapatois is a portmanteau word the writer coined. It means “Arab” and “Patois”.
Ashawo is a derogatory word meaning slut, prostitute.
Ashawo no dey fuck ‘imself is a cliché in Nigerian Pidgin that means a whore doesn’t have sex alone. It explains that it takes two to tango.
Sef is a word in Nigerian Pidgin that varies in meaning according to context. In this context, it means “too”.
Yahoo boy means internet scammer.
O de-eshi literally means “it can’t penetrate/enter”. It means tough skin.
Efo Riro is a type of soup eaten in Nigeria.