by ‘Seun Salami
Gregg began to notice the smoke coming from the bonnet of his car as he drove slowly out of school gate to join the traffic on University Road.
“Not again…not today,” he muttered as he began to think of what to do. Today was Valentine’s Day and he didn’t need this sort of thing from this car on a day like this. He had spent well over forty-five minutes in traffic trying to come out of school. Somehow he had expected this but was also hoping his 1990 Toyota Corolla would co-operate with him, at least for today.
There would have been no qualms at all if he was alone in the car, or with Derin, his best-friend. At least they both understood the car and it was Derin who even nicknamed it Overheating. But today he was dropping off Vivian, the girl of his dreams, at a Valentine’s Day Youth Concert in her Church before returning to take her to her hostel later in the evening. He had made up a story about having to go visit his rich Uncle who lived around Akoka while she was at the concert so he didn’t have to stay through it with her. He said he needed to visit him to see if he could get some extra cash. He knew she wouldn’t say no to that. But he had it all planned out. He had some items in the booth of his car and he was planning something of a surprise for her later on. Now, his car was about to ruin it all.
Vivian was all he ever really wanted in a woman, although he didn’t realise this until they became friends after they found themselves in the same group to work on ‘The German Occupation of Europe’ for Professor Akhigbe’s History assignment. Gregg had always loved beautiful ladies, but the trouble with most ‘beautiful’ ladies was that they rarely came packaged with the sort of intelligence that complimented their beauty. Viv, as he now liked to call her, was not just beautiful, she was also quite intelligent. He knew that the moment he read her contribution to the group’s work. As the group lead, he had also asked her a few questions based on her submission and she had answered him brilliantly, erasing any doubts about whether or not she indeed authored the work. He began to pursue her ever since. They had grown to like each other and everyone in class seemed to believe they were already dating without him ever really making his intentions known formally. He was going to do that today.
Now he looked across to her in his car. She had a smile on her face; that sort of smile that told him that she understood that a car could develop faults but it shouldn’t have been today, or right here in front of the main gate of University of Lagos. He smiled back and quickly turned his face to the road as he tried to find a good spot to park the car.
Thankfully, he had some water left in a keg in the booth. He began to keep water in it since the day the car embarrassed him shamelessly in traffic on Ikorodu Road last month. He had vowed to change the car by now, but things still weren’t quite as he planned yet. He consoled himself with the thought that not many undergraduates like him had cars. In any case, he was still a big boy. Whether it was a cabucabu or Overheating, at least it moved him around school and around town. The only major problem with the car was that it couldn’t cope with any form of traffic, even when it was just parked but the engine was left running; the temperature would begin to rise. But as long as it was moving, all was well.
Other road users had begun to honk now, pointing to alert Gregg to the impending danger and the threat the mist coming from his car posed. He gestured and nodded to inform them that he was well aware. He felt like adding a befitting curse for each one of them according to the sizes of their cars, for trying to draw unnecessary attention to him. Couldn’t they see that he was already parking and trying to fix things? Did they have to rob it in?
He turned off the ignition and pulled a handle beneath the steering. The bonnet jerked open. He wished he didn’t have to do this but he came down from the car all the same. As he opened the bonnet, he heard one passerby say to another that the fine girl in the car would soon abandon him. “You are just a fool,” he thought, without actually responding. He didn’t have time for such banter. Overheating was to blame. The car, that is. It earned him these sorts of insults all the time. Meanwhile, he knew Vivian would actually have to leave him here and probably pick a taxi to Church, because whenever his car was in this mood, you needed to let it relax before even attempting to open the radiator. He did a mental calculation of how much he had left on him after all the purchase he had made earlier in the day to be sure he could still afford a taxi fare.
He went over to the passenger’s side and opened the door for Vivian. She looked at him, pretending she didn’t know what he was going to say. “I think we should get you a cab to Church. I’ll come pick you up after the concert.”
“Ok dear. In that case, I’ll just leave my bag in the car,” she said and then stepped out.
After Vivian left in the Mazda car painted in the yellow and black Lagos taxi colours, Gregg began to think of what to do. He had to make sure this car cooled off in good time before Vivian’s concert was over. He also had to be at her hostel before her roommate, Linda, would return. Vivian had made things easy for him now by leaving her bag which he was sure had the keys to her room in it. Today was his best opportunity if he was to have any realistic chance of setting up his planned surprise and eventually winning her heart over. Not with all the unspoken competition from the other spooky guys in class. But then he also needed to change this car as soon as he was able to sort out some extra income, if a babe like Vivian was to remain his for long. He wondered how long she could actually put up with this sort of embarrassment, no matter how much she fancied him.
He pulled out his phone from his pocket to place a call to Derin. After all, what are friends for?
Vivian didn’t discover the gifts carefully arranged on her reading table beside her bed until she had used her feet to toss her shoes in her corner of the hostel room. Gregg sat quietly on the bed, placing her bag beside him.
Vivian looked like she had seen a ghost when she finally turned around to see the items carefully placed on her diminutive table. She moved closer, looked through the gifts without touching them as if there was a sign warning against that. Then she turned to look at Gregg and then turned to the gifts again.
“Ohh Gregggg, this is soo sweet,” she said, without looking at him.
How did she know it was he who had planted the gifts? Certainly, she didn’t consider any of his rivals fit enough to do this and it also meant she wasn’t expecting this from anyone else. There was hope. She turned around to drag him off the bed and then jumped on him to hug him firmly, bolting him out of his thoughts. So it was true what he once heard about every girl liking gifts.
“This is so nice. When did you do this?” she asked.
“Well, when I was at my rich uncle’s house,” he answered swiftly, as though he had planned the answer. It came out right, because Vivian laughed hard and then hit him on the chest.
“Silly you! What if I didn’t give you my bag?”
“I would have planted them right at your door.”
“Awwww…I really like this,” she said and then left him, turning to the gifts as if to show him what she meant by ‘this’.
He didn’t like that. He was enjoying the way she held on firmly to him. She picked up the items one after the other – the wine bottle, turned it around like a trophy she had just won; the chocolate bar, “Oh, I love chocolates,” she said. Well, no need to tell her that it was Derin who added the chocolates to the package about an hour earlier because he said, “What the hell is a Valentine’s Day surprise without chocolates?” and then added something about Gregg being a bush boy. She removed the huge greeting card before lifting the cake. It was the size of the face of a frying pan, but it was shaped in form of a heart, the universally accepted sign for love. Then she dropped it and picked up the case of the gold wrist-watch. He wondered if she had not seen it early or she decided to save the best for the last. Her mouth formed an O shape as she opened the case and drew out the watch. Even he knew the watch was beautiful. It had to be, considering how much it cost him.
She turned to hug him. “Oh, thanks so much Gregg. I love you.”
It took a few seconds for the words to sink into Gregg’s mind. But he was sure he heard her correctly, so he formed the reply in his mind and said, “That’s good to know Viv, because I love you too.” He felt the silence that followed was awkward, so he quickly added, “…and I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to let you know this. I might not be the richest dude but I will surely do my best to make you happy if you will only be mine.”
He couldn’t believe himself. He sounded so cheesy and wished he could take the part again. Vivian didn’t seem to mind though, because she pulled away, still holding his arms at the elbow, looked right into his eyes and said, “Don’t worry Gregg, I think we’ll be just fine.” She began to kiss him softly before he could respond. She left his lips and kissed his ears and then his neck. Then she placed her hands on his chest and around his nipples. Gregg didn’t immediately realize where Vivian’s hands had moved to, until he felt his belt loosened and his trousers unbuckled.
“Are yo-u sure yo-u waa-nt to do t-his,” he stuttered under his breath.
Vivian didn’t respond, she only planted another firm kiss on his lower lip and then stuck her tongue into his mouth in a gesture that told him what to do. As he sucked on her tongue, he really couldn’t believe this was happening. All he wanted today was a ‘yes’ and nothing more. That was all he thought he could get, especially considering the fact that she just returned from a Valentine’s Day concert in C.H.U.R.C.H, where he was sure she must have heard the annual don’t-give-it-all-up-on-this-single-day-only-to-regret-later sermon. Besides, Vivian was too beautiful to be giving him all of herself on their first real intimate encounter. She must have been expecting him to ask her out for a while too, he thought.
He knew he didn’t need any formal answer from her after this. All he needed to do was change his over-heating car, step up his income and pocket money somehow and do all he could to keep this beauty queen, though he admitted it was going to be difficult. For now, he would relish every moment of love-making with Vivian; it was going to be a dream come through, he thought, until he began to hear voices. It sounded like Linda, Vivian’s roommate and a man were chatting loudly on the hallway. It seemed they were approaching the room.
“Oh no,” Vivian whispered. Gregg gave a huge sigh.
The footsteps and loud chatter got closer….
(All characters, names and events in this story are fictional and a creation of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to any real persons or occurrences is simply a coincidence).
‘Seun Salami is the author of ‘The Son of your Father’s Concubine’, a collection of short stories. He works as an Editor with Bookvine, a publishing firm in Lagos, Nigeria. He tweets from @SeunWrites
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