The Plan

Olu sank into the chair…he could feel the cords of self-pity pulling him further and further down. As much as he hated the feeling, he was convinced that there was nothing he could do about it. After all, as they say, “the heart wants what the heart wants”. And why exactly his heart has decided it wanted just this, he would never know. It was like some sort of cruel, sick, mental joke.

As he scanned the open pool, he could see his colleagues getting on with work…at least some of them were pretending to. It was already 4 pm, most of them were really just running down the clock, waiting for the ‘first boarding call’ for the staff bus in an hour’s time. At which point, as though receiving instructions from a collective mind, they would rise almost in unison and make a beeline for the exit.

Could anyone see? He wondered. If someone stooped by his desk, would they be able to discern from his face, the nature of his inner turmoil? Because faces are such fickle things! They seem to have an agenda of their own, blatantly refusing to accept instructions and defying all attempts to side-step the mind-body dynamic. And Olu certainly felt like he had a lot to conceal at the moment.

Just the other day, he was chatting with Louis on the phone. He didn’t know he was smiling. He hadn’t meant to smile…the stupid IG post he was reading sef was only mildly funny, but Emily had walked in at just that moment, and in her usual intrusive style, asked “what is even making this one smile like this? It’s like you don’t have enough work to keep you engaged abi?” Caught completely off guard, he paused for a second, but try as he did to wipe the silly grin off his face quickly, his lips and chin just wouldn’t cooperate! He ended up being upset with himself. Not that it was a bad thing to smile while chatting with one’s younger brother, but he disliked the fact that he hadn’t been as “in control” and inscrutable as he would have wished.

Just then, his eyes caught Tolu walking in his direction. His heart skipped a beat. He made a mental note to comport himself, checking, as if he had an internal picture of his face that he could manipulate, to be sure that he wasn’t giving anything away this time. She simply walked by. To be sure, she gave him a fleeting smile, but that was it. There was no stopping by to say “hello”, no brief chit chat, no hand-on-the-shoulder moment. She just moved past, but for the smile, failing to register his presence.

Olu was conflicted. What was the best way to spend this ephemeral moment in eternity? Focusing on the gnawing pit of pain in his stomach or taking a moment to drink deep drafts of what was left of her perfume as it filled the air around him? He didn’t know anything about perfumes, and even with a gun to his head, he would have struggled to describe it to anyone. The only thing that came to mind was “heaven”. How was he to lock this moment up and store it safely forever?

Had he mistaken the signs? Was he smoking his socks? Did he invent all this in his head, in a subconscious effort to torture his already unstable mind? Surely it had been clear!

The first time had been just a few weeks ago, he was standing by the copier, trying to make a few packs for his next meeting. He smelled her before he saw her, “heaven” suddenly filled the space. He turned around and said “Good morning!”, noticing the unnecessarily high pitch of the second word. “Hi, Olu. How you dey now?” and she reached out and touched his arm for what in reality was hardly a second, but it felt like an eternity. They stood there for a few more moments, gisting. She had looked into his eyes and smiled a deep, genuine smile at him the whole time. Time seemed to pause a little and he felt, at that time, that he was the most important human being in the world.

The next time, Tolu changed tables at the cafeteria to have lunch with him. Him. She had picked him. They had laughed and talked about everything from university days to NYSC, to the maddening nature of Nigerian politics. There were a few other episodes after this and in Olu’s head, he felt confident that there was something building. Surely this was more than just office gist? Was this explosive chemistry only one sided? Could it even be called chemistry if it was one-sided?

Something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. Just a few paces ahead, Tolu was standing by Andrew’s desk chatting. Olu’s heart sank. There it was, his most prized possession cheapened in the presence of all who cared to look! Before he could marshal his mental defenses, her hand touched Andrew on the shoulder. Again, it might have been for two or three seconds but to Olu, it felt like a lifetime. Something was rising in his stomach…was it bile? Acid perhaps? He could feel his face getting warm, and given his light complexion, he knew he was probably turning red. Oh, the damned face! Resistance was futile.

He tried to distract himself by willing himself back to work. As he entered his enterprise password, to unlock his idle laptop, he couldn’t help stealing furtive glances at Andrew’s desk. The conversation was still on. “What on earth were they talking about”? Like he wasn’t having a hard enough time, they both burst into laughter. “What’s now so funny?” “Andrew is not so funny…dude has about as much of a sense of humor as Frankenstein.” He began clacking furiously at his keyboard, finally able to channel some of that rage into his long overdue approval memo.

Later that evening having drinks with Louis and the guys, Olu remained pensive. In this case, his struggle was whether or not to broach the topic. These were his Bros, but their interactions were not exactly characterized by vulnerability. Yes, they were not the crude, raunchy locker room types but he didn’t feel comfortable enough talking to anyone about this. Honestly, he couldn’t gauge the sort of response he would get from them, but his instincts told him to withhold. And so he struggled because neither the booze nor the banter could get his mind off the recent events. It was driving him mad!

Who even made the rules? How had the world come to be this way, that women are emotional, and men are logical (not that many women would agree anyway)? Surely such grandiose generalizations hold no merit? Yet they are potent enough to govern our lives and relationships. Where was he supposed to go as a 29-year-old man to talk about a matter that bothered him so much though seemingly trivial, and not find judgment? Under what circumstances would he not wind up an outcast at worst or a colossal joke at best?

At some point, he managed to turn his thoughts to the live football game that was on the massive flat screen TV at the bar. As if he needed any more woes…Chelsea had done it again. This was their second loss in as many games. Surely now, the players had conspired against the moron of a coach. The writing on the wall was now clear; it would only be a matter of time before the glory-mongering Russian oligarch would wield his big ax, sending one more unfortunate coaching career to the “graveyard”. Nothing was working in his favour today, not even soccer.

Olu’s alarm went off at 4:30 am as usual. He rushed through his morning workout and showered hurriedly as well. He made himself some coffee and cereal and sat to eat. As he was mentally working through his to-do list for the day, his thoughts were invariably interrupted by images of Tolu and Andrew from the day before. Was it getting ridiculous? When would it end? Why couldn’t he just move on? He managed to finish breakfast and got dressed. As he grabbed his keys on his way out, he made up his mind…today would be the day that he’d finally put the matter to rest. He couldn’t go on like this. As he drove out of the compound, he began to hatch his plot to relieve the pressure in his chest. If he wasn’t going to get help from anyone, he would be a man and deal with the situation the old-fashioned way.

Sadly, the commotion of Lagos morning traffic doesn’t lend itself to devising masterful plans. He soon got caught in the daily battle of weaving in and out of lanes to arrive at work in Victoria Island safely. It was one of those mornings, the sky was overcast, and the city was darkened by the ominous shadow of a pending thunderstorm. The aftermath would be flooded drainages and more meaningless traffic. Lagos on a rainy day is like living with a nag…nothing you do can ever be right.

He got to the car park 30 minutes later than usual. The anticipation of the storm alone was enough to create more congestion on the roads than usual. Olu quickly got his things and locked his car. He felt the first drop. He quickly opened the car and retrieved his umbrella. Between two blinks, it was drizzling lightly; he had to move fast if he was going to avoid the full-blown downpour which was imminent. He had only taken a few steps when he heard the voice. It was saying his name. “Olu! Please wait up”. And then the strangest thing happened. While everything in him told him to wait and perhaps enjoy this moment, his legs kept moving.

He knew he would look ridiculous. She was only a few paces behind him, so he was well within earshot. And yet, he didn’t pause, didn’t look back. He just kept going even as her voice got louder and louder. The rain was coming much faster now. The war within him was raging now. She was going to be drenched. Within his peripheral vision, there was nobody else around to save her. And even if she decided to go back to her car, she would still be soaking wet. “Olu! Olu, please wait up…can we share your umbrella?” The demons that had possessed his legs were not about to yield control. He just kept moving, feeling bits of his heart calcify with each forward step.

He didn’t know what to expect, but he knew it was going to be bad. Could he lie? It would seem very ridiculous. What would be his excuse? Olu cursed under his breath. What sort of body was this that always picked the most awkward moments to go off on an existential tangent? Instead of his usual morning rounds of more coffee and light banter, he quickly settled in and started on his to-do list…might as well hide behind the work, not that it would be enough to protect him.

Once again, he could smell her before he heard her voice. “Olu, what was that about? I know you could hear me, why didn’t you stop? How could you be so mean?” He offered no reply, no rebuttal, no plea. He just stared right into her eyes, deathly still. He couldn’t even breathe properly for fear that his breath might enunciate words he was not prepared to say. If anything, this only irked Tolu some more.

“Really? You’re not even going to say anything?”

“This is just creepy even for you…even if we’re not friends, at least we’re colleagues. Some basic human decency would have been enough for you to decide to help me.”

The wordless staring continued.

Her wet body made her clothes cling to her body in ways that accentuated her frame a little more. He’d never really noticed this about her. He briefly lost awareness. To the average bystander, he just looked like the monster who was ogling the drenched lady.

At that moment, deciding she’d had enough, she swiveled, giving him one last angry glare and walked off mouthing the words “this one must be crazy. I wonder what I was thinking”.

It was the longest two minutes ever.

But as she left, he felt something new come over him. Relief? Pleasure maybe?

It didn’t matter anymore anyway. The situation had been fixed and he didn’t need to follow his poorly crafted plan.

The bottle of Advil PM would return safely to the drug cabinet. At least until another day.

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Babatunde Mumuni

Babatunde Mumuni

I think and write here about life as one continuous experience, not fragments stitched together. I believe that we should partake of this with our whole selves.