Read other Works by Uneñ Ameji on African Stories
How We Fall by Uneñ Ameji
It was like every other Monday.
The traffic was long enough to compete with the legendary Niger Bridge under political contention and Ms. Joe as usual was running late. A last-minute being and an uncompromising sleeper, Joe was one to sleep to her fill and took motorcycles from her house to wherever the traffic stopped before jumping on the next available bus heading to her work place 3km from home. A journey indeed it was. She didn’t mind – a good boss and an impressive salary didn’t come easy in the capital city.
But today was not like every other Monday.
The black bearded ruffian in what Joe decided were lice infested rags sped and maneuvered the meandering traffic as if hoards from hell pursued. She wasn’t in the least worried about the speed. The faster she got off the death trap, the better chance she had at escaping invisible lice that she felt crawling up her skin.
In what will be only fit for the movies, Joe in the middle of her thoughts saw the door of a moving vehicle in the go-slow open and within seconds was flying off the bike with her large bag and landing heavily in the green lush bush few meters away from the main road. Her first thoughts were for the safety of her laptop and phones as she lay there momentarily confused at the flight and why she wasn’t hurting.
Hanging on to the wet grasses and hoping she wasn’t bleeding internally; she mentality scanned her body for pains and felt none.
A look at her black shirt revealed she was not stained but a look at the scene unfolding before her caused creativity to pool at the base of her brain. A crowd had gathered with cars stopping and bike drivers holding the passenger who had opened the door without looking. A slap from a bike man initiated a little drag with the man that had opened the car door. The black ruffian on the coal tar was shouting to the heavens as if he was great pain. Joe knew he wasn’t. He wasn’t an actor.
“Are you okay?” it was a good looking man in a well fitted black suit blocking her view. With smart looking glasses perched on his nose, Joe did the next thing she knew would get her to the office without transport fare. Tears clouding her pretty brown eyes, she shook her head in the negative.
“I am sorry, I didn’t see you guys coming” it was the man who had opened the door joining the man who offered her his hand. Supporters as well as castigators moved to her.
“Can you stand?” it was the handsome man. He had lovely pink lips and bushy knotted brows too.
“I can’t” Joe said, the tears already pooling at her lids threatening to drop if she blinked. It was going to smear her makeup for sure but the prospect of getting a free ride to work wasn’t too much a price to pay. Moreover, she got kicks acting. It was her first love.
“Here, let me help you” he said as another supporter helped her up.
The whimper was fake but they didn’t know that. Joe was the ace faker when it came to dodging work or getting freebies.
“You need to get to the hospital” the man in black suit said as the traffic began to clear. A look at her wristwatch told her she didn’t have time for checkups.
“I am good” she answered as the tears rolled down her eyes.
“No, you are not” he stated and indicated they help him carry her to his car parked just few meters from the scene.
“I will go to the office and sign in first” she sniffed as she saw the lice-ladden bike man collect 2 notes of a thousand Naira.
“Where do you work? Let me take you to sign in and then take you to go checkup” the man whose perfume spoke volumes helped Joe along to his new Toyota Camry. Joe smiled inwardly.
‘A.C’ she almost sighed aloud.
“Fiji Consulting, Maitama” she said as she tip toed along with their hands, stopping momentarily to make sure her acting is believed. Just then, a woman who had since followed her decided to speak up as she settled on the passenger seat.
“Let me stretch it. It will swell up if you leave it” and just like that, she was on her knees grabbing her right leg immediately. Her eyes had dried considerably but as soon as the woman touched her, she twisted free and fresh tears flowed.
“Pleaaase” she cried holding her leg and twisting it free from the strong grip. Taking a hand she came to realize was the man in suit, she pulled him closer as she smelt him and he held her closely.
“Sorry” he muttered as she nodded and let her tears fall.
‘When will I get a part in the movie industry?’ she asked herself with an evil grin as she pressed her face into his stomach.
Soon, the woman decided she heard a click and stood up feeling like the latest traditional leg puller.
“She will just rub Aboniki. It have set” she said to no one particular, clapping her hand.
“My dear, sorry ehen, all this bike men are very careless” she continued breathlessly.
“Sorry oo” she rubbed Joe’s head and Joe raised her head in a nod. Her big eyes were already red as she sniffed. She saw the crowd stand up in roaring applause at her performance.
“Feel better?” the man in suit asked with such sweetness, Joe gave a small smile as the invisible audience disappeared.
“Let me take you to work and then we check the hospital” he said as if he didn’t just hear the leg puller declare her leg ‘set’.
“Ok” was the only word that came out from her mouth. Joe wanted to get out of here.
“Here” it was her zipped bag. The supporting man who had helped her up handed it over to her.
“Thank you” she tried a small smile with a sniff.
The crowd, desperate to continue hanging at the accident scene dispersed slowly and soon Joe was headed to work in a cold car and a handsome man beside her.
“Still aching ….” He asked as he joined the highway.
“Joe…., no, it feels much better” Joe answered settling into the ride. She would be in on time.
“I’m Kene” he said looking at the being sitting beside him. Kene had seen her fly from the back of bike and had stopped to offer his services as a ‘life saver’. He smiled inwardly at the thought. Kale, his closest friend called him a life saver ever since he decided he was going to be a doctor at the age of 10.
Joe nodded and stared ahead only too happy for the free ride.
He was cute but she was in a relationship – surely she couldn’t go out of her way to be friendly with fine men especially as she knew how scared she was of her approaching nuptials. When she was afraid, Joe was a flight risk. Yomi, the groom was sweet. The perfect man for her but sometimes, she wished she would just catch him cheating and have a valid reason to be single again – to take a breath of fresh air. She longed for the days she didn’t belong to no one; days she could decide to stay indoors and sleep rapture. But those days were days of old.
She was getting married.
“Are you okay?” his voice startling her from her sad thoughts.
“Yes. Thanks” she released a small sweet smile and she saw him smile back.
“You fly really well” he cracked and he was rewarded with a hearty laugh. Kene liked what he saw and when that woman had gone down to twist the poor girl’s ankle; it took him a lot of restraint not to tell her to leave it alone.
“Thanks” Joe said.
“So Joe?” he continued the conversation.
“Josephine” she said and he nodded like he understood.
“I like Joe” he smiled as he neared Maitama and she directed.
“Me too” she laughed again and she pointed at the blue building at the Close.
“I will wait and take you to the hospital” he said as she made to get down.
“No, no need really” she was already hopping out.
“Did I mention that it is my hospital?” he asked coming out to help.
“No. you omitted that” she said in a small laugh.
“Well, now you know. And it is free too” he said as he helped her out.
“Now how can I refuse?” she feigned disappointment and he laughed. It sounded like a snort.
“You simply can’t” he said as she leaned in and he helped her past the curious security guards.
“Let’s have your card doctor. I will come in as soon as I get the vibe that I’m becoming an invalid” and that got her a hearty laugh. Joe was dismissing him.
“Right” he said after she limped into the reception.
“Thanks” she waved his card as he left. She waited for him to leave, limped to her office and as soon as she sat down took out her heels and her laptop.
She got to work.
It was 3:00pm when Anna called her from the reception.
“Your Doctor is here to see you?” it was a question.
“My doctor?” Joe asked trying to finish tidying her accounts.
“Oh! I am coming” Joe said changing into her flats and taking a quick look at her mirror. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and a clean wipe of her oily face she made to the reception with slow calculated steps. Perhaps he could take her back home too.
“Hey Doc” she called happily as she approached the good doctor without his suit. The sleeves of his purple shirt folded at the hands and neck opened at the collar, he looked friendly and younger.
“You didn’t come, I was in the neighborhood and I decided to checkup” he said smiling.
“I …….” Joe was saying as an awkwardly tall male walked into the reception. His eyes looking out for someone and then he focused his round eyes briefly on her before walking up to them.
“I see you have found her” he said and the good doctor turned to acknowledge him.
Joe looked at the tall man and suddenly felt like a dwarf. She itched to climb some inches. She could tell he could see into the middle of her head and she didn’t like the feeling it evoked.
“Yes, I did” Kene said smiling.
“How’s your leg?” the tall man was asking. Joe didn’t know if she should answer. Kene helped her.
“Better” he said and Joe looked at him with a smile.
“So are we taking her in?” he asked fixing her with a look that Joe didn’t find pleasant.
“No, you are not taking me in” she finally found her tongue as she looked from one to the other.
“See! I told you she was okay” he finally said smiling at a confused Joe. Anna, who had been watching the exchange, picked up her ringing intercom.
“Oga is calling you” she said after dropping her intercom.
“When are you closing?” Kene asked.
“5:00pm” Joe said feeling the eyes of the tall man piercing into hers.
“I will come take you home” Kene said excitedly and Joe simply nodded.
“Kale Kanwa” the tall man extended his long hands fit for a pianist and Joe momentarily wondered if he played. His Adam’s apple danced as he laughed at Kene hitting his hand away.
“Joe…” she said simply as she smiled at their exchange. They looked like an interesting pair.
“Joe who?” he asked as Kene pulled him out of the reception because Anna was already beckoning to Joe.
“Joe Nathaniel” she answered as she made to walk away.
“Joe with the broken ankle, we coming to pick you up at 5:00pm” he said as he gave in to the tugging from Kene.
“Don’t let him scare you. See you soon” Kene called and they left soon. Joe smiled as she watched them go. An odd pair…she shook her head.
The next hours flew past and by 5:10pm, she looked like she needed to be re-hydrated. Hanging her large bag containing her laptop on her shoulders, she stepped out of the building and decided to make it to the junction. Calling Kene to take her home will be asking for trouble.
“Are we ready?” the familiar voice called from the car park and she turned to see the awkwardly tall man leaning on a white SUV that looked like a jalopy. It was covered in dust.
“Like my car?” he said reading the expression in her eyes. She smiled.
“Where is Kene?” Joe asked looking around.
“He asked me to come pick you up. He got another bleeding case” he said without emotion. Joe laughed.
“Great! She has a wicked sense of humor” he laughed and made to open the door for her.
“Anything for a short woman” he called as he gave an evil laugh.
“Awkwardly tall man” she retorted and laughed at her reaction.
“Put on your seat belt” he said as he walked over to the other side.
“So are we going to meet Kene?”Joe asked as they left her office.
“Awww, she has fallen in love with the good doctor” he said looking at her briefly before focusing on the road.
“I have not fallen” Joe answered angrily and amused at the same time.
“Nopes….we are taking the little woman home after buying some ligament nonsense – Doctor’s order” he winked and Joe laughed. His Adam’s apple danced again as he swallowed a laugh.
“So how’s the leg?” he asked as they joined the express and he sped on.
“Doesn’t need amputation” she said and he laughed again, sparing her a side glance.
“So what do you do at Fiji Consulting?” he asked as they drove in silence for a while.
“Keeping their account. Thinking of committing fraud though. Just in case you see my photo in The Guardian” Joe said and she got another side glance. He laughed through his nose and the sound sounded lovely yet strange. She was definitely getting in over her head.
“Why The Guardian?” he asked after his original laugh.
“Boss reads only The Guardian” Joe replied as they reached the traffic.
“Makes sense” he gave a smile. His lips upturned and Joe wondered how it would feel in a kiss. A quick mental slap and she was good.
“You live in Karu?” she asked as he kept a straight face and drove with rapt attention.
“Nopes” he answered, another side glance.
“So Kene requests that you take me home”
“Yes. He wants to know where you live so that he can monitor your leg” he gave another evil laugh.
“Evilly” Joe said as she heard him laugh.
“Goodily” he replied naturally as if they were longtime friends
“So you want to listen to your favorite song?” he asked as they inched closer to home.
“I don’t have a favorite song” she answered and watched him play a track.
“Miranda Lambert – Over You, if you are wondering” he said as he turned up the volume and continued to stare straight ahead.
“I wasn’t wondering” Joe answered as they neared the diversion that was taking her home. Luckily, the traffic flowed and she briefly wanted an impromptu traffic that will keep the conversation going.
He was awkwardly tall – she couldn’t get past that but then he was cute with his round roving eyes, hyena-like laugh, impressive hairline and an Adam’s apple that should worry her but it did more to fuel the quiet interest that was building within her. She didn’t dwell on the lips and long fingers; that would be asking for trouble.
She definitely shouldn’t ‘like’ any other man and in less than 12 hours, she had met interesting ones.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“I am waiting for my inheritance” he answered seriously with a wicked look that got a laugh he wanted.
“Construction. Lovely to build masterpieces. I’d take you to some of my sites when your leg lets you. Be warned – my works are taller than me” he answered easily as they arrived at the roundabout.
“Left” Joe answered with a shake of her head as she directed him to the house.
Soon she was home and he remained in his car clutching the steering while he waited for her to get down.
“I’d love to” Joe answered surprising herself on agreeing to see his sites. If she was any truthful, she’d say she wanted to spend more time with him.
“Great! And you should give Kene a call. Tell him I drove like a human being” he winked and soon he was zooming off. Joe stood smiling as she watched him drive off.
She definitely was going to get tangled with this one…
…Kale…she turned to walk into her flat and missing a step, she was falling into the gutter……a thick blackness overwhelming her as continued to fall…..
Grrrrrrrrrrrrggh! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!!
Joe woke up to the angry doorbell blaring so loud she jumped off the bed and rushed to the front door to open it without asking who it was. It was probably Maimuna – her flat mate who liked to play with the doorbell just for the fun of it after her club nights.
It was a Saturday and Joe was earning her beauty sleep.
What was she dreaming about again? She searched her fuzzy brain as she unlocked the door. She blinked and shaded her sleep-raw eyes as the hot sun blinded her with her right hand.
“Good Morning” a familiar voice greeted.
“Yes?” she answered finding the source of the voice as she cleared the mass of long borrowed hair from her face.
And there he stood looking down at her with warm brown eyes, amusement lighting his roving eyes and his twitching lips as he studied her appearance. Dressed in a flimsy sleeveless shift shirt that hung off her shoulders and clearly displayed her provocative chest, Joe looked like a sleep-demon. She looked down at herself and back at him.
“Do you find it to your liking?” she snapped, irritated at his height advantage and the delayed smile tugging at his lips. He laughed then and Joe found herself stepping back.
Surely he wasn’t real.
“Is that stubborn Maimuna home?” he asked as he fixed Joe a stare after his original laugh. It was him, the dream guy; her brain trying to retrieve her dream as fast as it could.
“And who wants to know?” she asked heating under his stare. His Adam’s apple.
“Kale Kanwa” he answered.
A rush of air from her tensed lungs.
It couldn’t be.
She was getting married in 2 months.
Read more from Uneñ Ameji on the Okadabooks App. Love on the 25th – a corporate love story set in Nigeria is her latest. Get Courting Baida and Finding Baida on African Stories. She is @UnenAmeji on twitter.
**How We Fall is dedicated to a new friend. #AwkwardlyTall