The apartment the agent found Lami was a sprawling three bedroom flat located in the heart of Tanke. It had a balcony and the rooms had high ceilings and the floors were tiled. The house itself was tall and imposing, a giant mountain of cement painted light green. Its reddish brown roof reminded Lami of a Breton hat – standard but unfashionable.
As they walked into the apartment, the agent told her that the house was built few years back by an unnamed rich businessman who rented several of the apartments out with the exception of this one, the one he had found Lami, because his mistress lived there. Not for long though, because when the house was invaded by robbers, the mistress was shot in the face because she had protested when one of the robbers proceeded to take a sip out of her expensive red wine.
“She bled out right here on this floor,” The agent announced proudly, and for a brief moment Lami wondered if he felt that he was doing her a favor by finding her an apartment that formerly qualified as a murder scene.
The agent had found her two other places; one was a tiny two bedroom flat along Fate road that had walls covered in grime and the other was a spacious two bedroom flat around Taiwo road that, by some mocking architectural twist of fate, did not have a personal kitchen, one would have to share with the other tenants.
Lami discovered, with relief, that she liked this leviathan house with the ugly roof. In her mind eye she could see the living room wall painted a beautiful grey colour, the yellow curtain with the bright flowery print she had bought at a yard sale in Lagos hanging over a window, a large bookshelf jammed between the space that divided the sitting room from the balcony, and a large gas stove that caught her eye on Jumia fitting comfortably in this kitchen.
And there, intruding into her imagination, was Kabir, waking up next to her in the master bedroom whose walls she would paint a bright pink, standing in the kitchen, tall with a head full of light brown dreadlocks, his dark skin glowing as he made breakfast while she read to him from a book. Her fingers – painted bloody red, curled around the book cover like they did whenever she and Kabir lay in bed, their bodies moving like clockwork, her fingers digging into his back.
Lami paid the rent fee on the spot and it was after she had asked for the agent’s bank account number and wired the money that she was overcome with a wave of anxiety. Had she been too impulsive? She asked the agent and he glared at her like she had just asked him for her money back before mumbling in his heavily accented English, “No mah. I don’t think so.” But Lami knew she had been quite impulsive lately. It was a coping mechanism of some sorts, that gave her a semblance of control over her feelings.
Just last month she quit her job at a prestigious law firm in Abuja and arrived in Ilorin city for a vacation. Ilorin was not Lagos or Abuja. The city did not have plenty of tourist spots so all she did was go shopping at the mall, visit several restaurants for delicious local meals and in the evenings, she swam regular laps in the rectangular swimming pool her hotel provided. The hotel was nice, but somewhere along the way she had grown discontent, and the restlessness sprouted in her chest like a blooming flower.
It was a toxic thing, this restlessness, and it reminded her of when she was younger, a young girl yearning for freedom, overcome with an intense need to be away from her alcoholic mother. It made her seek something more, some form of closure perhaps, and Ilorin, with its sand cloaked ground and fiery sun, promised something like that. And so here she was, walking out the gates of the towering house, having just paid for an apartment that she was not quite sure about.
The next morning, Lami woke up to a call from Kabir. As she stepped out of bed and walked over to the small table where the ringing phone lay, it struck her that she would have to buy new books for her bookshelf too, because most of the books back at her place in Abuja were gifts from Kabir.
“Olamide, is that you?” His voice sent a familiar tug through her stomach, and she wondered if the softness in his voice was there because he missed her or because he was basking in the glorious aftermath of love making, having just slipped out of his lover. “I’ve searched everywhere for you; your workplace, your apartment, your friends at the gym. No one knew where you went. I’ve been dialing your numbers for days–I’m going crazy here.” His voice broke and then he was gasping and crying over the phone, words rushing past his tongue before he could catch them. “I’m sorry, Olamide. Please come back to me. I know I did you wrong and I’m truly sorry. I can’t live without you, Olamide. You are my soul. My actions were truly regrettable.”
There it was again. That word, regrettable. It had a subtle, implied meaning that made actions seem less consequential because naturally, they were deserving of regret. The first day she met him at a friend’s wedding and he had asked for her number, lost it and came back to ask again, he had said to her, “It is certainly regrettable that I have to ask again.” She had been amused then, by that choice of word, as if regretting something was enough to absolve a person of guilt.
The day he told her he was sleeping with another woman, a fellow lecturer at Bayero university, it was this same word he used. “What I did was regrettable, and I hope that you’ll forgive me.” And after, as she traveled to Ilorin by road, ignoring the pain that rose in the pit of her belly as the car turned and twisted in a manner that triggered waves of nausea, she wondered if their four year relationship meant nothing to him, if, like his ex-wife, she was disposable after all.
The phone clicked as Lami cut the call. The hotel room had a nice view; she walked to the window and stared out at the colourful hibiscus flowers swaying in the wind. They reminded her of her mother who, while she was dying of lung cancer, had requested that she be buried along with a bouquet of hibiscus flowers. “Your father loved hibiscus flowers, Lami.” Lami’s mother said, staring up at the ceiling of the private hospital room. Then a stray tear rolled down her cheek. “Even in death, I want a reminder of him.” Lami had wanted to tell her mother that she thought it was pitiful, this continuous mourning of a man who left his wife and two-year old daughter for another woman. If love sucked out all the happiness out of you, was this not enough reason to let go? On the day of her mother’s burial, she brought the flowers along, as promised, and placed them in the casket. Now, as Lami stared out the window, she realized that she understood a little, how her mother must have felt.
The apartment looked ugly once it was done; the grey paint made the living room dull and depressing; the settee was unfashionable, unlike the furniture back in Abuja which was genteel; the large bookshelf took up too much space; the gas stove did not fit in the right spot. The paintings Lami hung on the walls did not fit perfectly, they fell, they tilted. The house was built in an area dominated by the University of Ilorin students, and their bubbly enthusiasm, the sound of their laughter, reminded her that she was a woman of thirty-five, aging. One of them, a young woman named Salma visited the day after Lami moved in, asking if there was anything she could do. “I’m in need of a part time job and my friends told me you just moved to this area so I just want to know if like, you need an extra hand around here or something.” Lami said no, she didn’t need a maid but if something came up, she would let her know. Salma nodded and asked, laughing, if she was seeing someone. “Because like, some of my male buddies wanted to know.” Lami said kinda, it was complicated.
Later that night, she sat on the living room floor for a long time, phone in hand. Then she dialled Kabir’s number and said to him, “I’m coming home.”
Aishah Ojibara loves to write and sleep. You can find her on Twitter (@aishahojibara) or at the University of Ilorin where she studies Health Promotion.