I met Jare at Fitness and Soul—the new neighborhood gym. It was a Tuesday evening, a day before Leke and I would mark our fourth year anniversary. I had walked into Fitness and Soul for the first time, completed my registration forms, received my free heart rate monitor and paid an exorbitant fee. The heart rate monitor wasn’t so free after all.
It was 5PM. Leke would be home in five hours. I figured I could pass time; and maybe Leke could join the gym soon. Maybe. Or maybe not.
The gym floor was crammed with treadmills, bench presses, sweaty enthusiasts and a few people like me loitering and clueless. Colorful water bottles dotted the room; towels dangled around necks; rap music blared from invincible speakers above the purring of equipment and the whirring of the ceiling fans. A muted TV showed the news and another showed the E! Channel. I decided on an equipment that looked like an escalator. My thighs started burning almost immediately, my heart fighting not to fall out of my chest. When I was sure my calves would fall out under my knees, I got off the machine. Panting and out of breath, I checked my watch. 6 minutes—that would have to do.
Weights sat on a rack in front of a wall-long mirror. I willed myself to them and the mirror.
I smiled at my reflection. My body was perfectly curved, though slightly hidden, under my large tank top, I could see the exaggerated outline of an hourglass—I had worn my tummy trainer, like Abby told me to, clinching my waist so tightly that my hips got stared at—by the girl next to me, who dipped every other second in squats, and by the two men near the bicycles.
After a few half-hearted weight lifts, I headed to the showers. 15 minutes at the gym. We all have to start somewhere.
It was a long walk across the floor, past the treadmills, past the men at the bicycles, around the glass screens and the group in yoga. From my pocket, I drew out my phone, scrolling mindlessly past photos, memes and videos on IG. Once I was out of sight, Ipushed into the Women's shower room, eyes still on my screen. The steam colored everything white and for a moment I looked up, away from my phone. The sounds of showers and splashing water echoed. Out of a stall stepped a figure. Once the haze cleared, I realized I was staring at a man. He had nothing on, except drops and streams of water which trickled down his body.
At my scream, he dropped the towel he had reached for.
“What are you doing in here?!” I yelled.
He turned to face me, he shrugged, and shook his head, like I had the answer to my question.
“This is the men's shower?”He finally said,“It says so on the door.”
I stood rooted. In shock because he was talking to me very, very naked and because he seemed to be right—another man walked past behind him into a stall.
“I’m sorry—”I stammered, my palm covering my eyes and my feet back pedaling out the door. Outside, the door surely read Men's shower.
How did I miss that?
I stumbled through the door of the women's room, checking twice that it read“Women”. After a quick shower, I changed into leggings and a t-shirt, clasped my clincher around my waist, grabbed my gym bag and walked straight out of the gym, my feet swift and my eyes forward.
How did I walk into the men's room? Abby was going to pass out from laughing when she heard. The road was busy with commuters making their way home and other road users who avoided heir inevitable Lagos traffic through back roads.
From the corner of my eye, I saw acar slow down beside me, the heat from its engine sweeping around my calves.
“Would you like a ride?” Thank God he had clothes on now.
Just keep walking, Lani.
“I’m fine, thanks.”
I kept my gaze ahead.
The car crawled beside me. Other cars blared their horns behind him.
“Ok. I forgive you.”He said above the ruckus.
I stopped in my tracks.“For what?”
There was mirth in his voice and his face was smiling,”For walking in on me naked. Unannounced.”He shrugged.
The silver Honda behind let out a long, endless honk.
“Make this woman enter car!” A keke napep driver yelled.
“I'll accept your unoffered apology if you let me give you a ride.”He said.
“I live just a few streets away. You don’t have to.” I replied.
He continued“I live on Garrison street. It's not too far from here.”
“So do I!”
“Perfect. Get in, Neighbor! Then…"His smile, now a grin,"You can apologize.” His laugh made me smile.
I hesitated. It was the quality in his voice. It stirred a caution in my mind.
“Come on in!”
I opened the door and sat in his bucket leather seats.
“My name is Jare.”He had a short beard, wide, expressive eyes and an easy smile.
“ I'm Lani”. He took my hand gently, shaking it .“Nice to meet you” I added.
“The pleasure is mine.”
Something wasn't right.
This was trouble.
I'd have to tell Leke about this gym "accident" and ride. We told each other everything, especially events like this-the ones termed "trouble". I couldn’t tell him a day to our anniversary. Maybe next week? He was preparing for the conference, maybe the week after.
It was the way he looked at me; the fact that was drowning in this heady fragrance and maybe I didn't want to stop drowning in it; it was his touch, it had the base of my palm pulsating and the tingle of it continued for a full minute. Oh yes, I had to tell Leke.
“Girl, I don’t know why you never told Leke since day one.”Abby tried to be still as she flicked her mascara wand through her lashes. We were in the restroom at work for the second time that day.
“There wasn’t a right time.”
“Really?”She stopped to look at me, brows raised,”Even when you guys started playing gym partners and going for dinners. Where was his wife, sef?”
“I don’t know, he doesn’t talk about her.”
“What have you done about the video?”
“What do you want me to do?”I folded my arms and leaned against the wall,“Jare isn’t replying my messages.”
“You need to do something. You can’t wait around until he calls you.”
“I haven’t gotten any other messages. It’s probably that his wife.”
“Lani, you need to go home and fix it. Maybe talk to the gateman. Or tell Leke.”
“I can’t tell Leke. Are you crazy?”
“Just do something.” She said. The door swung open and Teresa from marketing walked into the rest room. I smiled at the unwelcome guest in the mirror and made my way back to the office floor.
I left Jade Towers at 3.15PM and waved down a napep. We made it home in good time, ahead of rush hour. I made my way to Jare’s house. It was sunny and the gate felt warm under my knuckles as I rapped on the metal.
Where are you, Jare?
The gateman’s eyes appeared in the peephole. His eyes translated from curiosity to perceived disdain.
“Well done”,I said,“Is your oga around?”
“Night never reach.”
There was silence.
I ignored his remark. I made a note to tell Jay about it.
“Is he or Madam around?”
The corners of his eyes creased in amusement.
“I want to see her.”
He looked at me for a split second.
“Who make I say wan see am?”
He was having a pleasant time.
“Lani, from number 22.”
When he arrived, he let me into the compound. My feet already led towards the side of the house.
“Na the main door madam visitor dey take. No be kòrò.”
I ignored him again.
The front door led to a brightly lit anteroom with paintings of flowers and sea ports on the longest wall. Two beige arm chairs sat against the wall, a coffee table in front of them. I waited.
A young woman walked in,“Madame will see you.” She led me past a few doors, I was careful not to walk too quickly in my court shoes on the gleaming marble floor.
We entered a living room. The floor sparkled with the lights and the cool air from the AC chilled the room with zeal. The smell of pines wafted from somewhere. On the cream colored sofa sat a woman—slender, dressed in a long, peach silk kaftan. her skin tone dark and even, beautiful full lips and a button of a nose. It was her eyes that pierced out at me, bright and bold they were. She had a quiet elegance, she sat with her back straight, neck high, ankles crossed, like a beauty queen would, when she wasn't in the spotlight.
I suddenly felt gritty and dumpy. My outfit felt ill-fitting and my three-day old twist outs seemed wilted in the light of her gleaming, waist-long wavy hair.
“Marie tells me you are from number 22? Our neighbor?” She rose to about 5”11, a few inches taller than me, her hand extended. Her English was polished, not forced or accented, but clear and refined.
I took her outstretched hand, searching her face for some recognition or malice. Nothing.
“Yes, my name is Lani.”
I waited for the name to ring a bell.
“My name is Ngozi.”
“I apologize. I have never met you before, it seems.” She continued.
How can I help you? Her eyes seemed to ask.
I blinked once, a second time.
“I…wanted”, I stammered,”I wanted to say hello. I figured I should know my neighbors a little more. I'm making rounds on the street. Getting to know everyone.” I nodded and smiled.
“Well, yes indeed. I really appreciate it.”Her smile lit up the room. She looked at my outfit,”It would seem you came straight from work? What do you do?”
“I work at Thetha Communications. I'm a product manager…senior product manager ...hopefully soon.”
“Are you up for a promotion?” Her eyes, kind.
I nodded,”I hope so. I've been there eight years now.”
“My husband, Jare, has a friend there, Niran Sanya, do you know him?”
My heart skipped a bit at the mention of his name.“I report to Niran! Small world.”
“It truly is.”She continued,”I don't have the thrill of the anticipation of a promotion. That must feel so gratifying when it happens.”
“What do you do?”I asked. She was difficult not to like.
“Real Estate. It's a family habit. Dad bought and sold. Mum too. My siblings and I get our thrill from investing in where we know will be the next best thing in 20-30 years.”
We talked about houses and apartments in cities I had never heard of. The thought of the video on my phone burnt through my mind.
I had to say something.
I glanced at the photo of Jay and her and their two children.
Her bright eyes stared at me, curious and searching from the photo.
“How about your family?”
“Oh Jare is away for work. East Africa. He’ll be back soon."She said,"Maybe you'll meet him one of these days."
I nodded. He hadn't mentioned a trip.
“And your children.”
“On their way from school.”
I cleared my throat, "I have something I'd like to bring to your attention." My heart beat faster in my chest.
"The other night, I was at home when I saw a shadow outside my window with a flash light. My gateman said it wasn't him and it wasn't any of the other neighbor's in my building. In the morning nothing was missing. The presence of a stranger in my home, outside my window bothered me a lot.”
Her eyes were wide.
“Have you experienced this here at all?”I asked, clearing my throat again.
“No!" She said,”It's most unsettling. We should inform the estate committee and report this.”
I agreed. We talked about vigilantes, securities, safety and children. She truly was a difficult person not to like, the pretty face, her pure maternal concerns, her throaty laugh and the way she made affluence seem common place and unimportant.
After a while I got to my feet, ready to leave. She walked me to the front door.“Don't worry about it, I'm sure your children will be fine."
She closed the door and as I walked to the gate, the gate man staring at me in silence, my phone vibrated. I stared into my screen. A new message. The large triangle over the video stared at me. The fear was cold and it washed over me in torrents until my hairs stood on end. My thumb quivered over my screen and my phone sat precariously in my clammy palms. I let out a breath and played. It was a 15 second video set in a loop, when I couldn't watch it anymore and I was sure the groans were forever embedded in my mind, I stopped it. Just then I noticed another recipient was listed, next to my number.
Leke's number. They had sent the video to Leke too.
Copyright ©2017 by IkeOluwapo Adegboye
Entry #4 out soon!