Koot: A Short Story by Ike Adegboye
Koot: A Short Story
It was that moment Rufai lived for—that sliver of a second when his eyes caught hers in the rearview mirror. True, he had grumbled when Uncle Jubril fell ill, and when the old man had promised his Oga* that he trusted nephew—Rufai would show up in his place. Just when he finally saved enough money to go to the local club to see Adeola Montana and his Fuji 5000 band. Still, Rufai had arrived at the address in Ikoyi, dressed in his severely ironed shirt and trousers—Uncle even made him wear deodorant.
Number 16, Roland street was an unassuming house hidden behind a small, black gate and lost in the shade of dozens of trees. There was a gateman, David, and two househelps. Rufai didn’t learn their names. Madam had her own driver, Festus, whose trouser gators were sharp as a blade. Oga left for work at 7. Lunch was served at noon. Some tea and sliced bread served at 4pm.
A damned cycle.
Then she happened. She had stepped out of the house barefoot, dressed in a long maxi dress that flapped around in the hot Lagos air. And in five seconds, she vanished into the house.
If God was fair, Uncle Jubril would remain sick. But God had a different standard of fair. Uncle Jubril recovered. So Rufai sprinkled a little detergent into Uncle's Yellow Label tea on most mornings now, just to keep the old man down a little longer.
Her father’s schedule tapered off around noon. Rufai would bring him home for lunch. They returned to the office about 1:30PM. He’d set his briefcase and gym bag next to Oga’s feet in the elevator, keeping his eyes available but not fixed on Oga. Once the doors closed, he sprinted through the reception, out the revolving front door into the car, back to the house to take her to the little bungalow in Lekki, where she took piano lessons. It was the best 30 minutes of his day. He stole glances at her. Her dark skin glistened in the sun and her eyes stared out the back window into the Lagos traffic, lost, sometimes troubled, other times her eyes focused on nothing, other times they cried. If he was sure of his English, he'd say something. He had practiced saying"Hi" but his brother said his nose twitched whenever he said it; that his"H" was too heavy. He could try? Yes?
Her music teacher was a tall, light-skinned man with a glistening scalp. His beard was shaved close to his jaw and his eyes twinkled whenever she stepped out of the car. Sometimes they both giggled and spoke in hushed whispers. The man would open the car door for her, other times she stalked in front of him and didn't say goodbye. For two weeks now, she stalked ahead. No goodbyes. Then the bearded man stopped walking her to the car. She cried now whenever they drove home from Lekki.
Today she was restless.
She looked away from the sparkling Atlantic. Her attention fleeting around the car for a minute, She looked at her phone and smiled. Restless again, her eyes, magnificent, large, framed by long, thick lashes-rested on his in the rear view mirror. Rufai’s heart stopped. His eyes dropped to her lips— plumped by a sheer rose gloss, haloed as the light bounced off of its sheen. Rufai had never seen anything more beautiful.
He parted his lips, but they trembled.
Just say hi.
"Mr. Rufai,”She broke into his thoughts,“Please can we go back? I think I forgot something in Lekki." She said, rummaging through her huge handbag.
Rufai's lips quivered lightly,"Ok." He stammered, his eyes found the road. He cleared his throat in a low grunt.
"Hi", He muttered under his breath. The hairs on his arms stood on end.
He cleared his throat again. It could be better.
"Hi."He muttered. “Hi” was hard. He could tell her that he thought she was sweet like honey but his brother had said, the rich people used “cute” not “sweet”.
“Ki n sę ‘Koot’!” His brother had fallen off his chair laughing,”Not koot. Cute! Cute!”
You are Koot. He just couldn’t get it right. He could tell her he was in love with her. That Kolade Gbenro was teaching him to play the keyboard now. He could teach her music, teach her to play. She’s never have to go to Lekki again. She’d never have to cry.
He pulled up in front of the teacher’s gate. The light-skinned, bearded man was outside before Rufai turned off the engine.
His hand was on the car door as she stepped out.
“No! I didn’t come here to talk.”She snapped, “I left my sunglasses. That’s the only reason I came back.” She pushed past the man.
Her teacher grabbed her elbow and muttered to her. He handed her the sunglasses case. His voice was barely a whisper. His hands traveled along her arms. Rufai frowned. In an instant, the teacher dropped to the floor on one knee. From his pocket emerged a ring. It sparkled in the sun.
It happened all too soon. She jumped around, nodded her head and fell into his arms. The embrace was forever and a year. The kiss, eternal.
She hopped into the car after a long goodbye. She chattered on the phone as they drove home. She screamed calling one friend after another. He proposed! She’d yell. Followed by a scream.
Rufai glanced at her in the mirror, his brows still drawn together in a scowl. How did that happen? That man and his beard. What did the teacher have that he didn’t?! He watched her now, hysterical with joy in the backseat. She yelled. Giggled. Screamed. His frown melted away and a small smile softened his face. At least she had happened. At least he had loved. He’d hand the keys back to Uncle Jubril and stop feeding the poor man poison.
He’d work on his pronunciations and his keyboard lessons. Maybe one day he’d join Adeola Montana’s Fuji 5000 band….and maybe one day he wouldn’t.
He wished he could tell her though, that she was koot.
“Koot…Koot…” He shook his head as he battled with the alternate vowel word.
She screamed and burst into laughter in the back. Her eyes caught his in the mirror.
His heart stopped.
She was so sweet though. She truly was. He thought to himself. Sweet and koot.
Copyright ©2018 by IkeOluwapo Adegboye
Oga* Colloqial Nigerian word for a boss or an employer