"Aw, baby. I'm gonna miss you", Nneka said as she wrapped her arms around my neck to bring my head closer for a quick kiss. Garfield, her cat purred.
"Come on. It is not like we've never been away from each other before", I said.
"I know. I guess I'm just feeling this way because I'm wondering how sickly bored you'll be now that you know . . ."
She trailed off. I was out of a job, and she didn't want to remind me. Even more so because she had caused it. I had a female boss, and the nature of my job was demanding so I worked late and even on weekends sometimes. It was an early call from my boss one Saturday that had done it for Nneka.
She got my boss's number off my phone and sent her a nasty text. Of course she didn't hide whose girlfriend she was. The damage was so bad that no amount of apologies salvaged my job.
I was mad at Nneka, but I understood that was how she loved. Or maybe I just loved her so much and didn't want to let go.
"I will get by, babe", I said as I rubbed her shoulders gently.
"I am still sorry", she kept her eyes low and starred at my chest.
Nneka is a veterinary doctor. She was going to Zaria for three months to work as a replacement for one of her professors at Ahmadu Bello University. The professor had specially requested for her and since Nneka had always wanted to teach, and was on a long leave, she took the job after she had asked for my opinion about it.
Nneka was top of her class when she graduated three years back and was well known in the institution; there could not have been strong opposition to her selection as part-time replacement for her professor.
I lift her chin. "Hey hey hey. It is past now. Let it go. At least in this short while you've paid most of the bill, that's enough punishment for you".
"Just focus on imparting knowledge into your students".
"Yes, daddy", she always answered me in this manner whenever I motivated her to do something.
I pinch her nose playfully.
"All passengers leaving to Abuja, Jos, Zaria and Kano, your train leaves in five minutes. Please start boarding", a clear masculine voice rang through the public address system speakers.
Nneka picks Garfield who was sitting calmly at our heels as he usually did in public.
"See as he sat calmly. Everybody would think, 'what a gentle cat'".
I laughed. "He only turns on his charms for the camera".
"Take care of pops now, won't you?"
He purred. "That's my boy", Nneka said lifting him in the hair like a baby.
"You have to board now".
She moans and pulls me in for another kiss. It was slow and lingering then there was a very tiny sting.
I pulled back instinctively and laughed. "Naughty girl".
"Something to keep you remembering the last kiss for a few days", she giggled.
She usually did this, towing the line between nibbling on my lips and biting them. I liked it.
"All passengers leaving for Abuja, Jos, Zaria and Kano, please, board your train now", the voice announced again.
"Bye baby", I said.
"Bye". She replied before kissing her middle and index fingers and placing them on my lips. She walked to the train door swaying her hips seductively as she went. It was one of the things that made Nneka Nneka. She just did things.
I picked up my phone and called her:
"You know if you keep teasing me, I may just jump on that train with you".
"Now won't that be lovely".
I put my phone in my pocket and watched the train speed off.
"So, Garfield, what to do now for the rest of our day?" He gave me a look that said it all.
"Of course, you will just be Garfield".
The drive back home was long. The city had woken up and there was traffic everywhere on the Island.
"Crazy crazy Lagos. If you want to live long this is not the city to be in, I tell you. There's no rest", I said to Garfield who had leaped from the back seat to the passenger seat, already starting to exhibit his in-house manners.
Post Malone's, "Wow" flowed through the speakers and I mimicked a dougie on my seat that was off beat. I stopped when I noticed the old lady from the car beside me was watching and laughing. I smiled shyly and waved.
She put her head out her window and I tapped down mine.
"Did she say yes?" She asked jovially.
I laughed. "Soon enough ma'am".
Her lane moved and I saw her talking with her husband and laughing. It was probably because of me.
Home at last. I opened the door for Garfield to get down. It was a mistake. I should have looked around before letting him down.
Garfield obviously saw it first, a butterfly perched on the flower beds on the front lawn. He snarled and ran after it.
"Garfield, come back here! . . . Come here, boy!" I shouted.
He paid no heed to my voice till he got stuck in a thicket on the other side of the road. I laughed at him, pointing at him mockingly. He meowed softly as the butterfly danced into the sun rays above him.
I untangled him and got inside. It was going to be a long day. No, a very long three months. I fed Garfield a breakfast of mashed fish and plenty of milk so that he could feel heavy and sleep.
I took out my laptop and started browsing for jobs.
"Too lowly . . . Not mine . . . Poor pay" I commented as I filtered through each of the job vacancy posts.
Finally I saw one that caught my eyes, "Lead Copywriter at Prime Communications".
"Yes! This is it", I said as I hurriedly clicked on "apply to job" icon on the screen. Prime Communications was one the biggest advertising firm in the world, not only that, they had very attractive staff benefits and allowed their staff more creative control. There were many reasons to love it.
I schemed through the job description and requirements, and I was well suited for the job.
At that moment Garfield rose from his sleep. I paused and looked at him, anticipating what he wanted to do.
He readjusted his head on his paws and looked straight at me. Garfield was an adorable tabby American Bobtail Manx cat. He was slightly bigger than the specification of his breed. His eyes were bright green in the dimly lit living room.
Oh, it is the starring contest. I thought as I adjusted too and starred him back in the eyes. I lost as usual.
I started filling the online application form when Garfield sprang to the dining table and started to walk along the top of the chairs. He could make a very fine show cat. I let myself get carried away for a while by his brilliance before I returned to completing my job application form.
Garfield soon got bored and came to sit at my side, as if he was supervising what I was doing. He got bored with it after a while, went down to the rug and started playing with the helm of my jean trouser.
He stopped for a while then continued. I took the glass of water beside me and pretended as if I was going to douse him with it. He moved at lightning speed. He could only drink water, he wanted no other business with it, especially when it was bathing.
I laughed at him. He left me for good and went off to find another object of amusement.
I had not eaten anything and my stomach groaned in protest. I checked the time and realised I had been job searching for about four hours.
I opened the fridge and scan through. It held no fast food that interested me so I decided to make spaghetti and sauce. Garfield hopped onto the kitchen counter and sat watching. He always wanted to know what was going on.
"What have you been up to, boy?" I asked him.
My phone vibrated. It was Shalom. I answered the call and put it on speaker.
"My man, what's good?" His lively voice burst through the speakers.
I read Garfield's mind and intercepted him as he launched for my phone.
"Everything's good. How's work?"
"Going great. So how are the first few hours without your . . . bodyguard?" he cleared his throat as he said the last word.
"Come on, bro".
"A'ight a'ight, sorry. So the boys and I are thinking of swinging by after work, is that fine by you?"
"Sure. I will be grateful to have some company other than Garfield's".
"Alright then, see you by seven".
I watched Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz's "What Happens In Vegas" for like the umpteenth time then revised one of my notebooks to refresh my memory in case I got called up for an interview.
At seven, Shalom's Chevy truck pulled up in front of the house. I heard him say something that made the other boys laugh. Shalom is ever the comedian. The rest of us have the capacity to tense up easily, but not Shalom, nothing bothered him. He is comic relief personified.
I opened the door before they got to it and stood behind it waiting as the three of them trooped in.
"You would make an efficient door man", Mark said as he went in.
"It is not your fault", I said.
They laughed. Garfield liked Shalom and he was soon curled up on his lap purring away.
"Not What Happens in Vegas again" Ade said tiredly as he looked at the paused scene on the TV screen.
"Well, there was nothing much to do after job hunting".
"So did you find something good?" Mark asked. He was doubled over the deep freezer trying to get some frozen drumsticks out to make dinner for us. He was the chef.
"Yeah. I applied to two or three. Of all, I hope Prime Communications is the one that clicks".
"Oh, Prime Communications. You know my brother-in-law just got recruited as something there. I don't what post exactly, but it is really big because my sister went on and on about it at the last family dinner", Shalom said.
"To get a job in the organisation is an achievement, no matter what the position is", Mark said as he washed the drumsticks. "Ayo, help me bring out the pots. I need one for boiling chicken, another for sauce, one sieve and the frying pan", he said to me.
"But really what Nneka did was crazy. She's too smart to have acted like that", Ade said.
"Are we still talking about this?" I asked.
"Yes, we are. Until you get another job, and it has to be a better one, then we will let go of it", Ade replied.
"But she apologised", I defended her.
"But you are still jobless", Shalom said.
"Not for long".
"Amen. But I don't think you can reach your fullest potential with her around. Sorry to say, but she is very clingy. It is okay to be jealous, but her jealousy is unhealthy. We know your dreams, brother, how you want to become CEO of a multinational.
"Do you have any idea how many females you will have to work closely with then? How many nights you will be gone for? The number of hot air hostesses and female hotel attendants you will be constantly exposed to? She can't deal now, she won't deal then. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying she is not a good person, but she's not the right person for the kinds of dreams and aspirations you have", Shalom said.
"You are aggravating it", I said.
"Oh, is he? Remember junior year in college, what did she do to that female project partner you had?" Ade chipped in.
"She almost stuck a pencil in the girl's eyes . . . Not the prettiest of eyes, but at least they was useful", Shalom answered.
"Or in senior year when she pelted you with tomatoes because she had seen you put your arms around your cousin", Mark added.
"She didn't know it was my cousin".
"If you say so", Mark replied.
"Let's just talk about something else", I said.
Dinner was nice. There was a lot to rave about. It was past ten before they left. I was alone with Garfield again. I laid on the couch thinking about what my friends said. Nneka's jealousy might be unhealthy, but I loved her. I understood it was her personality. And if I was not lying to myself, it made me feel sure that she loved me.
I tried Nneka's number again, but it didn't go through. They were probably in a no network zone.
I switched the TV station to catch up with the rest of the news at ten. I didn't know when I fell asleep.
A phone call from a strange number woke me up the next day.
"Baby", she said.
"Hey babe, I've been trying to reach you".
"My phone was stolen. And it was hard getting someone to lend me their phone. I already put a call through to the bank to freeze my account".
"With the whole fraudulent activity going on now, that is expected".
"Do I look like a fraudster?"
"Well, it is not written on the forehead. How's the journey? Hope the food is nice?"
"The journey is fine, we are approaching Kogi now. The food keeps the hunger away, but it is not exactly filling".
"You should have taken a flight like I suggested".
"I am tired of taking flights, there is nothing to see in the skies. Besides it is always too short".
"So will you return on a train too?"
I felt her smile. "Definitely not. I won't be able to bear it, I would be burning for you after three months".
I smiled too. I wanted to say, "Try not to burnout", but I kept quiet and said, "Let me call you back, I don't want you to use up the kind stranger's credit".
"Okay. But in case you ever need to call me on this trip, you can reach me on this phone. The owner is in the same cabin as I am and we are friends already. Be sure to call me back right away". She dropped the call.
I tried dialing her number, but it didn't go through. Network had probably failed on her end again. Garfield was stretching on his blanket.
I brushed my teeth as I scrolled through my mailbox on my phone. There was a reply from one of the companies I had applied to. It seemed they were in a hurry. They scheduled an interview for the following day.
I let Garfield out of the door to ease himself. I waved at my neighbour who had just gotten married the past weekend.
I muttered to myself how men don't have peace of any sort- he just wedded and he was off hustling. I let myself dwell on the matter in my mind for a while and remembered one of the sermons I heard at my uncle's burial about men being engaged in an unprofitable job under the sun. I was never a great Bible student so it came as a surprise that there was something like that in it.
I made breakfast and read for my interview. My phone vibrated, it was Nneka.
"Hey. I was trying to call you back".
"Yeah, there was no network. We are in Lokoja now. How's Garfield? Hope you remember he has an appointment at the vet today?"
"I actually forgot".
"It is fine. I have always been around anyway".
"So how will you reach the school now?"
"I logged into my mailbox on my friend's phone and sent the department an email already and copied my professor".
"That's fine . . . hello? Hello?" The line started to sound like a scratched disk. Network was gone again.
I dropped the call. I took Garfield to the vet and made arrangements to have him taken care of the following day when I went for the job interview.
Whatever was given to Garfield at the vet clinic made him calm the whole day and it made me grateful. My friends came again that night to keep me company.
The interview was nice and I left with a job contract. I picked Garfield up at the vet clinic and went home. Nneka arrived Zaria earlier than scheduled. I gave her the news of my new job. She prayed I got a better one and apologised again.
The job paid lesser than my previous job by a little, but the people were lovely.
During my third month, the month Nneka was supposed to return, I got a mail to attend a job interview at Prime Communications. I had given up because there was a caveat that read that if I had not heard from them in six weeks, it was likely that I was not considered.
When I hooked up with my friends and told them what happened, they were elated.
The interview went smoothly and I got the job after a week of the interview. I put Garfield in care of my neighbour and went out to celebrate with my friends.
"I don't know, my sixth sense keeps telling me you had a hand in it", I said to Shalom as we downed shots.
"Well, a little bit. Turns out my brother-in-law is Head of HR so I asked him to let you get the chance of an interview at least, and if you didn't do well, he could cut you off. But I knew you would do well".
We got a bit high that Friday night and went back to my house. The boys had some company with them. The next morning I woke up with a slight headache. My friends had left with their one-night-stands.
A week later Nneka returned. She was still on leave for another week, so while I went to work, she stayed at home. One evening I returned home late. She acted coldly, but she said she was fine. I sat at the table trying to dish my food. She sat on the other end of the table with only a glass of water.
"Today was hectic. The client we are currently working with is ---", what I found in the covered plate stopped me in my tracks. They were two unidentical earrings and an underwear.
"What is this?"
"Proofs. Proofs of your cheating".
Confusion smacked me in the face. "I am lost".
"Of course you are. I found them while I was cleaning the house. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"I know nothing about it".
"Are you going to lie to my face?!"
"But I am not lying", I said calmly. She started to appear bigger than she already was. Her unpacked hair hugged her fair face on both sides and appeared like a mane.
"So are they Garfield's?" Garfield meowed as he turned to look at us, wondering why his name was called.
"But really I know nothing about them. Are you sure they are not yours?"
"You lying bastard!" She yelled as she aimed for my head with the glass cup. I ducked quickly. The glass smashed against the wall.
"You need to calm down!"
"Oh, I will show you how to calm down". She picked up the flower vase and flung it at the television set.
"That's the fourth TV set!"
She didn't answer me. She went upstairs and picked her bags.
"Where are you going to? It is late".
"None ya business".
"It is late", I repeated, "At least wait till morning". . . that was a mistake. I shouldn't have said that.
She launched at me shouting like a Viking warrior. I reacted quickly and bolted into the kitchen and locked the door. I heard the front door slam, her car engine roared to life and her tires screeched on the driveway as she backed into the road and drove off.
I sat on the kitchen floor and as if my memory was unlocked I remember my friends had girls over the night we went to celebrate my new job. "Shit!" I cussed.
I wanted to call her phone when like a blurb, Shalom's word popped into my mind: "I am not saying she is a bad person, but she may not be the right person for your dreams and aspirations". I lowered the phone. It was farfetched to think my friends sabotaged me. Still I couldn't help but think Nneka leaving was for the best, and maybe I would not have realized it without a little help from my friends.