In the two minutes Rabi Bello stared at the text message, her brain comprehended a lot of information. Her heart dreamt up a couple of wishes and her memory dragged up a few mentionable events. In the end, her hatred for two seemingly innocent materials became absolute: Rain and John Mayer. As long as Rabi lived, she would never again merge the two together. It did not matter how well your intentions or how high your priorities, morals could even be the most uptight. The mixture of those two dreadful components was the catalyst to her current predicament. She just wished with all her heart someone told her...
She was minding her own business that Thursday six months ago. It was rainy season and she let her window down so she could get splashed by the light drizzle that had turned late evening in Abuja into night. The darkness was fast approaching jet black and yet the street lights were yet to switch on. Rabi realised she was a couple of minutes away from her sister’s house and decided to pop in and say hello. She parked her car outside to avoid interrupting the mai-guard from his prayers letting herself in through the individual gate, and confidently strolled in the front door shouting her greetings. The tension in the living room suffocated her like a chokehold around her neck. It was her brother-in-law and he was at his wits end. Nabila had hidden his car keys and insisted that if it was a ‘meeting’ he was really heading out to she should be allowed to accompany him. They spoke at one another without raising their voices yet the undercurrent of anger and frustration was unmistakable. Rabi did not want to get in the middle of this and she stood really still while Jamal stormed past her out the door. Nabila did not remain downstairs for long either and ran upstairs embarrassed because regardless of how often she complained, she never wanted anyone to witness their arguments. Rabi walked out the door slowly and half-jogged back to her car shaking her head, she was heading out and drove past Jamal. Rabi was unsure of what her response was to be. Did he expect her to greet him?
“Should she offer him a lift?” she wondered. Rabi looked in her rear view mirror just as lightning streaked the sky
She could feel her conscience tugging and pecking at her to give in. Rabi reversed to the end of the street and poked her head out her window.
“Sanu” she half-heartedly acknowledged him. “Can I offer you a ride?” Jamal looked at her with stern eyes
“No. The company driver will be here any moment to take me where I want to go.” Rabi wanted to sigh “I was only trying to help.” The street was empty, except for the falling of light rain on the asphalt, there was no car bearing the Federal Ministry of Works on its fender and certainly no company driver running towards them with a large umbrella shouting “Sir! I don come” Jamal Mujahid tall and proud with his nose in the air, wallahi, men and their overinflated egos. He’d rather drag a poor employee from the home he probably just returned to after a long day of driving “big men” around than accept a kind gesture. Jamal stood waiting for her to drive off.
He didn’t have an umbrella either Rabi realised. Thunder boomed loudly, the situation was dire.
“I insist” Rabi said. “I’m going your way already” She didn’t know if she was but it helped to say that. Jamal made a show of sighing and giving in before he walked in front of the car and slid in the passenger seat.
“Nagode Rabi” he said gratefully
Rabi put the car in drive and began the awkward journey to Jacaranda Casino. She had never been and squinted at road signs for direction. The rain had frenzied into a torrential downpour and her windshield wipers zig zagged back and forth energetically. She inwardly heaved a sigh of relief when Ladi Kwali Street came into view. It had so far been a tense 20minutes with neither party speaking.
“I would have called for a taxi but at this hour and in this weather...”
“It’s not a problem” Rabi lied
“I couldn’t call my friends to come pick me up” Jamal explained. “It would have been awkward” he said quietly
Rabi forced an understanding nod. What perfect timing for traffic to slow down. Just when she could spot the finish line! Whilst Rabi took refuge in the sound of the rain against her window it disturbed Jamal and he had hoped she would be the first to turn on the radio. If he reached for the knob it would be obvious that he felt vulnerable and exposed. It wasn’t his fault. Sitting in the passenger side of his wife’s old sister’s car would do that to any man. Why doesn’t she say something? She is usually such a talkative.
“Things are getting difficult, at home, a gida na with your sister”
“I don’t think I am the person you should be speaking to about this” Rabi said harshly.
Jamal didn’t understand how Nabila generated such fierce loyalty even with her ability to be completely selfish. It was the same with Amaka as well; it sometimes felt like he was yet to meet this Nabila they all adored.
“Ba ke gane Rabi”
“I shouldn’t have to understand. It’s none of my business”
Rabi proceeded to spend the rest of the journey ignoring him. Finally Jamal gave in and turned the radio to 96.9 cool FM. He made sure to mention loudly that this was his favourite song they were playing...
That night as Rabi settled down in bed Jamal sent her a text thanking once more for the journey and offering to reimburse her for fuel. Rabi refused and bid goodnight, reminding him to greet her sister. He replied he would if she were speaking to him. Rabi suggested buying flowers the next day. Jamal mused Nabila would merely point out the flaws in the petals stating how differently she would have planted the seeds or whatever. Rabi’s response of ‘lol’ was the first of three more she would send before she drifted off to sleep.
Two weeks later her car would break down and scared at being stranded without a mechanic in sight she would call Jamal for assistance and he would loan her his Benz. Assuring her he would wait with her silver Honda till his personal mechanic arrived. Rabi returned his car with a full tank later that night and collected her keys thanking him non-stop for saving her neck. They were even now Jamal laughed. Over the next two months they spoke more freely with one another. Dropping the stuffy salutations of previous encounters, they spoke mostly in English and traded jokes and music via email. He teased her on not owning a blackberry and she teased him on being attached to his.
Rabi considered herself lucky to get along with her brother-in-law unlike others she knew who couldn’t stand theirs. They were friends; so it soon stopped being too uncomfortable when Jamal unconsciously forgot himself and complained about Nabila, it also ceased to be inappropriate when they became loved up again and Jamal audibly blushed when he spoke of his wife. Nabila herself was excited with their new camaraderie and excitedly moaned and gushed about her husband as the moment allowed. Rabi did not notice that the complaints grew as the months progressed. She did not notice that it got harder to take her sister’s side. She did not notice that the hours she spent speaking with him got longer and longer. She did not notice they had numerous private jokes and he ruffled her hair and pulled on her nose at will. She did not notice their love of cigarettes and shisha rivalled most passions she knew, it was afterall just one more thing they had in common. She did not notice she was more knowledgeable of his deadlines, or that he had bought a medical dictionary so he could understand the terminology she used. She told herself it was sweet he sometimes met her outside her hospital at the end of her shift. She told herself he was a late sleeper. Their relationship had become emotionally dependent, it was unconventional but borderline appropriate. It was a Monday when everything changed...when rainfall met that stupid song.
Rabi was working through lunch when Jamal arrived to taunt her. He was bored and came down from his office needing to pass time. He always got like this when he closed a contract deal; then the Ministry of Works ceased to be exciting abode. As she transcribed patients notes into her computer Jamal tried out nicknames on her till he found the one that most annoyed Rabi. “Bee Bee it is then” he declared. “Don’t you dare or I’ll call you La La” she threatened. Both names stuck and when Bee Bee tired of watching La La chuckle and point at models of the female reproductive system she decided to humour him and accept his offer of peppered chicken and Fanta. She hit him over the head with a Women’s Sexual Health textbook when he suggested that it was physically impossible for her to turn down free food. As he nursed his head wound she informed him he now had cooties, relinquished him of the car keys and relished driving his car to the suya joint. As they ate, Jamal’s favourite song came on and Rabi asked him why he liked John Mayer.
“Who?” Jamal chewed
“Isn’t this your favourite song?”
“No. When did I say that?”
“A few months ago when I dropped you off at Jacaranda”
“Oh!” he looked embarrassed “I only said that because you made me uncomfortable and I needed an excuse to turn on the radio”
“Nooo” Rabi laughed. “How did I make you uncomfortable?” she pointed with her straw
“I don’t know you were too quiet. It was weird”
Rabi laughed for a long time, giggling as she lit her cigarette. Jamal disproved of her smoking generally because he used to be a heavy smoker himself and the sight of Rabi blowing out perfect O’s gave him the itch. Smoke ringlets curled upwards and Jamal reached across the table to confiscate her pack of Marlboro; due to his enforced regulations she was officially down to 6 sticks a day now. Jamal supplemented Rabi’s obedience to this rule by bribing her with suya. His secret weapon! Rabi smiled when she thought of her hidden stash of Benson & Hedges in her hospital locker. She was not picky and would smoke anything that could be lit; it was the nicotine she craved.
Jamal tired of her teasing made a mad proclamation to always dance whenever he heard John Mayer. Rabi laughed at him even harder afterwards. As Jamal pulled into the Hospital parking lot, to drop her off “Waiting on the World to Change” played on the radio. Rabi dared him with her silence and Jamal began to wriggle in his seat, lunging in time with the beat. Rabi got out into the rain; noisy and warm, laughing uncontrollably trying to make a run to the entrance doors before she got too wet. Jamal ran to her side pinning her against the car blocking her exit to shelter. “You must dance too or I’ll let you get soaked” he warned. Rabi ducked and dodged with no success, Jamal was not letting go and the rain was getting heavier soaking through her white wrap skirt. He ignored her pleas and was unaffected by her threats of lacing his tea with fast-metabolising, untraceable poison. She had no other choice, Rabi sang the words and Jamal made a mess of the lyrics but it was then with the warm rain, fiery peppers on her tongue and the scent of Fanta on Jamal’s breathe that Rabi forgot her place. She did not pull away when their playful laughter died down and their huffs sounded like Wind instruments to the song, the raindrops drummed in accompaniment to the strumming of Mayer’s guitar. Jamal stared at her with heavy lidded eyes, his hair a tangle of brown curls, he laid his forehead against hers and their noses touched, Mayer crooned, he leaned in.... and Rabi ran.
She ran toward the hospital doors like they were her salvation she was pleading sanctuary. That night as soon as her shift ended Jamal called her. His baritone voice drifted over the telephone to her ears as she lay in bed trying the push the matter out of her mind, telling herself it probably was not as dramatic as she made it out to be; she prayed they would ignore the moment, even hoped he would tease her about bolting but instead he spoke the words. Jamal destroyed that refuge with his profession “I married the wrong sister. How could I not have seen you? Rabi it’s you. I just know it.” Rabi hung up but the illusion had been shattered. They were not friends, not anymore.
Rabi was home now although she had no memory of driving out of the hotel or through the black gates of her home. So she followed her routine: locked herself in Baba’s study skimming through his old medical journals, gorged on Oda’s fried rice, listened to Mama complain about the shade of green she had to wear to a campaign party. “Na shiga uku. When Baba was appointed Minister of Health I did not punish my friends with this rag.” She held the material; with two fingers like it was stained. “Mai ke damun Hajia Hafsat?” she asked Rabi waiting for an answer. Mama looked so horrified it was comical. “Ban sani ba Mama.” Rabi replied smiling. Her father took alot from her, but then again few could live with a man who said less than 200 words a day. Dr. Danjuma Bello was brilliant but he was boring. Kai! Her parents were a classic case of opposites attracting and Rabi truly believed her parents loved one another. Farida Balarabe walked away from the insurmountable wealth and dynasty of her maiden name when she was 19. Refusing the old Hausa family money and all the trappings it accorded to make her own way with a struggling medic newly returned to the country from Cambridge and fresh off a break up from his white girlfriend, Natasha Matthews. Her family said she was stupid, assured her he would return to “bature” “those with red ears” but she persevered and now she had earned herself every nag and complaint her heart desired. Mama was good because she pushed her husband to be more than a regular doctor. Got him into politics and kept him there for a good 12years and now although officially retired; he consulted with WHO and UN on behalf of the Federal Government. Baba was essential because he put a break on Mama’s wild ideas and kept her grounded. It was hard for Rabi to believe that even with all the money they had, the Bello family grossed one-fifth of her maternal grandparents’ Balarabe estate. Knowing her mother, leaving that sort of comfort at such a young age must have required a great deal of conviction and faith in a man...
Mama was lucky she had good taste in men. The one she chose to sacrifice everything for repaid her with a long and happy marriage. Rabi Bello re-read Jamal’s text and came to the conclusion that she would always be that sort of person. The one who always wanted what she shouldn’t have. The problem with Lust is hormones remember every encounter and should the opportunity with the faintest of desires materialise; you are drawn to it. Hormones silence your conscience and muddle your reasoning. Rabi had gone against her family over a man once before.
Two years ago while she was studying medicine in Warwick; his name was Marc. He was tall and handsome, half-British and half-Italian. Baba found it amusing that his child had a white boyfriend around the same age he met Natasha. Mama failing to see the humour nearly had a cardiac arrest. Marc stood outside the library smoking and would undress Rabi with his eyes every time she walked by. He wore a distressed leather jacket even on the harshest winter days and always kept his dark hair a little too long. His slate green eyed stare was so intense that even after they began dating he could reduce her to stuttering, his touch set her skin on fire and his kiss gave her shortness of breath. He opened Rabi’s eyes to a whole new world of vice. He lit her first cigarette, and her first spliff, bought her edible underwear, watched for speed cameras while she drove his car like a maniac. He taught her to roll the perfect joint, to exhale through her nose, to suck, to grind, to down a shot or three in one sitting. All the drinking songs she knew were in Italian. They both understood it was not going anywhere; but their carnal need was so out of control that the night he took her virginity; Rabi did not leave his dorm room afterwards for three days. It was a life of no repercussions they lived. Rabi has no idea how either of them graduated. He was in Paris now; probably giving some other girl rapid heart murmurs. Rabi smiled as she remembered him making pasta in his boxers, and then later eating grapes off her belly button. How they would snuggle up naked in his duvet on cold misty mornings and lean out the window to share a cigarette. That’s why Rabi accepted the marriage to Alhaji Tukur; she’s had her fun and enough sex to last her a life time.
This issue with Jamal was different. It was a combination of fatal doses of rain and music. She would never in her right senses let that happen again and she merely had to ignore Jamal long enough for him to get the message. Eventually he would stop his foolishness and return to his wife, they would never speak of this again. Rabi was not that person. Jamal was not that man. Nabila would never abide to be a jilted wife. The actors did not fit their roles and so there would be no show, no cliché to re-enact. She deleted the text and went to bed.
A whole month goes by and Jamal relents in his pursuit of Rabi. The frequency of the phone calls, texts and emails slowed to a trickle and eventually halted. Rabi suddenly had too much free time on her hands, getting her to realise how much of it she previously spent talking with or writing to Jamal. Her lunch hour seemed longer and she hated the surveillance she had to undertake just to buy suya. Their interests had become so merged, that she had to remind herself who found the grilled fish restaurant, who owned the CD in the car radio, and she cursed loudly when her phone reminder beeped with Jamal’s deadline; with a suggestion to send a Good Luck text. “Rabi ba ke da hankali. How did you ever let it get this far?” she scolded herself. She pulled into the stone driveway at Nordica Fertility Centre. This was no doubt her best part of the week; volunteering here made her feel like she was making a difference although her impact she was sure was but a tiny, miniscule ripple on the surface of the whole issue of conception. Omon hailed her from her station “yarinya”. Rabi laughed, “I do speak English you know”.
“Ya ki ke?” Omon greeted “Your sister told me to give you a one hour reminder about your appointment”
“Oh thank you” Rabi couldn’t believe it had been a week already. The first fortnight it was hard to sit next to her sister and hear her complain about Jamal. Rabi didn’t know if it was because she felt guilty for what almost happened or because she knew firsthand how kind and generous and silly Jamal was. When her sister sighed and spoke about his hair, Rabi had to place her hands on her head to stop herself from nodding in agreement. That angered Yemi who had to repaint her middle finger with a new coat of cranberry nail varnish. Rabi didn’t apologise. It was wonderful hair. It will be different this week; Jamal no longer called so her conscience was clear as day, she could finally relax and enjoy herself. She swung her door open and saw Jamal sat in the waiting room looking dejected. Rabi’s heart gave a lurch and she coached herself before ignoring him and walking into her office. He came in after her.
“You’ve lost your manners” Jamal asked his voice hoarse
“Sanu Jamal” Rabi spoke in the reserved tone she used to
“As you no longer answer your phone. I decided to come see you in person”
“I am very busy and have a mountain of wor...”
“Do I look like an idiot, Rabi?” Jamal leaned against the wall like he might soon collapse
“What answer will get you to leave?” Jamal said nothing but continued to stare at her
Rabi could feel herself getting angry “What are you doing here?” Jamal looked like he didn’t know the answer to that either. “You need to leave Jamal”
“We’re getting too close” Rabi made a last attempt at reason
“We’re not doing anything wrong”
“You talk to me more than you speak to your wife”
“Who’s fault is that?”
Is that what he came for? To throw questions at her? At least she was trying to remedy the situation and help them past it. Rabi’s anger spilled over. “La ilaha illallah! What do you expect from me? To take your side over my sister’s side?”
“After everythin...” Jamal started
“Wanne everything? Me sa haka maza suke yi? Nothing has happened Jamal. NOTHING!”
“If you need somewhere to release your sexual tension, it’s not here. Kaji? ”
“Find someone else. Somewhere else”
“You think I came fo...”
“STOP! Just stop this foolishness. Go away and let me breathe. Dan Allah leave me be” Rabi pointed to the door, her body shaking from the exertion
Jamal walked out banging the door. Rabi sat and tried to calm down by taking deep breathes but she couldn’t. She had been unforgivably rude and for all she knew he came here to agree that they move past it and reduce contact with one another but she barely let him speak. She was so rotten; she all but permitted him to solicit prostitutes.
Ya Allah! Did she really say ‘release sexual tension?’Haba she had to go and apologise. Rabi got up and walked to the door as Jamal walked back in.
Their bodies slapped against one another, forehead to forehead, chest to chest, mouth to mouth. Rabi could step back; all she had to do was tell her feet to move. Raise her hands to his chest and push herself away that is all she had to do. Slowly her hands found his top button and her fingers spread on his chest, but they closed around his tie instead and Jamal bent his head just enough that Rabi wondered what he was looking at. She raised her head and her top lip met his bottom mouth. He exhaled, Rabi inhaled. His hands closed up on her shoulders and trailed down her arm, resting on her wrist which was still locked around his tie. Rabi realised she had not stepped back, as she moved so did Jamal. His mouth closed on hers as he held her waist. He sucked her top lip lightly, rhythmically and moved his nose on her cheeks.
Rabi smelled his perfume, she sighed and with that Jamal’s tongue dived in her mouth, it moved counter-clockwise as the grip on her hips tightened then moved upward. Rabi was too stunned to move, her breathing had stopped all together and unconsciously her fingers tugged on his tie, when she noticed that she moved them away but her skin slid up to his neck and soon she was forcing his face on hers and kissing him with as much ardency as he showed her. The inflammation of her senses translated itself in how she held him to her. Jamal’s thumbs rested beneath her breast bone now and already her bra seemed to tight for her erect nipples, her chest earnestly pressed on his and her fair breasts jiggled nearly bursting out of his tight embrace. They were begging to be fondled and kissed as her mouth was. Vehemently Rabi gathered a fistful of his brown curls and felt their silkiness slip through her fingers eluding capture. Oh she longed for that to brush against her skin. The pain oh Jamal’s teeth on her lips was quickly soothed by a slow massage of his pink tongue. His lips tasted like sugar candy and he smelt like the ocean. Rabi still could not breathe and felt lightheaded so she knew she would soon pass out, her heart was pounding her ribcage so loudly. She wondered how it could be, how all this emotions could come from a kiss: pleasure, pain, suffocation, disorientation. As one side of her brain tried to make reason, the other half relished the conflicting impact it had. Then his thumb brushed her nipple and Rabi was sent into such realm of ecstasy that her breast willingly pushed into Jamal; pleading to be caressed. Her panties were wet and her thighs were sticky... Jamal broke away from her gasping for dear life. His erection pulsating through his trousers, his breathing was apace and laboured. He looked at her like she had bewitched him. They locked eyes for a brief moment then Jamal slowly backed up; never taking his gaze off hers, and shut the door sliding the bolt into place. This was such delicious temptation Rabi decided that since she was going to hell; she might as well enjoy the ride. Her lips readily parted when Jamal strode back to her.