Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Table

Graffiti on the door of the men's room in Kilimanjaro

I sit there, with that part of me I’ve come to think of as my soul grinning. My face, I hope, is mask of calm and sophisticated interest in spite of the ludicrous drama in which I find myself an indifferent actor.

They sit across the table from me, giggling, holding hands, and whispering; generic gestures of an ostensible romance. Occasionally, they toss a comment in my direction, a bit like offal being tossed to Bingo as he paces outside the kitchen door. I play my part in this pleasureless ménage.

I look at him, handsome in his skin, fashionable in his clothes, and secure in his relationship. The leading man of the play, a willing actor, hero to my villain (or perhaps I flatter myself, perhaps mine is no more than a waka-pass role). She is a fitting partner, her beauty providing an undeniable visual complement to his good looks. They are the picture of aesthetic symmetry. Adonis and Venus seated at a table. I wonder what I am doing here with the gods. He is Achilles, she is his fatal heel, and the arrow that kills him again and again, lies idly, for the moment at least, between my legs. Did not Lord Byron say something about beauty being a fatal gift?

We all met here by fate. I had time to kill while waiting for a deposit to come through at the bank. I walk into the nearest restaurant, and there they are, on a lunch date. Fate. The gods who manipulate us like pieces on a chess board are not without humour. He: the rightful boyfriend, the king, legal resident of the castle. Me: the intruder, a modern day Sir Lancelot who is only just realizing that there is a King Arthur, and I’m meeting him here for the first time at this square table. In my defense, I will say that I was not aware until this very moment that she had a boyfriend. In her defense, she will probably claim that I never asked. Ask and ye shall receive. She attends church twice a week.

I’ve known her for a few weeks. We go out a couple of times and then the physical intimacy thing kicks in. We start gbenshing. It’s not just the sex though, we have great conversations. Her beauty belies her brains. Thing is, we never talk about the prospect of getting into a relationship. It’s the unspoken.

We’re sitting together on the couch one day watching TV, when she turns to me and accuses me of ‘looking smug these days’ .I shake my head. She insists, and then sighs, murmuring something about men and conquest. I chuckle, and tell her that conquest is Edmund Hilary getting to that summit, not us climaxing on the rug.

She giggles, and mounts me, yet another taste of that succulent fruit. We go on like this for a month, our trysts increasing in frequency, that fruit becomes my staple, and yet we remain, at least in my mind, friends. One day she asks me if I feel jealous about her. This is one question girls inevitably ask. It is a test of how possessive a man feels about them. It is supposed to be an indication of where the man thinks they are in the relationship. It is a gentle tug at the leash (if any), a testing of the bounds, of expectations of exclusivity, and of the acceptability of flirtation. It is a dubious question. I do not answer; instead I make a joke about no one wanting to plead guilty to any of the seven deadly sins. Nice try, she says ‘But, I’m sure you know the difference between jealousy and envy.’
So anyway, I walk into the restaurant, and my eyes immediately fall upon them. I’m more impressed than I am surprised. They look good together. She sees me in that brief moment in which I’m trying to decide whether or not to walk up to them. I see a flash of panic in her eyes, but it lasts for just a nanosecond. Then she gets up and calls out, as though she saw me first. I give her full marks and walk up. A hug here, a handshake there and an introduction. She calls me her very good friend. She doesn’t lie, probably because thou shall not. He says something about finally getting to meet Porter. I try to leave them and head for another table, but they both scold me. ‘You must sit with us,’ they say. I settle down for the idle chit chat and get a beer while they daintily pick at their food (yes, they even do the whole feeding each other thing). I’m thoroughly amused.

They finish their meal, and it becomes clear we really do not have anything to talk about. He keeps staring suspiciously at my drink. I decide to have some fun. I start smacking my lips with a satisfied ‘aaahhhh!’ after each sip. He’s disgusted but says nothing. She tries to kick me under the table. When the whole thing becomes too awkward, he resorts to the lovey-dovey crap they are currently engaged in.

Thankfully, my phone soon rings. Time to go to the bank, I take one final gulp, stand up, and decide against belching. I say my goodbyes. Another hug and a not so friendly handshake, and I’m gone. As I walk across the street and into the bank premises, my phone beeps. It’s a message from her. I read it
I kno u r angry. I’ll xplain 2nite. xxx

I smile, no I’m not angry, I think to myself, how can I be? I try to think of all the scenarios that could play out tonight when she comes over to explain. I’m pulled roughly out of my reverie by the grating voice of a particularly rude security man at the door of the bank.

‘Oga, wey you! Abeg obey simple in-stroshun. Switch off ya handset’

I belch at him, and then set my phone to vibrate.