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something you'd say before you kissed over the telephone

It was not past midnight. Maybe it was but there was nothing indicative of the time. Moonlight lit the country. Women lined up the street, seated behind coolers and makeshift tables selling alcohol, condoms and information to divergent customers. Behind the sellers, taxi drivers sat on car bonnets and cracked a joke when a drunken man or woman laughed out of the bar holding a partner. When a customer showed up, they rushed at him or cursed below their breath when he complained of prices. But Fole and Hennel did not care much for the onlookers who whispered what a lucky woman she was to have caught a whitie—a rare sight at the bar.

Solar-powered streetlights enhanced the light from the moon. One could literally take a bright photo on the street without a flash. Beneath the light, their reflections cuddled tighter than they did in reality. A good dance was what they wanted, but a brief one at the bar was enough for the day. The Nigerian songs had Hennel dancing dramatically silly. And as it played on endlessly, with whiskey refilled, he spent more time behind Fole, rocking and rubbing his groin against her. Or maybe that was it, the dance.

Hennel wrapped his arms around the less taller Fole so that she walked like she was injured around the ribs. Hennel’s kisses on her nose made her laugh intermittently. Time had not been exactly fast recently, for Fole. It had nothing to do with anything, really. Maybe a hand held it still or maybe it had something to do with how the week was spent, fun-filled; from a masquerade entertainment to swimming at the hotel where Hennel stayed. And of course, a poetry-reading they had attended, where Hennel read her a poem by Walt Whitman.

Hennel who had visited from Harvard had only placed a call three days earlier to know if Fole was doing well. He had not told her he would visit Port Harcourt soon. She knew he would visit Nigeria later in the year but was not particularly sure when it would be. Her MFA rested the moment she got to Nigeria from Boston. Her dad spoke to someone who knew someone powerful, and she got a job at a Mobil zonal office. With great salary and amazing benefits, she knew writing had to take a fine seat at the rear while she took care of responsibilities.

“I thought your visit would be during summer, Henz?”

“This, here with you, is summer, Fole.”

They had planned, he would come to Port Harcourt to see her but that was a vague idea—something you’d say before you kissed over the telephone, ended the call and then blushed. Hennel’s interest came almost at the end of their program in Boston. To stay away from the past, Hennel did his job well. When he landed at the Port Harcourt airport he hired an eloquent airport taxi driver who he asked to tell Fole that he was bringing items someone close to her had sent through. She gave out her office address and when the door slid open, it was Hennel, the same bald, gap toothed and skinny clown who had made her consider taking a trip to Switzerland who was smiling at her with spread arms.

For a moment, Fole thought it was unreal—his surprise visit—his face, they’d changed a little since they finished their MFA. But this was just too much for one lonely girl who had stayed sexless for two years, not that she did not meet bald men who found her attractive but conversation always went awry. What she got were very stale conversations about a changed government that was going to improve electricity or those who shared images of how they were customers of the big stores in Dubai where they would take her on a shopping spree. She, a bit old-schooled, wanted talks of flowers.  She wanted tales of bleeding grasses—how they cried and produced special scents because they were dying. Fole wanted gossip, of the latest fight in literary circles, of how someone has written of V.S. Naipaul in The New Yorker, saying he was so old he could not recognize his own books at arts festivals.

Hennel had his moment at being boring and insensitive; when his stories would not come and when he probably could not find a certain anthology of stories needed to spark off his muse. But standing before her was Hennel, the first man who didn’t start a conversation with greetings, like she was some royalty. He had brought his tray of food to her table and had nosily chewed on his food until Fole quietly left the table for another, hoping his demon would die down. But Hennel, an unroyal pain in the ass, went after her and asked if she was offended and said he would kiss her if she wasn’t and the laughter that followed became the friendship that spanned two years.

The couple slowed their pace and held hands.

“I’m afraid I’d miss you terribly,” Hennel muttered through a kiss.

“You could stay a little longer,” Fole said, avoiding his eyes.

“And what would I be doing in Port Harcourt?”

“Staying with me,” Fole threw him a love-punch.

“That’s not a job, Fole.”

“It is, now.”

And they giggled. And a man, who had followed them from the bar, met them with a leather strap-bag. He said it was theirs, that they had dropped it while dancing at the bar. But the confusion on the faces of the couple didn’t settle when a shiny pistol emerged from the bag and pointed at them. Fole’s shoes—her favorite heels—and Hennel’s Hublot wristwatch went with the borrower, a term she later learned made more sense than the word ‘thief’, for all that was taken from someone forcefully was returned by the universe in the most unexpected way.

And the next morning, Fole did not insist that Hennel stayed. She kissed him, and said they’d meet again, someday, in Switzerland or Paris, or wherever it was that awaited them.


About the Author:

Portrait - NwiloBura-Bari Nwilo lives in Nsukka, Nigeria. He was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in 1987. His interest in films pushed him to get a diploma in Screenwriting from the New York Film Academy through Del York. A writivist, Nwilo is also a photo enthusiast. His funny book of rant on relationship is entitled “Diary of a Stupid Boyfriend.” Nwilo is nursing the thought of a book of short stories.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

29 Responses to “Port Harcourt | by Bura-Bari Nwilo | An African Story” Subscribe

  1. Adesuwa Iluobe 2016/06/29 at 13:05 #

    Nice..the abrupt end left me wanting more.

  2. Adriel Chimdinma 2016/06/29 at 13:28 #

    My Portharcourt!

  3. Farida 2016/06/29 at 14:07 #

    This is a unique and engaging story.

  4. Timi 2016/06/29 at 14:55 #

    Nice read…

  5. Adaku 2016/06/30 at 02:26 #

    Nice read, Bura. Keep on keeping on!

  6. AMADI 2016/06/30 at 06:40 #

    wow! this reminds me of C. Amanda. her books leave the conclusion to the reader. fine write up. if love know bound/ obstacle, what about security of life? i wont blame either party if they dont meet again?

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