Tumi had a way of looking at people whenever she spoke to them. She never let her eyes run over your face to assess each feature with unconscious carefulness; instead she stared straight into your eyes. She stared intently until you felt just a wee bit flustered. Did she want a comment? Did she want an answer? Did she even require an answer? It was during one of these intense stares that the thought of kissing her had popped up. I imagined her lips would be soft and sugary or maybe even dense and sweet like caramel. I thought of several other flavours I would associate with her—fruity, minty, … a shitload of others. In my thoughts, my lips trailed down her smooth neck. I reluctantly took my attention to another part of her face and still couldn’t stop thinking of kissing her because once again my lips were on her forehead, pressing onto her scar. Since I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, I motioned for us to continue walking home.
Our apartment building was your typical run-down Lagos block of flats. The paint job had washed off, leaving it grey and bland with occasional strips of piss-yellow. There were electric cables twisting and turning, twining and stretching from various windows to the one electric pole that stood outside the latchless gate. It was a shitty hell-hole. It was home.
We lived on the second floor. Our apartments were in the middle, flanked on either side by a family of five on my right and family of three on her left. With these families came loud TVs, screeching toddlers and from time to time, grunts and moans of the couples trying to find release in the dead of night. Tumi and I had found solace in our shared hatred for this noise and would retreat to the empty swimming pool at the back of the building. Escaping the noise soon became a daily affair. Sometimes we brought our work down with us to the pool’s edge and typed away into the night, but more often than not, our escape involved suya or liquor.
Our legs dangled over the edge of the empty pool. I rested on my forearms. Tumi was undoing the newspaper wrapping of the suya we had just bought from the next street. Her short braids were piled on her head in a messy bun that made her look like she had black wires sticking out the top of her skull. The lighting here was dim, but I could make out her dainty features, or maybe it was because I already knew them all by heart. Unwrapping the oil-soaked and sticky wrap took all her concentration—her slow-handed, furrow-browed, lower-lip-between-the-teeth concentration. And there it was again. The thought. I was kissing her again in my mind. My lips were moving down to her collar bone and further down …
“Done!” she said. My thoughts disappear, thankfully.
“Yes!” I replied, punching the air with my fists, sharing in her triumph. I smiled at her and looked away before she somehow sensed the remnants of my previous thoughts.
Only one of the six security lights on this part of the fence worked, but it gave enough light to illuminate the contents of the pool—an old rusted bicycle, a baby mattress, and a wooden chest of drawers that I was sure would have a nest of rats living in it. The pool was a wide rectangular trench lined with chipped blue tiles. Water had gathered at the deep end—rain and urine. I had never known the pool to look any different, not since I moved in two years ago. It would make a very impressive pool if it were well maintained, I imagined.
“Do you think anyone ever used the pool?” Tumi asked. “Like, before we moved here.” She was looking at me, waiting for an answer.
“I don’t know,” I replied, wishing I knew more about the pool. We both reached into the open newspaper and picked pieces of peppered meat.
My mouth hung open as I tried to cool the effects of Mallam Hassan’s suya. Tumi seemed to have it worse. She sucked in air through her mouth and fanned her face as she reached for the bottle next to the paper bowl. I knew that was a bad idea. “Don—” I started to say but it was too late. Her face was already scrunched up as if she sucked on a lemon, which would have been better. I started to laugh.
“Stop laughing.” She swatted my arm as she coughed her words, but I wouldn’t stop. It was too funny. Pepper plus liquor was a no no for her. She couldn’t handle it. But of course she knew this. I took the bottle from her and took a swig.
“This is really horrible whiskey,” I said. “Why would you even buy this for us?”
“It’s what we can afford.” This time she was the one who started laughing and soon I joined in. A little self-pity to complete our day.
“I think I’ll eat the suya and then drink it again. I enjoyed the burn.” I watched her face scrunch up into the same mask as before. It was still too funny.
Once her face was back to normal, she said, “you should try it; you won’t even taste the cheapness. The suya dampens it.”
I stared at the meat and the open bottle for what seemed like hours; then I decided to do it.
As I chewed the meat, I watched her watch me. She looked like she was going to burst from the laughter she was suppressing. That didn’t last very long because as I took a gulp of our very poor whiskey, her laughter tore through her throat in maniacal shrieks. I was sure it wasn’t that funny. Nothing on this planet deserved the kind of laughter she was belting out. Nothing. She was right though, it burned in a nice way and the whiskey did taste better.
We took turns making our throats burn until we had no more meat and were left with only the amber liquid, half a bottle of liquid heat.
“How’s Peter?” I asked.
“We broke up.”
I wasn’t expecting that reply.
“Why? I thought you liked him,” I said. “Things were going well, weren’t they?”
“I cheated. He found out. Well, I told him.” Her face was blank, and she stared straight ahead. Peter was very nice and easy going. He was very good for Tumi. He was the type to overlook this sort of thing if you spoke to him about it. I felt like it was my duty to fix things for them.
“Did you apologize? I’m sure if you tal—” She started to laugh and I sat there, mid-sentence, feeling a little stupid. Had I said something wrong? She raised the bottle to her lips and poured. When she was done swallowing, she stretched the bottle to me and said, “Oh, I’m not sorry I cheated, I wanted to, and I did. No regrets.” Well, that was that. I knew she never said anything she didn’t mean so, I dropped the topic and moved on to ask about her dick boss.
We were poolside for a while, or maybe it seemed longer than it actually was. Our neighbors’ lights went off one after the other. Tumi started to get up. “Lights are off, want to go up?” A wet burp escaped her throat at the end of her sentence.
“Not yet. The Ezes haven’t gone at it for a few weeks now. I’m afraid tonight might be the night.” Her eyes widened at what I said, and I knew she would soon start laughing—she found everything funny when she was drunk. “Don’t tell me you know their timetable.” She started laughing. I replied with a shrug.
“Disgusting. You. Are. Just. Disgusting.” Her words were more slurred than mine, I thought. I wasn’t sure. I was very buzzed, but I could hold my alcohol better than Tumi. I was almost certain I could walk a straight line.
“You know what I should do?” Tumi was up now, and she stood with her legs apart, hands on her waist, staring at the building.
“No. What should you do?” I asked.
“I should go to Amadi’s room.”
“I should go to Amadi’s room, naked.”
“Oh, he’d love that.” I wasn’t sure if my teasing came out the way I wanted—as an actual tease and not as encouragement.
Amadi lived on the third floor and had the hots for Tumi. He was strange-looking—eyes were too small, nose was too big, mouth was too thin. He said even stranger things, to Tumi more than anybody, like how all he dreamt about was her behind. He even told her that he’d drop all his wives in Cameroon so he could marry her. He had wives in Cameroon? Someone would actually marry him? He was the main reason we never went to the third floor. So now that she was talking about going to his room naked, I knew she was definitely drunk.
She stood still with her eyes fixated on the building. Amadi’s light was on, he was still awake and so she started to unbutton her blouse. What the hell was she doing? I scrambled to get up but that was all it was, a scramble. I was drunker that I thought. Tumi was already bare from the waist up and was now unbuttoning her jeans. My throat dried. I hadn’t foreseen this but somewhere deep in my mind I wish I had so I could have been better prepared. Not tipsy and seeing two pairs of the most perfect breasts instead of one. I moved to her slowly.
“Come on, Tumi. Stop. Let’s go up.” I said.
“Come on, let’s not stop. Let’s both go up. To Amadi’s room. Naked,” she replied, trying to mock me. I laughed at that. Like Amadi would want to see me. All he wanted was Tumi, and maybe a few of his Cameroon wives.
I picked her shirt up from where she had thrown it on the floor and stretched it out to her. “Take it and let’s go to bed.”
“You’re no fun.” She looked back at me and pouted.
“I know.” I stared at her half naked body, transfixed, with my arm stretched out.
It happened quickly. She grabbed onto the shirt with more strength than I thought she had. The pull jerked me forward to her and there I stood, forehead to forehead, breast to breast with a shirtless Tumi.
Her eyes bore into mine, and we conversed intensely with no words uttered. I was sharper than any drunk version of me had ever been. When her eyes closed, and she leaned forward, I knew my secret fantasy which had taken root exactly a week ago was going to come true.
Her lips were softer than I imagined, but she tasted like nothing I had imagined. She didn’t taste sweet or sugary or even fruity. She tasted strong and smoky. She tasted like liquid fire, and I wouldn’t have described her any better.
When it was over, she didn’t pull away. She rested her forehead on mine, gently tugged on my braids and whispered, “I always knew kissing you would be fun.” I smiled wide.
A window creaked open above us and we looked up to see Amadi stick his head out. He happened to be shirtless like Tumi, and his eyes widened at the sight. Tumi and I laughed and ran upstairs—well, stumbled as fast as we could before Amadi could rush downstairs. She slept in my bed that night, leg slung over mine, dreaming drunken dreams.
Post image is an adapted version of a photograph by Adrià García via Flickr
About the Author:
Simisola Adeyinka laughs a little too loudly, enjoys hiking a little too much and finds bios rather overwhelming (can’t be too long, can’t be too short; mustn’t come off as boastful, but can’t be dull or pretentious either.) Also, she knows that she writes and enjoys doing so. Twitter? @freethefrican