“Hi,” she greeted with a forced smile. She smarmed her hair down and took a seat next to him. They were seated by her door, at the opening with an elevated concrete slab that one had to step on to before standing in front of her apartment.

“So, how have you been?” he asked without looking at her. He adjusted his body to accommodate hers as she sighed.
“Good, good. Nothing new.”
“What?” she asked with a little chuckle.
“No, nothing.”
“It’s not nothing, I know you too well to know that your hmmms are not just nothing,” she said as she adjusted her body to face him, with her back against the wall.
He smiled to himself. He looked up from the concrete floor in front of him and turned to look at her. “It really is nothing, Ope. Don’t worry.”
“Well, I am worried. I know you well—”
“—yes, yes you know me well enough but trust me, maybe you don’t know me so well. Or maybe it’s that I don’t know you so well.” The last part of that statement sounded like a thought that had somehow managed to escape his lips but wasn’t meant to.
“What does that mean?”
He scoffed, “Forget it.”
“No, I won’t. Why are you being so weird today, Renu?” Ope folded her arms across her chest. The firmness with which she did this slightly tugged down the fabric of her grey-coloured t-shirt with its slackened neckline to expose her gold necklace. Renu’s eyes caught on to the necklace and for a moment he was transported back to the moment when he had bought it for her.


It was her birthday, three years before and he had struggled on what to gift her.
“How do you get a gift for someone who always gives the best gift?” he had asked himself as he typed a variation of that question on his phone on Google. He was lying alone in his bed that night, about three weeks before her birthday. The answers he got were not too bad but most of them involved grand gestures of which he could ill afford. He opened a few links and then scrolled through the options but felt as though the content was more tailored to some billionaire-type playboy looking to show up and show out for his woman. “I don’t even have 10k in my account,” he murmured and closed another webpage.

He spent the next hour or so online and found only vague recommendations for those things he could maybe afford and expensive gestures for those he couldn’t. Finally, he settled on the one thing he’d never thought to consider until he was playfully tugging at the one on his neck while he searched the web. “Fuck!” he cursed when he realized the goldmine idea he’d been sitting on. “No one goes wrong with a necklace,” he nodded reassuringly to himself. Soon enough he switched search terms and for the next hour, he was on Google trying to find the perfect, cheap, but memorable necklace he could buy for someone he lo—


“—Seriously, Renu,” Ope’s voice broke into his wandering thoughts, dragging him back to the present. “What’s been up with you lately?”
Renu smirked, “I’m fine, Ope.”
“You say that but you act differently. Are you okay?”
Renu smiled, “I am okay. I am fine. You are getting yourself worked up for nothing.”
Ope sighed, “You know you can talk to me right?” The sound of her words didn’t feel as reassuring as she’d hoped it would. She felt a lump in her throat. Renu nodded.

Ope turned forward and once again, they sat still, face forward, staring at the blandness of the fence that surrounded their apartment building. It was a Saturday and the noise from the generator from the next building aided in the silence not being so silent. She wondered what was going through his mind at that moment. She usually enjoyed their silence but this one didn’t feel the same. In some way, she reckoned that since their last lengthy conversation two weeks ago she had noticed he had begun acting differently around her. She didn’t think much of it then though. If she were being completely honest, some part of her welcomed the awkwardness. She reckoned it was confirmation for her that her concerns about how he felt about her were no longer just some weird thoughts in her head. It was comforting and yet painful. She tried to reconcile the trajectory that their overall relationship had taken.


She remembered the first time he stopped her short in front of the very spot where they are seated now, four years ago, and introduced himself, “Hi, my name is Renu, you just moved in right?” She remembered she smiled at him and briefly considered offering a perfunctory response. She chose not to. Something about him felt sincerely kind. His voice was calm and deep in a way that didn’t match his rather chubby physique. He looked almost younger than her with a cute innocence in his small but inexperienced eyes. She would later learn that he was two years younger but far from inexperienced in most things.

“Yes, I’m Ope. Nice to meet you, Renu.” He smiled at her and she remembered how warm his smile had been. It was the warmest she’d seen that day after what was a very stressful moving process. She had to grapple with an unruly carpenter and nearly came to blows with an Okada man over fare change.
“Cool. Well, welcome to our palace,” he exclaimed, spreading his arms wide apart with a chuckle.
She chuckled, “A palace indeed.”
“Trust me, it’s as much a palace as you want it to be. I know, I’ve been here the longest.”
She shook her head, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see then.” He smiled at her and then turned to leave but stopped short.
“You know what, Ope?”
She turned to him, “What?”
“I think you and I are going to be very good friends in this compound.”

His face beamed with the pride of a child who had just learned his first words. She hadn’t taken his facial features into account much but at that moment she did. She noticed his little dimpled cheeks that burrowed deep when he smiled. She noticed the fullness of his eyebrows, enough to make her slightly conscious of having used an eye pencil to draw on hers. She noticed the slight crookedness of his nose that appeared to be a result of an accident. Weeks down the line she would later hear the story of how he fell as a teenager and broke his nose and it was never properly adjusted into shape again.


Ope smiled as the memory of their first time meeting flooded her mind. She was brought back to the present when a little fly perched on her exposed legs and she had to squat it away with the inside of her left palm. “Eeesh!” she winced and rubbed her palm on the smarting spot on her right leg.
“Pele,” Renu comforted her. He looked down at her right leg. “You should’ve worn your long blue pyjamas, the ones I like, instead of these shorts oo.”
“Well, I heard your knock and I thought what better way to greet my compound boyfriend than to show him a little skin,” she chuckled and nudged him with her right shoulder playfully. He chuckled too. The silence mixed with the distant generator noise returned for what felt like a few more minutes, filling the space between them that their words couldn’t.

“I’m sorry, Renu.”
Renu turned around to look at her with a quizzical look on his face. “What for?”
Ope forced a smile. She glanced at him and then looked away. She pinched a spot on her necklace and ran the tip of her fingers down to the pendant. “You know I haven’t taken off this necklace since you got it for me.” A dry smile spread across Renu’s face. “I keep thinking taking it off would be saying goodbye to everything that we share. And honestly, I don’t think I’m ready to do that, just yet.”
“Ope it’s just a necklace,”
“To me, it’s more than that,” she took a deep breath before continuing, “To me, Renu, the day you gave this to me, was the day I knew you saw me more than just your next-door neighbour.” Renu smiled and slouched a bit. “I remember how nervous you were when you gave it to me,” Ope chuckled. “You kept saying, I hope you like it, even when I told you many times over that I loved it.” Renu adjusted slightly and sat up straighter. “I feel as though,” Ope continued, “after you gave me this gift, what we had, became more precious. Like, it became real.” Renu kept his eyes fixated on the bland fence before him as he listened. “I guess what I’m saying, Renu, or what I’m trying to apologize for is that…”

Ope could feel her emotions beginning to take over. She turned away from the fence and fixed her now misty eyes toward the front gate to her left. She wasn’t sure why the emotions were coming in to disrupt her now, especially since they did very little to show up two weeks before when she had told him the news.


“I got engaged,” she had blurted out to him two weeks ago, sounding half excited and half petrified at the realization. The words sounded almost foreign coming out of her. She was still fresh off the surprise engagement her on-again-off-again boyfriend of two years, Paul, had pulled. She had expected a little getaway for the weekend when he offered to take her somewhere for the weekend. He had booked a hotel and when they arrived, he opened the door and led her into a room with rose petals on the bed, a standby photographer, some soft RnB music playing in the background, and a big card next to the bed with sparkly words that read, Will you marry me, Ope?

Her overly critical mind found the proposal a tad unoriginal. But she had come to know Paul as one with very little creativity in the way of romantic gestures. But she reckoned what he lacked in creativity, he made up for in other loving ways. Also, some part of her was proud of him for the attempt. She had no reason to not say yes to him even though hours later she reckoned she may have preferred a little heads up. But more troubling than the surprise proposal was the fact that despite saying yes, she found herself throughout the rest of the weekend itching to share the news with Renu. Since it was a getaway, it felt improper to share anything with him over the phone. As soon as she got home, she went over to his apartment and without thinking, she blurted out those words to him.

“Oh, wow!”
“Wait, that’s it?” Ope stared back at Renu in shock, her voice sounded miffed. “I tell you I got engaged and, oh wow, is your response?”
“Um, I’m not sure what else to say?”
“How about Congratulations, Ope. Or what about a hug?”
She remembered he smirked and nodded in agreement. “I’m sorry. That was silly of me,” he apologized. “This is amazing news. Congratulations, Ope.” He moved in for a hug and she reluctantly let her body fall into the cushioning warmth of his. Despite how many times they had hugged in the past, this one felt awkward; as did the question he asked after he released her from his embrace.
“So, what happens to us now?”


Ope smirked as that reminiscent thought flashed across her mind. She remembered that question and the ensuing awkwardness that followed even after Renu had assured her that he had asked the question in playful jest. Somehow, it didn’t feel playful to her. Somehow, she reckoned it wasn’t entirely playful to him either.

“I don’t think I handled telling you about my engagement all that well,” Ope shifted a little where she sat and rubbed her palm across her thighs.
Renu chuckled, “You did nothing wrong Ope. If anything, I made it awkward with that silly question that was supposed to be a joke.”
Ope smiled, “But that’s the thing though, at that moment and for a while after, I was honestly convinced it wasn’t meant as one.” She turned to look at him and noticed him scratching the back of his left ear. It was something she’d taken note of that he did whenever he was nervous. She remembered he did the same thing when he gave her the necklace, also when he first took her out for ice cream, and then when she bought him a two-step cake for his birthday, a gesture she’d later find out was a first for him. She remembered how his face almost went pale as he smiled and hugged her, telling her he wished he didn’t have to eat the cake so he could frame it as a monument.

“What do you mean?” Renu asked, his voice breaking into Ope’s thoughts. She noticed he had stopped scratching the back of his left ear.
Ope smiled, “I mean the last thing I want is for you to think that what we have shared wasn’t something special. And joke or not, I think the question you asked, what happens to us now, is valid. And I am deeply sorry if the way I responded made it seem as though what we have didn’t mean anything.” She could feel the weight of her own words as they left her tongue. They left a bittersweet aftertaste. Ope wasn’t sure why but she reckoned that she owed him some sense of closure.


For the last four years, they have practically lived as neighbours that a lot of people mistook to be something more. She called him her ‘compound boyfriend’ as a joke but soon it stuck. At one point, she had to reassure Paul that nothing was going on between them. But more often than not, she’d sometimes find herself playing the role of his girlfriend in small gestures and little acts of service.

It was the same for him. Once, when she was sick and her and Paul were on another break, he had taken her to the hospital and spent the night by her side. Another time she had almost gotten into a little bit of a snafu with a lady friend of his who had aggressively asked her very personal questions when she had gone to take some of the frozen foods she normally stored in his freezer.

To both of them, it wasn’t so much something they had to define or be wary of crossing any lines. They were just great at being there for each other. But neither one of them was ever bold enough to say or do anything that would upset the balance. For her, the lingering feeling was there. She loved the way his mind worked, his personality, and how he was always very attentive to her. But she was never sure of how he saw her. So, one time, when they were drinking wine and watching The Food Network at his place, she had playfully asked him if he’d ever consider dating her.
“Yes and no,” was his response.
“Why yes and no?” she chuckled.
He took a sip from his wine glass along with a deep breath, “Well, yes, because you are an amazing woman and any man, myself included, will be lucky to be with you.”
“Wait fess na,” he laughed. “I never finish,” he added in pidgin. She remembered laughing too. She knew he was about to say something that would either force her to spit out the wine in her mouth in laughter or roll her eyes at his attempt at being unnecessarily philosophical. “No, because I feel like in a lot of ways, we are sort of already dating.”
“Yeah, and I think if we were to attempt to make it official, it would just ruin the dynamic we already have.”
Ope remembered smiling as she sipped a little bit of the red wine in her glass. “So, in other words, dating me would ruin what we already have that isn’t really dating but feels like we are dating, right?”
“Well, when you put it like that it sounds like complete nonsense.”
“Maybe because it is complete nonsense.” They both burst into laughter.

Although the conversation never extended past that, it was a telling moment for her. She soon realized that deep down he had a fear of commitment. But that didn’t stop the close intimate-esque moments that often occurred between them. These moments often spoke to their lingering affection or at least a yearning for one. She remembered one time when he told her about a sex dream he had of her. It was quite graphic. She felt a bit flattered and also creeped out. Some of the things he recalled about the dream, about her body, felt oddly specific. Another time, she was on her way to his apartment and when she passed by the window to his room, her ears caught wind of what she was certain were sexual moans. She remembered stopping short in shock by the window and feeling like he had betrayed her. They were supposed to watch a cooking show on the Food Network that evening. She felt betrayed and jealous. For a week after that incident, she gave him her version of the silent treatment, which involved only greeting him when he greeted her and staying away from his apartment for a week.

Some of her actions toward him came solely from a place of genuine care. But deep down she also knew the truth. She loved being there for him in more ways than some would consider necessary. Often when she and Paul would inevitably fight over some random shit, she always hoped it would open the doors for him to take a leap of faith with her. But she buried those desires deep in her subconscious. On the outside, with them, it was business as usual. Two good neighbours turned friends turned really good friends.


“Don’t you want to be in a real relationship?” she once asked him.
“Real as in?”
“Like real na,” she tried to clarify. “Like committed to one person instead of having a different woman in here every three months or so.”
He chuckled, “I am committed to having a good time with the women I meet. And that’s all that I need.”
“That sounds very fuckboy-esque.”
“It does? I wouldn’t know. Why do you ask?” he smirked.
“Dunno, I guess, I just want to see you happy and settled.”
“Do I look unhappy?” he asked.
“I don’t mean like unhappy or shit, but sometimes I wish you could have something like what Paul and I share.” He burst into laughter. She hissed. She was aware of how he felt about her boyfriend Paul. Every time she would bring up Paul or mention their fights, his face had a way of twisting to mild disgust. And whenever she and Paul would invariably reconcile after a fight, she’d notice the slight disappointment in his demeanour. The more it happened, the more she felt herself lose a little grip on her delusions about anything romantic happening between them.

Renu never acted petulant toward Paul but Ope knew he wasn’t a fan. “Is he a child?” he once asked her when she told him about a silly reason Paul had picked a fight with her. She laughed at his question. “No, really? I have got to ask, are you dating a child?”
“No joor. He’s just silly and I’m sure he’ll come begging when his eyes clear.” She remembered seeing that look of disappointment in Renu’s eyes as he shook his head. She had reckoned that deep down he was disappointed that she was with someone like Paul — a man-child as he often described him. But not until the day she told him about her engagement did she realize that she may have been wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a look of disappointment. Maybe, it was one of regret.


“Trust me, Ope,” Renu’s voice broke through, collapsing the walls of reminiscent thoughts that troubled Ope. He adjusted his body next to hers where they sat. “What we have means a lot more to me than you may ever know,” the words escaped his lips with quiet warmth. He turned to look at her. “I’m happy for him, he’s a lucky man, but I don’t care who you are engaged to, and as far as I’m concerned, no matter where you go or who you’re with, I will always be your compound boyfriend.” As those words left his lips, the corners of his eyes creased to a wrinkle and his face broke into a warm, dimpled smile. Ope smiled back at him. Tears had already formed in the corner of her eyes. She tried to blink them away and ended up having to wipe some off with the back of her hands. She let the weight of her body fall to the side as she leaned on him, tilting her head and allowing it to rest on his left shoulder.

The silence between them returned just as the sharp sound of the siren alarm alerting them to the restoration of the power supply blared on for a few seconds. The distant generator noise soon seized. They sat still in the welcomed silence that felt more familiar now, staring forward into the blandness of the fence in front of them.












Photo by Tyler Donaghy on Unsplash