The night is chilly and letting out a rhythm of nocturnal noises as though it had been disembowelled and compelled to writhe in pain with different pitches set at varying tempos. The night is young, but its stormy serenity bears semblance with the conjectured state of affairs even before time began. The time when nothing was made that was made. The time in which she now wishes she could travel back to, enjoying the void and tactlessness of the universe while reliving the moment eons later as a time traveller on the precocious earth. Except that she is indeed packing and preparing herself for a journey back to time that had been, exactly three days ago, convinced the world is hers for the taking.He held her by the hand as they glided past the cacophony of the city into the tranquility of the Golden Age bar where he had made a reservation. "Today is going to be great, babe", he beamed with excitement as a stone-faced all-the-problems-of-the-world-bearing waitress motioned for them to follow her to their booked space - more like his booked space. She nodded casually at the waitress' gesture and made a mental note to quiz her lover over his sudden excitement in a place replete with everything but exciting adventure. It was a table for two, as she had surmised, covered with a flowery-patterned table cloth of many colors on which a vase of flower - not the kind she liked - sprouted threateningly from the top of the vessel. The chairs looked like they had been reluctantly polished after several years of housing the unwelcome derrières of non-challant happy humans and held with many a hand that had stood the test of hardship. She was disappointed at the sheer simplicity of the much-talked-about reservation but didn't show her discomfort, at least not in a way that he could notice. After the table was set - a plate of badly-prepared African salad and two cocktails astride the silverware - and they had exchanged a quick uneasy glance at each other, her boyfriend of three years whose name means 'last born' in Hausa pounced on the edibles with all his might, like the first rain of the year dropping in angry torrents with verve. She pretended not to be offended by his misdemeanor, and kept spooning food into her mouth although her appetite had evaporated. They continued eating, oblivious to the thoughts that was finding its foot in the other's mind.She can swear by her grandmother's grave that her boyfriend loves her, but she doesn't know what to call what she has for him - an obligation to return an age-long favour his clansmen granted hers during the holocaust that almost wiped her kind out? Her thoughts unceremoniously become hazy with the speed of light. Without finesse, she drops the semi-folded denim in her hands and slumped on her giant nine-by-six king-sized bed with resignation. She should think about how they stared longingly at each other the first day they finally met at a family dinner organized specifically for them, how she had opened her door and her heart to him the next time when he came visiting, how they had both consented to consummate their passion, less than a month ago, on the couch in his shared two-bedroom apartment, and how he had caressed her and worked his way into her stations of pleasure with his rocky thrusts until she squirted unashamedly and begged him to 'keep pounding me baby'. She should think about these things but she does not. Rather, she is thinking about how she would carry herself and her luggage through the hazy cold streets of Jos from her house to the GidanZuma garage, ready for a long dusty ride in a ramshackle car to the outskirts of the town.The smell of weed assaulted her nostrils as more people filed into the bar and took their seats. She couldn't help but wonder if they had been smoking while on transit because the stench was too thick to not have stayed on them for half an hour before they strayed into this hell. Couldn't they get a break from this addictive habit on a day as auspicious as Christmas, if for nothing, just to rever the god of the Christians who is the reason for the season? Noticing her unease, her boyfriend asked her to breath in and out as if she was not already doing so.''Train your nose to not perceive the smell at all'', he added with a simper much to her chagrin.Just then, she decided to flog the case a little.''But why didn't you reckon with me before making a reservation in this hell,'' she gesticulated at how bedraggled everything in the bar looked and how its totality demeaned her elevated cred, ''and for what occasion exactly?'' she added almost immediately before he interrupts her mid-way into her rant, as he always does.Not of his own volition, his body moved before his mind could hold him back. Tracing circles on the cradle of her palm, he jerked his head at her and batted his long eye-lashes rapidly. ''I love you Dooshima.''She had been too reticent to respond in kind.''Will you marry me?''Without forewarning, she felt the shreds of salad catch the back of her throat.From the deepest deep of her heart, she submits her plea to her bed to soak her worries all in and emancipate her from the guilt that has haunted her for long days and longer nights since she last heard from Auta. For all its worth, she'll be out first thing at dawn to go meet the bone of her bone and cleave unto him - not forever but long enough to satiate him until he could ask for no more. She ponders on the right choice of words that would be most suitable to render her sincere apologies: 'I'm sorry' is the most abused word of the century, there's no need to be added to the statistics of people who voice the words without really meaning it; 'I should not have acted that way' sounds ingenuine and could pass for a quick comment of self-reflection rather than a true apology; 'What can I do to make up for this?' seems like a self-imposing emotional trap that would deprive one of having their selfish desires. ''Is it hopeless?'', she soliloquizes and wills her mind to think until she is nerves away from freaking out. As these thoughts of wrongdoing and appropriate atonement strategy weighed her mind, sleep weighed her eyelids and shut them close steadily. When she opens them, the clock has struck five in the morning, she continues packing and hoping against hope that she'll get her man back without begging to be given a second chance.''Will you please be my wife?''She pretended to have a thick wax of dirt caught up in her tympanic membranes and causing a temporal loss of hearing, so her face remained expressionless. He got a whiff of her indecision and started to release her hand, first reluctantly, then hurriedly like a young lad letting go of a hot steaming pot of stew that charred his barehands heedlessly.''Sweetheart listen,'' her voice floated unbidden against her defiance to remain silent for good, ''I am not ready to be a woman of the house yet. I feel too young...''He wasn't listening.''Don't you love me?'', he shouted and whispered simultaneously, his teeth clattering noisily in furious anger.The next question came without giving its predecessor enough time to be dealt with and straightened out appropriately.''Was I too rough with you in...in, I mean, in bed?''''Boy I love how your hard tool works its way around my wet vegetation'', she replied in her head in time for the next question to pop right in her face.''Are you seeing someone else?''
Then...''No. No. No. I trust you too much to even think that. So please do me the honour of bearing my unborn children, and moaning my name in delirious pleasure whenever I'm inside you, but not loud enough for the neighbours to hear.''She would have said 'Yes' had the last statement not frozen her to the till.Even distance distends at the face of homecoming, so after twenty-five minutes of being on the road, she feels no urge to talk the sluggish driver into whipping his beetle to walk faster and not die prematurely at every road bump. With every exacting meter that the car covered, her anxiety rises as she neared her inevitable emotional flush. The bad roads aggravates her anxiety as her voluptuous body collide with others', and her legs are imprisoned within the confines of the car where other legs struggle to own their own space. After an eternity of struggling to get off the commute at the last bust stop and trying in vain to stop the okada man - who took her straight to Angwan Rimi once she alighted at the motor park - from almost rendering her body soulless with his mindless over-speeding, she is finally in front of Auta's shared two-bedroom flat apartment. With wobbly legs begging to be steadied time and again, she drags her Ecolacs bag behind her like a mother hen leading her chicks to their cage in tow. Once she gets to the front door, she pauses. The pause is longer than two heartbeats.Difficult as it was to believe, she left her boyfriend of three years whose name means 'last born' in Hausa befuddled and frustrated as her expressionless face was nothing but ineffable. Still, he did not deter.''Please marry me, Dooshima,'' he pleaded for the fourth time.Now this was becoming pesky, but she loved the drama, only because she couldn't bring herself to loathe it. Or what else would you call it? A young man in his early twenties deciding to ask his girlfriend of three years whose name means 'love' in Tiv, to marry him in a very good bad bar several hours probably after taking one-too-many bottles of Heaven-knew-what, and relishing his friends' pat on his shoulders and their masculinity-ridden cheering in the lines of 'Go for gold man. You got this'. If this is not supposed to be a well-staged drama to feel one's ego, albeit in not too good a setting, then tell me what exactly it is. Still visibly dazed but not wanting to humiliate the love-of-her-life in public, she spoke, at last.''Why are you doing this right now?''
The unexpected response which turned to aggravate the situation rather than alleviate it, was a knee to the ground, an arm holding up something that looked like a wire strung into a ring, a head tilted chin up, and a husky voice pleading for the last time, ''Dooshima, will you marry me?''Having ran out of options to stay sane and combat the befuddlement that wouldn't leave her, she picked her pink purse, adjusted her blue dress, and took off lickety-split across the bar.Missing two heartbeats is enough to send an unsuspecting fellow to an early grave, but she passed. Having jolted back from her reverie, she knocks on the door, which had too many stickers of the widely-acclaimed Pastor Kefas Ripji plastered all over its wide perimeter, with rigor. First, no response. Then, a groan. Sharp pain pierced through her knuckles as she knocks again, intermittently. No movement, only a hesitant ''Who is that?'' that greeted her ears through the chilly breeze of the morning. ''Someone you know'', she offers forgivably as she fuddles with her brain to remember the words she'd stored in her memory quiver which has been safely stored but has stood her up now that she needed them. ''Will you marry me?'', she asks immediately the door flung open and a head popped out menacingly - only it wasn't Auta's. It was Terkumbi's, her older cousin who had stuck by her for years hitherto.
Author Winifred ÒdúnókuI is a writer of fiction and nonfiction from Nigeria, a graduate of Spring Writing Fellowship, and also a participant of the SBMEN Women's Creative Writing Workshop. Her works have appeared in Kalahari Review, Nnöko Stories, Ngiga Review, Tush Magazine, and Peripheries Journal.