Alighting from a silver Mercedes coupe, two men, perhaps in their late twenties or early thirties, are now walking across a busy midtown street this sunny Abuja afternoon. The man who'd been driving, smallish but tough-looking in jeans, army-type boots and dark glasses, is talking and gesticulating while his companion, a bit chubby and formally casual in appearance, keeps tapping a folded newspaper against his thigh.
As they approach the door of a fast-food outlet, a tall lady in a clingy dark red dress steps out. Though in towering heels, she moves with supreme confidence. The men stop in their tracks. They stare. She passes by them. They turn and continue to stare. A faint exotic scent follows in the lady's wake.
The man with the newspaper whispers, "Hmm," while clapping the paper faintly against his left palm.
"Man!" the driver says. He hooks his thumbs into his pockets, relaxes and then exhales loudly. As he and the other man take in the beguiling dragon-like patterns on the lady's knee-length dress, her slim waist and the suggestive sway of her gait, she turns and flashes them a flirty smile. "Wow!" he exclaims.
"Ol' boy, she's hot."
"Yep, she is," says the man in jeans, nodding intently as he imagines running his hands through the lady's wool-aided dreadlocks. Even in his yearning he recognises the futility of this daydream. Thwarted desire kindles a defensive thought. "I've seen hotter chicks," he declares, unnecessarily defiant. "Hell, man, I've had hotter chicks."
His friend, who's been admiring the lady's broad shoulders and her firm biceps, gives him a teasing look as they go through the swing doors. "You!"
The man in jeans makes a mock appeal to the heavens. "You know, John-John," he says, "the problem with you is that you assume everybody lives in their head like you do. But you're wrong. Not all of us are busy chasing degrees all over the globe. Some of us are actually out there living."
John-John slaps his newspaper on the countertop of the cafeteria and shoves his hands into the pockets of his trousers. He inhales deeply and looks around. The air is a mixture of food smells and rose-scented air freshener. Nice. But seeing the place is dominated by teenage girls, he feels somewhat let down. However, remembering this is a homecoming of sorts for him, he turns to his friend and smiles. "It's your turn, Thanai," he says, reaching out to give his friend a manly, left-hand hug and a back pat. "Just pay for the chips then you can tell me all about your conquests. Real and imagined."
"There's nothing imagined, man," says Thanai, looking shocked. "See that babe we just saw?"
"I've got hot pictures of hot babes like her that I shot by myself in hot circumstances involving me, if you know what I mean."
"Real! Hell, now that I think of it, I used to know someone just like her."
"Come on, John-John, you think I'd lie to you?"
John-John laughs. "Yes, I do think you'd lie to me, man."
Thanai is laughing too as he and John-John pick up their trays of chips, chicken wings and Coca-Cola. They move to a corner table. A waiter comes up, uncorks their drinks and then smiles away.
Thanai gets up again. He walks over to a sink and washes his hands. Seated once more, he picks up one of his chicken wings with his bare hands and inspects it carefully before biting into a fleshy bit. Strangely, as he begins to chew, he immediately finds himself wondering what it would be like to nibble at the ash-painted lips of the hot lady they just saw. He briefly ponders why chewing chicken should engender such a thought. Deciding that it's just his recent lack of sex that's sending him carnal hunger signals, he makes a mental note to find some sex soon and then resumes his chat.
"Seriously, John-John, I'm not lying. I used to know a hot chick just like that one. Right here in this town. I took many pictures of her in killer poses."
John-John, already gnawing a crispy chip, gingerly forks another and dips it into a thick blob of Ketchup on his plate before eating it. He sips his Coke with a straw while flipping through his newspaper. "What happened to her?"
Thanai grabs his Coke and gulps a mouthful. "Don't know. Maybe she's still here. Met her when I came back from that Thailand trip. When was that; two, three years ago? Man, you should have seen her. Pretty in a dark angel way. You know what I mean?"
John-John simultaneously shrugs, raises his eyebrows and turns down the corners of his mouth.
"She had this killer smile that gets you even when she's not smiling for you," Thanai says, chewing quickly. "It's a smile of wicked innocence. Yeah," Thanai is nodding to himself, "that captures it: wicked innocence. You know, eyes looking hooded. Neck stretching a bit upwards. Friendly rosy cheeks. Face all made-up in that self-assured temptress way. But then the slightly parted lips invoking a quiet shyness sort of softens it all up though there's no taking away the steel completely. I remember watching her and thinking I should have been a poet like you so I could write her a poem."
Rolling his eyes, John-John also shakes his head. He's still nibbling the second chip.
"No, seriously, man. You should have seen her - you would have written a whole book of poems about her! That reminds me; what was the title of that mushy poem I liked so much? I mean the one you wrote for that Ethiopian girl at school for whom you died a thousand little deaths."
John-John drops his fork. There's a sad look on his face. He cannot believe that for a minute he'd actually thought it would be different. This is how Thanai has always been - ingenuously callous. John-John cannot understand why he thought a full heart would have grown in Thanai where a mishmash of bits existed before. Still, those bits all belong to an old friend. He sighs as he picks up the fork again. "Mystery is your shadow."
"That's the one!" Thanai exclaims, pointing a half-chewed chip at John-John. "Man, you were crazy for that chick. And she was a hot one too. I used to like the way it always seemed she could only look at someone sort of sideways with that long hair of hers half hiding her. Pity you never got her."
John-John sips his Coke and flips another newspaper page. He remembers the porcelain smoothness of the Ethiopian girl's skin. She had liked being touched. For reasons he still doesn't understand, that scared him. They had three dates.
"Anyway," says Thanai. "I'm telling you about this girl. Man, I was so smitten; I should have written a worship poem for this chick."
"Where was this?"
"Up at The Crown. I was looking at the pastries when she came in."
John-John nods and forks another chip.
"So, you see; I'm standing there wondering whether to try some cake with a funny name or just stick to stuff I know when I feel someone's looking at me and I turn around and there she is. Hot! She's got a sober, somewhat careless look. But her eyes are deep and her lips, man! Her lips! Full and painted burning red looking like they're dripping lava! And then she smiles at me! Man! Then I see she's not really smiling at me but just smiling, you know?"
"Well, man, I'm still standing in front of the pastry section and only but a moment ago I was savouring the smells of all this baked stuff, you know? But suddenly I'm breathing all this romance as I'm looking at her curves and imagining an afternoon of pure lust. So I forget the pastries and walk up to her. I'm trying not to stare too hard at the outline of her boobs so I put on my best smile and say, ‘I'm sorry, I know we don't know each other but I'd be happy to see that change. I'm Thanai.' She looks me over. Slowly. You know; checks me out. Her mouth parts gradually as she's still checking me out. ‘Dana,' she says. Very slowly. ‘Do you say that to every girl you meet?'"
John-John laughs and slaps his thigh. "She got you!"
"Of course I deny it," says Thanai who's also laughing. "Then I tell her she looks like a supermodel and that Dana's a great name that matches her so well and I've never heard it before. She says thanks but I shouldn't ask her what it means. In the mood I'm in, I already know what the hell Dana means so why should I be asking? Who but an absolute fool wants to know what pleasure means when she's right before his eyes?"
"Hmm," John-John smiles, nodding encouragingly.
Thanai guzzles more Coke. "See, Dana's come shopping with her twin, Dini. Me: Just back from Thailand and all that; I'm on my own time, got a new digital camera around my neck but I'm bored to madness. I think you were in France or somewhere for your masters. So I'm just happy to roll with them because Dana, man, she is - I'm no poet like you, I don't know how to say this, but Dana, even if they put her in a sack, she'll still have you stripping her with your eyes because she is like the magic potion to reinvigorate a eunuch!"
"Oh?" John-John is laughing. "That is funny. I've never thought of you as a eunuch."
Thanai frowns. "Man, of course I've never been a eunuch. What I'm saying is, if I'd been one, Dana would have cured me of it."
John-John raises a finger. "I don't think being a eunuch is something you can get cured of. It's not like it's some disease, you know."
"Aw, man!" Thanai throws up his hands. "You and the whole PC crowd! A man can't even talk to his own best friend and not worry about being politically correct? Do eunuchs have a pressure group now? Or is this what I have to put up with now that you've got a PhD?"
John-John makes a playful surrender.
"Where was I?" Thanai wants to know, looking at his near-empty plate with an expression that seems to be an odd mixture of surprise, annoyance and resignation. He's been enjoying his meal. Now it's all but gone. Just like life, he muses; the thing one likes rarely lasts.
"Dana and the eunuch," John-John says, pushing his plate towards Thanai. "Episode one, I think."
Thanai digs into John-John's nearly-full plate. "Go ahead and make fun of me. You don't want to learn. That's why you have a bagful of degrees from everywhere but you never get no honeys - you never listen to the master."
"Teach on, master. Your student waits." John-John watches Thanai crunching away. He rubs his slightly bulging tummy and exhales discretely. Some people are just born lucky, he tells himself. They can eat a whole horse and walk away without looking like they so much as touched a tiny rabbit.
Thanai drinks more Coke and belches. "Told you Dana had a twin brother right?"
John-John's eyebrows go up. "The twin is a brother? Is he anything like the sister? Are they identical?"
"Naah. Dini's not bad looking himself, but he's nothing like Dana. See, me: I got eyes only for Dana. Did I tell you what she was wearing?"
"A long woolly pink top over a tight black velvet skirt. The top carved out her ass and then snapped tight around her thighs. I'm telling you ‘sensation' doesn't describe her."
"So though I make the usual polite sounds when Dana introduces Dini, I'm not at all interested in him. I'm looking for the shortest possible route to get Dana into my bed. I mean I'm already seeing how I'm peeling off that tight skirt and I don't see what Dini can possibly have to do with that."
"I hear you," John-John says, pushing away his empty Coke bottle.
Thanai pushes his away too and belches again. "I buy some popcorn and ice cream." Now Thanai's hands are talking as well. "We sit under one of the canopies outside and just talk, you know, just funny stuff. I'm trying to make Dana laugh ‘cause you know what they say; make a woman laugh and you're halfway there."
John-John throws back his head and laughs.
Thanai seems surprised. "It's true, man. Chicks love guys that make them laugh. You mean you don't know?"
"Okay," John-John concedes though he's still laughing.
"Anyway, so I'm telling you. I'm talking about bus drivers and their conductors in Lagos and I've got Dana laughing silly. And she looks beautiful the way tropical sunset would if it could be bottled."
John-John nods. "That's cool, man."
"Thanks." Thanai says, looking satisfied. "So I'm trying to get her to pose for me so I can shoot some pictures but she says to leave it till another day. But I'm already shooting. She's trying to block her face and then after the first few shots even she can see she looks a bit silly so she finally puts her hands down, raises her chin and starts turning her body this way and that way. I shoot away. I've got a picture of her from that session that's the bomb. She's sitting on the second step in front of The Crown's main entrance with her legs set apart on the first step in such a way that they form an ‘M'. Her head's tilted slightly to the right and her lips are parted as if she's waiting for a kiss. She's got her hands pressing down her skirt so her panty won't show. But in doing that she's pressed together her boobs in such a way that they're not only bunched tight, they're full and so, so obvious. I start shooting and she sees that I'm really concentrating on the boobs so she tries to relax a bit so they won't look so obvious. But the upper hem of her skirt suddenly slips out of her hands and there's her white panty peaking at me. I shoot. I tell you, that picture; the bomb!"
John-John nods. "I think I'd like to see it."
"Just remind me," Thanai says. "So we're done with the pictures and I'm sitting there looking at Dana and testosterone is stoking me up, man. I'm already inhaling all the muskiness that fills the air when you've been making love all day long and the windows are closed. I'm daydreaming things that'll make a nun pass out just to hear of them. And then I'm locking eyes with Dana and wondering how to get rid of Dini. Then she mouths me a kiss! John-John, I'm telling you, I sit there thinking if I can get this one girl, it'll be like making heaven without dying!"
John-John's eyes widen. "Ol' boy! I've never heard you talk this way."
With an earnest look on his face, Thanai puts his right hand on his chest. "Right here! That's where it hit me. I wanted that girl real bad and I could have died with happiness when I realised she wanted me just as bad. Even with her dark angel looks, I wanted to give my soul to her!
"Hmm," John-John smiles, "this Dana must have really fired your imagination. So what happened?"
Thanai throws up his hands. "Dini happened!"
"What?" John-John is surprised and obviously disappointed.
"While I'm playing eye games and mouthing air kisses with Dana, I'm hoping Dini would act wise and suddenly remember he has to run an errand or something. But the guy is busy staring at me like maybe I'm E.T. or something. Only he's not really giving me a curious look, you know. More like a worship look and though I'm sitting there trying to concentrate on Dana, I can't help wondering what's wrong with him."
"So?" John-John's trying not to sound too eager. But now he has folded away his newspaper.
Thanai opens his palms. "I'm seeing this hero-worship routine and I'm thinking, ‘Damn, this guy has taken to me like scandal to a celebrity. How do I get rid of him so I can be alone with his sister?'"
John-John is laughing again. "Ol' boy, what do you mean, ‘like scandal to a celebrity'?"
Thanai scratches his head. "Well, he was staring at me the way we stared at Halle Berry in a swimsuit in that Bond movie. Man, it got so bad Dana had to tell him to cool it."
Now trailing shapeless patterns on the tabletop, John-John stops laughing. "I see. So were you able to get him to give you and Dana some space?"
"For where?" Thanai exclaims with disgust in Pidgin English. "See, the guy just sat there moping. He felt no shame even when Dana told him to stop staring so rudely. He said ‘I like him.' Dana snapped, ‘I'm sure he can tell! You don't have to eat him with your eyes!'"
"So what did you do?" John-John wants to know, smiling.
Thanai frowns. "What could I do? I didn't know what to do. So I just sat there, smiling, keeping my mouth shut, you know, maintaining my GQ. See, I figured if it was going to happen, we'd reached the point where only Dana could make it happen. And I felt she was going to make it happen because I knew she wanted to make it happen. Now you always have to read that right - the point where only the babe can seal the deal. Besides, I was checking both Dana and Dini out, you know, psychologically. I mean they looked tall and carried themselves well, but maybe they were just twenty or even nineteen. And you always have to make adjustments for that. Me, what was I then; twenty-five, twenty-six? And I was already blasé, you know. Seen a bit of the world but I was trying to be careful not to carry on like I was all that or too jaded by it all, you know what I mean?
John-John nods. He knows from way back that Thanai's my-daddy-is-rich attitude is never far from the surface. But every man has his demons. There are not for others to conquer. "How did the day end?"
Thanai sighs. "Nothing happened that day."
"Nothing?" John-John's disappointment is palpable.
Thanai shrugs. "Nothing, man. What could I do? Dana didn't seem to want to get rid of her brother and I thought I'd be a jerk if I tried to force the issue. So we just hung out for a while then exchanged addresses and parted ways."
"And that was it?" John-John's disappointment is being overtaken by anger, albeit it mildly. "Ol' boy, I thought you said you had the girl."
Thanai turns away. "I thought so too," he says softly. "Now I'm remembering it didn't happen that way." It's sobering how that day all comes back to him now. The way Dana got him hot and how nothing came of it. All his experience with women didn't help him that time. Unable to grasp why success sometimes remains elusive no matter how knowledgeable one is or how hard one tries, Thanai sighs.
John-John sighs too. "Did you see her again?"
"I did. Several times."
Sighing again, Thanai now makes a backward flip with his right hand. "Still nothing. Funny thing is, now that I think about it, I don't think I ever chased any chick like that without getting her."
John-John laughs and punches Thanai playfully. "So you're not such a master after all."
Thanai laughs too, though his is a somewhat sad sound. "John-John?"
John-John stops laughing. "What?"
"I'm going to tell you something - you're never to tell anyone, okay?"
"You know you don't even have to say that."
Thanai nods. "See Dana?"
"Something funny happened when I kept chasing her. It's even why I stopped going to their place."
John-John waits. He picks up his newspaper once more. But almost immediately he drops it again. He recognises that something is different now even if he doesn't know what it is. He wonders if Thanai realises just how much this Dana has touched his life.
"I used to go visit them often," Thanai is saying. "She and Dini, they used to live with an elder sister who was a manager of a company guesthouse somewhere in Wuse 2. The elder sister was hardly ever home. You see, time went by and Dana turned out to be a tease. A classic one. Sometimes we'd go to the pool and she'll get me all hot striking provocative poses but she'll never take it further. I, eh, well, not having really been fat to begin with, I, eh, not just metaphorically, grew thinner on hope. Then I met some other girl near Zone 4. Think her name was Asabe. She was hot too but not like Dana. Had bigger boobs and a bigger ass though."
"Did you, um, have an affair with Asabe?"
Thanai laughs. "Man, John-John, if I haven't known you like forever, I'd say you're crazy. What's the ‘um' for? Of course I had an affair with her. Hell, what you're asking is did I sleep with her? Yes, I did, John-John. Many, many times. We all can't be virgins like you, you know."
"I'm not a virgin!" John-John sounds angry. And upset.
Thanai shrugs and chuckles. There's a mischievous glint in his eyes. Then he seems to brush it all aside. "Anyway, I'm telling you. You see, with Asabe, no drama - straight to the point. That elastic body of hers could do magic. Touch her and she's ready. She simply consumed me for a while. You know, with her, always open season all the time. Whether you're a bird or not, you can frolic and fly if you want because she doesn't really care if either of you have wings or not. In the end, I realised she was just a distraction. And a dangerous one at that. Besides, I just couldn't stop thinking of Dana."
"So you went back to Dana," John-John says.
"Yep," says Thanai, exhaling heavily. "I went back to Dana. And she seemed more exotic than ever. Her mere presence used to set my body on fire." Thanai stops. It's as if nostalgia has taken over him. When he resumes speaking, he does so softly. "I remember once we were at the poolside and I just couldn't take my eyes off her. She had on a black bikini and her bare skin glowed everywhere it showed. I wanted so much to reach out and caress her. But I didn't because the few times I'd tried to touch her she was firm about not being touched. And I felt she was absolutely essential to my existence so I didn't want to do anything that'll mean I won't have her because I just had to have her."
Looking pointedly at Thanai, John-John nods with sympathy.
"So I, eh, I swore to myself that I would be patient, you know, no matter how long it took to make her mine." Thanai exhales heavily again. "And then something happened. And I, I just stopped going there."
At first John-John waits. Then he says, "What was it?"
Thanai drums his fingertips aimlessly on the tabletop. "One hot afternoon, I stopped by their place. Dini, he was always the more domestic of the two, so he made iced tea. We sat down in the living room sipping that. And we watched old music videos backwards and laughed like tickled drunks."
Thanai smiles sadly. John-John matches him.
"We were in the thick of it when the electricity went off. Just like that. So we all cursed NEPA* like everyone else does. But despite the heat, we fell asleep. Dana and I side by side on the couch. Dini somewhere further apart on the rug."
Thanai is now gesticulating in a way that seems to say that what he has to say next is exceptionally difficult for him. John-John takes a deep breath and waits.
"While we were sleeping, I, eh, I, was just, you know, I was dreaming of finally getting down with Dana. Then I felt a hand tugging at my, my, eh, zipper. I just held my breath and prayed that she'll do for real what I'd been dreaming about. And she did!"
Thanai tilts his head backwards. John-John swallows.
"It felt so good to have her go down on me, I wanted to tell her how much I loved her and how I wanted us to be together forever."
John-John looks at Thanai with surprise. "Ol' boy, that must have been some blowjob," he says, regretting it as soon as the words left his mouth.
Thanai ignores John-John. "I reached out blindly. You know, just to caress her head. And then I froze."
"It was the hair. It just felt wrong. I wanted to open my eyes. But, you know, I eh, I, was afraid. If I did, would I still achieve the overwhelming orgasm that was so close?"
With his head still tilted back, Thanai sighs. John-John swallows again.
"Nevertheless I opened my eyes."
John-John leans closer to Thanai. "And?"
Thanai sighs again. That moment, having never truly left, returns to him vividly now. He doesn't believe anything of greater significance than this has ever happened to him. And yet he still doesn't know exactly what to make if it. "Dana was not even in the room," he says. "Dini, Dini, you see, he was the one giving me head. He could have been born just to do that, you know. Such expertise, you know, eh, it just has to be genetic," Thanai tries to laugh. It's a false sound. He gives it up.
John-John exhales slowly and relaxes in his chair. Then he gently picks up his newspaper and drops it on his lap and places his hands on top of it.
Thanai is still looking at the ceiling. "Man, I didn't scream. I didn't jerk away. Instead, I just held his head and caressed him. And he finished with exceptional gusto. It's still one of the few times I remember gasping as I come. Dini, man, he just swallowed with joy then looked up at me and whispered, ‘You're so sweet.' I didn't say anything. I mean, what could I say?"
John-John swallows hard and presses his hands further down on the newspaper. There's still a lump in his throat though. And now the air smells of musk. He contemplates how some people can be so lucky even in ways they probably weren't even aware they were so inclined. Fate, he tells himself, is often twisted.
Meanwhile, Thanai, with his gaze still on the ceiling, is speaking again. "Almost as soon as Dini finished making me decent again, Dana came back into the room. About the same time, the power came back on. So we continued watching the old music videos backwards. Of course I was too, eh, busy with my thoughts to really see what was on the screen. I was shocked that I not only enjoyed myself just as much as if it had been Dana down there, but that I also felt no offence whatsoever. And till today I still wonder about Dana's timing, you know, I mean, did she know? Did she and Dini plan the whole thing? What do you think, John-John?"
John-John leans forward and places his hands on the tabletop just as Thanai lowers his head. "I…I…I…" John-John stammers. "I don't know," he finally says.
Thanai stares at him. "What's the matter with you, man? Are you alright?" John-John is sweating. Thanai considers why. He knows John-John is a virgin but he's never thought it could be because he really doesn't dig girls that much.
"I'm fine," says John-John, sitting up. He dislikes being at such a disadvantage. Why should Thanai censure him when he wasn't the one Dini gave head? Yet John-John's voice is still unstable. "Don't you think, don't you think it's not a bad thing you weren't angry or, um, shocked or that you didn't feel bad, um, about the whole experience?"
Thanai stares harder at him. "Are you sure you are alright? Of course it's a bad thing I didn't kick that Dini's ass! It's a good thing I stopped going there else I would have too. But enough of this. I know they say where two or more men are gathered the talk sooner than later turns to sex but we don't have to live true to that all the time, do we? Besides, you're a PhD now."
"Well, but don't you think, there's a possibility - " John-John begins to say but Thanai cuts him short.
"There's nothing there to think about, John-John. It's just one of those inane sayings that have an uncanny way of being true. Only thing is I think it's also true of women too."
"I didn't mean about that. I meant - "
"Man, forget about it. I'm still hungry and now it's your turn to buy. Let's go upstairs where they've got real food. All these fries and stuff never fills me up. You buy me some pounded yam and egusi and then you can tell me about your fellow virgin eggheads at Oxford."
"I was at Cambridge, Thanai. And I'm not a virgin!"
"Same difference, John-John. You've got a string of degrees now but you still haven't been laid once in your life. I have only one and I've had chicks from here to Acapulco."
Not to mention guys, John-John carps in his mind as he gets up to follow Thanai. This homecoming hasn't worked out the way he thought. But he's here so he'll go through with it. Maybe it's best to leave the past, and those that belong there, in the past. With a last glance at their table, he sees his newspaper under the table. He hesitates for a minute then shrugs and follows Thanai upstairs.
- Ends -
*NEPA - National Electric Power Authority; the former moniker of the government-owned monopoly responsible for electricity (or the lack thereof) in virtually all of Nigeria.
+First published by SpoiledInk under the title ‘Dana and the Eunuch'