It was the way his khaki moulded his buttocks that first caught her eye, they weren’t big- the buttocks, they just seemed very firm. She imagined they were soldiers on sentry duty, each of them facing opposite directions, resolute in their calling to hold him upright. Her eyes trailed down to his orange jungle boots with its black base contrasting with the red sand of the market floor, she wondered briefly if the NYSC had given him this pair of khakis that were so tight that she could make out every muscle on his calf and thigh or if he had stood in front of a tailor, telling her to make them as snug as possible.
“He’s a fine boy, that corper.” Ya Ramatu said in Nupe.
She blushed, how did she get so carried away with staring at a man’s legs that she got caught by the woman who had carried her as a baby, the whole quarter would hear how Engr Sule’s daughter was staring at a corper like a goat that had seen fresh leaves in harmattan.
“Go and talk to him, I won’t tell anyone,” Ya Ramatu actually winked at her but her feet suddenly felt leaden.
“He comes here once a week to buy rice and beans and other foodstuff, he is a good boy, very polite. He speaks Hausa and wants to learn Nupe, perhaps you can teach him.”
She remembered that the woman was one of the most progressive of her mother’s friends, she had divorced a husband because he beat her for asking for money to buy meat. She married a younger man and she was his only wife even after twenty years and they seemed very happy. She decided to take her advice after all, Ya Ramatu definitely knew more about men than she and her mother did and she wanted to see if the corper’s face was as interesting as his legs were. She flashed a grateful smile at her mother’s friend and hurried in what she hoped was a dignified manner to meet him.
“Are you a long way from home, Corper?” she winced as she heard the words, this was not the smooth entry she had envisioned. He looked at her, surprise shining in his brown eyes.
“Not so far away egino, I am from Kaduna state.”
She giggled, “I am not egino, I am way too old to be a girl.”
“Old? A pretty, young woman like you? Impossible!” he waggled his eyebrows and she laughed outright.
“My name is Yohanna and I’m with FMC Bida.”
She liked his name, it felt solid. “I am Lantana Yisa, I’m studying Architectural technology and I’m in ND2.”
“At Federal Poly here?”
“I have friends at your school, I’m headed that way in a few minutes. I’m driving, I can take you back if you like.”
“We make a good team,” he said as he put their bags in the boot of his car.
“Because you got things a little cheaper, you’re so excited.” She clicked her tongue. “if you had gone with Ummi, you’d have bought everything at a quarter of the price.”
He drove into the makeshift car park by the school gate, she looked at him and he smiled. “I love walking through this path, reminds me of paradise.” he said as they left the car.
“I like to smell the minty zing that the Eucalyptus gives the air, it makes me feel a little more alive.”
Bells began to clang in her head as ALIVE flashed in manic rhythm around her.
A white light came in the middle of the whirlwind and took her away from tree-lined driveway, the light increased in intensity while a part of her mind wondered how many candelas per second the light was growing by. It seemed to burn her retinas, she blinked to protect her eyes and the strong smell of antiseptics hit her nostrils. Why was the school smelling like a hospital? She wondered and her eyes flew open.
“You’re awake, Allahu be praised.” Aisha said.
“What am I doing here?” she said with a voice that reminded her of mating toads, her throat felt sticky, as if she had been at the bottom of a dry well for days.
“You were given something to calm you down.”
“Calm me for what?” she said and then the memory hit her, she looked at her left hand, the diamond on her ring glinted and she began to sob.
To catch up on this series, click on Lantana’s Odyssey