Curse of the Rose (Episode 1)

“He that would enjoy the scent of the rose must risk the prick of its thorn”
– Kanayo Anigboka (Kani)

Nkoli hated the harmattan season. It was that period that reminded you that the other side of your bed was empty. That your dry lips could only be moisturized by a gel in a pink tube. It was that time of Christmas, when family gathered and asked if there was something wrong with you that you hadn’t found a man. She sure wasn’t going home this time. She pushed the cart down the aisle grabbing groceries off the shelf. She was careful to ignore the couple behind her, leaning into each other at every chance to whisper and giggle. She hated the holidays. Humph.

The girl at checkout was excited, strangely excited, cashiers were always irritable. She beamed at Nkoli. Nkoli quickly averted her attention to the cart, avoiding the girl’s eyes as she unpacked the groceries on the counter.

-          I know you

Nkoli kept her eyes on the groceries hoping the girl would look away and do her darn job.

-          It’s you right? Nkoli Abba?

It was obviously one of those days.

-          No, you are mistaken. Nkoli looked away.

The girl frowned. She scanned the items. Quickly. Irritated. She avoided Nkoli’s eyes. She was angry. Nkoli shrugged and handed the girl a wad of cash. The girl took it, her eyes fixed on the monitor. Poor girl. She packed the items in a bag hurriedly as though she was eager to get rid of Nkoli. Or just doing her job. As Nkoli made her way to the absentminded security guys at the big doors, she could feel the girl’s eyes piercing through her chiffon shirt, burning her skin.

At the bookstore, the angry cashier completely forgotten,  Nkoli walked the aisles of the room savoring the pleasure of a space filled with so many books. The bookstore was of course less crowded than the grocery store and there was no couple snuggling and giggling. Thank God. She stopped at the Fiction section and threw every book by Chimamanda Adichie into her basket. Books already lying on her bedside, already read. But because there was a delicious scent to new books and because she would read them every time and still have the same measured amount of pleasure, she handed the books to the lazy cashier.

Ironic. The cashier at the grocery store recognized her. The cashier at the bookstore didn’t.

***

Nnadi cursed. His fridge was empty. Afoma was his nightmare. It was only her who would empty his house and forget to mention. His stew was gone. He cursed again. His rice was already cooked. His belly was churning. He could almost see his mother standing by the door.

-          This is why you should get married

Nnadi shook his mother off his head and grabbed the keys from his keys tray and dashed down the stairs. It was the holidays. The small boys who lurked around the estate were nowhere to be found. He hated the holidays. Left the city silent. His fridge empty.

At the gate there was a girl having an argument with the security men. His eyes met hers through the windshield of his Range Rover. She must be looking for one of the guys that lived above him. Noisy flat. They partied and changed girls faster than the tick of a clock hand. He pitied her. He matched his breaks.

-          What’s going on?

The man who was in charge bowed slightly

-          Oga she say she dey go flat 9. I tell am say oga for flat 9 say im no wan visitor

He had guessed right. Flat 9. The noisy flat. The girl was pretty. Her eyes sparkled. Her lips was soft. Sensual. 

-          But he’s the one that asked me to come today. Angelic voice too.
-          Have you called him? His voice was shaky. Why was his voice shaky? Focus. He blinked.
-          He’s not picking up.

His belly grumbled. He had to go. He should take her number first, he hasn’t had a girl in months. He cleared his throat.

-          I’m sorry, I wish I could help but they wouldn’t let you inside except the person you’re looking for calls them.

He avoided the girl’s eyes as he matched the throttle. Fool. He sped past the gate. He saw the disappointment in the girl’s eyes from the rear-view mirror. What was wrong with him? He would have easily diverted that girl to himself. Gosh. He had to get his game back. He tightened his trembling hands on the steering wheel as he took the bend down the street.

The sad face of the girl at his estate gate continued to hunt Nnadi as he hurried to the food court. Maybe, just maybe she would still be there by the time he got back. No. She wouldn't. Why would she wait that long? The food court was crowded. Everyone, like him, was hungry. He finally found his way to the over-worked and in a terrible mood sales girl and ordered for chicken sauce.

-          It’ll take ten minutes. The girl said dismissively punching into the monitor.

Nnadi sighed. He decided to go to the bookstore while he waited. He had books he hadn’t found the time to read lying around his bedroom but there was a pleasure in buying new ones.

He saw her. That face. The one in the flip cover of most of his books. She was at the counter. He walked passed her. He should say hi. No. What would he say? He got to the shelves and picked up one of her books. The one he had read four times. He looked at the picture in the flip cover, then at the girl at the counter. It was really her. His hands shook. He hurriedly put the book back on the shelf. The book fell to the ground and so did two others. The cashier glanced his way. The face too. His hands shook. He picked the books clumsily and put them back on the shelf, placing them upside down. He rubbed his wet palms on his trousers. What was wrong with him? He gave presentations to company directors every other day of his job. He should be bold. Assertive. Yes, that's what he was. He walked towards her just as the cashier handed over her purchase. She turned towards the door. He opened his mouth but no sound came out. He swallowed the little saliva left in his mouth and tried again.

-          Hi. Sorry, you’re Nkoli Abba right?

She turned around. She frowned. She was silent.

-          Wow! Today is my lucky day. I’ve read all your books. You are an amazing writer.

She nodded dismissively. Barely. Smiled stiffly and headed for the doors. Oh God, Oh God, why did he approach her? He shouldn’t have. He looked at the ground hoping the movement he felt beneath him was the floor parting to swallow him. He heard the cashier snicker. He felt a stream of sweat trickling down his back. He should leave. Go home. Hide under his bed. His feet refused to move.  

***

Fool. Fool. Fool. Hot tears burned Nkoli’s eyes. Why did she do that? Why did she walk away? He was so cute. So polite. She should have said thank you and shook his hand. She paused at the steps and turned around. She would find him. She would apologise. She would say hi. She walked back into the bookstore. He was gone.

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The pain of rejection is temporal, it fades with the passing of one experience. The fear of rejection is eternal, it grows with every possible encounter.

                                                    – Kanayo Anigboka (Kani)          




Story written by +Nnedinma Jane Kalu 
Nnedinma studied Biology but works as a freelance scriptwriter. She lives in Enugu from where she sees the world in the pages of books. She is a co-writer at the Radio drama series Purple produced by Flint Productions. She participated in the Writivism writing program 2014 and is an Alumini of the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop.

Kanayo Aniegboka

Kani is a Nigerian born and based minister, public speaker, entrepreneur and life coach. His keen and unique perspective to life issues makes him a refreshing voice to listen to. He currently serves as the Executive Coordinator of House on the Rock - Word House and sits on the board of a number of companies.

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