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Today's Story by Chioma Iwunze Ibiam

It was Valentine’s Day: the day she measured time with a cup of ice cream.

V is For Valuating Time

Behind the pillar, at the end of Kilimanjaro Restaurant, Onyi sat shifting her weight from side to side. Sunshine seeped through the window glazing her smooth forehead, her small ears, her thin lips.  She hunched over the table, stabbed at her ice cream and sighed. A peek at her wristwatch revealed the time: 4:00 PM. Her eyes moistened. It was Valentine’s Day: the day she measured time with a cup of ice cream.

Sharing food and drinks and compliments, enthusiasts watched the football match; groaning each time their team missed a chance at a goal.

Onyi replayed her first date with Deji: a sunny afternoon at a sleek restaurant in GRA Phase 1.

“Beautiful,” Deji had said.

Oygi blushed like the shy virgin she was. No one had ever called her beautiful before.

Deji leaned in. “You say you’re in third year, Biochemistry. Where do you see yourself five years from now?”

Looking into his bright eyes, Onyi wondered why everything sounded like an interview. “Truly, I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

“Wow!”  He’d stared at her then, and laughed.

Now as she sat in the Kilimanjaro restaurant, she wondered if his laughter had been a direct result of her perceived simplicity. Was it possible that he’d misread her attempts at modesty? Deji had been shocked to find that Onyi, who’d never lived away from her parents, had been the best student in her class.

Beside the busy counter a roar erupted, jolting Onyi out of her reverie. Her heart somersaulted in her chest. Two boys jumped from their front-row table, abandoning their Gingerbeer to do a jig-dance as they yelled, “Goooooaaaalll!” Onyi pressed her hand on her chest, remembering her parents’ shrill cries of horror on learning of her impending motherhood. How tortuous their moans had been; guilt tore at her heart as she recalled how her parents had sold their clothes, jewelry and stock-market shares in order to pay for her University tuition.

Onyi sighed. From the corner of her eye, she could see two teenagers kissing and holding hands.

She looked away, stretched her long legs, and kicked her backpack – everything she’d packed for the journey with Deji. Escaping would relieve her parents of their suffering and embarrassment, she thought. Sweat trickled down her oval-shaped face.

She peered at the transparent window, licked the salty tears and sweat above her lips. Deji’s first kiss had been a little salty too, she reminisced. Their hurried sessions of lovemaking had often been on his reading table, beside voluminous medical books and his thesis research materials. These same books had sat around his table when she broke the news to him. Deji leaned back in his chair thinking about how careful he’d been; but of course, there was that one time when the condom had burst. He pondered upon everything with his eyes fixed on his books as though he felt torn between his future and the pregnant girlfriend.

Onyi’s heart skipped two beats.

Focusing on the vague reflection of her honey-complexioned face, she rearranged her braids and puckered her lips. She hoped Deji would find her attractive when he arrived. Downstairs, people trooped in and out of the restaurant, clutching handbags, takeaway bags. But Deji was nowhere in sight. Across the road, near the decorated roundabout, a lanky man stood combing his afro. Onyi rose, pressed her face on the windowpane, and watched him tuck the comb into his back pocket. When he crossed the road and entered a rickshaw, Onyi plopped into her chair, whipped out her phone and dialed Deji’s number. No answer.

The ice cream sat warm in the cup as the soccer fans filed out of the restaurant. A server came to clear away her cup; but Onyi protested; the ice cream was helping her measure time. While the server walked away, Onyi rubbed her bulging belly; her eyes took in the smudges of amber and grey that lined the horizon. Admiring the twilit sky made it easier to fight back the tears.

Night shadows began to steal across the Valentine sky. She picked up her phone, but changed her mind. Onyi shook her head, in that same way she had done when Deji first suggested an elopement.. Now, she wondered if he had regretted the idea out of a weakness of character, or a certain faint-heartedness.

Bending, she lifted the backpack and rose. With a flick, she slung the bag, and slunk out with hunched shoulders.

The rickshaw she boarded weaved between cars to beat the traffic. Onyi peered into each car as they passed, until she alighted at the giant ash gate. She pressed the bell once, then waited. Dogs barked in the distance.

The gate opened. Onyi waited, willing herself to be hopeful. Heaven knew her limbs had weakened with the shock of rejection. Was love too much to ask for on Valentine’s day? She wondered as she locked eyes with her father willing him to understand. Her thin father stood staring; his soft brown eyes glistened wet as he waggled his fingers to someone by his left. Deji stepped forward. It all seemed like a dream, Deji at her father’s house. Where was the shouting match she’d expected?

With a thud, Onyi dropped her bag and sprang up at him: “You left me,” she cried. “You broke your word. Why? Why? I’d been waiting! Waiting!” She squealed, punching his shoulder, his chest. And Deji could only duck gingerly as he cooed, “Easy Onyi. Easy, listen.” Grabbing her arms, Deji pulled her close, and hugged her.

“I’m sorry. I thought it best to explain things to your father,” he said. “Tried to phone you, but network signals were messed up. Then my battery died and we started using your dad’s phone but the telephone lines were jammed-“

Onyi turned to her father with mouth agape. Had her parents calmed down enough to reason with Deji?

“Let’s go and sit inside,” her father said, beckoning to her.

She walked into his open arms half-expecting self-righteous outbursts: rants about her idiocy, about his rising blood pressure. When had love come? She paused then, pressed her face to his chest, exhaling at the sound of his heartbeat: “I’m sorry for all the heartache,” she cried, soaking his clothes in tears. His sturdy hands deposited affectionate pats on her back. The heaviness in her heart lifted.

From the corner of her eye, she could see Deji standing in a blast of moonlight, his eyes glistening.

“Come inside both of you,” her father said, waving Deji into the house.


Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam has published short stories and poems in Sentinel, Saraba and Tribes Write magazine.


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