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Unknown by Josiah Ikpe

1.


Neutral.


With unguarded air and eyes gleaming with excitement, he walked in, and for a fleeting moment, his gaze fell on me. I looked at him, smiled, and said hello. Needless to say, at that point, they were no sparkles or glitters or any of such things. They were no desire or any of that delicate thread of passion wiring me towards him. Nothing was there to be felt. Or maybe there was – something miniature, hanging in the realm of neutrality and waiting for a convenient time to blossom into something. Anyway, I continued mopping the floor, my heart pondering on the dishes that I’d do next.


Later that night, long after everyone had gone to bed, we sat in the living room opposite each other watching a series. We chortled about the heinous deed of a character, and it then dawned on me that we haven’t spoken much, apart from the stiff hello exchanged earlier that morning. The burden of starting up a conversation began resting on me. I thought of what to say and things not to say. These thoughts continued for several minutes, and in a bid of subsiding them, I told him my name and asked what his’ was. He looked up from the half-minded sketches he was making in a journal positioned on his lap and said, ‘Efren.’


Initiating a conversation was much of a big deal but keeping it going wasn’t any. We spoke and lingered on various topics – ranging from arts to travelling and then to schooling. I couldn’t help but notice this vagueness about his features, a certain kind of vagueness that one cannot give meaning to. Nevertheless, I was drawn by how his cheeks sank inwards anytime he laughed.


2.


Aware.


I didn’t know what it was until a day before his departure. It blossomed into something, something my heart pumped to at the thought of it. Early the next morning, while sweeping the hallway that led into the room he was staying, my eyes caught sight of him dressing. I froze. Feet became too heavy to move. Eyes didn’t stir or blink. But I became aware of myself when he turned and saw me standing there, silent. The corner of his mouth quirked up. He greeted me. I smiled and greeted him back, bent downwards, and continued sweeping.


Because of how I felt – an intense sensation that ran through me anytime he looked at me – and how my body reacted to his presence – much to my disapproval and constant chidings – I retired to the room and decided that I’d stay there till midnight. But I couldn’t keep to the bargain I made myself because halfway along, my tongue became dried and sour. I went to the kitchen and gulp down two glasses of water. And on my way back to the room, his voice catching me unaware, he asked if I was alright. I smiled and told him I was. And not to sound rude and look offensive, I sank into the couch opposite him and asked how his day had gone. We spoke for a while, and although I knew he would be leaving the next day, I didn’t ask him about it and he didn’t at all made a mention of it.


3.


Regret. Or not.


The desire was there, but the will wasn’t. All through that night, I thought of walking into his room and touching him and pressing my lips against his and holding him and doing all sorts of crazy things with him. I thought of giving myself to him, and his long fingers stroking and caressing my back. I thought of a million things to do to him. But the will and the impulse to walk to where he was and act on them was far from me. I only sank into bed and shut my eyes tight.


I overslept and woke up quite late the next morning and discovered that he had left already. I never knew he was going to leave that early. If I had known, I would have woken quite early to atleast say goodbye to him. But then, as I hadn’t, he should have taken the rope by the tail to reach out and say goodbye, I thought. But one way or the other, I was at fault here. We had spoken last night and if I was concerned enough, I would have asked him the time of his departure. But I never did.


Days went by slowly and I found myself thinking about him and those four days he had spent with us. My thoughts lingered on those desires that had consumed my being when he had been around. Sometimes, I reprimanded myself for not making him aware of how I felt towards him and for not letting out a sign. And other times, I thanked myself for concealing each of those desires. And rarely, I occasionally thought what if I had opened myself to him and he had withdrawn and reacted in that typical manner most people would. What then would have happened? And how would I have faced my family and go on with life knowing that I had let out a strange behaviour?


But it would always there, that kind of desire. A desire unworthy for words to bear and for the body to exhibit.


Josiah Ikpe is a storyteller, one who is constantly evolving, and a book lover, born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Right from childhood, he had always nursed this crazy fantasy of being a character in books, and writing is just one way of seeing to that. Ikpe's work has been published by the Kalahari Review, Nnoko Stories, the BAIA Africa Initiative, The Journal of Expressive Writing, and is forthcoming in The Lanke Review. He is presently a Law student at the University of Ibadan.Twitter handle -- @josiahikpe

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