You met at South Socials, on a Friday night, months before the event closed at the first location. He was outside by the drinks station, sitting with a friend when you walked in, and the only reason you noticed him was that he wore a shade of orange you thought was pretty. Burnt, the colour of suya spice. His hair was clean-shaven, low, just the way you liked it, and he wore minimal jewellery, a gold chain around his neck and a chrome watch that was both understated and alluring.
He was your type: dark skin, tall, but not quite as tall as you would have liked, with a beard that shone under the light. When he smiled at his friend, you could see a gleam of pearly whites that looked like the type of smile you would have loved to make breakfast for. Not that you were into making breakfast for men. Not after you had visited your ex-boyfriend with a flask of catfish pepper soup a year before, only to find a girl in a 30-inch frontal at the door, wearing his shirt (the vintage blue piece you had gotten from Tetanura on IG for his birthday) who immediately called out, “Deji, there’s a girl at the door looking for you!”
You could still remember the look of surprise on Deji’s face when he came to the door and how stupid you felt as they stared at the flask, then back at you. At that moment, you thought it would have been more shameful to leave with it. The parties involved already knew what was going on and why you were there, so you decided to leave the flask with him as originally intended; and the girl, whose name you would later come to learn was Cynthia, shouted a hearty “thank you!” before Deji closed the door.
As you walked back home that day, you thought about how stupid you had been. First, for cooking the food, then for leaving it for both of them to eat. The more you thought about it, the less the decision made sense, and you prayed with all your might that they’d both swallow fish bones, choke and d*e. A text message from Deji two days later, asking where he could meet you to return the flask, was the confirmation you needed that your prayers had, in fact, gone unanswered. It was a sobering realisation. The Universe did not like you like that.
But that was all in the past now, and even thinking about it served to remove any notions of aesthetic wonder you had towards the man at the counter. You grabbed your drink and that of your friend, Matti (who was flirting with a guy she was in a situationship with by the door) and made your way into the building.
The heat at South was sweltering, but even in that, there was something comforting about the music, the warm bodies, and the knowing glances of people looking for a good time. Matti, ever the life of the party, dragged you to the front where the DJ was playing an amapiano number that automatically made you move your waist and vibe to the rhythm. This was a mini version of heaven and a more forgiving one at that. All around, you could catch glimpses of people you had met at other events across the city and people you had interacted with on Twitter. From time to time, a familiar face approached, and hugs were given, and good vibes exchanged freely. The exuberance of it all felt like home. This was what you lived for: the loud music, the gyrating bodies, the alcohol and the joy of evenings shared with the purpose of pure enjoyment.
Eventually, you realised that your drink was running dry, and a stranger making unceremonious passes at you was starting to get on your nerves. You needed a breath of air that was not mixed with human expiration, so you made your way out of the establishment for a breather.
That was when you saw him again. This time, he was standing directly outside of the gate, tapping at his phone screen. He seemed deeply engrossed in what he was doing and didn’t realise that he was blocking the passageway.
“Excuse me,” you mumbled as you tried to inch past him.
“Oh, I am sorry,” he replied. Then, as if he had just realised you were there, looked up and smiled. “Hi.”
It was genuine and warm, catching you off-guard. “Hi,” you replied, feeling shy.
“Are you leaving?”
You couldn’t understand why he would ask that. You didn’t know each other from anywhere, and yet again, despite yourself, you replied, “Do you want me to?”
You were doing that thing again, where you flirted because you thought it was fun. You could feel the pull; it was magnetic and easy to lean into.
He laughed, and god, you were convinced that was the best sound you had ever heard in your life. “Do you want me to…” he uttered under his breath, mulling over the words you had said. “No, actually,” he grinned, “I’d like you to be here.”
“Why?” You teased. “Are you the owner of the bar? I promise you, the 5K I’d spend on another Long Island is small compared to what some of these people will spend tonight.”
“Well, if you stay, you wouldn’t have to spend another 5K tonight.”
“How charming,” you rolled your eyes, cracking a smile.
He feigned hurt, putting his hand on his chest. “The economy tuff. 5K na big money o.”
Without realising it, you had both walked out together and were now standing on the sidelines, talking to each other. You felt something thrumming under your veins, and had a hard time distinguishing between alcohol, sparks, and your vagina just doing backflips. He asked you for your name, and you told him, and you could feel the threads of the conversation spinning between you two. His name was Lanre. He worked as an operator for a popular startup in Rwanda and was home for the weekend to see friends and family. Hearing that made you feel slightly sad, even though you had no plausible reason to be. You told him that you were in your final year of uni, studying Mass Communications at UNILAG.
You liked a lot of things about the conversation. How his demeanour became serious when you revealed that despite being a Mass-Comm student, you were very interested in brand design and worked part-time with an agency. The thoughtful questions he asked: “How do you balance this with school?” “What are the prospects for the branding industry here in Nigeria?” “Why don’t you like UI/UX?” How he shifted his weight from one foot to the other whenever he was deep in thought. How he smiled easily, and most importantly, how you could feel that he genuinely enjoyed getting to know you and was not just treating your conversation as a prelude to a much bigger game (one you would not have minded playing if we were being honest — but still very nice!).
And then, after about thirty minutes of talking with each other, he asked you if you wanted to dance, and nervously, you took his hand and walked back into the building, just in time for Fireboy’s Playboy to start thrumming through the speakers. It was one of those moments you wanted to put in a bottle and keep entirely to yourself. His hands feathering the curve of your waist, his eyes gleaming with something you knew he could see in your eyes, too. You placed your palm on his chest, then turned around to grind against him. He pulled you close, thumbing the skin above your skirt, and your legs nearly gave in.
In that moment, you didn’t feel ashamed for making mental notes about what the Rwandan embassy would look like and whether to move in with him after you were done with school (you had three months left). It was possible. You had read a Zikoko article where two people found love at South and had been together for more than two years. Who said your own case couldn’t be the same? You turned to face him, and he leaned in to kiss you. Your body was a live wire, and in his arms, you felt electric. His lips tasted like cocktails and desire, and you hummed in delight. It was legitimately the best kiss you’d ever had, and all of a sudden, you felt shy that it had happened at South, where a good number of people knew and could see you, but the happiness superseded any feelings of anxiety you felt.
It was definitely the alcohol.
At around 11:30, he leaned into your ear and asked if you would like to go somewhere else. His friends were meeting at Hard Rock, and South was getting too hot. You told him that you would not be able to go without your friend, Matti, who had been throwing appreciative damn girl! glances your way. He extended Matti an invitation, and you texted her to meet you outside while you both made your way to the door.
On your way out, someone called out to him.
“Lanre, my man!”
He stopped and turned and exchanged pleasantries with a man who was staunchly built and wearing blue trad. You never understood why people wore trad to South nights, it was nearly as atrocious as wearing jean trousers. The two men laughed and embraced each other. The hug of old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years. You found it sweet.
“How far now? Long time o!” Lanre replied, and his friend laughed.
“Life dey. How is everything now? How are Dotun and the kids?”
“They’re fine, they’re fine,” Lanre replied stiffly. His eyes briefly met yours, and he lowered his voice.
Your blood ran cold. Matti, who was just coming out from the crowd, and who had heard the question, looked at the men with the most confused expression, then stared at you, her face sending out alarms. You didn’t know whether to laugh or to scream, so instead, you remained completely calm. Maybe you were just overreacting and had misheard the question. Maybe Dotun was the older sister he had mentioned earlier when you had both shared how many siblings you had, and you had gone on a mini-rant about black tax. Maybe Dotun and the Kids was an alte highlife boy band that he managed. The possibilities were endless.
When the men finished their conversation, Lanre walked over to the two of you.
“Sorry for taking your time,” he said. “Is this Matti?”
“Yes.” You replied. Matti extended a hand, masking the suspicion you knew she felt.
They exchanged greetings, and you walked out of the building together, but your mind was still whirring with so many questions that you could not help but blurt out, in what you hoped was your most ‘casual’ voice, “Hey, uhm — are you married?”
Lanre paused in his tracks, and for the first time that night, you realised that you had made a really grave mistake. You turned to Matti, who suddenly seemed overly preoccupied with her phone, then back at his obnoxiously beautiful face. It was blank, yet contemplative. The demeanour of a doctor looking for the best way to break news you didn’t want to hear. Your stomach felt empty, and your mouth was dry.
“…yes,” he eventually replied. “But it’s nothing serious, I promise. Maybe we can discuss this later?” At this point, he had extended the car keys to open the door. The alarm went off, and he made his way to the driver’s seat.
You couldn’t believe your ears. It was nothing serious, and yet he had kids? At that moment, it was more than just the existence of a fact. It was the realisation that he had not mentioned it earlier and was treating it as though you had just asked him about his zodiac sign. I’m a Gemini. Maybe we can discuss it later? The nerve of him to do that. Matti held your hand and squeezed it briefly, and you sighed, turned around and walked back into South with her. From your periphery, you heard him open the car door, turn on the engine and drive away, and hated yourself even more for the twinge of disappointment you felt when you realised that you had hoped he would call out to you, or try to explain himself.
At the end of the day, you thought, as Matti bought you another drink, it was just a regular night in Lagos, and tomorrow life would continue as it always did, and this would be another event in the folder of gossip you would occasionally pull out in front of your friends, with slogans of “Can you imagine?” and “Fear Lagos Men!” buttered around it.
Eventually, you would come to realize that you probably weren’t as surprised as you should have been. After all, this was Lagos, a city where shege was exchanged freely amongst its inhabitants. Maybe one day you’d find a genuine connection that didn’t involve dishonesty and hidden skeletons, but you were young, and you had enough time, so you spent your days laughing and dancing and kissing boys and sharing stories with your friends, and trying not to think about hope and its uncanny ability to carve out roads that led to nowhere.
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First published on 20 Something.