the air in the room was stale with unnaked anger. he pressed play and the first song started to play. he got off the bed to get a bottle of water from the fridge as el debarge sang “i had some problems/and no one could seem to solve them/but you found the answer/you told me to take a chance/and learn the way of love, my baby/and all that it had to offer/in time you will see that love won’t let you down.”[1] sweet words.

“do you want oats,” her smile was the size of the bed as he came back to lie on the bed. he said nothing in response, he simply looked at the sound system. her gaze followed his. he wasn’t in the mood for el’s nonsense talk so he skipped the song. ‘sitting on the dock of bay’[2] started to play – she realized then it wasn’t the type of cd she imagined. this was a new compilation – about last night. like themselves last night, the one song subverted the other. tic tac toe. she knew he wasn’t going to talk about last night. he doesn’t talk. he hardly talks. he does hardly talk about his feelings or show his irritation. but of late he has become innately irritated – like he was waiting for her to make a mistake and leave.

“is something wrong?” the room stopped breathing.

“i don’t think you’ll miss me if we broke up.” quid pro quo. that was it. she knew that was all he was going to say. she half expected it. he had warned her of what would happen when she gave her number to a friend from high school that she hadn’t seen for six years prior to that meeting. in the nine minutes they chatted by the standard chartered atm at bbs, lefa had mentioned three guys from their past that she ran into at airport junction, but she had ignored them she said. he knew lefa was lying.

“c’mon, babe. how many girls do you know who will tell you, in front of your boyfriend, they have been having coffee with men from your past?” he knew lefa was lying when she let slip that one of the guys has had liposuction, but was still fat. how did lefa know this from afar? what are the chances of a girl, in town for the weekend, running into three of your ex-boyfriends in one morning?

“i trust her, she wouldn’t give my number to any of those people. she knows how i feel about them. besides, she is traveling back to south africa today.” true, lefa was on her way to the airport when they ran into her at bbs mall. the first call came that night at 22h40 when they were watching the taking of pelham 123. it was a south african number, so, she, thinking it was lefa, had picked the call. it was justin. lefa explained later via whatsapp® that she had given her number to justin whom she ran into at taboo that night. he simply smiled after she cut justin’s call. when they broke up, justin had pushed her to the limits with his cheating. he knew the justin story, but he simply smiled. by the time (three days later) the third ex-boyfriend called from johannesburg, he said something, then he stopped talking. true, she hadn’t entertained the callers, but her new number that she had protected for three years was now out in the open in ex-boyfriend country.

no call had come through the previous night, but they had a fight last night, and from how he behaved thereafter, she knew he was ready to leave. she could hear it in the song, ‘what becomes of a broken heart’ that just came on. she knew what he was thinking when joan osborne said “…the fruits of love grow all around/but for me they come a tumblin’ down/everyday heartaches grow a little stronger/i can’t stand this pain much longer.”[3] she settled back onto her side of the bed, the gulf between them on the bed the size of the suez. he brought out his laptop and powered it on – he started typing as seal sang ‘this is a man’s world’. he was confusing her, taking her on an emotional musical rollercoaster ride. isn’t seal saying this is a man’s world, this is a man’s world/but it wouldn’t mean nothing, nothing/without a woman or a girl”? then ‘i wonder why we hold on with tears in our eyes’[4] came on. he had played it for her before and reversed the meaning of the words and i wonder why we hold on with tears in our eyes/and i wonder why we have to break down to just make things right/and i wonder why i can’t seem to tell you goodbye.” he had sang to the song and by the end of that performance she too had been singing along in the car as they rode home on wednesday night. does he mean it like then now? she wasn’t sure.

he sneezed. deep chest-rattling sneeze. he was cold. he wasn’t talking. he doesn’t talk whenever he goes cold. he’s the coldest person she knows. just plain steel cold. he said nothing and looked through you. with eyes that feel nothing. with eyes that say nothing. with eyes that are looking at the titanium casing of the laptop and saying nothing now. he had spent half the night in the car last night – cold, cold, car in the cold. when ‘you’re all i need to get by’ floated in, she got up and went into the toilet.  with the toilet door slightly ajar, she could hear kenny lattimore say and when i lose my will/you’ll be there to push me up the hill.”[5] it’s no compensation she thought. she knew he had slipped into coldness. she could hear him wipe snort from his face with anger. she knew he wouldn’t take anything for the cold. he walked to the nightclub i the neighborhood at two in the morning and came back an hour later on a stretch that is notorious for muggings. that was a strong statement. he was daring the evil elements to do something. they didn’t. she knew that won’t stop him from doing what he wanted to do. sweet song or not. he had called her when he got to the club. he said he wanted to let her know he was ok, but she was sure he wanted her to hear the song playing in the background. he was cold when he came back. he came into the house, picked the car key from the wardrobe and went straight out of the house – moments later she heard the car door slam, and she knew he wouldn’t be coming back to bed.

when ‘let’s stay together’ came on, she started to hum the song from the toilet. he knew all the songs on that cd by heart she was sure. she knew he knew what came next. what would come next. she knew he didn’t believe craig david when he sang ooo baby…/let’s, let’s stay together…/loving you whether, whether/times are good or bad, happy or sad/ooooo… oooo… yeah…/whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.”[6] he was playing croupier with her emotions. she shivered and goose-bumped. he said nothing still. just the click click click of the keyboard. was he writing something about them? he always wrote down how things will turn out. he had the habit of writing down, before they had a discussion, how she would react or what she would say when he said something, and then show it to her when she reacted or responded as he had predicted. it was freaky. at first she laughed about it, but it started to freak her out. he seemed to know what she will say or do, so she was dying to know what this morning will morph into. she knew he knew justin was in town. she knew he knew that they met for coffee. she knew he knew that he was sorry. she knew he knew that she had pitied him. she knew he knew they had played that game before. he goes. he comes. just in time.

then ‘just my imagination’ came on. did he meet someone at the club yesterday she mused. where has this song come from? he had told her so many times he wasn’t interested in marriage but boyz ii men were singing “(soon) soon we’ll be married and raise a family. (oh, yeah)/a cozy little home out in the country with two children, maybe three./i tell you, i can visualize it all. this couldn’t be a dream, for too real it all seems.”[7] then she remembered the story he told her just before they fell out last night of meeting an old flame, maria, at a hotel in francistown. did something more than he told her happen? he has the annoying habit of never telling all about an incident. he broke down encounters – piecemeal. till you were fed up with anticipation. she knew that wasn’t all that happened in francistown. he had said she was with her husband and a kid.

but she knows he believes in okafor’s law – a woman who has been had by a man before can be had by the man again.

‘close the door’ started playing. johnny gill sang “i’ve waited all day long/just to hold you in my arms/and it’s exactly like i thought it would be/me loving you and you loving me.”[8] he never wasted a song. why this song at 08:29 in the morning? she knew the last thing he wanted to do right now was hold her in his arms. but she found herself humming the song while brushing her teeth. that was a habit he knew so much. whenever she was scared or worried she would go and sit in the toilet, sometimes staring at the shower curtain – the plain shower curtain. sometimes she would weep silently. he knew this because she always sniffed when sobbing. when she was like this she did things in slow motion – like she is trying to delay the inevitable. he watched her nakedness through the slightly ajar toilet door. she loved him. she knew he knew she loved him. he loved her back. but sometimes they said the harshest things to each other. one was scorpio – she would have loved to hear those harsh words now. the other was aquarius – he would have loved to hear those harsh words now. both were blunt. very blunt. both were stubborn. very stubborn.

then seal belted ‘i can’t stand the rain against my window’. she hummed the first line with fluoride in her mouth until seal said ‘when we were together,’[9] she knew then he was speaking of a love past. is he saying they shouldn’t get there? where he hears rain against his window and pines for the past? what or where would she be then? in this lonely future seal is singing about? then blood, sweat & tears started singing ‘you’ve made me very happy’ as she walked back into the room and climbed onto the bed – careful to brush against him as blood, sweat & tears sang i chose you for the one/now we’re having so much fun/you treated me so kind/i’m about to lose my mind/you made me so very happy/i’m so glad you came into my life.”[10] pulling the duvet over herself she started to talk to him about a neighbor’s party the night before. small talk. she knew he hadn’t thawed. he doesn’t thaw that quickly, especially not in winter.

she was still making small talk almost by herself when ‘tracks of my tears’ came on. she was caught on one foot when jon yamasato sang since you left me if you see me with another girl/seeming like i’m having fun/although she may be cute/she’s just a substitute/because you’re the permanent one.”[11] she realized the foolishness of her little banter. the sweet songs may be about francistown. she picked up a novel and started to read. she couldn’t concentrate. the song was in her head. this is not the time to be reading ‘book of nots’. she was humming the song. that was a sign that the present activity – reading – had been suffused like orsino’s famous opening speech in twelfth night by music, that music the activity has lost its purpose. but she didn’t learn her lesson.

she was now humming along to ‘ribbon in the sky’. she likes this song – even this version by 2 men 4 soul. he knew she liked the song. she turned slightly to look at him when they sang “if allowed may i touch your hand /and if pleased may i once again /so that you too will understand /there’s a ribbon in the sky for our love.”[12] he caught this in the peripheral vision of his gaze. she was belting “we can’t lose with love on our side” she was really trying to tell him she loves him. but she said last night to him

“don’t you feel like seeing someone else?” her reason? “you seem unhappy being with me.”

“who told you i am not happy? do you want to see someone else yourself?”

“why does it have to be me seeing someone else?”

“then why are you recommending that for me?”

“because i can see you are unhappy being with me. it’s like i irritate you.”

“did i say so?”

“no. i can feel it.”

“you know, i get the feeling you won’t miss me if we broke up.” then ‘i wonder who she’s seeing now’ came on. she went cold when she heard even though she’d be gone today/now i got to find my own way, yeah/even though i need her more each day.”[13] that was what started all this winter moment. he had said he didn’t think she’d miss him if they broke up. that she would have found her happiness because she had said she would move on after three years if their situation remained the same. she wanted marriage. he was scared of marriage. she loved him no end. he wasn’t married but he just did not like the idea of such permanence. his logic was correct. why would she miss him if she left him to be with the person she said would make a home with her? she didn’t like having her emotions or thoughts correctly read. and he was good at reading her thoughts.

when boys ii men belted ‘there would never be a better love, love, love, love/no matter how… [14] she was only too cautious to sing or hum along. the page she was reading was making no sense to her. she’s been stuck on that page since ‘tracks of my tears’. boys ii men were getting on his nerves with all that lalalala they were singing. get on with the song he mused. he knew what song was coming on next. he couldn’t wait for it. why does he have to listen to boys ii men sing ‘there would never be another’ when she had told him she would look for another man if he didn’t give her what she wanted. then ‘a change is gonna come’ rolled in. he liked the part were seal said ‘don’t hang around’.[15] he was humming along. he loved this song. he liked the fact that the rolling stone knew a change would come and it was in this situation. the irony of rolling along again to find peace when he is looking for stability. then ‘end of the road’[16] came on.

she was beginning to see how this compilation would end. she didn’t like how she suddenly felt. she knew he didn’t believe the line that they belonged together. she knew he was telling her to take her love and give it to whomever she felt would make her a home. he didn’t care. he was tired of being threatened. what’s happiness if it is simulated fear of losing who you think loves you? he clicked ‘send’. is this guy in the song really pleading with the girl? is he accepting his heart is lonely? damn! has he used the wrong song? has the songman used the wrong song? she was reading but he knew she hadn’t missed a beat of the song. he knew she would’ve heard him pleading – he just sent her a message, with maria attached. when jimmy ruffin started singing ‘maria,’[17] she started doing yoga stretches. she got up and went out of the house to sit outside and catch some sun. jimmy was saying i need you honey /oh maria you sweet little sunflower /oh hear my plea for sympathy /i just-a want you here with me maria /ooh yeah yeah/empty on the lonely nights /that’s my life without you girl /i’m so lonely i’m so blue /without/you darling my life is through /come on back.” if ruffin is begging maria to come back, he must be saying the same thing, she mused. peace for now, but wait, francistown is maria.

© F-K Omoregie 2014

 

[1] DeBarge, El. (1983). All This Love. All This Love. Gordy.

[2] Redding, Otis. (1968). Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. Dock of the Bay. Volt/Atco.

[3] Funk Brothers ft Joan Osborne. (2007). What Becomes of the Brokenhearted. Breakfast in Bed. Time Life.

[4] Stigers, Curtis. (1991). I Wonder Why. Curtis Stigers. Arista.

[5] Lattimore, Kenny & Moore, Chante. (2003). You Are All I Need To Get By. Things That Lovers Do. Arista.

[6] David, Craig. (2010). Let’s Stay Together. Signed Sealed Delivered. Universal.

[7] Boyz II Men. (2007). Just My Imagination. Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA. Decca UMTV.

[8] Gill, Johnny & Coko (from SWV). (2000). Close the Door. The Ladies Man OST.

[9] Seal. (2009). I Can’t Stand the Rain Against My Window. Hits. Warner.

[10] Blood, Sweat & Tears. (1969). You’ve Made Me Very Happy. Blood, Sweat & Tears. Columbia.

[11] Yamasato, Jon. (2005). Tracks of My Tears. One.Booklines.

[12] 2 Men 4 Soul. (1996). Ribbon in the Sky. 2 Men 4 Soul. IRMA RECORDS (ITA).

[13] The Temptations. (1994). I Wonder Who She’s Seeing Now. Emperors of Soul. Motown.

[14] Boyz II Men. (2007). There Will Never Be. Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA. Decca UMTV.

[15] Seal. (2009). A Change is Gonna Come. Hits. Warner.

[16] Boyz II Men. (1992). End of the Road. Cooleyhighharmony. Motown.

[17] Ruffin, Jimmy. (2001). Maria (You Were The Only One). 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Jimmy Ruffin.