coffee black

Coffee seemed to be the pole around which life revolved then. Take the coffee bar in the hotel beside the railway station, where Jane used to arrive on her commuter train in the morning. I usually got there first, and would grab the window table – our table, it was, for a season – looking out over City Square. Sometimes I would sneak a look at the crossword in the local paper before she arrived. It was syndicated from the Washington Post. Jane was tops at the quotations, but I had the edge on her with the spelling – like so many convent school girls, she couldn’t spell for toffee; it went with the designer coats and skirts.

So there I would sit, contemplating the first cigarette of the day. The coffee wasn’t very good there, mostly frothy milk. More often I would have a glass of Russian tea. Then Jane would arrive to complete my day. Sometimes she was edgy after a row with her stepfather; sometimes she was full of some new discovery to share with me – a book, a play, an idea for a story. It didn’t matter to me, it was Jane I wanted. In any mood. She was tall with long dark brown hair wound up into a nest and pinned to the top of her head. She claimed she could put a part-boiled egg into the middle when she left home, and find it hard-boiled by the time her train arrived. It may have been true, but her great broad grin always left a shadow of doubt.

So there we were in the window of the coffee bar looking out on the crowds of office workers and municipal employees, drinking coffee and deciding how to spend our day. I was conventional enough, rather a precious graduate student in my green corduroy jacket and bow tie, but Jane – did I mention that Jane smoked little imported Dutch cigars? She didn’t smoke them all the time, or even very often, but sometimes in the coffee bar she would light up. Usually it would be on a hat day – you see, if she had a tutorial or seminar that couldn’t be dodged, she would have her hair up and would be carrying a hefty leather satchel. She could put on her horn-rimmed glasses and be every inch the earnest student majoring in literature. If we were going out, though, to a gallery or the theatre, she often wore a hat – generally a flat-brimmed Spanish-looking affair – and looked as different from the other students as chalk from cheese.

Another coffee bar now, a wonderful old-fashioned tobacconist’s shop near the Music and Drama academy. It had a carved Indian outside, and enormous ceramic jars of Latakieh and Virginia tobacco, boxes of cigars, pipes carved from meerschaum and amber, expensive silver lighters, cigar cutters and penknives. This was where she bought her Dutch cigarillos, or whatever they were. At the back of the shop was a stair leading down to a wood-panelled basement which was split into two parts. To the left there was a coffee bar catering to refugees from the financial district round the corner: women would not normally go there, at least not unaccompanied. I suppose one of my attractions for Jane was that she could go with me into places like the barber-coffee shop where she would have been unwelcome as a woman on her own. Similarly in pubs, with me she could go to the Horseshoe Bar down by the Central Station, for example, or the Curler’s Tavern near the university. We drank gin, mostly, as we chattered about Beowulf or the language of Clockwork Orange; though as a party piece Jane could lock her gullet like a sword-swallower and pour a pint of beer down in one. It made her burp, of course.

Down in the subterranean coffee bar there were chess boards, and we toyed with the pieces. For example, playing through Murphy’s game with Mr Endon – I introduced Jane to Sam Beckett’s work, while she got me started on Flann O’Brien. A metafictional Roland for my anarchic Oliver.

But we’ll give the literature a rest for the moment because adjacent to the basement coffee shop was a little barber shop. For some reason Jane found it stimulating to be sitting next to a room where men went to be shaved. Whether she had Delilah in mind or Sweeney Todd, I can not say; but something in the conjuncture gave her libido a tweak. “James”, she would say, “I want you.” We didn’t use the four-letter words, not to each other. But “I want you. I want you inside me” was explicit enough.

Explicit? What a useless word. The trouble is, I can tell you about what we read or where we went, but I don’t know how to describe Jane as a physical person: the bitten fingernails that told of distress behind her poise, the way that a hug of greeting would somehow convey the small urgent softness of breast, the curve of her back, the hard lump of the suspender clip, the strangely silky smoothness of thigh. I can not put this into words, any more than I can describe the lift in my heart when we met, the pride I had in being with her. The incredible truth that she wanted to be with me. The strut this put into my step.

Walk on up the road from the university to the traffic lights and you’re opposite another coffee shop, the Silver Slipper, in the old streetcar station at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. We would not linger there, though, even for the background of Beatles music. It was too close to the building across on the other side of the highway where I had a small apartment in the attic; a garret, if you feel poetic. And that is where we would end up, Jane and I.

My room – Jane would have said ‘rooms’ – was six storeys up, a big dark place with two tiny dormer windows from which you could see some tree tops if you jumped high enough. There was a big draughty fireplace with a little electric fire. A tiny cooking area, with a miniature oven with an electric ring on top, on which I could brew up strong black unsweetened espresso in the aluminum Moka pot. Hot as hell, Jane would say, black as night, and bitter as love. How right she was.

Bitter as love? Bitter? Well of course it couldn’t last, this season of shared discoveries and enthusiasms. A time when she gave me Aubrey’s Brief Lives and I gave her the Tin Drum, and we chanted the Latin poems of Winnie ille Pu together. Jazz and poetry in a basement one day, Chinese ceramics in a gallery the next. There came a time (I still feel sick as I remember it) when I waited in the coffee bar on City Square and had our table to myself, day after day. A time when I phoned and no-one answered. In the end, the time when I received a letter posted in Mexico. There was no return address. I threw it into the fire so I would not pore over it, then spent stupid weeks trying to find significance in a book she had given me not long before: Wilde’s De profundis.

So laugh, why don’t you? Why not? Beckett was right: Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.

* * *

What happened? Why did it end? I don’t know. Maybe I was too intense; perhaps I wanted a commitment for which Jane was not ready. Perhaps I smothered us, turning adventure into domesticity. Perhaps, maybe I was too compliant, too loyal. I was there for Jane, always. Too easy.

I don’t know.

I still don’t know.

* * *

As it happens we met once again, many years later. Coming out of the coffee bar in the railway station with a beaker of coffee to go, I bumped into Jane. Heading for the same train.

With half an hour to her stop, we sat facing each other over the narrow table, knees touching briefly, pulling apart, and then returning to companionable intimacy. I knew at once that in a way nothing had changed. I knew how she would speak. I felt my throat swell, could not hold back a smile of joy.

She too. How she smiled. That old, broad smile.

It turned out that we had followed strangely similar paths. While I found refuge in academic economics, she went to Italy for a year, and then started working in the Economist offices in Washington. Became a full-time card-carrying journalist, doing technical editing.

“Yes, but your poetry?” I asked, “And did you finish your novel? I’ve often looked for it, but didn’t know the name you would use.”

“No”, she said, “I haven’t been able to do anything like that since we parted. How about you?”

“Same story”, I admitted, “Journal articles, monographs pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. But nothing creative. I think we killed that between us.”

“Could be”, she said, “For each man kills the thing he loves – remember?”

“Yeah. Some love too little, some too long . . .”

“Bugger”, we said together. Close to tears.

She was getting off at her old stop, still kept the family home there, letting it out to tenants. Her marriage had broken up (“I always was a fidget”) and the children were away. Her job kept her in Washington, where she had a rented flat. She reached across, took my hand. I noticed that she had stopped biting her fingernails.

“Are you ever in Washington, James? How about next time you give me a ring? It would be so good to sit down in a quiet restaurant with a bottle of white wine…”

“A.B.C.” I said. “Anything But Chardonnay.”

“Certainly. Never Chardonnay.”

It was strange and painfully sad to find we still spoke the same language at the same speed, after all the years. The train was getting close to her stop and Jane started writing her phone number and address in a notebook. Tearing it out for me. I thought of my wife, our children. Could I ask them to understand the lie that I have lived?

“Jane,” I said, “It won’t just stop at wine and reminiscence, will it?”

Her face was flushed, her eyes large. That look hadn’t changed. She shook her head. Whispered: “No. I still want you.”

“And I you. So that’s why it stops here. Now.” I said, and pushed her slip of paper back.

She crumpled it, threw it into her bag as the train pulled into the station.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “That was stupid. Stupid.” She left the train quickly, then stopped and stood outside on the platform, tugging on her gloves, an appeal in her eyes. Maybe. The windows don’t slide down now. All I can do is look at her and try not to let her see. God help me I still love you.

I shall always love you.


by DoctorSintax



How Many Drafts Did You Do Of Your Book?

I’ve been working on my first novel for two and a half years now, and i still don’t think it’s good enough to shop for a deal yet. Maybe after this draft. (if only that wasn’t exactly what i said after the previous draft). How many drafts before your fascinating story grows stale on you? Hopefully i won’t find out.


“How many drafts did you do of your book?”

In between getting a book deal and being able to tell people I got a book deal, I went to an event at Dun Laoghaire’s Mountains to Sea festival where an audience member asked Paula Hawkins, superstar author of The Girl on the Train, this very question. On hearing it, I rolled my eyes and groaned about it to my company for the evening (who rolled her eyes at my groaning), even though it wasn’t that long ago that I sat in the audience at writerly events and asked the very same thing of published authors myself.

Why the eye-rolling? Because I don’t believe the guy who asked wanted to know how many drafts Hawkins had done of her book. What he really wanted to know was how many drafts of his book he’d have to do – minimum – before his

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DON’T CALL IT A BREAK (poetry by John Spurgeon)



By John Spurgeon

break up break us up  

Love is blind

Trapped in my mind; still

Certain circumstances

Has been forseen


Feelings green and mutual

On a wear and tear journey

To a time in future

Old, parched and sutured


Mere loving her is no longer enough

I have to commit

Sentiments grow strong

I have to submit


I pause long enough

To take a whiff

Of the dry weather breeze

Watch the position of stars


Pray the memory guides me

Through our cloudy nights


Throw two cowries on the floor

Hope they don’t drift apart

Hope these dreams aren’t malarial

I’ll never walk out of that door


What incantation should I say

To ward off this omen’s approach


It’s fast coming!

Coming fast it is!


Dry spells after stormy nights

Harmattan winds for our sorry sails

Carpet of leaves under my boots

Crunching sounds as we walk away


Don’t call it a break

This is a break up

It’s time to wake up

No need to fake


You never step up

When our friendship is at stake


I guess it’s less important

What more is there to say?

(c) 2015. John Spurgeon. All rights reserved.

About Campfire Writer’s Network



I am a young, African writer/poet living in Nigeria. I am the moderator here. I used to love looking at paintings as a kid, but because of a little color blindness I found out I could paint those beautiful pictures in my head with mere words which is what writing is to me. This passion has driven me thus far, and so this is all I am. A fiction/poetry lover. I review fiction/poems for free on various sites, i also edit/proof-read manuscripts (as long as it’s written in English and my schedule is clear; for a little price of course) and I also am a literary agent.

I love meeting and working with like-minded people to achieve something. What’s the goal? What’s the next goal after this one? This is the reason for this blog site – a platform for young writers to meet, share knowledge, upload content, critic anything and everything (constructively of course), and showcase their potentials. Followership is free, and all a follower has to do is email me (in the case of info/story/poetry sharing). I’ll hang it up and leave the crows to do justice to it.


There will be fiction competitions mostly for placement on my free annual anthology book which would be announced soon enough but also for the WINNER TAKES ALL WRITING COMPETITION where contestants will put up their stories and have it judged by any and every follower on the site. The contestant with the highest likes will take all the entry fee. Reading is fun. Writing should be fun as well, whether you’re published or unpublished. If you’re good at what you do, then this is the place for you to play. DON’T FORGET TO INVITE YOUR FRIENDS.

Like an interesting character once said: LET THE FUN BEGIN!!!

A KISS IS A PROMISE (a short story by John Spurgeon)



 If this was rap, this would be called a freestyle. The story is not yet edited and is the start of a novella I’m working on. So, feel free to go hard on the comment box.

My shirt cost me three grand. I’ve forgotten the name of the boutique where I purchased it.  The name was European, I think. Either Spanish or Portuguese. Although I’m sure it would have little or nothing to do with clothes or fashion in a general sense because the owner didn’t look like he’d traveled past Togo in his search for  wares. His English wasn’t even good. The boutique was one of those shops along CENTRAL PLAZA that starched the OK clothes, wrapped them in nylons, put them in show-glasses, and pumped the prices into over-kill, so much you’d think they were Dolce and Garbana franchises or Armani sub-outlets. Be that as it may, my image on the mirror looked good enough for the evening out I had planned for Diane and I.

“You look handsome enough.” my cousin Clara said from behind me. I turned to see her standing at the doorway into my bedroom with a smile on her face.  “So quit staring at yourself like that would improve anything.”

“It’s a first date! It’s been a long time for me, or have you forgotten?”

Clara chuckled and sashayed up to me. “Come on! Talking like that will jinx the whole evening. She’s going to look even more beautiful than the first time you saw her, and you’ll find out you both have more than a lot in common…” She smoothed my collar at the back of my neck. “…She will tell you how much she enjoyed her evening, hint that she may see you again, and you’ll kiss her goodnight in the end.”

I laughed. “Clara, the hopeless romantic! No wonder you’re still a virgin.” I teased. I went to sit on the foot of my bed and pulled on a pair of white Espadrilles. I love flats. I looked up when she didn’t reply.

She was scowling. “There is romance still left in the world, Obinna. Just wait, you’ll see.” She said it with a sureness that struck me as odd. I stared at her as she walked out of my bedroom without another word. Oh well, I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. I grabbed my green, sleeveless, Dior jacket laid out on the bed and left the house through the front door, shouting at her to lock up after me.

I took my two year old VW PASSAT 2008 – a red salon which was crawling to a ninety thousand mileage on its odometer. It was in pristine running condition regardless of its age, thanks to my buddy, Jerry who now managed his father’s garage.

“OWU NO DE TOUCH MY BODY! OH BOY!” Naeto C and Reminisce were singing on the car’s music box as I rolled out of the compound. Clara was in my rear mirror locking up behind me. I waited to get infected by their grand feeling of I-am-larger-than-life, but these rappers weren’t communicable tonight. I felt no better than myself as I drove, which was probably for the best.

I turned the music down to dial Diane’s cell number as soon as I hit Oron road which linked the street I lived with the rest of the town.

“Obinna!” She must have been using the phone because she picked as soon as the dial tone kicked in. “Woah! Is it six pm yet?” She seemed surprised.

Okay. That was totally unexpected. I’d readied a pleasant, maybe-I’ll-get-a-kiss-at-the-end-of-tonight voice. It took a moment to switch back to normal, feeling the scowl spreading on my face. “You’re kidding right? Where are you?”

“I’m at home! At home! Are you on your way?” She sounded unsure. I almost pulled up. “I haven’t even had my bathe yet!”

Is that it? “Okay…uhm…how long do you need to get set?”

“An hour?” She smirked over the phone. “No, thirty minutes,” she reiterated.

I parked outside the open gates into her apartment building forty-five minutes later.  It was a one story building in the middle of a not-so-large, sandy compound similar to all the other houses along the quiet street. They all looked more than a couple decades old to me, but still retained a certain level of dignity. I didn’t have to wait long. Diane exited the ground flat. Two other girls exited the house with her but stopped to watch from the front verandah – flat mates. I didn’t notice much about them. My attention was glued to the beauty package walking…uh…approaching my car.

I’d say I’m a breast man, but I’m sure every guy out there is too, so the point is moot. Her breasts weren’t visible and yet you knew she was well endowed on the chest level. She was wearing a brown, pintuck, short sleeve shirt with white horizontal stripes at the chest level tucked into a loose, blue skirt which had white polka dots that came down mid-distance between her knees and ankles, and a pair of red, heeled boots. (I know female clothes because my cousin runs a fashion blog) She held a pink purse in one hand. Very modest, and yet the way she moved, I swear I could tell she was very sexy underneath. I smiled at her as she got closer, taking off my Rayban glasses to give her a clearer perusal. She rolled her eyes at me but smiled too. She got into the car.

“Diane! You look breathtaking!”

“Thank you! You’re not looking bad yourself!” She observed.

I grinned as I started the car. “Really? I was afraid you’d think so.” I joked and drove off.

We’d agreed we would first put up with a movie at the cinema (there was only one cinema in the whole town). Afterwards, we’d hit a bar or a restaurant, whichever appealed to us then. Nothing really serious, it was just a first date.

On the drive over, I asked her about her day at school. We’d chatted a couple times on BBM before today, so we knew a bit about each other. For instance, I already knew she was a final year student of microbiology at the State University who had just returned from a yearlong industrial training at Nigerian Breweries. She knew I was doing my graduate studies on ICT Management at the Federal University still in the same town. During the drive, I got her talking. It was easy. She liked talking and I happened to have the right questions. She mentioned the seminar presentation she was preparing, and seemed confident she’d murder it.

It was a pretty pleasant drive all the way to the cinema location at Udoma Avenue, right at the edge of town. The lot was wide enough. It was easy to find space to park. She was surprised when I got out of the car to open her side of the car. That got her giggling.

“Okay, not that I’ve entered too many cars owned by guys, but this one never happened before.”

I was surprised. “Like seriously?” I chuckled. “Glad to be your first.” I said and stepped back because she made to punch my shoulder but sidestepping was easy. I laughed. She smiled. I was glad she was relaxed. I locked the car with its remote key. I offered her my hand. She declined it and walked off towards the cinema entrance. I caught up with her and we went in together.

            The movie – a romantic comedy – had a field day with the audience’s emotions. It was about the right hand man of the boss of a drug dealing cartel, who stumbled on a girl, fell in love with her, and eloped with her to his own peril. The same night, the boss’ heir steals a great deal of loot from his father, and everything is blamed on the AWOL right-hand man. Aha! That was the title of the movie – AWOL. It was an interesting movie that got everyone emotional in the end. Diane had misty eyes which she tried to hide from me. I put an arm around her shoulder and patted. She fished for a handkerchief from her purse and dabbed her eyes. She wore no make-up, so there was no fear from that angle. We still had left over popcorn but our cans of coke were long gone.

“I really enjoyed that…the movie I mean,” I said as the credits ran.

“I’d download it to my tab and watch it again. It was really amazing. Can you imagine…” she ran off and started narrating the story in bits like I didn’t just watch it with her. Others were commenting too in their own little groups as we all trooped out of the viewing hall. I listened to her and chipped in my two cent.

I don’t know if she realized it, but we were holding hands as we made our way to my VW. Night had fallen and that had probably made her relax the boundaries a bit. Her conversation had jumped from the movie we’d just watched to other movies by the same producer. I told her I wasn’t a movie fan. I preferred sports. She liked soccer. We both loved Manchester United.

“Man-U!” She suddenly shouted, raising one of her hands.

“For Life!” I returned and we both started laughing. I couldn’t tell her that she had a sizeable chest suitable for our club’s next TV commercial. Man-Chester. That would be a compliment, but pre-first-kiss…probably too much too early. I have to mention this though, lest I forget. Her laugh was the most beautiful sound I ever heard. It wasn’t just the sound. It was the way her face lit up like there existed a special switch connected to the spread of those luscious lips of hers, or the exposure of the beautiful gap in between her incisors which turned on a set of bulbs hidden one layer beneath her facial skin which made her face glow almost literally.

“I can’t believe this!” Diane said.

“I wonder what else we have in common!” I tentatively threw it out there to guage her reaction. Not that it was a big deal… In this part of the world, soccer fans were either for Manchester united, or Chelsea, or Arsenal, or Liverpool, Barcelona or Real Madrid. I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager the chances were one out of fourteen. Okay…yes, quite a big deal. How did I come about that math again? Fuh-gehht-a-bowt-ith!!!

“The night is not over, is it?” She asked.

Eureka! My hope was completely off the roof. It must have showed in my eyes because she laughed.  “Lemme see…” I looked up at the clouds, frowning thoughtfully. “Uhm…I’ll bet there is a bit more that can be done before curfew time, My Lady.” I said opening the door to the front passenger side for her to get in. She even had a thank-you smile for me. My blood vessels…tissues and organs too…fluttered.

For no reason at all, I looked around the place as I walked around the car to my door. i spied a well-dressed male stranger standing at the entrance into the cinema, watching me. My heart quit fluttering in my head and focused, but with the casual smile still on my face. I was quick to capture the face of the watcher before he looked away. He knew me. Or he knew my date. Or he… I searched my memory as I slid in beside Diane. I couldn’t remember ever meeting the guy. But then, I’d been in this town long enough to be recognized by people I didn’t know.

Still, the way the guy had looked at me…

“So, are we going to a restaurant or a bar?” Diane asked oblivious of my distraction. Focus on the beautiful girl beside you. I pushed all thoughts of unfamiliar-face wanna-be watch dog to the back of my mind. Maybe it was some dude who meant no harm. Just envious of…I looked at Diane. Of course I had the right to be envied, my ego said. Focus!

I drove us to a restaurant by Udoma lake on the other end of the three miles long Udoma avenue, mainly because I was hungry and I was perfectly okay with her doing most of the talking. A couple beers and I’d be competing with her God-given urge to voice her opinions.

Dinner went without a hitch. I got us a glass of wine each and when the menu came, she surprised me with her request.

“I’ll have the West African Peanut Stew…with sweet potatoes, please” She noticed my raised eyebrows and shrugged. “I’m a vegetarian,” she said.

I smiled, even more surprised. “Really! I have a great aunt who stays at Port Harcourt. She’s a vegetarian too. Guess what, she’s ninety-six and still drives to her vegetable farm!” I ordered rice and beans with chicken soup, and settled to listen to her lecture about the benefits of eating vegetables.

“I believe you, don’t just attempt to take me away from egg and milk and meat… I might kill you.” I laughed.

The air at the table was jovial and warm. She was pleasantly surprised when a live band came on and I could tell she enjoyed their rendition. She declined a second glass of wine after the meal. I settled the bill and we left.

Back in the car, we were in no hurry to call it a night. I was glad I met her. I could bet (being a non-betting dude) the feeling was mutual. We just sat in the car and talked.

“Do you remember how we met?” I asked.

“Yeah…classic scenario of boy meets girl at an airport lounge and shares a seat row on a flight. It happens every day.”

“True…still not all those everyday situations end up like this…boy sits with girl in his car after dinner, totally content with each other’s company. A week ago we were strangers on the same flight. It feels different tonight.”

Diane chuckled. “And you think you know me?”

I shrugged. “I’m not competing with your friends or flat mates. They’ve known you for much longer. This night has shown me a lot though. If I knew you as long as they do, I’d know you much better.”

She laughed at my subtlety. “You’re a funny guy.” She stared at me for a while, then half leaned towards me. “A gentle man yes…”

I swear my breath caught. There is something about a sensuous woman closing in on a man’s personal space, especially one whose lips you’ve been thinking about. It does things to a man’s medulla. I wasn’t exactly as simultaneous as the second jaw of a pincer, but I didn’t hesitate a second more. I met her halfway.

“…but still a funny guy.” She finished.

I could feel her warm breathe on my face. “You think?” I whispered. “I wonder how hilarious you’d find this then.” My lips touched hers. One second. Nothing. I nibbled her lower lip. She responded by pressing some more towards me. Her lips opened. I got bolder; no longer tentative. I nibbled at the upper one. She turned her head perpendicularly and opened up some more. My tongue crept forward and into hers, seeking to explore their wet warmth. I felt her tongue circling mine, an ancient passionate maneuver. I turned my head in the opposite direction to go deeper. She moaned. It got even hotter. I put my arms around her and pulled her into a tight hug. The longer our lips stayed merged, the more frenzied the kiss became. For someone who hadn’t kissed a girl in two years, I was glad the leopard still had some spots.

How did it end? I can’t remember exactly. Mutually I think, because she didn’t push me. We must’ve simply run out of breathe. We didn’t kiss forever, that’s for sure. Even though I wanted to latch back onto her sweet mouth, it was a first kiss and we were in public. We leaned back into our seats, heaving after our breaths.

“That was one hell of a thank-you kiss.” I said.

She chuckled. “Just shut up and drive me home!” She ordered

I drove her back to her apartment on Nsit lane off Abak road. We were both silent throughout the drive. If what was on my mind was the same thing on hers, I wouldn’t blame her for not being her usual self. I mean, she’d gotten her pleasant Friday evening, and I’d gotten my kiss. What happens next?

“I’ll like to see you again,” I said as I pulled up outside her open compound.

“Well, that’d have to be next weekend.” She saw my surprise and added. “This seminar has four grade points and I want to bag an A,“ she said.

“When is the seminar?”

She frowned. “You want to come?”

I thought for a second. “Uh, if my schedule is clear. Why not?”

She leaned in and gave me a peck. “Thanks, I’d like that.” She opened her door and alighted from the car. “I’ll see you on Thursday, that is if your schedule is free.”

I didn’t tell her, but I was sure I’d push anything aside to spend more time with her. We waved each other and I watched her for a bit as she entered the compound towards the apartment building, unseen hips swinging beneath her loose skirt. I could tell. I couldn’t wait for Thursday to arrive. I put the gear in drive and drove home to my cousin, feeling elated.

I was watching an entertainment show on AIT at the living room around midnight when I heard a strange noise outside my house. It sounded like feet shuffling. I muted the TV to listen but it had stopped in the next instant. I had a bottle of beer in my hand which I set on the coffee table in front of me. I wasn’t afraid yet. I thought my ears were playing games with me. I was going to investigate though.

Thank God, the living room lights were off and the room was only illuminated by the TV lights flickering. I got to my feet and walked to the window that looked out into the front yard. I pushed the curtain a bit and looked out. Suddenly, I heard the sound of something familiar – the spursssshhhhh of air out of a pressurized containment– which could only happen in my front yard because… my eyes widened in realization…SOMEONE WAS SLASHING MY CAR TIRES.

I heard the sound again. My ears were really tuned in now. This time it came with a preceding stab. The VW, whose bonnet was in my line of vision, slumped backwards. What the hell? Why would someone want to slash my tires? I saw his silhouette move around to the front.

I went numb, but only for a second. As the rage took over, I remembered the cutlass which Clara usually used to cut dried stock fish in bits. Clara…she was sleeping. There was no need to involve her. I could only think of slashing through the cheeky bastard who thought it was fun to intrude and cause havoc on my property and leave him a permanently grinning jaw bone.

I tiptoed out of the living room and was brandishing a cutlass when I returned. I unlocked the front door careful not to make a sound. I switched on the light next and charged out of the front door, past the porch to shadow crouched beside my car, about to stab the third tire. He heard me and quickly scrambled away from me and the car.

I went after him with my cutlass raised, ready to hit him with the flat end when I heard the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking. I froze as my brain slowly registered the information. There was a second guy. I could hear him now, approaching me from behind. I tried to turn.

“Don’t even think about it!” I heard him say in the meanest tones I’ve heard in a long while. I obeyed. The circular mouth rested on my back and a hand relieved me of my cutlass. I felt naked. I thought about Clara sleeping inside, but I knew better than to show my fear. The slasherman walked to me, his assurance restored once I was disarmed. His face was covered with a scarf.

“Go and finish the rest of the tires so we can leave.” The gunman behind me ordered. He left to continue. I raised my hands in surrender. The gun on my back relaxed. I turned to face the man behind me only to realize it was not one, but two men. The second man held a gun too, but he wasn’t pointing it. It was too dark to see the make of their weapons but I knew that the only chance I stood was to behave while the slasherman did his work.

The second gunman walked up to me. “So, you are the guy going with my girlfriend now? Cinema movies…fancy dinners…parking lot kisses.”

The guy was speaking in plural while it had all gone down one time. One cinema movie….One diinner, not altogether as fancy as fancy should be…and one parking lot kiss, a hot one nonetheless. Not that I could make my point. His eyes were full of hate and his face were almost as close to mine as his girlfriend’s had been a few hours ago just before I kissed her, that the feeling pulsing beneath his face was crystal enough not to be confused for anything else. That didn’t bother me. If shooting me was the plan, I’d be bleeding on the ground by now. Still, Girlfriend?

“Girlfriend! Diane never told me she was seeing someone…” Someone so handsome. I held that bit back. I could hear my tires’ dying sighs.

“And that is the only reason you’re still on your feet, boy. There will be no next time, because if there is, I won’t vouch for my friend’s itchy fingers over there.”

I looked at his colleague-at-arms. He was probably the same height as the guy who’d stalked I and Diane at the cinema house. I couldn’t tell for sure though. I turned to Diane’s ‘boyfriend’. “What if I run into your girlfriend, say at the supermarket, or in school, or…”

The first gunman didn’t let me finish. Before I realized, he’d kicked my feet off the ground from under me and I fell to the floor on my face. Then cutlass caning followed. He hit me thrice with the flat of the knife. It was the worst pain I ever experienced in my life. It took your breath away and that part of your brain that manages pain (ask an anatomist) jars out of its homeostatic spring, like the calibrating needle of a weight scale stepped on by a Japanese sumo wrestler. It’ll never returns to zero point afterwards. Don’t bother holding your breathe because there is no adapting to this kind of pain.

“You think this is a joke?” Blow. I moaned. “You think you’re funny?” She does, but I couldn’t tell them that. I was busy with… Blow… Bracing for the third one didn’t help lessen the pain. I realized I’d shouted a second later. The fourth one would have come, I reckoned, but Diane’s ‘boyfriend’ stopped him.

“Enough!” He squatted beside me next. “I know your sister is inside… Maybe, I’d run into her too, say at the supermarket, or in school, or…” he shrugged and patted my head. They left over the fence.

I sat up in a daze. My back was throbbing. Less than an hour ago, I thought I’d had a gotten back in my game at the end of my first date in a long while. My awesome day wasn’t even over, other aspects that came with the game I’d left behind were beginning to catch up with me. What was the ideal response? I looked up in the direction of the front porch when I heard approaching footsteps.  It was Clara. She had heard. She had also witnessed my humiliation. What could be worse?

…to be continued.

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Phenderson Djèlí Clark

The Musings of a Disgruntled Haradrim . . .