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“Chidinma, it’s really cold. I need you here.”

“Awwwwww.”

“How’s it been over there? Do you even get to go out?”

No o. I get to be indoors alone. It’s so boring, from the house to the office and back. I just came in now. I’m so tired.”

“Ouch. Coming back this late. Your boss is just being mean. I’m so sorry Baby, I wish I was beside you.”

Hmmm….me too. When will you be back from Lagos? It’s been three weeks.”

“I’ll be home to you soon. Stay beautiful. I love you.”

“Me too.”

Yeah,  that was Chidinma’s new way of responding to my sweet-nothings. “Me too”, because the words “I love you too” were a little too stressful for her tongue, or probably consumed too many micro-seconds. I smiled as I hung up, not because of any giggly sensations generated by the phone call, but because of the unfolding of events.

Maybe I would have bought her story of returning home from work by 9.35pm if I was not once a corps member myself. Then again, she was seeing out her service year in Umuahia, not Lagos or even Port-Harcourt. When did offices in Umuahia become so busy? When did traffic become so bad as to result in such a late arrival, yea, late by city standards?

I could catch the faintly dismissive tone in her voice while the phone call lasted, something in the tune of “oh o na, can he finish rambling already? I’ve got stuff to do.” There was also something about the air of the conversation. There was this strong sense of “yimu” that I could not explain, so strong that I could almost taste it. I didn’t miss the subtle adjustments in voice pitch either, those adjustments that come with getting tickled in sensitive regions. Someone was being unapologetically naughty over there. I would know; once upon a time I had been at the other end of the phone, when not-so-faithful Valerie would tell her fiancé that she had been attending a skill acquisition class, the reality being that my room was her learning centre.

I didn’t need to watch multiple episodes of the show “Cheaters” to know that Chidinma was slipping from my hands. There were obvious signs; the “I miss you” texts had dried up, she no longer tried to call at hours when my full consciousness was not really guaranteed, and there was the matter of her citing exhaustion of mobile data as the reason why she had not been chatting me up, whereas I had seen her online the previous day. Yea, Whatsapp could rat you out like that. She was obviously too tired to speak with me, tired from being “extensively occupied” with some other guy, and I already had a name.

Nicholas had made his intentions known long before, even at the stage when I was only just getting absorbed in the novelty of being with Chidinma. I saw how he would reach for her waist whenever it was time to dance at the parties to which she accompanied me. I saw how he always wanted to sit beside her at the functions we attended. Well, I could not easily do away with Nicholas’s company; he was a mutual friend to Dan, a close buddy of mine, which meant that he was almost always around whenever I hung out with Dan. He was obviously not anxious to observe the Guy Code on not trying to take your friend’s girl, and I had pretended not to notice, but it was the day Chidinma refused to drink vodka when I asked but took a gulp on Nicholas’s persuasion, that I saw the red flag flying full mast in my face.  True, all was fair in Love and War, except that this was not a case of Love, but rather one of weak will and/or deceit.

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Now I had been away for over three weeks, and if she had been warming up to him right in front of me, only Heaven knew what had transpired in my absence. Back then, she would complain if 48 hours had passed without meaningful communication between us, but these days there was a relative indifference. Over time, it has never really been settled as to which adage held more significance between “Out of sight, Out of Mind” and “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”, but in my case, the former had definitely played out. She must have felt really smart, juggling three men in her emotional palms.

Yes, three.  Nicholas and I were not the only ones staking a claim to her heart. Chidinma had been romantically involved with someone (whose name I did not bother to find out) at her resident city of Kaduna before ending up in Umuahia for her service year, and she had not exactly called it quits with her man. I found that out when I first got to know her, and while I made it clear that I did not plan to steal Love from any one, I also realized the need for territorial convenience when it came to emotions, and I had convinced her to agree to a short-term romance, more like an “emotional leasehold agreement” which would end when she left town. I had been honest with her, and I wondered if the same treatment was too much to ask for.

Sure enough, I was in no position to judge her, and then again she was by no means the love of my life, but I loved to think that there were certain basic rules when it came to relationships, and Honesty, if not full-fledged Fidelity, had to be one of them. I felt insulted that Chidinma did not deem me worthy of some bare-faced truth. I wasn’t around, she had “needs”, and I just might have understood (emphasis on ‘might’) if she had just been open about it. One could not help but wonder what had become of the concept of romantic relationships nowadays, with Commitment becoming the exception rather than the rule, and Cheating enjoying the defence of “Curiosity”.

On second thoughts however, it seemed like fun to play the fool. I felt like Batiatus from the “Spartacus” series, who was aware of his wife’s affair with the gladiator Crixus but pretended to be ignorant, and I decided that it would be interesting to let Chidinma revel in her own delusion. For her, I was the stupid lover-boy who had no clue of what was going on. It looked like a nice script to play by, at least until someone got fed up.

“That you think me to be a fool is insult enough.”

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“Guy, how far you na?”

“Bruv, I’m cool.”

The following day, I received a call from Gbolahan, an old friend who by some funny twist of fate had found himself earning his bread in Umuahia, and who was familiar with Dan. He had not heard from me in a while, he said, and we laughed about the many drunken nights I had missed out on, but all of a sudden, the discussion changed course.

“Ehen, you sure say Nicholas nor dey wan snatch that your girl from you?” he asked.

“Oh, really? Eh yah”, I replied.

“Guy, this is not something like a ‘jolking stuffs’ o.”

“Well, what you do want me to do? Should I start weeping, or should I call a hit on Nicholas?”

“Oh well, he can have her. She isn’t all that anyway”, he said, before hanging up.

If there was one thing Gbolahan and I absolutely agreed on, it was the fact that Chidinma was not worth all the drama. She didn’t key into my interests, we could not have any meaningful intellectual conversations, she was not exactly a power dresser, and her Eastern accent was of a thick variety. It had always been for the territorial convenience, and even that was losing its essence.

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I thought of Nicholas , and a certain feeling welled up within me. It was the feeling associated with the realisation that someone had eventually helped you to take care of the garbage bag you had been thinking of how to effectively dispose. I laughed hysterically.