It was Saturday morning. This was the first weekend after my first week at my new job as a junior at the Attorney General's Chambers. It was my first real job, the first one for which I was working for real pay. Of course, I had done other jobs before while still at university. During the holidays I would take on a holiday job as an office assistant at my sister's husband's factory. Ok, it wasn't a real job because although I got paid, I wasn't really treated like the other employees. My sister too worked there, it was her husband's business and she worked as a manager and I was kind off attached to her as an assistant. But it was all very informal and what I got paid was little more than what I would receive as pocket money anyway. However, it was my first experience of work life, and the only other job that I'd ever done had been the three months of law office attachment at a law firm in Lagos, which was a compulsory requirement of the legal training process. Although that job served as valuable experience for what I was now having to do as a youth corper, I was paid not even a penny. And even though I was fresh out of law school and bristling with knowledge of the law, I was deemed incapable of doing any real legal stuff at that firm, and now here too at the Chambers of the Attorney General in Bauchi it appeared to be the same. I was thumbing through old files to acquaint myself with the procedures at the Ministry of Justice (I was told), whereas what I really wanted was to get involved in the real business of lawyering for the state government, which I'd thought would be the work that I would be doing. And this really upset me! But trust Garuba to calmly explain to me that it was only a matter of time before the opportunity would present itself and that I must be patient.
I turned around in the bed, not in a hurry to get up. The previous day, as had been our routine every afternoon since the week began, Garuba had picked me up from work. We had driven to his office where he'd finished off his work that remained to be done, while I waited sitting quietly in his office. Last evening however was different. On the other evenings we would drive straight to my place afterwards, I would put together a meal and we would sit down at the kitchen table and eat, chat and just enjoy being together. All of the evenings had ended with us getting into bed together, careful not to make too many noises so as not to arouse Ukpong's curiosity. And then Garuba would have to leave, although the parting was difficult for both of us each time.
Ukpong had kept pretty much out of sight. She and I had said only a few words to each other since the last Sunday when I moved in, and everything we'd talked about was to do with the oncoming housewarming party. I had come to realise as the days went by that Ukpong wasn't that bad after all and that perhaps my first impression of her was wrong. Oh yes, that party! Now I understood why I had this foreboding looming somewhere at the back of my mind. Last evening, from Garuba's office we had stopped over at the NYSC hostel in town. Luckily, Femi was in when I turned up unexpectedly at his door and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me. I told him of the party and he said he'd be glad to come and then asked if he could come with his friend. Yes of course, I said, the more the merrier. And as I was leaving, Femi saw me out to the car where Garuba had been sitting waiting. When I introduced them both, they seemed to take to each other instantly, and as we drove away Garuba asked me if that was the nice guy I'd told him I met when I visited the NYSC hostel last week. I nodded in answer, quietly wondering why Garuba still remembered I had told him of a nice guy I'd met all those days ago. As I lay in bed now, I missed Garuba and I wished he was near me. But strangely, thoughts about Femi were running around in the corner of my mind too. That firm handshake, the rough feel of the palm of his hand, the way he seemed to inflate his chest whenever I was standing in front of him. I was scared that this strange feeling that I had about Femi would reveal itself at the party tonight. I was even slightly worried..
I didn't get the chance to linger in bed for as long as I would have wished, because there was a knock at the door. It was Ukpong and she was telling me that she needed help to shift the things that had just arrived at the front of the house to the yard at the back. Really, in my mind I thought Ukpong was making too much of this housewarming party thing. I mean, there was a whole live goat to be slaughtered, butchered and cooked and then all the other bits, the spicy jollof rice and stuff that is expected at any celebratory social gathering in Nigeria. She seemed to think that all of this was normal and she dug into it rather enthusiastically with two of her friends who had come to join her. Apparently, these two women had come all the way from Jos this morning with Abu, who Ukpong said was out picking up more things in town and should be back soon. I was glad that being a man she hadn't expected me to join in the preparations. I really enjoy cooking, but certainly not when I'm surrounded by three excited women who are preparing for a party! And the slaughtering and butchering of that goat I would gladly leave for Abu to do, this party was their idea after all. So I got myself busy tidying up the front room, which by now had two second-hand sofas and a carpet, but not much else. Ukpong had made sure that I contributed exactly half of what it cost to buy the food, so indeed I felt that I was a real part of what was going on.
I knew Garuba would soon come calling and I wanted to be ready to go out with him once he arrived. I just didn't feel in the mood to hang around during these preparations for tonight's event, with all the excitement in the house. My only guests would be Femi and his friend. Garuba more or less was already a member of this household. It was pretty clear to me therefore that this would be Ukpong and Abu's party and most of those who will be here tonight will be their friends and people they know. Ukpong had hinted at something in the region of 20 people. I'm not one for crowds, as I've got a not very pleasant tendency to shrink and clamp-up when I'm surrounded by lots of people. So I wasn't half as excited about tonight's party as Ukpong and her friends seemed to be. I knew that Garuba too was looking forward to the party and I was happy that I would have him to cling to. And Femi, well, he would be here with his friend, whoever that was..
Garuba surprised me that afternoon. When he came for me, I was already dressed in my buba and sokoto with a fila to match and those expensive soft leather moccasins that I'd splashed out on as a graduation present to myself. My dressing seemed to have a profound effect on Garuba, since hitherto he'd seen me only in western dress, jeans and t-shirts and the black, grey and navy blue suits that I am required to wear to work. As we drove away from the house he commented on my clothing and then said he wanted me to meet someone, his close friend Usman. Usman was in his 30s, a well connected businessman, Garuba briefed me as we drove along. He was from a Hausa family in Kano but had lived in Bauchi all his life. They had been friends since childhood, although Usman was quite a bit older than Garuba. Well, I had practically lived with this man for three weeks and he hadn't even hinted at the fact that he had a close friend. I was annoyed at first, but I was even more curious to meet this person. Usman had married and had two lovely daughters. Oh, but he has a boyfriend too, Garuba whispered at the end, and I became curiouser than ever. So it was for Usman's house that we set course that afternoon.
Usman lived in an exclusive gated estate on the outskirts of Bauchi, just off the Azare Road. From the outside what one saw from the road was a high wall with a profusion of bougainvillea topping over it and the flat rooftop of a white building behind the wall. There was an electronic device by the gate requiring visitors to type into it the number of the house they wished to visit. A voice crackled over the speaker and words were exchangd in Hausa between Garuba and whoever it was who had answered and suddenly the gate flung wide open all by itself. I was mesmerised by this. I mean I'd seen things like this occasionaly in Lagos, also on those rare occasions when I'd had the opportunity to travel to Europe and South America on holidays and in the movies. But frankly, this was way beyond my expectations for Bauchi, which before I arrived here I'd thought of as a provincial backwater. There were eleven houses altogether in the estate and Usman's was the largest, at the far end of the private road that ran from the entrance gate. It was a lovely estate with wonderful gardens surrounding each of the houses, green grass lawns, which as soon I saw them it struck me that I had not seen such lush green grass anywhere in Bauchi town until now.
Usman was drop dead gorgeous! He was tall and he was very dark and he was very very handsome. And when he smiled at me and shook my hand I felt weak instantly. Garuba must have told him about me beforehand, because he had that expectant look on his face, as of someone who had been eager to meet me. He had a powerful presence and carried himself with a confidence and self-assurance that made me feel small. I never knew that I would ever sit in the same room with such a man as this. It was obvious that Garuba and he were close, the way they talked and laughed. Usman asked someone in the house to fetch us orange juice, which I was thankful for, although I really felt like something stronger to steady my nerves. They spoke in Hausa much of the time and it dawned on me that in this macho alpha-male dominated culture of northern Nigeria, I would have to learn what my place was, and get used to taking a back seat when in the presence of men such as these. And so I just sat quietly and spoke only when spoken to, taking in the massive and very expensively furnished split-level living room.
After about an hour as we left Usman's house, he shook my hand again then said words to me to the effect that we shall meet later on. I wasn't quite sure what he'd meant, so in the car I asked Garuba about what Usman had said about meeting later on. Garuba then confirmed that he had invited Usman to our housewarming party and that Usman had said he'd be happy to come with Audu his boyfriend. This came as a surprise. I hadn't realised that this was the subject of their conversation since it had been almost entirely in Hausa. But suddenly it became apparent, this promised to be a very interesting and exciting evening indeed..