Daniel winked at Victoria and her mouth fell open. The guy could wink? She thought him incapable of any form of emotion or expression. He always had the demeanor of stone whenever she approached him for one reason or the other. He always kept his replies to grunts and nods, the barest minimum responses possible, anything short of which would be considered outright rudeness. And now, he was smiling, probably because her mouth still hung open. She quickly shut it as she looked away, more to gather her composure than to ignore him. He was their new neighbour down the road and he attended her school too. Well, maybe not new. Two years was a long time to be called new. But every effort at hospitality to “make the new boy feel welcome” – mummy’s orders – was met with a cold response. She had long given up on the mission. There was no point. Besides, he wasn’t a little child, so he should be able find his way around, though she was sure her mum would disagree with her. Whatever.
He was coming towards her. She couldn’t imagine what business he had with her. There was only one way to find out.
She waited for him to speak but he didn’t. He wasn’t dumb, was he? Of course he wasn’t. A memory of hearing him tell his mum he didn’t need visitors, “why didn’t people stay in their own houses?” as she waited outside their gate when she went to visit him came unbidden, reminding her he wasn’t speech-challenged.
With remembered annoyance, she spoke, “It’s rude to stare at a person, Daniel. It shows one has no sense of…” Calm down, Vicki, her voice of reason cut in. He probably didn’t know you overheard him.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. You know my name?”
Really. He actually appeared to be shocked. So he was going to play dumb. Well, two could play at the game. “No, I don’t. Was that your name?”
“Yes, it is. I’m Daniel Chikwendu. Nice to meet you.”
Then he stretched forth his hand for an handshake.
She was amazed. The world was probably coming to an end. She quickly hid her surprise and extended her hands to shake his. “I’m Victoria Oni. Nice to meet you.” Not really.
He smiled again and said, “I like your name, it’s beautiful.”
She almost blurted out, “ I don’t like you.” She could almost see her mum frowning in disapproval. “Thanks”, she said instead.
“I’m going home. Where are you headed?”
“I’m on my way home too.”
“That’s good. Where do you stay? Do you mind if I walk with you?”
This time she couldn’t hide her shock and her eyebrows shot skyward. Where did she stay? Was she a joke to him? Past pain from the hit her introverted self had suffered from his previous rebuffs made her reply, “Do you have amnesia or something?”
She almost bit her tongue. She shouldn’t have said that and she was sorry she did.
“No, I don’t. But I just escaped Yaba Left.”
She halted midstep when she heard his reference to a mental hospital. And then he winked. He winked! She saw that he was only trying to deflect her sharp retort. She chuckled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said.”
“It’s okay. I have that effect on people, so I’m used to it.”
She smiled at his sarcasm and apologized again which he gracefully accepted.
“I stay across the street.”
“Alright. Let’s go.”
And then they resumed their journey and moved on to discuss family, school, movies and such.
Soon, her house was in sight and she was about to tell Daniel that they were actually neighbours when her phone suddenly started ringing.
The shrill sound penetrated her foggy consciousness and she moaned across the bed. She didn’t want to wake up, but it was all a dream.