Hue the Shade of Wilted Roses #1



CHAPTER ONE

Benin City 

Present day

On the beige couch, positioned rather awkwardly away from the tellie, sat Lanre, himself awkwardly perched; a leg poking out, a hand swung back, his face buried in a book - shiny embossed lettering in its cover identifying it as Ventriloquism Simplified by S. D. Larson. 

Lanre had seen the book on a dusty, clearly forgotten shelf in the public library, and began reading it, first, with the vague hope that that rare talent of talking without moving lips would somehow fall on him. He had however disillusioned himself some 119 pages after, and was only still reading the 368-pager for its beautifully constructed grammar.

The room, lit only by the light from a 32inch flat screen, smelled like the air freshener that was hung on its off-white walls, beside framed photographs of himself and his parents from different decades. An air conditioner which had stopped working since last November reflected a light that was itself refracted from the glass table that sat snugly on a coffee brown rug.

Beside his age-battered couch, a hand-me-down BlackBerry Bold 2, his, vibrated angrily atop an amputated stool (two of its legs having been removed) - it remained the only survivor from a set made in the 80s as a wedding gift for his parents.

WhatsApp, he thought, a discernable smile playing on his features, driving away the stiffness that usually held sway.

Whatsapp meant Oluchi Okafor - the only being that could make this poor lad smile - truly smile.

Are you here? her message read.

Here referred to the party she had kissed him on the cheeks to come for. Oluchi had implied that more of that could come his way should he make the nocturnal engagement but Lanre had known then, even as he giggled nervously; clearly blushing in spite of his dark complexion, that he wouldn't be going.

He thought, with a tinge of regret, that he shouldn't have hastily read the message - it complicated things. Thanks to instant messaging, he couldn't tell Oluchi that he'd not seen her message. By now, two blue ticks against her chat would have told her he has seen it.

What excuse can I give, he thought. scratching at his bushy hair, one finger caught in a stubborn kinky curl.

Lanre believed he could excuse his way out of this one because he had, a number of times, got away with it. This was not the first time Oluchi was throwing a party and inviting him. He knew her kiss was a dare, and yet, he couldn't take her up on it.

If Oluchi, who was so sweet on him, kept persisting with her invitation, perhaps she saw something he didn't. It was just possible that if she kept at it as she did in spite of his not showing up, that she didn't think all hope was lost - in his social life, that is.

Lanre thought back two months ago, to when he first started dating Oluchi. It was that stage in the educational ladder where one was done with secondary school but not yet admitted into a tertiary institution. Lanre, on the behest of his father, prepared for the next educational stage by starting at a lecture house - a popular one where students were unsurprisingly more invested in their looks than in books.

Lanre, a hopeless bookworm, soon won the hearts of popular girls who needed one assignment or the other explained, Oluchi was one of those girls, or so Lanre had believed. But he soon noticed that she didn't only talk to him when she needed his help, like other popular girl.

Oluchi asked about his parents, his likes and dislikes; his life, and seemed genuinely interested. She was particularly pretty, with fair soft skin, hazel eyes and just about the curviest body he'd ever seen. But her physical looks were really an afterthought. Her kindness and consideration surprised him every time. And when he got the harebrained idea to ask her out, it was these attributes of hers that buoyed him on and eventually made it happen.

So here he was, boyfriend to the hottest girl in the world, plagued with the perpetual puzzle: why me? 

He often thought about it and just as often came to the conclusion that it was one of those things that didn't quite make sense. But what made sense to him was that he didn't deserve her and should therefore try his best possible to keep her happy. Luckily with Oluchi, born with a silver spoon, it didn't take much. It was almost like his presence alone was enough for her.

As he got up and stretched his whole 6ft 2, arms almost reaching the ceiling, a thought, one that had never occurred to him so strongly, struck him like a thief lurking in the dark or more accurately, like lightning. Simple words: why not?

Dangerously, Lanre considered the odds of not getting caught since that fear was the greatest impediment to his sneaking out. He could go. Since his adolescence, his parents had taken to letting him alone, and that meant they didn't come to check on him anytime they went to the toilet or knock on his door to open up when they discovered he had locked it.

For the first time, he believed he could do this -sneak out, and equally for the first time, he laughed, paying no mind to the forbidding night and only stopping, at his brain's reminder that his parents were only asleep, not dead.

I'll be there in half an hour, he typed, hardly able to contain his excitement.

He turned off the TV, cutting off its white noise. The clock, which resumed its tick-tock in the emanating silence, said 9:35  - his parents had gone to bed exactly 45 minutes ago.

I can do this, he thought, speeding off - furtively - to his room.

Once there, whistling an odd tune, Lanre selected his best shirt - a two-chrismases-ago Polo Ralph T-shirt which was now slightly jump but still new-looking, his very worn and hence worn out skinny jeans that understood distress could never be bought, a Converse All Star sneakers and a pair of Ray Bon glasses (that was obviously fake since the actual brand was Ray-Ban) his cousin, Tobi, had forgotten the last time he'd visited.

He dressed up, still whistling the odd tune. He could hear his father's loud snores reassuring him as he sneaked through the now frustratingly long corridor towards the sitting room, Tobi's sneakers - another forgotten item - close at hand.

Getting to the sitting room, he manoeuvred stealthily through furniture - his parlour had just too many. He opened the unbolted front door - noiselessly, he hoped, and theatrically moved outside, only to then discover he had left the keys inside.

Locking the door proved a challenge, for his house had one of such doors that creaked and cried at any slight provocation. Lanre, his sight on the price, nonetheless persevered and quickly jacked the door close to reduce the noise. Only then did he realise he had not been breathing.

Exhaling, he walked towards the street, and was, for the first time since they'd moved into this house, grateful it didn't have a gate.


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