THE GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER
By Lekan Akinsanya
He met her one wet and humid day in September the girl behind the counter. The rains had poured all through the day, creating havoc on the pot-holed roads and rendering a chill in the air that sent shivers up the spine. The burgeoning symptoms of the fever that ravaged the tropical zones of the world like Lagos, was manifesting fast in Femi. In a half-dreamlike state, he had bested the grueling traffic from the Island, the noise, the smoke, the loud crazy people and found his way to the suburban enclave of a home on outer fringes of the Mainland. The shivers had increased in intensity when he arrived at the chemist a few streets to his 2-bedroom apartment in the semi-luxurious combo of the rich and middle class bourgeoisie that was Ojodu.
He hadn’t visited a hospital in a very long time and he was not planning of doing so anytime soon. He was sturdy and hard-working and he rarely succumbed to the weakness that was associated with sickness. His AS blood genotype gave him more resistance than others of his species to the scourge of the fever. And anytime he was feeling even a bit off he drove it away with the highest dosage of painkillers his body could tolerate. He could count the amount of times he had fallen to the dreaded malaria or typhoid or cholera or any of those other diseases that devastated people and left them bed-ridden for days. He felt he was simply extraordinary.
Now, however, he had taken his body to the peak of its endurance. Two sleepless nights, a 6 to 6 job that required gruelling mental and physical excesses, Lagos traffic and 4 years of a mundane sedentary life and his body had simply given up. Now, he stumbled out of his 2008 Toyota Corolla, shaking horribly, and walked giddily to the pharmacy store.
He had been there once or twice before mainly to buy the odd things; toothpaste, tissues, spray starch, occasional food items and at times painkillers. But he had never been interested in the composition of the small, thinly shelf-lined store with endless rows of small packets of diverse orthodox antidotes that proved the salvation of human kind in the 21st century or perhaps their undoing. Only time will tell.
He had never noticed anything exceptional about the grey painted lackluster looking rectangular space that had a counter that was inches from the doorway, making it a very cramped experience. He certainly hadn’t noticed the pretty light complexioned cashier, with the smile that revealed perfectly set white teeth and a sonorous captivating voice.
“Good evening, Sir. What do you want to buy?”
Want? Sales girl? Where had she come from? You, must likely would be the answer. He snickered within himself amused by his own licentious thoughts.
And now the tingling sensation on his skin as she touched him handing him his change. It was magical!
Yes, that had been the beginning of their romance. The girl behind the counter.
That night he had slept extremely long, the effects of the drugs dragging his fevered mind into fantasy. All his dreams had the pretty light complexioned angel with the beautiful eyes saving his life.
The next day and the day after, he found his way to the store and her welcoming smile was never unwavering; her nice-looking face, captivating, baby-like smile-eyes, always inviting. She became the object of his dreams, asleep or otherwise. Even when his fever started to ebb away.
He dreamt of her in his waking and sleeping hours. She was like the heroine in his own movie. He would hold her, look and melt in her eyes while kissing her sumptuous lips. She was the object of his fantasy. For the first time in his life, Femi, this dogged unrelenting realist, felt alive. yet he had not even asked her name talkless of her number.
The third day, he found his way once again after work to the comforting embrace of her eyes and though he wanted more than the light banter they had come to express, he decided to take his time, he was enjoying this fantasy world more than he imagined and was just not ready to shatter it.
He noticed her smile was more inviting today.
“So what do we do?” It seemed to say.
He knew he was being selfish but he wanted to savour this moment a little longer. He had been in different relationship before and none had ever felt right. If it wasn’t a lonely colleague who he absolutely had no feelings for, it was a sister in the church he occasionally attended who aligned with him because the pastor said they were a good match, probably because he was the only eligible bachelor and she too was single; these relationships were short lived and never ended well. It was as if the universe was saving him for this day. He knew this one was different. He certainly hadn’t fantasized about his former lovers before. He didn’t want the fantasy world he had built around him and the girl behind the counter to collapse too soon. He would ask her tomorrow.
He continued the light banter she had come to expect, and her eyes widened in apprehensive admiration. She seemed to know what was going on, the flirt in his eyes was too evident to be missed. Yet he didn’t even ask her name. Maybe she was getting it all wrong, she told herself; his type don’t look twice at her type… but his eyes were so breezy and animated.
Femi, the realist had been swept away by the magnetic broom of an incredible smile. He would tell her tomorrow that he loved her, she would ask him why he had waited so long and he would tell her that real love must never be rushed and they will live happily ever after.
He smiled at her; telling her more than words how she intrigued him. Her response was wide and genuine, cascading into a myriad of white teeth and luscious lips. Tomorrow, he told himself as he walked out of the store, blind now to the radiant smile slowly fading away. Tomorrow he would ask her name and his world, he mused, will never be the same.
The signs were foreboding the next day; everything was going against him. An unexpected workload (who had asked him to come to work sef, he could have easily called in sick, something he hardly did), a bludgeoning relentless headache, and a chatter-box colleague that just couldn’t read the signs added to an increasingly annoying experience. He knew most of them didn’t like him, his colleagues; he was too hardworking and efficient for them. The boss was always saying “Ask Femi. He would know” and they hated it, especially those higher up than him. The fear that he was more than a threat turned them into monsters. He knew Anita was their emissary spy, trying to pry vital information from him, information that they could use to end him, in the guise of:
“Femi, can you help me with this meeting minutes. What you said on Maiduguri’s branch figures was not clear…”
Ordinarily, he would rebuff her advances but his fantasy world required he be courteous to emissaries. He was the king, who was also a knight, a hero to his people and chivalry was the least required of him. When he finally managed to oversee all his kingly duties, there was some breath-taking, criminally insane traffic to overcome, giving credence to the misfortune that was to bear.
He walked in a few minutes after 7 pm some 30 minutes before the chemist shop closed and when he was not greeted by the radiant smile he knew something was wrong.
“Where is she!?” He turned and demanded the young man behind the counter. He hadn’t noticed him before, but the face gave up some familiarity. His seemingly mocking smile receded when he saw the viciousness in Femi’s eyes
“The girl! The angel that was here yesterday…my queen?”
“Angela, er?…I don’t know sir…I…I just work here? I just… I don’t know anything…let me call my boss…my… he is at the back.”
Something was so out of place. He felt a horrifying forbearing, like the one he felt in his dream when one-eyed daemons from the Evil Forest had invaded his kingdom to abduct his queen. He had disseminated brutal justice. Justice that had almost gotten the whole kingdom destroyed until she had stopped him, with loving tenderness.Then a thought occurred to him. Was it all a cover up somewhere; was it all a deep and devious plot from his enemies? Why did Anita keep him so long, why had the young brat been sneering when he came in, a mocking smile on his face? And all the traffic on the road? Was it the plotting of his antagonist, people that wished him only evil? Where were they keeping his beloved, these enemies? Locked away, perhaps, in a demonic dungeon.
His blood grew hot. And a strange sensation swept up his spine. Just then the shop owner stepped into the small room through the back door that linked the shop to a grey roofed sinister-looking bungalow. Perhaps she was in there. Ah they surely didn’t know who they were dealing with. He would fight them with all his heart and destroy every one of them!
The chemist was grossly disproportionate with a grotesque pot belly that betrayed a less than savoring life style. He had a large dropping head on a robust trunk yet long slender legs; but what brought Femi’s blood to a standstill was the bloodshot one-eyes. This was the monster of his dreams and he had imprisoned his one beloved.
“Sir”, we have not been opened for about 2 weeks now. My sales girl left and I’ve been looking for a new one. This is my son he came back from school yesterday and wanted to help out in the shop today. I am usually too busy. See there, that’s the advert I put up since last week” he pointed to a blackboard A frame standing on four little legs. On the board was nicely pencil drawn picture of a pretty girl and written boldly below ‘Sales Girl Wanted’.
Lies! All Lies! The concentrated Yoruba accentuated English coagulated into a munching of argotic demonic sounds, an ancient language of rites and sacrifices, of consuming terror and terrible deeds. They were demons and had captured my fair maiden to be used in a brutal sacrifice. A sacrifice perhaps meant to unseat him. Because she was the only one that could sway his heart. His love for her might be his undoing. But she had saved him when he was much in need, suffering from the magical spells of wicked witches, heartless warlocks and demonic creatures of the night wanting to steal his kingdom. She had save him and she was the love of his life. The real reason he was born, the desire deep inside his heart, the dream that would save him from the dreariness of his existence. For a brief moment, she had given him all he had wanted, he had felt alive and O how he regretted not telling her how he felt sooner. Perhaps he could have forestalled this tragedy. Yesterday… why hadn’t he said anything? Why hadn’t he professed his love to her as he had wanted to? Why? Was it really then his fault? Something perhaps flawed in his own composition, the fault in his own star? Was this all really all his fault? Now she was gone.
He stared at the two strangers, eyes brimming in insane rage. It was them! The demons, the creatures of the night, the spawns of his enemies! They had taken her away from him knowing she was his strength. She gave him the power of a thousand men. He could crumble mountains and smitten whole kingdoms with only one stroke of his mighty hands. Yet, without her…
He must save her. He could not allow anything happen to the fair maiden of his dreams by these monsters especially as it could be his fault. He could not allow the banality of his life to ruin everything. It was either life with her or no life at all…
Suddenly, he rushed forward, screaming in blood lust, his hands lashing out viciously. He would destroy his enemies, he would massacre any that opposed him and he would save his fair maiden…his love.
Six hours later, Femi Ajani was staring at the blank wall in the interrogation room of the Ojodu police station bloodied head and all, but before he could finish writing his statement he was rushed to the nearby hospital as he collapsed in sheer exhaustion, vomiting and losing conscious. Battling all those demons had finally taken a toll.
He was diagnosed with acute malaria and when he woke after a multitude of injections and drips, even though they felt like small swords of demonic fairies torturing him to give up on his love, his madness had been cured. But he could never forget the captivating smile of the girl behind the counter whether it was all in his head…