Saturday, April 9, 2016
First Impressions 1 - Short Fiction by Tola Odejayi
Taribo repeatedly scanned the restaurant for Julie, hoping that she would be on time. There was nothing he hated more than people who had no concept of punctuality – that was why he had arrived a full fifteen minutes before the time that they had agreed on the phone. In between scans, he thought about the circumstances that had led to their date.
He had been to see his friend, Dele, and he had just happened to chance upon Dele’s sister, Ayo, who he hadn’t seen for a while. She marvelled at how good he was looking, then quickly zeroed in on his love life, jesting that he must have a swarm of ladies following him everywhere these days. In response, he gave a wry smile and said that he and Miss Right still moved in mutually exclusive circles.
Ayo clapped her hands in delight. “Ah, there’s this friend of mine, Julie, that you must meet then.” Ignoring Dele’s protestations, she went on. “She’s a wonderful girl – she’s very bubbly, very intelligent and very, very compassionate.”
Taribo laughed. “The way you are describing her, she sounds like a cross between Mother Teresa and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.”
“Abeg, don’t mind my sister,” Dele interjected apologetically. “She cannot see a single man pass without trying to jam him by force with one of her many single friends, whether they are right for him or not.”
Ayo turned on him fiercely. “Please don’t bad-mouth my friends!
Taribo interposed himself to end the argument. “OK, let there be peace in this house. Ayo, give me your friend’s number, and we’ll set something up.”
He’d called Julie a couple of days after getting the number, and she’d sounded as bubbly and pleasant as Ayo had described. Taribo wasn’t one for faceless relationships, so he’d quickly invited her out for a meal at a local restaurant. He said he would be the tall, light-skinned guy wearing the pale blue shirt; how would he know who she was?
“Oh, I’ll probably be wearing something yellow,” she said. “But I doubt that we’ll miss each other – I have your mobile phone number and you have mine, so we can just follow the sounds of the ringtones in the restaurant to find each other.”
Taribo laughed. “That sounds like a good plan. OK, so I’ll see you at ‘Tastes Right’ on Sunday.”
It was now a few minutes past eight, and Taribo had just commenced another scan when the restaurant doors swung open and a girl in a pale yellow blouse and a dark blue skirt walked in, looking this way and that. She was above average height – about five-six, five-seven; she had a medium skinned complexion, and was quite pretty too, Taribo thought.
She was also quite clearly and undeniably overweight.
Part of Taribo hoped that she was someone else, and that a slimmer, sleeker Julie would come through the doors in a few minutes. But then her glance fell on him. Her eyes lit up with recognition, a radiant smile appeared on her lips and he knew that this was indeed the person he had set up the date with.
She walked over to him, still smiling, and stretched out her arms, and he rose to embrace her. Oh yes, he thought. Very soft, warm and curvy. Smells good, too.
“I don’t know who you are, but you must be a very warm person to embrace a total stranger whose name you haven’t confirmed yet,” he said, with a straight face.
Julie laughed. “Come on, you’re pulling my leg! You’re the only person wearing a blue shirt in the restaurant.”
“Ah, but what if I decided to change what to wear at the last minute?”
“Well, you sounded such a gentleman on the phone that I’m sure that you would have called me to let me know.”
It was Taribo’s turn to laugh now. “OK, OK, you win. Let’s get seated and get something to eat.”
The evening passed off much better than Taribo could have expected. As Ayo had said, Julie was a lively, cheerful presence; she talkedabout the joys and challenges that she faced in her work as a planning officer at a non-governmental organisation which worked with disabled people. She regaled him with stories of the interesting places that she had been to, both inside and outside the line of work. And she made him laugh by recounting an episode where she had been having swimming lessons. The instructor had been a believer in the ‘baptism of fire’ method – no floats, nothing – and she had spent the first session thrashing about in the water, worrying more about avoiding drowning than swimming.
“It didn’t help that I’m plus sized,” she said, laughing along too. “I must have sent half of the water splashing out of the pool.”
But the information didn’t just flow just one way. Julie was also interested in what he did to, and she didn’t seem to find his job as a veterinary science lecturer as boring as other people he had spoken to. In fact, she seemed to see it as a chance to expand her horizons, and she probed away with intelligent questions and comments. Taribo found himself opening up not just on his work but other areas that he didn’t usually talk a lot about – like how he had flirted briefly with the idea of setting up an urban zoo shortly after leaving university.
“Where were you going to get the animals from?” Julie wondered.
“Oh, there are animals all over the place – lizards, chickens, goats, rabbits. I was going to start with those, and from whatever money I made, I would get more exotic animals.”
“But why should anybody to pay to see a lizard? All you have to do is to stare at a wall; soon enough, you’ll see one running across.”
Taribo wagged a finger. “You would be surprised at how differently people view an ordinary animal once you have placed it in a cage and are charging them money to see it.”
More laughter followed, and as Julie moved on to another topic, Taribo half-listened while he thought about how things go could from here. For sure, she was a great girl to be with, and he would definitely like to spend more time with her. She had such sparkling eyes and a great smile. But he couldn’t get past her size – he simply wasn’t attracted to big girls, and he wanted there to be physical chemistry with someone that he was going to go out with. And it looked as if she was very comfortable with her size, from the way she had described her encounter in the pool.
He was still thinking about what he was going to do about this when they both rose for the night to end the date.
“So Taribo my man, how did it go?”
Taribo scratched his head with one hand as he held the mobile phone to his ear with the other. “Hmm… I don’t know o…”
Dele was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Well, she’s a great girl… very lively, very smart… but – well, she’s too big for me.”
“See? This is what happens when my sister tries to jam two people by force. So have you called the girl to let her know it’s ‘no go'”?
“Mmm… it’s not as simple as that.”
“What are you talking about? You just said that she’s too big for you – so that’s the end of the matter now, abi?”
“Well, I didn’t say that. I said that she’s a great girl, too.”
Dele began to chuckle. “It looks like you’re being torn between inner beauty and outer beast.”
“Ol’ boy, what’s your problem! You’re supposed to be advising me now, not confusing me.”
Dele’s chuckle turned into full blown laughter. “What do you want me to say? Maybe you should ask her to lose weight, if it’s so much of a big deal to you.”
Taribo shook his head vigorously. “Haba! I can’t do that now. She sounded like she was very comfortable with the way she was.”
“Well, you definitely need to talk to her and let her know what you feel. Shey you are still seeing her?”
“Yes – I’ve called her a couple of times after our date. But what you are advising is easier to say than to do.”
Dele shrugged. “Well, I can’t think of anything else. If you were giving me advice over this matter, you know it’s what you would say yourself. But Taribo, man…”
Taribo was suddenly expectant. “What?”
“Make sure that you keep me up to date with the latest gist from your side o!”
“And I was thinking that you were going to give me some beta advice,” Taribo snorted in mock disgust, and he rang off with the sound of Dele’s laughter echoing in his ears.
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