27 June 2010

A Strange Encounter by Ozioma Izuora

‘May I know your name?’

The very last question anyone would expect to hear from a fellow driver on the highway. The girl isn’t sure she heard right.

‘What?’ she throws back at the stunningly handsome face peeping at her from the biggest SUV she’s ever seen on the roads, even in America where such cars are common place.

‘I want to know who you are!’ screamed the young man from the little aperture he has created by winding down the window of his air-conditioned Jeep in order to be audible to the pretty lady in the convertible "baby Jeep". The lady is in the first of the three rows of cars waiting for the traffic lights to change. That is also the reason for his seeming aggression. He wants to seize this moment, before this heavenly apparition vanishes.

He is a man-about town. He has seen them all. Beautiful ladies who hold sway in boudoirs all over town request his presence especially. He has usually had his pick of the pack. But a lady in a unique Jeep convertible. In this town? Unknown to him? Not possible! He must get to the root of this mystery. He divides his attention between her and monitoring the traffic lights. If only he can get just her name, it would be something to work with. He will scan the town in search of her. He is so drawn to her huge self-assured smile, framed with bold state-of-the-art sun-glasses. She has on a pair of hand-crafted piquant earrings that fan out on both sides of her face, giving her a glamour-girl look. No, no, she can’t live in this town. He must follow her to wherever she is going. He must obtain all her contacts.

‘Angel!’ shouts the lady as she cleverly manoeuvres her car past the just changed lights, making him feel foolish as the honking of horns behind him tell him he hasn’t been as vigilant. But he gives chase. Seeing that she is headed left, he quickly indicates left, at the risk of getting in the way of the car behind him. He waves quickly at the alarmed driver who simultaneously slams on both his brakes and horns to emphasize the danger of his manoeuvre.

‘Sorry!’ he pops out his head, shouting at the angry driver. Angel is observing his discomfiture through the rear view mirror as she picks up speed. But he is in hot pursuit. A determined young man, she smiles to herself. Two can play at this game, she assures herself.

Angel! he thinks. That voice! He is enthralled. He can’t explain his dilemma. But he simply must push on. He must get to the end of this. If she is heaven-bound, he doesn’t seem to have any choice in the matter. He must meet her. He must know her. This angel... Oh God, what is this force that is pulling him on this strange journey? Echoes of Sunday school morality reverberate in his head. He wonders if he is not paying for the sometimes profligate life he has lived.

Where is she headed? He is suddenly afraid. This could be a siren of death. He remembers stories of restless spirits who come to lure lecherous men to their graves. Is this one such? He has never needed to pursue a lady. Why is he doing this now? At age thirty-one, he has already built up an empire in securities trading and finance management. People vie for his attention. Ladies included. Prosperous ones who see him a suitable match for their wards. Or venturesome fun seekers, impatient with needy sugar-sons or unavailable husbands. Widowed, married, single, old! He has always been the connoisseur of women. Why in heaven’s name is he risking so much, pursing this ephemeral vision?

Then, thankfully, another traffic light catches her! He is in luck. Sidling up to her, he winds down his window fully, and calls out to her ‘You’re very pretty, Angel!’

‘Thank you!’ she shouts back.

‘Are you real?’

‘What?’ she asks for clarification. But she doesn’t wait for an answer. She surges forward as soon as she notices the lights change. He is in pursuit.

An old man who is in the middle lane, across whom this strange dialogue takes place shakes his head and smiles. Youths! Hot-blooded youths, he surmises and reminisces as he quietly steers his little car away from the fray.

Honk! Honk! The man impatiently calls to Angel to stop the race. He just wants to meet her. Nothing more. Just to satisfy his curiosity about never ever seeing her in this tiny town. Where is she from? Where is she headed? Who, oh who is she? So confident. So alluring. Even her ‘thank you’ amidst the noisy traffic is music to his ears. He is tempted to propose to her. He is tempted to shout Marry me, Angel!

She is slowing down. Oh mercy! No, she is not. She is reading the road signs. Yes! I knew it! She is from out of town! he mutters to himself. Must meet her before she vanishes... He honks some more. ‘I can direct you!’ he screamed ineffectually to himself. She can’t hear him. She has since moved on.

He can’t follow any more. His tank has dried up. He set out this afternoon from the office to clear his head and pick up some fuel from a near-by filling station. He wasn’t supposed to have been on the road for over ten minutes on the little he had. Now, he has been on the trail of Angel for nearly half an hour! But he can’t let her escape! He jumps out of the dead car which he steered to the side of the road, and flags down a taxi.

‘Follow her! Follow that Jeep! Don’t let her out of your eyes!’

‘But where she dey go?’ queries the driver, needing to know how much to charge.

‘Just follow her! I will pay you well!’

Angel notices that the man has stopped following. She relaxes, laughing loudly. How she will regale her friends with the tale of this strange encounter! She almost got a proposal in the traffic! A man so handsome that it is impossible to imagine he will give her a chance in his life. Maybe she will work it into her new novel. She has been back to Nigeria now for three months to rest and research her next novel. It feels good to be back home. The freedom. The warmth of her people; and of the climate! She regrets the bad image this lovely country has been saddled with for so long. She hopes to undo some of it with her work. Her people really are good people...

Lost in these thoughts, she does not notice the taxi that is idling behind her. She really must get back home to her work. She has had ample opportunity to unwind. And she did have fun with the chase. This little jeep has become her reliable friend. Because she has become inseparable from it, her friends made sure to send it ahead of her to Nigeria. They assure her she will get another one when she gets back to America. She should go back now and apply herself with more gusto.

Only when she honks for the gate-man to open up at the guest-house does she notice a painted taxi coming to a stop on the other side of the road. Then she sees the astonishingly suave gentleman she has dribbled around all afternoon on the roads. He followed in a taxi! Damn! Why didn’t I think of that? Then foreboding follows; is he a crazed stalker, will she have to move from this guest-house that her generous friends have paid for, what should she do now?

‘Angel’ he says as he strolls up to her, having paid off the taxi driver.

‘Before you say a word, Angel, let me say this. I have never in my life picked up a lady in the traffic. I am not a stalker. I am not mad. I am not even sex-starved or anything like that. In fact, I really can’t explain why I followed you this far. But I know one thing for sure. I must know who you are.’

‘Let me park this car’ she responds, rather breathlessly. She has lost some of the self-assurance she enjoyed while driving incognito.

‘Okay. So who are you? You’ve told me all about who you are not!’

‘I’m sorry. My name is Tobe. I’m just your regular young man who works hard for a living. Nothing more. I like your voice. Do you know I was tempted to propose to you out there? Maybe I am going crazy!’

Angel isn’t smiling. She grimaces inwardly at the transparent sincerity of this young man. She should feel insulted that he seems to feel he has a right to every young woman’s attention. But she is not angry with him. She rather feels anger against her inability to dislike him. Her heart is feeling a strange tenderness. She is perversely relieved he followed her here. With all the bravado she has been mustering, she realises she would like to run into him again. But she knows she is being foolish. This can lead to only one conclusion...

Noticing that she wants to get out of the car, he hurriedly yanks open the car door.

He notices the strange layout of the car interior at the same time as she clumsily swings out first her crutches, then her two mangled feet.

Rooted to the ground, his mouth drops helplessly open. The lifeless legs with their special shoes reach the ground. He is staring at the beautiful angelic features of this lady he has pursued all afternoon. His thoughts run riot. What is he to do? God, he needs to get far far away from here.

‘Okay, now you’ve met me, young man. Let’s make it easy on both of us. Have a good day!’

He doesn’t respond. Just stands there watching her as she locks up the car and makes her way carefully towards the guest-house door. Then he musters some movements into his limbs. He must get out of this nightmare. Must wake up and run back to reality. But as she reaches out with her keys to open the door, she feels the warmth of his breath. He has leaned forward to help her.

Amazement blanks her face. Equally dazed, he follows her. The door closes with a sigh behind them.

A Strange Encounter was written by Ozioma Izuora.

Copyright © Ozioma Izuora 2010.

Ozioma Izuora who has a Masters Degree in English Language Education of Exeter University, England, is a practising lawyer and writer.

She has published many short stories and playlets in such prestigious literary journals as the Okike of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Harvest Time - A Literary/ Critical Anthology of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Enugu; ANA Enugu’s programme for Chinua Achebe’s 73rd birthday celebration and Breaking the Silence an anthology of Women Writers of Nigeria (WRITA).

Her first novel, Dreams Deferred, was nominated for the Nigeria Literature Prize for 2008 and won ANA/NDDC Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for proze, 2009. Her play, Blood for Palm Wine, published and staged in 2009, won a prize in the recent Abuja Writers' Forum literary festival, where Izuora won prizes in three different categories.


Fredrick Chiagozie Nwonwu said...

I started of thinking this was one of those Chic literatures that seem to be garnering a huge following among females and would have stopped reading, but something about the writer's voice held me until I got to the middle and became really intrigued. Yes, this is a very good story and so well told. And the end, absolute delightful. who would have guessed that the lady is crippled? WOW!

Ozioma Izuora said...

Thanks Fred for not giving up on me before you got into the story. Made my day with your kind comment.

Azubike Victor said...

A beautiful story of a young man's infatuation with a woman(Angel)on a roadway.The ending is awesome,well crafted and unexpected.

Ozioma Izuora said...

Thank you so much Azubuike. I look forward to reading yours soon!

DOROTHY said...

Really really great... captivativating and a well rounded twist in the end. Loved it!

Ozioma Izuora said...

Thanks Dorothy! Glad u liked it.

Abdul Adan said...

A great story. There was this feeling that crept into me upon seeing the turn of things, a queer feeling...and that is why this is a great story. A well twisted and yet gentle ending.

Ozioma Izuora said...

Ummmh Abdul! What a sweet comment. Thanks!!

godfrey m. sibanda said...

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Had a similar encounter at University in a cinema hall - started chatting up this girl behind me... Of course she was pretty, intelligent, lovely smile, all that... After the movie, I had to help her look for her crutches under the benches and my friends were scattering in laughter! There was no happy ending. There is never a happy ending, except in this lovely tale of yours. Thanks for reminding me what an idiot I was!

Abdul said...

godfrey, thank you for sharing this experience here. I thought it would turn out so, myself. Unless of course, it's fiction. Or you are heavensent.Ozioma's story is among the best I have read on here.

Su'eddie Vershima Agema said...

Ha! The lady in the tale reminds me of the Writer and her jeep – well, except for the mangled legs.
But it is strange…
Ha…strange to note that I have gotten so used to seeing you almost always on Sunday evenings at critique sessions and all… Strange that I have known you since that poem to your boss that I was forced to make a comment on… Strange that I have heard so much about Dreams Deferred but have not gotten enough bucks to read it yet have inspired and influenced someone to write a College final essay on… Strange that I should meet you fictionally properly on Storytime in this tale… Strange that I read the tale with sleep… Strange that despite the Mills and Booms stance, I read on… Strange that you took us all the way away yet held us still and brought us back in an astounding but simple end… So, it isn’t strange that you took the sleep from my eyes and forced me to write this comment… Simply obvious that I should be saying “You are amazing.” Well done.

Ozioma Izuora said...

Godfrey, u weren't an idiot. Abdul is right, a situation can turn on d sublime, an one wd do something really noble... Or d real world would exert too much price - like ur friends laughing in one corner; or d lack of maturity at d time to take a giant step. Don't beat urself up. Thanks for liking d story.
Abdul, always so sweet! Thanks again.
Su'eddie: really! We shd have a conversation sometime. Thanks for continuing to believe in me and promoting me every where. I 'll give u Dreams Deferred whenever I see u next. Promise.

godfrey m. sibanda said...

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Had a similar encounter at University in a cinema hall - started chatting up this girl behind me... Of course she was pretty, intelligent, lovely smile, all that... After the movie, I had to help her look for her crutches under the benches and my friends were scattering in laughter! There was no happy ending. There is never a happy ending, except in this lovely tale of yours. Thanks for reminding me what an idiot I was!

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