Chinedu watched her as she slept, taking in the delicately curved lashes, the slight uptilt of her nose and her long, tied-back hair. As he did, once again he regretted the reckless streak that had made him tell her that he was an armed robber during their previous encounter. He shrugged; I guess that's just who I am.
Iphey stirred and and opened her eyes. She sat up with a jerk and looked around. How could she have fallen asleep with a guest in the flat.
"Madam, drinks are served." He bowed with an exaggerated gesture and presented her with the glass.
She sat up and took it with a grateful smile. "How long have I been sleeping?"
Chinedu smiled back. "Not long enough. After the stress of today, you definitely need some rest. Even your body agrees."
While Iphey drank, her mind turned cartwheels. He was kind and considerate; he was funny; and he was good looking. She did want to like him, but... that history. And how could he be so comfortable and nonchalant about it, too? What exactly had happened to drive him down those darker paths of life?
But did she really want to know, anyway? Wasn’t it her curiosity that had saddled her with the burden of this knowledge? What if he revealed even darker secrets - secrets that made it too difficult to bear the contrast between the person she was getting to like and the person she wanted to keep at a distance?
A musky scent intruded into her thoughts as Chinedu settled himself beside her. “You seem to be a lot better, but it looks like you also have something on your mind.”
“Oh… I was still thinking about my nephew… I’m praying that he’ll pull through.” Iphey was thankful for the handy smokescreen Obi’s hospitalization presented to her.
Chinedu nodded. “I completely understand. Was it very shocking to hear the news?”
“He’s had asthma attacks before, but nothing like this…” Her voice trailed off.
“I hope he pulls through; in any case, he’s in good hands now. There’s not much else we can do except pray”.
They sat together for a while, each lost in thought.
Iphey broke the silence. “Oh, I feel so bad; you’ve been so kind. I am a bad host. Can I get you anything?”
Chinedu laughed. “This isn’t a proper visit, I only came over when your mum told me about your nephew's crisis. I've put some Indomie in the microwave for you, otherwise, I'm happy to just talk. Like I said earlier, once I heard from Aisha, I was hoping we could set another date. ”
Again, Iphey felt herself torn apart by the self that said “go for it, he’s a great guy” and the other self that said “watch out, he used to be an armed robber!”.
The cautionary self won out. “Well, I don’t know… right now, my mind is not settled enough to think about that.”
“I understand, and that’s why I’m not asking you for anything immediate. I only want to know if you would like to meet at all.”
Seeing her hesitate further, he added “Think about it. You’ll get the chance to hear about my adventures during my life of crime.”
At that remark, all her apprehension boiled over into indignation. “How can you be so callous and talk about it as an adventure, as though you had been on holiday? Don’t you even feel any remorse?”
Chinedu nodded his head. So it was the armed robber thing; he had thought as much. “I regret what I did then, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot describe some of them as adventures. Or do you want me be to lie about my past to you?”
“I’m not asking you to lie, but please show a sense of shame! Why should I want to hear about the adventures of an armed robber on a date?”
Chinedu began to feel irritated; he had meant to bring the issue up in a light-hearted way to diffuse any possible tension, but that sure wasn't working.
“OK, I’m sorry that I’m not perfect. I’m sorry that my life has this smear you disapprove of. But at least, one good thing is that if I meet someone who made mistakes and turned their life around, I’m less likely to judge them harshly.”
Iphey was defensive. “I’m not judging you; I’m just saying that you shouldn't take it so lightly.”
“Really?" Chinedu smiled bitterly. "Avoiding Aisha's calls and not even calling me to say thanks all this while has nothing to do with me being an armed robber before? Do you remember the anger and force with which you responded to the revelation?”
Seeing that Iphey had been embarrassed into silence, he continued in a softer tone. “I don’t blame you; others have judged me before too. I found it wiser to be quiet about my past. Even now, I don’t tell everyone. I only tell people I’ve known for long enough to trust.
“But sometimes, I take a chance, follow my instincts and tell people who I feel I have strong connection to, even though I’ve just met them; people who I feel will be willing to listen more and judge less.” He looked into her eyes, and continued. “The trouble is, sometimes, my instincts are wrong.”
Chinedu rose and stretched. “It’s getting late so I must head out.” At the door, he stopped and turned. “My instincts may be wrong sometimes; but somehow, I don’t think this is one of them. How do I know? Maybe it’s my instinct telling me.”
He smiled wanly and added. “I really hope your nephew makes it out of intensive care. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Have a good night, Iphey.”
She listened to the door latch slowly, her head bowed in thought. The ping of the microwave brought her out of it.