African StoriesEditor's ChoiceLife and General FictionNaija Stories

The Cinema Encounter

I yawned as the credits ran through the large screen. Two full hours of waste, I thought. I didn’t want to bring myself to think of the N3,500 I had also paid to get a ticket. Well, I wasn’t the cinema type. I had only come here to escape the eyes of my fiancé. I waited as other viewers filed out of the cinema, I watched the couple who had sat in front of me, feeding my eyes with romantic words and intimate kisses. I had made my discomfort obvious to them by repeatedly sighing and hissing, but obviously, it wasn’t enough to remind them that they were not the only ones in the large cinema.

But it was something I had learnt to deal with. The cinema had become my number one hiding place, that most-times I stayed to watch three to four movies, only changing the viewing rooms. I was used to what went on in the large dark hall, barely illuminated by the light from the big screen. Once, I had watched a couple literally have sex with each other when a movie was going on, not a full-on sex though, the man’s hand had been busy and the woman had been twitching and breathing really hard. Sometimes, she would let out an involuntarily moan. It wasn’t difficult to guess what they were doing.

I enjoyed it though. The big screen that told of lives different from what I knew, from what I was familiar with. It took me to a different place, made me forget what was waiting for me in reality. And slowly, it had become my routine, coming to the cinema, paying ridiculous amounts to watch movies that I could easily watch on YouTube or DSTV.

It was when the crowd cleared that I heard it, the sound of someone sniffling and sighing. I looked at where it was coming from and found a girl curled up in her seat, using a tissue to wipe her nose. I frowned, the movie had been about wealthy people living in Eko, and nothing about it had been enough to bring tears even to a soft-hearted person.

I stood up and walked over to where she sat, “Hello, are you okay?” I asked as softly as I could.

She looked up, and then began to clean her face, and apologize, “I’m sorry. I am on my way out now.”

She thought I was a worker, I smiled and sat beside her. “It’s okay. We can stay here for about fifteen minutes, before they lock the place.”

“Oh.” She placed her hands on her mouth,

“I’m sorry, I thought you were a worker.”

“With the rate at which I come here, I was also beginning to think that I am a worker here,” I mused, earning a look of surprise from her.

“You like cinema movies that much?”

“Well, not like. I’d rather watch them from the comfort of my home.” Seeing the questioning look in her eyes, I continued, “I come here to escape from a lot of things.” She frowned, but I chuckled. “Enough about me, why are you crying? The film wasn’t something that should make someone cry.”

She looked away, in the dim lighting, I saw her swallow hard. “I wasn’t crying because of the movie.”

“Then?” I pushed.

She shook her head reluctant to open her mouth. I stood up and made to leave. “Where are you going?” She held my hand, looking up at me with glittering eyes.

I chuckled. “It seemed like I was disturbing you. I’m going home,” I said seriously, picking up my bag and making my way down the stairs. I was down to the last step when I realized the young lady was rushing to meet up with me. I stopped to wait for her. “So…?”

“Let’s go out together,” she said with a helpless smile.

I laughed out loudly. “Alright, lets go.”

I took her hand, ignoring the look of surprise on the face of the other woman. I smiled and pulled her along as I left the cinema hall. As we went out, I bought two cones of ice-cream handing her one.

“Isn’t it too late to be taking ice-cream?” She held the cone away from her body.

I licked a portion of the cold white cream and giggled. “Why wait till another time to take ice-cream, when you want to take ice-cream, you buy it, don’t wait until it’s ‘time’. If you keep on waiting, you won’t be able to take it. Either it is too cold, or it is already late, don’t wait for the right time…”

The other woman burst into laughter. I looked at her, stunned by her voice. She had gone from crying one moment to laughing.

“Why you laughing?” A small smile played on my lips.

“You seem like a happy person,” she said amidst her laughter.

It was my turn to burst out laughing. This was the first time anyone had referred to me as a happy person. I wondered what my boyfriend would think if he heard her describe me as a happy person.

“You think so?” I played along.

She nodded her head so hard that I feared it would fall off. “Anyone around you would think of you as a light in their darkness. That’s what I feel now.”

I shook my head sadly. “I am not as happy as I seem.”

“I caught my husband cheating on me,” she said suddenly. I was startled at the sudden change of topics. Her eyes took on a faraway look as she licked her ice-cream absentmindedly. “When I confronted him about it, he said I should be happy that he still came home to me.”

I blinked in surprise. “He said what?”

She looked at me as if just realizing that I was still there, then shook her head. “It’s nothing.”

I stared at her, my eyes wide. “ ‘Nothing?’ Your husband is cheating on you and you say it is nothing?”

She blinked rapidly, a stray tear found its way down her cheek. “I spoke to my mother and she said it is normal for men to have women outside their marriage. She said even my father also had women at some point in time during their forty-seven years of marriage. My friend says her husband has girlfriends abroad, but she says it isn’t cheating because he was just trying to fulfil his manly needs and since she wasn’t around, other girls could do the job for her.”

“Well, I would never allow my husband sleep with any woman apart from me,” I said casually. The thought of it alone made my blood boil. “I cannot live with a man, sleep on the same bed with a man that sleeps around. I can’t let him touch me knowing that he may have touched other women the same way hours before.” The ice-cream slipped from her hands. She watched it splatter against the tiled road. I handed mine to her, she shook her head gently refusing it.
I stopped in front of a boutique, its bright lights pulling my attention to the beautiful gowns that were placed behind its glass doors. Looking at the gowns, I mentally calculated my account balance and how far it was from payment day.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. I followed her eyes to a blue transparent gown, its hems decorated by white pearls.

“If you are no longer happy in the marriage, why not free yourself from the burden? or you want to be like thousands of women who comfort themselves with the words: ‘He would always come back to me’? Doesn’t that make him a public property?”

“We just got married for not up to four months, how do you expect me to divorce him. Besides, I got married in the Catholic Church and getting a divorce is not acceptable.”

“Well, the Church wouldn’t cry with you when you find your husband on top of another woman, will they?” I heard her breath catch, obviously stunned at my words. A lady from the boutique store was glaring at us, I took her hand and moved away from the front of the store.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “We dated for two years before we got married, but during those years he never for once cheated on me. I wonder what made him change.”

“Are you sure he never cheated on you? If he can cheat on you when you both are married, what makes you think that he didn’t cheat on you while you were dating. Why do we give them so much excuses?” I questioned. “I am not much different from you. I was close to getting married to my ex-boyfriend. I mean, the wedding date had been fixed, my bride-maids had all sown their asoebi. One day I am preparing for my wedding, the next day I get a call from my friend saying that my fiancé was disturbing her, and he was even asking her that he would keep it a secret from me.”

Remembering it made me angry, the expression that filled his face when he had said, ‘And so what?’ after I had confronted him about it. ‘And so what?’ The nonchalance laced in the words, it baffled me, that even after I called off the marriage, the words kept on running through my head. I still couldn’t comprehend why a man who had proposed to marry me, be faithful to me could go behind my back to come onto my friend, and then see nothing wrong with it.

“I’m so sorry,” the woman said.

I shook my head. “That was three years ago. Besides, I am already preparing for another wedding.”

“Wow, that’s great honey,” she said genuinely happy.

“Why do you seem so happy? I mean, your story convinced me that marriage was not as beautiful as people think it is.”

“But there are other people that are happy in their marriages. My sister and her husband have been married for six years. They don’t have a child yet, but they still live together in harmony.”

“Well, you are right. There are happy marriages, but what guarantee do you have that you’re walking into one? And not into a bondage that will make you lose yourself—” I sighed, I always avoided topics like this.

“Well, forget about it, as my mother will say, pray about it. I don’t think it does much aside giving you hope that someone is fighting for you. But I will still tell you the same thing. Pray about it.”

She laughed. “You don’t seem like the praying type.”

“And I am not the praying type, if my husband cheats on me, I can’t say I will remain calm about it. There is the option of divorce, and I am the type to opt of of situations that seem way beyond my control. And a man’s fidelity seems like the first on that list.”

“Oh.” A disappointed expression descended on her face.

“I am not telling you to divorce your husband, I won’t dare. But this is me for you, I don’t know how else to advice you. Go with your heart, though I already know what it’s telling you.” I smirked at her, she smiled sadly.

We got to the junction where a lot of keke were parked by the road, ‘Inside Festac’ ‘Abodju’ ‘Apple Junction’, the drivers shouted beckoning at passers-by.

“Apple Junction,” I said to one of the drivers. He pointed at a keke, it was remaining one person to fill up the keke. I turned to her. “I should be on my way home now. I still have work tomorrow.”

She held my hand as I made to enter the keke. “You didn’t tell me your name.”

I smiled, “I don’t think there is any need for that.” I bade her goodbye. And got into the keke. As the keke left the area, I watched as she stood there, dressed in an orange chiffon top and pencil skirt. It was then that I realized that she had been wearing a pair of three-inch heels. She looked lost among the yellow vehicles. I knew without a doubt that her car was parked near the theater, I had noticed the car keys that she held unconsciously whirling her fingers around it. Time to time, she would look at her hand to assure herself that she still held it. Maybe I was also sure that I would see her again, and so when I had gone to the cinema three days later, I found her seating next to my usual seat, a cone of ice-cream on her hand, popcorn on the hand that joined the two seats, I was not surprised when she called me by my name, maybe because I knew she would ask the workers at the reception room. And I knew they would tell her because she was the wife of the owner of the cinema. I knew all these because her husband was the man I would have married three years ago. And I knew that she knew all these. But we didn’t talk about her husband or my upcoming wedding, we spoke about the movie that was showing on the screen. We spoke about the fake lives of people on the screen, because it gave us an escape from what awaited us outside the walls of the cinema.

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