Juices the colour of moss are not meant to be enjoyed, they’re meant to be endured. But over the last few weeks my taste buds have undergone such a drastic re-working that my daily green juice has become a genuine pleasure. The other side effects help: my clothes aren’t too tight any more and I actually hit up a house party last week in no more than skinny black jeans, a grey American Apparel camisole, black Prada heels and a black Prada chain link purse (the latter two snagged at this amazing outlet mall in Florida last Christmas I highly recommend.)
I was technically crashing the party- a friend of a friend’s work do- and it was held in a compound rather poshly called ‘The Mews’ in Ikoyi. As I have come to expect of places like this, it was leafy and lush, with high-ceilinged flats and a huge swimming pool. It was the sort of place that only expats get to live in here in Nigeria, or mostly expats anyway, but it looked like the Lagos we deserve.
The pool was drained- under repair they told me- but that did not deter the multitude of bright, young, things I saw lounging around it when I got there. When I’d left my house, I’d felt like I looked pretty good- at the very least skinny and understated which for me is the same thing- and I liked that this feeling was given weight by the immediate detachment of a good-looking Nigerian guy from his group to help me down the steps and into the house.
“I stole you away from your friends!” I simpered. “Oh, I don’t mind, as it’s you.” he replied gallantly. It was like the opening of a very bad romance novel and the beginning of a perfect Saturday night.
Inside, people were dancing a little, in the way they do when they’re not drunk enough yet and the music isn’t quite right but they’re happy and confident that those things will soon develop. Everyone seemed wonderfully relaxed- there was just the right ratio of Nigerians to expats to ensure maximum cool and minimum pretension. We made our way to the drinks table, which looked like the Rat Pack had bombed it, and my gallant introducer, let’s call him Femi, started searching amongst the rubble for some gin. “You’re a bad man,” said his friend, “offering a lady hard liquor. You know babes shouldn’t drink stuff like that.”
I raised a brow at this random and informed him that I’d asked for the gin, which made him give me a disbelieving one over. My father doesn’t think ladies should drink gin, and I find that amusing and endearing, but hearing it from a guy my age only makes me see red. Femi soon gave up on finding me any tonic and led me to the kitchen, just in time to prevent me delivering a short lecture on assholes and unwanted commentary.
I think, if I hadn’t been so cranky at the random guy and his archaic gin misogyny, or if the friend who’d brought me hadn’t wandered off to talk to her other friends, I’d have waited for Femi to come back with my drink and had a perfectly nice, safe evening. But I was cranky, and had no one else to talk to, so I went with him to the kitchen and therein met Arturo
He was tall- taller than me in my heels which is saying something- and broad through the shoulders. Narrow hips and arms that said “I work out but I’m not a douche about it.”. He had dark floppy hair that said Italian (maybe?) and equally dark eyes that said other things. He was white, of course, because that’s just how my love life tends to play out, and the connection was instant.
It’s important that I say that this never, ever happens to me. By this I mean the perfect combination of (i) my outfit being just right, (ii) my make-up coming together, (iii) my weight being the right side of skinny, (iv) being approached immediately upon arrival by one guy, then (v) sighting another guy I fancy who, (vi) it would appear, immediately fancies me….this. never. ever. happens. to. me.
I’ve become used to Saturday morning phone calls from friends in which their Friday night escapades sound like scenes from an HBO show about being young and sexy, but my weekends are never so seamless. Either I’ll have decided at the last minute to change out of my playsuit into jeans, heels and a blazer only to arrive at the party and find out that it’s by a pool and whilst I look like I’ve come from a business casual meeting, everyone else is channelling Miami glam. Or I start chatting to someone I fancy, and just when I think it’s all going well, a girl slides up to us and winds herself around him like a vine, announcing that he’s taken and I’d better take my carefully hoarded witticisms elsewhere. These are the kind of things that are normal for me.
But, last Saturday, the gods were writing my name in the stars, apparently.
Femi returned with an okay gin and tonic, and I haven’t a chance to say thank you before I’m approached. His name, he says, is Arturo We shake hands, and I feel like when we do, we’re sealing some sort of pact. Soon enough Femi wanders off having read the writing on the wall and I’m too infatuated to care how rude I’ve been. Arturo and I begin to talk, but it’s not what you’d expect. There is no banter, not much laughter; rather, it feels like we’re simply marking time until we can stop talking all together. I knew from the second I met him that I’d be kissing him before the night was over; and from his occasional long silences during which he does nothing but stare at my reddened lips or lean in to smell my neck, I am certain that we’re on the same page.
My friend finds us eventually around midnight; by this time, Arturo and I are sitting on the defunct pool chairs, looking at the moon, and he’s telling me about his favourite restaurants in Rome. “We’re going to a club, guys.”, she says “Mia, let’s go.”
The idea of clubbing- nowadays never appealing- seems ludicrous to me. “We’re not coming.” says Arturo. I am made warm on the inside by how sure he is that I’ll stay to hang out with him, and shaky because yes I want to kiss him, but I am not naive enough to think that he won’t want more than I’m prepared to give.
My friend is a bit sceptical but she’s also a little drunk so it’s easy for me to persuade her that I’ll be fine. She goes.
I’m not at all drunk. I’ve made it through one gin and tonic, and haven’t felt the need for any more. He’s been sipping on wine (I only drink wine, he says, because at least I can pretend it’s good for me) and doing so very slowly. We’re sober and with the last shouts of the partying horde dying away, we’re alone.
We walk- through the drooping trees, catching momentary slashes of moonlight on our entwined hands. My heels are comfortable but I pretend to totter so he can keep me steady. He takes me to where he’s hung up his boxing bag, and I realise we’re at the front of his flat. I panic a bit- but he senses that- and starts telling me about how his father died, and how he loves to swim, and his failures on the stock market, and any old thing. I calm down enough to go inside with him, where he settles me on his couch and gets me cold water in a chipped mug.
The act itself is so without any overt seduction that I relax even further. The chip in the mug seems to say “If you don’t want this, that’s fine. But if you do, that’s fine too.” I think about a lot of things. I’ve never done a one-night stand before and I’m old enough to know I’m just not that kind of girl. But I’m tempted. Very. I think about my ex, and how he took a part of me with him that I’m still waiting to be returned, and whether me being here at all will hasten the process. I think about how nice reciprocated attraction is, before its consummated, when it sizzles on the air and makes everything heavier- like the atmosphere just before a summer storm. After a while, he stops talking and looks at me. I stop thinking and look at him.
When he kisses me, it’s without warning, which I appreciate. I’ve had hours now to prepare and asking me if I’m sure would have felt artificial. His kiss is strong and a bit invasive- I feel steered.
“So did you swap numbers?” my friend asks as our Uber races through the silent streets of Ikoyi to my house. It’s now 3am. She’s staying over at mine, and I’m trying not to be a bit cranky at her blatant disbelief when I say I kissed Arturo. “But he never kisses anybody! I can’t believe it!” I tell her yes, we swapped numbers, and yes, she should believe it because it happened, then I clam up and let her ramblings wash over me.
For the first few days of the working week, I’m a bit happier than usual. A bit brighter. I kill my runs at the gym, and manage 3 unassisted pull-ups. I book my flight for my next holiday without any of my usual dithering and throw out all my ‘fat’ clothes. Arturo texts twice, I respond, but we make no plans. It doesn’t seem to matter though- the entire experience has carved such a hole in my insecurities that an ‘ending’ seems irrelevant.
By Friday, I’ve let my hopes rise a bit, then fall, and I’m pleasantly resigned to the fact that we’re likely to stay just friends. I clearly have (monstrous, jagged) baggage, and further updates from my friend tell me that his last girlfriend became his ex girlfriend for this reason. I start to wonder how I can get Femi’s number from my friend, and craft in my head a nice way to apologise for ditching him so early at the party. On Saturday, out with friends in a red dress and sky high Louboutins, I no longer have to double check that it’s indeed me getting eyed up by guys. I feel confident and attractive again and even though it goes against all the things I like to believe, I don’t deny to myself that it took a literal tall, dark, stranger seeing me that way to make it so.