It was a Dark starless night. The clouds had gathered themselves away quickly and the sky was a sheet of black satin. It was barely 10PM, yet everyone had shut their doors, locking themselves away in the illusory security that their big expensive looking houses offered.
She liked the scene better at night. The shrubbery and trees that lined the streets in all their greening glory, the outdoor lamps from the houses, each trying to compete with the other in grandeur and style.
Her father always said rich people were only rich because they displayed rich taste and a sense of belonging.
"Being rich is not a state of how much a pocket carries, it's about the carriage of the man with the pocket," he always said with that his big burly laugh. She missed it. Missed him.
He had been gone for so long, he seemed to have now become only a memory that she had to fight through other memory slots in her head to get to.
He hadn't been a rich man, in all social understanding of the word. But he had made sure they'd had all that was necessary to survive.
"If a man can feed his family and send his children off to acquire education from the best schools he can afford, a man has done a man's job," her mother always said in his defence. She had adored him, doted on him like a loving wife would. The grief of his passing had worn itself on her like a favorite shirt not to be taken off, until it took her without warning to meet him too. Their deaths had been only seven months apart and the memory of it always stung at her heart.
Love was not a thing she was interested in toying with.
It was dangerous.
It had fangs and a mean bite.
Now as she sat there in his car, listening to him tell her of his feelings and his love for her, she felt a quaking in her knees, a knotting in her chest.
What was it now, four months? She wasn't stupid. Of course she knew this day would come, when he would decide like they always did, that what he felt for her was a passion that had burned into his heart. And like all the others, when he finally did say he loved her, she'd stay mute and it would be the last time he ever set eyes on her.
But Stan was different from the others and God help her, she knew it.
For the first time, she felt the same way too. She wanted to reach out, to envelope her small hand in his labour hardened palm and tell him she loved him too. Instead she let the silence eat between them and hoped he'd quell it by saying something.
Several minutes passed and the car AC hissed cool air out of the vents, but there was not a word between the two of them.
Then as though he knew it was on him to row the night forward, he placed a tender hand on her thigh and said,
"Look Maria, I understand this might be too much for you to take in right now, I just wanted you to know how I feel about you."
"Yea," was all she managed.
He sighed, let go of her thigh and mechanically placed his hand on the gear stick.
"I love you, I'm not here to play games with you."
Several hours later, with the phone held tightly on the side of her face and tears burning her eyes, she narrated the night's happenings to Nneka.
"So what did you say?" Was all Nneka wanted to find out. She had heard this tale told a hundred times, each time the male character replaced by another as they always trooped to Maria like ants to bread crumbs.
"I didn't say anything babe. I didn't even Say I Love you."
"Wow Mama. But do you love him? You feel anything for him?"
"I think I do," Maria said as she let her emotions consume her finally, shaking vigorously as she cried into the phone.