September 1st | Victoria Island
Like moths to a flame, Eddie’s table was inundated with a never-ending human flow. Most of whom were staff of B & I; others invited guests and some staff from LLW.
For the B & I staff, it was easy to distinguish the subordinates from Eddie’s colleagues by their greetings – the deference term sir always resonated with the lower cadre of staff, and Esohe wondered why their table attracted such traffic. Was he that popular? That liked? Good a boss?
After a while she began to feel like a goldfish in a bowl. The bulk of people who stopped by greeted her as well, right after a word or two with Eddie. There was this slight lingering she couldn’t help but notice. She wondered why.
Then a stranger – dark, bespectacled, mid-20s and in a three–piece suit, slipped into the empty chair beside her, and introduced himself as Seyi. He bowed slightly. “I’m Mr. Williams’ assistant. If there’s anything you need, ma’am, I’m your guy.”
“Including divulging his innermost secrets?” Esohe asked straight-faced, stunning him
“Except that, ma’am.”
“Tell me something, Seyi, is your boss well – liked?”
The young man hesitated and looked across to Eddie who was now leaning back on his chair, ipad in hand, skimming through his speech. There was no telling if he could overhear the ongoing conversation.
“Is that why everyone’s coming to pay homage to him or because he has been away for two weeks?”
The assistant’s reply took longer to come this time, after throwing another look at his boss. “Yes ma’am”
“You’re not a very good liar, Seyi. You need more practice.”
Eddie stifled a chuckle without looking up or in their direction. Esohe glanced at him, then back at Seyi who was clearly uncomfortable now. “Well, young man?”
Seyi cleared his throat. “Mr. Williams is a fair boss and treats us well.” He finally responded. “It’s only natural that we would be interested in his personal life as well.”
“Oh, so I am the centre of attraction tonight. I knew something was off.” Esohe declared.
“No ma’am.” Seyi spoke too quickly this time. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
Eddie’s face creased into a full smile as yet another person stopped by the table. “My oga.” A somewhat familiar voice greeted.
Esohe turned at the sound to confirm her suspicions. The man clasping Eddie’s hand with both of his was Ifeanyi – Folarin’s best friend.
His eyes and Esohe’s met at the same instant.
The last time she saw him must have been almost two years ago, at a work – related function. They barely had time to talk but they were in contact often, because in the course of Folarin’s presence in her life, they had become good friends. He had been the lone voice from her ex’s side who constantly berated him about his behavior, all of which had fallen on deaf ears.
Tall, dark, not-so-slim anymore, handsome Ifeanyi. How did he know Eddie? She wondered as she rose, mirroring the surprise on his face. Ah yes… he was a lawyer as well.
They spoke in unison. Eddie watched as they hugged warmly.
“Fancy meeting you here. “ She spoke once they disengaged. “How do you know each other?”
Ifeanyi grinned down at Eddie. “He is my egbon now, my senior colleague.” He explained. “And who doesn’t know him in the legal circle?”
“Sweetheart.” She addressed her man. “He’s Folarin’s best friend, was the best man too.”
Eddie’s eyebrows climbed minimally. “And a brilliant lawyer too. We’re still trying to poach him.”
Ifeanyi smiled. “Ah, not so loud, my oga. Someone from my office might hear.”
“Come, sit with us, Ifeanyi.” Esohe invited. Seyi had slipped away unnoticed in the last few moments. She occupied his now empty chair and patted hers. “How are Somto and the children?” She asked as he lowered his frame.
“They are well. Thank you.” He responded. “We’re expecting our third.”
“Aww…congratulations.” She enthused, genuinely happy for him.
Eddie leaned forward and tapped on the ipad, going back to his earlier run-through with his speech.
“That’s such good news.” She continued.
“Thank you. It is. “ He paused. “And how are you? Osayu? “
“We couldn’t be better. Thanks.”
“Have you seen him?” Ifeanyi’s voice lost some of its vibrancy.
She didn’t need any clarification as to whom he referred to. She nodded, sighing. “Unfortunately. Twice. Why is he back, Ifeanyi? Why now? After all these years?”
“He might be my best friend but he’s still a piece of shit.”
Esohe didn’t miss Eddie’s glance in their direction before the ipad in front of him claimed his attention again.
“He asked to be transferred back to Nigeria so that he could be closer to his family.” Ifeanyi continued.
He shook his head. “You and Osayu.”
“He told his employers he was married with a child back home. He wants you back, Esohe. He found out the grass wasn’t greener on the other side.”
“How sad for him but it’s too late to backtrack now.”
“He said you were the best thing to happen to him. He wants that back.”
“Well, that ship sailed a long time ago.”
Ifeanyi placed a hand on one of hers on the table. “Just be watchful, Esohe, he seems pretty determined to achieve his goal.”
“And so am I. To stay as far away from him as possible.” Esohe stated. “I haven’t seen or heard from him in two weeks now. So I’m guessing he got my message loud and clear the last time we met.”
“Nevertheless, still be watchful.” He repeated. “I told him if anything happened to you or Osayu, I’ll do him in personally.”
She smiled. “I’m sure he’d behave. He seems to be already.”
He nodded. “I hope so too.” He began to rise. “Excuse me. I need to get back to my office colleagues.” He squeezed her hand once more and turned to Eddie. “My oga, let me go.” Clasping one hand in both of his. “Hold on to this lady. Good ones are hard to come by.”
For a moment, Eddie held Esohe’s gaze in an unfaltering one. “I intend to.” His smoky tones were quiet.
Ifeanyi was walking away as Eddie let go of his ipad and waited for Esohe to change chairs before speaking. “What are we going to do? Get the police involved?”
Esohe shrugged. “Like I said, nothing from him in the last two weeks. I don’t think he’s going to do anything anymore. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Tony, then?” He suggested.
“No, Edosa.” She replied. “No need. But thanks, your concern is endearing”. She touched the side of his face gently.
He captured her hand in one of his. “It’s the Esohe Eweka effect.”
Just then, the music seized and the voice of the compere of the night filled the hall. The ceremony was about to begin.
Beside making a mental note to call her mum later, Esohe gave no more thought to the information Ifeanyi had shared with her. The program’s agenda was enough to hold her attention almost completely, with Eddie by her side explaining the unfamiliar.
Seyi appeared again during Eddie’s speech which was succinct and salient as he commanded every one’s attention with his words, ending shortly after with ‘a time to celebrate our collaboration and not for long speeches.’
As finger foods and cocktails were served, Esohe acquainted herself with the four other occupants of the table – a staff of LLW and her spouse, and another colleague of Eddie and her spouse. Turns out the founders of B&I and their spouses were seated on a different table with the LLW CEO, Mrs. Aribisala and her spouse.
There was a moving video presentation by LLW and their work rehabilitating disadvantaged street teenagers, recording their progress from the onset to the present time. From gathering teenagers hanging by the corners, budding touts, addiction – ridden ones through their journey to learning a skill, getting a job, going back to school and ridding their communities of restless, aimless youths. As the video rolled to an end, one after the other, the teenagers appeared on stage, a far cry from their earlier situations.
The entire hall was first rendered silent before it was brought to its feet with rapturous ovation; some guests could be found touching the corners of their eyes.
Esohe made a quick trip to the ladies’ as Mrs. Aribisala mounted the stage for her speech; she called her mum. At 8.30pm, Osayu was fast asleep and Mrs. Eweka told her daughter she was interrupting her AfricaMagic moments, said good night and severed the connection.
One of B & I’s founders, Mrs. Osula’s friend, was on the stage with Mrs. Aribisala when Esohe re–entered the hall, making a joint, thank you speech to their respective staff who made ‘all of this possible.’
“Is it almost over?” She slipped on to her chair, and leaned towards Eddie, who took a moment to acknowledge her before focusing on his boss again.
“The formal part.” He told her. “Get ready for some fun.”
A trickle of people filed through the exit doors at about 11.35pm, an indication that the gala was as good as over.
The deluge of bodies surged forth about five minutes later with animated conversation, laughter and some tired-looking ones.
Esohe and Eddie trudged among the throng filling up the lengthy hallway leading out of the building. His jacket covered her frame, giving her dress a rather avant-garde look. One of his arms was wrapped around her shoulders, drawing her close to his shirt-sleeved body.
The real fun had begun with dancing. Music – local and foreign – was provided by the live band, and the compere of the evening inviting all to join in and shake off the light snacks consumed earlier before it was time for the three-course dinner.
A lot of guests harkened to the call and flooded the open space by the stage.
As Eddie led Esohe out, one of his subordinates passed by and spoke: “Sir, we’re ready for you tonight.” The young lady told her boss. “We have been rehearsing.”
He smiled at her. “Good luck then, Chinenye.”
For the next few minutes, they strutted their stuff to a mix of boisterous beats. More than once, some ambitious male guests attempted to usurp Eddie’s position in front of his dancing partner but he was on to them right form the start. Esohe, on the other hand, laughed it away.
Soon after, the dance competition was announced and the floor space quickly increases as the number of willing participants reduced to about 35 people in all, comprising of doubles and single competitors from both the two institutions as well as invited guests.
Just before it was to commence, Esohe sidled up to Eddie: “Let’s dance for fun.” She suggested. “Not to win.”
He seemed to hesitate, then nodded his assent. And they did. Recreating their salsa moves, improvising along the way.
Chinenye made good her word. Along with her partner, they executed well-choreographed, local dance steps that got cheers from the crowd in no time. Soon the other competitors stopped dancing and gave them the entire floor to dazzle. There was no point announcing their win; everyone was in agreement.
A quasi–quiz show between the staff of B & I and LLW was unfolding on stage right after the competition and as dinner was being served. A team of two people represented each organization; the aim of which was to test the contestants’ breath of knowledge of the other organization. Each team got a chance at a question. If it was unable to answer it correctly, the question went to their rival as a bonus point. The team with the most points won.
Esohe couldn’t possibly fathom how the show was going to be anything but boring and was dismissing it when she heard the first question.
She nearly choked on her goat-meat starter pepper soup!
“What is the name of Mr. Williams’ date tonight?”
Eddie bowed his head, put his hand on his brows and began to laugh, his spoon clattering into the grey liquid in front of him; his twinkling eyes meeting Esohe’s inquiring and stunned expression.
Of course, the LLW contestants had no clue who she was, but their B & I rivals nailed it to a loud applause from their colleagues. She’d have sworn she heard the nickname, BB, echo from behind the hall too.
And the frivolous questions continued to the amazement of Esohe and other first–time guests:
“At precisely what time did Mrs. Aribisala take a bathroom break earlier on?”
“What is the relationship, romantic or otherwise, between our dance competition winners?”
“Can you mention the first song performed by the live band tonight?”
One or two of the questions held a serious tone:
“This is the seventh in the gala series. What year did B & I and LLW begin this selfless alliance?”
“How many children have benefitted from the rehabilitation scheme in the last two years?”
The eventual result was a tie and both teams left the stage to a raucous applause from their respective supporters.
Following closely after was a raffle draw which, once again, resulted in two winners with identical tickets. The livestock meant for the winner was going to have Solomon’s wisdom applied; it’d be divided equally between both winners.
Next was an auction of an eclectic collection of articles.
Eddie leaned sideways, their shoulders rubbing lightly against each other. “Let me know if you want any of the items.” He said as the compere’s voice announced the first on the list.
“A pair of movie tickets for Crazy, Rich Asians.”
“But it’s an auction, Edosa.” She responded. “Won’t they be 10 times their original amounts?”
He shrugged. “It’s one way to raise money for LLW.” He explained. “For a good cause.” He paused. “Plus whatever you choose would give me a clue to the things you like.”
She hadn’t seen that coming; she smiled a little.
“I like the way you say that, by the way.” He told her.
“What?” Her smile replaced with confusion.
“My name. Edosa. I like the sound of it on your lips. You don’t say it enough.”
The small smile returned as she resumed watching and listening as the items were snatched up quickly and at ridiculously high prices.
“Six months of dry cleaning.”
“10 vintage and rare bottles of wine.”
“A five – course meal at Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel.”
“A complete makeover with House of Tara.”
“Music instrument lessons.”
“A photoshoot at Studio 24.”
“A new iphone.”
“A new Kindle Fire.”
The compere was adept and familiar with the process. He didn’t linger with the incremental additions or prolong the bidding itself, settling for the third, at most, fourth bid of an item and moving swiftly on to the next.
Esohe’s fingers squeezed Eddie’s arm resting on the table as soon as the next item made its appearance.
“A spa treatment for two at Aroma.”
Without looking at her, his other hand snatched up the numbered square at the centre of the table and raised it high in the air.
She chuckled. “That was fast.”
He nodded. “We don’t know how many people want it as much as we do.”
Quite a lot from the other numbered squares shooting up in all directions of the hall.
With every hike in the price, Eddie’s hand went up, as well as other determined guests.
The bid was proving to be the most drawn out until squares began to disappear. Until only two remained – Eddie’s and one other at the back.
Finally, only Eddie’s.
“Sold to the gentleman in front.” The compere pointed at Eddie, and proceeded to reel out the next item.
It was Esohe’s turn to lean sideways, her bare shoulder rubbing against his suited one. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
He twisted his neck and planted a kiss on her forehead. “Would you like anything else?”
She shook her head, then rested it on his shoulder.
Few items later and the auction came to an end. A vote of thanks from a staff of LLW equally brought the night’s festivities to a fitting end.
Esohe draped her shawl around her shoulders. The temperature had dropped to some extent in the last few minutes as midnight approached.
Eddie rose, along with others in the hall, and shrugged out of his jacket, looking down at Esohe. She didn’t rise then but glanced up in gratitude when warmth and his signature scent enveloped her as his jacket draped over the thin fabric of the shawl. Then she rose.
“Where are you going?” He asked as they joined other guests and began to make towards the exit. “My place or yours?”
“Mine.” She stifled a yawn with a hand over her mouth. “I miss my bed.”
“My house and everything and everyone in it miss you.”
A tired smile chased across her lips. “And the owner doesn’t?”
“More than you can imagine. He wonders when you’d come again.”
She nodded. “We have a spa appointment, don’t we?”
“And we need to talk.”
“We do? What about?”
“You’ll see. Tomorrow.” t