Previous episode: Left to proof
“Where are you calling from?” The man demanded suddenly.
“Savoury stripes. We’re on Admiralty.”
A beat of silence from the other end of the line.
“Misan?” Hushed raspy tone.
“Who is th…?” She started to ask, then straightened slightly in a chair. “Luther?”
“What happened to your voice?” She lifted her gaze. “AJ’s your son. Oh my, the accident. How are you?”
“You sound strong. That’s good.”
“What happened? AJ said you have a stiff neck.”
“Mmm…and a neck brace too to cramp my style.” He joked. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Is that wise?” Though her heart leaped in anticipation. “Shouldn’t you take your own advice and heal properly too?”
“We medical people usually don’t.”
She chuckled softly.
“I’ve missed you, Misan.”
Because his statement coincided with the suppressed laugh, she was unsure if she’d heard him correctly.
She didn’t respond; her heart did the job instead. It lurched again.
“Can I reach you on this line?” He asked.
“No, no, it’s the shop’s,” she answered. “Here’s mine.” And dictated it out for him, hearing the pop pop sound as he keyed digits into the mobile phone.
“Okay. Got it,” he said, then recited it back for confirmation. “And I am tempted to say I don’t support AJ’s idea, but I think I see where he’s coming from. He’s bored and I haven’t been wonderful company lately. But I’ll refrain from colouring your decision. His presence at the shop, at a time I didn’t think you’d be, is a signal.”
Misan looked at AJ once more. He stood at the counter chatting with Yemi. “Signal?”
“To me. For you and I.”
“What do you – ?”
“We’re inevitable, Misan.”
“Doctor. Luther Monn,” Taiwo said, typing out the words into a Google browser.
Idly swivelling slowly on a chair beside her was Misan. Both women watched the screen as the search results came into view.
Misan fingered the third item on the list. “Open this.”
A click later and the two friends stared at the Wikipedia page of Luther. A younger-looking Luther–maybe a decade or more ago–in a portrait photo of blue scrubs topped by a white doctor’s coat, engraved with his name and initials.
“Why are we looking at the profile of a cardio…thoracic surgeon?” Taiwo leaned back on her chair, throwing her a glance. “Is something wrong with you?”
“I met him recently.” Misan scanned his biography and education details.
“Eh?” Taiwo sat up quickly. “You just met this dishy-looking man and didn’t say anything?” She fixed her gaze on the screen. “John Hopkins. Lead surgeon in extremely complex bypasses. Shining star of…” She read out his impressive resume aloud. “Fine face and brains.” She turned to her friend. “How long have you known him?”
Misan looked at his image again. “Not enough. That’s why I am googling him.” Her eyes darted below to the written content. “Born 1962. Three children, three boys: Eric, Daniel, Arthur. Spouse: Estelle Monn, 1988-2012. What does that mean? Divorced or deceased?” Her eyes swerved upwards. “This hasn’t been updated in a while.”
“And I have been looking for a man for you like forever?! You see this kain one and keep quiet?”
“He has a girlfriend. His son said that much. And I think I’ve met her.”
“You’ve met his son already?” Taiwo’s eyebrows climbed dramatically, her chair turning towards her friend.
Misan sighed. “Long story.”
“You’re not going back to the shop, are you?”
Her friend shook her head from side to side. On her return from the market where she stocked up on supplies for the shop, she had popped into Taiwo’s cosy home office set up at the boys’ quarters.
Taiwo folded her arms across her bosom. “Oya, start talking…”
Misan spent the next five minutes or so telling her friend about the thing (she had no other name for it) brewing between Luther and her.
“Girlfriend or not, I think something’s there.” Taiwo concluded. “He wouldn’t say what he did for the sake of it. There’s more to that statement.”
“I don’t know.”
“What did she look like? The girlfriend?”
“Slay queen. Younger. Much younger than us.”
“Well, you need to find out the next time you see him.”
“Ask and you shall receive…”
“It’s not that simple. What if he meant something else? Inevitable that we’ll meet? Be friends? Bump into each other?” She stopped talking suddenly.
“He’s also Toju’s friend’s father.”
“Aaah, this is getting even more interesting. And you say you don’t know him well?”
“I just found that out too!”
“The devil you know…”
“Awkward is more like it.”
“At least one of the children will be comfortable with him.”
“Nothing is happening, Taiwo.”
“And we’re googling the man? Talking about him like this?” Her friend slanted her a sly look. “Oh, something’s definitely happening inside both of you before it becomes apparent to the rest of us.” She laughed at her silly joke.
“It gets weirder.” Misan ignored her antics. “Remember I said Mofe kept insisting that he looked familiar?”
Her friend nodded. “Uh hu?”
“Remember years ago when my father-in-law had his heart condition? And Gbugbemi and Mofe had to fly him abroad for an open-heart surgery?”
The other woman nodded again. “Yes, yes.”
“Guess who was the lead surgeon?”
“Yes! As soon as I told Mofe his full names, he screamed and told me the surgery story. He said Luther Monn was on a fast track for high ground. At the top of his game as a surgeon, making waves with successful surgeries.” Misan informed her friend. “By the time their father referred one of his friends to him, another hospital had snapped him up.”
“Did he know all these before saying what he did?”
“Then, I have to agree with the good doctor. You’re inevitable.” And she began to laugh again.
“Stupid, stupid idea.” Misan said under her breath as she heaved herself into the counter in one clumsy, shaky move, hooking her good foot inside of it to gain balance before landing on the surface.
She clambered on and stretched out on it, breathing heavily.
Sunday, and she thought it’d be a good day to resume her walking routine, get back into her exercise groove.
Big mistake. 10% of the unhealed ankle rebelled at her decision. By the time she reached Savoury Strips, she was practically dragging the leg, silently begging it to behave until she was safely inside.
Adamu, the security guard of the compound, skipped to her rescue, taking the key from her and rapidly freeing protectors from doors, simultaneously saying: “Sorry, madam.”
Since the shop opened, it provided daily stir-fry for him. His gratitude was immense, presenting himself for odd jobs around the shop, failing to realise that whether he offered or not, his portion was guaranteed every time. Feeding him meant his eyes never left the shop during closed hours; he owed her that much.
She blew out a breath of relief, gingerly stretching her affected limb in front of her while flexing the other. Placing her palms across her stomach, she closed her eyes.
Someone was watching her.
Startled out of the light snooze she did not recall falling into, her eyes flew open.
One hand laid at her head, the other by her ankle; both hands on the counter spanning the length of her figure. Luther loomed above her. Serious lips set in an indecipherable line; eyes unwavering. “You looked too peaceful to disturb.” His familiar modulated tone had returned a hundred percent. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Oh, I must have slept off.” Slowly, she rose and steered into an erect position, hoping he’d edge away. By the time her legs were swinging from the counter, they were inches apart.
He remained unmoving.
A whiff of musk met her shift in posture; she almost didn’t succeed in stalling an involuntary breath intake. That’s when she noticed he was dry though clad in his usual jogging gear. No telltale signs of sweat marking the usual spots. Could be he was yet to start or had other thoughts in mind.
“In all my years of exercise,” he said as if she hadn’t spoken a word, “I’ve stuck to the other side of the roundabout. Not once have I gone out of that route. Then the day I stray, you bump into me.
“Before you the route took its toll and I couldn’t wait to finish it. To take a breath. Now I can’t wait to see you, to take that breath with you. Your face, your smile is like an early morning reward for all that huffing and puffing. A beautiful start to all my days.”
Misan felt heat rise to her face, certain he could feel it too since he was disturbingly close. She lowered her eyelids.
“You figured out my sweet tooth tendency, yet I’ve eaten more chicken stir-fry in the last few weeks than in my entire life. “ He wasn’t done talking. “Now, I want to spend more time with you, away from here and definitely not on the sidewalk.” His lips twitched faintly. “Preferably around a table with a meal between us. I want you, Misan, and all there is of you.” A hand flashed past her face towards her hair, to caress it. “In the operating room, I always tell conscious patients what I’m about to do so as not to alarm them.” He leaned even closer. “This is your warning.”
Misan’s breath jammed in her throat. “Luther, I…” His bluntness caught her off-guard and quickened her pulse at the same time.
“What do you want, Misan?” His warm breath whispered into her ear.
She drew away suddenly, finding just enough strength to detach from the enthralling pull of the moment and his voice, and finally finding some of hers. “You…you…you’re unavailable. A girlfriend. You have a girlfriend, Luther.”
He stiffened slightly; her words jarring him out of the mood instantly. Unsmiling lips came back into view with questioning grey eyes. “What gave you that impression?”
“AJ didn’t sound enthusiastic about her. And I think I met her briefly at my opening.”
For few seconds a frown deepened the lines on his forehead. “Lola’s not my girlfriend. She’s a colleague and has refused to see the red flags. So, she’s trying to smother AJ to change my mind,” he said, “she’s too young and wants children. I don’t see myself chasing after toddler children in my 50s. I’m moving towards grandfather circles. I have told her I’d rather we keep our relationship strictly professional as it was meant to be.” He shook her head. “But she keeps acting like we’re a couple.”
“So why do you let her hang around?” Misan prayed the relief coursing through her body didn’t reflect in her voice or expression.
“As long as there’s no one else in the picture, she’s unlikely to go away.” Those grey eyes twinkled in what looked like mischief. “I can’t wait to flaunt you.”
“You’re pretty confident I’m not married.” She teased as he inched closer again.
One corner of his lips lifted. “Someone as lovely as you? I reckoned you were at first. But didn’t see a ring afterwards. Then found it odd you called Mofe by his name. No oga before it. I wondered about the relationship between you two but my instincts are hardly wrong. They kept leading me back to you. There had to be an explanation. AJ’s presence sealed it for me. I didn’t need any other conviction. But I welcomed new insights about Toju’s mum when he returned home.” His face was back to its original position. “I’m a man of science, I don’t believe in coincidences but the ones existing between us are too many, just too many to ignore. So, what do you want, Misan?” He repeated in a quiet tone. “Or did I read you wron-?”
Involuntarily she moved a hair’s breadth forward, meeting him halfway. It was all the answer he needed as he closed the space between them, merging their lips together.
He tasted like flan, the traditional Spanish kind. Creamy. Silky smooth. Impressively rich. Syrupy sweet with a hint of burnt sugar the way she liked it. An elegant dessert she wanted to take her time to indulge in.
When his hands slid down her back to meld their bodies together, she knew the feeling was mutual.