Previous episode: Too much of a good thing
“We met at the end of my internship,” he said, “she just started hers and wanted to be an anesthesiologist.”
A corner of the restaurant hosted their first rendezvous together, where the chairs curved softly into cozy couches for two or more; Luther sat right beside her, their shoulders rubbing against each other’s every now and again.
Misan placed a hand on his jacketed arm, staring up at him. “You don’t have to do this,” she said, ”it’s enough to know that you’re a widower.”
He covered her hand with a large palm, playing gently with her fingers. “I want to, and I think it’s only fair. I heard the story about your late husband.”
She arched her brows and his grip tightened a little.
“Apparently, my son, Daniel, thinks you’re hot.”
Wide-eyed expression this time.
A corner of his lips lifted. “His words not mine but I agree wholeheartedly with him. So he was only too willing to supply me with information when I asked about Toju’s mum.”
“Didn’t he want to know why?”
He shrugged. “Not really. I mean, his brother works with you, so he probably just thought I wanted to know more about his employer. But AJ’s bound to shoot his mouth soon. He’s aware of tonight.”
“You have a special relationship, AJ & you.”
He nodded. “He’s Estelle’s replica and the youngest. I was most concerned about him when we lost her. He was her buttercup, her baby. I didn’t want him to feel her absence, so I tried to fill up that vacuum as best I could.”
“You know you’re his hero? He talks about you all the time.”
“I wish I could say the same for Eric.”
“After Estelle passed, I shut down, Misan, and operated on autopilot around everyone except AJ. He was the only one I saw. I couldn’t believe she was gone. My support system. My rock. My anesthesiologist. We had beaten the cancer two years prior with chemotherapy, radiation, single mastectomy, the works. Gone through the gamut of hair loss, nausea, long lousy days. We were celebrating remission. One routine follow-up check and it was back. More aggressive than ever. Metastasized. No hope.
“My heart was rapidly disintegrating, and I could do nothing about it. I mended other peoples’, yet I couldn’t fix mine. So I focused on work and AJ. My sister and mother-in-law ran after Eric and Daniel. They commiserated with me and berated me equally to have time for my other sons.
“Daniel, for some reason, understood my situation. Not Eric though. He kept saying I wasn’t the only one who had lost someone. He’d lost his mum too.” Luther blew out a breath, grabbed a glass of water with his free hand and gulped from it.
Misan watched him and entwined their fingers. “Nothing prepares you for the loss of a spouse. It doesn’t matter if you have time to put all your ducks in a row or some sort of training to cushion the effect. The result is the same all around: devastating.” She commented in a quiet tone. “But things improved between Eric and you?”
He placed the glass in front of him, giving it a little shove. “Jogging along somewhat right now but it took a while to get here. I still feel like I’m walking on hot coals with him. Never mind that he’s attempting to wear my shoes.”
“Really? He’s a doctor too?”
“Just began his internship and headed to the cardiology department.”
She let out a winsome smile. “Aww, see? It’s not all bad news then. You did do something right.”
“Or he wants to prove that he can be a better father and doctor, yes?”
She chuckled. “Is he married?”
“Daniel suspects he just met someone and keeping her under wraps for now. All I wanted to know was: is she Nigerian?”
Misan’s brows shot up. “Of all the questions to – “
“Estelle was French. A white French woman. Only child. How do you think I honed my sweet tooth? Why do you think I jog?”
“How does this relate to Eric?”
“If Estelle were still alive, my boys would never have known their maternal grandparents.”
A dry smile appeared along the lips. “I was everything they didn’t want for their princess – black, Nigerian/African, doctor. I was going to take her away, taint her, bear dark-coloured children. I ticked all the wrong boxes. They didn’t support our union.”
“What changed it? Estelle’s illness?”
He nodded again. “The second time around when it became obvious she hadn’t long to live.”
She rubbed a hand against his arm. “At least something good came out of a traumatic situation.”
“Yeah, she got to unite all of us before the end. Turns out her parents took to the boys too, like fish to water – “
A waiter intruded into their space bearing a dish of dessert – a rectangle of chocolate dusting, cream and finger-shaped cookies; the telltale signs of Tiramisu.
Luther peered at it and was already shaking his head as the silverware landed gently between them. “This won’t be enough.” The waiter hesitated wordlessly.
Misan eyed him. “Luther?”
“Hmm?” Grey eyes glanced at her, then swung back to the waiter. “Bring us another, please.”
“Hey, we can share this.” She protested, softly.
“My dear,” he began, “there are certain things I can compromise on. My dessert is not one of them.” He paused. “And you.” He picked up a spoon, diving into cream and chocolate, emerging with a tempting mix of both. “Why are you still here?” The spoon hovered midair and his gaze held the waiter’s. “Yes, we want another one. Thank you.”
Bobbing acknowledgement, the waiter disappeared.
Amused, Misan was shaking her head and reaching for her half-filled glass of wine when a movement stopped her. She turned to see Luther waiting with the loaded spoon. “Is that for me? I thought – ”
“Do you mind if I feed you while I wait for mine?”
Those eyes were steady on her face, wielding their power on her. She found herself helpless to refuse. She leaned forward and opened her mouth, unable to tear her gaze away from his.
“This is me…us…AJ & I.” He cruised to a stop in front of one of the many identical semi-detached bungalows with #5 painted on it.
The estate was quiet and dimly lit containing, at most, 15 buildings; all semi-detached, all similar in size and structure and colour with front lawns, devoid of individual fences or gates, instead three metres-high hedges bordered each home, creating a picturesque effect perfect for a postcard or travel brochure.
The dark blue van AJ drove around stood on the ramp leading to the garage, and faint lights and sounds filtered through the closed curtains of #5. “Would you like to come in? See how AJ & I live? What we’ve made of the food you gave us?” He left the motor running, though still parked in front of the house.
She met his eyes in the darkened interior of his car. “Maybe some other time. Let’s not disturb him tonight. Now that I know where you live, I’d like to go home.”
Hours earlier when Luther picked her up from her house, she’d met him at the gates, just inside the compound where her security thought it wise to detain him, having never met or seen this tall, well-dressed stranger before that day.
Any apologies springing forth from her on account of this shabby treatment died almost immediately with Luther’s quiet compliment – visually and verbally:
“You look very…very lovely.” He stood with his navy-blue jacket parted and hands on his waist, transfixed by the vision in a cream cocktail dress sauntering towards him.
A rush of emotions zipped through her. Misan had felt good after putting her ensemble together indoors; she felt even better, a little flustered too, at his words which took her completely by surprise, silencing her flurry of speech as well.
It was pitch dark when he navigated his way back to her residence, slowing down as her gates came into view.
She gestured to indicate otherwise. “No, keep going. He’d let you drive inside; he has seen us together. He knows who you are,” she said. “I’d like you to come in. Stay a little while if it’s all right with you?” She was staring at him now.
He locked eyes with hers briefly as metal gates clanged and began to widen, full headlights blasting on the wily figure of the security man. “I’d like that,” he answered. “I’d like that very much.” Then facing forward, he guided the car smoothly into the compound.”
At the front door, it was déjà vu all over again; she fumbling with her keys, he wordlessly retrieving them from her, opening the door and trailing behind her.
For the first time in years, Misan wanted to elongate a very first date. She felt comfortable in her house with a man who wasn’t Gbugbemi or family or a friend.
For the first time ever, she was acknowledging that, indeed, another phase of her life was unfolding. First the shop, now this, and she delighted in the direction it headed.
Like Savory Strips, she’d take it one day at a time this new path of hers but first…she reached up for Luther.
Somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean, a train hurtled down metal tracks, rattling loudly as it sped through the night.
Inside the sparsely filled cabin, a young couple huddled close together; the girl sprawled on the young man’s chest, her hair of box braids nestling beneath his chin. They both chuckled into her mobile phone screen held up high in front them.
A hospital visit with a friend of hers had made their paths cross three weeks ago; this was their fourth date together. They were on their way to the young man’s home, a 15-minute ride from her university on the Piccadilly Line from the Russell Square train station.
Ding! A new message popped up, displaying a part of its contents and disrupting their view fleetingly.
“Ah yes.” Jemine spoke, lightly tapping the message. “Toju said he’d send me the photo of my mum’s date. He says he knows the man very well. I can’t believe she’s finally going out after all these years! Do you know she hasn’t dated like that since my dad?”
One corner of his lips lifted. “By choice?” Eric asked, tightening his arm around her waist as he adjusted his position. A three-day old beard and a crew cut added to his ruggedly handsome looks and long, lanky limbs.
“Maybe. I’m not sure. She doesn’t talk about it. “
A portrait size of Luther’s figure filled her screen; he was dressed in the dinner outfit – navy blue jacket, white shirt, no tie.
Behind her, Eric tensed.
Jemine’s eyes expanded slowly as she stared at grey-flecked eyes and unsmiling mouth, features reminiscent of the man right by her side.
“That’s my father!” Eric confirmed tonelessly.