Chapter 2: Left to proof

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“You’re making me look bad in front of the men in my life.” Taiwo’s voice dripped with artificial rebuke in Misan’s eardrums. “Why didn’t you tell me – ?”

“Girl, when I talked to you yesterday, all I heard was tiredness.” Her friend strolled away from the shop, leaving the noise of Mrs. Vicky opening protectors, and across the parking space, towards the sidewalk. “I had extra stir-fry.  Why wouldn’t I give them to some of my favourite men?”  She turned right, squinting for the telling figure of Luther among the joggers in her view. 

“Now Rolayo’s asking why I can’t cook like Aunty Misan.” Taiwo quipped. “I told him I would if I was being paid for it like Aunty Misan.” 

The other woman laughed, moving unconsciously towards the edge of the sidewalk to make way for a jogger who wasn’t Luther, trotting comfortably past her. 

“Complaints aside. Thank you.” Her friend continued over the ‘phone. “You’re my heroine. Lekan cleaned out two packs and was asking for more. So, I want to order 10 and stuff them in the fridge. I’ll pick them up before 3pm.” 

“Both flavours?”  Misan looked leftwards. There…there he was. 

“Yes, please. Send me the account details. Thank you again.” 

“You’re welcome. See you later.” 

She did three things at once; break off the connection, try stalling the smile taking over her face as she held his gaze and took a step back, forgetting she reached the edge moments ago. 

Her right foot glided into thin air. 

The second her position registered, she twisted the other foot in alarm. In reflex. A frantic attempt to regain balance. Too late. That single movement compounded the situation. She leaned sideways and fell downwards, her mobile ‘phone tumbling to the sidewalk before her. Flailing hands to provide additional support didn’t prevent her from landing in a heap on her left leg. 

Pain shot through her ankle. “Aaaargh!” She reached involuntarily towards it. No time to feel mortified at her public fall.  

Luther was the first by her side. His quick reflexes absent when she needed them most. Mrs. Vicky was next, concern etched on her face, hands on her bosom in shock. 

“Don’t move!” Luther’s modulated voice was an urgent command, his face harboured an unreadable expression. 

Moist hands stretched to aching ankles but didn’t check the extent of damage like she thought they would. Instead, they slid beneath the tangle of her crooked, throbbing legs, and the next moment lifted her entire form into the air, cradled close to his torso. “Get the door, please!” He addressed Mrs. Vicky, who was straightening from scooping up Misan’s abandoned ‘phone. 

Inside the shop, after settling her gently onto a chair and propping both legs on another, Luther squatted, pushed back her tracksuit bottoms and gave her ankle a tentative touch. 

Misan winced, her face contorted in pain. “Oh.” 

He slid a palm underneath a heel, the other wrapped around its ankle. The area felt tender to the touch; it was swelling. 

She bit her lower lip to contain the sharp sliver of agony that rippled; her brown eyes huge and watering slightly. 

“You’ve sprained it.” His voice was matter of fact, looking at her. “It’s not fractured like I feared.”

“But it hu…hurts.” 

He nodded. “You’ve torn or stretched some ligaments. The pain will worsen before it subsides.  Same with the swelling and tenderness. You need painkillers and propping the leg up.” 

While his certainty of her circumstance made her wonder, his proximity allowed her mind to wander as well. She could count the fine lines waving on his forehead and those bordering those serious lips, adding character to his fair skin. For some insane moment, even in her pain, she resisted the urge to reach out and smoothen them with her fingers. 

“You need to go home and put it up.” He continued, jolting her unruly thoughts back to aching reality. “Is there anyone you can call? Your husband, maybe?” He straightened suddenly and stepped back. 

“But I can’t…can’t leave Mama V here…alone.” She protested mildly. “Ouuuuuhhhh.” Another piercing form of discomfort volleyed up her lower leg. 

“You will be a hindrance more than a help here, Misan.” His hands found and stayed on his waist; his tone firm, bordering on authoritative. He sounded like a different person. “You need to take care of yourself. Call someone.” He shifted his gaze to Mrs. Vicky. 

Misan nodded in her direction too. “Mofe.” She said. “Please call Mofe.” 

Luther began talking again. “For the next few days, take it easy. Keep the leg elevated. Don’t put any weight on it.  Get plenty of rest. Take painkillers.” He rattled out instructions. 

“How many da – ?” She tried to adjust her posture. Terrible idea. “Oh, lord!” Another bout of pain put paid to her plans. 

“See why? You will be sore and stiff tomorrow. “ 

“How many…days?” She persisted, sounding more defeated now than in distress. 

“At least five or mo -.” 

Mrs. Vicky edged close, holding out Misan’s phone. “Excuse, madam?” She uttered. 

Eyimofe’s voice held a soupcon of apprehension. “Misan, are you all right?” 

“I twisted my…ankle.” She bit out. “Can you come…take me…back home? At the..shop.” The ankle was throbbing like a drum of war now; she twisted her face momentarily. “If it is…no trouble.”

Eyimofe must have been on the verge of leaving for the office for he arrived shortly after. Without his suit jacket, he looked completely dressed for the business day ahead. 

His eyes cast several glances at Luther, even after a hasty introduction by Misan, as he squatted down beside her. “Can you walk?” 

“I’d advise she doesn’t.” Luther answered from his perch at the counter. 

“Not even to the door if I bring the car closer to it?” The other man asked, looking up at Luther. 

He nodded in approval. “Sounds like a splendid plan. 

“Does she need to go to the hospital?” Eyimofe probed further, straightening up. 

Luther shook his head. “No. Put a loose bandage around the ankle. Painkillers to ease the ache. And….” He trained his gaze on Misan. “Rest the leg.” 

Wedged between both men, she half-limped and was half suspended into Eyimofe’s car, stretched out on the backseat. 

As her brother-in-law backed onto the road, he threw Luther a glance, nodding in gratitude. “God, he looks familiar!” He said. “Where have I met him before?” He mused aloud. “What did you say his name was again?” 

Misan placed her head on the headrest and shut her eyes. “Luther.” She said in a loud whisper, savouring the feel of the name on her lips for the first time. 

The object of their discussion watched as the car gradually faded into the distance. 

Flexing his arms, he glanced down at them, reliving the moments they bore Misan into the shop, the sensation of her warmth and weight almost palpable as though she still laid there. Her petite figure fitting into the crook of his arms effortlessly, hair falling over his elbow. In distress, her face had been vulnerable, appealing – huge brown eyes fighting hard to stay calm, drawing him in; rosebud lips trembling and being chewed nervously simultaneously, showing conflicting, delectable emotions.

He wanted her back in his arms again; she felt like she belonged there. 

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“Ah don’t know you, sah.” Mrs. Vicky responded as he’d expected. “Ah can’t give you her number.” 

“But she’s getting better?” He asked. “Resting the leg? And her body?” 

The idea to stop by the shop the next morning, hoping to get Misan’s contact details, had been a long shot. He’d known it but tried it, anyway. 

The presence of a fresh-faced young lady behind the counter surprised him long enough to almost forget the reason he was there. Until she bestowed him a sweet smile and asked how she could help him. Then he asked for Mrs. Vicky.

Stationed at the door leading into the kitchenette, she nodded. “Yes, sah.” 

“Greet her for me.”  

“Okay sah.” 

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“Goo’ mornin’ sah.” Mrs. Vicky’s calm face spread into a slight smile as he bounded in, breathing hard. She gently pushed a bag on the counter towards him; the fresh-faced youth was nowhere in sight.  “This is for you. From my madam.”  She had obviously been awaiting his arrival, certain he’d show up again the following morning. 

He nodded and peered into the bag. Two packs. Different contents. He cracked open the first one — the sweet smell of pancakes, stacked in their round, fluffy goodness, floated past his nostrils.  A corner of his mouth lifted.  She’d remembered. The other was brimming with chicken stir-fry. He looked up.  “How is she?”

“Fine, sah.” 

He grabbed the bag. “Tell her thank you.”

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“No, we don’t deliver.” This had to be the umpteenth time she repeated that statement today. “No, not even in the Lekki area.” She controlled the urge to snap out the response.

Her ankle throbbed faintly enough to affect her mood one week later, and it still couldn’t bear all of her weight for an hour. She took several breaks and standing for less behind the counter, having to relieve increasing stiffness. 

Five days into resuming at the shop to Eyimofe, Lara & Taiwo’s protests, she was yet to see any trace of the man who had crowded her thoughts during her weeklong, house arrest. If there was one thing her confinement achieved, it was time enough to dwell on her life and the unexpected trajectory it seemed to go. 

After Gbugbemi, few men had caught her attention. Okay, maybe a handful. Truth be told, one or two in the last decade. Two dates with either of them revealed her lack of interest in either the process or the individuals or both. Perhaps it had to do with little thought about her personal life and laser-focus on the children and work. Or the fact that Eyimofe had asked if she’d considered remarrying at the time. 

Now with Luther, she hesitated to attribute it to Toju, Taiwo or Eyimofe’s hints about her present circumstance sans the children aka a lonely life. 

Somehow, he’d come running into her life. Literally. Running around her mind too. And making her heart race at the mere sight of him. Maybe her earlier stabs at romantic relationships turned sour due to timing; she wasn’t ready. Just trying to prove nothing to her brother-in-law and Taiwo. 

What was different now? The echo in her house? Why did Luther matter and occupy her thoughts? She couldn’t remember looking for love; she’d been looking for a space for her business! Was her heart nudging her in a direction her head couldn’t phantom – it was time to move on from the ghost of Gbugbemi? With a man who was unavailable? Of all the men she could bump into?! Including Eyimofe’s relocating buddy? Surely her heart would not wreak havoc on an existing relationship. 

But when she recalled how she felt in his arms, the moment they shared at such proximity, for a bit she conveniently forgot he was someone else’s and pined for him. 

No such luck. 

One, two, three, four, five, six days on, she was at the shop taking calls during Yemi, the new girl’s, break and helping as much as the ankle allowed. Sometimes lounging at a corner of the shop, her foot propped up on a chair.  

Still no Luther. 

She knew not how to contact him and wondered why he’d suddenly disappeared, after checking in on her two days in a row. 

Then on the way back home one afternoon, Mrs. Vicky mentioned her tall friend, the one who helped during the accident, had asked for her number. 

It took every ounce of strength in Misan not to glare at her housekeeper. Immediately after, she relented. Mrs. Vicky had done the right thing. Neither of them knew Luther. Besides his first name and jogging routine, he was an imposing stranger, that tall friend of hers. 

Scratchy information nonetheless, she still wanted to see him. 

The combination of her thoughts and partially healed ankle did little good for her mood or the customer at the other end who was beginning to grate on her nerves. “No, but we’re working on it.” She assured in an even tone. “Would you like to order now?” She listened for a few moments. “They’d be ready in half an hour. Thank you!” She broke the connection and stared at the teenage boy who’d been patiently standing in front of her while the conversation lasted. 

“Good afternoon ma.” Deep tones, yet to break, surprised her fleetingly. “I can deliver for you.” 

Misan’s brows lifted. “Excuse me? Do you want to place an order or what?” 

“Sorry. I heard your conversation.” He continued. “I need a job. I can do your deliveries.” 

Her gaze swept over him. He couldn’t be more than 14 years. He didn’t look like he needed a job either. Not in those clothes. And his hair? A curly mass on his apparent mulatto face. “I don’t deliver my product.” 

Mrs. Vicky joined them and placed two bags of stir-fry on the counter. Misan turned to her. “Mama V, three chicken and two fish flavours.” 

“Yes, ma.” And the other woman disappeared into the kitchenette. 

“I have a car.” The youngster spoke again, pointing through the glass pane at a navy-blue minivan parked outside.

Misan gave the vehicle a cursory glance. “I can’t pay you.” 

He shrugged. “An internship for the next few months.” 

“You’re too young!” 

“I’m 16.” The boy was relentless. His soft, light-skinned features at odds with his attitude and words. 

“Do you want to order or not?” 

“You’re Toju’s mum.” 

Few things stopped Misan in her tracks; her offspring were smack at the top of that list. Her eyes narrowed. She thought she recognised all, well almost all, her children’s friends. At the least, the regulars who trooped endlessly in and out of the house before schools re-opened last year. One mulatto stood out among her son’s; it certainly wasn’t this youngster before her. Daniel seemed older and well-built than this lanky teen. “Do I know you, young man?” She leaned forward on the counter, shifting her weight from one leg to another; she’d have to sit down soon. 

“Toju’s my brother’s friend.” 

“Daniel?” 

He nodded.

“Where is Daniel now?” 

“At school.”

“And you?” 

“In September.” 

“Which means I’d be looking for another delivery boy a few months down the line?” 

He was silent; he scratched his curls. 

“Do your parents know you’re job hunting?” 

“Not yet. I’m running an errand for my dad.” 

“What’s your name?” 

“AJ…Arthur.” 

“I need to speak to your parents.” 

“Am I hired then?” 

“Not so fast. Your parents first.”

“You can talk to my dad.”  He pulled out a mobile ‘phone from the back pocket of his blue stretch jeans.

“I prefer your mum.” 

“I don’t have a mum. Just my dad…and his girlfriend.” The last part of the sentence murmured out. 

Misan was silent, weighing his words. 

“His number.” He levelled the screen with her line of vision, displaying the word Dad and a number right beneath it.

She dragged herself towards the end of the counter, exited it and collapsed on the nearest chair as she sighted Yemi returning from her break. She flexed her stiff leg carefully and beckoned on AJ to draw closer. “What’s his name?” 

“Monn. Dr. Monn.” 

“Can I call him now?” 

AJ nodded. “He’s at home. Healing from a car accident.” 

She looked up with wide eyes. “What?”

He shook his head, smiling a little. “Only a stiff neck. No broken bones.” 

“Oh, okay.” She punched in the numbers on his screen. Yemi pushed her way into the shop. “Did you come here for a job or something else?” Misan’s finger hovered over the dial icon, looking up at the teenager whose gaze had strayed at Yemi’s entrance. 

He smiled sheepishly. “I want five packs of chicken flavour, please.” 

Misan motioned towards Yemi settling behind the counter and dialled. 

“Hello?” Raspy male voice, a trifle impatient. 

Misan put on her most cheerful tone. “Good afternoon, Dr. Monn. I’m calling about your son, AJ…Arthur.” 

“Yes?” 

“He wants to work with us as our delivery person. Are you aware? And would you give your consent if we do?” 

“I send the boy to get me food and he goes looking for a job?!” Irritation crept into the raspy voice. 

Even as she tried not to chuckle, Misan thought it sounded vaguely familiar.

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