Chapter 2: Slices of Vanilla Cake

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Previous episode, A tall drink of water here

“You walk on Sun-?” The voice came from nowhere, a little breathless, above her.

Misan had been in the process of stepping aside at the sound of jogging. Her contact with a torso was mild this time. Shoulders grazing sides, the feel of toned muscles momentary but memorable. “Oh.” She gasped. “Sorry.” She met grey flecked eyes gazing down.

One of his palms wrapped an elbow of hers. Again, quick reflexes.

An edge of the unsmiling lips lifted slightly. A hint of a smile. “We have to stop bumping into each other like this.” He let go. “My apologies. My fault. I should have kept to my left. You were naturally going to move to the right when you heard me coming.”

She nodded, her eyes riveted on him. Sweat dripped down his bald head and trailed his closely shaved beard, from sideburns to jaws. Strands of grey hairs intermingled with black ones and matched his eyes. The sweat pooled around his neck and glistened on exposed sinewy upper arms sticking out of yet another sleeveless T.

Misan drew a breath. She hardly found perspiring men attractive but this one made it look so good. Even better than the first time around. What was happening to her? He was taken, for goodness sake?! “I didn’t know it was you. I just wanted to get out of the way.”

“My fault.” He repeated. A handkerchief appeared and he mopped his face, shifting to the right side to fall in step with her. “So tell me, is walking on Sundays part of your routine too?” He glanced at her.

She felt his gaze but didn’t return it. Staring straight ahead at nothing or down the rugged sidewalk presented easier options than the lure of his eyes. “I start on Sundays.” She responded.

“No church?” He asked, long strides adjusting to her smaller ones.

Distracting herself with that insignificant act brought on some amusement. “In the evening.”

Silence for a beat. Or two.

“You’re Catholic.” More of a statement than an inquiry.

She nodded.

“I thought you people did early morning masses and got on with your day?”

“I used to. A long time ago.” She admitted. “Then my life changed and…” She clammed up abruptly.

He threw a glance her way again and for a while, they strolled in the patchy silence of the morning. Then, “Luther.” He broke it as an intersection loomed.

“Uh?” Now she met his gaze.

“That’s my name.” He elaborated. “Luther. Pleased to meet you.”

Misan looked away but not before a knowing smile chased across her lips. “For a while, I questioned my faith.” She picked up the thread from her earlier response. “I was furious with God. With the world too.” She paused reflectively. “Then I remembered; ‘There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful – “

“– who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able… 1 Cor. 10:13.” He took over the verse but didn’t complete it.

She raised her brows. “Look who’s sounding like a church person! Why are you not there now?”

“I believe in God. Not church.” Came the response. “And He is everywhere. I don’t need to go to a building to find Him.” Brief hesitation. “How far do you walk? The roundabout?”

The landmark couldn’t have been more than a stone throw away.

“This is my stop.” A huge tree at the intersection provided shades of protection from the sun rays starting to peek out of the clouds.

“Then I believe I’ll see you around.” He began jogging on the spot. “Aunty…Misan.”

Her eyes widened.

“A teenager told me yesterday.” And with that he crossed the road, trotting off.
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“We can arrange a personal trainer if you want.” The gym manager said as they all stepped into the equipment room. “Or you can do your work out on your own.”

Gbugbemi panted beneath iron weights when she laid eyes on him for the first time.

Misan had accompanied Taiwo and her elder sister, Ranti, to the gym that day. Ranti was getting married in two months and, keen on looking her best for the big day, decided an exercise regime and diet would be the way to go. Taiwo too for her maid of honour role but more so because she had her sights on the best man.

Misan wrinkled her nose in barely concealed disgust as they trooped further in. The smell of body fluids from half-dressed forms was a touch nauseating and made her slightly arrogant as well.

Blessed with naturally slim features, she ate as she pleased. At 21, she’d been a size zero all her life, and looked like she’d remain that way. Not her friend though who was stout and prone to weight gain. Ditto Ranti; it seemed to run in the family.

They went by Gbugbemi and, for a moment, she locked eyes with him. He reminded her of a favourite guilty pleasure. Doughnuts. Warm, sugared, sweet, sink-your-teeth-in doughnuts.

Laugh line wrinkles around his eyes were visible beneath the sheen of sweat on his approachable and friendly features. She looked away before he got the chance to see her blush.

His eyes bored into her all the way to the exit; she felt the imaginary holes crating in her back. Once at the door, she sneaked a peek.

He sat upright now. Panting less. Eyes fixed on her.

Doughnut. Soft, cream doughnut.

He smiled. Slowly.

Misan smiled back. Shyly.
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“Can I race you to your stop?” Running in place for a while, then once around her.

Her heart skipped gently, silently expressing what her mouth wouldn’t out loud; she was pleased to see him. She had doubted she would that morning.

With the shop’s early business hours to attract fans of fitness and healthy eating, she tweaked her daily routine during the week.

Walking began 15 minutes earlier to terminate at the doors of Savoury Strips as they opened to the public. Mrs. Vicky would be there waiting for her. “How slow can you jog?” She wanted to know.

Those serious lips curved completely into a grin. “How fast can you stroll?”

It was a good way to start the day. With laughter. Their first together. Misan noted his eyes on her.

“You’re earlier than usual, yes?” He spoke first.

He’d noticed. She nodded. “I’m opening up soon.”

“Ah…yes.” He remembered. “That changes things. So, you’re ready for your customers?”

She shrugged. “As ready as can be.”

“Have a good one then.” He bade her at the intersection. “I’ll see you later…Misan.”

“Bye.“ Rooted to a spot under the tree, she watched him cross the street and increase his speed, heading towards the round landmark.

Fluid, graceful movements. Steady, sure pace. Erect toned figure. His body looked like it belonged to a 40-year-old, but his face – the lines and age – alleged otherwise. Undoubtedly, he was at least a decade older or more.

Or rather, she wished him to be. An older man. Her kind of man.

And this man was someone else’s, she reminded herself wistfully.

Turning around to retrace her steps, she missed the exact moment Luther slowed down briefly to look back.
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“Five more orders, ma.” Mrs. Vicky poked her head through the connecting door.

Misan snapped shut the last of eight transparent containers she just put together, arranged vertically on a work station.

She looked up. “What flavour?”

“Chicken.”

“On the ‘phone?” That would buy her time.

The other woman shook her head. “Here. In the shop.”

Since opening at 7.45am, they had been busy to a moderately high degree. The orders arriving through ‘phone calls and walk-ins were evenly distributed; the bulk of walk-ins streaming in from the gym next door. Some potential customers had also strayed inside to inquire about the shop and its services.

Mrs. Vicky began the first shift in the kitchenette while Misan manned the counter – taking ‘phone calls, handing out completed orders and tackling random, drop-in inquiries until she took over at 10.45am.

Two hiccups marred the shift; an order delay and a mix up in another. Teething problems.

Once they rotated their positions, Misan attempted to check the mistakes. For every order received, she made an additional one in the opposite flavour. Then in front of Mrs. Vicky lay a plain sheet of paper on the counter; it was marked with fish & chicken at the very top. In the event that the orders became overwhelming, all she needed to do was write a number or several underneath the relevant flavour.

Her solutions worked seamlessly until that moment. Of the eight containers, five were taken. She was yet to match each with an extra; she’d just been about to do that when Mrs. Vicky peered in.

Nevertheless, three out of five cut the wait time in half. “10 minutes, Mama V.” Misan said, slapping fish or chicken stickers on the containers, stacking them and handing them over.

Her shift ended in the next couple of minutes as she concluded the last two orders. She tagged and bagged all five containers; then untied her apron and uncovered her hair, errant strands in a bun flying free.

Mrs. Vicky was handing over a printed receipt and a card to the lone customer when Misan stepped into the main room.

The customer looked up, a corner of solemn lips rising in acknowledgement. “Hey. How’s your day coming?”

She didn’t do a good job hiding her surprise. Her hands stopped briefly on the way to the counter. So, this was what he meant in the morning: I’ll see you later. She’d wondered about the statement. Intentional or a way to say goodbye? No need to ponder anymore. Her answer stood before her in the flesh, draped in a severe, black business suit, moving from slightly approachable jogger persona in the morning to formidable individual striding towards her, grey flecked eyes fixed on her by the edge of the counter.

“Jogging along nicely.” She responded tongue-in-cheek, more for her state of mind. “Thanks.”

“Not bad for a first day?” He stood opposite now, the counter the only thing separating them.

She shook her head.

“Is that mine?”

She nodded, giving the bag a little shove. “I pegged you for a sweet tooth.” She ventured.

Their fingers brushed lightly as he relieved the bag from her grasp.

“You figured right.” He agreed. “But you know what they say; it’s the thought behind a gift that counts, not the gift itself.”

Misan’s eyebrow wrinkled, uncertain if she followed his trend of thoughts.

“It’s not the stir fry that matte – “ The shrill sound of ringing sliced through his words. “One moment, please.” And turned to unhook the device from a pouch strapped at his waist. Briefly, he frowned at the screen, then swung his gaze back to her. “It’s the person behind it.” And a finger tapped the screen. “I’m close by.” He spoke into it, still holding her gaze, gave a small nod and turned away. “Give me five minutes. I promise I won’t – “ He pushed through the exit.

8Misan was still contemplating his statement when the shop’s mobile jangled into her thoughts.

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