Previous episode: Crème caramel
“Someone would like to meet you.” Luther seemed to move around as he spoke. “Someone who thinks you’re skilled in the way to a man’s heart. All this food…”
Misan giggled, nodding at Taiwo’s inquiring gaze towards yet another transparent, large-sized, rectangular container on the kitchen table.
For the last four days, on doctor’s orders, she’d been back on house arrest to enable the ankle heal completely.
After disengaging from their first shared, lengthy, intimate moment, Luther’s training kicked in. He morphed into an entirely different being, examining her ankle with clinical detachment. Then pronounced the judgment Misan feared: more propping up of the leg for the next three days. Four, if she intended to rock any kind of heels for their first proper date slated sometime soon. Knowing how much importance she placed on being substantially elevated, Misan resigned her fate to another confinement for the better part of the new week.
To her surprise, the period spent at home did not mirror the first bout she experienced immediately after the fall. Thoughts of Luther, when they occurred which was often, came with smiles and saccharine images.
They spoke constantly. He called to check up on her. Just to say hello. And asked once if he could drop by her house to visit.
Misan wanted that too, but hesitated in giving out the address. Perhaps she was still adjusting to this new man in her life? Or probably unready to allow him into her home? Possibly the day of their date would be an appropriate reason to do so?
While she debated within, she put her confinement to creative culinary use, albeit impulsively.
Luther Monn meant sugar – in taste and taste buds. Every sweet, sweet recipe she’d acquired over the years bubbled to the surface.
Fudgy chocolate brownies.
He received the treats via AJ, the new delivery boy for Savoury Strips, after Misan consulted extensively with Taiwo about the cost implications of the additional logistic. With relish, she informed a stunned Luther he’d be responsible for any misdemeanor AJ became embroiled in during his work and find his replacement come September.
Every dish she sent her inamorato’s way, she instructed he consumed them in moderation and countered them with savoury ones. She could only offer four — chicken stir-fry, fish stir fry, white soup, Yorkshire pudding.
A hearty laugh greeted her suggestion when he called to say thanks. “Luckily, you’re not around to make sure that happens, yes?” He cackled again. “AJ and I are going to splurge! With ice cream! Thank you again, Misan. Truly appreciate the gesture.”
The other recipient of Misan’s two-day, mountainous baking presently collected her share of the largesse as the new couple bantered on the phone.
“Who?” Misan asked.
“One of my neighbours.” Luther lived in a gated estate within the Lekki area. “He’s also– “
“Hi Luther. Bye Luther.” Taiwo intruded into the conversation as both women exited the kitchen together.
“Is someone there with you?” He asked.
“My friend, Taiwo. She’s just leaving.”
“Okay. Say hello back. Look forward to meeting her one day.”
“I’ll tell her.”
Taiwo paused by the front door and mouthed: “Tell me what?”
Misan made a face, reaching past her friend to free the locks. She flickered fingers at the other woman, saying nothing in response.
“So, how’s the leg?” he inquired. “Are we good for tonight?”
She smiled. “Yes, we are.” Spreading the smile to wave goodbye to a now peeved Taiwo, who marched out of the house with a bag bearing bowls of baked sugar.
“Then I’ll see you at 6.30pm,” he said, “have a good one, and don’t forget to send your address.”
“I won’t.” She followed Taiwo’s car as it reversed out of the compound and made to shut the door when she noticed the gates remained wide open. In no time, the familiar wine-coloured Camry of Lara, her sister-in-law, cruised in.
We need to talk. The text message from Lara last night went no further, and Misan hadn’t thought it would warrant a morning visit or even a face-to-face one. She’d expected a call later in the day.
“Sister Misan, good morning.” Lara closed the door behind her. In a colour-block, streamlined boubou, Misan knew she was en route her flagship store where she dealt in costume and gold accessories. “Do you know any Dr. Alabi?” Immediately zeroing in on the purpose of her visit.
The name didn’t ring a bell. Misan shook her head.
“Dr. Lola Alabi?” The other woman elaborated. “She’s my friend’s sister.”
The silent bells chimed. Misan was uncertain if they were warning or joyful sounds. Lola? Luther’s Lola? Another side-to-side movement of her head.
Lara sighed. “Well, she knows you and is coming for you.”
“What changed between the last time we spoke and now?” Luther demanded.
“Maybe my ankle’s not up for the high heels challenge yet.” Misan’s tone was even, betraying no emotion.
“But you said it was fine in the morning.”
“I guess I was wrong.”
“Do you really have to wear them?”
“Emmm…yes, it’s part of the overall effect of my outfit.”
Momentary silence from the other end of the line. “Misan, are you sure this is all there is? Your ankle? Nothing else?”
“I’m sorry. I know it’s last minute.”
“No, it’s fine. So, rescheduling to when? Tomorrow? Saturday?”
“Mmm…I don’t know.”
“Sunday?” He pressed.
The doorbell pealed. “I really don’t know, Luther,” she said, circling the bed, exiting the bedroom and making for the staircase, her footfalls tapping a staccato beat in the quiet house. “There’s someone at the door. Probably Mama V. I’ll call you back.”
The line went dead from her end.
Hunched over the desk he sat behind, Luther gazed at the screen. Something was amiss. His instincts had kicked in during the conversation. But he couldn’t put a finger yet on what exactly had made Misan back out from their date tonight.
He tapped the screen gently and scrolled down.
The dull buzz of ringing filled his eardrums coinciding with a knock on the door. “Come,” he commanded, sitting up with the mobile phone stuck to his cheek.
A nurse, in dark purple garb and a smiling face, poked her torso in. “Are you ready for your next patient, Dr. Monn?”
He nodded. “Send him in.” And a voice on the other end of the line responded to his summons with a cheery greeting and the name of an establishment.
Luther spoke: “I’d like to cancel a reservation for tonight.”
“What’s your name, sir?”
Misan caught sight of Mrs. Vicky’s eyes taking in her choice of footwear – bright red stiletto sandals – as she crossed the threshold to step into the house. She refrained from smiling; her housekeeper must think her mad and bored all at once.
“Goo’ evenin’ ma.”
Misan swung the door shut. “How was today?”
“It was fin’, ma.”
“Thans ma.” Mrs. Vicky nodded and watched her employer sashay away elegantly, one confident stride after another.
At the staircase, Misan took them two at a time, navigating the structure easily, displaying her dexterity in the act of heels-wearing.
While speaking with Luther, she had kicked off another pair of 6’ shoes to slip into these brazen red ones – her seventh pair in the last half hour – prepared to continue the mindless activity with her closet stacked full of them.
What she wasn’t prepared to do was fight over a man with a stranger like a pair of silly schoolgirls. A frivolity she hadn’t engaged in as a teen or in her 20s and planned not to start at 43. Luther needed to get his house in order. She’d lived without a man for ten years. Surely, she could survive for longer.
“You’re a hag who has stolen her man.”
“She is ready to shade you and the shop all over Social Media – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.”
“She said when she’s done with you, nobody will patronize your shop and you’ll close up and leave this Lekki for her.”
“I told my friend you were not the person her sister thought you were. There must be a misunderstanding somewhere. I know you very well. You’re my aburo…”
Snippets of Lola’s visits haunted her all day, playing intermittently in her mind. Misan collapsed on the bed and kicked off the shoes, following their fall as they landed on the scattered pile of others on the floor.
She scowled faintly, upset for allowing the situation affect her to this extent. She knew why. She liked him. She wanted him too. But not at the expense of the avalanche of drama Lola planned to unleash her way. And for what? Or rather, who? A man she was still getting acquainted with? And becoming fond of as she did so every day? Was he worth the stress?
Misan guarded her privacy closely, and approached Social Media with caution.
For her earlier employment years, she created and maintained a LinkedIn profile for networking and business purposes only. No other platform claimed her attention – Facebook and the like.
WhatsApp on her mobile phone offered some semblance of concealment, in her opinion, and enabled her to connect with the children, family, and some friends but she’d sooner make a voice or video call than tap out a message.
She snapped photos–of people, of things, rarely selfies—and never developed the habit of posting them except to send off to the persons featured. Nevertheless, Savoury Strips had a Facebook page courtesy of Yemi and AJ. Only a few days ago, he sought her permission to post photos of the desserts, adding he’d specify they were not part of the menu but made to order.
To Misan, Social Media’s advantages doubled up as its disadvantages – the wide reach. From her calculations, if Lola went ahead with her vicious plans, those two outlets opened her to the impulses of the other woman. As well as her children.
Only a keen eye would have detected the slight falter in Misan’s steps when she came within view of the shop.
Luther was observant, she noticed. Kind-looking, grey eyes trailed her progress to the front of the green building where he stood, waiting, sweating from neck down. A part of her wished he was anywhere but here; another knew he’d be.
Steady gaze stayed on her ankle for uncomfortable seconds, then swung back to her face, revealing nothing, completely impassive, somewhat disconcerting.
When she stood about six feet away fumbling with her keys, he walked closer and stretched out a hand, wordlessly.
For the next few moments, the only noise between them was aluminium disengaging from glass and, with another hand gesture, he ushered her into the building first.
She selected the chair closest to the counter and steeled for what she suspected would be a probing into the date that never was.
Leaving one of the swinging doors wide open, he picked the chair nearest to it; two empty ones away from her.
He placed moist elbows on covered knees and let his gaze travel down her leg once more before meeting hers. “How’s the ankle? Better?”
Misan’s eyebrows lifted marginally. Not the opening she’d been expecting. She nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Luther, I – “
“What really happened yesterday?” His palms supported his face now; those eyes drilled into hers.
To tell him or not? The question dogged her entire walk that morning. What would become of it if she did? And vice versa? Then again, there were three sides to a story – her side, his side and the truth. By the time she arrived at the shop, her mind was pretty much made up. She opened her mouth and began to talk.
It was like watching moulded concrete blocks dry and harden beneath the glare of the sun. Luther’s face transformed into a stony mask as he listened. Grey eyes narrowed into slits; unsmiling lips set in an uncompromising line. The lines on his forehead formed mini grooves. She half-expected his nostrils to flare out with volcanic smoke.
“You should have told me yesterday.” The modulated tone betrayed traces of barely contained rage. “I’d have nipped it in the bud immediately.” He rose slowly.
“You saw her yesterday?”
He gestured dismissively. “I consult in the hospital she works…on Wednesdays.”
She rose along with him. “I guess I was still processing the information and its implications. You did say she meant nothing to you.”
“And I still maintain that! The woman’s going bonkers!”
“Okay Luther, I haven’t known you that long and I’m not willing to-“
“We’re doing this, Misan. You and I are a thing, and no one, especially Lola, will stop it. Unless, of course, you don’t want this.”
She sighed. “She must have strong feelings for you to want to go to such lengths. I feel kind of sorry for her.”
Unexpected and disarming, her words pierced the hard exterior taking over Luther’s face and for a moment softened his expression, showing a hint of confusion. “You empathise with her even when she’s on a warpath with you, yes?”
Misan shrugged. “She’s a woman like me. A woman who likes and desires a man…a lot. I know what it feels like. I’ve been there.”
He relaxed further. “I’ll talk to her then. Help her channel those feelings appropriately with several words of caution.”
She stretched out a hand. “Be nice, Luther. And gentle.”
He advanced a step, caught the hand in his, leaned forward — keeping a healthy distance between their bodies — and it was almost over as soon as it begun. Swift, brief and leaving an imprint on her lips even after they had come apart. “I will. For your sake.” He promised.
That stuff she said yesterday. About surviving for longer with a man? Yeah, it was true. She had and she could. What wasn’t certain was if she wanted to live without this man. Her thoughts warred within as she watched him pick up speed and jog out of her sight.