August 15th | Ikoyi
“Where are you taking me?” Esohe asked as he parked the car in front of a low, brown building she recognized as Double Four Restaurant. As to if it was still in operation as such, she was uncertain about.
“Don’t you like surprises?” He asked her with a sideways glance and killed the engine. Then reached for the locks.
Since Sunday, he called her every morning just because. To say hello. To wish her a great day ahead, and to start his with the sound of her voice. This morning, he asked if she’d be free to go out with him. Not for drinks or food but somewhere he’d like to share with her. The same way she’d shared her friends with him during the weekend. He’d had a whale of a time with her crew and wanted to reciprocate accordingly. Was she available?
With no Osayu to run home and tend to for the next couple of weeks, Esohe planned to stay behind in the office. On a whim, she assented to his request.
15 minutes, he promised. If she didn’t like it, then they could leave.
He showed up at her office just before 6.30pm, still in a navy blue suit, in a chauffeur-driven, silver-coloured BMW X6, switched places with the driver, Tony, who took over her car after her consent and drove the short distance on Awolowo Road with his driver trailing them behind.
“With you, almost everything is a surprise. You’re like an onion, unravelling with each layer.” She opened her door.
“At least, I don’t make you cry.” He stated once he had half–circled the car and was standing by her door, watching her unfurl in a black, pencil, high–waisted skirt and balloon–sleeved, caramel top. Her nude coloured, kitten-heeled shoes were patent leather and matched the tote she swung over a shoulder.
Two security guards, decked out in similar blue and black outfits, held open the entrance for both of them, the blast of cool air and quick–step music hitting them simultaneously.
Inside was nothing like she remembered it. Devoid of chairs and tables, the spacious interior was brightly lit to every corner of its somewhat pentagonal shape right up to the stage at the far end of it. Lining the entire wall was a stretch of low, softly–padded, stool – about three feet high – in one continuous flow before finally disappearing at the end of the stage.
Dotting it were personal possessions – handbags, laptop bags and other trappings. At least a dozen people or so occupied the space close to the stage and were in various outfits and phases of dance as instructed by a lanky woman holding a microphone and dressed in an obscenely short, flared, flowered dress, dancing in time to the Latina music.
Esohe turned to Eddie, raising her voice slightly. “You salsa?” She tried to imagine hm moving to the popular South American dance routine.
He shook his head. “Not particularly but it’s a good way to unwind after a long day for me.”
“I’d never have pegged you as one into any type of…” Without warning, he grabbed one of her arms, lifted it in the air and twirled her around. “Oooh!” Unprepared for the movement, Esohe missed a step and was certain of a spectacular crash on the marbled floor but landed quite nicely and safely on a firm, suited chest with Eddie grinning above her.
“I got you.” He assured her confidently. “Stick with me, Esohe, and you might just like what you see and know.” His face inches away from hers for a moment, his gaze boring into her stunned yet excited face. Then he straightened her, was satisfied she was all right before throwing his hands in the air and moving one foot after the other in time to the pulsating beat.
She stifled a chuckle, watching him. He was more intent on enjoying himself rather than following a routine.
More than a decade ago she had attended a few beginners’ classes of Salsa, learning the basic steps and using them as a workout as well at the time. Not too long before her marriage, she took a quick, refresher course, two hours straight, because Folarin was a hot–stepper. While he had won their first couple dance together at their reception, she knew she hadn’t done too badly either.
Eddie’s movements in front of her gave muscle memory to her legs, and tentatively she tapped one foot forward, then the other. It didn’t take long for her hands to move of their own accord and in synchronization with her legs, her hips swinging gently from side to side.
Momentarily, Eddie paused to observe her, his eyes twinkling with mild excitement. “You go, girl!” He encouraged, shrugging off his jacket and flinging it behind him in the direction of the stool by the wall, as she danced towards him, finally splaying her fingers lightly on his chest, compelling him to step backward as she danced forward. She backed him entirely to the wall, dropped her tote on his jacket, and 15 minutes turned to 50 of some good form of dancing from both of them, a lot of out-of-step ones as well and a healthy does of fun, laughter, and really close contact.
The crowd had swelled considerably by the time they both collapsed close to their possessions, trying to get their winds back.
It was a dance class which held once during the week and twice on the weekends. Eddie had paid a full year’s subscription but only managed attendance a couple of times a quarter or more, when his schedule allowed. An instructor led the sessions. It didn’t mean the students were constrained to follow; they were free to do as they please. It wasn’t a strict regime, and that was what appealed to Eddie.
He recounted all of these between puffs of breath, over the din, to Esohe. “And you did great.” He ended his monologue.
In spite of the cool air, Esohe felt hot and flushed, and not as self – conscious as she had been in her work clothes when they first arrived. With more people joining in, it became obvious that the weekday session was targeted at those who worked in the area. The formal attire on most attested to this, and they all shuffled to the beat and instructions as though clad in casual wear rather than work clothes and shoes. There were those, like them, who danced at the back on their own for the heck of it, having a ball while at it. The serious patrons surrounded the stage in front, lapping up every word of the instructor and translating them into dance moves.
“Thank you!” Esohe breathed out. She had thought she was tired from the day’s work but finding the strength to dance with Eddie for as long as they had was a mystery to her. How time flies when you’re having fun! Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of the place and its attendant fun and freedom. She hadn’t danced unbridled like this in a while; she hadn’t done any outing straight from work in like forever. And she hadn’t had this much fun with a male companion in ages. “Thank you!” She repeated more for her thoughts than his compliment. “I need a drink!”
“There’s a bar in the next room.” He told her, leaning his elbows on his knees. “What would you like?”
“Water. Water, please.”
“Right. Excuse me. “
She reached for her tote to rummage for a handkerchief as he rose and began to walk away. She felt the vibration of her cell phone and heard its faint ring. She extracted the device and stared at the screen. An unknown number flashed across it. Rising and clutching her bag and Eddie’s jacket, she moved towards the exit of the hall. Considering the sound of its interior, outside on the street made for better telephone conversation.
“Where are you, Esohe? It’s almost 9pm. Shouldn’t you be home now?” A man’s voice asked once she answered the call.
She might not have heard the voice on the other end of the line in a couple of years, but she was not likely to forget it in a hurry. “In what capacity are you asking that question, Folarin? As my husband, father or brother?” She queried, fighting to keep her cool. The nerve of him!
Silence on the other side.
“Let me answer that for you.” She didn’t wait for his response. “None.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.” He finally spoke. “It’s just that I came to see Osayu and was hoping my visit would coincide with your return from work.”
She let out a breath. “Did you want something?” She wanted to know. “Haven’t we sorted out everything concerning your inclusion back into his life, like you put it? Visits, upkeep allowance, the works?”
“No, it’s not that.”
“Then, pray tell, what is it? Osayu’s safe in the capable hands of my mum, so what is it?”
“I didn’t think…I just thought…You know what? Never mind. Good night.” And the connection broke before she had the chance to say anything further.
She exhaled again, scowling slightly. What on earth just happened? Why did Folarin call her for the sake of it? What did he really want with this sudden reappearance and repentance?
“Is everything all right?” Eddie’s voice interrupted her thoughts by her ear. “I saw you on the ‘phone as I came back in and followed you out here.” He went on to explain.
She nodded, rearranging her expression before turning towards him. “Yeah. Nothing to worry about. Just a little misunderstanding.” She touched his sleeve lightly. “Let’s go back in.” Nothing and no one were going to send her on a guilt trip for no reason. Especially not Folarin.
15 minutes later, they were going through the doors again, this time on their way home.
No more dancing had taken place, just sipping their drinks and watching others strut their stuff on the dance floor.
“We’ll trail you until you get home.” Eddie walked her to her car parked beside his.
“There’s no need for that. I’ll be…” She began.
“I’ve kept you away until now, Esohe.” He interrupted her. “Until you’re safely back there, then I can start mine. And no, I will not use my ‘phone to track your progress.”
She stopped by the driver’s door. “Where do you live?”
“Lekki.” He transferred his jacket, strapped around his right arm, to the left.
“Do you know where I stay?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“There’s no winning with you, is there?”
“Not on your safety tonight, there isn’t.”
She was turning to unlock her car when one of his hands stopped her, sliding her into a brief embrace, his cheek resting on hers for an instant or two. Then it was over.
How weird was it that his hugs were comforting to her? Like the one at the church on Sunday. Like this one. Brief but effective. No sooner had their bodies come together did they split apart. No electric charge. No fireworks. Just a fuzzy feeling from a warm hug from a…what was he now? A familiar acquaintance? A friend? “I had fun tonight.” She told him once they disengaged. “Thank you.”
He held her gaze. “So did I. We should do it more often.”
Feeling mischievous, she asked. “Dance?”
He grinned faintly. “Spend time in each other’s company.”
And true to his word, his chauffeur-driven car maintained a steady pace behind hers until she arrived uneventfully at her Maryland residence. The car remained in a motionless position outside the fence, surrounding the building, until she flicked on the lights in her apartment.
Her ‘phone rang moments later; it was Eddie. “Good night.” Was all he said once she came on.
She smiled. “Good night, you.”