I like me better when I’m with you

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September 21st|B & I

Beneath her ebony-black, perfect fringe weave, the receptionist gave Esohe a warm, friendly smile. “Good morning, Miss Eweka.” She gestured in the direction of the staircase. “Please go up.”

Was she being expected? “Don’t you need to call ahead first?” Esohe didn’t move from the counter, her anxiety increasing by the minute.

The first and only time she’d graced this firm, she’d been equally anxious. Thanks to Folarin. Today seemed to be no different. This visit echoed his actions as well; her ploy to get her man back, if he’d still have her. She was filled with slight trepidation, a feeling alien to her since meeting Eddie.

The younger lady swung fringe-weave from side to side. “No ma’am. Seyi left instructions. Once you arrive, please send you up.”

Esohe nodded. “Thanks.” And began to make for the staircase.

20 minutes ago, Seyi’s call to her informing of his boss’s arrival was short and sweet: “Good morning ma. Mr. Williams just walked into the office. I do not know how long he’d be here for as he was slated to resume on Monday. Can you make it over now?”

A delighted Tony bowed and greeted her outside the firm’s office, in front of the building where Eddie’s car was parked; he was genuinely pleased to see her. Her responsive smile spoke volumes too. However, none of them – Seyi or Tony – would matter if Eddie was done with her and their relationship.

Heaving a sigh, she braced herself for the encounter with a man whom she loved and had shoved aside abruptly more than two weeks ago.

Her black, patent heels hit the steps one after the other; her movements expanding and contracting the wicked, front slit on the black, pencil skirt wrapping her from waist to calves; one she paired with an orange camisole and a corresponding orange jacket. Her pixie-cut weave a delightful match to the ensemble and her supposed outward calm, shielding an increasing bundle of nerves.

A sheaf of papers in front of him, Seyi leaning over from one side and indicating with his finger, Eddie scribbled his signature once again across the necessary dotted lines. “You can’t have brought me into the office for this, Seyi!” The smoky tones held a tinge of exhaustion and irritation. “Why didn’t you just do the usual? Mark them with sticky notes and send them over to the house?” He glanced at his assistant; the dark, sharp eyes unable to effectively execute a telling glare due to their lack of enough sleep. “My body is still over the Atlantic and I’m not thinking clearly.”

“Sorry sir.” Seyi avoided the stare as he apologized. “But these couldn’t wait.” He pointed once again at a fresh, dotted line.

“Am I not supposed to read these through?” Eddie continued, penning his signature once more. “Or should I trust that you’re not making me sign my life or career away?” He dropped the pen he’d been clutching suddenly. “You are up to something, Seyi. Spill it out!” He leaned back on his chair, a little of his former self emerging from the knackered barrier.

Seyi straightened and was saved from the uncomfortable moment by a gentle tap on the door.

Eddie thrust a hand towards it. “See? Now, people know I’m around. “  He raised his voice. “Come in.” And turned towards Seyi fleetingly. “Well, speak up, young…” The rest of his words got lost in the air as Esohe’s figure came into view, a vision in orange and black framing the door.

Slowly, Eddie rose to his feet; his cream-coloured native attire unfolding with him. His previous irritation and exhaustion beginning a slow death with her unexpected presence. He shoved both hands in the pockets of his trousers.

Not a good sign. That stance could mean anything from ready for battle to what-do-you-want-to-tell-me-that-I-don’t-already-know? to frustration to restraint to gladness. Right now, she couldn’t quite decipher which one it was but she for sure that it didn’t portend anything positive in her direction.

His expression may have given little or nothing away but tired eyes or not, there was no mistaking the hint of appreciative appraisal as they flickered over her. Was that a good sign? To counter his posture?

“Good morning Eddie.” Despite her nerves, she met his unwavering gaze head long and dug heels into the rug beneath as she ambled further into the office.

He nodded. “Esohe.” His gaze still fixed on her, he spoke to his assistant. “Give us 10 minutes, Seyi. Then come back.”

Another bad sign. 10 minutes! Her heart sank. Was that how long he could tolerate her presence? Regardless of her reason for being at his office?

Seyi gathered the sheaf of papers and shuffled out of the office as quietly as he could, pausing ever so briefly for a “Good morning ma” at Esohe before closing the door quickly behind him, leaving the pair alone.

It didn’t help that she’d counted two bad signs since her entrance; a third loomed.

Eddie hadn’t moved an inch from his position behind his desk; just his unfaltering gaze resting on her. The first time she’d been here, he’d been waiting for her at the door.

His body language spoke volumes; he hadn’t been expecting her. Seyi must have read something off her conversation with him, and orchestrated this meeting between them.

“Would you like to…?” He began, one hand out of his pocket and gesturing.

“I heard about your mum…” She started as well.

They both halted at the same time.

“You first.” She spoke almost immediately before he could.

“Do you want to take a seat?” His hand was back inside his pocket.

She shook her head. What was the point getting comfortable with less than 10 minutes to state her case? “No thanks. I’m fine. Ifeanyi told me about your mum. How is she doing?”

For a moment, he looked grim. “Losing a bit of herself every day. Even the neurologist can’t explain away her diagnosis or the rapid degeneration she’s experiencing.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Eddie. I can only imagine how you and your sisters must feel or what you’re going through, knowing you’re helpless to make things better for her.”

“Thanks. “

“And thank you for helping out with Folarin. Ifeanyi told me how involved you were.”

A grim smile this time. “He wasn’t supposed to tell you.”

“Just like Jennifer wasn’t supposed to say anything either. But I’m grateful to all three of you. Thank you again.”

“She’s a keeper, that one. Your friend, Jennifer.”

“Don’t I know it?”

He didn’t respond to her last statement and silence descended between them, hanging like a heavily laden clothing line separating them except their stares.

Yet another bad sign.

Nothing seemed to be going the way she’d hoped. Eddie wasn’t trying to dispel the obvious strain with his gift of the gab. It sure looked like he wasn’t going to make any of this easy for her, and time was ticking away. Fast.  How was she going to win him back when she was on the clock? “Edosa, I’m sorry.” Her tones were solemn; her gaze finally falling away from his.

“What exactly are you apologizing for?” His question stunning her.

She kept her gaze lowered. “I know I hurt you, hurt us. But I didn’t mean to. I was only looking out for Osayu.”

“I totally understand your maternal instincts, Esohe.” He said. “But what threw me for a loop was afterwards. Why didn’t you come to me? Tell me what was going on? Instead you went through that entire trauma on your own.”

“Folarin threatened to hurt you, hurt Osayu.” She responded. “If I didn’t break things off. I couldn’t let that happen. I needed both of you safe, and so did as he asked. I didn’t know what his potentials were.” 

Only then did Eddie move. Two, three steps to the corner of the table and towards her, one hand out; his face finally taking on a mixed expression of bewilderment and confusion. “Folarin threatened me?” He tapped his chest; his tones dangerously quiet. “A man of similar passions?” His short bark of laughter was cynical. “Who is Folarin? A natural disaster or God? ‘Cos those are the only two things I fear.”

“He said he’d make you…” Feebly, she tried to explain.

“Folarin can’t do anything to me!” His smoky tones were choke-full of his natural confidence and arrogance. “I don’t care what he told you but that was all talk, Esohe. Did he threaten me with juju? I am a Bini man, and our concoctions are just as potent.” He declared. “Was he going to strip naked and pray at a T-junction for me? Whatever Folarin was going to throw at me, I’d have retaliated with every tool in my arsenal – personal, professional and forefathers. Then we’d see who the last man standing would be. He was going to do nada, Esohe! But then, you didn’t know that, did you? You couldn’t see beyond Osayu’s abduction. That’s why he was able to get through to you. That’s why you should have come to me!” He ripped out.

“I’m sorry, Eddie. I was scared to…”

“You once called me your hero in a three-piece suit. Did you mean it at the time?”

She nodded slowly, remembering.

“Then why on earth did you prevent me from donning a cape and showing the full range of my superpowers?” He was about five steps away from her now, having half-circled his table. “Instead you bore all that by yourself.”

“I was confused. On the one hand was Osayu. On the other was the fact that I didn’t like my past catching up with me.”

“We all have a past – whether it returns to haunt us or not. Dealing with it with the people in the present helps to keep it firmly where it belongs – in the past. “He shook his head. “And I told you not to dismiss me again, Esohe. Do you remember? After my first meeting with Folarin? I knew what I was getting into when I got involved with you. I like my cases dismissed; not me. But no, you went right ahead to not only dismiss me but also break up with me when it mattered most. Was I supposed to be in your life just for the good times? The outings? The fun? Uh, Esohe?”

She shook her head, her hands covering half of her face in slight anguish. “No, no, no, Eddie. Of course not!”

“I may not have made a commitment to you in front of a minister or our friends and family but in my heart, I had proposed to love, care for and protect you fiercely.”

“Oh Eddie.” She cried out softly.

“I have never felt so helpless and incapable in my life. Made even more poignant by…”

As she listened to him release his pent-up emotions, she realized she was never going to win him over except on the strength of the Osayu reason. He was right; she should have told him. They’d have tackled Folarin and won together.

On impulse, she stepped forward, closed the space between them, took his face in her palms and merged their lips together – cutting off his tirade midway.

She felt him stiffen in surprise, his body going rigid against hers before it relaxed. His hands found her waist as she pulled away. “I’m sorry. I really messed up. And I love you, Edosa Williams.” She breathed out, his face still between her palms. “I know you’d probably need time to think things through, see if you’d give us another chance but please know that I never meant to hurt you, and I’m really, really sorry.”

Any response he was about to make to her claims and action was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door. Immediately, his hands fell away from her body and he made for the door, unaware she was right behind him.

Armed with a sheaf of papers, Seyi’s bespectacled face appeared in the space Eddie created when he opened the door to the length of his elbow. “Give me two more minutes, please.” He told his assistant and slid the door shut again.

He swung around to find her right behind him. “Can we continue this later? I’m slightly overwhelmed right now. Can I call you later?”

.

.

.

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Big girls don’t cry

“Jeje, my…my life is over!” Esohe muttered with a certainty in tandem with her broken, dull tones.

“Don’t say that.” Jennifer cautioned. “He said he’d call you.”

“But he hasn’t! He’s still mad at me!” Esohe’s voice rose fractionally. “You should have heard him go this morning!”

“It was the hurt talking, Esohe. He needed to let it all out. Purge himself of the pain.”

“And I caused that pain! I drove him away! I used my own hand to spoil my life! Oh God!” Esohe covered her face with her palms and began to wail.

Jennifer sighed, helpless, suddenly running out of words of consolation. She bit her lower lip, moved closer and enveloped her friend in a hug as the sobs began to rake through her slim frame.

This was not the scenario she’d imagined. Had hoped for. While there had been a 50/50 chance of the eventual outcome of today’s encounter, she’d prayed, for Esohe’s sake, that it’d result in a positive one. When no word from Esohe at noon, she thought nothing of it. Perhaps the meeting with Eddie hadn’t taken place. He was yet to arrive at the office. Anything and everything except the fact that the meeting had gone south.

So when Esohe appeared at her doorstep at 8pm looking like she’d just witnessed Armageddon, her heart began a slow sink into the pit of her stomach.

Sure enough, it was all bad news. From start to finish of Esohe recounting the meeting.

Many terms could describe Eddie, the man she’d met only once and had heard about countless times, but she doubted vindictive was one of them. A proud, confident, arrogant, Bini man? Check. Check. Check. Vengeful? No. Not at all. Perhaps he’d still call. Maybe he got caught up with work and it slipped his mind. Or had impromptu issues to address that caused a protracted distraction? Maybe it had to do with his mother. Something, anything must have taken his time.

But for how long? Did his later mean later in the day or two, three days later?

As she listened to Esohe’s body-raking moans, she began to think that just maybe that call wasn’t going to happen after all. Instinctively, she tightened her arms around her friend. Their position on the couch, huddled together – one weeping, the other comforting – was sadly nostalgic for Jennifer, taking her a couple of years back when Esohe, on this same couch, broke down in heart-rending sobs after Folarin’s departure and eventual divorce from him.

Lord, help her, please! She thought silently, casting her gaze briefly upwards, her heart going out to her friend.

Harry was out of town for the weekend and she had a baby and a five-year old to deal with. Yet she couldn’t imagine Esohe driving back to her apartment and being all by herself in this present state of mind.

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