August 16th | Ikoyi
“Are you free for lunch this afternoon?” He asked the next morning, after pleasantries had been dispersed with, during his routine call.
Still in her car as she had just pulled up at La Feminine’s premises, Esohe shifted the gear to park. “Does this have anything to do with what you said last night about spending more time together?” She inquired, bending in between her earphones wires to reach a pair of gold wedges which she began to wear to compliment the plain, shapely, white dress she had on.
“The ultimate goal is to spend as much time with you as I can.” He replied. “As much as you allow me to.” He added.
“If it promises to be anything like last night, then I’m game.”
“Lunch can be mundane when you’re on the clock.” He warned. “I’ll be at yours at 1.30pm.”
“No need for that. I can meet up with you. Just tell me where.”
“Esohe, allow me the pleasure of picking you up for a date. It’s part of the thrill, the process, the prelude to the main event.”
“So we’re going on a date?”
“Yeah. Our first was last night.” He confirmed. “See you at 1.30pm.”
The restaurant was one of those tucked away in a quiet street off Akin Adesola. Not one she had been to – it looked new, maybe a few months old – but she had gone past it a couple of times at twilight and it was always alive and bubbling with lights, music and people. This time of day though offered a serenity and calmness that came with afternoon dining. Besides them, there were only two other couples in the restaurant.
Esohe’s order of lobster arrived, and the size of it made her cancel her earlier plans for dessert. The crustacean struggled to contain the rather large flat plate it was sat on. She requested a bowl of water from the waiter assigned to their table, ignoring the cutlery neatly arranged at her side.
Eddie eyed her meal. “That looks succulent.” His was a man-sized order – Mexican rice, a side salad, thick slabs of salmon pieces.
“And almost guaranteed to send me on a light snooze if I don’t watch it.” She commented, looking at its blood-red shell; its tail hanging off the plate.
Their waiter reappeared and Esohe set about washing her hands, before picking up the lobster and began pulling the shell apart.
“I’m leaving town tomorrow morning.” Eddie informed her in between mouthfuls. “A legal shindig the bosses want me to represent the firm in.”
“Oh?” She spared him a glance. “Where? And for how long?”
He wrapped fingers around a glass full of water. “Abuja. Almost a week.” And drained it half-way. “Then when I come back, there’s a charity the firm’s involved with. The annual black-tie gala is about two weeks from today.” He paused. “I’d like us to go together.”
“Did you bring me out here to tell me that?” The flesh of the lobster was quite visible now, having made short work of the shell which she piled on a saucer the waiter produced out of thin air. And just like she had guessed, it was a lot of flesh. More than a portion of meal for her. She dipped greasy hands into the bowl of water again.
“Remember the ultimate goal?” He slanted her a look, then back to his food. “One thing ought to lead to another, and more time spent in your company.”
“Even if it’s work-related?” She picked up her cutlery. “I may not know you enough, Eddie, but this had got to be the first time you’re talking shop.”
He dabbed the corners of his mouth with a napkin, his lips curving slightly in amusement as he leaned back on his chair. “It is, isn’t it?” He mused. “Two years ago, I made a conscious effort not to in social situations unless it was absolutely necessary.”
“If you love what you do, it will always find its way into your conversation.” She plopped a pale piece in her mouth.
He leaned forward. “Oh, I used to. A lot. And probably bored people to tears with it. Even lawyers.”
She let out a tiny smile while chewing.
“It was all I had; all I was about.” He retrieved his cutlery and impaled the salmon expertly. “Then two years ago, I decided to stop. I remembered why I hadn’t married a fellow lawyer in the first place. I hadn’t wanted us trading similar stories back at home.”
Still slicing up his fish, he was impervious to the alert stillness that suddenly came over his dining companion. Or when her eyes, slightly alarmed, flew to his left hand to ascertain his marital status with a ring or the imprint left by one on his finger; a move, she’d have sworn she’d done earlier on.
The clatter of cutlery hitting plate shot his head up, his expression confused while hers seemed to struggle to remain impassive as she leaned forward and spoke in a whisper: “You’re married?”
Classic FM 97.3 was dishing out its lunch time tunes as they made their way back to Ikoyi. The music was the only sound in the interior of Eddie’s car. Songs from the noughties and earlier took turns in sweeping the occupants down memory lane, and once in a while either of them quipped about a point or two in time when a particular song dominated the airwaves. Besides that, they cruised in companionable silence until Eddie slowed to a stop opposite the white, low, stretch of a building that was La Feminine’s corporate offices.
“I look forward to seeing you when I return.” His fingers turned down the volume of the music, simultaneously switching the car off.
“Bon voyage.” She uttered in response.
He nodded, and exited the car thereafter, half-circling it to her side. He held the door for her as she alighted. “Is it true what they say about a man opening the door for a woman?” Esohe joked as she stood beside him.
He swung the door shut. “And what would that be?” He asked. One hand on the small of her back as they sauntered across the narrow street towards the entrance of the building.
Belatedly, she noticed a gold–coloured car parked down the road, but before she could decipher its meaning or presence, Folarin’s familiar figure materialized and joined them at the glass doors.
A sneer waiting to happen on his lips, his eyes raked over the couple. “Are you the one screwing my wife, mister?” His accusatory tone directed at Eddie whose hand instinctively closed protectively around Esohe.
No sooner had she recovered from his sudden appearance did his words knock the wind out of her again. “Folarin!” She gasped.
“Well, is he?” Her ex-husband stepped closer, forming an intimate circle of three, perhaps to disperse with the look of concern which had jumped into the eyes of one of the magazine’s security guards who was out of earshot.
Eddie, rigid beside Esohe, pointedly ignored Folarin, having quickly deduced who he was. “Esohe?” He inquired, levelling her with his gaze, serious and focused, probably battling an urge to throttle the other man for his uncouth approach.
“Gosh! I’m sorry, Eddie.” She faced him, flushing with embarrassment. “But I’ll be fine. It’s okay to go. You’ve got things to do.” She hurried on. “And thanks for a lovely lunch.” She added hastily.
Eddie hesitated for a beat or two. Slowly he nodded silently and turned on his heels.
“Yeah, move along, Eddie.” Folarin said, his grating tone capable of infuriating any rational being. “We’ve got family matters to discuss.”
But Eddie managed to keep it together and made it back into his car in one piece. Safely there, he made no move to drive off immediately. Instead, he adjusted his rearview mirror to observe the couple, his eyes trained solely on the female of the duo.
“Folarin, how dare you?!” Esohe asked in a barely controlled, fuming whisper, unwilling to provide any entertainment for the guard whose gaze were fixed on them now.
“Is he your boyfriend, eh Esohe?” Folarin countered, unfazed; the sneer turning into amusement.
“That’s none of your business!” She spat out. “Why are you here? What do you want?”
He stepped even closer. “I’ll tell you what I want.” He paused. “You, Esohe. I want you. I want Osayu. I want my family back!”
She let out an exasperated breath. “Not only are you a Yoruba demon, you’re also a pathetic joker!” With that, she pushed the glass door away from her and marched into the reception, fighting to keep her emotions intact.
Outside, Eddie kicked his car to life and slowly began to pull away. One look at Folarin’s thunderous expression was enough to shift his own mood somewhat. He curled his lower lip in a smirk and placed his foot hard on the gas pedal.
Esohe resurfaced a few minutes later, this time behind the wheel of her car, heading in the direction of Awolowo Road. She spared not a glance as to if Folarin still lurked around the premises or not; she was worried about a specific someone else, and her cell phone, on the speaker-function, let her know for the second time that he wasn’t taking her calls.
She heaved a troubled sigh and swerved into a rather busy Awolowo Road.
Eddie paced the length of his roomy, softly- rugged office, both hands shoved deeply into his pockets. His initial plans to drive straight home and prepare for his trip the next day were sidelined by the abrupt introduction to Folarin. He needed to let off some steam; not one caused by the incident but by his inability to witness it at such close quarters in respect to Esohe’s wishes.
Tony, whom he had given time off due to his impending trip, was mildly surprised to see Eddie slow his car to a haphazard stop in front of the firm, alight from it, toss him the keys, while absently acknowledging his greeting and marching purposely towards the entrance.
What a cad! Eddie thought, pausing by the generous window on the east side of the office whose view of Awolowo Road served as different levels of inspiration and beauty to him. He saw none of that now; all was replaced by the face of a man who was once his love interest’s husband in the not too distant past.
What an asshole! He cursed under his breath.
He had been uncomfortable leaving her alone with him. Folarin’s general outlook – choice of terms, demeanor, oozing arrogance – pointed to a man Eddie would have relished giving a good telling–off of epic proportions. With carefully chosen words to put him firmly in his place. As her ex and nothing more.
But no, Esohe, his Esohe had to be the bigger person. The courteous one… How was she doing now? He needed to know.
One hand out of his pocket patted down his jacket to reveal nothing. His cell phone was probably back in his car; forgotten in the midst of the afternoon’s surprise guest.
He reached his table and made for the intercom when the machine rang. He picked it up cautiously. “Yes?” His voice devoid of his inner emotions.
“There’s a Miss Eweka here to see you, sir.” The receptionist informed him.
“Send her up.” He replaced the receiver.
Moments later, he was opening the door just as she made it onto the landing. Dark, sharp eyes took in her slightly ruffled expression, which she tried to bear gracefully. “Eddie, I’m so sor…” She began to speak as she walked closer to where he stood waiting for her.
“Sssshhh.” He reached out, took hold of one of her arms, guided her into the office, shut the door and pulled her firmly into his arms, cutting her off.
At such close proximity, he felt her heartbeats racing like a sprinter after a 100 metre dash. Not speaking, they remained in that silent embrace until her beats per second lost most of their frantic activity. Only then did Eddie pull back slowly to look at her. “Are you all right?” Her expression was a healthier version of the one she’d arrived with.
She nodded. “I’m sorry, Eddie. I’m so ashamed…”
He put a finger to her lips. “Don’t do that to me again, Esohe.” Momentarily, confusion swept over her pretty features until he explained: “Dismiss me when there’s a rabid dog in your front yard. Even if it is a familiar one.”
“But…but he was extremely rud…”
“All bark, Esohe. All bark. No bite, and I have a few ferocious sounds of my own. You didn’t let me unleash them.”
A small smile lighting up her face, she snuggled back into his warmth. “My knight in a three -piece suit.” She murmured.
She felt the little bubble of laughter erupt from his stomach, and escape his lips as he held her tighter and spoke. “For you, I’d add a cape to that outfit.” He paused for a moment. “What did he want? Your ex?”
She didn’t respond for a while, and just when he thought she wasn’t going to say a thing, it came: “Me.” She sighed out. “He wants us back together.”
She felt him stiffen, then pull away from her. “Like hell he does!” Smoky tones releasing the words like a tiny explosion. He disengaged completely from her and led her to a three–seater by the window. “Only a man like him would leave a woman like you, realize his folly and turn around to raise dust. “ He didn’t join her on the couch but remained standing, looming over her, regarding her now relaxed figure. “And he came to your office to declare this publicly?”
“He doesn’t know where I live.”
“And the last time you saw him was…?”
“Few days ago. At my mum’s. Before then, years. When he came, I took him at face value.”
He leaned on the hand of the couch. “What do you mean?”
She sighed again. “He apologized for our break. He said he wanted back in our son’s life. I believed him. I should have suspected something last night after his call.” She paused thoughtfully. “All those questions about my whereabouts, how late it was getting…” Her voice trailed off.
“Last night? While we were together? That call you took outside?”
“And now this, this afternoon?” He straightened. “I don’t believe in coincidences, Esohe, and I might be wrong about his bark and no bite after all. So we’re going to anticipate any unlikely scenario he might spring on you.”
“What are you saying?” Esohe sat upright on the couch. “He’s not going to do anything. He’s incapable of…”
“Did you think he’d cause the scene he did this afternoon?” Smoky tones reasoned quietly.
Her response was just as quiet and slow. “Nooo. I didn’t. “
“Then I am not taking any chances especially while I am away.” He concluded. “You need to call your mum. Osayu does not leave her sight especially when his father is around. Call his summer school too and leave specifics instructions: Folarin can not take the boy under any circumstances.” He paused. “I know next to nothing about your ex at this juncture, but I won’t put anything past the man whom I met a while ago.”
Esohe got up to stand in front of him. “Now you’re making me worried. Folarin won’t jeopardize Osayu’s safety just to force me back with him.”
“For your sake, I hope not.”
Briefly, she looked away, out of the window. “Y’know, Alero insinuated the same on Sunday.”
“A wise woman.” Eddie concurred. “I’m going to give you Tony’s number and vice versa. He’s going to be your shadow while I am away. I will also give you the number of a police buddy of mine. If you so much as smell a rat, call him immediately.”
She held his gaze. “Now you’re making me feel special.”
“You are, after all, royalty. And I serve at the pleasure of your throne.” She broke out into her first big smile in the last hour or so. “And I intend to return to continue making the special memories we’ve started together without the baggage of our past messing it up.”