August 12th |Gbagada
“They seem okay, babes. Both of them.“ Jennifer stifled a yawn as she spoke.
It was a few minutes after 9pm, and the last of her guests (invited back to her house for an intimate reception after the church ceremony) were saying their goodbyes. “The choice is yours.” She continued to Esohe beside her. Both women stood by the front door watching IK, Eddie and Mr. H. by IK’s car having last-minute talks.
Back in the church car park, by the time the three males – Mr. H. and his son and IK – joined the group, Esohe’s shock at IK’s presence was swiftly dying.
“This is a morning of surprises.” Jennifer whispered to her friend moments before they came within earshot. Then she rested her gaze on the mystery man who was until recently responsible for Esohe’s closer, internal look at herself and her life weeks ago. “So that is IK?!” Her voice hovering between questioning and affirming.
On the other hand, IK’s shock at seeing Esohe expressed itself in a wide, friendly smile and an accompanying, lingering hug that a well–timed and well-delivered cough from Jennifer terminated.
“What are you doing here?” He wanted to know.
“Do you attend this church?” She asked, both of them speaking at the same time, the cynosure of their audience and oblivious to the fact.
“My friend’s dedicating her baby today.” She replied first.
“No, I don’t.” He responded thereafter. “But Mr. H. here invited me to his baby dedication as well.”
Esohe turned to Jennifer. “But you said…”
“She doesn’t know him.“ Mr. H. came to his wife’s rescue with a smile, halting the accusatory tone in her friend’s tone. He was a jovial – looking, dark-skinned man with an endearing, circled patch of grey on his head. “IK, meet my wife, Jennifer.” He continued, effecting introductions. One of his arms found her waist, pulling her closer. “Sweetheart, IK’s one of our suppliers at the office. He does most of our events.” For the second time that morning, Jennifer found herself offering a hand to yet another man on her friend’s radar – or rather, who used to be. “And her friends – Esohe, who you already know…” Mr. H. looked around. “Where is Alero?” In answer, Alero’s singsong voice could be heard from the car shooing away Itsehme’s brother from her sleeping form. “Together, they make the three musketeers. To love one is to love them all.” He concluded mischievously.
“Is that so?” Eddie chipped in, taking a step closer to Esohe and thrusting a hand out. “Mr. H., I’m Eddie. Esohe’s friend.” He didn’t wait to be introduced. “Congratulations on a beautiful baby, and an equally stunning family.”
The other man’s smile expanded across his face, placing a palm in the outstretched one in front of him. “Call me Harry, please. And thank you for your kind words.”
Eddie moved on to the man beside him. “IK, vbèè óye hé?” How are you?
IK, whose expression had been one of curiosity at Eddie’s opening words dissolved into a welcoming smile and began pumping the other man’s arm.
“Òy’ èsé, my brother.” He answered easily. “How did you know?”
“You’re Bini?” Esohe blurted out before she could stop herself. “I thought IK was Ikechukwu.”
“It’s Ikponwonsa, actually.” IK told her.
“And your colouring is getting in the way too.” Eddie offered.
IK slapped his palm. “You know!”
Eddie nodded. “I had a classmate just like you – yellow like the sun, one Uzamere guy. So I thought to try out the greeting on you and…”
“And you were right on the money.” IK finished for him.
Both men laughed in unison.
“I dey here oh.” Alero’s singsong voice reached the group as she popped her head out of the open door of the car. “Wetin dey happen?”
By the time the reception was underway back in the house, IK and Mr. H. had become fast friends with Eddie, forming a threesome in a corner of the sitting room around a high, round, white table that was constantly invaded by food, drinks and Jennifer just for the heck of it. Even when Mr. H. made the rounds of small talk with his guests, he retraced his steps to the table Eddie and IK occupied.
“Did you ever think in your wildest imaginations that Eddie and IK would meet?” Jennifer’s voice gently pierced Esohe’s concentrated gaze drawn to a corner of the sitting room from the table she was perched at.
Jennifer and Harry had dotted their medium- sized parlour with three – legged, waist – high, round, white tables that could hold finger foods, bottles and drinks. The absence of accompanying stools or high-backed chairs spoke volumes of what they expected of their guests. Eat. Drink. Mingle. Don’t sit.
A glass, half- full with red wine, in her hand, Esohe turned towards her friend.
“And was there a reason you didn’t’ mention Eddie at all?” Jennifer went on, her lips pursed in pseudo reprove.
“There was nothing to tell, Jeje.” The other woman began. “Board meeting brought us together in the same place. He sent flowers two days later and…”
Jennifer’s earlier intention to rattle her friend a little while she looked in on a still sleeping Itsehme changed course and leaned on the table. “Nothing to tell?! And there are flowers involved? And you brought him to my baby’s dedication? To my house?!” Her brows were raised to their limits. “Even IK didn’t get this far!”
Esohe didn’t respond immediately. She looked down into her glass and swirled its contents. Then she shrugged. “I don’t know…I don’t know how I feel about him.”
“He is something of a character, I give him that. “ Jennifer said. “Not one you’d forget in a hurry. Gets and keeps your attention.”
Esohe let out a small, knowing smile. “That he does and I…”
Jennifer patted her friend’s free hand. “It’s okay if you want to take your time in talking about him. Something tells me it would be worth the wait.”
Both women glanced in the direction of the men again just in time to witness all three of them erupt in laughter.
Hours later as Esohe emerged from the nursery where Alero was snoozing and Jennifer was feeding her newborn, IK’s white – clothed figure straightened at her appearance. Had he been waiting for her?
“Hey.” He spoke first, falling in stride with her. “How is the baby?”
A quick glance at the corner table showed Eddie on his cell phone and Mr. H. lost in between round, white tables. “Hungry.” She replied with a smile.
“It’s good to see you again, Esohe.” He switched suddenly. “You look amazing.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere!” She laughed out. “Didn’t expect to run into you at all. How long has it been?” She asked idly. “And how is business?”
“I can’t complain. Getting by. How’s work and La Feminine?”
“Hectic as ever but we’ll survive.”
“Hectic or not, you look amazing.”
“Thank you. Flattery will still get you nowhere. If I remember correctly, you abandoned me.” She teased lightly, throwing him a sideways glance.
His next words were nothing she expected. “Maybe I shouldn’t have. “ He muttered. “Are you seeing Eddie?” Another switch, barely leaving any time to digest his earlier statement.
She hesitated, slight confusion and minimal surprise mixed in her expression. “He’s a friend.” She managed out moments later.
“Like we were not?”
“That, IK, was your choice.” She felt a sensation building behind her vision. What was he getting at?
“There’s nothing friendly about the looks he gives you.”
“And jealously doesn’t’ look good on you, either, IK!” Her voice strained to remain cordial.
“Neither does regret.”
She blew out a steadying breath. “Are you done? I’d like to get something…”
She nodded briefly, hitched up her gown, turned and marched away in the opposite direction, away from him. She hadn’t gone more than a few yards when a hand on her elbow slowed her purposeful strides. Thinking it was IK, she faced him with what she hoped was an impassive expression. Eddie’s cocky visage blocked her vision instead. “Hello stranger.” He greeted, steering her in the direction of the corner table, a saucer of finger foods in his other hand. “Have you had anything to eat?” He inquired as they reached the table and he placed the saucer atop of it. “You should try the spring rolls. Deliciously divine.” He dangled one right by her lips and she opened up to receive it.
For a moment, she forgot about the encounter with IK and savoured the taste of flambeed vegetables and chicken, closing her eyes as the flavours exploded on her palate.
Moments later when she reopened them, she found Eddie’s gaze fixed on her, his lips curled in amusement. “I’d love to see you eat a whole meal after that display.”
She chuckled, took what was left of the pastry and popped it into her mouth. “I’d like a drink to go with that, please.”
“As you wish, madame.” Giving her a small bow as he said so.
For the next couple of minutes, Eddie was by her side, his smoky tones luring her into revealing more about herself to him. Was she born in Lagos? What was her childhood like? Immediate family? Siblings? Why hadn’t she brought Osayu along? What about her passions? Likes? And how had she landed in La Feminine?
“You ask a lot of questions, Mr. Williams.” She let him know at some point.
He shrugged. “Isn’t that what lawyers do?” He asked.
“I am not one of your witnesses, counsellor!” She pointed out.
“It depends on how you look at it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not in a court? Yes. But in my life? You’re about to be.”
“Don’t I get a say in that?”
“If you weren’t considering it, you wouldn’t have answered my questions.”
She didn’t respond. Suddenly, she knew not how to counter his last statement which rang strangely true. Even when she had deliberately forced thoughts of him out of her mind. They kept creeping back, lurking in the shadows and springing out at will. Was that the reason she hadn’t said anything to her friends?
“Don’t fight it, Esohe.” Smoky tones bumped into her contemplation. “If it’s going to happen, it will naturally. Excuse me while I get us more drinks.”
She leaned further on the table in front of her, watching him mingle with the other guests as he made his way to the bar.
Now as she stood by Jennifer’s side, she regarded the three men again but her gaze strayed often to the one in a mustard–brown attire. “I don’t know if IK is part of my selection, Jeje.” She spoke finally, calmly, as the man in question suddenly glanced in their way, waved before gunning his car forward and disappearing into the night.