Sometimes…8 – 15

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Read previous chapters 2 – 7

8.

More than a decade ago, the clubhouse was shanty, a wooden box at the edge of a four–hole, golf course surrounded by uncultured, dense greenery. A bar and a little open space for the occasional dancing or private ceremony were sparse diversions for the company’s largely expatriate, bachelor pioneer staff. Those with partners (wives, girlfriends, otherwise) were few and far in between.

In a space of five years, three things happened: three wealthy Nigerians bought controlling shares of the company, injected more local talent in the workforce and onto the board and management, and built another estate to accommodate its expansion plans.

With these, it became imperative to elevate the clubhouse to better standards and enlarge its relaxation facilities; the thick forest of trees extended as far as the eyes could not see. First came an 18-hole fairway to the delight of avid golfers. Three swimming pools – two Olympic-sized and one for children & teens – followed next. Lawn tennis, badminton and basketball courts added to the sporting activities, and a children’s play area replete with bouncing castles, swings, slides, seesaws, trampolines, etc made the cut too. A final upgrade was a fully serviced gymnasium and alternative therapy parlour.

When they arrived in Tayo’s car, the clubhouse wasn’t as packed as he feared it would be on the weekend. The recent opening of an enormous mall in town drew quite a bit of the crowd away from the estate on weekends but it was still alive with music and human noise. Rasheed and Aisha were by Tayo’s side by the time they all piled out of the car. The children had already taken to their mum’s new friend. ‘Maybe it has something to do with my job.’ He’d joked during the ride as Rasheed grilled him to amusing distraction.

He scooped Aisha up in one arm and held onto Rasheed with the other. Naji, shouldering a big bag of the children’s stuff, joined them. Fleetingly, Tayo’s eyes, behind his glasses, swept over her exposed legs, long and smooth and fair, in the thigh-length, emerald Ankara shorts she had on under a plain, white T-shirt.

She still had them, he thought.  Endless, endless legs. Lovely long hair. His gaze darted up. She was still all together lovely. ‘What do you want to do first?’ He asked out aloud, instead.

‘Swim!’ Rasheed piped up immediately, stalling any other response.

Naji looked down at her son. ‘Swim, please,’ she corrected. ‘How about we look around first, see what they have, then you can go swimming?’

He nodded. ‘Ok mummy. Let’s do that.’ And he took hold of one of her hands, linking all them together. They were the picture-perfect family, strolling out of the car park and towards the swinging doors of the clubhouse.

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Three hours of non-stop fun seemed like 30 minutes to Rasheed. With the help of his Uncle Tayo, he’d managed to pack in as many activities as his energy permitted. Swimming with an instructor and Tayo while his mum and Aisha watched from poolside chairs.

Naji knew Tayo could hardly detect her frequent gaze at his dripping, ripped torso from beneath the pair of dark shades she had on as her facade. He was a long way off from the lanky medical student 17 years ago, she sighed internally, and seemed to have improved physically with age, desirably well-toned in everywhere possible – abdomen, arms, thighs. This close to a Greek god. Meanwhile, nothing could convince Aisha to join her brother in the pool without her mother. Naji felt less inspired to contain her daughter while immersed in this size of water.

Tayo taught Rasheed the rudiments of badminton and the little boy’s speed at learning a new concept impressed him. Then Tayo and Naji played a set while both children cheered from the side lines. It took Naji back to the University of Benin where they had both played the game a couple of times, back to easier times when they had been young and in love. She floundered a bit, having become rusty with no practise for over a decade. But Tayo showed more fluidity and grasp, and patience over her sloppy game.

Aisha was open to the children’s play arena. Her screams of delight as she swung, slid and bounced were almost drowned by other excited children.

Lunch came next; everyone seemed spent, especially the adults. Despite the appearance of a semi filled clubhouse, there were no free tables inside. So, they ate by the poolside in a shaded corner where other guests indulged as well.

After lunch and not enough time for the food to settle down and do its thing, it was back to the play area for Aisha, and the badminton court for Rasheed & Tayo.  It was as though the meal had given the children a boost of energy; Rasheed especially who literally upped his game with a stunned Tayo to the adults’ amazement.

Aisha spent endless time on the slides and swings with her mum and her shrieks of joy as another companion. There was no place for the bouncing castles after lunch much to Naji’s relief. She had little or no love for the rubbery, fun contraption especially when they were crowded or unshaded as these happened to be.

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9.

The last light of day faded into the darkening horizon as Tayo pulled up in front of Naji’s place. Inside the car was peaceful. Completely and contentedly knackered from a full fun day, the children stretched out asleep at the back of the car; the adults lost in their individual thoughts.

Tayo shouldered a rather deadweight Rasheed while Naji fiddled to unlock the front door with his sleeping sister in her arms.

With the children safely settled in bed, Tayo and Naji found themselves in the living room.

‘Thanks for a lovely day,’ she spoke first, a faint tired smile on her lips. ‘Exhausting but wonderful for the children.’

‘It was nothing.’ He dismissed with a shake of his head. ‘I hope you had a good time too.’

‘I did. Thanks,’ she told him. ‘Can I…would you like something to drink? Or you want to leave now?’

‘Water would be fine. I think I’ve hit my sugar limit today.’

She led the way to the kitchen. ‘Not me and I’m in the mood for some frozen yoghurt. You should try it. It’s not too sweet.’ She flicked a switch by the door and light flooded the quaint-looking enclosure.

‘Eh, thanks but no thanks.’ He drew out one of the chairs tucked under a small, round, brown table in the centre of the kitchen, and lowered his body on to it. Five glasses, neatly arranged on a plastic tray, sat in the middle.

Naji placed a bottle of iced water and a tub of yoghurt on the table. They both reached for glasses at the same time. Briefly their fingers touched.

Several times during the day, their limbs and bodies had accidentally brushed against each other. Naji had caught Tayo staring directly at her more often than she cared to admit. To her chagrin, she’d returned the compliment, thankful he was unable to notice through her dark shades. She found she couldn’t help it. He was incredibly better looking in his late 30s than he’d ever been in his early 20s. 

‘I need a nanny,’ she said, the statement coming out a little louder than she’d intended. Now that they were both alone, she was acutely aware of his proximity.

He lifted the bottle and poured a full glass of water. ‘Why?’

‘With Ruona gone, I’d need some help with the children.’ She scooped spoons full of creamy cold delight halfway up a tall glass and sat opposite him. ‘I might be starting work soon.’

‘How is that going?’ He asked before almost draining the glass

In between mouthfuls of yoghurt, she told him about the phone interview with Ada. At the mention of his ex’s name, Tayo hid a smile. With her single-mindedness to conquer him and have her wicked way this morning (while suitably dressed for the occasion), who would have thought she’d, on her own and without coercion, walk out of his house minutes later, admitting defeat? Headstrong, first daughter, her-way-or-the-highway Ada?

‘You don’t want to use the day care services in the schools?’

‘That’s included but I also need help with the house chores.’

‘Have you had any before?’

‘Several. When I was still married’

He picked up his glass again. ’What was it like… with Abdul?’

She looked up from her stained empty one, spoon in hand. ‘Why?’

‘I didn’t mean to pry-‘

‘You’re not. I just wanted to know why you wanted to know.’

‘You knew his condition, didn’t you?’

‘That he had the SS genotype? Yes.’ The spoon clattered into the glass. ‘I suspected it when we met. Then he confirmed it when we began dating.’

‘And you still went ahead to get married?’

She nodded. ‘That’s why my children and I are not Muslims. That’s why I don’t wear a hijab. There were conditions attached to our wedlock. If I was going to suffer emotional trauma during my time with him and after he…’ She stopped suddenly.

‘Enajiomo, it’s fine not to continue. I’m sorry I even brought it up.’

‘No, no, no. ‘ She shook her head and stood up. ‘I want to talk about it. It helps. It’s easier now. Two years ago, it was hell just thinking about it.’  She snatched her glass and walked to the sink. ‘I know having conditions seem cold…I loved him and he loved me too, just a little too much, but a bit of me put a reality check on things.

She didn’t hear him vacate his chair. Seconds later, he was by her side.

‘Despite your knack for building castles in the sky, you were always a realist, bringing yourself back to earth with a bump.’

She let out a shaky laugh and looked up at him.

‘You are a strong woman, stronger than most people give you credit for.’

‘Now you’ve got sugar on that tongue of yours, Tayo Olukoya!’

‘You know what they say, flattery will get you everywhere.’

‘Not with me, it won’t!’

‘Not even a date with me? Alone? Perhaps sometime next week?’

‘Maybe. If you’re lucky.’ She left him at the sink and began to walk towards the kitchen door only for him to halt her progress with an outstretched hand around her arm. She turned around. His once jovial expression had changed. ‘You’re serious?’

‘I am. A proper date without the children, if you’d let me. ‘

She was silent.

Still holding onto her, he moved closer. ‘Unless you’re not ready. Or this is too soon?’ He spoke again.

‘I don’t…know. I’m still processing my new environment and some old reminders.’

He let go of her arm. ‘Am I doing it again? Intruding into your space?’

Her lips stretched a little in a smile. ‘I did agree to this day out, so it doesn’t count. I just didn’t think you’d want one with me.’

He shook his head. ‘Not one. Several.’

Her eyebrows climbed. ‘I don’t – ‘

‘Letting you go was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.’ He began gently, cutting her off. ‘I should have fought harder. By the time I came to my senses, it was too late. Meeting you again and under these circumstances seem like fate is giving us a second chance.’ He drew a soft breath. ‘Spending the day with you just about confirmed what I already knew after our initial meetings. I don’t need weeks or months to do that. If at this stage, I don’t know what I want, then there must be something wrong somewhere.’ He paused. ‘You’re what I want, Enajiomo.’

Sighing deeply, she moved backwards, recreating the space between them. ‘This is-‘

‘Tell me you didn’t feel anything while we were together today.’ He challenged softly, laughing brown eyes gleaming behind his glasses, and once again closing the gap between them. ‘No chemistry, no –‘

She held up a hand. ‘I don’t deny our history. Old feelings are bound to-‘

He needn’t hear any more from her. Gently capturing her slender hand in his, he pulled her to him and lowered his mouth to hers, his other hand pushing his glasses up while tilting his head to the side.

There was no point resisting. Tayo was right. The tension between them had been brewing all day long. So much for being subtle behind her dark glasses; her body had recognized an old love and spoken a language different from her eyes.  It was either get a release or go to bed maddeningly frustrated.

He tasted better than she remembered. Like his body blossoming divinely with age, his kiss followed the same path, making her realise how long it had been since she’d been held this way. Much too long.

Of their own volition, her hands slipped around his neck and he crushed her soft curves to the hard angles of his body, his hands midway down her back. Their tongues caressed each other’s, and she tilted her head backwards, losing herself in the kiss, allowing him to dive deeper with a demanding, wandering tongue.

She sighed. This was déjà vu but now, they were older, matured and, like the first time with him, she didn’t want it to stop.

‘Enajiomo,’ he called in a ragged breath when they came apart eventually. ‘I won’t let you go again.’

Still cradled in his arms, her head nestled in his shoulder, she took deep steadying breaths and mused over the recent turn of events. Her new stage in life seemed to veer in the opposite direction of her well-laid plans.

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10.

Force of habit saw her drive through the route of his house on her way out of the estate. Saturday nights were usually their nights. She’d arrive at 7pm and they’d hit the town for dinner, then clubbing afterwards, if they had nothing else lined to attend – a party, a concert, a movie, etc. Even if they felt less inclined to club, most of the night was spent with each other – eating, drinking, catching up, loving – before heading back to her place for a marathon, mind-blowing sport beneath the sheets. It was the highlight of the night. Tayo kept her equally sated and exhausted, drawing contented sighs and smiles from her every time, both of them spent, usually late on Sunday morning. Noon met them still lolling in bed, reluctant to leave the comfort and warmth of each other. An hour or two limped by before Tayo left for his house.

He was all the man she needed, and she was impatient to assume a new nomenclature – Mrs. Olukoya. Any wonder she tried to steer her man in the right direction of popping the question through devious means and landing herself in this position, reliving memories instead of making exciting, fresh ones with him?

This would be her first solo outing since their breakup. Initially, she had thought they were on a hiatus. Tayo would overlook her minor indiscretion like he always did, forgive her and they’d be the perfect, envious couple of the estate again.

She’d been wrong.

Two weeks became four, and she minded not seeing him or hearing from him or their Saturday nights either. He needed the space to process the result of her deception, she reasoned to herself.

At the six-week mark, panic crept in when she couldn’t reach him on his mobile. When she used an unfamiliar number to call him and it rang immediately, that’s when it dawned on her what he’d done.

Undeterred, she accosted him physically, demanding his attention and time. Ever the gentleman, Tayo granted her audience for all of two minutes before telling her in unambiguous terms that they were history.

The bakery encounter had been one of her last-ditch efforts to get her man back. She’d have welcomed a slap on the face rather than the humiliating evasion at her attempt at pda. It was one thing he’d rather not do, and she knew it, and yet went ahead anyway. It had taken all her strength to keep up appearance seconds later, more so when he abruptly abandoned her to have breakfast with the lone lady diner she knew nothing about. His actions suggested irritation at her overtures.

This morning at his house saw her playing her last card – using her body to do what her words or actions failed to achieve.  What utter luck to catch him right out of the bathroom! It would be incredibly easy to get that near-naked body into bed with her and voila! the relationship would be back on track once again.

Wrong again.

Not only had he outrightly rebuffed her advances, ignored her innuendos but in the middle of his slightly veiled annoyance, he had called her something else.

Ena…she couldn’t quite recall it immediately, but it cut deep. In two years of being his girl, many names had passed those lips: Ada. Adaobi. Honey. Sweetheart. Darling. And her personal favourite, my Adaobi.

This morning he’d called her someone else’s.  It sounded female, most likely another woman’s.  His new girlfriend’s?

The mere thought made her heart lurch into her mouth, the pain almost palpable.  Had he forgotten about them and all they’d shared so soon? Another woman wiping off their moments and memories, healing his bruised heart, enabling him to move swiftly along?

Ada wondered who she was. Who had captured her ex so quickly, almost completely that her name fell out of his mouth unconsciously? The same person talking to him on his phone when she arrived? Or could it be the lady diner at the bakery?

Her thoughts drifted as she cruised directly past his house. His car was missing from its usual parking spot on the driveway. Instead the trio of Kemi, Deji & Maro, chatting by Maro’s car, filled her gaze. Before either could recognize her, she averted her eyes, grateful for the fading light of day and the onset of twilight. Where was Tayo? She swivelled into the wide road which led directly to the exit gates of the estate.

Solar powered streetlights, lining the paved street, blinked on one after the other, illuminating the sky.

Four houses to the gates and Ada caught sight of the man at the centre of her thoughts, his signature red vehicle registering first.

There was no mistaking his toned, light-skinned physique in the navy blue, collared T-shirt he had on. Ada knew it too well. They had shopped for it, and other items, together. He stood by the car, his elbow on the roof, providing a prop for the rest of his body. Beside him, leaning on the bonnet and, once again, backing Ada’s view, was an unfamiliar figure. The streetlights revealed her long, tousled tresses and fair-skinned legs. The bakery diner? The hair seemed to match. And this was the second time around she would see them together.

As she drove past, she thought she saw Tayo glance in her direction as the couple shared a laugh but she couldn’t be certain. For her vision became clouded with stupid, unshed tears slowly pooling around her eyes and threatening to spill down her exquisitely made-up face.

She found herself averting her gaze twice in a few minutes, determinedly blinking away the tears and stepping on the pedal.

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Naji’s phone, laying on a bedside cupboard in her bedroom, lit up and beeped as she exited the bathroom. She grabbed the device and collapsed on the bed. It was 40 minutes to midnight and drizzling lightly outside. Tayo’s name appeared first, then the audio message he’d sent. She drifted back to sleep smiling as the song contained in the message made its second run. Michael Bolton’s soulful voice belting out ‘Now that I’ve found you…’ consisted her last coherent thought.

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11.

‘Someone had a good weekend.’ Steve strode into Tayo’s office on Monday morning, interrupting his friend’s cheerful whistling as he settled in. ‘Without me.’

Tayo stopped and looked up at him, grinning. He hung up his jacket on the stand and rounded the table, a hand outstretched. ‘You can say that again, man. ‘Morning.’

They shook hands, hugged and clapped each other on the backs.

‘Oh boy, where were you yesterday?’ Stever asked, moving with him towards the desk. ‘Tried to reach you on your cell but it was forever engaged.’

Tayo sat down on his chair and grinned again. He and Naji had been on the phone for hours yesterday. ‘Sorry man, I was on an important call. What did I miss?’ He began to unpack his laptop and its accessories from a black bag on the table.

The other man leaned forward. ‘The practise game with the Takure brothers.’

Tayo slapped his forehead. ‘Oh damn! I totally forgot about that! So what did you do?’ He tapped the power button.

‘I paired up with Sadiq and they thrashed our arses!’

His friend unsuccessfully tried to stop a guffaw. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. But Sadiq, of all people!’

‘There was no one else available.’ Steve defended himself. ‘And the brothers were getting irritated and you were awol.’

‘My bad. It was just a practise game.’

‘And they can’t wait to do it again when the real thing goes down.’

Tayo snorted. ‘Not while I’m there.’

‘Right. So where were you?’

‘At home. On the phone with Enajiomo.’

Steve pulled out a chair and sat down, a sly expression forming rapidly. ‘Really?’

‘I took her children and her to the clubhouse on Saturday.’

‘This is getting interesting.’

‘Yeah, it was a very interesting weekend.’

‘I can tell. So much so that you forgot about me. Looks like Mrs. Fawaz and her family have taken over my best friend and my younger brother.’

Tayo’s initial confused look cleared up in seconds. ‘Oh, oh, Ruona.’

‘Yes…Ruona.‘ He paused. ‘Isn’t it Rona? That’s what Maro calls her.’

‘Full name: Ogheneruona. For short: Ruona. Trendy version: Rona.’

‘Whatever. One minute he’s burning fuel to Benin, the next, every other sentence he makes has her name in it.’

‘The young man seems smitten.’

‘I can say the same for the one in front of me.’

Tayo’s grin expanded.

‘After all, both of you got carried away by two sisters in one weekend,’ Steve went on.

‘My apologies, my man. I’ll not let you down for the game this weekend.’

‘You had better not.’ Steve leaned forward. ‘So it’s today, isn’t it?’

For a moment, Tayo stared at the screen glowing before him. ‘Yep, and whatever the outcome, so be it. Nothing’s going to put me in a sour mood today.’

‘Are you going to tell me about your apparent great weekend or not?’

‘Probably not. I can say this though, it was good enough to withstand the result of the board meeting today. Whether I’m still CMD or Taofick takes my place.’

Steve snorted. ‘Spoilsport.’

Suddenly the intercom at a corner of the desk buzzed. Tayo hit the speaker function. ‘Yes?’

‘Good morning sir,’ the desk nurse’s voice, from the reception, floated in. ‘Mr. Ayodele is on the line for you.’

‘Please put him through.’ Tayo snatched up the receiver and Steve eased off the chair, gesturing with his fingers that they’d talk later. ‘Good morning sir,’ Tayo spoke again, giving his friend a thumbs up sign.

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One down, several to go, thought Naji, driving away. She had interviews with three candidates for the nanny position, all of whom she’d see this morning, the first at 9am.

Somehow, between her mention of it on Saturday night and last night, Tayo had been able to use his contacts to find three, available middle-aged women suitable for the role with considerable experience.

Tomorrow, she was meeting with Mr Ayodele and the HR of the company. They wanted to discuss, among other things, the terms of her contract. They were willing to make her an offer. The thought of it alone made her heart skip with excitement. Once again, things were moving a little bit faster than she had envisioned in this new phase of her life – her home life, her career, her love life…

Now about that.

The relocation to the estate, upon her father-in-law’s suggestion, signalled a fresh start for her small family while continuing her career path, building a home and bringing up her children in a safe, friendly neighbourhood. Finding love had not been factored into the equation

For four years, she had known celibacy on an intimate level, unconsciously prolonging her mourning of Abdul, wearing only black coloured clothes to complete the picture. Unaware that the colour drew, rather than repelled, attention to her butter-hued skin. A beautiful contrast beneath her vast selection of black pieces. Her full, long locks, whether wrapped in a bun, framing her face or cascading down her shoulders, it made little difference. Naji was a sensationally looking woman even when asleep, without makeup…

The black widow. Her unofficial name back in her old neighbourhood in Abuja. Those who whispered it because of her dress code and those who literally thought she had killed Abdul but couldn’t quite voice out loud their conviction.

Wearing black to mourn him hadn’t been an issue. By the time the second anniversary of his death loomed, she had become quite comfortable with the colour. She found it an easy style and one less decision to make in her life.

It was here on the estate, last week, that she’d first paired black with another colour – white. At the time, it seemed appropriate. She was among strangers in a new environment. Then the Ankara shorts outfit on Saturday signalled another deviation from her monotone fashion. While she was willing to step out of her usual, she discovered how difficult it was to break away from her single coloured wardrobe. Today, she was back to black.

Did Tayo have anything to do with it?  Perhaps.

Every time she saw him, the colours on him always caught her eye. Maybe it was the way they reflected off that yellow, yellow skin of his. Or the way the shirts sat on him like they had been made just for him. Maybe it was just Tayo. If she remembered correctly, his colour choices had always been cheerful, not garish or blatant.

She realised how much she missed romance, companionship and all that jazz when he held her in his arms. She didn’t realise how much she loved mixing her colours until that pairing on Saturday.

It would seem her old and a new self raged within unfamiliar surroundings and another phase of her life.

Her old self would stick to her black style. This new self was willing to pare down the black or liven it up often.

Her old self would never have acknowledged her feeling for Tayo so soon, let alone return his kiss with such fervour…and longing.

Her old self would thoroughly analyse the ramifications of a new relationship with an old flame, especially Tayo. Her new self was disregarding careful consideration, damning the consequences and intent on living. No shame whatsoever. No guilty feelings. No thoughts of moving too fast, too soon. New environment, new attitudes.

And if it made her happy, why not? She thought, pulling the car to a stop directly in front of the house.

Her mobile began ringing at about the same time she noticed the stranger at her doorstep. His red and grey outfit with matching peak cap announced the delivery boy he was. A motorbike took up space in her driveway, phone in one hand glued to his left ear and a bouquet of blood red roses balanced in the other.

The number showing on her LCD screen was unknown. She snatched up the phone and stepped out of the car; sheer lace and silk dress skimmed her knees.

The delivery boy saw her then, lowered his phone and hers stopped ringing. ‘Good morning ma.’ Voice as bright as the day, face as young too.

She nodded. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Flowers for Mrs. Fawaz.’ He held up the roses.

‘That’s me.’  They stood opposite each other, the scent from the bouquet wafting between them.

First, he handed them to her, then whipped out a book from a bag slung across his body. ‘Sign here, please.’ One finger indicated where and gave her a pen to do so.

Once inside the house, she fished out the square cream card sticking out between the long stems.

I hope your day is as vibrant as these.

                        Tayo

It said.

She was unaware of the smile easing slowly across her lips. First music. Now flowers.

New environment. New attitude. New romance? New her or old age? She reached for her mobile.

The last member of his team walked into the small conference room when his phone lit up and vibrated. It was in silent mode. The meeting started in three minutes.

He glanced at it. What he saw twitched his lips into a happy shape.

Enajiomo: The flowers. How thoughtful! Thank you.

He dialled her number.

‘You’re welcome,’ he told her as soon as she answered. ‘I’m about to have a meeting. Talk and see you later?’

‘Yes. Have a splendid day.’ She wished him.

‘You too.’

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12.

‘So what if he did that? Or you saw what you think you did? It doesn’t mean the end.’

Adaobi cocked an eyebrow at her friend. ‘Seriously, Eme?’ She asked, crossing legs under the table and about to duplicate the same across her bosom but changed her mind.  ‘Did you just hear yourself?’  Instead she shoved empty dishes aside and leaned on the table.

Both women were camped in the company’s cafeteria on the first floor. A warehouse-like space with more room than the kitchen staff knew what to do with.  Even after stuffing some corners with a refrigerator, a deep freezer, a serving counter, payment point and finally, devoid of any pattern, several plastic chairs and square tables, the look of being grossly underutilized remained. It could seat about 50 persons at a time and 100 standing. Lunch hour between noon and 4pm ranked as its busiest while it opened to ravenous stomachs from 7.45am – 6pm daily.  The food was fast, cheap and almost always available. A modest selection of snacks completed its menu offerings but its forte laid in cooked meals. A handful of the company’s staff lingered at a few tables as lunch hour flew to a close; Eme and Adaobi numbered among them.

‘Or are your hormones pulling you in different directions?’ Adaobi’s glance bounced off her friend’s distended belly – 33 or 34 weeks of gestation – then back to her matching pudgy, homely, freckled face.

Eme rolled her eyes and continued attacking her half-finished lunch of sludgy egusi soup and slabs of boiled yams. ‘I’m just saying…it might not be what you think.’

Adaobi blew out a breath. ‘Eme, thanks for trying to make me feel better but Tayo and I are…history.’ To hear herself utter it out loud for the first time, admit something she’d denied defiantly, signalled defeat in a tone that mirrored it.

Eme looked at her friend; she’d heard it too. ‘Sorry, girlfriend.’

Adaobi shrugged. ‘Thanks for not telling me “I told you so.” I should listen to you more than that crazy Ivie. Even if it worked for her.’

‘I still don’t think all hope is lost. Isn’t it early days?’

The other woman’s smile was faint, sad. ‘Almost two months? I’ve seen him with the same woman twice. I doubt it.’

‘He was going to marry you. That feeling doesn’t disappear overnight.’

‘On false pretences, remember? I forced his hand. I don’t think he was ready to propose. He didn’t even have a ring.’

Eme was silent, pushing the last pieces of food around on her plate.

‘He said he’d find it hard to trust me again.’ Adaobi went on tonelessly. ‘He couldn’t live like that, especially when I was aware of what happened between his ex-wife and him. Then my attitude about what I had done, no remorse until it became clear we weren’t coming back from it. And there I was thinking I was smart. That ring was going to be mine before I was 30. I was on top of the world, everything was falling into place – my career, my man and finally, my wedding.’ She paused. ‘But here I am. No wedding. At least not with the man of my dreams.’

‘It is well,’ Eme said, in a bid of encouragement. ‘You still have your job and you do it so well. Focus on that until the right man comes along.’

Her friend’s smile was mirthless. ‘Tayo was my Mr. Right but thanks anyway. Sorry for spoiling lunch.’

‘No probs. That’s what I’m here for.’

‘Speaking of my job, I think I’ve filled the head of IT position.’

‘With the male candidate you talked about?’

Adaobi shook her head. ‘The other one, the female. she’s the better of the two.’

‘But I thought you said – ‘

‘Well, after speaking with him, I knew I was wrong. I’m going with the woman. Mr. Ayodele and I are meeting with her tomorrow. I had better go prepare for it.’ Her eyes rested on what was left of Eme’s food. ‘Are you still going to eat that?’

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13.

A couple of things could have been responsible. The euphoria of a well spent day. The outcome of the board meeting. Topping the list and suitably distracting too was the anticipation of seeing Naji soon. Whatever the reason, it caught Tayo napping.

By the time the owner of the black land rover, purring silently in front of Naji’s house, registered, he’d aligned his car neatly behind it.

He hesitated, weighing his options, his thoughts racing; to stay or drive off? The grey streaked sky would provide enough cover. It even looked like rain.

Too late again.

The front door had cracked open and leading the group out of the house was the one man Tayo would have deliberately avoided running into. Not today and certainly not here at Naji’s.

In a spotless, sky-blue Babariga outfit replete with a blue & white embroidered cap, Alhaji Ahmed Fawaz presented an imposing, upright figure. His tiny, piercing eyes partly hidden in a fleshy, folding face, straight-edged nose and full lips, all worked together in an aristocratic look which complimented his dark skin.

Tayo cursed quietly and alighted.

Behind Alhaji was another individual, another persona non grata. Alhaji’s nephew, a cardiologist and Tayo’s colleague and self-appointed rival (for reasons unknown), and, in his opinion, Alhaji’s mole in the hospital, Taofick’s brown suit hung on his lanky body like a sad puppy. He was slim without the benefit of being skinny. Drooping shoulders negated the air of entitlement hanging around him as a lightweight overcoat would.  However, his petulant, smouldering, dark good looks drew attention away from his less than desirable physical endowments.

Naji brought up the rear, a breath of fresh air.

The trio noticed Tayo at the same time and the reactions were as varied as their personalities. Alhaji’s face retained its smile, Taofick’s lower lip curled ever so slightly while Naji’s warm, wide smile was all Tayo could see.

‘Good evening, sir.’ He greeted as the driver of Alhaji’s car jumped out to open the rear door for his employer.

‘Dr. Olukwoya.’  Alhaji’s smile now a little strained. He turned to his daughter-in-law. ‘Is he your friend?’

Naji nodded. ‘Yes sir. We know each other from university.’

‘I see.’  His expression said otherwise

‘Dr. Olukoya.’  Taofick nodded at Tayo.

Tayo responded likewise, his hands firmly lost in his pockets. ‘Dr. Shettima.’

Alhaji pulled Naji into a brief side hug. ‘Take care of yourself and the children. I’ll see all of you the next time I’m in town.’

‘Thank you for coming, sir. It was nice seeing you again.’

And without sparing Tayo another glance, he disappeared into the cosy interior of his waiting vehicle, missing the moment Taofick stepped closer to Naji who, apparently anticipating the move, stepped away with perfect timing.

Tayo’s eyes narrowed.

‘Goodbye Taofick.’ The edge in her voice was unmistakable though low.

Taofick’s thin, knowing smile preceded his words; ‘Goodbye mada na’. And turning away, he circled the car to join his uncle.

The music clip Naji received that night from Tayo made her shriek with laughter, belatedly clapping a hand over her mouth in order not to disturb her children whom she’d just put to sleep minutes ago.

In her room moments later and after a good belly laugh, she put David Guetta’s Titanium on repeat.

14.

Starting 10am, Tuesdays through to Thursdays meant clinic days for Tayo and most heads of the hospital. At first, it was a rule set by the hospital; all heads of department went on call during the week. Then it became flexible. Doctors could choose the days convenient for them as long as they tallied up to the required days weekly. However, most heads stuck to those laid down by the hospital for personal and political reasons. Who wanted to be on call during the weekends? Some followed the rule to be politically correct and seen as fulfilling all righteousness. Others did so as not to be displaced by ambitious subordinates. Yet others for the simple reason that they enjoyed their job and the passion to help those in need of their services.

For Tayo, all the above applied; so he anticipated his clinic days. The smiles on the children and their equally relieved parents was reward enough. His clinic days had also served other purposes, particularly when his personal life was a mess. He had been on duty for two weeks non-stop immediately after his break from Adaobi. Though he hadn’t been on his feet all hours of the entire 14-day period, the extra work and the environment kept his mind singularly occupied and somehow allowed him deal with it. Not to mention the large indebtedness of his subordinates whose shifts he had covered, enabling them take needed breaks or attend to personal issues.

As he prepared to go to the first floor where the hospital’s consulting and treatment facilities were located, Steve marched into his office, sporting his white overall.

‘Did something happen between you & Taofick?’ His friend asked, stopping short of the door.

Tayo grabbed his stethoscope off the table, tugged his white overall from the back of his chair and walked towards the other man. He frowned slightly; his thoughts flew to the events of last night at Naji’s. ‘No, why?’

They exited the office together and made for the stairs at the end of the passage.

‘I ran into him at the car park this morning,’ Steve told him, ‘and he was all chummy-chummy. I wondered what he was on despite yesterday’s outcome. Then he asked me, out of nowhere, if you were smashing Mrs. Fawaz.’

‘I met him and Alhaji at her place yesterday.’

‘Ouch!’ The other man flinched visibly, dramatically. ‘Bad market! Weren’t they breathing fire at the mere smell of you, let alone your presence?’

The two men reached the landing and began to descend.

‘Any plan to celebrate went with their departure. News flash! Enajiomo, apparently, can’t stand Taofick either.’

‘Did you welcome her to the club?’

‘And Alhaji wants her to marry him.’

‘Whaaaat?!’ Steve stopped in his tracks in the middle of the stairs.

His friend steered him on. ‘Something about keeping their son’s widow in the family. Taofick calls her his wife.’

‘You don’t seem fazed by any of this.’

Tayo shrugged. ‘She has resisted for four years.’

‘It doesn’t look like they’ve relented. Last night’s visit seems to prove it.’

‘They either don’t take her refusal seriously or are capitalizing on the fact that she’s still single, so there’s room for a change of heart, and maybe with the change of environment. Enter Tayo Olukoya.’

‘My man!’ Steve cheered.

‘If she wasn’t upset already, I’d have done something totally out of character yesterday.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘PDA. I swear I could feel Taofick’s eyes burning into both of us as Alhaji’s car drove away.’

‘How dare you visit his alhaji-approved wife?’

‘Indeed.’

‘The strikes against you are raking up. How many now?’

‘After last night, four.’

‘And with Taofick?’

‘Who is that?’ They arrived at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Have a good one, man. Later.’

‘Sure.’

They parted ways. Tayo to paediatrics; Steve to physiotherapy.

saatchart.com

15.

Class. Grace. Effortless grace, Adaobi corrected inwardly, her hand on the door handle of her office. And she’d thought she had that as well as the fashion style icon award in the company. She might need to rethink that one.

Sitting across from Naji Fawaz a few minutes ago, she questioned some of her style choices and mannerisms, failing to take into consideration that the other woman played her skin tone expertly against her predominantly black wardrobe. Who would have thought that alhaji’s daughter-in-law would be so fab? Shattering Adaobi’s vivid images of a hijab-wearing, demure and fully covered individual.  She coveted Mrs. Fawaz’s black lace, figure flattering, calf length dress. It flashed then: one of her most stylish suits (and other personal items) still hung in Tayo’s wardrobe. Confident of their imminent reconciliation and becoming a couple again, she’d delayed retrieving them on the assumption that she wouldn’t have to eventually. Sadly, her plans, like her relationship, remained southwa –

Her intercom jolted her out of her melancholic thought pattern. Where was everyone in her department?  The office was empty and cold, a mirror image of her heart at the moment. Was it lunch time already?

‘AM,’ she spoke into the receiver, dropping the file she had been clutching onto her table.

‘Girl,’ Eme said down the line.’ Who was that beautiful, beautiful creature of nature? And that black outfit…who was she?’

Adaobi grinned, collapsing into her chair. ‘The head of IT candidate.’  She tapped her keyboard.

‘That’s the lady you were talking about? That person might be working here?’ The other woman sounded incredulous.

‘She has a nice personality too.’ Adaobi liked Naji Fawaz already and felt they’d have a good working relationship.

‘So how did the meeting go?’

‘She accepted our offer. She starts on Friday. There’s a management meeting. Mr. A. thinks it would be a good way to integrate her into every aspect of the company.’

‘Does NS know yet?’

‘I can’t wait to tell him! Oya, pack your mind out of being the head of IT.’

Eme’s hysterical laughter was the last thing Adaobi heard before she cut the connection and promptly dialled the IT department.

Seconds later, she finally hung up the phone, letting out a long drawn-out hiss.

Nasiru Shettima, the acting head of IT, reacted predictably to the news. For obvious reasons; he had been preparing for the last six months to assume the role and the prestige it brought.

Tough luck, Adaobi thought. I have been acting for nine months too while still looking for a suitable head of HR. I have exceeded my targets and performed excellently. Yet, after all the commendations and appreciation from management, the position is still open, and candidates are being screened for it.

So why did NS think his would be any different? In fact, he was unlikely to be promoted than she was. Compared to her work ethics and performance, he rated abysmally, and bore no effects on his hopes whatsoever. NS, like Mrs. Fawaz, had ties to alhaji and the same nauseating entitlement syndrome oozing out of Dr. Shettima; he banked heavily on that undue advantage.

She hissed again and clicked on her outlook calendar, ready to insert activities leading to Mrs. Fawaz’ s resumption.

He eased into the house, using his converse-covered foot to tap the door shut, jacket in one hand, laptop bag slung over one shoulder and mobile phone glued to his left ear. ‘I haven’t seen you since Monday,’ he said, marching into the living room.

Deji, strapped in his highchair smack in the middle of the room in front of a raucous animation on the TV and adding his own gurgling noises to it, screamed excitedly at the sound and sight of a familiar face. Kemi popped her head from the entrance of the kitchen, then emerged out of it, a baby sized plate cupped in her hands, stopping for a moment to sink to her knees in greeting.

Tayo bobbed acknowledgement. ‘Then you start work tomorrow.’ He pecked Deji’s damp, succulent cheeks as the baby painted his with soft, clammy palms, then continued in the direction of his room. ‘I don’t know when I’ll see you again. That’s not fair to your man.’  He elbowed his room door open.

‘Are you…my man?’ Naji, on the other end, asked quietly.

Tayo tugged at his tie. ‘I was once and would love to be again, if you let me.’ He sank down onto the bed. ‘I know one kiss doesn’t give me exclusive rights to you, but I’m hoping it tells you where I’d want to go…with you. But not seeing you is not helping.’

‘I thought your clinic days were busy, busy, busy.’

‘They are not a hindrance. Not seeing you is.’

‘I don’t have a babysitter.’

‘I take it you don’t want to leave the children with the new nanny?’

‘Was never part of the plan.’

‘I might be able to work something out.’

‘The fixer.’

He grinned. ‘If I do sort it out, will I get alone time with you?’

‘Yes.’

‘I don’t mind if it’s in the car, I just want some time with you.’

‘I’ve said yes, Tay,’ she replied, unconsciously lapsing into the nickname of their university days.

A beat of silence. ‘That was good to hear,’ he breathed, ‘and means several things – all good. It should keep me going until I see you again…soon, and make me find a sitter asap!’

He heard her low giggle.

‘Good night.’

Tayo waited until she hung up before raising his voice: ‘Kemi!’

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