Read chapter 1 here
Kemi’s mobile phone beeped loudly, unexpectedly. She froze mid-air, a sleeping Deji cradled in her arms, inches away from the sturdy, wooden contraption that was his cot.
When the sound had no effect whatsoever on his slumber, she lowered him, stomach first on the firm high mattress covered with a blue Donald duck sheet. Then snatching up her phone, she tip-toed out of the room.
The beep turned out to be a message from Tayo.
‘My brother’s not coming home for lunch,’ she announced, walking into the living room where Ruona and Aisha were riveted by a Dora animation.
Ruona swung her gaze from the TV screen. ‘Aww…shucks! Why?!’
‘He says he has a meeting, a working lunch meeting. Whatever that is.’
‘I’d better go home and start packing.’
‘So you’re here just to see Tayo, eh? Not me? Silly, silly.’
‘Of course not! You’re part of the attraction that is Tayo ‘hunk’ Olukoya.’
Kemi hissed good naturedly, unable to hide the smile beneath the gesture. ‘So when are you going back?’ She reached for Aisha, whose eyes were still glued to the screen, and settled the little girl on her laps.
‘Over the weekend,’ replied the other girl. ‘You’re sure you don’t want to change your mind and come with me?’
Kemi shook her head, slowly. ‘I did reconsider after we met. I mean, what were the chances that we’d be in the same school?’
‘I don’t have many friends in Sciences. It would have been awesome hanging out with you.’
‘I’ll be there next session. We can still hangout.’
‘And I’ll be in my final year then, battling almighty project and final exams!’ Rouna whined. ‘Limited time for anything else.’
‘Then let’s use this time well.’
‘Hmmh!’ Ruona’s pretty face screwed up like a collapsed mould of dough. ‘You’ll come visit, won’t you?’
‘Maybe. How about you come? Lugging Deji into school is not a scene I want to create.’
‘Ah, that’s true.’
‘Plus, you might just see Tayo too.’
Ruona’s expression lifted. ‘True again. But I don’t usually show up at Naji’s like that when school’s in session. Unless I’m dead broke. She might become suspicious.’
‘That’s when you didn’t have a friend like me to hang out with. Now you have one more reason. Let’s go look for something to eat. Deji has drained me.’
Faint noises welcomed Naji as she pulled to a stop in the driveway of her new home. Killing the engine of the car, she took a deep breath and leaned back on the chair.
What twisted fate had brought them together again? Never in her wildest imagination had she thought she’d see him again. Almost 20 years after!
In that period, marriage and children had happened to her. Widowhood too, making her single once again but with two constant reminders of what her life looked like when her family had been made of four individuals.
Abdul Fawaz. Oh, how flighty their time together seemed. Somehow, he entertained no thoughts of a long stay here on earth and, thus, took no breath for granted; living in every moment, sweeping her along with him. A whirlwind period with only the tiniest moments to exhale. In retrospect, she had no regrets; she’d been deliriously happy with him.
Notwithstanding, thoughts of Tayo had flashed through her mind in quiet moments. Where was he? How was he? What had become of him? What would have been if they had continued…? But each time they surfaced, she squashed them, telling herself Tayo had forgotten about her the same way she projected she’d about him. And she submerged herself in the love she’d found with Abdul.
After the debilitating pain of his death, her two-year long mourning over, she was only a year into becoming her strong, independent self again. Thoughts of Tayo abated, shrouded by grief for more than three years, only to encounter him face-to-face again. Without warning. His laughing brown eyes beneath the glasses. That smile of his like a landmine to her fragile heart. A wrecking ball to all her defences.
Besides her father (God rest his soul), only one other man on earth called her Enajiomo. His name was Tayo.
She let out a long breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She didn’t need any more complications in her life right now. She had enough to deal with already. Settling in. Getting a job. Settling the children into yet another new school. Living and working with Tayo Olukoya was one hell of a complication!
A melancholy hum, soundtrack of the Godfather movie, reflected her mood as it filled the silence of the car. She peered down at her mobile laying on the console between the front seats. Alhaji showed on the LCD screen.
‘As-Salaam Alaikum sir.’ Her voice, calm and controlled, betrayed nothing of her earlier internal turmoil.
Tayo was shutting down his laptop as a shadow darkened his office door. He looked up.
Steve’s frame strolled languidly into view. ‘I was hoping to catch you before you took off.’ He pulled out the chair opposite the desk his friend was sat at.
‘Yeah?’ Tayo sounded exhausted. It had been a long day of endless meetings and arguments. ‘What’s up?’ He asked without much enthusiasm. His mind had gone home an hour ago; his body an empty shell.
The other man leaned forward. ‘What’s the latest with Alhaji?’
His friend shrugged and sighed. ‘Nothing yet until the board meeting next week.’
‘And do you think he’d go through with it?’
‘I don’t know. He told me that much though. In that soft, educated accent of his.’
‘What are his chances of success?’
‘Taofick’s confident that he would but frankly, I don’t care. I’d let my work speak for me with the other members. Good thing this establishment belongs to three men, not one. ‘
‘His partners are on your side?’
‘They’ve always been.’
‘Then you’ve nothing to worry about.’
‘I’m not so sure, Steve. Anything can happen.’
‘Y’know, he wants to run this place like the nation’s presidency – on a rotational basis. Today, it’s the north; tomorrow’s the south. Next year, it will be the turn of the west. Things don’t work out that way. Competence, qualifications, leadership, track record are just some attributes needed for a position like this.’
‘Thanks for the vote of confidence, man. But we’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out next week.’ Tayo stood up and stretched, clamming down on a yawn at the same time.
Steve straightened too. ‘Are you on your way out?’
‘Just about? Why?’ Tayo closed his laptop, turned around, reaching for a jacket draped over the chair.
‘About this morning…’ Steve began, and let his voice trail off.
His friend swivelled back to him; an eyebrow raised inquiringly. ‘Yes?’
‘You know the Fawaz woman?’
‘I mean, you know her, know her? Every contour, every curve, every mould?’
‘What do you mean, Steve?’
‘Did you go out with her?’
‘Yes, a long time ago in school. Why?’
‘And you let her go? You dey crase?!’
Tayo sighed, removing his glasses. ‘We were young.’ He said. ‘It was complicated.’
Medical Hostel, University of Benin, 1999
Naji had been waiting patiently for the past 30 minutes. The room seemed to get more choked with every passing second. It was past 3am. More people than the small room could hold crowded through the door, standing, sitting, leaning, occupying every available space. Success really had many friends. Apparently, more people knew Tayo than she’d thought.
The sound of the mixed tape of their favourite R & B tunes was drowned by human chatter and laughter. No doubt behind some of the smiles and congratulatory words proffered were those seething with anger, envy, disdain and every other malicious emotion at his victory.
A quarter of an hour rolled by before the crowd began to thin out. In trickles, they departed. In twos. In threes. In loud groups of five and seven. The muscles on Tayo’s face must have been screaming for a break but he kept that unpretentious smile plastered on genuinely until he shut the door behind the very last person.
‘Finally.’ He sighed deeply, making for her ‘Babe, I’m so sorry.’ Long arms enveloped her lithe frame into an embrace.
‘Not your fault.’ She snuggled into his shoulders. ‘There was nothing you could do.’
Amid the attention he drew, Naji noticed his gaze search her out now and again across the room, staying locked with hers for a few seconds or so. Not once did she feel de trop. That singular action warmed her heart, further solidifying the decision she’d taken earlier without Tayo’s knowledge, regardless of the outcome of the election. ‘Did you know all those people?’ She looked up, her face level with his, but didn’t wait for an answer. Wrapping her arms around him, she leaned forward and kissed him full on the lips.
‘Is that my congratulatory kiss?’ A teasing smile appeared.
She shook her head. ‘No Tay, tonight you get more than that.’ Her low tone almost inaudible as she buried her head in his shoulders again.
The smile vanished, replaced with a fairly serious look. He turned in an attempt to see her face. ‘Enajiomo, are you sure?’ His voice mirrored hers.
She nodded into his shoulders. ‘Or don’t you want me?’
She felt his physical response against her thigh before he spoke. ‘I’ve wanted you forever.’ One hand pressed her closer to him.
‘Then what are you waiting for?’
One minute she stood in his arms, the next she swung in the air as he carried her lanky body towards one of the beds at the corner, right beneath the only window in the room.
The kiss resumed slowly, lingering this time, tongues caressing each other, as he lowered her onto the mattress. It seemed to hold promises of what laid ahead, one of which was the leisurely pace they’d adopt.
Then his body barely inches away from hers, he began to undo the buttons on her dress.
He woke up alone.
To sunlight streaming through the flimsy curtains shielding the windows. To the sound of his breathing. To empty space beside him. Where Naji ought to be. Where was she?”
He yawned widely and stretched, momentarily displacing the covering around his nether regions. A little patch of red came into view, drawing a lazy, knowing smile from him. His girlfriend, his baby, his heartthrob was now a woman in the true sense of the word.
He laced his hands behind his head and stared unseeing at the white ceiling boards above him, the smile still in place.
No win could be as big as Enajiomo. Yes, the medical school presidency was a big deal but having her last night was the real prize of victory.
He remembered every little detail of the encounter just as every inch of her nude beauty was engraved, in photographic detail, in his mind.
Her soft moans when his lips grazed sensitive areas. Her fingernails on his back, expressive of her internal emotions. Her gasp when he finally lowered himself into her – that momentary stiffening, the low cry of pain and then a deep sigh when he fitted his entire length into her slippery warmth.
In his mind, he had made love to Enajiomo a million times but the reality, compared to his imaginations, was poles apart. The 18-month wait had been every bit worth it.
Anita Baker’s distinctive and rich contralto voice, as she gave an emotional delivery of her hit song Sweet Love, provided the utmost romantic background vocal as the two youngsters became one, became lovers.
Where was she now?
He turned aside again to the empty space. Only then did he see the piece of paper peeking out from under the pillow.
Gone to class.
See you later.
It read in girlish scrawl.
A knock on the door interrupted the moment. ‘Tayo, are you in there?’ A male voice inquired.
Osagie, his roommate. Tayo scrambled out of bed, taking the tell-tale sheet along in one fluid movement. ‘I’m coming,’ he replied, looking around for his boxer shorts.
She needed more sugar for her coffee. Rummaging through her desk drawer revealed none of those miniature paper packets of sugar that came in handy. She was standing up as the intercom buzzed.
One grey-suited hand reached for the receiver. ‘AM,’ she answered.
‘AM, I just sent you a copy of a CV for the head of IT position.’ Mr. Ayodele’s voice rasped down the line. ‘Look through it and let me know your thoughts.’
‘Right away, sir.’
His mail was the only unread one in her inbox when she glanced at her laptop after hanging up. She clicked on it, then did the same for the attached document.
At a glance, the candidate’s qualifications were spot on. Experience was wide, indepth and detailed. Who was this? Adaobi thought. She needed to settle down and digest the resume; it was looking suitable already. But first, she needed more sugar.
In the staff kitchen, Adaobi’s back was to the door as she searched from cupboard to cupboard. Her skirt suit the picture of professionalism, bulging out of her almost full-bodied figure, her smooth, shapely legs spilling underneath the skirt, and long, dark weave falling down her back.
The door opened a crack as though someone meant to enter. She finally found some sugar and slammed the cupboard door shut.
Swirling around, she paused by the fridge and opened it. The door to the kitchen remained ajar and talking voices floated in.
She was reaching for bottled water when snatches of the conversation drifted inside.
‘…Dr. Olukoya…girlfriend…Steve…Alhaji Fawaz.’
She stiffened at the sound of Tayo’s name, closed the fridge swiftly and made for the door which swung close before she reached it.
By the time she stepped out of the kitchen and onto the hallway, there was no one loitering, only colleagues exiting and entering different offices.
Who had been gossiping about her boyfriend?
‘Good morning sir.’ Tayo tensed unconsciously.
‘Dr. Olukwoya,’ Alhaji Fawaz’s rich blend of mellifluous voice & educated accent floated down the phone line. ‘what is happening to my daughter-in-law’s job?’
‘Her skills will be put to better use in the company, sir, rather than here.’
‘But she wants to work at the hospital!’
‘With only a diploma in physiotherapy, we can only offer a contract job with little remuneration and no benefits,’ the younger man said, ‘on the condition that the department needs someone like that. Her IT skills and experience will give her more leverage at the company. Why waste such talent when we can harness it effectively somewhere else?’
‘Well said young man but you’re missing the point: she has no interest in the company. The hospital it is. That’s why you’re going to make it work.’
‘Sir, would she want a lowly paid contract job?’
‘I don’t want that for her either. So you’re going to see that she gets anything but that kind of position.’
‘Sir, to state the obvious, that would be bending the rules.’
‘It would be you trying to get on my good side, Tayo.’
Tayo stifled a laugh, remaining silent.
‘Dr. Olukwoya? Are you still there?’
‘Are you going to get on my good side by doing this?’
A beat of silence again. Then Tayo spoke. ‘Not this time. I’m sorry, sir.’
The connection went dead.
Tayo sighed, leaned back against the chair. Now he had two strikes against him.
‘Are you okay?’ Concern mixed with tenor tones asked her over the line.
Naji sighed. ‘Yes, Trish.’
‘Are you sure?’ Her friend pressed. ‘You don’t sound like it.’
Naji sighed again. ‘Maybe because my meeting the other day turned out to be a massive shock.’
‘That’s true. We haven’t spoken after it took place. So what happened?’ Trish asked.
Naji rested her elbow on the dining table in front of her and leaned forward. ‘The meeting was with Tayo.’
There was momentary silence on the other end of the line. ‘Tayo? Which Tayo? Uniben Tayo?’
Trish’s sudden scream of shock jerked her friend away from her mobile phone for its duration. ‘How…what…how…where – ?’ The other woman gasped.
‘He’s the head of paediatrics, chief medical doctor, running the hospital.’ Her friend interrupted by way of explanation. ‘I didn’t even know the name of the person I was meeting with. I just knew his titles.’
‘So how…how is he? What does he look like?’
‘Good. A bit older but good. Still works out obviously ‘cos he’s well-toned.’
‘Is he married? Did he recognize you? What was his reaction?’
‘And you were all stiff, I suppose?’
‘Trish, it was like I’d been struck by lightning! He was the last person I expected to see.’
‘From the looks of things, you’re going to be seeing lots of him.’
‘I doubt it.’
‘What do you – ?’
‘I change my mind about working there. I’m going to tell my father-in-law.’
‘Because of a man? Chicken!” Trish playfully spat out.
‘No Naji. This could mean something.’
‘No, please, it doesn’t.’
‘Remember, you broke up with him in school. Not the other way around. He didn’t want to let you go.’
‘Something had changed, Trish. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.’
‘17 years later and you’re still sticking to that line?! Of course, things had changed! You’d just slept with him. He’d just won the medical school election. You were both moving into higher and tougher levels of study.’
Naji shook her head as though her friend could see her. ‘It wasn’t that – ”
‘Ok. Mention one thing he did wrong to justify the breakup.’
‘That win brought about strange bedfellows.’
‘Ha! Ha!’ Trish’s laugh was mirthless. ‘Made him more popular…with girls. Your geeky-looking boyfriend, and you didn’t like that. You didn’t want to share your man, even when you weren’t sharing him with anyone else. He had eyes for you only.’
‘There were those excuses – labs, reading, tutorials, …”
‘All legit, Naji. We both checked! He was drowning himself in his studies because you were pulling away from him, seeing things that weren’t there. Yet you were crying every night knowing he was your one great love. And you threw it all away.’
‘Abdul was another love.’ Naji steered into safer waters.
‘Abdul.’ Trish sighed. ‘God rest his soul. That one, his love for you was unexplainably stupid. I couldn’t understand it but you were happy and that was all that mattered. So, have you seen Tayo again?” With one line, she made it clear which man she was more interested in.
‘Not yet but he has called several times. And texted too.’
‘I haven’t answered any.’
‘Why now?’ Trish’s voice was slightly accusing.
‘I don’t know…I’m still trying to recover from the shock…’
‘We both know you still have feelings for him. No matter how much you’d like to deny them.’
‘I don’t know…’
‘Next time he calls, pick up. Hear what he has to say, and maybe you’ll know whatever it is you ought to.’
‘Trish, you’re not helping at all.’
‘I’m your friend telling you that some people never have a chance at one great love. You’re on the verge of having it twice. Don’t throw it away again.’
‘I don’t know, Trish.’
‘Call me when you do, Naj.’
Roughly 10 minutes’ drive from the estate, the mall was a saner place during the weekdays. No throngs of people taking up every available space as they shopped and indulged in sightseeing and cramped up the hallways. Thursday seemed like the perfect day to visit and experience serenity.
Ruona’s heels echoed in the near empty hallways; her nails, hair and, indeed, entire body needed some tender loving care before school, due in a few days, ravaged it with tediousness, routine and classes.
Last night, big sister doled out an unexpected wad of cash as back-to-school allowance, more than she’d ever received before. Rouna was on a splurging spree. After soft-handed pampering, retail therapy was next on the schedule. Too bad Kemi couldn’t come along; it would have done her some good with time away from Deji. But there was no one to watch over the adorable darling at such short notice.
Looking, feeling and wafting divine, she emerged from the spa an hour later, heading in the direction of Shoprite.
‘You look amazing,’ said a deep male voice to her left.
She barely registered a slender, young man in blue, pin striped suit before acknowledging the compliment. ‘Thank you.’ And continued along.
At the counter, paying for her purchases later, she sensed she was being watched. Turning around, her gaze swept through two empty aisles and towards the left and right sides. Nothing. No one’s eyes were fixed unabashedly on her.
She shrugged, collected her receipt and smiled her thanks. Moments later, she marched into a beauty salon.
Her hair was halfway done when Kemi’s text message dropped in. ur sista & ma bro knw each oda.
A TV set in the salon bled metallic sounds from HipTV. The dull murmur of a hair dryer, roaming to and fro her tresses, added to the dissonance of noise. No meaningful conversation would take place, squashing her first instinct to call.
She texted back. rly? how?
Her response was instant. dey went 2 skull 2geda.
ur broda went to uniben?
yep, d way he tlkd abt her, dere’s more, dere’s more o…I tink.
as in dey went out?
redi 2 bet on it. Wat did ur sis say?
Rouna frowned a little. notin. dis is news 2 mi.
yes. now dat…she wsn’t hrslf on mnday evng.
sed sumtin abt prbly not wrkg @ d hosp agn
ha. ha! I bet u 1K it hs 2 do wit Tayo
Idk, she’s not qualfd laik dat. tld her dat morng
oh, ok bt I don’t tink dat’s d only reason.
wat else did Tayo say?
not wat he sed, how he sed it, wat he didn’t say.
wat do u mean?
his xprsn, d way he lit wen he spoke abt her.
shit! ma chncs jus went 4rom 1 2 0
C u, tke svrl sts jor
not fair, no nid 2 vst agn
u hv no shame bt dis is guess wrk, mite b wrng. I mite b wrng or jus pullin ur legs.
am I wat
pullin ma legs?
d part abt dem knwg each oda is true. not sure abt d rest. Jus puttin 2 & 2 2geda
I’m miserable now. wuz filin fantastic b4.
pele o, let me liv u
aftr causin maj damg
luv u. ‘kiss emoji’
Laden with carrier bags, it was a preoccupied and ravishing looking Ruona who emerged from the salon a long while later, her hair a glossy thick sheet of curtain falling to her back. What if Kemi’s observations were true? If Tayo and her sister dated back in school, and Tayo was as thrilled at their reunion, then she (Rouna) was right to think that Tayo would never spare her the time of day. But if he was the reason Naji backtracked on the hospital job, then there was a glimmer of hope, wasn’t there?
Hardly, she concluded, piling her bags on an empty hallway bench and collapsing beside them. Both Tayo and Naji lived in the same estate. Both still conveniently single and unattached. Both with a history. The odds were stacked heavily in their favour if they wanted to rekindle their relationship.
She sighed deeply. Shit!
‘You still look amazing. I just don’t think you feel it.’ Pin striped smiled from the end of the bench, lowering his frame onto it, the carrier bags separating them.
This time she gave him a proper appraisal, noticing near-perfect, spotless dentition; his easy smile and dimpled cheeks; shiny, ebony colour. His dark brooding looks enhanced by pencil thin moustache and in sync with the impeccable wine-coloured tie knotted at his throat, resting on a fuchsia shirt. Black pointed toe shoes gleaming black as his hairless scalp.
‘I’m just tired…,’ she began, vanity fleetingly overcoming her present concerns before catching herself. Her gaze raked over him again. ‘Are you following me?’
Easy dimpled smile. Enchanting. ‘It’s difficult not to.’
‘Shouldn’t you be at work or something?’ Not that she cared.
‘I finished my meeting earlier, so I have time to kill before going back to the office.’
‘And I became your prey?’
The smile widened. ‘The main attraction in an otherwise uninteresting tour of the mall.’
It was Ruona’s turn to smile; this man had lines. Saying nothing, she turned towards the screen of her mobile phone.
‘I like to take you to lunch.’ He spoke into the silence, ‘if you don’t mind.’
Looking back at him, she grimaced. ‘What do you want, Mr?’ Traces of irritation evident in her tone as thoughts of earlier worries flooded back.
‘Your name, maybe your number,’ he responded, unfazed, ‘if it’s okay by you.’
Confident and polite and demanding and adorable all at once. She hid a small smile. ‘Now, why would I do that when I don’t even know yours?’
‘How clumsy of me! My apologies. I am Maro.’
She stood up abruptly. She was peckish and planned to grab a bit after wrapping up her errands. Only to be side-tracked by the news of an impossible acquaintance and probable romance between Naji and Tayo. Perhaps lunch with this stranger might put her back in high spirits. Plus, who says no to free food? ‘Okay Maro, let’s eat and maybe I’d give you my name. Not sure about my number.’
He straightened too. ‘That’s a start.’ And grabbed her bags in one swift move as she made to do the same. ‘Allow me.’
‘Thank you. How kind of you.’ Mimicking him.
‘Which do you prefer Barcelos or Ocean Basket?’ Giving her two options from the five restaurants housed in the mall.
Not a fast food kinda man, she thought. Nice. ‘Ocean Basket.’
‘Ocean Basket it is. Please lead the way.’
As she strutted towards the escalator leading to the restaurants on the first floor, with Maro behind her, Ruona forgot about the Naji and Tayo situation temporarily.
‘Come in, AM,’ said Mr. Ayodele, beckoning at Adaobi, who stood by his opened door.
FE, the CFO, shuffled out of the office while Adaobi took the seat she just vacated. She laid the papers in her hand on the table in front of her boss.
From behind his glasses, he squinted at them briefly, then looked up at her. His eyes a slight bulge on his fleshy, dark, elderly face contrasting bushy grey-black beard running down from his sideburns and converging around full lips that were pursed, waiting for her to speak.
‘She’s almost a perfect fit, sir,’ Adaobi began, ‘I just had a chat with her over the phone. Her experience is as varied as it is in-depth. We could use that, and she can also teach the IT department a thing or two.’
Mr. Ayodele adjusted small, half-moon glasses up a round nose. ‘Why almost perfect fit?’
‘She has a gap in her resume. I’m concerned that she might not be well acquainted with current IT trends. When I asked her about it, she said she suffered a personal loss.’
The man opposite nodded. ‘Her husband died four years ago.’
‘I understand she continued working, trying to maintain normalcy, until one day she broke down from the grief. That’s when she resigned all together to mourn properly.’
‘So what do you want to do?’
‘Talk with one more candidate and make a decision.’
‘Very well. I’ll leave it in your capable hands. Let me know how it goes.’
‘Ok sir and thank you.’
He nodded again before swivelling his chair to face his laptop, silently dismissing her.
I jus got a free ride 2 skull. The beep heralding the message saw Deji grabbing his mum’s mobile phone, but she was faster than him.
Kemi’s brows furrowed. What was Ruona on about? She sent back a reply. wat d u min?
A few seconds later. I met a guy @ d mall, and…anywy, offrd 2 take mi 2 skull on Satrdy.
Does he knw it’s an 1hr awy?
Longa if d roads r evn badda dan dey used 2 b?
‘Oh, oook Safe journey.’
‘u’re cumg alng o!’
‘uh? whaddya mean?’
‘don’t want 2 b alone wit a strngr.’
‘den y did u accpt?’
‘tchnicaly, haven’t. tld him I’ll tink abburit.’
Smiley face emoji.
‘It’d be gud for Deji & u to get out.’
‘den we’ll b alne wit a strngr on d trip bk. No way!’
‘ok. I’ll tell him no den. Free ride or not. It’s not laik d free lunch.’
‘u hd lunch wit him???
‘yep, he offrd aftr followg me arnd d mall.’
‘he wuz stalking u?!!’
‘wat did u hv 4 lunch?’
‘ cfud platter.’
‘yummy. Dis guy cant b a stdent.’
‘nope. wrks in d coy. Livs in estate 2. Gv me a ride back home.’
‘he’s ok. Drssd nicly. spiks well. made me laf. spent his moni.’
‘nw Tosan hs 2 men 2 fight off.’
‘I jus met dis guy, kemi!’
‘I’m just sayin, sis.’
Angry, red-faced emoji
Laughing emoji. Gotta go. Nid 2 fid Deji.
Kemi was putting down her phone when it beeped almost immediately. ‘Oh Ruona.’ She glanced at the LCD screen.
I’ve seen my wife.
The message read. From a friend of hers. What was he talking about? She wondered. She’d call him later.
Wafting through swinging doors was the intoxicating smell of freshly baked goods.
Emu Bakery was the bigger of the two bakeries serving both estates. Located at the entrance of Estate II, it had only recently expanded its space to create an outdoor dining area, separated from the main lounge by a wall of glass. It was a cosy, rectangular section covered with sky blue awning and bordered by little shrubs of greenery. Quaint tables and chairs arranged for two or three added to its warmth, with miniature handy baskets used as serving trays. It had also increased its slim offerings from bread and fairy cakes to bagels, croissants, muffins, sandwiches and doughnuts replete with all kinds of beverages – hot and iced. More of its customers lingered and held informal meetings.
Craving a bakery breakfast that morning, Tayo swung by on his way to work. He was prepared for a crowd and a queue. Every rush hour in the bakery was the same. There was a crowd all right, most of it at the dining area while the lines formed in front of the counters weren’t as intimidating as he’d suspected. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t wait for at least a quarter of an hour. Other customers milled around waiting to be called upon for their takeaway orders.
He nodded at a few familiar faces and shook some hands too. The estates might be sprawling with numerous houses but the community it held was a rather close one. Most people knew one other. Worked side by side. Were neighbours. Children attended the same school or loved to be attended to by Dr. Tayo. He hardly knew all the people he greeted but the friendly smile or glance shot his way was reason enough to be sociable.
‘Freshly squeezed orange juice, black coffee and a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich, please,’ he said when it got to his turn.
‘Same ol’, same ol’, Adaobi’s voice sang beside him.
‘Oh, hello Ada.’ He looked up, extracting his wallet from his back pocket.
‘How are you, T?’ She touched his shoulders lightly and leaned forward.
He drew away. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Come on, T, you still don’t do pda?’ She flashed him a strained smile while inwardly cringing with shame at his rejection of her advances. She knew a lot of eyeballs were trained at them. She also knew Tayo was no pretender.
He paid for his order, took a number, stepped out of the line and faced Ada who, undoubtedly at that moment, felt less than regal in her black & multicoloured patterned, slim fit boubou with its matching head gear. ‘We broke up, remember?’
‘Ah yes. And I apologised many times for my little indiscretion. I hoped you’d stewed over it and forgiven me. You should give me another chance.’
‘I have forgiven you but there’s no coming back from there. I can’t trust you anymore.’
‘Don’t you miss us, Tayo?’ She shifted gears, splayed manicured fingers on his snow-white shirt. ‘cos I do. We were Mr. & Miss Wonderful once. We can be…’ She paused. ‘Let’s do something this weekend. Where would you…?’ Her voice trailed off when she realized he was staring past her shoulders and towards the dining area.
‘Excuse me, Ada.’ And he strode off in that direction.
She watched him step through the sliding, glass wall and stop by a lone diner whose back was to her. It wasn’t difficult to deduce that the diner was a woman. Luscious, luxurious hair cascaded down her shoulders and onto her back like a coal black waterfall.
Who was that? Ada wondered
Naji felt the hairs on the back of her head rise moments before the lean, toned figure of Tayo appeared at her table.
‘Good morning Enajiomo,’ he greeted, ‘are you avoiding me?’
She squeezed the piece of croissant between her fingers just a tad too hard.
Library, University of Benin, 1999
Someone slid a white folded note onto the table to her and walked away, saying nothing.
Are you avoiding me? The note asked in Tayo’s bold and unmistakable scrawl.
Naji swung around and there he was, poised at the landing/top of the staircase, half leaning on the wall, hands in his pockets, concern etched on his fair-skinned face.
‘Are you ok?’ He spoke first, once she scrambled towards him, her books shoved hurriedly into her bag.
‘Not here! In your room!’ She led the way down the stairs and out of the imposing university library building. The two-minute walk across the lawn and paved pathway to his hostel was a silent, uncomfortable one.
When they arrived at his room, she collapsed on the chair by the reading table, thankful they had the place to themselves.
He hovered over her. ‘Did I hurt you?’ He asked softly, abruptly. ‘When we slept together?’
Shocked, she looked up at him. ‘No! Why would you even think that?’ She asked fiercely.
‘Enajiomo, I haven’t seen you in a week. I don’t know what to think anymore.’ His voice rose. ‘Trish told me you were throwing up and you went into town to use your family hospital.’ He drew a breath. ‘She wanted to know what had happened. I wanted to know what was happening. Why did you vanish on me like that?’
‘You didn’t tell her anything?’
‘Of course not! I was more worried about you. Did I do something wrong? Put you off sex? Or do you regret doing it with me?’
She got up and hauled herself against him. His hand automatically circled her waist, pulling her closer. ‘No, no, no, you didn’t. And that’s the problem.’
‘I’m fine. Maybe my vomiting was extreme.’ Her voice muffled against his shoulder. ‘Now I can’t stop thinking about it. The things you did to me, Tay. How I felt when, when, when…oh, the feeling afterwards. It’s all I can think of and it’s driving me crazy! A sweet kind of crazy.’
She felt his deep sigh of relief and another arm went around her, his face burying inside her long, full, slightly disorganized tresses. ‘Babe, you’re not alone,’ he muttered.
Maro was rounding up his handover session to the nightshift team while Eric, his colleague & friend hung by the door, waiting.
‘Oh boy, oya let’s go now.’
Maro looked up. ‘Bros, one minute.’
Moments later, they strolled out of the office building with Maro glancing down at his mobile phone for the umpteenth time in the last three minutes.
‘Are you expecting a call?’ Eric caught the move yet again as they neared the car park and made for Maro’s navy blue Camry. ‘You’ve been looking at that thing every second.’
The other man shook his head. ‘Not really.’ No word from Ruona yet. What were the odds that she’d take him up on his offer? After all, they had only just met. Nevertheless, he was hopeful; they had connected and enjoyed each other’s company. ‘I’m supposed to have a road trip tomorrow. Someone was supposed to confirm but hasn’t.’
‘Oh, ok’ Eric jiggled a handle and slid in. ‘So where are we headed?’
‘I beg drop me at home.’ Maro tugged the seat belt around his body.
His friend slanted him a look, his light-skinned attractive face somewhat confused. ‘Are we not hitting the club together?’
‘Not to tonight, man. I have a road trip tomorrow, remember?’
‘I’m the one driving. Let’s hang out for a bit and then – ”
‘Rain check. Another time. I don’t want to kill myself and other people tomorrow.’
Eric grunted, gunned the engine and reversed.
‘Just get my car in early in the morning, say between 7 & 8am. I leave at 9.30am.’
‘Right. And I’ll tell you about all the action you missed tonight.’
‘Have fun on my behalf. I need to sleep. And be careful with my ride. Bring it back in one piece.’
‘Yes sir!’ Eric saluted and stepped on the accelerator.
A tiny smile was beginning to chase across Maro’s face when his mobile phone beeped.
Is ur offr still on?
The text, from a number he had named babe & a half, asked.
Immediately, he tapped the dial icon.
‘Maro, hi.’ Her lazy pitched, strident voice filled his left ear; he seemed to sink into the chair at the sound of it. ‘I wasn’t sure if it was too late to call or accept.’
‘No, on both accounts. It’s fine.’ He fought to keep the excitement out of his voice. Hurray! Just when he thought he was unlikely to hear from her.
‘I’m bringing a friend of mine along,’ she continued. ‘That’s the only way I can say yes. I hope you understand.’
He nodded as though she could see him. ‘Completely. Better to err on the side of caution.’ From the corner of his eye, he saw Eric throw him a glance.
‘Okay. Is 11am too early for you on a Saturday?’
‘No. I’ll see you then.’
‘Good night and thank you.’
‘You’re welcome. Good night too.’
The connection broke as Eric pulled up in front of the bungalow where Maro lived. ‘Don’t forget, 8.30am, latest 9am.’ He told his friend upon alighting.
‘One girl has made you add an extra hour.’
‘I thought you’d be happy.’
‘Come with me now. I’ll be happy then.’
‘Good night, man. Don’t get too wasted.’
An excited schoolgirl shriek forced Naji’s eyes open. She had been awake for more than half an hour but reluctant to leave the warmth of the bed.
It was a Saturday, the lazy day of the entire week for her. And she was doing just that, taking it easy. Not everyone shared her idea of the day, especially the producer of the sound which jolted her out of her tranquil state.
Human noises led her to the sitting room, as she wrapped a light pink silk housecoat firmly around herself.
Two of the three adults rose to their feet once she emerged. Kemi, with a smile, greeted first, while trying to hold on to a restless Deji who wanted to join Rasheed & Aisha on the floor watching cartoons.
The other adult, a young man, genuflected low. ‘Migwo ma.’ His rich orange, collared T- shirt clashed brilliantly with his ebony skin and shaved head.
Naji’s eyes, attempting to conceal her surprise at his choice of greeting, gave him a once over. ‘Vren doh.’ She turned to her little sister. ‘ This is Maro?’
Rhona nodded. ‘Yes.’
Naji faced Kemi now.’ You two know each other?’
Kemi looked up from setting her son on the floor.’ Yes ma. We’ve been friends for about five years.’
Naji’s gaze swivelled back to Maro. ‘ So I can trust that you’ll drive safely?’
He nodded. ‘Yes ma.’
‘Good.’ Back to Ruona. ‘When you’re set to leave, let me know. And Maro, it was nice meeting you.’ She rested her eyes briefly on him, then looked away and turned around.
‘You too, ma.’ He responded to her now receding back.
In her room again, Naji grabbed her mobile phone and scrolled through her contact list, stopping at the letter T.
His phone started ringing as he stepped out of the bathroom. Wrapping a large fluffy towel around his lower body, Tayo half circled his bed to reach the device on the cabinet by the window.
The name on the screen curved his lips. ‘Hello Enajiomo.’
‘Hi Tayo. Is this a good time to call you?’
‘For you, it’s always a good time.’
Their chance meeting at the bakery yesterday helped thaw the ice between them considerably.
Abandoning his earlier plan to have breakfast as a takeaway, Tayo had eaten it at her table. There, during the hour they kept each other company, they discussed a range of topics. Top on the list was running into each other after a long spell.
Naji’s still in mild shock at the prospect while his feelings quite the opposite – absolutely elated to see her again. The cherry on top was their proximity while living and working. It was then he understood her reserved reception the first time they met; her monosyllables and stiffness made sense.
Affirmative, she had been avoiding him. Negative, she refrained from picking up his dozen or so calls or replying to his gazillion inquiry text messages. She was still dealing with his presence back in her life and environment.
He apologised, somewhat wistfully, when he realised she didn’t share his feelings about their abrupt reunion and promised not to invade her space unless she initiated it.
‘You’re doing exactly that now.’ She pointed out in a gesture which encompassed his being and breakfast. For a moment they stared at each other and then burst out laughing.
At some point, Steve Mebitaghan stopped by on his way to the hospital, coffee and doughnuts in hand, said hello and left.
After that, their conversation became more professional and politics-inclined than personal. Unknown to either of them, Ada had witnessed the entire scene, still wondering who the long-haired female was.
A beat and Naji spoke now. ‘Our sisters are travelling together today.’
‘That’s correct,’ he answered, locating his body lotion.
‘Kemi says she has been friends with Maro for a while?’
‘That too is correct.’ Where was his body spray?
‘Do you know Maro?’
‘He’s my friend’s younger brother. He’s Steve’s brother.’
‘The same one.’
‘But…but they are so different in looks!’
Tayo laughed. ‘You won’t be the first to say that.’
‘Believe it or not, and Maro is a very responsible young man. Maybe a bit too responsible for his age. You have nothing to fear. If I felt Kemi and Deji were in any danger of his driving, I’d have stopped them. They are all in safe hands.’
A sigh of relief filtered down the line. ‘Thank you. I needed that reassurance. Ruona might be an adult but as long as she’s under my roof, she’s still under my care.’
‘I understand. I feel the same way about Kemi and Deji’, he said. ‘Relax Enajiomo. You have nothing to worry about. What are you doing today?’ He switched topics.
‘House – and babysitting. Why?’
‘Have you been to the club house?’
‘There’s a clubhouse? I didn’t know that. I haven’t been anywhere, Tayo, besides my house, the bakery and the hospital.’
He laughed a little again. ‘You’ve been somewhere at least. Would you like to see it?’ He asked, cocking his head to the side at the sound of his doorbell. ‘We could do lunch. There’s a swimming pool and kids’ play area.’ He walked out of the room.
‘Sounds fun. The kids would love that. Yeah, let’s. Thanks.’
He reached the front door as the bell went again. He swung it open. ‘Is 12.30pm ok by you?’ Adaobi, in skintight trousers and a red sheer camisole straining against her breasts, stood on the other side.
‘Yes. We’ll be ready.’
‘See you then. Bye.’
Tayo caught Adaobi’s brazen gaze on his exposed torso.
She flashed a smile. ‘Hello T. You look good enough to eat.’ And she stepped into the house.