Read episode 3 of Love on the 25th by @UnenAmeji
I took her frail hand in mine and watched as a mix of emotions played out on her face. Running a facial recognition memory scan, I came out blank. I knew I had seen her somewhere before but the place and time eluded me as I fought hard to recollect. The awkward handshake had gone on for more than five seconds and I released her hand, smiling self-consciously.
Perhaps a one night stand, a fling? I scanned furiously, bent on finding out where I met her as Debbie introduced us. Her luggage was carried to the boot and I played my dazzling smile reserved for awkward situations as I now found myself.
“Nice to meet you Sandra” I said holding the door opened for her as she got in still looking at me. Soon we were driving out of the airport amidst their laughter sidelining me as I sat as the passenger.
“Dinner anyone?” I asked aloud, cutting the exchange between the two short. I was rooting for Debbie to refuse.
“No” it was Debbie.
“Yes” it was Sandra. Both had spoken at the same time. I smiled.
“Well?” I coaxed.
“I am tired. Need to retire early” Debbie who was sitting behind me explained.
“Sandra?” I called.
“Well, a short one will be alright. Kind of hungry” she said with a smile, a cleft appearing on her chin.
“Great. We drop Debbie and get to it?” I asked, relaxing visibly.
“Debbie?” it was Sandra.
“Yes. That will be perfect” she said and they continued with meaningless gist. We arrived at the Hilton 30 minutes later after series of private laughs and quick questions as to how Abuja works and how safe residents were.
Debbie was out of the car almost immediately carrying her legendary briefcase and taking a call.
“So you two have fun. Bring back some grilled chicken, will you?” she was saying covering the mouth piece as Sandra came round to give her extra large handbag to the bellboy before extracting a purse.
“You should come you know” she persuaded as Debbie continued on her phone call.
“Tomorrow I promise” she said covering the mouth piece again.
“Yes, yes sir” she continued waving us off.
“See you tomorrow” she directed at me with a nod and walked away in fascinating steps that had her backside giving me dirty thoughts. Almost disappointed, I focused on task at hand.
“Shall we?” I asked holding the door for the lady I was eager to identify.
The drive to Grills&Bar in Wuse II was in complete silence and I wondered if this was a case of a broken heart I had no idea of.
“A great place” Sandra finally voiced out as I took my favorite spot at the far end of the large room.
“You should wait for the food” I replied easily. The attentive waiter approached and soon the table had two trays of sizzling grilled seafood mix and a bottle of Pinot Noir littering it. I was more interested in finding out where we met and barely touched the tray set out in front of me.
“So I take you want to know where we met” she said cautiously as she chewed on the mix.
“I was looking for a better way of approaching that” I tried a charming smile. If she was going to throw the bottle at me, I was buttering her up to reconsider.
“You could have asked” she said swallowing and flushing the mix with a large gulp.
“Obviously” I was playing cute. She was serious and tensed now.
“Remember the homeless stranger you always gave N1, 000 every Thursday at Oshodi Bridge some five years ago?” she asked suddenly, looking at me straight in the eyes.
“You?!” I was shocked; looking at the beggar – woman who I thought was dead; memories that eluded me earlier threatening to flood my senses.
The day had started out like any other Thursday and I had just dropped at Oshodi to take a connecting bus to Bode Thomas in Surulere, when out of nowhere the female beggar who I always gave N1, 000 ran past me to the Express and got knocked down instantly. Immediately, traffic pooled at the scene and as I stood rooted to a spot, I saw her slumped body been carried away in the car that had knocked her down. That was the last time I used public transport to C.D.S and three weeks later after the Passing-Out-Parade, I was on the last flight to Abuja.
“Yes, I was the beggar. I can never forget your eyes. They were so expressive and kind” she said smiling.
“I had no idea…I am so sorry. What happened to you? I thought you were dead, I saw you the day you got knocked down and I just thought …” I couldn’t complete the sentence. How did she survive? Did she go back there? How did she meet Debbie? What really was her story? I sat back totally shocked as I studied her frail frame and perched eyeglasses. It was really her!
“Thank you Vincent for those months. I really owe you my life” she said, now somber and quiet.
“It was nothing Sandra. I mean” I said throwing my hands up.
“You know, you were also the first person I spoke to when I came to Lagos” she said looking at me.
“How is that?” I was confused now.
“A lady asked where she was and you told her Oshodi in the funniest of accent. Can you remember?’” she asked, looking at me with a small smile.
“Well, I really do not remember” I answered truthfully.
“But of course. You don’t even have the accent now. I went back to Oshodi Bridge in search of you and when you stopped that first day to give me money while I sat waiting to see if you would pass by, well, I just couldn’t stand up and tell you to help me. I guess I just sat there waiting for the day I’d have the confidence to tell you I needed help or have you accommodate me. Now that I say it out loud, it sounds stupid” she said avoiding my eyes and trying hard to smile through slowly watering eyes.
“But you should have or gone back home” I said holding out my hand to her.
“I paid to stay under the bridge. It was that way or you know…., pay some other way” she said, eyes fixed on the entrance behind me, leaving out the home part.
“……so the Thursday you didn’t show up, I had no money to pay rent……” she continued, the implication dawning on me. She was running from an attacker.
“You were running” I said sitting up.
“Yes” she took her hand from mine, steadily taking a sip of her glass.
“I am sorry” I apologized and she smiled bravely.
“Oh! It is nothing” she said cheerfully and dropped her glass but I knew she was pained.
“Glad you are alive and doing so well now” I said, feeling sorry for her.
“So what is happening between you two?” her blunt question momentarily taking me by surprise.
“You mean Miss Black yes?” I said formally.
“Debbie. Yes” she corrected
“She is a mean colleague” I made a serious face and we broke into a laugh.
“Not fair! She is so not!” she defended, playfully hitting me on my shoulder as she took a sip of her glass again.
“I mean it. She puts mean to shame” I stressed and she broke out in another round of laugh shaking her head in the negative. The conversation improved after that and the rest of the evening turned lighter with few laughs and a recount of the little stunt Debbie pulled.
“So what are you going to do now?” she asked after the laughs.
“Oh well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be. She is not giving me a chance to explain” I said signaling the waiter.
“I can’t believe I missed it though. Maybe she needs convincing or time.” she sweetly and I nodded.
“From Miss Black” I sounded professional and she was giggling again.
“Maybe” and she gave a small yawn.
“Time to go to bed” I said as she tried to stifle another yawn. A short dinner had turned to a long reminisce of 1,825 days. I was tired too.
“What time is it?” she asked taking a look at her watch.
“10:53pm” I said looking around the almost empty lounge after I had paid for the dinner and Sandra ordered for two extra plates to be packed separately.
“We should go”.
The tired driver smiled openly as Sandra handed him a bag she had ordered for him.
“Thank you Ma” he said collecting it before opening the door for her with enthusiasm.
“I bet she won’t be awake to eat her order” I said we walked into the hotel at 11:08pm.
“She is awake” she said breezily as we headed to the 6th floor.
“What room?” I asked as we stepped out of the elevator.
“She said 414”
“And here we are” I said as we stood in front of the door and she gave a tap. I held my breath, waiting to see Debbie in a night dress.
The door opened but instead of her was my father. I turned to stone as I watched him give her a cold perk and greeted Sandra who was smiling from both ends of her face.
“My friend Sandra, she is here to make sure I get the job done” it was Debbie making introductions and smiling openly.
“Mr. Fatasho” she said.
“Please, Abel” my father said taking Sandra’s hand in his large palms.
“Nice to meet you Abel” Sandra said.
“My pleasure. Please enjoy the rest of the night. It is past my bed time” he said in his usual fashion and both ladies laughed. I gave a grunt.
“How is it going?” he asked me as he joined me outside the door.
“It is ready” I said tensely as I directed a heated look at Debbie in silky night shorts and sleeveless top. Why was she exposed with my father? I had my reservations about my father giving her the position but having him in her room at this time of the night and in that night dress?
I was jealous.
Silence trailed the group. Sandra spoke.
“Well, I am so tired standing in these heels. I should get ready for bed”
“Do come around the office tomorrow or I will have the driver come pick you up for lunch” he said to Sandra taking her hand again.
“Good night Sandra” I said as she gave me a hug and gave a nod to Debbie before turning on my heels.
‘Green markers indicate profit optimization’
‘Orange needs a little pick me up or rework’
‘Red needs to be cancelled entirely to cut company losses or have new businesses developed’
The whiteboard served to clear my thoughts as I scribbled with the markers after studying the companies under the Group till 2:00pm.
With only my camisole and bare feet, I matched back and forth to map out my thoughts on the white board. Having studied the market and the position of each company in the market, I projected how fast they would respond to capital injection and drastic marketing campaign I was putting up for a small budget. Mr. Fatasho’s words ringing in my head. Zenith Group was in the deep and now more than ever needed failing companies to declare high profits or be faced with options of foreclosing some of them. Amputating-the-cancerous Mr Fatasho had described it.
Out of 12 companies, 8 were in red markers. Sage&Sages surprisingly had the highest rating for a period of 13 months while I was head of the business division. Goidab Nig. Ltd, a manufacturing company was now taking its place. As I walked back to the board to put down my next line of thoughts, my intercom rang.
“Yes Idris” I called somewhat irritated at the disturbance.
“She lives” it was Vincent.
“I see you working on my father” he accused and I took my seat.
“I see you working on Sandra” I teased.
“I am not and you know it” he snapped.
“Don’t get green under your collar. I am busy at the moment. Is there something I can help with?” I asked, turning to look out of my glass wall.
“I bet you are. We are having dinner after work and you are going to work on getting back my fiancée” and with that he dropped.
I smiled wondering what his problem really was. 7 years older than him, I briefly considered giving the ‘seniority-card’ but decided against it. He was just a boy scorned but he would get over it soon enough. As it were, I had work to do.
The next few hours flew as I developed remedies for failing companies, proposed capital injection to companies filing for bankruptcy and reviewed business models being implemented. I called for the meet tomorrow with the team for a brainstorming session and stretched satisfactorily with legs on my table. At this pace, the presentation to Mr. Fatasho would be ready within the week.
Sandra had called to ask me if it was a go to have lunch with Mr. Fatasho earlier and I had grudgingly agreed. She was like my younger sister and I was perpetually on the lookout for her.
The intercom rang interrupting my thoughts.
“Dinner time” it was Vincent again. I looked at the grand wall clock and it told me it was 6:25pm.
“Great. I am leaving the office in 5. Meet me at the elevator” I said dismissing him purposely. I was packed and left the office in 5 minutes.
“Have a nice night Idris” I said as I walked past my receptionist.
“Good night Ma”
“Debbie, you can call me Debbie”
“Yes Ma” he said and I smiled. He was so jittery and fuzzy.
He was waiting by the elevator and joined me on the way down.
“You look horrible” he complimented as he entered.
“Evidence that I am working for your father” I said with a smile as we rode down. I was holding my blazers and was itching to get rid of the heels pinching my toes. ‘Get flats to the office’ I made a mental note.
“I took the liberty of dismissing your driver since I will be your chauffeur for the evening” he stated as we got down and I instinctively looked around for my driver.
“By all means then” I said and I followed his lead.
It was 6:40pm by the time we were parking in front a classy restaurant downtown.
“You don’t wait to have your door opened, do you?” he asked as he caught up with me.
“You were too slow” I told him as we walked to the airy restaurant and sat down. It was visibly empty as we gave our orders to the eager attendant. He returned with the drinks and gave a slight bow.
“So, what was my father doing in your room last night?” he asked after I had taken a sip of the content of my glass known as Frozen Ocean – which apart from the iced cubes topping tasted like diluted palm wine with apple flavor. So much for packaging.
“Confidential” I replied already questioning his choice of restaurant.
“Alright. I’d let that rest for a while” he said.
“Did you deliberately bring me here to have shabby dinner?” I asked as I stared at the Fisherman’s stew and boiled plantain I ordered.
“A little bad food to appreciate good food” he smiled as he took a fork of the content of his plate and made a face.
“Please check” I said to the waiter who was beside us in a moment.
“This place was recommended” he said after he hijacked the bill and settled it.
“I bet it was. So where are you taking me now? I really need a good dinner” I continued as we got into his car. I was really hungry.
“Going to show you your house quickly before dinner. We have all night to work on your strategy on getting my fiancée back” he said as we drove to where he said was Maitama Extension.
The neat and furnished semi-detached duplex in a large compound of two units was impressive. The green lawn and thick rounded columns gave the house an imposing stance. The swimming pool at the back of the house got me itching to take a swim and the standby 15KVA plant served both houses.
“Now let’s take you inside” he said and we went to the huge front door. It opened to a gallery-like white room with paintings on the wall and a door he told me led to the back of the house.
The white handrails sprawling up the stairs to each room gave the house a Victorian look with polished black wood and artworks littering the walls from the sitting room and kitchen on the first floor to bedrooms on the second and third floor respectively. The space and wardrobes was just perfect and beds already made in white linen made me yawn. I could see Sandra jumping around when she sees her favorite – a Jacuzzi in the master’s.
The furnished house required little move-in effort and I was already making plans to have Uloma help me move my packed boxes without going back to Port Harcourt. I had a lot on my plate but I had to convince Sandra to make the move with me, considering the extra rooms and ample space.
“A good place. I take you like it” he said as the tour came to an end.
“It is perfect” I said as we descended and walked out of the house.
Next, he crossed the small fence and stepped on the lawn of the adjoining house.
“Isn’t it same design?” I asked as he produced a key.
“Not really, I live here. That was Jaja’s house but since he is no longer business head, I guess we are now neighbors and colleagues. Dinner is ready” he said with a big smile as he entered inside.
I stood, temporarily processing the information. Was this what Mr. Fatasho meant by taking drastic budget cut?
“This is not happening” I muttered under my breath as I followed him in.
There was no way in hell I’d have Vincent Fatasho as my neighbor.