It was a cool morning and the sun was prepping to take over the day. Iskilu revved his motorcycle and smiled. It was ready for the day’s job. He was about to mount when Muhammed, a fellow commercial cyclist, rushed up to him.
‘Where are you going? Have you not heard?’ He said in Hausa.
Iskilu arched an eye. ‘Heard what Muhammed?’ His response was in the same language.
‘The Governor has placed a ban on the use of Okada and Keke Napep.’
Iskilu sighed before responding: ‘Who told you that? I don’t have time for foolish talk this morning.’
Muhammed ignored the derogatory remark. ‘Abdul heard it in the radio this morning.’
‘Well, I didn’t.’ Iskilu rolled the motorcycle out of the compound, mounted it and rode off.
A customer was already waiting at the junction of the street.
‘Stadium,’ the corporately dressed man said.
‘Na 200 naira Oga.’
As the customer got on the bike, Iskilu remembered Muhammed. ‘Abeg Oga, you hear anything about Okada?’
‘Say wetin happen? Abeg make we dey go. I don late for work,’ the customer responded impatiently.
Another bike zoomed past Iskilu’s. Muhammed had clearly uttered rubbish. He kicked the bike and zoomed off.
He had barely put 100 meters behind him when a policeman stopped him. He was familiar.
‘Sergeant!’ Iskilu hailed confidently.
The policeman ignored Iskilu and told the customer to get off the bike. Swiftly, he reached for Iskilu’s key and pulled it from the ignition. The customer walked off without so much as a word.’
Iskilu was irritated. ‘I just dey start work. I go settle you for afternoon. See as you let customer go. He never even pay me.’
‘You no hear news?’
‘Which news? Why you dey do like say you no know me?’ Then Iskilu noticed the officer’s superior some meters away in a squad van. The malice in his eyes told Iskilu he was done for. Muhammed’s words replayed in his head, dutifully followed by dread. ‘Abeg, Sergeant. Abeg I no hear any news.’
Through the car, Abass gazed at the Ikoyi edifice that towered above the tall gate and it was nothing short of magnificent. He honked once and the pedestrian gate swung open almost automatically. The military aide noticed the car’s plate number and then advanced with calmness. He was tall, heavily built and looked like he had fought in some Peace Corps mission. To Abass, he was Intimidating as hell.
‘Good Afternoon,’ He greeted politely.
‘Good day. I am Abass. I have an appointment with the Speaker.’
‘I am aware of your invitation Mr. Abass. Please come in. He is expecting you.’
A lady ushered him into the living room. It was just as grand as the exterior. Paintings, indoor flowers, sofas, and some exotic ornaments were placed deftly. He was informed that he would soon be attended to.
‘Hello Abass,’ Catherine greeted.
Abass stood up. ‘Hello, Miss Catherine,’ he responded. She had no makeup on and yet her beauty struck him. She looked like she had just returned from some sporting activity, probably lawn tennis from the looks of her matching polo, shorts and sneakers.
‘Don’t be so regal,’ she smiled. ‘Please sit down.’
He obliged and she took the sit opposite him.
‘I have your car here.’
‘No scratch, I hope?’ She teased.
‘I hope not,’ he smiled and handed her the key.
‘Dad was called up for some ad-hoc meeting. He sent his apologies.’
‘I completely understand.’ Abass wasn’t too pleased with the news. Abass would have loved to stay and get to know Catherine some more but that would be inappropriate. ‘I guess I should be leaving now.’ He stood up.
‘Please don’t. The cook went through a lot of trouble to prepare a meal for us. It would be unfair to let it go to waste.’
Although Abass was ecstatic, he only smiled. ‘Very unfair. The least I can do is eat it until every room in my belly is occupied.’
She burst out in laughter and Abass was pleased at the success of the joke. ‘I’ll be with you shortly. I need to get off these clothes.’
The conversation flowed easily like they were good friends trying to reconnect.
‘And that’s how I ended up as Mr. Yayi’s PA,’ Abass concluded.
‘That is quite an accomplishment,’ Catherine praised.
‘I guess I was just lucky. There are countless people out there who are smarter and haven’t gotten this far.’
‘Don’t be so modest. Opportunities came and you maximized it.’
Abass smiled. It was alarming how much he enjoyed her company. ‘I like you,’ he blurted without thinking. As soon as the words were out, he hated himself for being so stupid.
She smiled back. ‘I like you too.’
‘Toyosi!’ Mope called.
‘Ma!’ Toyosi bellowed back in response. The door to Mope’s room opened some seconds later to introduce the help. Toyosi’s eyes were swollen and her head was ringing. It had been fun drinking with her Madam but now that she understood the meaning of a hangover, she no longer relished the experience. She’d have to find a way to politely decline requests like that, should they resurface in the future.
‘You look terrible,’ Mope said.
Her Madam looked terrible too but who was she to point out the obvious, so she simply said: ‘Yes, Ma’.
‘I can’t find my phone.’
‘It is with me Ma,’ Toyosi said and produced a mobile phone.
‘Did that lady leave her number?’
The restaurant spoke class and the atmosphere was serene and homely when Eniola walked through the door. The ambience didn’t do anything to minimize her anxiety though. She didn’t know what to expect from the meeting with her late father’s wife.
It wasn’t hard to locate her.
‘Good Afternoon, Ma.’ Eniola greeted.
Mope looked up with a smile. ‘Good Afternoon Eniola. Please have a seat.’
‘I’m sorry about how I acted the last time,’ Mope began as soon as Eniola took a seat.
‘I understand Ma,’ Eniola responded.
‘Would you like something to eat?’
‘Just a glass of water.’
Mopelola signaled for the waiter and Eniola made her request.
‘Now tell me, Eniola. What do you want?’
Eniola knew that question was bound to come at some point and the only way to answer was with honesty. ‘I don’t know…I was brought up in love. My mother loved me and I loved her. Then she died without any warning. I loved my father too…your husband. He was kind, funny and larger than life. And then he died too. I am lonely and I can’t seem to fill that void. This is absurd…I know you must feel betrayal…you probably hate me because I remind you of him… yet, you seem like the closest thing to him and that makes you the closest thing to me.’
Her response was certainly not what Mope expected. She had expected a conjured will she was unaware of or a demand for a percentage of her late husband’s assets. Certainly not this. Mope studied the face of this stranger that her late husband had wittingly or unwittingly introduced into her life. She saw nothing of a hidden agenda but recognized the look of isolation that quietly sought company. Mope had been housing that same emotion since her husband died.
She sighed. ‘Tell me about yourself, Eniola’.
Someone kept banging the door. It was violent and the door shook like it would come off its hinges any moment from now. Although, he didn’t know what stood behind the door, he was terrified of whatever it was. He shut his eyes, balled over like a child afraid of the monster that lived under the bed. Then, without warning, the door burst open and chill filled the room. Kenneth kept his eyes shut but that didn’t stop the cold touch on his shoulder and the eerie voice that moaned.
‘Why Kenneth?’ Cynthia said. ‘Why me?’
Without opening his eyes, he responded: ‘I’m sorry Cynthia. Please forgive me.’
‘Why Kenneth?’ Cynthia moaned again. ‘Why me?’
‘I never meant to hurt you. I’m sorry,’ he said without looking up. ‘Please forgive me.’
‘Ken, look at me!’ She screamed.
‘Leave me alone!’ Kenneth screamed back and opened his eyes. Nobody was there and his door was shut. He sat up. A few days had passed since he learnt of Cynthia’s death and those days had been knotted with guilt and adjoining nightmares. Everything else in his life was pointless. He hated feeling that way, but he couldn’t pull himself out of it.
His phone rang a few times before he gave it audience. It was Charles, the guy that was determined to save his soul. Kenneth was desperate for an antidote for this misery. ‘Hello.’
‘Good morning Kenneth. How are you?’
‘Not so great.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. We could meet up today, talk about it, if that’s okay by you.’
There was no point mulling over the response. Vulnerability and hopelessness were now his companions. ‘Yes, please. Where and when?’
It was sunny but the breeze was kind. Mitch glanced at his phone as he cleaned the cups perfunctorily behind the bar. Days had passed and he hadn’t received as much as a message from Eniola, the alluring stranger. This was the first time in a long time that he would go out on a limb to rely on a lady to call him. Although, they had spent less than 5 minutes together, he had been thinking about her multiple times every day since that day. Why didn’t he have his phone on him that day? Why was he so impatient? It had only been a few days after all. But didn’t he make enough of an impression to warrant a call? What were the chances of her ever calling again? Was he ever going to see her again?
‘Mitch!’ One of the cleaning ladies called, breaking through his reverie.
‘What Chigozie?’ He asked not looking up from his task.
‘There’s someone here to see you.’
‘Who?’ A little irritated he looked up, about to tell Chigozie to tell the person to wait when he saw her again. Eniola was smiling and his irritation vanished like it had never been there in the first place. Chigozie giggled and left them without saying anything else.
‘Hello Mr. M. I thought I’d stop by. Hope you don’t mind?’
She had gotten him a nickname just like that. Mr. M had a nice ring to it. He loved it. ‘Hi Eniola,’ he grinned sheepishly. Play it cool, he told himself. ‘Please have a sit. ‘Would you like something to eat?’
‘You read my mind.’ She glanced at her wristwatch and said: ‘I have 50 minutes to spare before I return to work.’
He reached for a menu nearby and handed it to her. ‘I’ll recommend the steak and chips.’
‘Steak and chips, it is.’
Mitch smiled and Eniola returned it. ‘Now that you’ve gotten me a nickname, it’s only fair I return the favour. What do you think about Mama Eny?’ Mitch teased.
‘That’s a terrible nickname.’
They both burst into laughter.