The buzz in the place went down gradually as people began to leave. I sat, people watching. My feet hurt after moving around having a word with many individuals as possible. My clients and potential leads. I had fun at the party meeting people and congratulating myself on the new leads.
My uncle fusses that the only thing I think about is my work, but that is who I am. I draw my identity from what I do. I guess that is what we all do? The thought of what my life would be without the job is one I have not given myself the torture of exploring. I choose to leverage on my age and the fact that I have more years to retirement.
Sitting with a glass of champagne in my right hand, I used the left hand to pull off my shoes and place my feet on the bare floor. I could feel relief flowing from my feet to the whole of me. Who invented shoes with heels? It was glamour and torment. A necessary evil. Similar to the different sides of a coin, both sides equally important. I was still musing over the thoughts of heels and shoes when I hear Peju’s voice.
“How many glasses of wine have you had today,” she asked as she came around to where I sat.
“No Idea. My friend has finally decided to grace me with her presence after deserting me for some guy you just met.”
“Is someone jealous?”
Trust Peju to make light something so serious.
“I think you should take it slow. Don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“It is too early to start worrying Lana. I have not said I am going out with the guy. We just met and gravitated to one another. We have so much in common, and I had an entertaining evening in between meeting his friends, business associates and talking.”
Peju moved and hugged me laughing.
“I will be okay. Please do not send your vibes of worry my way so I don’t chicken out like you,” she remarked.
“Where you afraid? was that what happened with Bode?”
I looked at Peju not only had her comment hurt she was bringing a topic that was a taboo for me.
“When do we leave?” I stifled a yawn changing the subject.
“One day, you will tell me all that happened because I have a feeling that Bode’s shadow has been hanging over you, and I fear that it might destroy any other future relationship before it starts,” she concluded boldly.
Peju has always been diplomatic when discussing Bode. Mostly saying nothing but today she threw caution to the wind.
I sipped on my champagne again.
“How many of this glasses have you taken today?” she asked again but this time worriedly taking the glass away from me.
“I told you earlier, can not recollect,” I answered irritably.
“You might as well be on the highway to drunkenness.”
“That’s a joke right,” I said more of a question than a statement.
If that’s that case, I should be staggering and voicing obscenities,” I chuckled at my lame joke.
I rarely took alcohol and whatever I had been taking the whole evening did not taste like hard liquor, not that I was an expert in wine tasting to know but I trusted my sense of smell and taste.
“Where is our manager?” Peju asked.
“Off to a family program,” I answered annoyed as to why we were having this discussion. If she was so interested in his staying why did she abandon me to keep his company? Although it was not a hard task, I could not hide the fact that I did have a lovely time.
Peju had this look on her face. I knew that look. The one of a battle to express or not express a thought.
“I saw you in one of your rare unguarded moments even though my theory could be wrong, time will tell,” she commented.
Tonight I was not interested in goading her to explain what her theory was. Perhaps tomorrow but right now I needed a bed.
“Are we set to leave?” I asked.
“Yes, all set. Shall we?”
As we walked towards Peju’s car, I asked her if I should be organising a wedding.
“That would be too late I think a baby dedication is more like it,” Peju laughed.
“You’re beginning to sound like your uncle,” she teased.
“You are in a hurry to get me out of your life but sorry girlfriend you’ll be seeing me around for a long time, not a relationship is significant enough to keep me away.
I hoped so. I desperately hoped so, but I also knew the dynamics of our relationship was set to change. Peju thought she leant on me and that I was the strong one, but it was the reverse. She was active, funny and took life less serious than I did. She was the sanity I needed in my planned ordered world. The crazy and stupid stunts I pulled that made my life interesting were Peju’s and the need sometimes to shock her. She saw beneath my calm, cold exterior to the heart of me.
I dozed off as soon as soon as I got into the car. I could hardly remember the trip home or how I got out into bed.
I woke up to a brightness that blinded my eyes. I groaned as I used the pillow over my head. My head was pounding like a thousand hammers clanging down on me.
“You are alright?” I could hear Peju’s voice from a distance.
“No. My head hurts,”I croaked.
I heard her walk out of the room and back again.
“Here is a glass of water and aspirin. It will help,” she said as she sat on the bed helping me up.
“I am going to church and won’t be back immediately. I am having lunch with Phil. There is food in the fridge all you need is to microwave it.”
The banging in my head won’t stop. I was overwhelmed with pain and could not comment on this new piece of information.
I laid back in bed willing with all my might for the pain to go or for some sleep which had eluded me.
“Is this what a hangover felt like?” I asked no one in particular. The conversation was taking place in my head.
I vowed never to trust the judgement of my sense of smell and taste on alcohol as I tried to recall how many of glasses of wine I drank. Was there any warning signs that I had taken more than enough?
I staggered up aghast; the pain in my head all but was forgotten.
“I had agreed to go out dinner at some place with My Boss. What was I thinking?
It was harmless, a part of me argued.
But I did not want to subject myself to office gossip. People would read meanings into it.
I should have refused the other part of me chastised.
I must have been drunk to have agreed to that. The sensible thing to have done was to decline politely and agree never to bring up the issue of name calling again or agreed to a truce since he was now a better person as a result.
Oh, what is wrong with me? I was alert the whole time. My senses were working fine except my taste buds and sense of smell.
The entire event of last night flooded back. I grimaced ashamed of my behaviour. I must be losing it.
How was I supposed to face the boss tomorrow at work?
Why did he not say something to alert me I was out of my element?
I had this battle going on in my head as I planned my redemption act of which there was no clear-cut plan till sleep took over my tired eyelids.
Whatever strategy I had devised on Sunday was of no use as my Boss was out of office the most of the week for meetings with the management. He was back to work mid-day Friday, about the time I was getting excited of the inevitable cancelling of the dinner.
I realised I was typing and re-typing my reports. I seemed to be making mistakes and was not going ahead on it. That the deadline was in an hours’ time did not help me. I could not put my thoughts together.
The phone on my desk rang.
“Consumer Sales Lana,” I chimed with the usual enthusiasm we used on the phone.
“Hello Lana,” came the deep baritone voice from the other end.
It was my Boss.
For some seconds, I was blank on what to say
“Are you there,” he asked.
“Are you busy at the moment? I could call back,” he offered.
By now I have wrapped the cord around my fingers nervous, and my colleagues were staring at me.
“It is a report I am working on, and I am having a little issue with the tables. I have less than 45 minutes to send it in.
“Send the report to my box, let me see if I could help,” he said and dropped the phone.
My plan was getting messed up by the minute. My beautiful speech of how I would be unable to go was all dissolving into the thin air.
“You okay?” Chika one of my colleagues asked.
“Yes,” I snapped.
I apologised to her immediately. She was being concerned, and here I was taking my frustration out on her.
I fumbled with the report adjusting the tables, but the result was not as expected.
Twenty minutes later, Andrew called back to check what he sent.
I went over the report and what I had been having issues with was resolved.
“Thank you,” I said effusively.
“I get my thanks at our outing this evening.”
“I hope you have not forgotten,” he said, and there was a pause at the other end like he half expected me to back out.
“No,” I smiled falsely into the phone notwithstanding that he could not see my face.
I asked for the venue which he declined on the premise that it was a surprise. How do I say I did not want to leave the office with him?
“I brought my car and would like to drive back home without having to come back this way to pick my car,” I explained which seemed like a good reason.
“You could drive behind me,” he said thoughtfully.
The outing was a bad idea. I worried what to say if I would relax and enjoy the meal, what my colleagues would think. The last thing I needed on my plate now was rumours of an office romance that did not exist.
At the close of work, Peju was off with “see you tomorrow.” Phil has been picking her from work since the beginning of the week. Whatever was going on looked intense, and while I was happy for my friend, I was also worried about if it did not work out. From my discussion with Phil before the party, I know he would be back in Dubai next week. He was not through with the project they are working on there.
We drove downtown into an area that was not familiar. I was getting paranoid after a while if I was safe as we turned into a white bungalow well hidden by the trees surrounding the driveway. It was surprising that there were still areas in the town with vegetation as against the bricks and concrete all over the place.
I switched off the engine of the car and took a deep breath. I was startled when I opened my eyes, and he was already by the door to help me open.
“What’s this place?” I asked looking around appreciatively. The outside was breath taking. The lawn neatly cut with shrubs designed to read the word “welcome”e and in the middle an outdoor fountain statue of a Bronze woman pouring out water with a calabash held by her neck and the water forming a puddle at her feet.
I went to look at the figurine closely. I doubted if anyone noticed the expression on the face of the woman but I could see someone who did what she had to do without deriving any joy from it as she put up a front of what people wanted to see. You could gaze at her and envy her look of perfection and purpose, but there was the hidden sadness in her eyes. Did she think herself helpless or was she clueless how to make her life better than that which society thrust on her? Who was she? A maidservant? A royal posing for a painting? The folds of her cloth depicted luxury may be silk which could only be worn by someone of class.
“She’s beautiful, but her eyes have sadness in them,” I said to Andrew referring to the statue.
“If you can’t leave her, then wait till you go in, and I must warn you ahead you might not want to leave this place.This way,” he gestured.
“You are about to enter a different world you have not experienced before,” he raved with a cocky grin.
“You think so?” I challenged all trepidation gone.
Andrew could not have been more right, and it was magnanimous of him not to gloat over it.
I was taken aback at the beauty and display of wealth.
It was a restaurant but designed as intimate mini lounges. There was a bar, and a life band was playing soft, soothing music.
“We could eat here, outdoor or upstairs,” Andrew said.
I looked upstairs, and I was mesmerised. The massive chandeliers cast a million drops of light below. I could imagine how it would look up there. Like a kid, I requested to go and see.
Upstairs was breathtaking. There were a mini pool and a fountain with the seats arranged around. The water had lights under it and some sea creatures that were not real jumping in and out of the water.
I settled for downstairs. We got a seat by the window which allowed us to see the beauty outside. In spite of the fact that it was night, the whole outdoor was lighted up.
I fell in love with that place and promised to come back here alone if Peju would not come.
As soon as we settled in our seats, a bottle of wine was brought including the menu list.
They had both traditional and continental dishes. We opted for traditional. I was sceptical but ventured for the fried plantain with pepper sauce and grilled fish while Andrew opted for a rice recipe called “Masa” with vegetables and steak meat. For drinks, we had pure mixed fruit juice of oranges, lemon, mango and pineapple.
“I would not be touching that,” I blurted out rather too quickly. I could not forget Saturday in a hurry.
“It is nonalcoholic,” he said reading my mind.
“I’ll let that pass I don’t seem to be a good judge of alcohol.”
“I promise it’s not like the one you had at that party.”
I looked at him suspiciously.
“What do you know about that?”
“You secret safe with me,” he said laughing.
“You knew?” I accused.
“I picked you from Peju’s car. You were stone dead asleep.”
I covered my face in mock shame.
“You did not.”
“You did not.”
We went on like two little children.
“I did not if that is what you want to believe I am game,” he shrugged.
“I can’t believe it.”
Andrew narrated how he called my phone to be sure Peju and I had arrived home. Peju picked the call that we were home, but she was having a challenge getting me inside because I was dead asleep.She could neither carry nor drag me.
Luckily he was two blocks away from Peju’s place, and he drove by to help her take me in.
I was going to skin Peju alive for keeping that part away from me.
Our meal came in no time. Hot and sizzling.
“Do you want to try this?” he asked.
I looked over at Andrew’s.
“I’ll stick to what I know.”
The meal was tasty, and every bite was rewarding.
I never knew a simple meal like the one I was having could taste so heavenly.
I caught Andrew looking at me too often during the meal
“What?” I asked laughing.
“The way you keep staring at me I’m wondering if you want my meal.”
“I can see you love the meal.”
“Absolutely. If this is what it takes to call you names I should be looking for more terrible names,” I teased him.
I liked the way his eyebrows went up with a hint of confusion when he seemed lost for words.
“You won’t be getting this I promise. I should consider a Buka the next time.”
“You would not dare?” I challenged him.
“You want to bet?”
“I won’t go with you, and you can’t make me.”
“I could tie you up and haul you there,” he joked.
“I will sue you for kidnap and harassment,” I said vehemently.
“In our dear Naija, the case will go on and on, and you would probably be seventy before any judge decides on the case.”
Sadly, that was the truth. Take a case to court and you could be there for several years. It would have been nice if you did get an honest and untampered judgement.
“I would not be doing that,” Andrew said seriously.
“Don’t call me any more names but we could do this in Paris next month.”
He said it so casually like he was talking about going to the next street.
“Is that another outing sir?” I asked.
“Why do you mention, sir, whenever I ask to take you somewhere?”
“You are my boss,” I said stubbornly.
“Yes I am your boss, but we don’t use that in the office anymore remember,” he said smiling
He was not taking the bait. Paris is he joking or crazy.
The guy was scaring the wits out of me, and he just sits there so relaxed.
“But Paris? Why would you take a colleague to Paris?
I am going and did not think it out of place to ask you. We did invite our friends on such trips when I was growing up.
“Where I come from, we do not hop on a plane and jet off out of town with colleagues or friends,” I said.
I was getting angry with him and myself.
What gave him the right to think he had the liberty to ask me to Paris?
Did I look like those hungry, greedy social climbers?
“I want to go home it is getting rather late” I announced.
The waiter brought the bill. He paid, and we left.
I got into my car.
“Thank you for a fantastic night,” he said to me.
“I am sorry I mentioned Paris. It was not to insult you. I wanted to give you another experience that would light up your eyes the way it did tonight.”
“You remember that statue when we came in, you recognised those eyes because that’s the same look in your eyes. I would like to see the girl I saw today unguarded and free.”
I wanted to throw myself at him and cry. I had not been able to cry since it happened. Here was someone who did not know me or my story but read through me. I was weary, but I had to keep holding on. Instead, all I did was to thank him for an excellent evening rev my car and drive away into the night.
Buka – A makeshift roadside restaurant specialised in affordable traditional meals