It has been a busy week and some. Maybe it was the rain infecting people with the fever to make impulsive purchases or maybe it was the exchange rates galloping downwards every now and again, whichever it was, the store has been busy and Kobi was grateful for it.
She hasn’t seen him since he stormed into her office and talked his nonsense and dared to kiss her. She didn’t want to see him. She’d be happier yet if she heard, by chance, that he’d left Lagos once again.
She hasn’t seen Naeto either. Just a quick lunch-break stopover four days ago when he told her that he was travelling home for a family affair. He’d invited her along to his younger sister’s wedding but she’d been relieved to wave the store as her excuse. She wasn’t yet ready to slide into the meet-the-family part of a relationship, especially when she wasn’t sure yet—wasn’t sure anymore which way their relationship was headed.
Naeto wanted more. She didn’t.
But she missed him.
And this evening, leaving the mall, she felt it worse and craved company. Kobi sighed at the muddled, and almost needy, state of her mind. She didn’t quite like it but she couldn’t help it… at the moment. So since making her own dinner, or even ordering one, and eating alone wasn’t at all appealing, she picked her phone from the passenger seat, punched dial on the last number on her call history and plugged her earpiece into one ear.
Ifeoma’s voice soon floated breezily into her ear. “Hey you, what’s up?”
“I don’t want to eat dinner alone whilst watching some stupid series.” In the mood to playact, Kobi instilled a measure of sulkiness into her voice.
“Surely I asked you to come dine with Muna and I since Dubem is out of town and you were forming busy.”
Her snooty tone made Kobi smile at the light traffic in front of her. “Well, I’m not forming busy anymore and I’m coming over. Hope that dinner is still available?”
“Oh, I’m sure we can scrap the bottom of the pot and scoop up some leftovers for you.” Ifeoma’s chuckle came quick. “Hurry up. I’m already setting the table.”
“See you soon.” Grinning, Kobi pulled the earpiece from her ear and since the home Ifeoma shared with her husband and daughter was at the Yaba side of Lagos, she changed course towards the Herbert Macaulay way.
She honked in front of the long steel gate, driving into the two-bungalow courtyard when it opened. She parked beside the Volkswagen Atlas, Dubem’s last year’s birthday gift to his wife, picked her phone and handbag and got down from her car. Primed for a fun evening, at the very least, she aimed for the front mahogany door of the Ikeobi’s residence.
“Any later and you would have missed your dinner, my tummy’s starting to whine.” Ifeoma dragged her into the house with a big smile and those words. “Muna is, as usual, super excited that Aunty Kobi’s coming.”
“Your tummy’s always whining, ever since I’ve known you.” Kobi teased. “And where is my brilliant goddaughter?”
“I am here.” Energetic as only a near three year old would be, Muna leaped off her plastic chair, sprinted forward and dived into Kobi’s arms. “Welcome, Aunty Kobi.”
Kobi pecked the talcum scented cheek, grinning with the love that always enveloped her at the sight of the little girl. She was cute with a chubby angelic face and a sweet nature that would make the saints in heaven weep with joy, and she was sharp of mind and generous of heart. She was her mother, not only in look, but also in that bighearted nature.
“How’s my sweet Muna?”
“I am fine, thank you.” Her cheeks dimpled with her smile. “We’ve been waiting for you. I told mummy I won’t start eating until you come.”
“Not start eating her second portion, she means.” Ifeoma snorted.
“The first one was small.” Muna protested, giggling. “But I’m not yet eating my second one. Will you eat here in the parlour with me, Aunty Kobi?”
“No, she won’t be.” Her mother cut off Kobi’s uncertain reply. “Adults eat on the dining table, you know that.”
“Okay.” Almost always obedient, Muna bobbed her head without protest. “But will you taste my food, won’t you, Aunty Kobi? It is sweet. Mummy made it.”
“And I bet you helped.” She made her long for a little girl of her own. Kobi hugged her close before bending over the plastic table and chair to spoon up a fine mix of potato fries and tomato fish sauce. “Delicious.” She stated, beaming as she straightened up. “You go ahead and finish your food and when you’re done, we’ll look at this picture book I got here.”
“Is it for me?” Though starting kindergarten in September, Muna was already in love with books. “Can we look at it now? I think my tummy is full.”
“No, your tummy’s not.” Ifeoma nudged her into her chair. “Finish your food and Aunty Kobi will hand over the book to you.”
“I will eat very fast, Aunty Kobi.”
“No hurry.” Kobi chuckled. “I am still here and the book is all yours.”
They left her with her nanny and strolled to the dining room.
“You’re looking slimmer every time I see you.” Ifeoma commented, handing her the dish to serve herself. “This healthy living cum weight loss plan seem to be working. I am certainly liking its effect on you.”
“You can’t imagine the rush of having pounds slither off you like unneeded extra skin falling away.” Passing back the fried potatoes dish, Kobi lifted the sauce dish. “I keep feeling like a whole new creature. I look in the mirror, and I swear to you, I am sometimes shocked at the beautiful woman staring back at me.”
“That beautiful woman has been staring back at you since you were born, you’re just seeing her for the first time, that’s all.”
Kobi studied Ifeoma’s face. It was soft, sincere and smiling. “I’ve always struggled with weight loss plans since I can remember. Never quite succeeded, and at a time, I thought maybe it shouldn’t matter, but…” But Chima and Marie happened and it became the spur she always needed. “But I started again, and this time, I mean to keep going. Not just for today and the near future, Ify. But for as long as I can, and if possible, for the rest of my life. No one is ever going to call me fat anymore.”
“Fat is a derogatory term.” Ifeoma corrected with a snooty sniff. “But so long as you’re doing this for you, and happy with it, it’s all good. Our body should make us happy more than it does other people.”
“Well, this one I’m getting at the break of every new dawn is making me happy.” Kobi grinned with an equal mix of pride and pleasure. “Hitting size 16 last month was like scaling a huge mountain. If I can make it to 12, I’d be content to slide into maintenance.”
“I think you can make it too.” Ifeoma topped her plate with a second helping. Something Kobi would never, again, risk. “So, how’s Naeto taking the unravelling of this new Kobi?”
“He never much saw the old me. I was already down to size 20 by the time we met.” Kobi remembered those days and how uncertain of herself and of what she wanted she’d been. “But I don’t think Naeto’s the kind of man who cares about the scale size of the woman he’s with. At least, not in the way that makes it a big deal. He keeps reassuring me that I look fine just the way I am.”
“And you do.” Ifeoma paused, chewing on her food. “So, how’s it coming between you two? You made up your mind yet whether you want the man or not?”
“I don’t know.” Kobi wiped her mouth and sat back. “I miss him.” She lightly shrugged. “I guess I’m kind of used to having him around.”
“It’s fun having a man around.” A teasing smile played about Ifeoma’s mouth. “So, you haven’t told him that your heart is frozen into icebergs and no man can creep in ever again?”
The teasing smile had widened into a grin but Kobi frowned instead of returning it. “He wants a relationship and wouldn’t accept no. He wants me to think about it.”
“You should. Naeto’s a great guy. I keep saying that and you know I’m right.”
“I know.” But wasn’t that why he deserved better than a reluctant woman?
“And Chima, seen him again?”
Kobi wasn’t sure she liked the switch to Chima. She didn’t want to discuss him. “Twice. Once at The Golden Gate when Naeto and I were dining out. Then he stormed into my office Wednesday of the week before last.”
“Really? And I am just hearing about it all. Why is that, I wonder?”
Kobi sighed at her inquisitive stare. “Because it wasn’t important. Chima’s not important and frankly, I loath to discuss him.”
“Hmm.” Ifeoma wiped her plate clean, drank her water and gave a healthy belch. “Better out than in, as they say.” She grinned, wiping her mouth with a paper napkin. “So, what did Chima want Wednesday of the week before last?”
“Oh, please, don’t worry me with that warning tone, you know it’ll never work.” Ifeoma slid out a toothpick from its pack and slid it between her teeth. “What did he want? Something wrong with another purchase he’d made?”
She would keep pressing until she told all. Or some of it, Kobi mused, scowling. “I hate it when you’re nosy.” She grumbled.
“You’d hate it more if I didn’t care what was going on with you.”
She always said that. And Kobi knew it was true. Which was why she always talked to her. She was the sister she never had, the confidante whose ears are always willing to listen.
“He came to announce to me that he wasn’t going to give up until he got what he wanted.” Because recalling still managed to tick off irritation, Kobi hissed. “And to tell me that Marie came after him and not him going after her.”
“He said that?” Ifeoma’s eyebrows drew together. “Just like a man to make stupid excuses. But then, Marie was always slutty.”
“Then he wanted a slut and not a whale-sized girlfriend.”
“Somehow, I don’t recall Chima ever complaining about your weight back then.”
Because she was right and Chima had said same thing, Kobi snapped. “He clearly showed his preference with skinny Marie, didn’t he?”
There was a moment of silence, then Ifeoma said quietly. “You know, I ran into Marie couple of days back. She’s still skinny and slutty but she’s getting married in September. That she sweetly told me.”
“Oh yes, she’s snagged herself a good-looking man with plump pockets—her words, not mine.” Only Ifeoma’s short snort showed her disapproval. “It occurred to me though, and did again now, that she’s managed to move on and you’re still stuck in that past.”
“I am certainly not stuck up in that past.” Kobi’s voice rang with indignation. “I have moved on, changed my lifestyle, bettered myself…”
“Yes, you have changed your lifestyle, dropped several dress sizes and look better in the mirror. But you’re worse off than you were three years ago. You’re buried in work and have no real social life.”
“I’ve always been something of a workaholic, you know that.”
“Yes, and it has its rewards. But you’re not really living, Kobi. You have a good man in front of you and you don’t know what to do with him. So, I’m wondering, is it Marie you can’t get over her screwing your man or Chima, you can’t get over his betraying you?”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about Marie and I’ll be overjoyed if Chima ceased to exist. This is the way I want my life, Ifeoma, and I’m going to live it as I please.”
“Mummy? Aunty Kobi?” Muna’s happy voice preceded her into the dining room. “I’m done eating. Can I look at my picture book, please?”
“Have you said thank you after eating?” Ifeoma chided.
“No. Thank you, mummy. Thank you, Aunty Kobi.” All angelic smiles, Muna held out her hand. “Can I have the picture book now? You said it’s mine.”
“And it definitely is.” Kobi picked the book from the table and held it out to her. “But it’s ‘may I’ and not ‘can I’. So, ask again.”
Giggling, Muna obeyed. “May I have the picture book, please, Aunty Kobi?”
“Yes, you may.” She put it in her small hand. “You start looking through without me. I’ll join you when mummy and I are done, okay?”
“Okay. Thank you, Aunty Kobi.” Muna paddled off, calling out to her nanny to come see her new picture book.
“You spoil her, I hope you know that.” Ifeoma said, picking the jug of freshly pressed juice to fill their glasses.
“Picture books never spoilt any child.”
Ifeoma snorted. “Like that’s all you bring her.” She sipped, slow and long, then set down her glass. “You loved him like I’ve never seen you love before, Kobi.”
“Oh God!” Kobi groaned, weary of the subject. “Stop talking about Chima. He’s in the past, and trust me, I don’t live in that past anymore.”
“But you are shutting your heart against love because of how he hurt you.”
Kobi noisily sucked in air through her nostrils, dropping her own glass too. “Maybe it’s him hurting me that made me realise that love can be overrated…”
“Love’s never overrated.” Ifeoma corrected.
“Okay, maybe it’s not.” God knew it wasn’t where Ifeoma and Dubem were concerned. “But I don’t think it’s for me. No, wait.” She stopped another protest. “And even if it is for me, even if there’s true love out there for me, it’s not with Chima. Not with him.”
“With Naeto?” Ifeoma asked after a short silence.
“Maybe. Maybe with Naeto.” She inhaled, then pleaded as she expelled the long breath. “Now, please stop talking about them. I came here to have fun, not to be bedevilled by men’s issues. Let’s talk something else. There must be some gossip I haven’t heard. If you don’t have any stories, I’m going to watch pictures with my goddaughter.”
Ifeoma laughed at the threat. “All right, enough with the maudlin subject. And I do have a hot gossip.” She picked her glass, lifted to her mouth and winked. “Theresa was caught doing her boss… in his office. On the table, in his office.”
“Theresa?” Kobi gaped. “Her-holiness Theresa?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Ifeoma grinned and drank generously. “He was pumping it like it’s hot and she was speaking in tongues. In multiple tongues. And oh…” Ifeoma’s eyes danced merrily now. “She was taking it like a bitch. Woof!” She made the bark sound and threw back her head in laughter.
“Doggy style in the office? Her-holiness Theresa is a slut!” Clasping a hand over her mouth, Kobi joined in the laughter.
Kobi walked into her apartment fifteen minutes before nine p.m., relaxed, in good spirits and almost content. Humming and swaying gently to the music in her head, she threw off her clothes and aimed, with only her panties on, for her bathroom.
A grunt-like ringtone stopped her at the glass door. Kobi swore under her breath. That was her special ringtone for her store manager’s official line. Some people never knew what working hours meant and when it came to an end. She should probably ignore it but she couldn’t. She hated to ignore customers. So muttering another cuss, she dug it out of her handbag and clicked the answer button of the BlackBerry.
“Kobi, it’s me.”
The deep voice with its rare quality of masculine throatiness echoed into her ear and sent something down her spine that Kobi didn’t care to define. “Chima, why is it so hard for you to accept that I don’t want you back in my life? Why do you persist in hounding me?”
“Because I want you back.”
“Don’t hang up, please, Kobi!”
Why her hand still stayed against her ear, Kobi didn’t know. “What do you want?”
“I made a mistake with Marie.”
Her mouth tightened. “Fine. Now, you’ll have to live with your mistake.”
“I panicked because of the feelings I was starting to have for you. They scared me.”
“Started to have for me.” Kobi hated the stinging burn in her gut, and the lump in her throat. “You didn’t have any feelings for me when we started dating, you mean? I was just an easy lay for you, is that what you’re saying?”
He cussed a foul word. “Of course I had feelings for you. I was attracted to you. I liked you. I enjoyed being with you. I just didn’t… didn’t expect to…” he hissed out a long breath. “I didn’t expect to fall in love with you, Kobi.”
“What?” Had she heard right? Kobi staggered off the bed. Her heart was pumping hard against her ribs. “What the hell did you say?”
“I fell in love with you, Kobi. I fell in love and it shook me and scared the shit out of me.”
She stood, transfixed, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to think.
“I just panicked and didn’t know what to do. But I was wrong about Marie. She should not have happened. I should not have given in to her advances. I should…”
“Stop it.” She felt the tears as they burned her cheeks. “Stop this nonsense now, Chima. I don’t know why you came back to Lagos or what you think you might gain getting in touch with me, but it is over between us. And even for you, this stupid lie is low.”
Another foul word stung her ear before he exploded. “Goddamn it, Kobi! I am not lying…”
“I don’t care what you are doing, Chima! I don’t care how you feel or if you feel anything at all. We are done! It is over and I am asking you to leave me the hell alone.”
She dropped her hand, punched hard on the phone until it blinked off. Then she inhaled and pressed a quivering hand against her tummy. Her heart was still thudding, she could still feel the scalding tears and she wanted to crumble to the floor and—just cry.
But she wouldn’t, Kobi told herself and viciously swiped off the tears. She wasn’t going to crumble and she wasn’t going to cry. Not for Chima.
The lying bastard!
She wasn’t going to listen to him either or think of his lies.
No, she was going into the bathroom and she was going to have her bath and she was going to bed. That was all she was going to do.
Inhaling and brushing off the fresh tears that coursed down her cheeks, she strode into the bathroom and though the water was almost icy cold, she stood under its showers, willing herself not to cry anymore.