Kobi bustled into her car, pulled into the driveway and waved to the mall’s security personnel as she drove through the mall’s double slide gates. She was eager to be with Naeto. She’d been looking forward to spending this evening with him. She wanted to hear about his day, share about her day with him. She wanted to sit with him, talk with him, bond with him… and start becoming a part of him and of his life.
She wanted, more than anything else, for their relationship to work.
“Oh, I was so looking forward to you coming over straight from the store. I already have a bottle of wine chilled and waiting to be opened.”
His subtly accented voice rolled into her ear making Kobi’s mouth curl with pleasure. “Keep the wine chilling a little longer. I’m only making one stop before I hit your end. I would have had one of the delivery guys take care of this but I promised Mummy Brown I’ll handle it myself. She’s just off Anthony, so it’s all en route and not out of my way.”
“Don’t let her stall you with church gossip. What Pastor James did over the week isn’t important tonight.”
She laughed at his teasing. “I won’t, I promise. I’m more impatient than you to test this surprise dinner you’ve been bragging about all week. What is it again did you say you’re making?”
But of course he didn’t fall for her trick. “Not telling. You do your delivery and come taste the master chef’s cooking.”
“Ooh, first I’m hearing you’re a master chef.”
His low laugh rumbled through the line. “Babe, you stick with me and you’ll discover I’m a master in many things.”
“I see I’m in for a pleasure ride.” She wanted that. She wanted him. “Let me go now. I’ll be with you in less than hour. See ya.”
“Waiting.” He said before she ended the call and slipped her earpiece from her ears.
It’s been a long week and a busy Saturday at the mall and she wanted this evening to just be with him and enjoy him.
Chima nodded his thanks to the maid and walked into the opulent living room of the semi-detached house. This was the home of Richard Brown, renowned criminal litigation lawyer, and his step-father. He’d been sixteen when he became his mother’s husband and his step-father. He’d been thirteen when she’d left his father. The memories always came this way whenever he was here, and Chima wished they wouldn’t.
“Chima, you’re here.” Julianne Ada Brown came through a tainted glass door, a huge smile on her impeccably made up face.
She was a woman who wore polish and culture like a second skin. She’d spent the first fifteen years of her career as a regular broadcaster with state owned television networks, and the last ten years as a legendary broadcasting expert in one of the nation’s largest private television network. She was a beautiful woman. Dark of skin, still slim of build and impressively tall. He’d gotten his height from her, and some of his good looks, Chima thought and tried not to yield to that confusing tugs of emotions that nagged each time he found himself in her presence.
“Richard had to go to Abuja. He sent his apologies, if you came. We weren’t sure you would.”
“I told you that I would.”
“Well, I’m glad you did come.” She stood as if uncertain how to welcome him. Then she pulled him in for a quick embrace, then stepped back. “I missed you.”
“Um…” He never knew how to respond to affectionate declarations from her. “It’s nice to see you.” He offered. “Where’s Tamara?”
“Oh, had to attend a birthday bash. She wanted to stay and see you but this is a close friend.”
“We’ll see another time.” He sat because she’d done so and it was expected. He was already feeling awkward, impatient… and itching to leave. “How are you?”
“I am well.” She smiled at him. “Should I get you something to eat? Drink?”
He opened his mouth to decline, then changed his mind. “A drink would be nice. Thank you.”
Her pleasure was plain in the bloom of her smile. “I’ll get it.”
She was back in mere minutes with a tray of wine, glasses and an assortment of pastry chops. “Tamie baked yesterday. I thought you would like to have some.”
“Tamie bakes now?”
“She’s handier in the kitchen than I am.” Julianne Ada Brown laughed. “Cooking is both art and pleasure for her.”
“That’s nice.” He passed her the glass of wine he’d poured and sat back with his own, picking a round chop before he did. “Tastes good.” He commented.
“I’ll let her know you liked.” There was a moment’s silence, then she added in her soft cultured voice. “We would like to see more of you, Chima. Tamara would like that. So would I and Richard.”
He avoided her direct gaze. “I’m sure you will now I’m back in Lagos.”
“George said you called him a few days ago. Thank you.”
Chima shrugged. “He’s my brother. He says school’s tough. Told him it wouldn’t be school if it wasn’t tough.”
“He wants to act, do movies.” Julianne confided. “His father’s not approving yet.”
Chima looked at her. “You, are you approving?”
She chewed thoughtfully for a few seconds. “It’s not what I wanted for any of my children. But it’s what he wants, so I won’t stand in his way. It’s important that we are free to make choices that we can live with.”
Chima said nothing.
“You’re thinking that I say that to justify the choice I made where you and your father were concerned, right?”
The thought had occurred, so he shrugged.
She sighed. “It wasn’t an easy choice for me, leaving him and not having the right to take you along with me.”
“It’s in the past, mum. Let’s leave it there.”
“But you’ve never forgiven me for leaving you behind, have you?”
“There’s nothing to forgive.” He stared into his drink. “Like you said, it’s about making the choice you can best live with.”
“It was a difficult marriage, Chima. He was a difficult man.”
“He’s dead. That’s the end of it.”
“For him, yes. But for you?” She leaned over and touched his hand. Just a touch, then she withdrew her hand. “I’m sorry I failed you.”
He raised his head and stared at her. “Do you think you failed me?”
She lightly lifted her shoulders. “You think so, and that thought alone makes me a failure as a mother. I want things to be better between us, Chima.”
“They’re not bad, in my estimation.”
“But they can be better. You can let me back into your heart.” Her eyes, a dark shade of brown he’d inherited, held his. “I want that bond again. I want forgiveness. A chance. I know it’s been years and you are now a man in your own right. But I am still your mother and you, my son. The first fruit of my womb.” This time when she touched his hand, she held on. “Please, give me a chance.”
Chima looked at her hand over his on the arm of the sofa. She’d left him, not just her husband, but she’d left her son too. He’d been thirteen then, now he was thirty-seven, what difference could she make in his life now?
“Excuse me, madam. Aunty Kobi is here to see you.” The housemaid announced.
“Oh, send her in, Nana.” Julianne instructed, rising to her feet.
Kobi? Chima turned in the direction of the front door.
“I’m sorry.” His mother was apologising. “It’s one of my church members. She’s the store manager at The Big Mall and is doing a home delivery for me as a favour.”
“Ah.” Chima nodded and then rose.
“Good evening, Mummy Brown.” Kobi greeted and responded to his mother’s warm hug. “I have your wristwatch right here.” She held up a small packaged box, then saw him and stumbled a step backward with it. “Chima.”
“Hey, Kobi.” He smiled into the shock in her eyes.
“You two know each other?” Julianne asked.
“Yes, we do.” Chima smoothly cut her off. “Kobi’s my girlfriend.”
“Ex-girlfriend.” She corrected and glared at him. “We are nothing to each other now.”
“Oh.” His mother said and looked from Kobi to him and back to Kobi. “That’s interesting. I’ll take this.” She slid the box off Kobi’s hand. “It’s actually for Tamie. She dumped her old one in water last week and whilst I’m reproving her strongly, I want to surprise her with this. So, thanks for the home delivery.” She smiled, gestured. “Would you like to come in? Chima and I were sharing a bottle of wine and some chops. He’s my son.”
“He’s your son?” Kobi’s eyes rounded in shock and looked from his mother to him.
“Mmm-hmm.” Julianne nodded, smiled. “My first born.”
“Oh. I…” Kobi shook her head. “Um, no, I have to go. Thanks for the offer but I have a previous engagement this evening.” She stepped back, smiled only at his mother. “I’ll see you in church tomorrow, Mummy Brown.”
“Definitely, dear. Thanks again for this.”
“You’re welcome, ma’am. Good night.” Without a word to him, she turned and walked, in quick steps, to the door and through it.
“Interesting.” His mother said, gave him a smile and strolled back to her seat.
“So, Kobi attends your church?” He retraced his steps too.
“Yes, she does.” Her smile bloomed as she lifted her wineglass. “She’s in the sanitation unit. A conscientious, unassuming and lovely young woman.”
“What time’s your church service tomorrow?”
“Same time as every Sunday.” Her eyes were twinkling now. “Seven a.m., nine a.m. and eleven a.m.”
He nodded, sat and picked his own glass. “Which one do you all attend?”
“In this family, nine a.m.” She paused, then added. “Kobi most often attends same one.”
Chima stared at her. She was indeed a very beautiful woman, he thought. “I’d like to attend your church tomorrow. I mean, worship with you guys.”
“You would?” Her beautifully painted pink lips curved. “That would be nice. No longer an Anglican?”
“I still am. But we are all Christians, aren’t we, and serve same God?”
“True. I’ll look forward to seeing you in church then.” She drank her wine.
He did too. “You don’t happen to have her number, do you?”
“I, in fact, do.” Julianne set down her glass and studied him. “She said ex-girlfriend. Looks to me like you feel there’s unfinished business between you two.”
She’d never questioned his private life. He hadn’t grown up with her to permit such mother and son intimacy, if that was what usually brought on questions like that. Her eyes were asking for confidence. She wanted a chance to mend things. He didn’t know if they were things he wanted mended or even had the possibility to be mended. But if he was asking same of Kobi, maybe he should begin to learn how to give it.
“I have unfinished business with her.” He admitted. “I have unfinished feelings for her. Does Naeto Bernard also attend your church?”
“Naeto Bernard? No, he doesn’t. I know that for a certainty because Richard uses his laundry services.” She seemed to hesitate before she asked. “A possible rival?”
“Might be. I don’t care. I’m focused on Kobi only.” He finished his wine. “May I have her number, please?”
“Of course.” She picked her phone, tapped some keys and held it out. “That’s it, two of her personal numbers. If I dare, I’d counsel that you don’t underestimate this rival or the feelings she might have for him. A woman would follow her heart to the very ends of the earth. The one who holds her heart is always the winner.”
His first relationship advice from his mother. Chima nodded. “Her heart is mine.”
His mother chuckled. “Ever confident to the point of arrogance. Believe me, that is not a trait your father possessed. My money is on you son.” And smiling, she picked the bottle of wine to refill her glass and his.
Chima stared at her and for the very first time in a long long time, didn’t feel the tug of confusing emotions.
She hadn’t known Mummy Brown—Mrs Julianne Ada Brown—was Chima’s mother. How could she have known? Chima had barely talked of his family. She’d only known that he’d lost his father two years before they’d started dating and that he’d grown apart from his mother.
So, he was her son and Daddy Brown’s step-son? Wow, that sure was a surprise. She’d never heard talks of Mummy Brown being previously married even though it was popular knowledge that Daddy Brown had lost his first wife to a car crash.
No, none of her business, Kobi told herself. Chima, and everything that has to do with him, wasn’t her business. Tonight was for her and Naeto and she wanted to focus only on that. She inhaled, tapped on her CD player and allowed the flow of music occupy her mind.
Naeto had the door open even before she knocked.
“Hey, beautiful.” He drew her into the house and leaned over to kiss her. “I’ve been waiting impatiently for you.”
“And I am here now.” Because she wanted only him on her mind, Kobi tipped to her toes and kissed him, longer than he’d done her. “Hey, handsome. Our dinner ready?”
“Ready and waiting for you.” He slipped his hand around her and walked her into the living room.
There was a candlelight setting at the centre of the room.
“Oh Naeto, how lovely.” Touched, she kissed him again. “Thanks for this.”
“How about you save thanks till after you’ve tasted dinner and approved of it?” Naeto suggested, drawing out a chair for her before taking opposite chair. “Your glass of wine, my lady.”
“Thank you, dear gentleman.” She sipped, smiled her pleasure and approval. “Lovely. Let me say that already everything smells tantalizing.”
“Taste first.” He winked, lifting the dish to begin serving. It was brown rice with rich vegetable sauce and chicken. “I went with brown rice because my lady’s a health nut.”
“You’re always thinking of me.” Kobi beamed and took the plate he handed over. “Wow! Honestly, this looks amazing.”
“Again, taste, then praise.”
She chuckled, picked her fork and tasted. “Oh my!” She scooped another mouthful, then sighed with utter pleasure. “You are master chef extraordinaire. This is the best veggie sauce I ever tasted.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Naeto gallantly dipped his head. “This is high praise coming from a superb cook herself and I am unspeakably honoured. So, how was your delivery? Went well?”
“Yes, it did.” She picked her glass of wine and drank. “Tell me, how was your day? You were to have a meeting with the management of Hope Medical Centre, right?”
“I did and it went well. We got the contract.” He grinned and clicked his glass to hers. “That’s not the only business Bernard’s garnered today though.”
“Aha. Tell me more.”
And he did. They talked, laughed, celebrated mutual successful week and shifted to the sofa after their meal where they ended the evening with a movie.
“I’m so tempted to beg you to stay.” Naeto sighed. He was inside her car with her. “I so enjoyed tonight, I don’t want it to end.”
“There’ll be other nights. Plenty other nights.”
“I know.” He cupped her face. “Thank you for making this evening wonderful.”
“Come to lunch tomorrow.” Kobi invited impulsively. “Let me try to beat your veggie sauce record.”
“Can’t refuse that. After church, midday?”
She nodded, beamed. “Midday.”
“Cool.” He leaned close and covered her mouth, kissing her slowly, tenderly and with more passion than he’d ever done before. “I think I am quickly falling in love with you, Kobi.”
Because her heart skipped a beat in panic, Kobi smiled too widely. “That can’t be a bad thing, right? You are a good man, Naeto, and I want to make you happy.”
“You make me happy already.” He kissed her again, then pulled back and pushed open the passenger door. “Okay, I’m getting out. Drive safe and call me the instant you’re home.”
“I will. Talk later.”
She started the car, waved before driving off.
Chima wasn’t quite comfortable coming to church. He hasn’t been in church in the couples of Sundays he’s been in Lagos. He’s never been the enthusiastically religious type. His father had used religion as a disciplining rod. It hadn’t been practiced out of love for God, or faith in him or even out of devotion to the doctrines and truths the church upheld.
No, there had only been a need to wield a certain kind of power and authority that religion presented and maybe supported. A power and authority he’d had over him only until he turned fifteen and he’d belted his bottom skinless for catching him with the neighbour’s daughter daring to break the sixth commandment.
He saw his mother and sister and walked towards them.
“Good morning, mum. Hey, Tamie, how’s you?” Because he’s always had a deep affection for her, Chima responded warmly to her affectionate embrace. “How was the birthday party? Anyone I should be prepping my gun to shoot?”
“As if.” Tamara, an amazing beauty at sixteen, laughed. “Wow, so good to have you here at our church, big brother. Was so happy when mum told me yesterday you’ll be worshipping with us today. I promise you, you’ll enjoy the service. Above all, the choir’s amazing.”
“And since they’re already singing, let’s go into the church.” Their mother said.
Nodding, Chima allowed them to lead the way into the church and make the choice of seats. But he kept an eye out for her, scanning until he caught her two rows after their own.
Chima stared at her until, possibly out of an instinctive consciousness of being stared at, she angled her head and their eyes met. Her shock was instantaneous. But she just as quickly averted her gaze and for the rest of the service, never looked his way again.
“Did you enjoy the service?” His mother asked as they exited the church.
“It was interesting.”
“I’m sure it was.” She smiled. “Any chance of you coming home with us? Or we could stopover somewhere for breakfast.”
“Ah…” he shook his head. “No. Sorry.”
“I didn’t think we’d be so lucky.” Julianne chuckled. “She usually parks that way.” She pointed across the main road. “Come on, Tamie, let’s head home.”
“See you, big brother.” Tamara gave him a quick hug. “Maybe I’ll come bug you at your place next Saturday.”
“I’ll be looking forward to that.” Chima said and meant it.
The second they drove off, he crossed the highway and headed in the direction his mother had pointed. He caught her just as she was about to get into her car.
She looked at him. “I thought you were an Anglican, changed denominations?”
“No. I’m here solely because of you.”
“That must surely make Jesus sad.” She entered her car.
But Chima grabbed hold of her door, stopping her from closing it. “You look amazing.”
“I thought so too when I looked into the mirror after dressing.” She tugged the door. “Let go, Chima.”
“Never.” And they both knew that he didn’t mean the car door. “How about breakfast together? Or lunch?”
“I have plans already with my boyfriend.”
“Naeto Bernard? He’s not the man for you.”
“No one asked your opinion. Have a good Sunday.” This time, she put more force to the tug and the door snapped shut.
Chima watched her drive off before he walked to his own car. He got inside, sat quiet and staring at the not-so busy highway for a moment. Then he started the car and pulled into the road.
Kobi parked at her usual spot outside the house. The yard wasn’t large enough, so two of them out of the three tenants parked their cars outside the house. Since it was an estate, with good security, it was safe enough.
She was about to push open her front door when the gate opened.
She turned and was once again shocked to see Chima. “You followed me?”
Anger snarled at his confident stance. “Are you crazy?”
“Only about you.”
She hissed. “You have no right to be here. Get out!”
“Won’t you invite me in, offer me a drink? Isn’t that the charitable thing to do?”
“Chima,” she spoke through clenched teeth, “I am expecting Naeto and I have no wish for him to meet you here.”
“It’s Naeto this, Naeto that all of a sudden. Are you flashing him in my face because you saw me with Marie?”
“You arrogant prig! You actually think too much of yourself. I don’t give a damn about you and Marie…”
“There’s no me and Marie. I told you we weren’t together that day. We only met at the parking lot.”
“And I don’t give a damn.” Kobi told him. “Look, Chima, I know it’s difficult for you to accept because you can’t imagine any woman rejecting you…”
“Is that what this is about—reject Chima because Chima presumably rejected you three years ago?”
“Three years ago is in the past. You are in the past. Accept that and stop wasting both of our time. Good day.” She turned. But stopped and looked at him again. “I am not with Naeto because of you in any way at all. I am with him because I care a lot about him and value the man that he is. I just wanted you to get that straight.”
“You don’t love him, Kobi.”
“Good day, Chima.” She went through the door, turned the key in its lock and then, waited.
It was a full minute and half before she heard his retreating footsteps and the clang of the pedestrian gate.
“Presumptuous jackass!” Kobi muttered, then inhaled, yanked him out of her mind and headed inside to undress and begin preparations for her lunch date with Naeto.
*** ~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~ ***
Didn’t make it into Tuesday, but it’s just minutes into Wednesday, so I guess that counts for something. Have a good read, y’all.