The day she found them together, Marie was astride Chima, her naked butt arched back and she riding him in a slow-fast-paced rhythm, and Chima making grunting noises that melded with her own.
The air had reeked with the smell of sex. Raw, naked, dirty sex. But it was her svelte naked body, that silhouette of lean, fluid muscles, that had rendered her immobile. For a moment, she couldn’t define the length of that moment, but for that timeless moment, she had lost her ability to breath, her ability to think, even her ability to feel.
It had looked like a slow-motion movie where the actors where doing a dance that involved undulating movements.
Then he had moved his head, he had seen her and he had called out her name.
And the dance, the rhythmic undulating movements, had stopped. Marie had scrambled off him. She’d looked guilty. Then she’d looked defiant. And finally, she’d looked smug.
Chima, well, he’d had no look at all, just a blank remorseless expression as he stared at her.
She hadn’t cried. Oh, but she’d desperately wanted to. But she hadn’t. She’d just told him, in a voice that rasped out of a throat that was thick and hurting, that it was over between them. He hadn’t protested. Maybe she’d wanted him to. But he hadn’t, and she’d turned, head held stiffly high and had walked out of the house.
That was three years ago. And she’d told herself, told her heart, that she wouldn’t love again. She wouldn’t do relationships again. She was done, with men and with love.
Yet, today, there was Naeto. He wanted her and she’s accepted him. He was a good man. The kind of good man she deserved.
Kobi inhaled softly, expelled the breath and made her feet move. She enjoyed to walk the grounds of the mall, to watch how customers and sales assistants interacted. She loved to assist when her help was needed, and to smooth things over when an aggravation inevitably arose.
She cornered into another aisle and they came face to face, she and Marie.
It was hate… no, not hate. This rise of nausea and curl of aversion wasn’t hate. It was disgust.
“Kobi.” Her smile curved in the sides of her hot red painted lips. Her eyes, perfectly lined and shadowed, gleamed with a mix of superiority and malice. “I wondered if I might be lucky to run into you. I’m here to pick up a few things. Well, ShopRite is more my preference but I was in the area.”
“The Big Mall is open to all, character and morals notwithstanding.” It was her pleasure to lower her eyebrows and her eyes to look at her.
“It’s changed some, hasn’t it?” Her tone, snooty and condescending, mocked at the mall and at her insult. “More high-end products, improved services and you, you are now store manager. My congratulations. You always had your eyes on that title. Store manager, not so ambitious, I always thought.”
“And what would be ambitious?” She let her gaze touch the diamond ring on the left hand she had tilted beneath her chin. “Sluttering your way to the top of the ladder and into a man’s heart and home?”
“Tsk, Kobi, slut-shaming is wrong and definitely beneath you.” She looked amused instead of insulted. “It’s been three years, you know. Thought you must be over Chima now when I… well, when Chima and I saw you the other evening with that fine man. He’s indeed fine but not like Chima, right? Chima’s always looked like a manly man, don’t you think?” She chuckled a low throaty laugh. “He’s the kind of man that makes you think of sex once your eyes see him. It was such a pleasure running into him that evening. You didn’t think we were together, did you? Because we were not. These days, I am very much the engaged woman.”
She flicked her ringed finger and it surprised Kobi that she felt sorry for the man who’d put the ring there.
“What you are these days, or at any other time, is of no interest to me. You’re here to shop, I’ll leave you to it.” She sidestepped her. But Marie’s hand stopped her.
“Just occurred to me that I never had the chance to apologise to you that unfortunate day. Everything happened quickly after you… well, walked in on us.” She gave an apologetic smile that wasn’t at all regretful. “It wasn’t intentional, you know, sleeping with Chima. He’s a man and you know how men want a taste of this and that. I know you were hurt.” Again the non-regretful apologetic smile beamed. “But it was nothing personal. Just two consenting adults having sex.”
Kobi dropped her gaze to the hand lightly lying across her arm. She jerked it off. “Marie, I wasn’t hurt by you. I was disgusted.”
The flash of anger that banished the smug look pleased her. “Chima may have hurt me, we were in a relationship, so a betrayal from him would bring pain. But you, seeing you on top of him, that didn’t hurt me. It disgusted me. It was sex and you were a cheap bargain. That is what he considers you, cheap sex and his biggest mistake. He told me so himself, for the third time after your run-in at the Zen Garden.”
She waited to see the shock sink in. Then she turned and strode, head held high, out of the aisle.
She looked at Naeto and watched him lift his forkful of fried rice to his mouth. He chewed with his mouth closed and the crinkles of a smile tilting up the edges of it.
He was speaking, telling her about his sister who’s just gotten her Students’ Visa to go study in France. She listened, heard him, but her mind was thinking more of him than of his sister.
He was so different from Chima. Not only in build but more so in nature and personality. He was gentler, more thoughtful, less, very much less aggressive and definitely not over-confident to the point of arrogance.
They were like night and day. Him, day and Chima, night.
She’s had the night and had suffered the curse of its darkness. She wanted the day now.
She did, didn’t she?
“You look a trifle distracted.” Naeto’s voice eased into her thoughts. “Something on your mind?”
“No. I guess so.” She blinked, smiled at him. “I was sort of ruminating but I heard all you said, and I’m glad she’s finally leaving next week. Your parents must be ecstatic.”
“We all are. She’s wanted this for more than a year now, so it’s a huge break.” He sipped the water in his hand while his eyes studied her. “How are you? I feel like you’ve got worry on your mind.”
“Worry? No, nothing that serious. Just mulling over some thoughts. Sorry.” She added when her phone started to buzz. She picked it up and then frowned at the caller id.
“Not picking the call?” Naeto asked.
“Uh…” She raised her head. “It’s Chima.”
“Chima?” Surprise lifted his eyebrows. “I didn’t know you two were in communication.”
“We’re not. His mother gave him my number.” The phone has started buzzing again. “Mrs Julianne Ada Brown from my church? She’s his mother and she gave him my number.”
“His mother is Julianne Ada Brown, wife of Barrister Richard Brown?”
“Yes, she is. Daddy Brown is his step-father. I didn’t know before. I mean, before when we were… when we dated.”
His expression has gone from curious to politely amicable. “I’d better answer him.” Kobi murmured.
“Of course.” He lifted his fork and went back to eating.
Kobi swallowed a sigh and clicked the answer key. “Good evening, Chima. Why are you calling?”
“Oh, no big reason. Just wanted to know how your day went. You’re home from work now, right?”
“Yes, I’m back from work.” She didn’t like his voice in her ear. “I am, in fact, at Naeto’s.”
“Oh really? Then my apologies for interrupting your time together. I’ll get off the line now. My greetings to him. You have a good night, Kobi.
“Goodnight.” She dropped the phone. “I’m sorry for the interruption to our dinner.”
“Absolutely no reason to apologise.” He picked a serviette, wiped his mouth and offered her an amicable smile. “Looks like you two are now friendly.”
“Hardly. Just civil to each other.” She resumed eating. “It felt immature and vindictive not to be at least that after he contritely offered his apologies for what happened in the past.” She took a breath and looked at him. The glimmer of disappointment instantly flickered off. “If it bothers you, Naeto, I…”
“It does not bother me, Kobi. You should know that I am not the low self-esteem or petty sort.Besides, I trust you.” He smiled and this time, it reached his eyes. I know the kind of woman you are, Kobi.”
“Thank you.” Her stomach clenched but she smiled.
H nodded. “In any case, I’ve never seen why exes should be sworn enemies. A failed relationship shouldn’t be turned into a mafia vendetta thing.”
“No, it shouldn’t.” She won’t fail him. Kobi promised herself that. She won’t hurt him.
They had both stormed his house. That was how he saw it. His mother had called to check if he was home and barely an hour after he’d given her an affirmative response, they were both marching through his front door, all chattiness and smiles with a basket full of food packs. There was stew in one, vegetable porridge in another — his favourite — and three packs of different soups.
He’d protested. She’d waved aside his protests and Tamara had laughed and hugged him.
Now, they were all seated in his living room, talking about a bunch of stuffs and he found, shockingly found, that he was enjoying their noisy presence in his house.
“Uncle Chi, you’re living in a movie-rot. Who still has The Dark Knight topping their DVD collection?” Tamara gave the DVD pack a disdainful wave.
“A man who considers The Dark Knight a classic and can’t bear to get rid of his personal copy.”
Tamara rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t that much of a classic.”
“Please.” Chima let out a healthy snort. “You’re sixteen. You can’t define classic.”
“Maleficent was a classic and more recent.”
“Shows you how much you know about classics, kid.” Because it seemed the thing to do, he tossed the sofa pillow at her and grinned at her neat dodge. “You and I should see a movie. Next weekend okay?”
The quick surprise and then the bloom of pure pleasure made him relax into the spontaneous suggestion.
“Saturday’s perfect. 10 Days In Sun City and Sing are showing at the cinemas and I’ve totally been longing to see Sing.”
“Then we will see Sing.” He probably would be gnashing his teeth before the movie was over, but it would be worth it.
“Super!” She screamed a whoopee along with the delighted exclamation, then sprang for her phone when it started ringing. “Excuse me, good people, I’ve got to get this.”
“Should I top up your drink?” Chima blanked out Tamara’s excited voice and turned to his mother.
“No, I shouldn’t have too much wine.” She shook her head, then smiled. “That was nice, inviting her to see a movie with you. It’s going to be the highlight of her week–seeing a movie with her big brother
“It’s going to be the highlight of my week — surviving an animation movie without breaking out in hives.” At her chuckle, he grinned. “What kind of movie do you like? Never much thought about it before.”
“Oh, I’m a little like you there. Classics like Sound Of Music, The Lord Of The Ring Trilogy, and The Dark Knight.” She winked. “I’ve never been much for genre films.”
Imagine that, they had movie types in common. And more surprising, he was having butterflies in his tummy over it.
“Mum!” Tamara bounced back between them. “Becca’s baking a red velvet cake and she wants me to come help. May I go, please?”
“Oh, but we planned to spend the day with your brother.”
“You don’t mind if I go, Uncle Chi, do you?” Tamara appealed with pleading puppy eyes. “Becca’s really an expert in red velvet cake and I’ve been wanting to see first hand how it’s done, so this is my big chance. Mum doesn’t have to leave with me. I can get myself there. She stays at Ketu, which is not at all far from here.”
“Is she free to go?” When their mother nodded, he pulled out his wallet and slid out some bills. “Take a cab–to and fro. And I want to taste that red velvet cake next time I’m at the house.”
“You definitely will be, Uncle Chi.” She gave him an enthusiastic hug, grabbed her sling bag and whirled to the door. “Thanks for the cab fare, I’m a rich girl. See you at home, mum.”
“She’s really now a rich girl since she’s got her allowance for things like cab fares.” Julianne laughed.
“Guess it’s time she had her big brother enriching her purse.” Chima shrugged, heaved up to pick the sofa pillow. “Want some more chips? I’ve got plenty in the fridge.”
“I’ll grab some for me then.”
He strode into the kitchen and came back to find her on her feet, admiring his still-life painting.
“I’m a big fan of paintings, still-life especially.”
“I know.” He remembered. Remembered everytime he bought another painting.
“How’s Kobi?” She suddenly asked, turning to return to her seat. “I mean, how are you two doing together? Got any closer to her?”
“Sort of.” He filled his mouth with chips and frowned as he chewed. “We are friends now. Sort of.”
Friends. Sort of.” Julianne threw back her head in laughter. “Dear me, I wonder why we women buy that age-old line — can we be friends? Humph!
Chima chuckled. “Not only women buy it. Men do too. But, might be it’s not just a line with me. I do want to be her friend.”
“Of course you do. You want to sneak back into her heart too.”
“That I surely want to do.” He winked, then frowned again. “I’m worried she’s taking Naeto Bernard serious. She was with him yesterday evening. At his place.” He’d burned with jealousy hearing that. “I don’t want her to get serious about him.”
“You can’t stop her from doing so.” Julianne said. “If you try to, she will chuck you out of her life.
“Hmm.” Chima grunted.
“Don’t hound her.” Her voice softened with the counsel. “Don’t suffocate her. Don’t pressure her. Let her make the choices. If you’ve got her with the friendship card, play it for all its worth. Stay friendly and be her friend. But… not just her friend. Be her friend who’s shared something more with her and who wants to share that something more with her again.”
Chima stared at her. “I always wanted this. We used to talk like this. I’d tell you something, you’d listen and then counsel me. It was what I missed most after you left.”
“I am sorry.” Her eyes filled, with tears and with remorse. “I missed it too. I missed you too. Sometimes, over the years, I would wonder what might have been if I had stayed.”
“I don’t know.” He swallowed the hot ball in his throat, blinked and shrugged. “May have made things worse, maybe harder and sadder. He shouldn’t have stopped us seeing more of each other, that’s one thing I know. Although I didn’t much want to see you regularly those days.”
“No, you didn’t and I understood why. You felt I should have stayed for your sake or fought more for you. I didn’t, because I couldn’t.” She came over to his side, held his hand. ” I am sorry. Forgive me.”
“Nothing to forgive. Not anymore.” He drew her into the sofa with him. Then sighed. “You always smelled nice. All the time I was a boy, I always loved the scent of you. Looks like I still do.”
She laughed against his shoulder. “Your mother knows good perfumes.”
“That she does.”
They stayed in their companionable silence for a long minute.
Then he asked softly. “What’s my surest way of getting Kobi back, mum?”
“Surest way?” She angled her neck to look at him. “Answer me this first, what do you really want from Kobi? Really.”
“I want to marry her, mum. I want her for my wife. I want us to share our lives together forever.”
“All right.” She nodded, smiled and settled back. “I always wondered what kind of woman you would marry. Kobi’s a good choice.”
“Glad you approve, mum.”
She jabbed him with her elbow. “Your mother knows sarcasm when she hears it, so mind your tongue, young man.
“Sorry, ma’am.” He chuckled.
She gave a delicate sniff. “Well, like I said, don’t hound her. No woman likes to be hounded. Get close, but not so close, she can’t find her space. Seduce her mind. Her mind, not her body.” She pinched his ear and chuckled at his groan. “Seduce her heart with reminders of what was once good between you two. Memories charm our hearts into fresh desires. And whilst aggression is all manly and sometimes attractive, slow seduction melts away the barriers faster.”
“Seduce her heart and mind.” He thought about it. Considered the possibilities. Then he leaned close and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I am glad you are here, mum.
“Me too, son.”
He sighed a happy sigh. “You got your birthday coming up next Thursday, right?”
“Looking forward to it.” He thought about it. Smiled at the thought. “How about you send a special invitation to Miss Kobindi Azuani, requesting to be at your birthday dinner next Thursday?”
“Son, I already did that. And this Sunday, I’d be reminding her how much it will mean to me if she was present.”
He laughed even as satisfaction hummed. “I am thinking I look more like you than I ever realised.”
“That you do.” Her voice rang with pride, and pleasure
He felt the swell of a love that once had been buried. He liked the feeling of it and liked even more the feeling of certainty that his life was finally taking on the shape he’d always wanted it to.