He restrained himself from covering the distance between them and pulling her in his arms for an embrace. “Katherine, I’m so glad you’re back.” He said instead.

“I’ll be sincere, sir, I’m not as glad.” She kept a straight face as she halted in front of him.

“Oh no!” He groaned. “When you called the day before yesterday saying you are not resuming till today. I nearly burst into tears because… emmm…” He exhaled deeply.

 It was then she looked past him to her desk. “What is this?” She walked towards the desk. “Who set my desk in disarray?”

Kelvin wasn’t taken aback by her countenance. “That’s what I was…”

“With all due apologies, sir, which secretary actually disorganized my desk in this way?” She directed her gaze to him.

“Abiola,” He massaged his brows. “She was excited to take your place but I should have known better. I had to threaten her before she kept her hands to herself and concentrated on a job I wished I did all by myself. God knows how I survived.” He heaved dramatically with a hand on his chest.

She laughed in remembrance. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

It was his turn to narrow his brows at her. “Why?”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry about the inconvenience.”

He nodded and watched her position her stationary case. “How was last week?”

“I…” A smile spread across her lips. “I had a great time and Mr Franklin taught me a lot. I was exposed as he took me everywhere. Thanks for making me go.”

“Sure. Welcome back.” He headed for his office with a happiness he himself couldn’t fathom.

The empty packet of chewing gum on desk didn’t dim her joy. She had missed him and her office. It was good to be back nonetheless.

*-*

Her body was on the bed. Though her eyes were closed, her face and lemon coloured gown were smeared with blood and her braided hair with beads was matted with blood. A towel cushioned the side of her neck where there was a gash.

Her extended family except the children were in the pink and lemon coloured spacious bedroom. Her father was kneeling with her palm in his. Tears were rolling down his cheek.

Her mother who was seated on the rugged floor wept while shaking both legs. Her elder sister, Shakira, had tears of remembrance in her eyes. Her sister-in-law flanked her other side, she made to wipe her nose but she shook her head.

“Binta… my darling Binta.” She whimpered. “How am I—I supposed to know I was planning and forcing your dreams to be cut short—0h lord! My father! You should warned me.” She glanced at the lifeless body. “Binta, forgive me please—please –I—I’m sorry.” She coughed. “I’m very sorry for not respecting your wish. I’m so sorry sweetie—I’m so…” She tightly shut her eyes as her voice trailed off.

“My darling, please forgive me, I never knew this was coming, I’d have done everything to prevent it. I love you so much…” Habeeb shoulders sagged as he sobbed. “Oh Binta, my darling Binta.” He placed both hands on his head as tears coursed down his cheeks.

Kafayat sat at the farthest corner of the room staring at the body expecting a miracle, a movement of whatever form and as seconds ticked she felt nauseated.

The family doctor faced the wall. It was a terrible death. She had been a wonderful child; one that had always been curious and asked questions. She had told him she would be a medical doctor and a writer. His hand touched his face and was not surprised it was wet.

Aisha stared blankly at the child she’d held minutes after birth. Her tears flowed, three losses in the family within a year was practically unbearable.

Yerima knelt beside his brother-in-law and placed an arm around his shoulder knowing words were useless. He was the only one in the room whose face was not stained with tears but he was heartbroken.

Kafayat hurried to the rest room with a palm clasped over her mouth but no followed her.

In their mind, there was residing a fear too frightening to express. Maybe—just maybe the spirit of death had decided to pitch its tent in their family.

 *-*

Katherine gasped, clasped her mouth and read again the alert on her phone.

The account department had made a mistake, surely they had. She picked the phone on the table and dialled a short code.

After speaking with the secretary, she referred her to the account director.

“You’re rare, Katherine. Most won’t bother to confirm before enjoying themselves. If a hundred and fifty thousand is what you got, then you needn’t panic. The chairman asked about your salary and instructed that should be your pay for this month.”

“That is almost double my salary!” She protested, wide eyed.

“Enjoy yourself girl.” He chuckled before hanging up.

Katherine stared into space not knowing if she should laugh or cry.

*-*

“Hello hello, hello hello, hello hello pick up da phone. Hello, big brother.” Camilla Sigismund sang with a voice laced with happiness.

Kelvin chuckled, same introduction as always. “How’re you doing, darling baby sis?” He closed the book he had been reading.

“How more can I be, how more…?”  She paused considering. “Let me give you an insight to how I’m doing. I’m in my bedroom, with legs crossed under me, beside me is a tray containing pumpkin pie with orange zest and juice and before is my favourite soap opera. And you?”

“Oops!  That’s enough to make me envious but no, I am seated on a vinyl chair facing the pool, I have fruit wine and mouth-watering popcorns in a saucer.” He glanced at the sky. Above me is nature show of beautiful colours and oh…” He inhaled deeply and exhaled. “I’m been caressed by cool sit-here-forever-kind of breeze.”

Camilla laughed.

“How is the United Nations, Cam?”

“We’re so united this period, how is SIC?”

“The company is doing great.”

“There is this guy in my soap that swore he would never date and it seemed so natural to remember you. Please disappoint me, is there a lady now?”

Yes! His mind screamed to his surprise but he caught himself. “For now, no one but I give my word before the next time we talk by God’s grace, the coin will be tossed to the other side.” He smiled.

“Beautiful! That is so cool to hear, that has spared you from the 1001 dating tips for men I had planned to read to you so thank the Almighty.”

Had he actually been so convincing that Camilla had let him go for once? “Mighty God thank you.” It was hearty.

Camilla chuckled and stretched out her legs. “Whatever you do, no matter how tight your schedule may be…”

“Don’t forget to rest.” He completed with a smile.

“So you still remember Kayla’s words on marble.”

“I’ve got to as that’s her when she ends with that every time we talk.”

‘Take care of you, babe and be careful with the guys,”

“Sure thing.”

His brows narrowed as he dropped the phone, he had convinced his sister in spite of himself. He had never dated not because he suffered gynophobia but when he was younger he dated his books and when he grew older he got scared by what he saw and heard about his love ones encounter with relationships. His immediate younger sister had suffered two broken relationships and it had left her with hatred for the opposite sex while his best friend had suffered three broken relationships and had sworn to have nothing to do with the opposite sex.

He had been there, seen their pains and how they suffered.

He had not written what should epitomize his kind of woman as most people do but seeing Katherine five days a week had made him realise what he really needed.

*-*

Kelvin was seated at the balcony, a bare leg up on a side table unwrapping various birthday present from member and non-member of staff, including those that came from the production company.

Curiosity had prompted him to open hers first, right in the office, and a wide grin had formed on his face and had remained even throughout the three hours the company was locked down to celebrate me.

Katherine had given him a Timex branded, square faced, black leather quartz wrist watch with silver stainless buckle with double loop. Alongside an authentic brown leather sandals and a beautiful card.

He had discarded the one he had on and strapped the watch, he would have done same for the sandals that made his feet glow saved he was in a corporate attire.

He had watched her dance so well with Precious at the far end of the hall. He did dance too surprising all of his employees.

He picked the card and read again quotes she had written in the card to commend him.

*-*

Every seat in the conference room was occupied.

Mr Gbenjo, the PM, began to speak after they had settled. “This is the administrative company and the power point of SIC. I am here to listen to your opinion about our baby product.”

The room was still after he left speaking.

Katherine had something to say but she was not going to rush on, her superiors were present and were not speaking yet.

She waited before her right hand rose above her head.

“Yes, Katherine.”

Katherine stood. “I want to talk about a part of production that is sometimes disregarded yet its importance cannot be over emphasized.”

Most looked in her direction.

“For this cause many companies have gone under. Even when they trouble shoot, they are not able to discover what went wrong. Nigerians are people who take to advertisement in such a way that when a promise of heaven on earth is made, they expect it to be so and even more. Manufacturers tend to make a tiny reduction in the quality or quantity or both so they could produce more and increase their profit margin when they’ve achieved surpassed anticipated consumers. They forget that every now and then, a local or international substitute for the product get into the market usually at cheaper price, with unique packaging and probably addition or additions as the case maybe.”

Kelvin glanced around to see the expression at the heads present before concentrating once more on his secretary.

“On the other hand, their loved ones lure them to the new product.” She beamed. “Even though we get attached to a product that has worked for us. As others call their attention to a substitute, their loyalty holds them back, they have their doubt, they are reluctant to stop using that product until a perfect excuse come. A perfect excuse of reduction in quality and quantity.” She said the latter emphatically. “We all can testify that a consumer lost might be difficult to regain or never be regained.”

The account director nodded his head remembering some of the products he had stopped using and the PM did same too.

Precious didn’t miss all her gestures as she was turned in between being flabbergasted and mesmerized. Before her was a colleague that never cease to amaze her.

The secretary to the PM wrote on a notepad and some of the marketers did same.

“To our product, we should keep every promise made in our various advert to our potential consumers, bearing in mind the damage the littlest dubious trick can wreck. Thank you.” She sat.

No one moved. When she became convinced she had blundered, heads began to nod and an applause broke out until everyone was clapping.

“Let’s keep it up for her once more.” Mr Gbenjo said all in smiles. “Powerful contribution Katherine.”

“Thank you, sir.” She lowered her head.

He asked for other contributions and when there was none, he concluded, thanked Katherine once more before he left with Kelvin.

*** ~~~ ***

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