Levi had two great loves in his life—life in itself and his dear mother. He never bothered to ponder which was his greater love though. There was no need to qualify what didn’t require qualifying was always his thinking. Especially as he had other loves too, and each one important in their own right.

At the moment, he was battling to get the chain hooked on the collar of one of his other loves. This one was a recent love but he had his heart just like the rest did. Not that Levi felt affectionate now he was fighting with Frodo, who preferred not to be on chain.

“Stay put, Frodo. You’re making this harder than it should be.” Levi tried to pin the puppy between his thighs and swore when he wriggled free. “Stop jumping about or I’ll change my mind and not take you along to see grandma.”

The threat seemed to catch Frodo’s attention for he stood on his paws for a minute and stared at him with considering brown eyes.

“Good. Now, come over here.” Levi reached for him.

But he sidled, sidestepped his grasp and let out a playful growl as he pounced about on his paws.

“We’re not playing, Frodo.” But the puppy certainly thought they were. Levi hissed at his pouncing and growling. “Stop it now and get over here.” He dashed, clutched his tail and tugged, ignoring his quick yelp. “Seeing as you’re so much trouble, I’m likely not to take you out with me ever again.”

Frodo made a whining protest.

“Yeah, that’s your punishment for sassing daddy.” He fastened on the chain and heaved up to his feet. “But maybe if you be a good boy on the road and not make a mess, I might reconsider. Just maybe.” He added with a pointed stare.

That got Frodo considering as he studied him. Deciding, probably, that he was serious this time, he started wagging his tongue.

“Let’s go.” He would take the tongue-wagging as obedience, Levi thought and walked with him to go find where he’d dumped his car key.

He found it in the kitchen and found the sink’s tap on.

“Christ! This is exactly why I hate cooking. It means I have to do dishes and then I forget to put everything back the way they were.” He locked the tap, grabbed his key from the counter. “We’re not cooking again this week. Only takeouts and dining out.”

Frodo growled his response.

“Not for you, my boy. You’ve got your own food and even I can manage to wash just one dish without flooding the house.” Levi retorted, walked them out the front door, and then walked them back in to turn off the lights. “Something’s making me absent-minded today and it better not be you, Frodo.” He secured the veranda gate, pulled out his car lock and opened the Kia Sportage stationed in front of flat.

He set Frodo on the floor of the boot, rolled the chain and clipped it to the door to restrain his movements. Then he rounded to the front, got behind the steering wheel and gave his honk a toot to alert the security man to open the gate.

Being a Saturday evening, he prowled through the highways and streets from Gbagada to downtown Oke Ira shooting at a steady eighty while Phyno accompanied him in loud tones.

His mother’s house was off the main street, a storey building that had three bedrooms on both floors. She’d bought the land a little over fifteen years ago and they had moved into the first floor of the house, two years after that. And a year later, she’d rented out the top floor.

He honked in front of the black ornate gate, drove in when it was opened and parked behind her old Toyota Corolla.

Humming now under his breath, he turned Phyno off, got out of the car and walked around to the back to get Frodo out.

“We’re here at grandma’s.” He set the puppy on his paws and clutched the chain. “Remember, be a good boy and you might get to come again.”

He unbolted the front protector gate, warned as he went through the front door. “You want to wee or poop, tell me. Don’t touch anything inside the house. Grandma’s particular about her stuff.” Then he called out as he strolled through the contemporary styled living room into the kitchen. “Hey, Mama.”

The kitchen was empty.

“Mama?” Levi strolled back into the living room and turned into a connecting door, Frodo trotting beside him.

He knocked on the polished wood door, gave Frodo a gentle kick and a warning glare when he raised one paw towards the door, and opened at her invitation.

“What are you doing with that dog in my bedroom?” Was his mother’s first words and delivered in her deep husky voice with a mild reproof coating it.

“I brought Frodo to meet grandma.” Levi grinning, let go off Frodo’s chain and strolled to where she was seated on her bed and writing on a notepad.

He wrapped his arms around her. A half or side hug never worked for his mother. She would rebuff it and he would not be content with it. She smelled of some soft scent and the minty lemon he knew she used on her hair. His mother wore her hair natural and unadorned since forever. And she always poked at his sides when he hugged her since forever too.

“I’m not grandma to a dog, and get it away from my wardrobe. If he puts a mark on that wood, you’ll be paying for a new one.”

“Frodo!” The curious puppy was sniffing around the black oak standing wardrobe. “Didn’t I warn not to touch anything? You want grandma to pull your ears?” Levi grabbed his chain and walked with him to a rattan single-seater. “What do you think of him though?”

“That he’s not the grandchild I’m looking for.” Iheoma Azuike finished her notes, closed the diary she forebade anyone to touch and slid it into her tote handbag. “I thought you said you were selling him?”

“He grew on me.” Levi grinned and relaxed in the plush cushioned chair. He loved his mother’s bedroom. He loved her house. She was particular and her taste ran into modern furniture and elegant touches. “Besides, he’s company for me when I’m home.”

“A dog’s a fine companion all right, but it won’t do for what your wife’s presence will. I can guarantee you that.” Always one to have some snack to munch on hand, his mother lifted the bowl on her vintage nightstand and held it out. “Here. I expect your mutt can have some. But if he makes a mess, you’ll clean it up. I just did a thorough clean up this morning.”

Levi took the bowl of biscuits, snatched a magazine from the mag rack and set it on the floor, adding three biscuits on it. “Here, Frodo. And don’t make a mess.” He took one for himself and resumed his seat. “Where’s Chioma?”

“I sent her to the restaurant.” Since she knew very well her son had purposely ignored his mention of his wife, Iheoma Azuike brought the conversation back to her. “When are you going to bring your wife back home? This nonsense has lasted long enough. It’s going on two years and you need to do something not buy yourself a dog for company. A dog can’t take your wife’s place.”

“I didn’t buy the dog to take Kristi’s place. And I didn’t send Kristi out of the house either.” Levi jerked the chain and stopped Frodo from clamping on the magazine. “She left on her own and it’s likely she might not want to come back.”

“She left because you were stupid enough to get another woman pregnant.” His mother retorted, rose and started towards the door. “Come along with that mutt of yours trying to scratch my rug. I’ll get it something to keep his mouth busy in the kitchen.”

Levi obediently followed her with Frodo at his heel. Of course, she wasn’t done talking about Kristi, his mother never got sidetracked. And love her as much as he did, he got exasperated when she latched on the subject of he and Kristi’s separation.

“You can’t say she doesn’t want to come back when you’ve made no attempt to bring her back. You should go see her. You should go see her father.” She opened a bag that was set on the marble counter, retrieved a bone from it. “Here. We were saving the lot for Abdul’s big dog next yard but you can have this one for your Frodo. Take him out the backdoor though. I won’t have a dog in my kitchen.”

“Look here, a nice big bone for you, Frodo.” Levi took the puppy out the backdoor, clipped his chain to the gate and tossed him the bone. “Say thank you, grandma.”

“Grandma.” His mother snorted as she washed her hands. “I want grandchildren who are human, not half-wit animals.”

“Frodo’s not half-wit. He’s a Labrador retriever and they can be quite intelligent.” Since he was in the kitchen with her, Levi went to the refrigerator to get himself a drink. She never kept any beers, so he made do with a can of malt.

“He’s a dog and that is all he will ever be.” His mother turned on one side of the four-burner standing gas cooker and set the pot of soup on it. “We made chicken pepper soup. You’ll have some and pour me a glass of the pineapple juice Chioma pressed this morning.”

“All right.” His mother never asked you if you wanted to eat. She told you.

He picked a glass from the counter went to the refrigerator to fill it with juice. Then he got out another can of malt for himself. If he was having pepper soup, he’ll be needing another drink.

“Thank you.” His mother said and served him a steaming bowl of soup, took hers and sat beside him. “May God bless the food we’re about to eat in Jesus’ name. Amen.” She prayed and picked up her spoon. “Don’t you want Kristi back?”

“She’s barely talking to me, Mama. Christ, we only pretend to be civil whenever we meet.” The soup was delicious, his mother was a great cook, and he wished he could enjoy it in peace. “I can’t even recall the last time I saw her. Must have been six or seven weeks ago at the restaurant. And she left as soon as I walked in. She does that every time. Even rare occasions we meet here, she takes off upon my arrival.”

“So, what if she leaves when you walk into a place? Can’t you go after her?” His mother reached for the loaf of round bread on the counter and took a roll out of it. “Why couldn’t you go after her the first time she left?”

“Maybe because I never asked her to leave. She made that choice, Mama.” He took a roll of bread himself, bit into it and knew at once it was baked by Kristi. It had her signature buttery smoothness. “I didn’t know she still bakes bread. I thought she’s more focused on catering events now.”

“Well, she is. But she bakes for family and maybe a few friends. She gets us a fresh loaf every week.”

There was affection in her mother’s voice. It’s always been there from the day his mother first mentioned Kristi to him and introduced them. She’d wanted her for him and there had been times when Levi had wondered if it had been more than he’d wanted Kristi for himself.

“It’s way past time you put things right between you too, Kachiside.”

Levi looked at her. On the rare occasions she used his Igbo name, he knew she was downright serious.

“There’s a time to be a boy. There’s a time to be a man. You’re a man now. And being a man, you should no longer act like a boy.” She took the loaf, offered him a roll and because she knew he loved Kristi’s pastries. Which, in her opinion was as it should be. A man should always love his wife’s cooking. “You have made your mistakes and it is time to repair them. One woman can serve the purpose of every other woman, if you let her. If you tell yourself that she is enough, that one woman will be enough. A bird flies from tree to tree until it finds its own tree, then it builds its nest there, calling it home. You have found your tree, your home, with Kristi, don’t throw it away.”

“It’s been more than a year and half, Mama.”

“And what of it?” His mother countered. “Time means nothing where the heart is concerned.”

“I… sorry.” Levi muttered and reached into his pocket to retrieve his vibrating phone. Then he muttered a curse when he saw the caller ID. “I’m sorry, Mama. I’ve got to take this.”

He pushed to his feet, turned his back to his mother and lifted the phone to his ear. “Hey, how are you?”

“I’m good. Are you on your way already?” The voice at the other end sounded clipped.

“On my…” Levi broke off again, recalled their date and quickly apologised. “Gosh, I’m sorry I’m running late. I’ll be right there within the next forty minutes. Just be patient. Please.”

There was a pause. Then she said, in the same clipped tone. “Okay.”

And the line went dead.

Levi spun around, picked up his bowl and drank down the soup, then tossed the piece of chicken in his mouth, speaking through a full mouth. “I’ve got to run, Mama. I’m meeting with, ah, a friend and I’m already late. I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Or next.”

He sprinkled liquid soap into the bowl and started washing out. You never left unclean dishes in his mother’s sink.

“There’s only one woman for you, Levi, and her name is Kristi.” Why men took time to see what was as clear as day, Iheoma Azuike could never comprehend.

Levi wiped dry his hands, marched to the backdoor to get Frodo and his bone, swung back and gave his mother a hug.  “I’ll see you soon. Take care of you. And stop worrying about Kristi and I. What will be will be.”

“Some things will not be unless you make them to be, Levi.” Even as she said this, his mother sighed. That boy never listened.

“All right, mama.” Levi called, not really listening as he bustled through the front door and gate, pulling a panting Frodo along.

*-*

#1 of the Workplace Romance Trilogy, ALL BUSINESS is HERE