SHE believed in love. For what would life be without the simplicity, beauty, tenderness and allure of love to make it perfect?
She believed in romance. In long strolls under star-lit skies, in whispers of tender words and in soft breaths exhaling from the heart in dreamy, wishful sighs.
She believed in true love’s first kiss, in Prince Charming saving the damsel in distress and in happily ever after.
She believed in fairy-tale…
Once upon a time, in a land far, far—far away, a Princess, so beautiful and graceful, was locked up in a dungeon by an evil, ugly queen, to perish there forever. But Prince Charming, handsome, brave and gallant, came riding on his horse… no. Her Prince Charming came riding in his Mercedes Benz G-Class, slew the fire-breathing dragon with his flaming sword and rescued the beautiful Princess from the dungeon. Then he took her in his arms, tilted her face upward, and looking deep in her eyes, kissed her lips tenderly.
“Did you hear what I said?”
Fejiro blinked and came back to earth. Then she adjusted, her body on the seat and her thoughts, and curved a smile for her Pr… for him. “What did you say?”
“You had a funny look on your face a moment ago and your mouth was puckered and stuck out.” There was a baffled frown on the handsome face even as he shook his head. “Anyway, I was saying that we should probably not take this thing further. You deserve a better man. Someone who will love, respect and appreciate who you are.”
Two horns sprouted out of the square shaped head. Bullshit! The curse screamed inside her head and she sucked on her drink through the straw to stop it from flying off her tongue. When a man wanted to break up with you and was grappling for a believable excuse, he said that bullshit. Or some other bullshit.
When she was certain she wouldn’t curse, she detached her mouth from the straw and wiped it with a paper napkin. “Just say you want us to break up, Tega, and stop with the vacuous speech. Or,” she lifted her spoon and spooned up yellow rice sprinkled with some salad greens and christened fried rice. “You can just tell me you met some other woman and have decided to be with her. I know it takes balls to say that, “and obviously you don’t have that, she added to herself, “but the truth is less insulting to a woman.”
He scratched the top of his nose.
She had thought that mannerism cute only five minutes ago. Now, it was irritating.
“I guess you’re right. The truth is less insulting.” He finally said, scratched the top of his nose again. “Well, the thing is that my mother likes Lucy.”
Lucy. Another horn shot out of the middle of his forehead and handsome became ugly. Evil dragon ugly.
“Actually, she and Lucy’s mother have been friends since they were young girls and they always had this hope of their children getting married to each other. You know how mothers are.” His nervous laugh sounded like the croak of a frog. “Anyway, Lucy is a doctor based in the US and my mother wants me…”
And yada, yada, yada. Fejiro dumped the spoon and the yellow rice, picked up her drink and slipped the straw back in her mouth. Why the heck hadn’t she noticed that he had a big head or that his eyes were overly wide apart?
“THE bottom line is that Lucy is the woman his mother wants for him, and Tega, ball-less man that he is,” Lance’s chuckle floated over from the sink and the sound of amusement soothed her still suffering ego, “is completely amenable to her wishes. Or maybe, Tega is not only ball-less. Maybe he is mercenary too. A sly gold digger. Dear Lucy is after all a doctor in the US and Sweet Fejiro only an accountant in a small-time restaurant.”
“Uh-uh, not small-time. Never small-time. We are a family-oriented restaurant and now a small conglomerate with Crispy Bliss Bakery a part of our establishment.” Cheta corrected. And in what Fejiro privately termed his sexy gruff voice. “But on the matter, you don’t look all that put out by the loss of ball-less Tega—to borrow your label. Although, just before you danced out of here to meet up with him, he was the prince of your dreams.”
He scooped more plantain into the deep fryer and with his fork, briskly turned and separated. Fejiro kept half amused eyes on the chef as he alternated between the deep fryer and the cooker where something else was simmering. It was a constant marvel how he competently handled all the cooking and with only Lance as his kitchen assistant. The man was a bundle of energy—and genius.
He was good looking too.
No, he wasn’t the glamour movie handsome or supermodel hot type. But he was good to look at and you got a faint vibe staring at his six-footer strong build. Fejiro always supposed it was all that tight muscles and curly body hair that dressed up his hands and legs. You only glimpsed the legs of course when he wore three-quarters shorts. As he did now; her eyes sloped down to the cargo combat long shorts, lingered on the very hairy lower part of his legs and then started scaling upwards again. There was a ruddy zigzag stain on the back pocket and the black colour was losing its gloss, but he wouldn’t care about that sort of thing.
She moved her eyes, away from appraising his body. He was prepping to empty the deep fryer. No, he wasn’t sleek or suave, or hot. But he was a major Prince Charming potential. Unfortunately, he didn’t believe in Prince Charming, or even in romance. Which was really sad, in her estimation.
“It’s not prince of her dreams, Cheta. It’s Prince Charming and he wasn’t even that.” She allowed herself a scornful snort, which turned into a sigh as she admitted. “But honestly, I’m a little disappointed. I had high hopes for him. He was, after all, all fine manners and affable personality. Well, until now.”
“He was also good looking, let’s not forget.”
The small jibe made her chuckle. “I’m debating those good looks now. He has a big head with eyes that are too widely apart. I wonder why I didn’t notice that before.” The fact that she hadn’t still baffled her. She never failed to give a man a thorough look-over.
“That kind of oversight happens when you see through tinted rose glasses instead of the clear eyes God gave to you.”
“Jeez, will you stop being such a meanie? I just had my ego trampled on by a spineless mummy’s boy. So please, try to be a little sympathetic.” Though absolutely prohibited by the chef, she picked a fork dipped it into the bowl padded with paper towels and stabbed up a pile of cubic-cut golden brown dodo.
“Hands off!” Cheta ordered and shot her a reproving glare.
“Couldn’t resist.” Fejiro grinned before she proclaimed. “Chewy and blessedly tasty. You, Chef, are a marvel whatever you are cooking.”
“Flatterer. But since that’s the truth, I will pardon your sneaky fingers and even be a little sympathetic.” Because in truth he often was sympathetic, Cheta sent her a kindly look. “Sorry about ball-less Tega. You deserve better. But if a man’s going to fall in line with his mother’s every wish and not have the balls to make his own choices, then it’s not your ego being trampled on. It’s his, and that makes him pitiable.”
“Aw, how those words make me feel better!” Fejiro beamed, really feeling better. “You know what? I think Tega and I weren’t meant to be at all. It’s why we came to a halt even before our love journey began. And I believe true love is going to happen soon for me. I’m going to meet the man made just for me and he and I are going to live happily ever after.”
“That kind of whimsical thinking is how you wound up having your ego trampled by ball-less Tega.” Cheta snorted.
“It’s not whimsical thinking and you just pointed out that it is Tega’s ego that is being trampled on, not mine.” Fejiro countered, slipped the fork into the sink where Lance was busy and then turned to eye Cheta thoughtfully. “But how come you’re always so sceptical about love and romance? Have you never been in love?”
“Of course, I have been. Many times too.” His eyes lighted with a wicked glint. “With beloved Utazi and precious little Uziza. I’ve been in love with these two since I was a boy helping my sweet mother in the kitchen. But there’s also been a time or two I found myself desperately in love with golden brown fried potatoes and heavenly tasty gravy. But a spicy dish of nkwobi?” He made a sound in his throat and let out a deep sigh. “Eternal love.”
“I’m going back to my office.” She shook her head, snatched up her purse and headed to the door. “Potential to be some lucky lady’s Prince Charming but unfortunately a hard-hearted unbeliever. That’s heart-breaking, Cheta.”
“And you, Fej, have the potential of being a smart, practical woman but your romantic head paints the world in colour and ruins that potential. That, dear friend, is what’s really heart-breaking.”
She chuckled as she strolled down the corridor. Fej. She liked it when he called her that. Potential, but sadly unwilling. She gave her head another shake and opened the door to the tiny office that was her own and went in. Tiny it was, but content it made her feel.
Maybe being an accountant in a restaurant wasn’t the dream career any accountant wanted. Maybe she’d once dreamed of working in a major financial institution, managing huge accounts and rising to the top of her career. Maybe deciding to be the trophy wife of a millionaire had once taken over that dream.
There were a lot of maybes. But she was working at Mama’s Kitchen as the accountant and though sometimes she liked to think herself more of a bookkeeper, she enjoyed her job. She liked the restaurant atmosphere. She liked the people she worked with—and that was a first for her. And best of all, she liked that she wasn’t yet wishing to be anywhere else, or doing anything else.
Maybe someday she would need to find something that paid better.
Maybe. But for the now, she was content. And she was content with being single again, Fejiro added the thought as she punched on the desktop computer. She was content and not at all heartbroken. She indeed deserved better than Tega—and he was ball-less.
She opened the payroll worksheet and shifted her mind into work mode.
SHE closed for the day a little later than she most often did. Her usual closing time was somewhere between six and six-thirty p.m. It was seven-fifteen when she came out of her office and headed towards the bakery where she was sure to find the restaurant manager and Crispy Bliss baker.
Kristi was there, and so was Ima.
She loved the second, had been friends with her going on seven years and once they had been flatmates. Well, that once was before she became involved with her workaholic boss, Tekena Cookey, fell in love with him and him with her and ended up becoming Mrs Cookey. And just two months ago, a bookstore proprietor. Ah, the beauty of true love. And then there was the other living proof that true love and happily ever after did exist, Kristi Azuike. And it was just Kristi to her and some of the older staff. That offer of familiarity when she was being interviewed for the job had made her instantly like and respect her new boss. She was not only co-owner of Mama’s Kitchen Restaurant and the on-site manager; she was also the superb baker of Crispy Bliss Bakery. Her husband, Levi, was the other part owner. He came in once a week to check on things; and in Fejiro’s personal opinion, to sneak a private moment with his wife in her office.
“Hey, Mrs Cookey, I didn’t expect to find you here and at this hour. What’s going to happen to Mr Cookey when he gets home and finds not his wife?” Unable to resist, she inhaled the tempting aroma of freshly-baked bread that filled the warm, sweet smelling kitchen.
Although, the bakery was a basic setup and only six weeks old, Crispy Bliss was already a huge success and Fejiro only ate bread that came out of her ovens.
“Well, I’m heading home now.” Ima sent her an easy smile. “Tekena travelled, so I am actually home alone.”
“Aw, poor wife.” She considered buying a mini loaf for dinner, but quickly decided against it. She would save the craving for tomorrow’s dinner. “And you, not heading home yet to dear Levi?”
Kristi, bringing out the last pans of bread, laughed. “Dear Levi has a match date with his father-in-law and I believe they are right now at some sports bar. You are heading out?”
“Oh yes, I am. Notice I worked extra time, boss. So be sure to reward me monetarily for it.” Fejiro grinned as she watched Ima and Chioma, Kristi’s bakery assistant and some kind of distant cousin of her husband’s, expertly slip loaves of bread into their bags. “Hey, girl, you’ve become really good at this. You sure, it’s the book business you should have got into, not the bread business?”
“Very sure. I’m happy with my bookstore.” Ima laughed, set down the loaf she’d finished bagging and stepped back to take off her apron. “My lessons here I put into practice at home and earn myself accolades for my efforts. Meanwhile, I heard that you had a lunch date with Tega.”
“Hold that gist.” Kristi cut in, took off her own apron and turned to Chioma. “Chi, this new batch I’m sure will be gone before we close for today. But you know how to handle leftovers should it not.”
“I do, Aunty, don’t worry. Although, I doubt there will be a single loaf left. There’s always a rush for bread in the evenings.” Chioma smiled.
She was the smiling, always cheerful sort and Fejiro liked her. The story was that she’d been living with Levi’s mum before she passed on a few months ago. Now, she worked at the bakery part of the restaurant and had a room in the staff quarters behind.
“All right. We’ll see you tomorrow then. Goodnight.” Kristi unhung her handbag from a wall clip and slipped it on her shoulder. “Come on, ladies, I’ll drop you off at the bus stop.”
“Aw, thanks, Kristi. See ya tomorrow, Chi.” Fejiro followed behind the full-figured ladies. Ah, what she would give to have a body so rich in curves.
They stopped in the main kitchen.
“Exit time?” Cheta threw them a glance from the counter where he and Lance were shredding a load of smoked mackerel.
“Yes, it is.” Kristi confirmed. “It’s over to you, Chef. Restaurant’s in your hands until we see tomorrow.”
“She’s in good hands.” Cheta assured with the flash of a grin. “See you two tomorrow. And Ima, see you when next I see you.”
“Next time will be two weeks from now by God’s grace. So, see you then, Chef, and be sure to have my favourite that day.” Ima smiled as she led the way to the back door.
“Goodnight, Lance. Goodnight, Chef.” Fejiro called and pinched a piece of mackerel just to make him shoo her away. Which he did and with a mock glare.
“So, how was lunch with Tega?” Ima resumed the old conversation after they settled in Kristi’s Nissan Altima.
“Oh, it was a memorable experience. Right in the middle of yellow rice and a fizzy drink, he broke up with me.” At the back seat, Fejiro stared out at the night time busy Allen Avenue streets. Some people were heading home, and some others, coming out for the usual Lagos night life. Night life wasn’t particularly her thing. She was the movie on TV kind of girl.
“Are you serious? But why would he do that?”
She gave her shoulders a lift. “He wants to be a good boy and date the woman his mother wants for him.” Briefly, she recounted the excuse Tega gave. “He’s a wimp, so no loss at all.”
“A real wimp using his mother and his doctor Lucy as excuse. Such a spineless idiot.” Ima cursed with heat. “Anyway, you are better off without him.”
“You sure are.” Kristi agreed. “I know it’s trite, and maybe considered a cheap platitude, but you will meet someone better. Trust in that and prepare yourself.”
“Oh, I am prepared. Tega is ancient history and already forgotten. Love, true love, is waiting out there for me and I will walk into him one of these days.” Fejiro grinned.
“I forgot I was talking to the world’s number one believer in love and romance.” Kristi chuckled as she pulled off the road for them to get down. “You ladies get home safe. Take care, Ima. And see you tomorrow, Fejiro.”
“See you.” They both called to her.
“You really are all right, aren’t you?”
The concerned question added to Fejiro’s reasons to feel better. “Yes, I am. We didn’t last long enough to plant any roots, so it’s mostly disappointment I feel, not hurt.”
“Good. Glad to hear it.” Ima gave her hand a squeeze. “Okay, I’m off. I’ll call you.”
“Have a cold night without Mr Cookey, Mrs Cookey.” Fejiro teased, and chuckling, joined a bus to Ikeja Flyover Bridge. Then she took a Keke NAPEP to Agege. Ima might have moved up from the world of overcrowded neighbourhoods but she was still ‘slumming’ it.
Well, it wasn’t a slum. Not when you compared it to the real standards of slums. It was an okay part of the Lagos metropolis and suited her presently shallow pockets. She couldn’t afford to be snooty when she wasn’t yet a millionaire. Or a millionaire’s wife. Besides, her particular neighbourhood, just a walking distance from the major bus stop, was clean enough and safe too. Mostly safe; there were no guarantees these days.
She got off the tricycle and started on the leisurely walk home. She could join another tricycle but the she enjoyed the stroll, especially on cool evenings. In the mood for a movie, she stepped into the music and movie store among the row of stores by the road.
“Hey, Collins, any new films?”
“Plenty. Even the type you like sef.” Collins, multitasking between settling one customer’s bill and helping another go through a selection of DVDs, responded cheerfully.
“Good, good, good.” Fejiro chanted as she sort through DVDs, picked one with Zoe Kazan on the cover and added another with Jada Pinkett and Queen Latifah. “These, I think, will do.”
She slanted a glance over one shoulder and then, pursed her lips. Well, imagine that! It was the Prince Charming who’d ended up a lying, cheating asshole. He’d cheated with some chesty lady with a big backside and had insistently lied about it until she caught him hands all over her body, as she recalled.
“Arnold.” Sadly, the cheat still looked good. Her eyes skimmed over his long length clad in jeans and a T-shirt before she turned to Collins and proceeded to settle her bill.
“Such a lovely surprise to see you.”
“Is it?” Once a liar, always a liar. She slipped her change into her purse and started out of the store. “See you, Collins.”
“It really is.” He followed her, keeping a steady step beside her. “I see you still love romantic movies.”
“I’m a creature of habit. I love good food. I love romantic comedies. I love sunshine after a rainy day. And,” she threw him a side glance, “I hate liars and cheats.”
“Ouch!” He pulled a pained expression. “Come on, Fejiro, that was like two years ago, and I said was sorry. Besides, I think I’ve been punished. She ended up cheating on me.”
“She did?” So, Karma did exist after all. “What goes around, comes merrily around. Oh well, it’s been informative seeing you again, Arnold. At least, I will go to bed tonight content with the knowledge that the wicked gets punished in the end. Goodbye.”
“Oh, come now, we don’t have to part on such unfriendly note. We did before and it left me feeling bad.” He took hold of her elbow, forcing her to halt her steps. “Look, how about we go somewhere, sit, talk, have a drink or maybe even dinner?”
“You want us to go somewhere, sit, talk, have a drink or maybe even dinner?”
“We don’t have to act like we’re enemies, Fejiro. That’s not mature.”
“No, we don’t have to act like enemies. But we don’t have to act like we’re friends either. Because we are not. And, Arnold?” She gave him a saccharine smile. “I don’t care what’s mature or immature. I do me, all the time. And me don’t want to sit, talk, have a drink or maybe even dinner with you—ever. So, goodbye.” She turned and continued on her walk and just for the heck of it, added a little strut to her steps.
The strut, and possible the self-satisfied feeling of smartly telling off Arnold… or maybe the asshole was shooting her ill stares from behind? Well, whatever it was, she didn’t see where she was putting her foot, so her left heel got stuck on something and sent her falling forward on her knees.
“Oh, darn it!” Fejiro muttered, more annoyed at the fall than embarrassed. “Yeah, thank you.” She responded half irritably to the call outs of ‘sorry’ from passers-by, leaned on the palms she’d had to slap on the ground to break her fall and heaved up to her feet.
Then she scowled when her left leg wobbled and she noted that the heel of her shoe had broken off. “Shuu! What’s this nonsense now?”
“Are you all right?”
She raised her head at the question, blinked and banished her scowl. “Yes. Yes, I’m all right.” She gave a smile she hoped was confident. “Just the heel of my shoe broke.”
“Sorry about that. But you also have a small scratch on your knee.” He pointed to her leg.
She tilted her head down. There was a bruise on her left knee. “Just a tiny bruise. I’ll be fine.” She looked up back at him. “Thank you for stopping and asking.”
“Just being a good neighbour.” His smile widened his mouth and lit up his eyes.
“Fejiro, are you all right?”
Oh goodness, the blistering idiot was still there! “Yes. I am all right, Arnold.” She turned her head and aimed him a wintry smile. “Thank you.”
“Oh, you two are together.”
“Me and him? No, we’re not together. Not at all.” She switched the smile to pleasant and focussed it on the ‘good neighbour’, totally dismissing Arnold. “Thank you again for being a good neighbour. I appreciate your kindness.”
“You’re welcome.” He cast a doubtful look behind her, where no doubt idiot Arnold was retreating, before he offered a friendly smile. “Which way are you going?”
“Just down the road. I’m on my way home.”
“All right then, I’ll give you a ride. My car’s parked across the road.”
“No, that’s not necessary at all. It’s just a couple of blocks away. But thanks.”
“I insist. You can’t walk with one shoe on. You’d look silly. Come on, I’ll get you home.”
Since he insisted so graciously, she accepted with a smile. “Well, thank you very much. My name’s Fejiro, by the way.” She introduced as she hobbled across the road beside him.
“I’m Kane.” He unlocked the car, got inside and waited for her to do the same. “So, heading home from work, I’m guessing.”
“Yes.” Out of a conscious habit, she fastened on the seatbelt. “I work at a restaurant. Mama’s Kitchen on Allen Avenue.”
“I know Mama’s Kitchen.” He shot her a sideways smile. “Nice place with great food. So, what do you do there? Are you like the cook?”
“Me? No way.” Fejiro chuckled. “I’m the accountant. More of a bookkeeper really. Uh, it’s just right after the three-storey building.” She indicated, wondering if he would ask her for her number. Hoping that he would.
“I’ve got it.” He turned on his indicator and started to pull off the road. “Am I going into this street?”
“There’s absolutely no need. I live in the first house.” Please, Lord, make him ask for my number. Or, should I just give it to him? “Thank you so, so much. I truly appreciate your kindness.”
“You’re very welcome, Fejiro. Be sure to treat that bruise. Might be tiny, but best not to take any risks.”
“I will. Thanks again.” She came down from the car and waved. “Goodnight, Kane.”
“’Night, Fejiro.” He returned her wave, then restarted the car, reversed and drove off.
Okay, he didn’t ask for her number and she’d been sensible enough not to desperately offer it, but that didn’t mean this was the end of it, Fejiro lectured herself as she slipped off her shoes and started home on barefoot. This was like a meet-cute. They were meeting for the first time and they would meet again.
Let’s not forget that Not Fairy-Tale is certainly coming out 3 September 2018.