WEEKENDS were busiest at the restaurant, starting Friday evening and all through Saturday. Families strolled in packs, parents in the mood to give their children a treat, couples wanting affordable Nigerian cuisine, and singles who didn’t mind their own companies. It was often rowdy and drama was not left out in the nerve-wracking fun.
Certain she would suffer a migraine later, Fejiro walked into the service station and dropped on the stool Duke had vacated. “Did you see that? They say women are drama queens but that man is the king of drama. His first complaint was that Kemi wrongly served his food from the right, not left, and then he barrelled into another when she quickly apologised, saying she cut him off mid-speech—and I am using his term here.” She rolled her eyes. “Another apology, delivered only when he’d stopped speaking, didn’t mollify him. Instead, he went on to complain that Kemi hadn’t told him there was a lunch special before he made his order, else he would have ordered that and not the coconut rice and chicken. When she pointed out that ‘Today’s Specials’ was clearly pinned at the top of the menu, he scolded that it should be personally pointed out to customers by the waiting staff.”
She exhaled. “I swear, I don’t know how Kristi manages to maintain her calm smile in situations like these, but I almost snarled through my teeth at some point. It was a close call. This close.” She demonstrated with her fingers.
“He’s just a grumpy fellow. Nothing pleases that type.” Cheta soothed. He’d watched the whole drama with a feeling of disgust for the man.
“That you can be certain of.” Fejiro muttered and rubbed her forehead. “This is one of those weekends I wish I can take the day off like our boss lady.”
“Poor Kemi. She doesn’t need this kind of wahala at all today. Not with what she’s going through right now.” Duke murmured in sympathy.
“What is she going through?” She surely had a migraine coming on, Fejiro massaged her forehead again.
“Well, she just found out that her bf has impregnated another girl.”
“What?” Fejiro swung her gaze to him. “Her boyfriend has got another girl pregnant?”
“So she said she found out last night after the close of work.” Duke shrugged. “If she hadn’t promised to cover for Helen today, she wouldn’t have come in at all.”
“Oh my goodness, poor Kemi. What an asshole!” Fejiro hissed. “Jeez, why are men such assholes?”
“Hey, women can be assholes too.” Duke defended. “I once had a girlfriend who cheated on me with a friend of mine years back.”
“Years back? Were you old enough to have a girlfriend years back, Duke?”
“Of course, I was.” Duke snorted out a laugh. “I’m an old man oh, Aunty Fejiro.”
“Yeah, right.” Fejiro scoffed, grinned and turned her gaze back at the dining hall. Then she saw him and let out a soft shriek. “Oh my, it’s him. He’s here.”
“Who’s here?” Cheta wanted to know, joining back the conversation now the chatter on Kemi’s love life was over.
“Kane.” Fejiro couldn’t take her eyes off him. He’d chosen Table-6, by the window. Good choice, she approved, her mouth curling with a smile.
“Kane?” Cheta traced her gaze and locked on the man now occupying Table-6.
He was tall, with skin colour that was a dark shade of brown. And yes, he was definitely handsome. Smooth features, suave look handsome. Well.
“So, he is here.” He looked at Fejiro. Her eyes haven’t shifted off the man. “Aren’t you going to run over and say hello?”
“No.” She was tempted, but she wouldn’t. “Ujunwa is taking his order, so let’s wait and see.”
“Is he a friend of yours?” Duke asked curiously.
“You could say that.” Fejiro smoothed her hand over her tummy, trying to control the flutters of excitement.
It seemed to take an hour, not a couple of minutes, for Ujunwa to cross over the dining hall to the service station.
“Hey Duke, Table-8 wants extra chicken and Table-6 wants a wrap of pounded yam and afang soup.” Ujunwa stated and then switched gaze to Fejiro. “Aunty Fejiro, you handled that man really well. He was just complaining for nothing, even the lady on Table-8 said so.”
“It’s all part of the weekend drama.” She wouldn’t ask. No, she wasn’t going to ask.
“Today’s drama wasn’t even as bad as last two Saturday’s with that lady who insisted Helen served her food to another customer and won’t hear that they can serve her same thing if she wanted. Ah, some people, eh!” Ujunwa let out a soft laugh.
“Well, I hope you took the time to point out the ‘Today’s Specials’ list to Table-6, as we don’t want a repeat of our earlier drama.” Knowing how impatient Fejiro was for a different kind of chatter, Cheta distracted Ujunwa further with more talk.
“I didn’t have to, Chef. The man saw it himself and said he would prefer afang soup.”
“Good.” Cheta nodded his approval, almost chuckled at Fejiro’s sniff. “Although, we don’t like our king of drama on Table-3, it wouldn’t hurt if you guys subtly point out the specials list to customers from now on.”
“Okay, Chef.” Ujunwa nodded.
“Well, your trays are ready.” For the second time in same day, she narrowly stopped herself from snarling. “Don’t keep your customers waiting.”
“Yes oh.” Ujunwa settled the smaller tray on her left and picked the bigger one with her right. “I almost forgot, Aunty Fejiro. Table-6 asked for you. He said to tell you that Kane is saying hello.” She added before moving off.
“Oh, he did?” Butterflies fluttered in her tummy. “Well, if you will excuse me, I think I will go say hello to the gentleman on Table-6.” She announced and slowly stood up.
“Don’t jump the man. We have a staff conduct policy that calls it misbehaviour.” Cheta teased.
“Ah, Chef, you would have made a funny comedian, except that you’re barb-tongued. But like I said before, I believe in the possibilities of meet-cutes.” Wearing a smile that was intended to charm, she turned and strolled out.
“The guy looks fresh.” Duke commented. “Those sneakers must be Edmonds.”
“Hmm.” His gaze tilted down to the man’s visible left leg. He would take Duke’s word for the truth, he decided and shifted his gaze to the side door, watched as Fejiro came through, that pleasant smile still on her face and her steps deliberately unhurried.
Impressive self-control, Miss Romantic, he thought, half amused and then grunted when the man stood up on noticing Fejiro.
“Back to work.” He muttered, stood up and marched into the kitchen.
“HELLO, Kane. You’re back to taste our great food, I see.” It was a surprising pleasure that he’d stood up on sighting her.
“Yes, I couldn’t resist.” Kane grinned. “Hello, Fejiro. So nice to see you again. How’s the knee?”
“Oh, it’s all better now. Was just a tiny bruise and healed fast.”
“I’m glad to hear it. You’re looking very lovely. Almost like you are a model for the restaurant’s brand T-shirt and denim jeans.”
“Why, thank you.” A courteous man who knew how to flatter a woman, Fejiro approved. “You’re looking good yourself. I love the striped polo.”
“Oh, it’s an old one, but thanks. Won’t you sit?”
“Uh, it’s really not permitted when we are on duty, but I guess I can steal a few minutes.” She sat on the chair opposite him. “Hope you are enjoying your meal.”
“Best afang soup I’ve tasted. And I apologise for not inviting you to join me. The food is so tasty, I forgot the good manners my mother taught me.”
“It’s all right. I’ll consider it an honour to us that the taste of our food overshadowed your good manners.”
“It did in this case.” He paused his eating and simply looked at her. “You know, I think I ought to confess that I’m really here not so much for the food, but to see you again.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “I found myself in the odd habit of thinking about you the whole of this week and I realised my big mistake was not getting your number.”
Oh yes, she did believe in the possibilities of meet-cutes.
“In fact, let me quickly rectify that mistake.” With his left hand, he picked his phone from the table. “Number please, pretty woman.”
Fejiro chuckled and called out her number.
“Thanks. And here’s mine.” He brought out his wallet and took out a business card. “Any of those two numbers will get me.”
Fejiro looked at the card. “Misters Clothing and Accessories?”
“I own a men’s wear clothing store.”
“That’s nice.” And that would possibly explain his classy look both times they’ve met.
“It’s okay.” He smiled. “Wow, this place is packed. Lots of parents and kids around.”
“Saturdays are busiest for us. Most people consider it a good day for relaxation, and parents love to grab the free day as a chance to treat their children—if they can afford it.”
“Yes, weekends are busiest for most eateries. But you don’t open Sundays.”
“No, we don’t. We’re a Monday to Saturday, seven-thirty a.m. to nine-thirty p.m. eatery.” She smiled and then added, because lingering was not going to be permitted. “Well, I think I should get back to work now. It’s nice seeing you again, Kane, and bon appétit with the rest of your meal.”
“Merci beaucoup. I think I got that right.” He grinned. “We will see again, Fejiro. Something tells me that’s for sure.”
“Okay. Take care for now.”
“You take care too.”
She walked all the way to her office with the calm smile on her face and only when the door closed after her, did she let out the squeal that had been tickling in her throat and danced around for a full thirty seconds.
He came looking for her. It may have taken him nine days, but he came to the restaurant to look for her.
That meant something, she decided, and walked to her desk to sit down. If he came there because he couldn’t stop thinking about her and he requested her number, it meant something. And it was proof that when you believed, something would definitely happen.
Fejiro and Kane.
Not a bad combination, she grinned, let out a soft sigh and opened her desk drawer to bring out her purse. She slipped the business card into it, put back the purse and closed the drawer again.
She wasn’t going to call him until he called her. If he did, then for a certainty, something was going to happen. Something good.
Pleased with the sheer beauty of life, she turned on her computer.
SHE wasn’t much of a fan of living alone, but at this point in her life, she didn’t have a choice.
Well, maybe she did have a choice, Fejiro amended, and turned off the fire under the pot of rice. She could have looked for another flatmate when Ima moved out, but the probability of finding someone she would get along with just as she had with Ima had been slim, so she’d chosen instead to move into a self-contained apartment and enjoy her own company.
She dished the rice with carrot and peas into one plate and the fish stew into another. She had been in the mood to treat herself after yesterday’s marvellous surprise, so she had splurged on croaker fish and had fried it up for her Sunday stew today.
Taking her food with her, she came out of the kitchen that was no bigger than her tiny office at the restaurant, and settled down on the carpet.
She never ate on top her bed. It was completely prohibited. Nothing was worse than the stain of food on a bed cover, because no matter how hard she washed, she would always smell it when she lay on the sheet. And as much as she loved food, she hated to smell it on anything she was wearing—or lying on.
Her phone rang as she was about to pick up the remote and un-pause her movie.
Fejiro pulled a face before picking it. “Hello.” She held the phone with one hand and forked up fish with the other.
“Hello. It’s Kane. Happy Sunday to you.”
“Oh, hello, Kane. Happy Sunday to you too.” Her smile flashed.
“Thanks. Hope I’m not interrupting your Sunday worship? It kinds of sounds eerily quiet from your end.”
She chuckled. “No, you’re not interrupting anything. I’ve been back from church a while now. Hope you attended church yourself.”
“I did. I can’t say I do every Sunday; Lord have mercy on me.” There was laughter in his voice. “But I did today and our Pastor exhorted us to show love to our neighbours.”
“So, this is you obeying that exhortation by calling me, huh?” Fejiro teased.
“I wish I can say that’s all it is, but it’s not. I’ve been doing it again, thinking about you even when my mind should be preoccupied with something else. So, I thought I should call you and see if you are interested in going out for lunch.”
“Oh dear, I’m already having lunch.” She eyed her tray of food and wished she hadn’t been hasty in preparing lunch. Or, hasty in announcing that she was already having lunch, she thought belatedly.
“You are? So, what are you eating?”
“Rice and fish stew. What’s a real Nigerian without eating rice on Sunday?”
“Not a real Nigerian. Even me, I had rice for breakfast, although mine was bought from a fast food place on my way back from church.” The sound of his laughter was warm and deep. And it almost tempted a sigh out of Fejiro. “I’m going to confess to you, Fejiro, before you start wondering what kind of a human eats rice for breakfast…”
“Lots of people eat rice for breakfast. I do it often.”
“You are one of the rule breakers then. I have a friend who’s always complaining I’m eating all wrong because I eat my heaviest meal in the mornings and my lightest for lunch. He says that’s all wrong, but I never listen.”
“Well, it doesn’t show on you. At least, not yet.”
“I mean to make sure it never does, so I jog thrice a week and visit the gym most Saturdays I’m free.”
“Good for you.”
“Yeah, good for me. So,” he let a few seconds go by, “since lunch is out of the question, how about ice cream? You like ice cream, don’t you?”
Fejiro laughed. “I guess I do.”
“Wonderful. So, how about big cups of ice cream right out of Cold Stone? I could come pick you up by two p.m.?”
She glanced at her wall clock. That gave her an hour, twenty minutes. “All right. See you at two.”
“See you at two, and bon appétit, Fejiro.”
“Merci, Kane.” She chuckled, ended the call and then picked up her food and her remote control. Oh yes, things were happening.
The movie ended forty-five minutes later and she got up, took her empty dishes to the kitchen, decided to leave the washing until after she returned from her ice cream date and went into the bathroom to have a bath.
Since it was an afternoon date, she put on a pair of blue jeans and a long-sleeved top, and then accessorised with block-heel sandals, gold-plated hoop earrings and her bracelet wristwatch.
His call came at exactly one fifty-eight p.m.
“I’m hoping the gate I’m standing in front of is yours.” He said when she picked up. “I didn’t wait to see which house you went into that day, but I recall you saying it was the first house on the street.”
“If you are standing in front of a gate that looks and smells freshly painted, then you’re at the right place.” She smiled, reached for her cross-body handbag and slung it over her shoulder. “Just give me a minute, I’m coming out.”
“Okay, see you.” And he rang off.
He was at the right place and was smiling as she walked out of the gate.
“Wow, you look amazing. I love the look.” He complimented.
“Thank you and the same to you too.” He was wearing jeans too with a tucked-in shirt, a tweed checked blazer and skin leather shoes, and looked way better than good. “Um, sorry I didn’t invite you in.”
“That’s all right. We can take care of that another time.”
“I guess we can.” She nodded, smiled. “Well, I’m set.”
“I am too, so let’s go.”
He took them to Cold Stone Creamery on Toyin Street, and keeping to his word, ordered big cups of ice cream for both of them.
“So, what do you usually do on Sundays when no one is bugging to go eat ice cream with them?”
She liked the fluid, easy way he talked. “I sit, or lie, in front of my TV and watch movies all day. I’m not much of the go-out, mingle and party kind of girl. I love music, don’t mind dancing, but mostly I prefer watching movies. Not seeing them in cinemas, mind you.” She clarified and chuckled. “I love DVDs and movies on TV channels.”
“That is odd, seeing someone who prefers small-screen TVs to the amazing effects of cinemas’ big screens.” He commented with a smile.
“It’s not so odd. I wouldn’t mind the big screen, so long as it’s at home and not in some movie theatre with a crowd of people distracting my concentration.”
“Ah, the crowd of people is the problem. I get it now. But guess what? Me, I love the crowd.” She made a face and he laughed. “Honestly, it’s what I love best about going to the cinemas, the reactions from other people seeing the movie. It’s like you’re all a part of this one gigantic body and responding similarly or differently, but at same time. It’s fun.”
“I think it’s weird.” Fejiro countered. “But that is the beauty of what makes us humans, even in our seeming similarities, we are all different.”
“I like that thought. A pretty woman with a thoughtful mind, interesting.”
“I think there’s nothing exceptional there.” Fejiro said with a shrug. “To think it is would somehow mean that women do not often put their minds to use, or that it is pretty or beautiful women who don’t put their minds to use.”
“No, that wasn’t how I meant it. Or, thought it.” He shook his head. “I think I was more of appreciating the deep and almost philosophical thought from you at this particular moment.”
“Oh.” She paused, angled her head to the side. “So, what kind of thought are you expecting from me at this particular moment?”
“Hold on. Just give me a minute to shove my chauvinistic tongue down my throat and steer this conversation back to first-date friendly and non-argumentative topics. Like, what’s your favourite colour?”
Fejiro threw back her head and laughed. “That was well done.” She praised, impressed and really, really liking him. “I don’t have just one particular colour as favourite, but a couple of them. Pink, yellow, blue, red and their different shades. I love bright colours.”
“And they would all suit you. Some women shy away from bright colours and particularly pink, but I think colours become a woman.”
“Hmm, a good looking man with a thoughtful mind. Interesting.”
“Ouch! Thanks for the little revenge.”
“I couldn’t resist.” Fejiro laughed. “Anyway, tell me a little more about yourself. Like Misters Clothing and Accessories, how did you come to be in a men’s wear business?”
“Well, because I love clothing and accessories, and women’s wear stores seemed to be everywhere.” He gave a casual shrug. “But it was kind of easy for me, I’ll say. My parents have always been in the business of clothing and accessories; they own a couple of stores at Onitsha. So, me transitioning from a graduate of Political Science and Public Administration into a clothing store owner wasn’t much of a difficulty. Or even a big surprise.”
“And you are doing well in it?”
“Well enough.” Again, he shrugged. “It’s not the only thing I do though. I’m also a wardrobe stylist for movies and especially contemporary movies. Possibly, you’ve seen Kane Aniaga at the closing credits of any movie?”
“No, I haven’t. Sorry, I’m more of a Hollywood romantic comedies kind of girl.”
“Okay, no problem. But I do that and also dabble in some runway modelling.
“You’re a model too?”
“I am. Started when I was in the university, but don’t model much these days. What I’m looking to do more of now is act.”
“Yes, movies. I want to be an actor. I know I’ll be good at it.”
“You don’t sound convinced at all.” He laughed. “But I assure you, I will really be good at it. It’s something I’ve tried; again, in my university days, but I was good. Honestly.”
“Okay. And this time, I am convinced. I hope you get your chance to act and I get the chance to watch your movie.”
“I hope you do too.” He smiled. “So, an accountant working in a restaurant, that some kind of stopover job?”
“Actually, it started as a replacement job.” She confessed. “I lost my job at an insurance company and my girlfriend helped me connect to the owners of Mama’s Kitchen. I was thinking I’ll do it for maybe a little while, then find something else, but I’ve been there six months and counting now, and I really like it there.”
“Really?” He looked surprised.
“Yeah, really. I love working at Mama’s Kitchen. I love my colleagues—and I swear, that is a huge first for me.” She chuckled. “I think I love the restaurant atmosphere. I love the business of dealing with all kinds of people every day, or six days a week, being surrounded by food, and the business end of handling supplies and inventories. See, I don’t know what the future holds for me, but for now, I’m content at Mama’s Kitchen and that’s that.”
“My father would say that satisfaction in what one does is the biggest profit. I guess he’s right.”
“I guess he is.”
“But… and I add this ‘but’ with the consciousness that I might have to shove down my tongue again.” He grinned. “But I think that you could go into modelling and make a good success of it.”
“I am serious. You are what, at least five-eleven and you have these really long legs and this really amazing build and even more amazing skin.” He lifted his spoon and jerked it at her. “You, Fejiro, are meant to be a model. You should be on some runway.”
“No.” She said it firmly and gave her head a firm shake. “No, no, no and no. I don’t need that kind of grief. I’m just a simple girl who wants her happily ever after and nothing else.”
“Happily ever after?” He drew his eyebrows together. “Like in fairy-tales?”
“Like in real life. They happen in real life too and I want my share and nothing more.”
“Happily ever after happens in real life? You sure about that?”
“Definite.” She met his eyes, smiled into them. “It begins one day and never finishes until death do them part.”
“Maybe you should be in the movies.” He said with a chuckle.
“Real life, not movies, and not fairy-tales.” Fejiro countered as she straightened up. “And oopsy-doopsy, I’ve eaten all my ice cream and feeling a little too full.”
“I’ve a little remedy for that—a short stroll.” He stood up and gestured for her to do the same. “Come on, we’ll take a stroll and then come back, get the car and head home.”
“Okay. I think I like the idea.”
They took their stroll, walking hand in hand, and talking some more. Then they came back for the car around something after five, and he brought her back home.
And she remembered to invite him in.
“You’re a very lovely lady, Fejiro.” He said, standing at the middle of her room.
“Thank you, Kane.”
“Thank you for a lovely afternoon. I immensely enjoyed your company.”
“I enjoyed yours too.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
Then he kissed her.
Just like that; lowered his head, pressed his face against hers and kissed her.
Fejiro thought she was going to protest. She hadn’t been expecting the kiss. They’d been standing face to face and close enough, but she hadn’t expected the kiss. But then she didn’t protest. She didn’t push him off or wrench free her mouth. She liked the kiss, liked the feel of his lips against hers, the citrusy scent of his cologne and so, she responded, slipping her arm around him and holding on.
The kiss lasted a full minute or so, then it ended and he lifted his head.
“I’ll be on my way now. Take care. I’ll call you.”
She waited until she heard the gate clang, then she expelled her breath slowly.t Their first date, their first kiss, and both weren’t at all bad.
She touched her lips, smiled and pressed her hand against her tummy. It was fluttering—with helpless excitement.
Not Fairy-Tale coming out 3 Sept. 2018. And Mama’s Little Girl returning 6 Sept. 2018.