“HE is one amazing man and I mean really amazing. He knows how to pay a woman compliments, he knows how to keep a conversation going, he doesn’t brag or bore you and he has a good sense of humour.” Fejiro fixed her eyes on the fiction books section of the bookstore. Maybe she should buy a romance novel, she contemplated. A new romantic book to celebrate the new romance going on in her life.
“Ima, this man is fun to be with. Fun to talk with. We never seem to run out of topics. You know how you can be with some people and then the conversation freezes and you start wracking your brain what next to say?”
“Hmm.” Ima made the rejoinder because it was expected.
“It never happens with Kane. The conversations just flow and he actually makes me laugh. Not pretend to laugh because he’s your boyfriend, but really laugh.” Fejiro chuckled, because even though he wasn’t there to make her laugh, the thought of him made her want to. “He’s so attentive. A day hasn’t gone by when he didn’t call. Even now when he has a modelling gig at Abuja and I expect he must be busy, he still regularly calls. Even called thrice yesterday and once, just to bid me good night. Isn’t that sweet?”
“Yes, it is sweet. He sounds really amazing. But it’s only been a few days.” Ima pointed out.
“I know it might be considered too soon, Ima, but there are times you feel like you and this person connect and you can’t explain why.” She understood Ima’s sceptical tone. “I get this soft feeling whenever I’m with him, or talking with him. He sets off butterflies in my tummy.”
“Fejiro, you’ve had butterflies in your tummy before with other guys. You had it with Tega.” Ima reminded. “You are always excited about a new man, about a new relationship. Maybe that’s what sets off the butterflies, not the man per se.”
“Of course, I’m always excited about a new relationship. We’re supposed to be excited when something new and beautiful is happening to us. It’s a natural reaction.” Decided, she strolled to the bookshelf to slip out a Harlequin Romance, turned the back to read the blurb and then took another. “But this is different, Ima. I will take these two. They sound interesting.”
Ima bagged the books and took the debit card she offered. “And how is this different?”
“He genuinely likes me. I can tell.” At Ima’s arched stare, she chuckled as she sat down again. “Seriously, I can tell he enjoys the person that I am.”
“You two have only known each other a few days, so he doesn’t yet know the person that you are.”
“But he knows who I basically am. You know I don’t pretend or hide who I am. I don’t know how to. Look, I know you’re sceptical because you think I’m always like this, over excited about my relationships…”
“And romanticising every detail.” Ima chipped in.
“Well, I’m not this time.” Ima snorted loudly, so she gave up and laughed. “All right, I confess, I am excited and maybe romanticising this a little. But only a little, not too much, because Kane is really a great guy. And there’s a small possibility that I’ve at last met the man my heart’s been waiting for.”
“Oh goodness!” Ima breathed and then shook her head. “Fejiro, don’t do this. Don’t rush in with your heart tripping all over the place for this man. Don’t call him Prince Charming or the love of your life. Don’t romanticise this. Please, don’t. Because this guy, this amazing Kane, might turn out just like Tega at the end of the day.”
“No, he won’t.”
“And how do you know that, huh?”
“Because Kane is his own man and that idiot Tega was a mummy’s boy.”
“But you didn’t know Tega was a mummy’s boy until he showed himself to be one, did you?”
“I should have known from the beginning, because the very first thing he told me was that he became a dentist because his mother wanted him to. No, that was the second thing.” Fejiro refuted, sifting through her memory. “He told me that after telling me he liked my name because it was also his mother’s middle name.”
“Fejiro, a man can like his mother’s middle name and still be his own man, so that proves nothing.”
“But a man is not really his own man if he chooses his career based on his mother’s instructions, is he?” Fejiro argued, and then waved off the argument. “In any case, Tega is history and Kane is the present, and maybe my future.”
“Oh my goodness, you’re not going to listen.” Ima sighed. “Fine, maybe this guy is a nice guy, but you don’t have to rush into this. Just take it one step at a time.”
“We are taking it one step at a step. We’ve only been on one date, kissed once and talk once or twice a day on the phone. That’s not rushing, is it?”
“You already kissed him? I thought your first and only date was on Saturday?”
“Well, look who’s outraged.” Fejiro chortled. “Remind me again, please, who travelled with their boss first time and locked lips with him in a hotel at Abuja?”
“That was different. Tekena kissed me when I was not expecting it and besides, this is not about him and me. This is about you, Fejiro. You’re rushing heart-first into this and you need to slow down.”
“No, I’m not rushing this. And for your information, Kane kissed me too when I wasn’t expecting it. Significant, right? Especially when you consider that like you, I enjoyed the kiss—although I’m not pretending about it. So, maybe like you, I might wind up the woman forever to be by his side.” Fejiro laughed when Ima groaned. “Babe, it’s possible. Love happens when we believe it’s going to happen.”
“Actually, love happens when it chooses to happen.” Ima tartly contradicted. “But I’m not going to argue anymore about this, because you are already floating in the air. All I will say is, for once, take things slow and don’t expect too much.”
“I’m not expecting too much, just love.” Fejiro grinned at Ima’s hiss, stood up and took her new books. “Babe, when you expect nothing, you get nothing. I want love and I always expect it. Now, I’m going back to work, I’ve played truant enough for today. You give my best to Tekena. Tell him I see how well he’s taking care of you and applaud him.”
“You come visit this Sunday and tell him yourself.” Ima retorted, walking her to the exit.
“I just might do that. See you later, Mrs Cookey.” Fejiro waved and walked into the street.
“HEY, where’s Lance?” Fejiro asked as she came through the kitchen door.
It was Thursday and the early evening slow hours provided most of the staff some break time.
“I sent him on an errand. Why?” Cheta asked. Baked peppered turkey was on the dinner menu, so he was arranging turkey wings on oven trays.
“He promised to get me the seasons seven and eight of Modern Family. Said his sister has the entire series in DVDs and he’d get them from her. Ah, I guess I’ll come back later to ask him.” She shrugged and turned to leave.
“Hey, could you help me turn on the oven?” Cheta stopped her. “Just turn it on. I’ll come set it in a minute.”
“Oh, okay.” She switched directions towards the oven. “La-la-la-la-la, la-la…”
“No, don’t do that. Stop doing that!”
“Stop doing what?” Fejiro straightened up to look at him.
“Stop chanting or humming that tune. You’ve been chanting it all day.”
“I haven’t been with you all day, so you don’t know if I’ve been chanting it.”
“You were humming it when you walked in here this morning, and later when you came out to talk with Duke, you were chanting it.”
“Well, I love the song.” Fejiro laughed. “It’s the soundtrack for Beauty and the Beast. ‘Tale as old as time. True as it can be. Barely even friends. Then somebody bends…’”
“Enough.” Cheta shut her up. Truth be told, if he wasn’t so exasperated, he might have enjoyed her smoky voice. “I don’t care if it’s the soundtrack for Beauty and the Beast or whatever, just stop singing, chanting or humming it.” And because he was also a little bit irritated, he frowned at her. “What is wrong with you?”
“What is wrong with me? Nothing. What is wrong with you?”
“Me?” Amused by his irritation, Fejiro chuckled as she strolled over to sit beside him. “How? What did I do to you?”
“It’s not even been a week since he came here and you are on cloud nine. I’m betting you thinking he’s the new Prince Charming.”
“He might be.” When he groaned, Fejiro grinned. “I didn’t tell you, but he and I went on a date on Sunday.”
“I see. And did he propose just before he kissed you goodnight?”
“No, he didn’t. But it was a nice kiss and not to bid me goodnight at all. You see, we had ice cream at Cold Stone and not a dinner date.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief. “You think I’m going to… what was that word you used?” She tapped her fingers on the counter. “Aha, glamorise this and he’s going to wind up just a heartbreaker just like Tega, right, chef?”
“You are glamorising it inside your head.” Cheta jabbed a finger towards her head. “And whether he winds up like Tega or not, is entirely up to him. Fej…”
“I like it when you call me Fej.”
“Fejiro!” The lady was maddening. “It’s too soon to start singing love songs and to start seeing happily ever after.”
“But it’s not too soon to hope, is it?” When he glared at her, she smiled and shook her head. “Cheta, honestly, sometimes you just know.”
“You just know—what?”
“That someone is the right one.” Before he could argue, she explained. “There’s a way you connect with someone and you know. It’s not one thing they say or do; it’s a culmination of everything. You feel it deep inside that you and this person are in sync.”
“So, you and Kane are in sync after one date?”
“When he kissed me, I knew I would want him to kiss me again and again.”
Cheta stared at her a full ten seconds. Then he snorted, picked up his trays and marched over to the oven. “That is lust. Desire. Passion. Whatever you choose to call it. Any good kisser can arouse that in you.”
“You arouse that in ladies, Chef? Kiss them once and they want you to kiss them again?”
Cheta scowled at the teasing sparkle in her eyes. “You are never serious. I wonder why I bother.”
“Because you are my friend. Friends bother about each other. Like I bother about you being so pessimistic.” Fejiro replied, her smile sunny.
“Yeah right.” Cheta muttered.
The kitchen door opened and Kristi walked through it. “Fejiro…”
“Hold on, Kristi. Let me ask you this.” Fejiro interrupted. “The first time Levi kissed you, didn’t you get a feeling in your heart that he was the one?”
“Uh,” Kristi looked at Cheta’s scowling face, and rightly deduced they were once again having an argument. Fejiro was a romantic and Cheta, a practical man always trying to ‘talk sense’ into her head. “Actually, the first time Levi kissed me, I was thinking how quickly I could toss off my clothes and get that mouth everywhere.”
Cheta snorted out a laugh. “Like I said, lust. Lust and nothing more.”
“No, it’s not lust. Or maybe there’s a little of that, but it’s not all of it. Cheta is worried I’m glamorising my new relationship with Kane.” Fejiro explained to Kristi. “And by glamorising, he means happy and hopeful it will end well.”
“Personally, I think it’s all right to be excited about a new relationship.” Kristi said.
“See? Someone in my life who gets it.”
Cheta only shook his head and turned to the sink to wash his hands.
Chuckling, Fejiro turned to Kristi. “So, what were you going to say when you walked in?”
“Oh, this.” Kristi held out a package. “A delivery for you.”
“Delivery for me? Who can it be from?” Fejiro opened the brown envelope package and took out a small note. “It’s from Kane.” Surprised and curious, she brought out the pouch and dug out its content. “It’s a necklace. Look at this, Kristi, it’s a necklace.”
“And a lovely one too.” Kristi commented, admiring the silver piece.
“Oh, how sweet. I’m going to go call him and say a big thank you.” With a little shriek, she dashed out of the kitchen.
Kristi gave her head a shake, turned and found Cheta staring after her. “Why are you looking at her like that?” She asked, curious.
“I was looking at her legs, not her.” Cheta corrected, coming back to sit at the counter.
“Okay. And what’s the difference?”
“That I was looking at her legs, not her.”
“Funny.” Kristi chuckled. “But I didn’t know you had a fetish for ladies’ legs.”
“I don’t. I just like her legs.”
“Hmm.” Kristi studied him. “You are worried about her, aren’t you?”
Cheta shrugged. “I just don’t want her to get hurt again. She’s a good woman, except that she’s got her head buried in the clouds most of the time. Anyway, I was thinking of coming up to your office later to talk to you.”
“Really? Well, I’m here now, so you can talk.”
Cheta nodded. “Since you two got back together, you have been very happy.”
“That is what you wanted to talk to me about?” Kristi asked the question with a laugh.
“No. I’m just making an observation.” Cheta eyed the ring on her fourth finger. It wasn’t the once that was once there. This was a new one. One Levi gave her when they renewed their vows four months ago. “It worked out for you two. Well, it’s only been a couple of months and you two are practically newlyweds again, but it makes me happy to see you happy. And I feel like you will continue to be.”
“I hope I will continue to be.” Kristi smiled. “Actually, I believe we will continue to be. It’s a journey for both of us. We’re learning new ways to love and respect each other. It’s a process and we are committed to seeing it through. He’s a better man. He tries every day to be.”
“I’m happy for you; for both of you.”
“Thank you.” Kristi touched his hand in a gesture of appreciation. “Now, what did you really want to talk about?”
“About hiring an assistant cook. A sous-chef.” Cheta stopped prevaricating. “When I first started here, I had my eye on having this kitchen under my rule. Mama gave me the chance to do that after Madam Nonye left and I convinced her I could cope. And I have done better than cope in the last one year plus. Solely, and with only the assistance of a non-experienced cook, I have run this kitchen and I like to think I have made a success of it.”
“You have. In fact, you’ve done such a marvellous job as there’s clear evidence that our clientele has increased in that one year plus.” Kristi affirmed. “Which I suppose is why you are now willing to take on an experienced assistant. And that’s all right. I will…”
“Actually, it’s more of someone to take over when I leave.” Cheta interrupted quietly.
“When you leave?” Her shock made Kristi frown. “I don’t understand.”
“I’ve been working too long in other people’s kitchen, Kristi. I think it’s time I have my own kitchen.” Cheta said.
“Oh.” It became clear to her. “You want to open your own restaurant.”
“Restaurant is a grand term for what I can afford at the moment. I’m thinking more of a bistro and then grow from there.” Cheta shrugged. “Anyway, I just thought you should get someone in while I’m still here, so I can guide them through before making my exit.”
“And when are you thinking of leaving?”
“In two or three months. I’m not definite on that yet. Still a few things I’m working out.”
“All right, I will place a vacancy ad. Or, do you have any suggestions? Some colleague you’d like to recommend?”
“No. But I can ask around.”
“Please, do that. Oh my, I can’t believe we’re going to lose you.” Kristi said. “If Mama was here, she would say it’s a good thing, you are moving forward with your life.” She touched his hand again; held it a moment before she let go. “I am happy for you, Cheta. This is a good thing and I know you will make a huge success of it.”
“I hope so. I pray so.”
“I know so. And as my mother would say, you are making progress, what is left now is a wife.”
“Oh Jesus!” Cheta groaned. “Let me get my feet solidly planted on the ground before you start trying to push me in that direction.”
“You know you don’t have to wait until everything is perfect before you find a woman, right? You can find one now and you two start building something for the future.”
“No. I don’t want a woman now. I haven’t got the time or anything else for one now.” He stood up. “Talk over. You can go back to your office now, Manager. Or, to your bakery. The chef needs to get back to his cooking.”
“The chef needs to remember he’s a man with a heart, mind and body that needs more than work.” Kristi retorted before leaving him.
He remembered that sometimes. Well, a lot of times these days when his heart, and especially his body, yearns for a woman, Cheta thought. He remembered and he yearned, but everything had their place. Cooking was a process and so was life. At present, his life was a heating stage and that was only the beginning.
Not Fairy-Tale coming: 3 Sept. 2018.