She came out of the house where she’d taken care of her last delivery for the evening, and as it shared a fence with the church, she considered going in to say a short prayer.
Another time, Anya decided. She still had work to do at the shop before heading home. The empty ghana-must-go bag strapped on her back seat, she climbed on and kicked the bike. Then she saw him and stopped herself from sweeping into the tarred street.
It was him. She didn’t need to put her memory to task to recognise him. When was it she’d last seen him? Sixteen…No, it was seventeen years now. Well, the years have been good to him. Physically, as far as her eyes could see.
Acting on impulse, as she often did, Anya rode across the street to the Sienna van. “Just arriving?”
He angled his head and looked at her. Then he fully turned, his eyes raking over her before they held hers with a speculative stare. “As a matter of fact. I realised though that I would probably need a torchlight. I’m not sure what the light situation is.”
She liked the way his eyes had flickered with open interest before he’d settled them into a cool stare. And she liked his slightly gruff deep voice. The hint of attraction rippling through her surprised her though. But perhaps it shouldn’t, as it was him.
“Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening,” she informed him, keeping her friendly smile. “On good days.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Those are good days?”
Anya laughed. “Believe me. Anyway, a torchlight is a good idea. It’s my thinking it is as long as you live in Nigeria.”
“I have to agree.” He gave a nod, and then added after a short pause. “I’m Saz. That’s short for Osaze.”
Anya cocked her head to the side. “Osaze, not Ifechukwude?”
Surprise flared into his eyes briefly before it flickered off. “Yes, Osaze. But you can call me Saz.”
The years have not only been good to him, physique wise. They had changed him. Changed his name, obviously.
“Saz. Well, welcome to town, and expect light somewhere around eight.” She kicked her motorcycle back to life. It was time to go back to her business. “Have a good evening.”
“You didn’t say your name.”
She threw him a smile over her shoulder. “Anyabuwa. But you can call me Anya. See you around.”
Saz stared after the fairly new Honda CG Series as it deftly climbed over a speed bump. There was always something sexy about a woman who rode a bike. This one wasn’t just sexy, she was intriguing too. She’d known who he was. At least, known him enough to recall the name he’d once answered to. He searched his memory for her, and came up with nothing.
Refusing to dwell on it, not at the moment at least, he walked into the store and bought a rechargeable lantern and a torchlight. Then he got back in the van and pulled back into the street.
It wasn’t all new to him anymore as he’d come back to the town eight months ago for his father’s funeral. Still, it felt different. There were recently tarred roads, much more modern houses, and busier streets. Busier because of the number of commercial bikes roaring through them.
He remembered he used to trek to his father’s farm, to the market, to school–on days he was allowed to attend school.
Saz put aside the unwanted memory, flicked on the indicator light and cut into the unfenced yard, stopping the van beside an ancient Peugeot 504. It had always been there, parked with tyres missing, for as long as he could remember.
Absently, and not for the first time, he wondered why his father’s brother never sold off the car. It would have been better than to leave it to rut in front of his house.
He took a deep breath, shelved whatever emotion was out of place, and took the packages he’d brought along and got out of the van.
Neighbours stared with open curiosity at him as he made his way towards the old -style duplex house. He threw greetings at them. The older ones responded, the younger offered polite greetings of their own. And they all continued to stare.
The way of life here, Saz remembered. Nosiness which caused people to stare and meddle. Meddle when they shouldn’t, and silent when intervention was needed.
He had never needed their meddling, and didn’t anymore require their intervention. He wouldn’t stay long enough to tolerate either. Reminding himself of that truth, he let go the prickle of irritation, put on an amicable smile and gave the brass door knocker a thud.
It took more than a minute before the door was opened by his cousin Uchenna.
“Brother Saz.” Excited, she pulled him into a warm embrace. “You’re finally here. Papa was just saying that he should give you a call to find out where you are. How was the journey?”
“Went well. How are you, Uche?”
She’d been four when he left the town, and a woman of twenty-one when he returned to bury his father. But in the two weeks he’d spent here, they’d become familiar enough to be at ease in each other’s company. It was probably because she was the friendly and easily affectionate sort.
“I’m well. So happy to see you. Come in.” She took the polythene bag containing the loaves of bread out of his hand. “They are in the parlour, Papa and Mama.”
The parlour was a flight of stairs up the top floor. The living room below the stairs was furnished for visitors who were not family. Or for when his father’s brother hosted a meeting.
Saz entered the family room after Uchenna and waited for the warm feelings of affection one expected around family. It didn’t come, as it never did. But respect and acceptance came without effort. They were family. His father’s family.
“Uncle.” He dipped his head and offered the greeting meant for his father’s clan.
Then he greeted his wife, accepting the loose embrace she offered.
“Uche says you were becoming worried. I’m sorry, I should have called to let you know I was already here, and only stopped at a store to buy torchlights.”
“A smart idea. As you can see we have the generator on. You will have to service the one at the house before you can use it.” Maxwell Isichei, his father’s only and younger brother, offered a smile as he waved him to sit. “Anyway, how was the trip down from Benin?”
“Good. No problem at all on the road.” Before he sat, Saz presented the bottle of rum. “I saw your favourite bottle of brandy at a store I was buying needed items in Benin and thought you would like to have it.” He turned to his wife. “And this is for you, Aunty. There’s something for Uche in the bag too.”
“Oh, how thoughtful and kind of you.” Nwanne Isichei took out the fabrics from the bag, dutifully admiring them. “The dress must be yours, Uche.”
“It’s so lovely. Brother Saz, thanks a million.” As was her nature, Uche treated him to another warm hug.
“Thank you so much for the gifts,” Maxwell Isichei said. Then instructed his daughter, “Get the keys to the house for him.”
“But you will stay to have dinner before you go, won’t you?”
“No, Aunty…” Saz began to politely decline the invitation.
But his uncle cut him off. “Of course, he will stay, or what else will he eat at home? You just make sure dinner is ready early enough, so he can get home on time.”
“It will be ready within the next forty minutes,” Nwanne Isichei assured them, and rose. “Come on, Uche. Let’s go finish up in the kitchen and set the table.”
Both of them alone, Maxwell Isichei adjusted on the couch to face him. “So, what are your plans? Are you coming back home permanently, or just here to see to your father’s business?”
Saz left the temptation to correct the statement that this was home. “I am here to see to the business, sir. As a matter of fact, I am hoping to sell it off as no one…that is, Ifeanyi and Somto don’t seem to be interested in it.”
“They are not expected to be. The business is yours with your father gone.” There was a mild frown on Maxwell Isichei’s face. “But what do you mean by sell it off?”
“I have a business of my own in Benin, sir. Well, I did until the fire incident,” Saz said with a shrug. “And I will again as soon as I’m able to gather funds to restock. I won’t be able to run both business, so I intend to sell off this one and go back to Benin once that is done.”
When his uncle didn’t immediately respond, he added, “If the business is repeatedly said to be my inheritance, then I should have the right to do with it what I please.”
“It is yours, and yours to do with as you please indeed. But I’d hoped you would want to keep it running and even grow it. Your father worked hard at it until his death.”
“I know he did. But he’s gone now and I have my own life.” Saz decided to make the matter clear. There was no point in hiding the truth. “And my life is not here. I have made my home elsewhere, Uncle.”
The frown on Maxwell Isichei’s face momentarily deepened before he nodded. “I suppose you have. Well, the decision is yours. Whatever you intend to do, you have my support and that of the family.”
He couldn’t recall ever having their support. Not when he’d most needed it. But Saz only gave a courteous smile. “Thank you, sir.”
“Nwanne called in people to clean up the house, so you won’t have a problem there.” Obviously wishing to leave the matter at that, Maxwell Isichei changed the subject.
And their conversation swirled around negligent topics for the rest of his stay. It was close to an hour and half later before Saz left them.
The house was dark when he walked into it, so he put on the rechargeable lantern, set it on a mantelpiece and just stood there.
This was the house he’d grown up in, yet it felt nothing like home. There wasn’t even a sense of familiarity staring at the stylish furniture which neatly decorated the large living room.
In part, it was because the leather sofa set and a few of the furniture were additions which had happened after he left. But mostly it was because this had never been home for him. It had only been the house he’d had to live in because he’d been told to do so.
The house where he’d had no place because none had been given to him.
His ringing phone jolted him out of his reverie. And Saz buried his sigh when he noted it was Grace.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hey, baby. I’ve been waiting your call to let me know you got there safe.”
“Just getting into the house. I had to stop over at my father’s brother’s house to see them and pick up the key.” He stepped out to get in the second suitcase. “Lucky for me, his wife had the house cleaned, so I can settle in without any stress.”
“That’s good. Hope you bought food you can eat. Or, are eateries there open at this time of the night?” Her tone was conceding when Grace added, “Well, I’m sure there are, in spite of it being a small town.”
“I already had dinner. The uncle insisted I do so before heading over here.” He stood a few seconds in front of the door of the bedroom that had once been his.
Then he took a deep breath and opened it. Like the living room, it had a new and somewhat unfamiliar look with better furniture than the ones that had once been there. The room itself was smaller in size as a bathroom had been cut out of it.
Saz wondered if it had been turned to a guest room in his absence. Or, an ensuite bedroom for one of her children.
It didn’t matter. Not now, and not to him. He found a spot to set the rechargeable lantern and sat on the neatly made bed.
“So, what did your uncle say to your plan?” Grace was saying. “Did he have any objections?”
“None. He would support any decisions I make, he said.” With his free hand, he started to unbutton his shirt. “I can’t say I need his support, or anyone else’s. But not having to battle over this with him, or any other member of the family, will make it easier to handle this quickly and get back home.”
“And how soon do you think you can find a buyer?”
“I don’t know.” He shucked off the shirt and stood to unzip and kick off his trousers. “Hopefully within the next couple of weeks.”
“I hope not longer than that, for I already miss you. I found myself missing you as soon as you drove off this afternoon.”
Saz said nothing to the soft-spoken words. “I’ve got to go,” he said instead. “I’m bushed and just want to shower and get into bed. There’s no power here.”
“Aw, that sucks. All right, I’m glad you got there safe. We’ll talk tomorrow. Goodnight, baby.”
He checked the clock on the phone before tossing it down on the bed. Seven minutes past eight. Was electricity late in being restored, or was this not one of the good days?
As if to respond to his silent question, he heard a shout of ‘up NEPA’, and his mouth curved with a smile at the common cry of joy whenever power was restored. Then he strode to the light switch and turned it on.
So, she was right, the intriguing lady on the motorbike. She should know, of course, as she was no doubt a permanent resident here. Will he see her again? Saz wondered, realising that he wanted to see her.
That he wanted something more than just to see her.
Let’s not forget that Just Deserts is on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Okadabooks and the Tenth Magic Press e-bookstore.