It probably was the suggestion of a woman to keep him company that took him back to the pastry shop, but Saz didn’t think too deeply about it. He was surprised though to find her on a corner table with three kids who were eating while she looked through their books.
She called out a greeting to him, flashed a smile, and went back to her books. So he strode to the counter, had a conversation with Nkechi which ended with her making half-hearted disapproving noises before shooing him off with a plate of fried meat and drink to a table.
It was another thirty minutes, and another bottle of drink, before she sent the kids away with their books and strolled over to his table.
“Hey, Saz. Good to see you again. How was your day today?”
“Fine.” Her eyes sparkled with her smile and he stared into them. “But I’ve forgotten how slow life can be here.”
She laughed. “Life is not slow in Benin?”
“Yes, it is. But not this slow.” Saz grinned because she rolled her eyes. “Anyway, how was your day? Business good today?”
“Really good. We sold out our batch of doughnuts before midday and had to make a second, and then another batch of meat pies.” Snagging a piece of meat from his plate, she bit into it. “So, the day was not slow for me.”
“Good for you.” As he couldn’t resist, he stroked the side of her face. Then dropped his hand because her eyes flickered with surprise. “What were you up to with the kids? Are you their lesson teacher?”
“Something like that.”
“Hmm.” Since she was still nibbling on the meat in her hand, he took the last one from the plate. “I thought though that you didn’t offer food here. But they were eating jollof rice.”
“So they were. I made it for them.”
“I see. A lesson teacher who feeds her students too. Nice.” He sensed there was more to this, but since she wasn’t going to tell him, he moved on to another subject. “I made some progress business-wise despite the slow day myself.”
“Did you? That’s good to hear. The store has been closed a long while now, so it’s good to hear it’s open again to customers.”
“The store wasn’t open to customers today. I was talking of a different kind of progress.”
“Oh. Well, I guess you will need to take stock of things before you reopen.”
“Yes,” he said, having no wish to explain further. “Anyway, after the good business day, I made inquiries to find out what I can do for fun here. I was told I could hang out with friends, chill at any of the bars, or seek a female companion.”
She stared at him a moment, then threw back her head and laughed. “Did you come here then looking for that female companion?”
Enthralled by the absolute fun in her eyes, he leaned close. “Maybe.”
“Ha.” Instead of pushing back as he expected, she tilted forward slightly and batted her eyes. “Maybe, or you’re definitely here to seek one?”
The flirtatious move awakened a sudden desire in him. No, it wasn’t sudden, Saz thought. He’d felt this tug of unbridled lust that evening when she came riding over on her motorbike. He’d been feeling it since then, and it was getting stronger.
“To be frank, I’m not quite certain. But I do know I am in need of a woman. I mean, I am in need of a female companion.”
“Right. Well,” she bit her lip, pursed it as if in thought, and then gave her head a single shake. “The problem here is there’s no woman who fits the role of a female companion in this shop. Nkechi is married, and I’m certain her husband and two children won’t be willing to lease her out to anyone, even only as a companion.”
He wanted to cup her chin and kiss those plump and plain lips. Hungrily. “And you?”
“Me?” Anya slid the rest of the meat in her mouth, chewed slowly while her eyes stayed on his. “I am completely, and sadly, unavailable.”
“You are unavailable?” Saz swallowed, because he wished he was chewing on her lips. Or she on his. “Why? Are you married too with two children?”
Her dimples winked as she grinned. “No, I’m not. But I’m nonetheless unavailable.”
“Because I’m off the market.” She pushed back and picked up his plate. “Now, I must get back to work. See you around, Saz.”
“Anya.” He wanted to ask her to give him a better reason than she’d done. But when she turned with her friendly smile, he said, “You will definitely see me around. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Anya watched him leave the shop, with his long strides and a backward glance to aim her a wink. Then she strode to the counter and got behind it, setting down the plate to slip on her apron.
“I saw that.”
She threw Nkechi an indulgent smile at her chastising tone, “You saw what?”
“You were flirting with him.”
She chuckled. “Nke, I flirt with men. It’s harmless fun, and you know it.”
“You like him.”
“What?” She sputtered out a laugh. “Come on, stop acting like I have some kind of secret feelings for him, because I don’t.”
“You like him, Anya. And it’s never harmless fun when you flirt with a man you like.”
Anya thought about the moment he’d leaned and she’d thought he was going to kiss her. She’d hoped he would kiss her. “Yes, it is. It was just fun and will remain so. Now I’m going to finish Fumnanya’s cake. We’ll be closing soon and I plan to deliver it to her on my way home.”
“Fine. You pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. But I will counsel you to watch that man. I don’t trust him.”
“Oh Nke, just let it go, will you?” Laughing, she took the empty trays on the counter and marched off to the kitchen.
After delivering the cake, she hurried to the market to pick up an extra bag of flour and a variety of flavours she was running short on.
She could have called Peter to have it delivered to the store in the morning, or even at home this evening, but she didn’t want to put him to any trouble. Besides, her delivery had only been a stone throw from the main market where he had his store.
One of her favourite things about Peter Odogwu was his complete down to earth nature. While he was a mid-level civil servant, he’d thought it nothing to work with his grandmother in the store where she sold baking ingredients and equipments, and to inherit that store when she passed on.
He never put on airs and treated everyone with respect and kindly affection. If wishes were horses, then he would have his heart’s desire. But they weren’t, and for that Anya felt sorry for him.
“The market is already closing, and that is when you chose to come?” he chided her even as he took the list she held out and started dealing with it. “Why couldn’t you call to let me know you needed these?”
“Because I was close enough to handle it myself.” She sat on a bench and watched him as he moved quickly around the store. “If sales and orders go on the way they have the last two days, I will run out of flour before the week is over.”
“That is good, for you and for me.” His handsome face lit with an easy smile. “By the way, I heard from Osisi that you’re in dire need of a new oven.”
“I am. But that’s a worry I’ve put aside for now.”
“It doesn’t have to be a worry, or something you have to put aside, Anya. I am here and can help.”
She looked at him and wished again things were different, for his sake. “I know you can, and you want to. But…”
“Don’t start with any of that but business,” he cut her off, held out a Bagco bag to her. “I’ve had a talk with Osisi and he…”
“No.” Anya gave her head a firm shake despite her rueful expression. “You know I can’t depend on you in this way. And I know it will not be a burden for you if I do, but… I’m sorry I’m still saying a but.” She flashed a smile. “I will handle it. I just need to be patient for the next month or two, and then I can afford to get the new oven.”
“Not stubborn. Strong-willed.”
“Stubborn and strong-willed.” But he smiled as he accepted her decision. “Since you’re not going to accept my help that way, this is on the house.”
“And the flour.”
“No, no, you can’t do that, Peter. This is business and one must never mix business with sentiments. I’m going to pay for this, and you’re going to take your money.” She dug into her purse.
But Peter clasped a hand over hers. “Don’t do that. I won’t take anything that comes out of that purse, and you know it.”
Anya met his resolute gaze and shook his head. “And you say I’m stubborn?”
“You are. But I can be too.” He took her hand and walked with her to where she parked her bike. “You go on home. I will deliver the flour to the store first thing tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Peter. You’re always too kind.”
“You’re welcome.” He smiled warmly at her. “How about I come pick you up this evening and we have a meal and spend time together?”
Anya considered it, but only for a brief second. “I can’t. I’m really in need of rest and want an early night. Another time?”
There was a flicker of disappointment, but he nodded and smiled. “Definitely. Drive that bike safe. None of your speed craziness. The roads are busier now.”
“I’ll be careful. Thanks, Peter. See you.” She climbed on her motorcycle, kicked on the engine and threw a wave as she drove off.
By the time she was home, she was chiding herself for not accepting Peter’s invitation. She could do with a fun evening out and Peter was always good company.
But she didn’t want to start something that they would not be able to finish, Anya reminded herself as she entered the house, heading to the backyard where she knew her mother and sister would be relaxing until power was restored.
“Aunty, welcome.” Ifedinma, her sixteen year old sister and baby of the family, ran over to take the Bagco bag from her. She dug into it and shot her a glare at its contents. “So you didn’t bring anything home for us?”
“Us, or you?” Anya teased. Then she opened her purse and held out a sausage roll and doughnut. “Will these suffice?”
“Yes!” Ifedinma snatched them, taking a delighted bite and mumbling a thank-you over her busy mouth.
“Later you will say you’re serious about watching your weight,” their mother said.
“I’m not anymore. I’ve allowed Aunty to convince me that a teenager shouldn’t be watching her weight.”
Anya laughed. “That’s not what I said. I said a teenager shouldn’t be overly concerned about her weight.”
“The same thing,” Ifedinma retorted with a cheeky grin, sweeping past her to take the bag inside.
“Silly girl,” her mother said before turning to her. “You’re home later than usual. I started to think you’d gone out from the shop.”
“I went to deliver Fumnanya’s cake, and then stopped at the market to get some things.” Anya dropped on the cushioned bench. “Actually, Peter invited me out, but I said no.”
“Why no? It’s not like you have anything better to do at home.”
“I know. But you know how they say: don’t start what you can’t finish.”
“And why won’t you be able to finish anything you start with Peter?”
There was a frown on her mother’s face. But all Anya could think was that she was still so beautiful despite the frown. “Peter and I are only good as friends, Mama. We are not meant to be more than that to each other.”
“Nonsense. You can’t know what you are meant to be unless you give yourselves a chance to experience more.” As was her habit when she counselled, she touched Anya’s face in a soft caress. “Anya, let him in. If not him, let someone else in. You can’t continue to be alone.”
“I am fine alone, Mama.”
“No, you’re not. No one is fine alone. I want to see you happy again.”
Anya laughed and hugged her. “But I am happy, Mama. I truly am.”
“No, you’re not as happy as you should be. You need someone. You need a man.”
“I need a bath and a good night’s rest,” Anya countered lightly, and pushed to her feet, hoping to end the conversation. “What’s for dinner? I’m in the mood for something light like noodles and fried egg.”
“I am in the mood for noodles too. But I think I will shred dried fish in mine.” Rushing out again, Ifedinma inadvertently brought the matter to a firm close. “Mama, will you be joining us?”
“Who will join you to eat that bird food? I want something that will fill my tummy, not leave me hungry again after an hour of eating.”
Anya left them arguing the capability of noodles to be a full and satisfying meal. In her bedroom, she took a moment to think about what her mother had said.
She did need a man. Or, to be more clear, she wanted a man. And the man that has set off this certain need in her was Saz.
Saz who once had been Ifechukwude, and her young naïve and innocent self had wanted him. Wanted him to look at her and talk to her. Now, her older and more mature self wanted more than just a glance or a conversation. She wanted the man.
Well, she wanted to have sex with the man, if she was being honest, Anya thought, amused at herself. And the man wanted a female companion, which was the same thing.
Maybe it was time she let someone in. In her body, if not her heart.
Smiling, as she thought of the hot looking man with smouldering hot eyes and tempting full lips, Anya rose to prepare for that bath.
Just Deserts is 25% off on Okadabooks and the Tenth Magic Press e-bookstore.
N450 and not N̶6̶0̶0̶ until May 4 2020.