Saz kept an eye out for the boy. The children, who clearly attended a private school, left with their father in his car at seven-thirty on the dot. Okey started on his way to school at four minutes to eight, and on foot.
He didn’t think there was any big deal about a child old enough to do so to walk to school, a lot of children did. He’d done it, and so had his half-siblings on certain occasions. But where there was a car to take other children from same household to school and one was left to walk, there he found the problem.
And he had to leave for school later than the others, that was the second problem. Still, he had no solutions to the problems–as yet. Or, maybe ever. What he could do was get in the van, pick him up on the way, along with a couple of other kids, and dropped them off in school. Then he went to work and busied himself with problems he had ready solutions for.
Restocking the store and opening it for business once again took him the next couple of days, and it was Wednesday evening before he took the time to stop over at A Slice Of Heaven.
It wasn’t a snack he wanted, Saz knew as he took a seat and waited to get his turn at the counter. It was the woman right behind it flirting with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
Okay, father, if he didn’t want to exaggerate.
“I have missed you around here, Abua.” She told the old man with her usual laughing eyes. “Where have you been these past few days?”
“I went to Onitsha to see my sister and her family. You know she married from there. But I missed you too.” The old man ogled at her like a starved lover. “You should stop tormenting me and give me a chance, Anya. My life’s becoming lonelier for not having you.”
“But you can’t have been lonely when you had your sister and her family for company. Here’s your moin-moin.” She took the money the old man held out, stuck it in a drawer and came up with a change. “Your change.”
“Forget my change and come sit with me. I will eat here while you talk to me. I love hearing your sweet voice.”
Her voice wasn’t sweet, Saz thought, toying with the game app on his phone. It was mellow and a touch raspy, and it rang with laughter more than half the time he heard it.
“I can’t, Abua. I’ve got another customer to attend to. And soon I have to get busy with closing down.”
“What customer?” The old man turned and threw him a glance that glared. “Why is he sitting there? He should come over and buy whatever he wants and get going.”
Anya laughed. And Saz thought the sound was a touch raspy too. “Go home and enjoy your moin-moin, Abua. We will see another day and continue this chat then.”
“Do you promise to sit with me when next I come if I go now?”
“Oh no, I don’t make promises lest I have to break them.” She gave her head a shake before she gestured with it. “Go, Abua. It’s getting late, and you know bikes willing to go your way become harder to find at this time.”
“That is true. It’s because of these hooligans robbing bike riders. All right, I will go. But you know I will be back soon, don’t you?” Her nod and smile seemed to satisfy him, for he turned and started out.
Close to Saz, he tossed an advice as he swept by, “Next time go to the counter and ask for what you want. This is not one of those big places where people come to take your order. You hear, young man?”
“I hear, old man.”
He harrumphed and swung through the open doorway.
“Looks like you’re here alone this evening,” Saz remarked casually as he rose and aimed for the counter. “Nkechi in the kitchen, or somewhere behind?”
“She’s gone home. She closes early on evenings she has engagements.”
“Is that right?” He leaned slightly on the counter. “I think I’ll have moin-moin and maybe a doughnut.”
“Just one remaining for each, but I promise you they are as tasty as the rest.”
“I thought you don’t make promises.”
She chuckled. “Not ones I’m likely to break. How’ve you been, Saz?”
She did look good. The prettily spotted skin of her face, her curvy figure streamlined in deep purple snug top and three-quarter skinny jeans. The vague and feminine scent often mixed with the aroma of pastries which hung on her. She looked better than good, and ticked off an itchy need inside him.
“So, did you miss me around here?”
She threw him an amused glance. “I miss all my regular customers, and you’ve become a regular.”
The answer, for some reason, left him unsatisfied. “Do you also flirt with all your regular customers?”
The corners of her mouth twitched. “If the mood strikes.”
There was no reason why he should become more dissatisfied, or suffer that twinge of jealousy. “And how often does the mood strike?”
“Every now and again.”
He wanted to haul her over the counter and kiss her until she stopped smiling, stopped thinking and swore never to flirt with another customer. With any other man.
Saz didn’t tell himself that desire was crazy. But he did caution himself to keep it light and easy.
“Now is one of those times, right?” He let his voice drop to a deep murmur. “You are flirting with me, and enjoying it.”
“I guess I am.” She put his order on the counter. “Just three hundred.”
He curled a hand around her wrist, turned her hand and traced a finger along her palm. “I am flirting with you too, and it’s not because you’re suddenly my favourite baker.” Feeling her quiver, he lifted his gaze, held hers. “It’s because I want you.”
She stared at him. And it was a pleasure, and a temptation, to see her swallow and watch the flicker of fire dance into her eyes.
But she smiled, her big friendly smile. “That’s the most direct move I ever heard.”
“It wasn’t a move.”
“No. It was a statement of fact. And another statement of fact is that I mean to have you. And you will let me have you.”
She stared again, then laughed. “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. In the meantime, pay your bill.”
He handed over a note, took his change from her. “Let’s go for a drive.”
“I want to ask where, but since I’m going to refuse anyway, I’ll just say, no, thank you.”
“Are you playing hard to get?”
She didn’t get a chance to respond because his phone rang. It was Grace and he took it.
“Hello. What’s up?”
“I’m all right. How are you? I haven’t heard from you the last few days. How’s it going?”
“Fine. Hold on.” He tapped the counter, so Anya raised her head from the book she’d picked up. “I’ll see you. Next time, it’s going to be yes.”
“Maybe it will be. Maybe it won’t be. Bye, Saz.”
“Later.” Smiling, he turned. “Yeah, what were you saying?”
“Who were you talking to?”
“Old friend. Sorry, I haven’t called, but things have been busy here. I’ve been restocking the store.”
Saz grimaced at the sharp screech in his ear, got in the van, and set his purchase on the passenger seat.
“It’s what I have to do while I wait to find a buyer.” He threw a last glance at the pastry shop before he pulled into the main road.
He wanted her, and he would have her.
Children weren’t allowed to have visitors during school hours without any cogent reasons, but Anya had an understanding with Okey’s teacher, so she allowed her to see him every time she wanted to see him.
Still, she didn’t take the kind gesture for granted and kept her visits to just once every week.
“Did you get to school on time today?” she asked.
Okey paused on the food he was eating to give a nod. “I’ve been coming to school on time since Uncle Saz has been picking us and dropping us off.”
Anya frowned. “Uncle Saz?”
“He said he’s your friend. Your old friend. He came over to the house on Sunday morning.”
“Saz came over on Sunday?”
Okey bobbed his head. “Yes, after everybody left for church. He said we are cousins. Third cousins.” He paused to take a drink from his water bottle. “He gives me slices of bread with butter when he drops me. Even when I tell him I’ve eaten, he will say I should eat the bread too. So I’m eating a lot these days.”
“He gives you food. He drops you off at school.” Anya blinked because she knew her eyes were about to water as they did when she was touched. “That is good. But you said us…you and who does he drop off?”
Okey shrugged his small shoulders. “Anyone he meets with me along the way. You know sometimes I meet up with Praise, Eyine and Willy on the way to school. He takes all of us in his car and drops us in school. But it’s only me he gives food.”
“I see.” She did see what she hadn’t before. “Anyway, any problems with your school work?”
“Only with the new topic in Maths. Maybe you can help me understand it.”
She helped him get a better handle on the new topic before the break period was over, and drove by the building materials store instead of heading straight to the shop.
It wasn’t the only building materials store in the town, but it was the one known by that name because it was the oldest and largest store. And the fact that it’s name was All Building Materials Place sort of solidified that name.
Well, the new owner of the store was apparently surprised to see her. Pleasantly so, by the indication of his quick smile.
“I was thinking the day was going to sweep by without anything interesting happening, but here you are.”
“You mean nothing interesting has happened, not even when you made sales?”
“Sales are good, not interesting. You here, visiting me unexpectedly, is interesting.”
She liked the fact that he kept his hot eyes on her, and wasn’t even bothered by the likelihood that they had an audience in his staff moving about the store.
Still, she looked away, for the good of her fluttering stomach, and took the time to appraise the store.
“It’s good to see this place stock to the hilt once again,” she said. “I remember coming in here with my brother three years ago…well, a little over really. We were doing some work at the house and he needed ceilings, batons, nails and the likes. Your father attended to us that day. He liked to attend to his customers.”
“Yes, he did. Won’t you have a sit? What can I get you, a drink?”
He’d changed the subject, Anya observed and wondered if he found it sensitive to discuss his father.
“I sell drinks, so I usually try to avoid taking it.” She didn’t accept the offer of a seat either, as she didn’t want to linger. “I came to say thank you for what you’re doing for Okey. You said you will watch out for him, but I didn’t think you meant to do anything.”
“You don’t have to thank me.” Saz didn’t feel comfortable with the thanks, not when he hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. “In any case, you do more for him.”
“It’s not about more or less. It’s about caring. You care.”
Saz shrugged, got up since she wouldn’t sit. “I want to take you out. I want to spend time with you. Tell me yes this time.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to say no, but the man made her stomach dance, her blood heat with desire. And as a solid bonus, he was kind to a child in dire need of kindness.
“All right, we will go for that drive. When?”
He grinned. “This Sunday. I’ll pick you up right after midday, say twelve-thirty. Will you be back from church then?”
“I’ll be home then. You will want my address.” She gave it with a good description. “See you on Sunday, Saz.”
“I’ll walk you out.”
It surprised her that he took her hand. His was large and a little rough. “The hand of a worker,” she commented. “I like it.”
“Glad you do, cause it’s the only one I’ve got.”
“Wrong. You’ve got two, but I’m sure I’ll like the other one just as well.” Grinning, she got on her bike. “See you.”
“You bet. Take care.”
Anya knew her head wanted to question her decision to go out with him, but she refused to allow the questions. It was a date–if she could even call it that–not a commitment to get married.
And no, she wasn’t ready to think about marriage. Not yet.