When she baked, whether it was a batch of sausage rolls or a three-layer cake, it was Anya’s best moments. From the feel of flour around her fingers to drawing out the finished product from the oven, she loved every step of the process.
Loved it more if she didn’t have a disproving voice quacking in her ear, Anya thought as she set the pan on the work table to check for doneness. Inserting a wooden toothpick into the center of the cake, she smiled when it came out clean, and turned to get out the two remaining pans.
“Don’t pretend like you’re not listening to me, because I know you are,” Nkechi groused, scooping out of the fryer the last batch of well-browned chin-chin.
“I, unfortunately, have to,” Anya told her with an overdone sigh. “Why do you have to have a problem with him lending us his oven, it made our work easier today, didn’t it?”
“I don’t have a problem with it. I am, in fact, grateful that he did.”
Anya snorted. “I can see how you are, with all that sighs of gratitude you keep letting out.”
“I am,” Nkechi insisted with a stubborn scowl tossed in her direction. “Or didn’t I thank him effusively when he brought it in?”
“You did, and then went ahead to scowl and mutter after he left. You’ve been scowling and muttering ever since.” And seeing that scowl still on her face amused Anya for she knew the true reason for it. “I’ve kissed a man before, you know.”
“Not in this kitchen, you have not,” Nkechi hissed, and dropped the large tray of chin-chin on the work table with a thud. “Since when did you become the kind of woman who kisses a man in the kitchen where anyone can walk in and see them?”
“Since I couldn’t resist kissing Saz this morning,” Anya answered with a teasing smile. “He has very kissable lips, have you noticed?”
“No.” Nkechi glared, muttered. Then she gave up and chuckled, shaking her head. “I am being the worst kind of mother hen, am I not?”
As she knew that to be an apology, Anya’s smile turned affectionate. “Only because you’re the best kind of friend.”
“I am worried,” Nkechi said, letting out a sigh. “And that is no surprise to you, as I’ve said so in the past. But…”
Because she trailed off, Anya paused on completing a pack of chin-chin to look at her. “But what?”
“You did something you’ve not done before with him. You let him kiss you, here where anyone could have walked in from the back and seen you.”
“I kissed him, to set that point straight. And granted I wasn’t thinking of anyone walking in on us or not, it made no difference that you did.”
“Because it was me, not anyone else.”
“No. Because it wouldn’t have mattered if anyone saw or not,” Anya corrected. “It was a private moment…”
“Private moments should be shared privately.”
Anya sighed at the interruption. “It was a private moment, and only a kiss, and I’m not ashamed to share a kiss with Saz, or for anyone to know I am sharing kisses with him. I’m a grown woman, Nke, and can enjoy a man without worrying about what people are going to think, say or do.”
“You’re a grown woman, yes. But this is a small town and people talk, of the little they know and what they know not about. And a woman’s reputation is always at risk when people talk.”
“They don’t require a woman to do much of anything before they tear her reputation to shreds,” Anya said, not entirely surprised there was a hint of bitterness in her voice. Old wounds never really healed.
“And knowing this, is why you should be careful. You can’t let yourself be exposed to mockery over a man who most likely is only after a few moments of pleasure.”
“I’m not letting myself be exposed to mockery. My personal life is not anyone’s business. And it’s definitely not anyone’s business if I choose to kiss a man in my kitchen or not. I’m not letting people dictate how I live my life. They will say what they will say, Nke. And it won’t matter, because I will know the truth.”
Recognising she’d touched a raw spot, Nkechi said softly, “I am sorry. I don’t mean to remind you of what’s gone…”
“It’s not gone. They’re talking less about it now, but I’m still the wife who most likely killed her husband with her infidelity.”
“Well, you didn’t, did you?” Nkechi retorted, her tone impatient. “That is stupid talk from backward-thinking people. But it is because their thinking is backward, and you have to live here with them, that I ask you to be careful. You don’t want to be the brunt of their gossips again, Anya.”
“No one wants to be the brunt of petty, malicious gossips, Nke. But I’m not going to hide myself, or my choices, to avoid wagging tongues. I am going to live as I please; I have always done so, and it doesn’t change now.”
“I am one for living your life as you choose, you know that,” Nkechi said, her voice back to quiet. “But some pangs are best borne only when they are worth the trouble. Is a quick roll in the sack worth the stress of raising the dust of fresh gossips?”
“It’s not going to be a quick roll in the sack, that I can guarantee you.” Amused now, and pushing off the unnecessary worry, Anya shifted attention to pick a pan and flip the cake out of it. “Stop worrying, Nke. I’ve told you that before and I say it again: stop worrying. I want this man and I mean to have him.”
“And it would be foolish to hope you mean want as in wanting more than sex from him, right?”
Anya shrugged. “I don’t know yet if I want more than sex from him. I don’t know yet if he wants more than sex from me. But I want sex, and I want it with him, and I’m going to get what I want this Sunday.”
“Sex on a Sunday, isn’t there a sin somewhere there?”
“If there’s a sin, I’m sure the day of the week wouldn’t matter.” Laughing at Nkechi’s mutter, she got out foil papers to wrap the cakes. “I’m not looking to offend God, or anyone, but I mean to enjoy these moments with him for as long as I have them.”
“It won’t be enough. Not for you.”
“Lord, you’re a pessimist.” Anya rolled her eyes, and began wrapping the next cake. “Let me worry about it not being enough when I get to the point where I realise it won’t be. Why cross a bridge I’m still far from?”
“Fine. I’ll just save my breath to tell you I told you so when that time comes.”
Anya chuckled. “You won’t say it. You will want to, but you won’t because you’re not mean enough to. Anyway, I’ve got a little worry of mine.”
“What is it?”
The shift to instant concern didn’t surprise Anya. That genuine care was a huge part of what made them friends. “He said he has someone in Benin, so I told him to break things off, if he wanted us to get into anything.”
“Aha. I knew something didn’t feel right about that man.”
“Well, a man with a girlfriend and chasing after another woman is not something right, is it?”
“You’re a case.” Anya shook her head at her. “Anyway, he said this morning that the door is closed.”
“The one to his relationship with her.” Feeling again that tug on her conscience, Anya frowned at the ribbon on her hand. “I feel a little guilty. I’ve never had to ask a man to break up his relationship with another woman before. She must be hurt, and I’m partly responsible for her pain.”
“No, you’re not. It’s his responsibility. You couldn’t have started anything with him while he was still with her. But it was his choice to remain with her, or break up.
“And,” Nkechi paused, a slight frown coming on her face before she went on. “The fact that he would so quickly do so makes me wonder two things: is he really that into you or does he go about breaking women’s hearts with careless abandon?”
“He doesn’t look like the sort to be careless with people’s feelings, but it kind of surprised me that he took care of it so quickly. Didn’t he have feelings at all for her?”
“You should have asked him that, not asking me.”
“To have asked him that would be dragging out the issue. Which would be silly, and especially as it wasn’t an issue anymore.” Anya shot her a mild glare before proceeding to knot the ribbon around the paper. “Besides, it kind of felt good he chose to break up with her just to be with me. Still…”
“Still you wonder if he will be choosing another over you in the near future,” Nkechi finished for her.
“Yeah, I wonder that. And I wonder if it should be a worry at all. It shouldn’t, and wouldn’t be if it ends up just being only about sex between us.”
“A bridge, as you so smartly told me, you want to cross only when you reach it.”
“Thanks, sweet sunshine, for reminding me.” Shaking her head, Anya laughed, and once again pushed aside the pointless worry. “Anyway, I’m seeing him this Sunday. Any recommendations for a woman who hasn’t had sex in four years?”
“Be sure he has protection strapped on, and he knows what he’s doing. There’s no need ending a dry spell if he’s going to be clumsy with his tools.”
Grinning, Anya nodded. “Be sure protection is strapped on, and he knows what he’s doing. Anything else?”
“Tell me all about it on Monday.”
Anya laughed at her bland stare. “You bet I will, if I have a reason to brag.”
And she wanted more than just one reason to brag.