“Hello, beautiful lady.”
The low, deep voice trailed a soft caress over her skin and had Anya lifting her gaze to stare at its owner, a slow smile spreading across her face as she watched Saz aim towards her in practiced, unhurried strides. The man knew how to move his tall, broad frame without making it look like he exerted any effort in doing so. Yet, there was a fluid flow of energy in each step.
“I am pressed for time, but I have to confess I’m glad to see you,” she told him when he got to the counter, and leaned against it. “How are you, Saz?”
“Better now I’m looking at you.” Half smiling, he slid his hand around her nape, drew her forward and set his mouth on hers, kissing her just as unhurriedly as he’d moved.
It felt like a short circuit went off inside her, and it took some effort to remind herself where she was and why she shouldn’t dive across her display glass into his arms.
“Wow, I think we’re going to set off the gossip mongering union if anyone caught us doing that. Still,” Anya licked her lips where she could still feel the taste of him. “I can’t say I’m filled with any form of remorse.”
“I know I should be more restrained, but I can’t seem to help myself every time you are within sight.” His hold had shifted to her hand, and Saz raised it to give her palm a soft kiss before letting go. “Why are you pressed for time?”
Anya had to repeat the question in her head to follow the smooth switch in conversation. “Oh, I have food to deliver, and I’m running behind schedule. It should have been Nkechi handling the closing hour today, but she had a family emergency.”
“Hope nothing serious happened?”
His quick concern drew her affection for him. “No. Just her four year old down with a mild case of Malaria, but her husband is often helpless without her.”
“Hope the four year old gets better soon. Anyway, what can I help you with?”
Surprised by the offer, Anya raised her head from the task of locking up the display glass. “You want to help me deliver food to old people?”
He gave a shrug. “I would like to help, if you let me.”
Despite the careless shrug, he was serious, and Anya eyed him curiously. “You would really come along, if I ask you to? Climb on my bike with me and drive around town, seeing some old people? I don’t just drop the food and go, you know. Two or three, or even more, might require some form of attention and I have to provide it.”
“I kind of get all that. But,” Saz pursed his lips and gave his head a shake. “I’m not getting on your bike with you. We’ll take my van. It’s bound to be easier.”
“You won’t get on my bike with me. Hmm.” She didn’t really care, but in the mood to tease, she set her hands on her waist and arched her eyebrows. “So, you don’t trust the fact that I can ride a motorcycle as well as any man can, is that the problem?”
“Are you being funny now?”
“Do I look like I’m being funny?”
“Actually, yes, because your eyes don’t look entirely very serious.” There was some amusement in his. “In any case, I’ve seen you ride your bike and I know what a great rider you are. Plus, I told you I like how sexy a woman looks while riding a bike.”
“So, if you know how good a rider I am, why won’t you climb on behind me?” Her mouth twitched, but Anya wouldn’t let herself smile. Not yet.
“Because I have plans for us to spend time together this evening. I know I should have let you in on the plan, but it struck me as I left the store that I desperately need to see you.”
“Desperately, huh?” Now her smile came, slowly, flirtatiously. “How desperate?”
“Unthinkably so.” Saz came around the counter, slipped his arms around her. “Let’s save us some time by me following you home to drop off your bike, then we will go feed the old people, attend to whatever they need, then go over to my end for our own dinner and some good sex.”
He brushed a kiss on her lips. “How does that sound to you?”
“A companion while I take care of my duties, the promise of dinner and good sex?” To please herself, Anya kissed him, twice. “Sounds like a fantastic idea. I’ll get the ghana-must-go from the kitchen, and we’ll lock up and be on our way.”
“I’ll get the bag, you start prepping whatever is needed for lock up.” He didn’t wait for her response before he strode into the kitchen, and returned in no time with the bag clutched in his hand. “All set?”
“Yes.” Anya nodded and led the way outside. She took care of the locks and turned to shoot him a smile. “So, we’ll see at the house. My house, I mean.”
“I got it. Oh, and as an afterthought, the next time we’re going on a date, you’ll be the one taking me out, and our mode of transportation will be your motorbike.”
Anya laughed as she watched him get in his van and honked for her to go ahead. Oh yes, this was a man she enjoyed being with. And maybe that’s more than she should, she thought with a silent sigh, climbing on her motorcycle and kicking it on. But she wasn’t going to worry about that. Not now, at least.
Saz got down from the van only with the sole intention to offer his greetings to her mother and sister.
“Oh, they’re not home,” Anya informed him. “They left this morning for Lagos. My mother actually called a little while ago to say they’ve arrived. Ifedinma has rounded up with her exams, so they took the chance to spend some time with my brother and his family.”
“Is that right?” Since she left the door open, Saz followed her into the house. And as he was more at ease with her family’s absence, he dropped on a couch and waited for her to do whatever she needed to do. “So, you’re home alone, for tonight, at least.”
“For the next two weeks,” she said from the inside of a room she’d slipped into.
“Two weeks. Interesting.” The thought came to him. Saz considered it, and decided it sat well with him. “Spend the night with me. Actually, spend the weekend with me. We’ll have that date you’re taking me on on your bike, and lots of sex.”
Her laughter came with a ring of delight, and Saz wished he could see it dance on her face. “I’m not spending the weekend with you. I don’t sleep outside my house.”
“But your mother is not home.”
Anya laughed again. “I know. But the rule is mine, not hers. Well, it started out as hers, but I’ve made it mine. It’s a personal rule: no sleeping over in a lover’s home.”
“And you never broke the rule?” Even when you were dating your late husband? He thought it, but Saz didn’t say it aloud.
“Not once in my life.” She came out, and she’d changed into a dress.
One that made her look more feminine. Because the sight, just as the thought, of her did really fill him with desperate need, Saz found himself striding across the room to take her in his arms, claiming her lips before he could register his actions.
That burning need only fired up, making him wish he could steep himself in her warm, sweet smells. But she was pressed for time, Saz reminded himself, and reluctantly raised his head.
The lusty dark look in her eyes made him sigh. “You make a man forget himself. Please, come home with me. I’ve never begged a woman to do so. Maybe I’ve never needed to. But I need to be with you this evening, and I want to wake up with you by my side.”
“I am tempted to say yes, but the answer’s still no.” There was a soft sigh of regret as she kissed him. “I don’t like to break my rules, and in particular, that one.”
And he wasn’t the sort to beg a lady for anything, had never needed to as he’d told her. But Saz begged, again. “Just a night then, it doesn’t have to be the whole weekend. And you can sleep in a separate room, if you prefer it that way. I’ll be content to have you as a companion in the house.”
Because she was smiling, Saz grinned as he nodded. “Mmm-hmm. And I won’t even sneak into your room unless you ask me to.”
Anya laughed. “I think you will, even if I specifically ask you not to. But the answer is no. I can promise, though, to let you bring me home by eleven. How’s that?”
She chuckled and took his hand. “Come on, let’s go. My old people are waiting.”
He was a big boy, who can take no without sulking, so Saz went along with her. But he was going to try to change her mind before the evening was over. Or before her two weeks home alone was over, if his efforts failed this first time.
He didn’t have any clear thought what helping her feed a bunch of old people would be like, the offer itself had been a spur of the moment gesture. But it came as a pleasant surprise when Saz found himself enjoying the whole thing.
A minute’s friendly conversation was enough for most of them, and then they were content to take their food with the promise to go to bed on time. They weren’t sick, or dirty, or appeared to pose a threat of evil. They were just old, and frail, and lonely.
The lonely part touched Saz more, because each of the them had children, and grandchildren, other relatives, and yet they were alone, seemingly left out of the lives of their loved ones and forgotten.
Or their loved ones waiting for them to die, as Banwuzia insisted was his case.
“They call the neighbours every now and again with the hope to hear I’ve passed on.” The old man was not far from ninety, and while his body shook from loss of control over his muscles and nerves, his mind and tongue still functioned distinctly. “If it were up to me, and not my creator, I would give them the satisfaction they seek. It would be a relief to everyone if I stop being such a burden.”
“I doubt Anya considers you a burden,” Saz said. He’d offered to assist the old man with his food while Anya took care of cleaning up a few spots in his small house.
“Well, maybe I’m not to her, but I am now to you, am I not?” He peered at Saz through aged, tired eyes. “You probably had plans to spend the evening with Anya, but here you are instead, feeding an old man who can’t quite take care of the job himself.”
“I still plan on spending the evening with her.” Saz figured it was best to shift the focus away from his tiny disability. “She’s arguing with all of my plans, but I’m confident I will convince her soon.”
“Persistence is what you need,” Banwuzia counselled. “A woman eventually falls for the persistent man.”
“Or the persistent man finally accepts the woman knows well her own mind,” Anya said, coming in from the back door. “I see you’re quite done. Well, good, as we have one final stop.”
“Your young man is very thoughtful, and patient too,” Banwuzia said to her. “He fed me without a mutter of complain.”
“That’s because there was nothing to complain about.” Not comfortable with his praise being sung when he wasn’t the one doing the praiseworthy thing, Saz handed over a napkin to the old man. “You wipe off your mouth with that, for we’re done here. And you did a good job too, finishing your dinner.”
“Well, it’s no hardship eating good food, is it?” Banwuzia countered with a broad smile that showed off a few missing teeth.
“Never have been for me,” Saz agreed with a smile of his own. “I will see you again, old man.”
“It will be my pleasure,” the old man said.
“Lock the door after us, and see that you go to bed soon,” Anya told him. Then she said to Saz as they got back in the van, “That was a sensitive thing to do, handing him the napkin to use on his own. It gives them a sense of Independence to know there are still things they can do for themselves.”
“Looks to me like he could do a whole lot for himself,” Saz said with a casual shrug. “He bathes and clothes himself, and he’s going to lock the door before turning in. Not to talk about the effort of moving about the house when he needs to.”
He paused, then asked in a pensive voice, “Is he suffering some kind of Parkinson’s disease? I heard of it from watching a show on Mohammed Ali. Is that Banwuzia’s ailment?”
“Most likely. At least, that’s what the doctor suggested when he was feeling unwell and I had to take him to the hospital.”
“Yes, going from a strong and healthy man to one who can no longer get a grip over his nerve cells.”
“Yeah, that is sad too, but I meant having your own children turn their backs on you in your old age. Knowing they’re waiting for you to drop dead. It’s heartbreaking, for him.”
“He was right, you’re a thoughtful man,” Anya said with a soft smile she knew he couldn’t quite see when he tossed her a glance. “And I will agree with patient too, as I saw how carefully you fed him.”
“I was only chipping in, you’re the one doing the real work.” His shoulders moved in another casual shrug. “Anyway, do you agree with him that persistence will have you falling in with my wishes soon?”
“I see you change subjects too when you’re not comfortable with praise.” Anya laughed, delighted with him. “You’re an interesting man to know, Saz.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Anya chuckled, enjoying the faint gruffness in his deep voice. “Take a left turn at the end of the street. Our destination is the third house on that crescent,” she said, still choosing to not answer the question.
And as they didn’t have far to go, Saz didn’t have a chance to insist on an answer, so she considered herself lucky.
“This one might take a little longer as Mama Ashie usually requires a little more work, so you might want to sit this one out,” she suggested as she took the last pack of food.
But he surprised her again by refusing the suggestion. “No problem. The work will probably go faster if it’s two of us doing it.”
“The work is not actually work per se. Mama Ashie is…Well, come along and see for yourself,” Anya decided, letting go the attempt at explanation. She had a feeling it wouldn’t dissuade him anyway.
“Are you the evening breeze by that window?” she asked the old woman after her cheerful greeting, which mostly had been ignored, except for a humph.
“I’ve been watching to see when you will come in, and you do so now with a man in tow.” Mama Ashie aimed her disapproving stare in Saz’s direction. “Who is he? And what will Victor say when he hears you’re going about town in another man’s car?”
Well, she chose this evening to recall she’d been married, and to forget she’d lost her husband. Talk about inconvenience. Or maybe it was convenient, for they wouldn’t have to deal with the constant issue of Onyema’s absence.
“I think he wouldn’t mind, as he knows I’m with my friend this evening.” That could be true, if the dead knew what went on in the lives of the loved ones they left behind, Anya thought. “Anyway, I’m sorry I’m late today, something kept me busy…”
“No doubt this man,” Mama Ashie cut her off, her disapproval still plain as she glared at both of them in turn. “You do know she’s married, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.” Clearly unmoved by her glares, Saz took the chair next to her. “I, also, know her husband wouldn’t mind that I am keeping her company.”
“Well, why should he, he’s dead, isn’t he?” Mama Ashie said after a short pause, a focused frown coming on her face. “The saddest thing, the way he died. Healthy one minute, and sick and death, the next. And my poor child left all alone to deal with that and the nasty wagging tongues.
“Narrow-minded fools. What did they know?” She hissed, and glared at nothing in particular. Then her features cleared as she peered curiously at Saz. “You’re a fine looking young man. Are you going to marry my Anya? She’s a good girl, you know. Don’t believe what they say about her.”
“Anya is not looking to get married again, yet,” Anya said, saving Saz from the hassle of being put on the spot. “But you’re ready for your dinner, and should eat it. Unless you want me to feed you.”
“Have I not hands to feed myself?” Insulted by the suggestion, Mama Ashie glared. “And don’t think I can’t tell you’re trying to change the subject, little girl.”
Anya chuckled. “Well, your mind is definitely sharp this evening.”
“My mind is always sharp,” Mama Ashie retorted with dignity. “Go on, answer my question, young man. Are you going to marry my Anya?”
“We are still getting to know each other, but there’s no telling what the future might offer us.”
“A safe answer,” Mama Ashie scoffed with a cluck of her tongue.
“A true answer,” Saz countered, his gaze shifting to hold hers before he returned his attention on Mama Ashie. “So, how was your day today? I see you have Okwe set on top the cupboard at the corner. Do you play?”
“But of course. And I’m a champion, too. I’ve not lost a game in so many years, it’s become almost boring to win,” Mama Ashie said with unconcealed pride.
“Maybe you have not played with one who truly knows the game in a long while,” Saz said, his voice teasing.
A fine debate of who’s likely the better player soon ensued, and Anya left them to go make sure Mama Ashie’s bedroom was in order. Like the old woman, she’d considered Saz’s response a safe answer, even a good one.
But what he’d said, and the look in his eyes when he’d glanced her way, made it clear he hadn’t been seeking a courteous way to answer a quite intrusive question. He’d answered with the truth, and a truth that had come as a surprise.
That wasn’t the only surprise this evening, Anya thought, perching on the bed after she changed the sheets, only half hearing them as they made plans to play a few games together. His offer to come in with her when they’d arrived at Nne Oliseh’s, their first stop, had come as a huge surprise.
She’d expected him to wait for her in the car, but he’d followed her inside and kept a good conversation with the old woman. And had done the same each time they stopped, until he surprised her again by offering to assist Banwuzia with his feeding.
He was always a pleasant surprise to her, and he was awakening surprising new feelings in her.
Amused at the thought taking shape in her head, Anya joined them again in the living room, and wasn’t entirely surprised to see Saz clearing the dish Mama Ashie had used.
“You’re done, I see. Want me to help you get into bed?”
“No. I can get there myself when I’m ready to sleep. Just remind Ejima to come lock the doors.”
“I’ll do that, then. See you again in a few days.”
“See that you come with her, so I can show you what it means to have long years of experience,” Mama Ashie said to Saz.
“I won’t miss the chance to show you the expertise of my short years of experience,” Saz returned.
“Bragging and youth go hand in hand,” Mama Ashie scoffed. “But you will learn soon.”
Saz chuckled. “Or it might be you learning something new.”
Mama Ashie’s response was a loud cackle.
“Amazing woman. She must at least be eighty and obviously still knows her way around the game,” Saz commented as they got back on the road.
“Yeah, when she’s lucid, she’s tough to win.”
“Is hers a case of age-related memory loss, or…?”
“Not Alzheimer’s and dementia, if that’s what you’re thinking. The doctor is almost certain is memory loss due to old age. As you can see, it goes off, then comes back on again. Sorry, if she made you uncomfortable.”
“She didn’t,” he said, and Anya knew that to be the truth. “As matter of fact, it was fun meeting a fellow champion at Okwe, and I’m looking forward to our first game.”
“You should take me back to the house,” Anya told him. And added when he shifted his gaze on her, “I need to pack a bag for the weekend at your place.”
“Well,” was all he said, and grinned.
“Well,” Anya repeated, and laughed, at ease with her spontaneous decision.
Okwe – Ayo (The Nigerian style of the popular Mancala board game)