If she’d thought she’d feel any different, waking up beside a man after a long while, Anya was right. She felt darn good.
So darn good, she made said man breakfast and served him the breakfast in bed.
“No one’s ever served me breakfast in bed before,” Saz said, slipping out of the bathroom where he’d gone to brush his teeth. “Well, except when I was sick, and Iye was feeling indulgent.”
“She didn’t always indulge you when you were sick?”
“Oh, she pampered me. But she preferred I didn’t loiter around in bed, as she called it. You chase away pain by acting strong, not weak, was her favourite maxims those times.”
“I wish I could have known her.”
“I have the same wish. Hmm, I love this.” He moaned over the tomato fried eggs he stuck in his mouth. “It’s almost as good as mine.”
He shot her a wink. “Just teasing.”
“Better be teasing, or you’ll be taking care of lunch, and dinner, if we want any.”
“Hey, you should know that’s really not a threat for a man who knows his way around the kitchen,” Saz said, his smile still teasing. “But why are you watching me? Dig in. With the appetite I’ve got this morning, there won’t be any left for you in a minute.”
“I’m not much of a breakfast person. Usually I take a cup of tea, or some fruit.” Still, she covered a slice of bread with eggs, placed another on it and took a bite. “Anyway, I’ve got to get to the shop. I called Nke to begin without me, but I need to join her. Saturdays are often busy for us.”
“Oh, I forgot you would have to work today.”
“I do. But I can decide to do a half day and close early.”
“You can do that?”
Anya chuckled at his hopeful expression. “Yes. I think today we will run only a morning and afternoon session, and close latest by four. That will give you the chance to go to the store, too.”
“I don’t plan on going to the store at all. Ekezie and Lucy can handle things without me.”
“You’re the lucky boss, then.” She leaned over to kiss him lightly on his full mouth before getting off the bed. “I need to have my bath and dress up.”
“I’ll do the same, so I can drop you off.”
“You don’t have to. I can easily get Okada in front of the house.”
“I want to. After all, I made you drop your bike at home.”
“I agreed to drop my bike at home. There’s a difference when you put it like that,” Anya corrected before she disappeared into the bathroom.
“Difference being it was your choice, and not something I made you do.”
Saz chuckled at the snooty praise. “I like to think I am.”
He polished off the last bite of the best breakfast he’d had in a long while, and pushed off the bed, his intention to quickly wash up the dishes before she was done.
She was coming out of the bathroom just as he strolled back into the room.
“Oh my, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed the sight of a naked woman this much.” Liking the amused glance she tossed him before turning to treat him to a gorgeous back view, Saz crossed the room to her, palming one deliciously ample butt. “I am enthralled by every part of your body, do you know that?”
“Looks like it’s my bottom thrilling you this morning. Unfortunately…and I dearly mean that,” she added on a soft purr when he gave the said bottom a gentle squeeze. “You will have to let it go, because I really need to get to the shop.”
“Can’t I entice you with a brief delay?” He left that hand on the butt, and slipped the other around her, dropping his head to kiss her collarbone.
She let out a half groan. “How brief?”
“Will fifteen minutes…” The sudden high pitched cry cut off the rest of his words.
“That cry came from a child,” Saz said, his body stiffening as he went on alert.
Another sharp cry rang out, followed by a series of loud sobs.
“Okey,” they both said at once.
“Get your clothes on.” Saz was already aiming for the door as he gave the order, anger and an edge of panic quickening his feet.
Before he had the gate open, Anya was rushing out. “Hurry up,” she urged as the cries were now continuous, and agonised.
Saz yanked the pedestrian gate open, grabbed her hand and rushed across the street. He didn’t want her running ahead of him, because he wanted to be the one to deal with this. The one to deal with whoever was hurting that boy.
But she wrenched her hand free once they were through the side entrance. “Where’s your mother?” she asked the two boys chasing after a ball.
Saz didn’t spare them more than a glance, or wait for their answer. He saw an open door and went for it.
And right in the centre of the living room, he saw Iloba lift a long cane, and brought it down on the barely covered behind of the boy he had bent over his knees and held down by one arm.
Saz charged at him, snatching the cane before it came down again. Then he pulled the boy out of Iloba’s hold, drawing him against him, holding him secure to his side.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Iloba slowly stood, glaring at him. “What are you doing here, Ifechukwude? How dare you come into my house without invitation to interfere in…”
“First of all, it’s Saz. Don’t you dare ever call me anything but that.” Fury made the warning come out as a snarl. And it pleased Saz to see the cautious look come over Iloba’s face. “Second, I dare to interfere because you were abusing the child.”
“Abusing? What nonsense are you talking about? I was flogging him, not abusing him. And flogging him because he was careless enough to do an irreparable damage to my cloth.”
As if to brandish the evidence of his case, Iloba stalked to the ironing board at the corner and snatched up the pair of brocade trousers on it. “See this? That stupid boy left the iron to burn a big hole into this trousers. You know how expensive this fabric is?”
Saz could care less about the price of the fabric, or the ugly gape on the thigh of the trousers. “That’s what you get when you ask a child to iron your clothes, Iloba,” he told him cruelly.
“And if he burned a hole into that cloth, it must have been a mistake, and did not warrant the kind of beating you were giving him,” Anya hissed at him.
She’d taken Okey out of his hold and cradled him now against her body.
“This is none of your…”
The scathing words Iloba was shooting at Anya was cut off by his wife, who strode out of a room, with a girl of about twelve, or thirteen, in tow. As a matter of fact, Saz noted, the two boys had come in and were now watching the scene in a kind of horrified awe. He supposed they’d never witnessed anyone challenging their father’s authority.
Well, they are about to learn the lesson that some things are not right, no matter who is doing them.
“What is going on here?” Okwudili demanded, her furious eyes darting to Saz and moving quickly to rest on Anya. “Anya, what are you doing here?”
“She’s doing what you should have done when your husband was battering little Okey,” Saz answered her question.
“What I should have done?” While clearly she wasn’t going to indulge in an open expression of fury like her husband, Okwudili did not hold back on the annoyed glare she shot at Saz. “The boy was being disciplined, not battered. Children get disciplined when they err. You would know that, if either of you have children of your own.”
“Absolute nonsense,” Saz snarled. “That wasn’t discipline. That was brutalizing a child.”
“No, it wasn’t brutality. Not in anyway at all. But whatever your opinion, this is my house, and you are not welcomed to storm in, interfering in what is not your business,” Iloba said.
That he could speak in that calm and dismissive tone, infuriated Saz. But he kept a tight leash over his fury. “I will take him from you, Iloba. Keep that in mind. For now, don’t you dare lay another finger on him, or I will make you sorry.”
“Are you threatening me, Ife…” Iloba stopped at Saz’s low growl, and took an involuntary step backward. “You can’t come in here and threaten me over disciplining my nephew. He’s under my care, and I have a right to flog him when he errs.”
“You may have a right to spank an erring child, but not to brutally flog him,” Saz snapped.
“This is none of your business, and I ask you, for the last time, to stop interfering.”
“It’s my business, because I’ve made Okey my business. Meanwhile, I’m going to take him over to my house to see to his bruises…”
“No way. He lives under my roof, and neither you, nor anyone else, have any right to take him anywhere. Absolutely no right, Saz…if that’s what you like to be called.”
“We just want to see to his…” Anya began.
But Iloba cut her off. “I said no. He’s not going anywhere. He’s a child under my care, and I decide what happens to him.”
“Fine. But my warning still stands–touch him again and I will make you sorry. Also, don’t forget I will take him out of your hands soon.”
“Get out of my house, Saz. And don’t return here, unless you have my invitation to do so.”
“I will return when I come for the boy,” Saz said. Then he turned, squatting so he was face to face with Okey. “Are you having serious pains anywhere?”
He’d stopped crying. And while there was still pain in the the young eyes, there was also awe, and gratitude. “No,” he said in a whisper. And then added, “Thank you.”
The gratitude wrung Saz’s heart. He drew the boy close and gently hugged him. “I will see you on Monday,” he murmured into his ear.
Then he stood, reached for Anya’s hand, and without another word, they left.
Neither of them said anything until they were back in his bedroom, and Anya was taking off the jeans and T-shirt she was wearing. Saz realised then she hadn’t put on underwear in her haste to get to Okey.
Her naked body still punched desire into him, but he was incapable of thinking of sex at the moment.
“I need to get him out of that house,” he said. “He can’t continue to live with them.”
“I have to see Maxwell Isichei and discuss this with him.” Because he was still furious, Saz hissed out, “Darn it! How could he beat him like that? He strapped him over his knees and came at him with his cane like the boy’s an animal. He’s just nine, a little boy. How can he not see he’s only a little boy?”
“Because when people have a certain kind of meanness in them, they don’t see what they should. Or don’t care, even if they can.” Understanding his anger, the pain he was hiding under that anger, Anya wrapped her arms around him and pressed a kiss on his shoulder. “We will get him away from them. We will do it.”
There was a moment’s hesitation, then the tenseness on his body loosened, and he put his arms around her, hugging her. “Yes, we will.”
They stayed that way for several seconds before Anya broke the embrace. “I need to get to the shop.”
“Yes. I’ll drop you off, and then come back to have my bath before going over to see Maxwell Isichei.”
“Before going over to see your uncle,” Anya said, shooting him a playful exasperated look.
“That’s what I said in my own way,” he countered with a quick grin. Then he cupped her face and gave her a long kiss. “Thank you for being here last night and this morning.”
That he would thank her made Anya smile. “There’s still the rest of today and tomorrow.”
“And I’m looking forward to all those long hours with you.”
“Me, too.” She kissed him, and then took his hand. “Let’s go. Nke will kill me if I’m any later than I am already.”
“Tell her it’s my fault, and she will save her glares and mutters for me.”
Anya laughed because glaring and muttering would be exactly what Nkechi would do. “I just might do that.”
But she figured she had a good excuse when she entered the kitchen where Nkechi was putting finishing touches to a large batch of doughnuts.
“I’m so sorry I’m late. But Iloba was beating up Okey and we had to intervene.”
“Oh goodness, what did the poor boy do this time?”
This time it surely was, as this, of course, was not the first time he was getting that kind of beating from Iloba, or Okwudili. “He burnt a hole into his trousers–his expensive trousers–while ironing it.”
“That’s what he gets for asking a little boy like that to iron his clothes,” Nkechi hissed.
“That’s exactly what Saz told him.”
And she’d been proud of how Saz handled Iloba. How he shot a little fear into the man with his furious eyes and menacing low voice.
“Saz was there too?” Nkechi paused on the sugar she was sprinkling over the doughnuts and turned to look at her. “As a matter of fact, how come you were over there to witness Iloba beating Okey this morning?”
“Because I spent the night at Saz’s.” Since she had the fish pies already in the deep fryer, Anya focused her attention on those. “If you must know, I’m spending the weekend with him.”
“You’re spending the weekend with him. Has it come to that?”
Anya rolled her eyes. “Yes, it has. And that’s all I’m saying on the matter. A more important issue is that Saz is thinking of taking Okey.”
“Taking him where?”
“Take care of him. Become his guardian. They are from same family. You know that, don’t you?”
“I do. But why would he want to become Okey’s guardian?”
“Most likely because he doesn’t want to see the boy suffer any longer.” For now, Anya didn’t want to delve into Saz’s childhood story.
“That’s…” Nkechi paused, as if to find the right word. “Well, that’s kind of him. Actually, it’s unexpected kindness.”
“He’s a man who likes to surprise,” Anya said. “He surprises you in pleasant, irresistible ways.”
“I can resist his surprises. It’s you we have to worry about,” Nkechi muttered. “And what’s with that look on your face?”
“What look?” Coming out of her momentary daydream, Anya grinned at Nkechi’s squinted stare. “Get on with your work, woman. We should be opening soon.”
“You didn’t remember we needed to open soon when you slept on a man’s bed last night, letting him have his way with you, and waking up late to witness a mean-hearted man brutalize a child.”
Anya laughed at the grumpy mutter. “Gosh, Nke, you’re the sweetest grumpy person I know.”
“The most sensible, too. And I tell you again, that man is trouble.”
“He’s also a kind and thoughtful man, who’s willing to take care of a poor motherless boy.”
“Yes. That makes him dangerous for the wellbeing of your heart,” Nkechi told her.
Anya decided not to argue with the likely true words.
Saz went to the store only because when he was angry, and confused how to solve a problem, and bedeviled by memories that hurt him, he needed to keep himself busy with work.
So, he played the major role of a sales assistant all through the morning and most of the afternoon, and figured he understood Ekezie’s relief when he announced he was heading home at 3:45 p.m.
He didn’t head home, of course. He drove to the pastry shop to wait for Anya to finish up, so he could take her along. And met her flirting, again, with the old man she called Abua.
As he felt irritated by the wide smiles she beamed at the man, without having a good reason as to why he was, Saz plonked on a chair and watched her with what he knew had to be a sulky stare.
“Yes, I’m closing early today, Abua. But I, unfortunately, cannot accept your invitation.”
Saz didn’t see why it had to be unfortunate. She shouldn’t want to spend time with the man. Of course, a part of his mind told him she didn’t, and was only being polite. But it was the part he wasn’t in the mood to listen to, so Saz ignored it.
“You have refused to take me seriously, that’s the problem, Anya,” The old man complained. “Tell me, have I not proven my dedication to you?”
“You don’t have to prove anything to me, and you and I know it.” Her eyes laughing, as they usually did, as they should only for him, Anya gave the man’s hand a pat. “What you need to do now is go home, enjoy your snacks, and have a good sleep.”
“Sleep in the afternoon is for the aged. What I need is for you to go out for a drink with me. We will go to Asaba, if you find the spots here local.”
“I don’t mind local. But we’re not going anywhere.” She flashed her smile, fluttered her lashes. “Go now, Abua. I have to close.”
“How about tomorrow?”
She laughed. And Saz failed to see why she had to. “Go, Abua.”
“Okay. But you keep breaking my heart like this, I’m going to wind up dead one day. You tell her it’s not fair, Nkechi.” The old man turned to the woman clearing out the display glass for support.
Saz expected a scowl and one of her acerbic mutters. But the contrary woman smiled, and said in a friendly tone, “I will tell her. Now go on, Abua. We will see you again.”
“That you will,” The old man said cheerfully, obviously not as heartbroken as he’d said, and turned to aim for the exit.
Like the first time they’d crossed paths, he tossed in his direction, “You should go to them over there, if you want something.”
Saz chose not to respond this time, and knew it was because he was sulking. Which was silly, unreasonable, and still how he felt.
“Hey, Saz.” Anya shot her wide smile in his direction. “Want to help me take this into the kitchen?”
He wanted to sit and sulk a little longer. But he was starting to feel foolish, plus he found it hard to resist her smile, so Saz strode to her and took the stacked trays, offering a greeting to Nkechi.
Her response was a warning. “Don’t you two start anything other than cleaning up in that kitchen.”
They both ignored her. Or mostly Saz did, because Anya gave a low chuckle.
“So, what have you been up to today?” she asked, taking the trays from him to dump on her kitchen table.
“Nothing much. I called Maxwell…my uncle to make an appointment to see him, but it turned out he and his wife were at a wedding at Agbor.”
“So you will talk to him another time. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Yeah. But I realise I need to do something else first.” Saz didn’t elaborate on what he needed to do. “That aside, I don’t like you flirting with that man.”
It struck him, after he’d said it, that he probably didn’t have a right to make demands on her. But it was out, and he couldn’t, and wasn’t going to, take back what he’d said.
Of course, as was her nature, the look she gave him was amused. “What man would that be?”
“Oh, Abua. I don’t think I flirted with him today. I was only friendly.”
“Your eyes were dancing and you were fluttering your lashes.”
“Dancing eyes and fluttering lashes signify flirting?” Anya laughed, came over to slip her hands on his waist, and kissed him. “Tell me, Saz, are you by any chance jealous?”
“No.” But he was, which was foolish and pointless. “A little. And it is stupid. But I still don’t and won’t like it when you flirt with another man. Old, young, whatever, I’d rather… actually, I want you flirting only with me.”
“Is that right?” Anya fluttered her lashes, her eyes sparkling with laughter. “Well, I can do that for you. Will you be doing same for me?”
Satisfied, and his mood light and easy again, Saz teased, “I don’t flutter my lashes at anyone.”
“No doubt. It would be considered odd if you did, I’m sure. But I meant flirting. Do you promise to save your flirting only for me?”
“I do.” And because it sounded uncomfortably like a marriage vow, Saz bent his head and kissed her. “Know what I’m looking forward to right now?”
She shook her head, that pretty smile around her pretty mouth. “No. What?”
“Going home with you. Eating dinner with you. Watching TV with you–if we like. And making love with you.”
“In that case, let me hurry up here.” She kissed him, hot and hard, and turned to take the trays to the sink. “If you lend a helping hand, I’ll be twice as fast.”
As he was still feeling the heat of her kiss, Saz decided on a little bargain. “If I lend a helping hand, then it will be you making love to me.”
She aimed a sultry look over her shoulder. “Put those hands to work, for I will be putting mine on you, soon.”
“Oh, yes.” Saz grinned, and got busy real quick. And real fast.