Determined not to think about what should not be a problem, she kept all her attention on the task at hand, following diligently Nwamaka’s instructions: one mini puff puff, one samosa, one spring roll, a mini doughnut and a stick of meat. One pack filled, she began to work on the next.
It was for their third year anniversary. Thirty guests were expected, and twenty extra packs was, of course, being made to handle unexpected guests. They only wanted a small party, Nwamaka said, chops and drinks, and some music. Nothing dramatic.
Anya thought a party, however small, to celebrate a third year anniversary was dramatic. But some people liked to do the most, and Nwamaka was one of those people. Maybe she would have been the same if she’d had the chance to celebrate even her first anniversary.
She would like to do something special for her first, second, and every wedding anniversary she shared with her husband. It wouldn’t be a party though.
No, she wouldn’t want to gather people, and make them a part of her special day. She would prefer they go somewhere, anywhere they hadn’t been before, and just enjoy each other.
Victor had been into the idea. They’d talked about it, still did until his illness made it clear there wouldn’t be a first year anniversary, let alone others.
Would Saz like that sort of a thing?
Oh dear heavens, she’d gone ahead and thought of the problem, Anya chided herself, scowling as she set another pack in the basket Nwamaka had provided.
No, it wasn’t a problem, she amended. Not for her. She was in love with Saz. That was not a problem. That was…
Courting trouble, Anya told herself. But instead of a scowl, she sighed this time. She still didn’t want to think about it. Not when it meant she was going to worry. There was time enough to fret over the likely repercussions of falling in love with a man she wasn’t yet sure what he wanted. Right now…
The backdoor opened, and Nwamaka came in, holding the door open for Peter, as the latter strode in with both his hands full.
Right now she had a customer and a friend to deal with, Anya completed that thought, unashamedly grateful for the visitors that would keep her mind preoccupied. For a while, at least.
“Are my chops ready?” Nwamaka demanded, letting go of the door to stride to her work table.
“Two packs to go and they’re ready,” Anya informed her. “Hello, Peter. Thanks for bringing over my stuff. I was going to come to the market later.”
“Fortunately, I was heading this way, and have saved you the trouble,” Peter said with an affable smile.
“He saved me some trouble by driving me over, too. Are these over here the leftovers?” Not waiting for an answer, Nwamaka took a crushed Samosa from a bowl on the side, bit into it, and gave a satisfied sigh. “This here is why I always insist on you. You’re the mistress of chops and pastries.”
“I’m glad you think so. And so, we are done.” Tugging off her gloves, Anya picked up the basket and held it out. “Happy anniversary, Amaka. May you and Vincent be forever happy.”
“Oh, such kind words. Thank you so much, Anya.” Beaming, Nwamaka took the basket. “Does it mean I’m getting a discount?”
“You already got a discount. A good one at that, seeing as you nearly twisted off my arm.” And earned her a reprimand from Nkechi, Anya recalled.
“I know. But it’s just that we ran over the budget for this party, and especially because I didn’t get a discount on the drinks.”
“You will have to take that up with whoever you bought the drinks from,” Anya said, and purposely held out her hand for her balance.
“It’s Odera. And I’ve told him he needs to do better, if he wants me to continue to patronize him.” A wrangler she might be, but Nwamaka always paid for services when she’s expected to, and did so now. “I’ve got to run. I still have a bit to do before guests start arriving. If you two want, you can come.”
“No, thanks. I’ve made previous plans for this evening.” Not much of a party person, Peter quickly declined the invitation.
“And me, I’ve got duties I can’t get out of,” Anya said with a regretful smile that wasn’t quite genuine.
“Such a pity, then. But you’re done here, Peter, aren’t you? I won’t mind a ride back with you.”
“No, I’m not. I still have things to do here.”
“But, of course, you have,” Nwamaka teased, giving a cheerful smile as she made for the door. “I’ll just get Okada outside and head home. See you guys another time.”
“Isn’t this their third year anniversary, or something?” Peter wanted to know after she left.
“So it is.” Taking the bowl that held the bits and pieces which made up leftover chops, Anya held it out to him. “Some people like to make an occasion out of everything.”
“I guess they do,” Peter murmured. Then asked as he reached for a mini doughnut. “How’ve you been? Haven’t seen you lately.”
“I’m well. Just a little busier than usual. And that’s not entirely due to work,” Anya confessed.
“You did?” Not entirely surprised, Anya paused on her clearing out her work table to look at him. “What did you hear?”
“Not much. Okwudili stopped to buy flour yesterday, and spent a good minute of her time maligning your name.”
Amused, and not in the least perturbed, Anya chuckled. “Just a minute?”
“It could have been two minutes, but she had a lot to say about you and the fellow who likes to call himself Saz.” His good humour in place, Peter chuckled too. “I believe the name aggravated her more than anything for some reason.”
“It’s his insistence that she and her husband use it that aggravates her.” Gathering her utensils to the sink, Anya asked, “So, how much of a loose woman am I according to Okwudili?”
“The worst kind. You dared to commit the reprehensible crime of sleeping over at his house. And thereafter, swaggered into her house with your lover…and I believe she had an uncomplimentary adjective for your lover,” Peter paused to add.
“I’m sure she did,” Anya said, and they both laughed.
“Anyway, both of you swaggered into her house to scold her and Iloba for spanking a boy who completely deserved a minor beating for the bad thing he did. She didn’t, of course, mention that bad thing.”
“No, she wouldn’t,” Anya said dryly. “But we didn’t swagger into her house, we bounded in like soldiers. The spanking was actually severe beating, and we didn’t just scold them. Saz saw it fit to threaten them, too.”
“Hmm, I see how all of that could have been annoying for Okwudili. I heard said fellow is a Iloba’s relative.”
“He is. A second cousin, I believe.”
“I see.” There was a pause before the question came. “Are you serious about him, then?”
Anya briefly shut her eyes. Peter would ask, simple and without judgment. That was the kind of man he was. She didn’t want to think, let alone talk, about it, but because he was a friend, she did both.
“It is serious for me,” she said, draining the sink as she was done with the washing. “It didn’t start out that way, not entirely. But it is now.”
“Are you in love with him?” Peter asked, and then added, “Or maybe it’s too soon to ask that.”
“I don’t know if it’s too soon, or not. I do know, though, that I’m in love with him.” She took a breath, and slowly released it, smiling ruefully as she did. “I don’t think he expects me to fall in love with him. We got into this with the sole intention to enjoy each other, and I doubt he will appreciate a shift in dynamics.”
“He will be a fool not to realise what a blessing it is to have you love him.”
“Oh, Peter, only you would say that. Well, you and a few other people.” Anya walked over to take his hand, gave it an gentle squeeze. “Why couldn’t it be you?”
“Because we both tried and failed.”
They had tried, and she had bought a shirt thinking, hoping, it would be him taking it off. But it hadn’t been him, and never would be. Both of them weren’t meant to be. Peter had his heart set on someone else, and now she did too.
“Is it still hopeless for you?” Anya asked him gently.
“She still doesn’t know I exist. At least not for her.” Peter shook his head. “But we’re not talking about her, or me. What are you going to do about you, and him?”
“Well, when a woman goes and falls in love with a man, what does she do?” Anya parried. “Our modern times suggest she takes the bold step and confronts him with her feelings.”
“Are you going to be modern then?”
“No.” She didn’t have to consider it. Anya knew she wasn’t feeling so brave. “I’d rather be the traditional, old-fashioned woman, and endlessly pray and hope he falls in love with me too.”
“That is what you are going to do? You, Anya?”
Anya let out a laugh. “Don’t make it sound like I’m the proactive, go-getting type.”
“Actually, I’m thinking you’re the bold, carefree, direct, open and upfront type. You like to take chances, and are unafraid of what society would say.”
“I am bold, direct, don’t mind taking chances, but in this matter, I want him to take the first step. And I suspect it’s because I’m not sure if I’m completely ready yet.”
“If you let him in, then I think you are ready.”
“Maybe I am. Maybe he is, too. He says some things, like how he finds himself feeling more than he expected he would. I get the distinct feeling that for him too, this is more than a purely physical relationship.”
Feeling the pinch of confusion and worry, Anya let out another laugh. “Or maybe I’m being wishful. Whatever the case, I’m reluctant to take the first step.”
“Then you will have to be patient,” Peter said. “But I think that if he’s a wise man, it wouldn’t take him long to figure out you’re a gift he shouldn’t lose.”
“What a gracious thing to say. But you’re a wise man, and yet you couldn’t get your heart to accept me as a gift. Or,” Anya added, smiling. “For my heart to accept you, even though I am also a wise woman.”
“Love cannot be forced. It’s also not always wise, nor does it follow a sensible path,” Anya finished what she was saying. “But I will be patient as you counselled, and hope as I’d decided.”
“I’m sure it will work out. Some things do work out.”
Anya knew he was thinking of his own unrequited love, and for his sake more than hers, said, “Yes, they do.”