POSTED 08/11/2018 12:47
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I dragged myself to work; stumbled across the gravel lot and into the pristine reception, tossed a fake smile at the fat receptionist. He told me something about his health. I played my sympathy smile. A moment later I joined two co-workers in the elevator. They were talking about how turned up the last party they attended was, I played my keen smile. Later I was tossing smiles all the way to my office. I had a smile for just about anything and everyone. Once I shut my polished oak door, I flopped down into my swivel chair, exasperated.
I had to threaten one of Mr. Bola's ex play things the other day. She was a petite final year student and she was pregnant. Under Mr. Bola's direction, I had offered her a whopping sum of money and booked an appointment with one of the best doctors.
“It’s your job!” Mr. Bola had bellowed when I hesitated a day before that, when he had asked me to stop the girl from blackmailing him. “Do you know what the media would say about me when they see those videos and she confirms that it’s my child? Are you not supposed to maintain strong media relations for this company?”
It had been odd, standing there, staring at him, spit flying everywhere, glossing his already polished desk. He had picked me for this job because I knew my way about an obstacle, even obstacles that weren’t office related. His personal solution angel.
And even now as I sat alone in my office, I could see the girl’s tear stained face with mascara streaming down and staining the scruff of her white tank top. She had been so frightened. So afraid. So young. I hated what I did sometimes. I hated my job. But the pay was fat in all the right places and that was everywhere; five round figures. I had tried to walk away sometime back but knowing the kind of man Mr. Bola was and the kind of things I knew; I would never be free from him. Maybe, I'd end up cold and permanently numb in a ditch somewhere and then I'd finally be free.
“Edima,” Ada popped her head in, reeling me from my contemplations.
“Ada,” I tossed a happy-to-see-you smile. Maybe on another day, I would have truly meant that smile but not today. I just wanted to be alone. I needed a drink but there was no chance of that opportunity till at least the next six hours. Mr. Bola was strict about work ethic, a norm he barely understood.
“Girl, you won’t believe the news I’ve got for you…but before that, I just wanted to let you know. The Boss wants to see you, now,” she rapped before poking back out. I sighed.
Five minutes later, bulging lecherous eyes traveled down my body, making my skin crawl with a million invisible roaches. I cleared my throat and he snapped out of it. His head was odd and thick, lacking shape and sense.
“There’s something else I want you to do for me.” He smiled politely like he was hoping I would agree, not that my opinion on the matter mattered.
“Another one of your exs?” I grunted grimly, stationary like I was just another statue in the room.
“No,” he spat like it was bitter. “Do you know this man?” he casually slipped a photo before me. I glanced down at it and the shock made me step back. I peered up at him, like he was absurd.
“I’ll take that as a Yes,” he cackled. “I want you to get me something from him. I want to tell you what it is but I won’t until I’m sure you’re close enough.”
I gawked back down at Akpan’s picture, disbelieving, confused. What sick game was fate playing? Why him?
“I can’t! I-I won’t. How do you know?” I asked but I knew that was a stupid question. Only a few people working for Mr. Bola knew his skeletons and the man would be a fool not to watch us closely. I surely would if I were him.
“Why him? What does this have to do with you?” I grated.
“You’re asking a lot of questions. Unlike you. But it’s fine. I forgive you. Now, I don’t know what sort of history the both of you have and I frankly do not care. My informant tells me he’s taking quite a liking to you and you've been uncooperative in return—”
“Uncooperative.” The word sounded disgusting and My hand itched to etch my palm deep in his face.
“Yes. I want you to like him back, get closer to him, Edima. Pretend if you will, I don’t care but I want it to be believable. Let him fall deeply for you, maybe even play in the sack with him—” His eyes lit with delight when I cringed.
“Come now, Edima. You’re no virgin. Even I know that,” he teased and nausea washed over me.
He was referring to Patrick, his son. A man I had been in a relationship with ages ago. Now Patrick was a million miles away in some foreign country and I was still here, working for him. Did Patrick tell him about…? The bastard, even while I was with him, I noted he had a loud mouth. Even his lips stood out from the rest of his face like protruding feet. It was funny how you could overlook a damning flaw when you thought you were in love.
“I can’t do this,” I seethed.
“Yes, you will or you lose your job, which means you would no longer work for me or be of use to me and you know I can’t let you go just like that. Don’t be stupid,” he hissed.
A few minutes later, I shut my office door and slumped against it, shaking. This job was going too far. I wanted out. I needed out. An idea crossed my mind and I thought of ditching the country. I had enough money to go on vacation somewhere else, maybe even start a life there but my heart sunk to the pit of my stomach when I thought about my family still here in Nigeria. Mr. Bola would get to them. Hurt them. Hurt my only and surviving parent; my mother.
I cradled my face and my body shook as I sobbed. Then I felt hopeless and weak, repulsed at my own self and so I fought back the tears. I looked up. I had been so distraught that I had barely noticed something odd set meticulously on my table. A bouquet of red roses. At first, I remained there at the door, squinting at it, confused, racking up an explanation for its origin before I finally moved to it.
“Your beauty reeled me in like a fly to the petals of a rose but your thorns ensnared me and now I am trapped—Jozi”
I paused after reading the message on the card. “What sort of crappy poem is that?” I thought to myself but most of all, I wondered why Jozi would send me flowers. He's into you! I scolded myself and almost laughed.
“Well, this is a waste.”
Akpan sat at the Café secluded in a corner staring at the whirlpool in his coffee inhaling the rich steam that rose up to him. He saw why Edima loved this spot on mornings like this. The tables were a polished hazel color and when the morning sun glinted through the blinds, the whole room would turn golden, resembling something out of a fairytale. The owner was an old polite woman that he had gotten to liking quickly, she had slit eyes that completely disappeared when she smiled.
He hoped Edima would not mind him making this café his second sanctuary, the first one had been ruined by the lousiest girlfriend ever. She hadn’t even called him since then. He should have worried but somehow, he hoped she was getting tired of the relationship too.
The double glass doors rang as someone pushed through, disturbing the bell that hung above the door. The person lingered in the door way, using her eyes to search for someone or something and he immediately saw it was Edima. She turned his way sharply and their eyes held. Was she looking for him? Why? …Oh God did those men talk to her!
She flourished a wild carefree smile that Akpan had never seen in all his terminable moments with her. He reflexed, smiling sheepishly in return, under some spell he could not resist. She was all cooperate for work, in a waist high red pencil skirt, stilettoes and a creamy sleeveless blouse. Her hair had a golden sheen to it, thanks to the sun and it was tied into tight bun. She walked to him and sat in the vacant seat opposite him. He was aback.
“Edima? Morning. Just so you know, I wasn’t here looking for you. I just like the place, I’m sorry to say.” He said in one breath, hoping to clear any resentment she had at finding him here.
“That’s kind of sad. I’m actually here because I’m looking for you.” She quirked a brow and an emotion flickered in her eyes. He stared. She was looking for him?
“I can only imagine that maybe something’s wrong?” He furrowed his brows, feeling stupid after his statement.
“Akpan…I-I’ve had a rough life and I guess that made me the way I am now.” She took a deep breath. “You were the first guy I ever had a crush on, but you used me.”
Akpan felt queasy in his seat. He wriggled uncomfortably in his chair.
“But that was a long time ago. I managed to break free but I never let go. I ran into so many other men. So many other bastards. Plus, I lost my Dad when I needed him most. I ended up at a crossroads sometime back, I could either go through all this hurdles emotional, self-pitying and hopeless or I could slap cuffs on my emotions and be strong, get that degree and be my own woman. I chose the latter.” She sighed as her thoughts trailed off.
“I understand. I won’t be bothering you anymore, Edima. I know what I did back then. I’m not proud of who I was either and I guess me chasing you now might seem like I’m only into you for your looks. Well, it was your looks at first…but I’m not gonna bother you no more.” Akpan pledged, hating every word, feeling gutted.
“I want to let go, Akpan. I want to let the past all go. I want to-to try again. That is, if you’re willing.” Her words were divine like soft but fiery whispers from a celestial and Akpan sat there disbelieving. Maybe it was dream. Maybe this was all just a dream and he was still under a dozen sheets at his hotel room, wistfully dreaming.
“Akpan?” She snapped and he woke up.
He was still sitting opposite her in that café. Not a dream after all. But I should not? People are watching me now. She could get hurt! His reasoning screamed and his inner man watched ignorantly but his heart ebbed.
“Akpan? Okay, you know what—maybe this was a mistake.” She said tentatively, obviously embarrassed as she rose from her seat.
“Edima. Yes—I mean not yes like this is a mistake, I mean yes I would be ecstatic if you gave me a chance!” Akpan nearly screamed.
Akpan might have changed—a bit, but he still felt selfish after all.
To be continued
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