“The number you’ve dialed is busy-” He hung up. He wasn’t as worried as he was angry. He dropped the phone beside him and fluffed his pillow for a back rest. He was still thinking when his phone started ringing. It was who he expected- Lara.
“Lanre, hello. What’s good?”
“I’m okay.” he replied icily.
“Yeah, You tried my line earlier, sorry I was on the phone with someone else.” She said and Lanre didn’t like the sound of that.
“Noah right?” Lanre asked.”Eerm. Yeah.” She replied belatedly.
“I tried your line about fifteen minutes ago and again about two minutes ago and you were still busy on that call. What for heavens sake were you guys be discussing?” Until he said that he didn’t know he was keeping tabs on the call duration with the wall clock hanging across from him. He looked at the clock again and it was 11:10 PM.
“He called to check on me, -”
“Seriously? He was checking on you for that long?”
“I had not completed my statement!” Lara pointed out curtly. “His birthday is on the morrow and he’s planning a small party; that was the majorly what we were deliberating on.”
What are you now, an event planner?
“Uhn uhn.. Hope you remember our meeting by 5pm tomorrow?” Lanre asked.
“How would I forget? The party ends by 4.”
“Yes, come in.” Mrs Ayeteju said In response to the knock on her room door, eyes glued to the TV screen suspended on the wall. She sat on her bed propped up against the cushion fitting in the headboard. Mrs Ayeteju, Lara’s Mum was a fair, buxom woman with attractive liquid eyes.
The door opened noiselessly and Lara stepped in. Mrs Ayeteju reached for the TV controller and she paused the movie.
“Oh, you’re on morning shift right?” The woman asked with certitude and her daughter nodded affirmatively.
“Good. I love your gown. Where did you get it?”
Lara ran her hands over her blue flare gown playfully before saying, “Simdora craft house.”
“Nice, I particularly love that neckline detail, it works perfectly. I saw something similar in Tre magazine sometimes back and loved it, You should hook me up with the dressmaker.” Her Mum said, gesticulating bejeweled hands.
Mrs Ayeteju a divorcee and mother of three daughters -Flora the firstborn who lived in USA with her family, Esther the baby of the house who’s based in Germany and of course Lara- was an astute business tycoon. She had weathered through a chequered career and carved a niche for herself till she could now luxuriate in bed and have money roll into her accounts from the various branches of FLAR’EST SPA INC. The SPA had two branches in Ibadan, one in Enugu and another in Calabar.
“So what brings you here?” Her Mum inquired softly.
“Eeerm.. I’d be going out and I’m here to get a befitting shoe and bag.”
Mrs Ayeteju wrinkled her forehead and she said;
“The last time I checked there was no boutique in my room.”
“Watch me get my goods.” She walked to her Mum’s closet.
She picked a stiletto shoe and a silver clutch to march. She moved to the mirror, admired her reflection before she picked a tapering bottle of perfume from atop the bureau and flitted two shots across each armpit herself. She turned to her Mom, “How do I look?” she said turning this way and that.
“You look stunning. I could bet you’d kill the event.” Mrs Ayeteju said, Lara smiled smugly and blew a kiss. “But where are you off to?”
“Noah’s birthday party.” Lara replied.
“Noah?” Her Mum repeated raising her brows.
“Lara come let’s discuss.” The older woman said sighing.
She perched on the ample, orthopedic bed wreathed in flowery sheets.
“What is with this Noah guy sef? He’s either dropping you off. Or you’re on phone with him. Or you’re chatting with him. Or it’s his birthday. It’s either Noah this or Noah that.” The woman said and then tugged at her ears. Lara rolled her eyes and crossed her legs. Does she have to be dramatic? She wondered.
“Ai ma m’oko katun m’ale.” Lara took her Mom’s statement as a subtle indictment on her fidelity and she would have none of it.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Pele, it’s not what you think. I know you’re not like that. I’m just trying to say you should be careful.” She paused to get her wits together and to pick her words carefully so that she won’t hit the wrong button again.
“See ehn, that Noah might be having hopes.”
“I told him already, I said we’d just be friends and that’s what we are- just friends.” Lara responded and her Mum sighed.
“So is Lanre aware of you guys friendship?”
“Eerm… What’s his take on it? I mean-”
“Mum, I get your point. Thank you very much. I’d be careful. I have to run now.” Lara interjected hastily.
“Okay. Just don’t forget your drugs.”
“I won’t. Thank you.” And with that Lara left for the kitchen where she picked her Omeprazole from the fridge and took the required dosage.
They usually had their meeting in a garden every Thursday. They already had a permanent spot in front of the small stream and under the shade of a huge oak tree. The garden was always a serene and solitary place, though there usually were a few other individuals, the garden always provided the needed quiet.
His feet kept tapping uncontrollably and for the umpteenth time he looked at his leather-strapped wrist watch.
Lanre tried in vain to calm himself. He picked stones and kept throwing them at some unseen enemy in the stream.
Her lateness wasn’t the problem, the reason for it was. He could imagine her having a chatter with Noah, one so animated that she completely lost track of time. He remembered his own birthday, how he had waited all day for Lara’s surprise, it didn’t come, nothing came, what came the next day were her apologies. She was deeply sorry, she’d had a long day at work and she’d make it up. She did, she treated him to an exquisite dinner and got him a nice suit. He forgave her and thought all was fine until she mentioned in passing later that Noah had an appendicectomy and that she was really troubled about it. Lanre figured that was the reason she forgot his birthday. If it were something more serious, he probably would have had a little more compassion to spare, but it was appendicitis, a thing as trivial as that.
He felt a surge of heat in the pit of his tummy, a feeling that was fast becoming usual. He felt it whenever Noah came up in a conversation or even in his thoughts. He resented him, badly.
He heard hasty footsteps. He knew very well who it was but he didn’t budge. He just sat back straight staring blankly.
Lara moved as fast as her heels could let her. She knew certainly from the look on his face and the tension around him that he was unhappy. She scratched her nape.
“Eeerm… Good evening.”
“I’m really sorry for keeping you- I…. I..” she faltered and Lanre remained silent.
“Was it traffic?” Lanre finally asked, anger giving his normal baritone voice a gritty edge.
“Eeerm.. No… not actually.” Lara replied as she settled her slender self in the seat next to him.
“The birthday started quite late…… I would have excused myself ooh… but the…”
Lanre raised his hands to stop her.
“I’m not interested. Let’s go straight into the study. Time isn’t on our side.” He didn’t turn his head. He continued starring at the stream and how the gentle evening breeze moved the waters.
Lara felt cold. Her throat went dry and she started blinking.
The study was totally lifeless! It was just Lara reading the chosen study material, Gbile Akanni’s No more two, while Lanre who was obviously absentminded just sat, wordless, chin hard and with his hands clenched between his laps, his gaze stayed fixed on the stream and the bougainvillea on the other side. Even when Lara asked him questions he replied with nods and grunts.
Although they were seated next to each other, there seemed to be a gaping hole fixed between them.
“Wait- does Noah know about me- about us?” Lanre asked tersely.
“How does that relate to the study?” she answered his question with another.
“Just answer.” Lara folded her arms over her chest and straightened up in her chair.
“Eer… I doubt… I dont think he knows about you…. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it.” She waved in dismissal.
Lanre finally looked at her. He stared at Lara quizzically, like she had suddenly sprouted horns.
“Wh-at? why are you looking at me like that?”
“Omolara look here, if he doesn’t know about me, it can’t be coincidental like you’re making it sound.” He paused for effect. “If he doesn’t know, it’s because you don’t want him to know!”
Lara’s eyes resumed their usual blinking.
“Lanre, how can you say a thing like that?”
“C’mon you tell me. What else?- what else? With how close you guys are. Omolara I won’t want to talk much about this but you know-” he stopped abruptly “let’s just go back to the study. I’m sorry for the digression.”
She settled on the bean bag and sighed. She’d had a really hectic day at work.
So much for being the secretary to a hard nut, she thought except that I’d crack this one.
She picked up her phone and scrolled through her news-feed. She was tittering at the innuendo in a raunchy post when a What’sApp message notification popped up. It was a message from Allen, she tapped on it.
‘Hey babe, I should be there in about 30 mins’
She frowned and typed ‘what f-
She gasped, now she remembered. They had fixed a movie date for tonight. But she was tired.
She backspaced the text and typed ‘Sorry hun, I won’t be able to make it, I’m indisposed.’ She paused to think about it. If she canceled this date it will make it the third time in a row she’d be canceling a date with Allen at the dying minute. She knew he wouldn’t complain if she did, but how fair was that? Plus it’s just a movie date, it would only make her relax.
She backspaced the text again and typed ‘Sure hun, but you might have to wait a few minutes for me to finish up’ she tapped send. One. Two. Thr- Beep. It was Allen’s reply.
‘Am I not already used to that? Any thing for you love’ he inserted a love and a kiss smiley. She smiled. Sometimes the way Allen loved her made her feel guilty and she often found herself wondering how he would feel if he finds out she’s having an affair with his brother, Haruna. She pushed the thoughts away like she always did. She undressed and slipped into the shower, she was going to have fun and that was all that mattered.
Lanre stopped the vehicle, there was a brief silence before Lara unbuckled her seat belt and reached for the door, just then did Lanre speak in a low voice, “I’m sorry for earlier, I guess I got a little too worked up.”
“It’s alright.” Lara said.
“I don’t have an issue with you having male friends, that’s perfectly fine. It’s just that it’s quite strange that with how close you are to Noah he doesn’t know you are engaged.” -he chuckled mirthlessly- “For so long, I have waited for you to introduce me.” He glanced at her. “I have to ask at the risk of sounding insecure, are you ashamed of me?”
The gentleness of his voice, the sincerity in his eyes touched Lara. “No Lanre, there’s nothing to be ashamed of- I’m sorry. It’s on me.”
Lara stepped down from the Golden Toyota corolla and she waved at him smiling, He waved back before turning on the ignition. She stood and watched the car vroom out of the driveway and through the gates before going inside. Hardly had he left when the heavy downpour began. His windshield wipers kept swishing back and forth as the rain pelted it. The rain was heavy and short-lived. It rained for just about fifteen minutes.
She plunked on the bed and slipped off her shoes. She was trying hard but in vain to clear her head.
Her mind went back to the birthday. After the revel, Noah had taken her hands in a somewhat possessive manner and introduced her to his friends.
She thought they were weird. She didn’t feel cool with the cryptic and knowing smile they had on their faces. The two of them, James and Emeka. The same type of smile Richard and Dickson wore when they were singing: ‘Omo dada l’omo yi ooh. Omo gidi l’omu wale ooh..’ to tease Lanre the day he had introduced her to them.
She now saw that Noah had introduced her to his friends the very same way Lanre did except that he didn’t say she was his fiancee. She sighed.
“Ai ma m’oko katun m’ale”. Her mother’s words came back.
She stood up and walked lazily to the window. She held the drapes and watched raindrops streak the window pane. She massaged her temple with her fingers trying to ease the pain of her splitting headache.
Something deep within her hankered for the way things used to be. In the whole time of their courtship nothing had ever been a snag so threatening as Noah was turning out to be.
The ringing of her phone distracted her and she immediately released the drapes, they fell back into place. It was a call from Lanre; he had arrived home safely, he wished her a good night. Her phone beeped again, the message from Noah read thus;
‘Hey dear, I’m downstairs.’
Lara glared at the phone like the message was written in Swahilli, she couldn’t type a reply. Her fingers were weak. She wasn’t ready for his pranks. She held her head firmly, like the normal functioning of her brain depended on it and trudged downstairs.
Surprisingly she found Noah standing in the ample ante-room. She stood amazed as she kept wondering why he came. Until he spoke she stood aloof.
“Shocked to see me right? You thought I was joking. You faithless generation.” He teased and Lara forced a smile.
“Yeah. I’m actually surprised. So what do I offer you?” She tried to maintain coherence.
“Thank you but -er- don’t worry. I’m fine.” He waved off as he sat on one of the single sofa settees.
“Common at least you should take something water, fruits, drinks,something now.” Lara insisted.
“Okay. Fruits would be fine. Thank you.”
She instructed Abbie, the help and she soon returned with a bowl of fruits.
“Eerm- so why exactly are you here?” Lara asked coolly.
“It’s simple. We’d be going out.” Noah didn’t need to hear Lara speak, the look on her face said it all- It wasn’t possible.
“Ple-ase” he drawled.
“Noah I’m sorry but that wouldn’t be possible.” She blurted frankly.
“Common, It’s just to see a movie.”
“No, I can’t go out now maybe some other times. I’m worn out and- I’m sorry I just can’t.” Lara replied briskly.
Noah twisted his mouth to a side then he stood up to meet with Lara who was on her feet.
“Okay, you know what, do this for the sake of my birthday.” Noah said and he stroked her arm gently.
He seemed to know the stones that crashed her defences, and he always hurled them at the right time.
“Once it’s 9 PM we’d be leaving.” Lara hesitantly stated her condition, cocking her head to a side.