“Good morning!” he greeted in a bright voice as he came abreast of me standing close to the gateway of the workplace compound.
“Good morning…” I swallowed hard as I sized him up with a hunger I thought didn’t exist anymore. It had been a long while since I saw him, and an enquiry from those I knew who worked with him had revealed to me that he’d been on a leave of absence. I stared at him, feeling a reminiscent rush of pleasure at the sight of him. I’d seen silly words in novels that read ‘her eyes swallowed him whole’, and I’d giggled at them. The words weren’t nearly as funny now that I suddenly found my eyes devouring the man standing before me. If my eyes could inhale, that was what mine would have been doing with him, with his husky build, the warm, dark-champagne colours of his eyes and those full lips that curved, the dark upper lip over the fuller, red lower lips, into a small smile.
“This one you’re staring at me, do I have something on my face?” he said with a chuckle.
“No…” I said, blinking my focus back from my brief entrancement. “No, your face is perfect.” Oh-so-perfect… I thought.
“So are you,” he murmured.
A moment fleeted past, during which time I suddenly realized I hadn’t been the only one staring. He’d been looking at me too, up and down, slow and lingering, making me feel it along my skin like one long caress.
I cleared my throat, even as I felt heat suffusing my face, shouldered my overnight bag and began walking into the premises. He walked beside me.
“I heard you were on leave,” I said, speaking the words with a voice that struggled to be cool and bland, unshaken or unaffected by the riotous surge of emotions inside me. You have a boyfriend now, Declan. Remember you have a boyfriend! “Hope you had a good vacation…”
“Yes, I did.”
“Did you travel or you spent it in Lagos?”
“I traveled, to Asaba. I hadn’t seen my parents in a while, plus my older sister was getting married. Part the reason I took the leave was so I could attend her wedding. I was one of the groom’s men.”
Unbidden, an image of him looking dapper in a black suit, tailored to mould his strapping frame, leaped into my mind. You have a boyfriend! I blinked the image away. “That’s nice –” I began as we walked into the lobby of the building.
“Speaking of travels, you look like one who had quite the weekend away from home.” He nodded at the overnight bag hanging from my shoulder.
“Yea, well, I was at a friend’s for the night,” I answered, without looking at him. There was a cluster of people waiting before the elevators. Not wanting to share both the elevator space and my personal space with people, I veered toward the stairwell. Kizito kept walking beside me.
“The guy driving the car that dropped you?” he queried.
“That wasn’t Jonathan, was it? I didn’t catch a good glimpse of the guy, but I didn’t recognize the car as Jonathan’s.”
Due to the proximity of our workplaces and his frequent visits to FitPlus to see me, Jonathan had become the one member of the gang who most of my co-workers knew.
“No,” I replied. “That wasn’t Jonathan.”
“I noticed you were standing and watching him drive away, like some movie wife watching her husband going off to work.” He chuckled at his levity. “As though he’s your boyfriend –”
“Why would you say that?” I cut in, my voice raspy. “Why would you think he’s my boyfriend? Does every guy who drops me off at work have to be my boyfriend?”
“Well, I was joking when I said that. But with your reaction, I think perhaps I am right. He is your boyfriend, isn’t he?”
Something in his voice, a strange urgency in his words, made me stop walking, and my gaze slid sideways to meet his. His eyebrows were lifted enquiringly over an expression that was studiously neutral.
“Well, is he?”
“Yes,” I breathed out.
There was no change in his expression, no slip in the shutters over his eyes, no outward reaction to my admission. His impassivity stung me.
Oh get over yourself, Declan, chided the familiar small voice.
“What’s his name?”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a model.”
He chuckled with a touch of derision as he said, “Only? That’s an actual profession?”
“Yes. What is your point?” I bristled.
“Easy, I meant no insult. I just…” He hedged. “I had no idea you were dating. How long has it being going on?”
“Well, we started seeing each other casually three weeks ago, and a week later, it became official.”
“And he’s good to you?”
“Good to me?” I echoed.
“You know…” And his eyes dropped from mine to my mouth. Suddenly, the awareness that the surrounding of the landing in the stairwell where we stood was empty of all other human presence but ours welled inside me. The silence around us throbbed. He took a step toward me.
“Kizito…” I gasped in a low tone.
“I just… It’s been so long…”
“I have a boyfriend…” I squeaked, my protest feeble over the sudden loud racing of my heart.
“And I just want to kiss you again.”
I did not fight him. I could not fight him. I stood there as he took the second step that brought him close to me, before bending his head to capture my mouth. His kiss was electrifying. My response wasn’t even an option. I couldn’t help but respond. With my eyes closed, my hands fluttered upward to hang on to his shoulder blades. And I pressed closer, refusing to think about how complicated this was going to make everything. Later, there would be questions. Later, answers would be needed.
But for now…
I’d never been kissed like this, never been held like this, never felt such strength in the surge of emotions, and moments later, when he gently, almost reluctantly, lifted his mouth from mine, I opened dazed eyes to stare at him. His breathing was slightly accelerated. Mine was erratic.
Moving my hands to his chest, his shirt collar, I grasped it as though it was a lifeline, and he slid his own arms to my back. We stared at each other for a brief moment of silence, before I broke the embrace and stepped back.
I licked my lips before saying huskily, “That wasn’t supposed to happen…”
“Says me,” I returned, my voice strengthening with each word. “It’s not only wrong because I’m obviously not unattached. But we work together. I should have learned my lesson now that getting intimate with a co-worker is a no-no.”
“You think I’d somehow use this thing we share against you someday?” He sounded offended.
“The last guy who attempted to get me fired probably didn’t think he would have to do what he did in the beginning as well,” I rejoined.
“Wow,” he said simply, taking a step back from me.
“And we don’t share anything,” I continued.
“You kissed me, Declan.”
“No, you kissed me.”
“And you kissed me back.” He waited a beat before adding, “Twice.”
“This cannot happen again,” I said firmly. “This will not happen again.”
He chuckled then, his lips twisting over the mirthful sound in an expression that revealed his confidence in their appeal. “We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
A door banged open somewhere on the upper floor, and a loud chatter preceded the thump-thump of feet as a number of people began walking down the stairs. Our moment was gone. Kizito took another step away from me, turned and started up the stairs on his own.
My day was gratefully hectic, a circumstance which didn’t afford me enough time to dwell on the complication to my life that was Kizito. FitPlus was hiring, and last week, a series of aptitude tests had been conducted. Today, there was a lot of paper-pushing as the results of the tests were coordinated to determine the crop of hopefuls out there that would be called back for the first set of interviews. The HR offices were astir with activity, with our immediate superiors, Dotun and Estelle at the helm.
The highlights of my day were when I got a phone call from Bryson; he’d arrived in Accra, but didn’t have a number yet that I could reach him on. He’d had to roam his Nigerian number to make a few calls from the airport.
And then, there was the time when I managed some time to chat with Dotun in his office. I asked about Veronica (he’d told me several days ago that they’d gone on a couple of dates since that afternoon after lunch that I introduced them to each other). He told me she was fine, and that they were seeing more of each other. We smiled at each other as this bit of information was imparted. He seemed happy to finally have a lady friend. I was just happy Veronica was well on her way to getting what she deserved.
Ride on, Karma, ride on, I cheered silently. And make sure there’s a twist at the end of this love story. I am evil, I know. But it’s not every day you get life slowly playing out like a Nollywood movie.
Five pm finally ticked by, and I welcomed the closing hour with an exaggerated sigh of relief. I just wanted to get home, take a bath, have dinner, and then sign off the night with an episode of The Good Wife. I took the short trip home, clinging to those needs.
Then I got home, walked past the driveway with the cars parked on it that belonged to my parents, through the porch and into the living room. The TV was on. I could hear the faint bustle coming from the kitchen, with the telltale aroma of dinner being prepared wafting into the parlour. Fabian had just walked into the living room from upstairs, the same time I did from outside. Dad was seated in his favourite seat at one end of the parlour, and on the sofa beside him was seated one of my older cousins. His name is Chigozie, and he is the middle child of my father’s immediate younger brother, Uncle Elijah, who passed away some eight years ago. Dad had, upon the demise of his brother, assumed the role of the father to his three children. Not that the responsibility had been a huge one to take on; their mother shouldered the task of single parenting with admirable ease.
“Daddy, good evening,” I greeted.
He grunted an answer from behind the newspaper he was reading.
“Gozie, how far?” I hailed at my cousin.
He returned a stiff smile at me, a response which surprised me. In spite of the disparity in our ages (he is four years older) and the distance in our places of upbringing (his family stays in Owerri), we get along well.
“Is everything alright?” I maintained, unruffled by his reserve. “How’s aunty – hope you people are not giving her too much trouble…”
The smile became a small laugh. He was clearly ill at ease. My brows furrowed with passing bewilderment, before I shrugged and started for the staircase. Dad’s newspaper rustled behind me moments before he spoke up, “Declan, when you finish changing from your work clothes, come back down.”
I turned to face him as he finished gravely, “I want to talk to you – the three of you.” He gestured with a pointed finger that included Chigozie and Fabian, who had taken a seat closest to the television.
“Uh, you want to talk to us?” I said, feeling some unease begin to creep up my spine. My gaze flew surreptitiously in Fabian’s direction. His eyes were on the TV.
“That’s what I said,” Dad replied with some impatience. “Now, go, hurry up upstairs and get back down here.”