By Tomi Adesina
I strolled out of the office as soon as the meeting with other board members was over. Dare hung around the office door.
“You!” he said, accusingly.
In my heart, I was reeling with excitement for having kicked Dare out of the board meeting, “Yes,” I replied, casually.
He waited for the other board members to leave the floor before he continued. “What did you do that for?” he asked, fumbling with his tie.
“What did I do?” I replied. In all honesty, Dare was the one who wanted to make me look bad before the other board members. “Refresh my memory sir.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “I am sorry, Darlene. I acted like a real jerk in there. I really don’t know why I acted in that manner.” He smiled revealing his teeth. “Do you forgive me?”
I ignored him. “I would love to see Toni, I hear she’s unwell.”
He nodded. “I also want to see her. If you don’t mind, we could just go together.” He offered.
“I will just get my bag.”
It was roughly thirty minutes drive to Toni’s. The bells chimed softly as Dare pressed the bell for a second bell. The door creaked as a young man wearing a v-necked white shirt and a camouflage trouser opened.
“Hi Dare.” He said, as they exchanged handshakes.
He ran his eyes through me and I found myself hiding behind Dare’s jacket. “Are we in the right place?” I whispered.
“She’s Darlene, a colleague of Toni.” Dare introduced.
The man smiled. “Toni speaks highly of you. Please come in.” he said, leading the way.
Dare and I followed him into the house.
“Make yourselves comfortable.” He said, going upstairs.
Dare and I took our seats. I took a quick look around the living room. “Is that Toni’s husband?” I asked Dare.
He nodded. “YUP!” he sunk into the sofa.
I smiled. “Whoa! She never said her hubby is in the army.” I said, staring at the frame on the wall.
“You have a lot to ask her then. Gideon never really comes home; he was deployed to Southern Sudan last month. I am beginning to think she feigned her illness.” He said, joining me near the picture frame.”
Gideon returned with Toni. “Hi Darlene.” She said throwing her arms around me.
“Are you feeling better now?” I asked, touching her forehead.
She smiled and whispered into my ears. “I missed Gideon.” She then pinched me lightly.
We all burst into a hearty laughter. Toni and I left for the kitchen.
“There are some fresh cabbages in the fridge, please pass them to me.” Toni said cleaning the board.
I opened the fridge and fetched the cabbages. “Are we making vegetable salad?”
She nodded. “Yes, there’s some coconut rice to go along.”
“Did you feign illness?” I asked, chopping the cabbages. They looked healthy and needed slight cooking. In this part of the world, diets like these seemed continental as the normal or average Nigerian family might settle for a conventional Rice and Beans lunch. But due to the exposure I had as a child, which I guessed Toni must also have been exposed to, we didn’t do the traditional African dishes, although nothing could take the place of my beloved ‘Pounded Yam and Egusi Soup’, I’d be condemned to European or semi-American dishes on several occasions.
She winked. “Was it a bad idea? Gideon will be home until after the weekend. It has been a year since I last saw him” she said rinsing the carrots she had chopped.
“I guess you want to make some babies,” I said, laughing.
She nodded and tried to hide the embarrassment in her face. “It’s all the gold I have got.” She replied and swiftly collected the cabbages from me; they had to be saved as I had already started munching them.
Toni and I hurried over the vegetable salad while Dare and Gideon grilled the barbeque. I couldn’t be so sure that some of the barbeque might not have suffered body damage, two men and meat is meat!
“I expect your illness to be over when Gideon leaves.” I started, as I dished the salad into the Chinas.
She smiled. “You are a really lucky lawyer. You have a high profile case as your first case; I hope you know that if you land this one well, you will become an automatic force to reckon with.”
“The pressure is high.” I replied, taking off my apron.
She nodded in agreement. She hung her apron carefully. “I know you can handle the pressure, all you have to do is to be you against Subomi.”
“Ladies, barbeque time” Gideon roared from the backyard.
Toni smiled at me and left for the backyard. She returned almost immediately. “The boys want us to have lunch at the backyard.” She said as she gathered the Chinas. “We will also have lemonade; we have some left from the last mix, check it in the fridge.” She briefed, leaving for the backyard.
There was a huge jar of lemonade juice in the fridge; there was also a huge jar of milk. The fridge had some pizza, half eaten. Burger packs from Kentucky adorned the fridge. It made me think of how much food went down Toni’s throat. The woman can eat! End of story. I fetched a tray and joined the trio in the backyard. Gideon and Dare had laid a huge picnic mat. The sizzle from the grill sounded delightful.
Dare had removed his jacket and loosened his tie. Toni took her seat beside Gideon, Dare cleared some space beside him and I took my seat.
“Are you guys going out?” Gideon asked staring at Dare and I, chewing his drum stick.
Toni cleared her throat. “We should say our prayers first, Gideon.” She said, collecting the chicken from her husband.
“Do we really have to?” he murmured. Gideon must be like one of those men who didn’t see the need for blessing meals, could I blame him? The man is practically a ‘killer’, well people in the army don’t like to be addressed as murderers, but there is no lighter way to say that ‘you take someone’s life for a good cause.’
Toni started the prayers and then I felt we were never going to stop. I opened my eyes to be sure it was only a prayer for lunch, Toni kept on ‘binding and casting’ every Escherichia coli that might have made its way into the vegetable salad or the barbeque. Gideon and Dare cleared their throats intermittently. Time up, Mrs. Small.
“Amen!” Gideon shrieked.
Toni stopped the prayer abruptly; she took a quick glance at us all and bowed her head. She was far from finished with her prayers. Few minutes later, she thundered “In Jesus name we pray”.
“Amen.” We all chorused.
Even in Pastor Ben’s church, ‘Amen’ never sounded that loud. Toni’s neighbor from the next terraced flat flung her window open; eye balled us coldly, kept her nose in the air and slammed the window shut. We all let out a loud laugh.
“Back to my question,” Gideon started, mouthful. “Dare, are you dating Darlene?”
Dare smiled and cast a weird glance on me. “Shamefully not”
“Really? I think you guys make a wonderful couple.” Gideon said. I blushed a bit. Did I blush? Okay…I think I flushed across my face, must have been embarrassing.
Dare laughed. “You said the same about Reina and me.”
Gideon shook his head in disagreement with a stern look. “I said you and Reina make a ‘sophisticated’ couple.” He corrected. “More like the Brad Pitt and Jolie thingy, but you and Darlene would be more of Bonnie and Clyde.” He paused and sipped his drink. “Did I just say Bonnie and Clyde? Well, I don’t know, but it will be more of ‘Dare and Darlene’, something beautiful.” He concluded, gulping the rest of his lemonade.
Was Gideon trying to say that I was less sophisticated? He almost had me looking at myself.
I tried to avoid Toni’s questioning gaze as we had lunch. “Gideon, your speculations don’t even apply here, Darlene is uninterested.” She said, wiping some mayonnaise from Gideon’s mouth.
“You think? He asked, ruffling her hair. “Babe, they are shy and are afraid to admit. That’s what I call real love.”
At this junction, it was time for the traditional cough and it was done by Dare and me at the same time. Gideon spoke as though Dare and I were in absence, that’s some nerve! I couldn’t expect less from a man in the army.
“They even make the same sounds.” Gideon said, and laughed. “Let’s give them some space honey.” He said, kissing Toni’s forehead.
He placed some chickens in a bowl and pulled Toni by the arm. “Have a good time guys.” He said, and pulled Toni along who grumbled all the way.
An awkward silence continued between Dare and I. I got pretty uncomfortable and rose to my feet.
“Why are you leaving?” he asked, without raising his head.
What did Dare want from me? “It’s not like we have anything to say, or do we?”
Dare rose to his feet and stared at me. His gaze was set out to make me very uncomfortable but I did well to reply with a firm gaze. When a boy stares at you in order to trip you, you just have to stare back, and of course, in the most convenient fashion for you, as a lady. But not the seducing type of stare. The purpose will be defeated and possibly, the sheets might end up rumpled.
Dare was taking forever to answer my question. “We have nothing to say.” I said, avoiding any eye contact between Dare and me.
Dare squinted his eye balls avoiding the rays from the evening sun that seemed to flash so sharp at the moment. He rubbed his chin and then grabbed his jacket from the mat. Okay…this seemed to me like the part where both parties said their official good-byes.
“I would like to go home from here Dare.” I announced, clutching my bag to my arm.
He nodded. “That’s fine by me.”
“Okay, see you tomorrow. Tell Gideon and Toni that I said bye.” I said and turned from him.
Dare gripped me by the arm and dropped his jacket. He forced his mouth against mine and this time the kiss didn’t sink, he got a slap from me.
“Let go!” I yelled furiously.
He rubbed his chin softly as I caressed my hand from the hit.
“You have no right to disrespect me.” I added aggressively, pulling back some hair from my face.
He smiled faintly. “I don’t regret stealing that kiss.”
Pervert! Dare had gotten out of hand. I admit that I consented to the first kiss between us, but not again, I made a mistake. Didn’t I?
“Dare, I won’t have you do that with me again.” I said, adjusting my hair. “If there is a next time…”
“What would you do?” he yelled. “Slap me harder? Hand in your resignation?” he shouted. Toni’s neighbor’s window opened again, but this time, she put her head back in almost immediately.
I swallowed and adjusted my collar. “Dare, you can never get close to me again. I forbid you to!”
He nodded. “I am not sorry Darlene Williams. And I will not have you forbid me, you have no right to.”
“Who do you think you are? You can’t play boss over my emotions!”
He nodded. “I am not trying to play boss, did you think our first kiss was accidental? I saw everything in your eyes, it was the same in mine.” He said, staring at me.
Curse those eyes! “If there was anything in my eyes, it had to be pity for your soul Dare, It was an accident to me.”
“Yeah…and you kissed back? Forget it, Darlene, there is something between us and I think it’s time we worked it out.”
I scoffed. “The only thing that we’ll be working out is my severance pay after I am done with Subomi.” I said.
“I love you.” He said, looking down.
…to be continued