It was 10:00 pm when I finally made it to the seventh floor and collapsed backward onto the bed. It had been a long day and it took its toll. I had promised myself I would consider the future once the banquet was over. Technically, this night wasn’t truly over, but I knew I couldn’t put the decisions off much longer. I relaxed my muscles; they had been stiff all day. I felt the stress leave as I closed my eyes. An image of Shade formed, ‘and I’ll always love Richard.’ It echoed in my skull. I tried to see Dolapo, but her image kept getting replaced. I remembered how it felt to hold Shade. I sang to her. I snapped up to a sitting position, eyes wide, my muscles tensed again, loaded with guilt.
I was startled by a quiet knock at the door. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and headed to the door. I was about to open it when I heard another knock, but not from the hall door as I had originally thought. It was the door between Shade’s room and mine. My heart pounded hard and my throat thickened. I was hoping I wouldn’t see her until morning. Too much was going through my head and I didn’t particularly like myself right now. I was crapping all over what Dolapo and I had built. I opened the door slowly and kind of blocked the entry with my body. Shade didn’t attempt to enter.
“Hi,” Shade said kindly. Her hands came together loosely in front of her. It looked defensive in response to me blocking the door. I felt worse. My first impulse was to yell at her, my second was to slam the door closed. Instead, I took a step back and let her in. My problems were not hers.
“Hi,” I returned. My greeting was more generic. Shade entered and I closed the door. I should have left it open. With it closed I felt trapped. I fidgeted until I decided to fold my arms in front of me and lean against the wall.
“Guilt?” Shade asked softly. My arms fell down at her question. I put my hands in my pockets as I tried to come up with some kind of response. I had to look away. Her eyes were too caring.
“I’m sorry.” It was a creepy response. It was packed full of deceit. I should have just told her to leave.
“I’m not,” Shade said and sat on my bed. She wasn’t leaving. I had to look back at her or kick her out. One or the other. I looked back and shame filled me. “Dolapo was incredible. I can see it in everything you do. The way you care, the way you make my problems your own. She nurtured that in you. I wouldn’t have you any other way.”
“It hurts,” I said truthfully, “I’m forgetting what she looks like. What does that make me?”
“Human,” Shade answered.
“I see you instead,” I said, “it’s tearing me up, dishonouring her like that.”
“You sang for me,” Shade said, nodding. My eyes swelled and I closed them to hold it all in. “It was lovely,” she added.
“Femi set me up,” I said stupidly. Shade laughed which made me smile.
“You sang to me,” Shade clarified.
“Yes,” I sighed, “why did it feel like I was insulting her?”
“Because you love her,” Shade said simply, “you will always love her. I don’t want you to ever stop loving her.” Shade stood and stepped toward me. “I want you to make room for me too.”
“I already have,” I said quietly.
“Good,” Shade smiled, “I’ve made room for you.” Her hand softly found the back of my neck and gently pulled my lips down to hers. ‘I love you Dolapo,’ I thought as Shade’s lips met mine. ‘I love you Shade,’ I thought as Shade’s tenderness engulfed me. I wrapped my hands around her and pulled her closer and returned the kiss as passion invaded. It was a different passion, Shade’s passion. Separate from what I had felt with Dolapo. Dolapo would always have my past, I decided to give Shade my future.
I lifted Shade into my arms, she was lighter than I had expected. Her giggle tickled my ears. I laid her on the bed and crawled up her body and kissed her again. She tentatively licked my lower lip and our passion grew. Our tongues entwined as we enjoyed each other’s desire. I fumbled with the buttons on the front of her blouse, trying desperately not to break away from her soft lips. We ended up laughing as we got all tangled up in each other’s clothes.
Shade pushed me off her and stood up smiling, her clothes all askew. I watched as her blouse hit the floor, followed quickly by her flowery blue skirt. She stood before me confidently in white panties and bra. I realized I was staring, and started to quickly UnCloth. I threw my shirt over the bed and a bra hit me in the face. Shade had a sly smile as I took in her perky breasts. They were small, and incredibly cute. I tossed her bra after my shirt, and raised my hips to remove my pants. Shade laughed and I glanced down to see my man.hood poking proudly through my boxers.
Shade reached over and shut off the light and crawled onto the bed as I lost the boxers. I felt a small tinge of guilt when her Unclad body folded into mine. I think she felt the tension and she slowed down.
“Second thoughts?” Shade asked compassionately. I think she would have stopped right then and there if I had asked her.
“It’s just hard,” I said catching my breath. I wanted this and I wanted it to be with Shade. I needed to move Dolapo out of the way without losing her.
“I was hoping it was,” Shade joked as her hand wrapped around my arousal.
“That’s not what I meant,” I said with humour in my voice. Her hand slammed the passion back into me. I groaned a bit.
“I know what you meant,” Shade whispered in my ear as she removed her hand, “I will wait if you want me to. I will wait as long as you need.”
“I don’t want to wait,” I said and kissed her lips. I felt them smile and my heart jumped at her joy. She rose and straddled me. Her hand positioned me between her legs and she lowered herself. My moan matched hers as I entered her. She didn’t stop until her butt was sitting on my thighs. We fit well together. She leaned forward with me inside her. Her hands cradled my face, my hands caressed her sides.
“I loved when you sang to me,” Shade cooed as she moved her hips slowly, “it was so beautiful. I knew then, I wanted to be right where I am now.” She kissed me, then placed her forehead on mine, and concentrated on her movements, her breathing increasing. I lowered my hands, finding her little butt and helping her move. The sensations were burning into me, her need forcing mine forward. Unexpectedly, her body went rigid and she breathed a low moan onto my lips. I held her as she collapsed into me, little tremors forcing her legs taut, then loose. I lifted her slightly and rolled her onto her back, while remaining coupled. She gave a sated sigh, and I could feel her smile in the dark.
“I’m sorry,” Shade said languorously, “that was kind of greedy.” I felt her suppressing a chuckle which forced me to smile.
“It was beautiful,” I said truthfully, “feeling you let go like that.” She laughed lightly, reaching up and stroking my cheek.
“It took nine years.” I stroked the side of her cheek as Shade spoke. I felt a slight wetness there. I felt her hips move, exciting me again. “I won’t let you wait that long.” Our lips met, passion flooding me again. My hips raised then lowered slowly, her arms pulling me deeper. Her moans, as I complied, brought me back to the cusp. Her breathing increased and I felt her tremors building again. I dropped my lips to her shoulder and lost myself in her. My whole body trembled as I gave myself to her, her body responding like mine. For a brief moment, there was nothing but us. It was a heaven I wasn’t sure I deserved, but I greedily took.
When my mind returned, I rolled onto my side taking Shade with me. I ran my hand across her cheek, pushing the sweaty hair I found there behind her ear. I kissed her forehead.
“I was contemplating my future before you came in,” I said softly. I ran my hand down her arm and entwined my fingers in hers.
“What are you planning?” Shade asked.
“I thought I was going to run,” I answered, “now…I could become a nuisance, you know.” Shade’s hand ran down my side and stopped on my ass, which she squeezed lightly.
“Stay,” was all Shade said. She was the only one who understood. I wasn’t going anywhere. I had made room for her. It wasn’t fair to make Shade share, but I was bit jealous of Richard as well. I was comfortable in her arms. We fit well together.
“I plan to,” I said, and then smiled, “greed is not necessarily a bad thing.” I loved making her laugh.
We awoke early the next morning. We played lovingly in the early morning light before the time brought Shade back to reality. We showered quickly. Well, as quickly as two people who weren’t done exploring each other could. The City Kitchen needed to be opened so I tamped down on my passion. We dressed in yesterday’s clothes and headed out looking for a cab. Yeni tried to stop us as the front doors opened, but her warning came too late.
A small cheer went up, cameras flashed and reporters armed with microphones ran toward us. Femi had been busy. We smiled and waved as we tried desperately to break away.
Finally, I stopped and grabbed Shade’s hand. The crowd quieted down.
“For twelve years the City Kitchen has never missed a day,” I said, raising our hands, “please, we’re late.” Some of the reporters stepped back, others did not. Police broke through the throng and I couldn’t be happier to see them. They led us to an unmarked vehicle and made sure we got out of there. I watched the reporters packing up to follow. No, fame did not sit well with me.
There were two reporters at the City Kitchen. Luckily, the main force was still en route. The cameras and questions were more cordial since they didn’t have to fight with anyone. We were cordial in return, and answered some easy questions. A well-dressed man in expensive white agbada made of brocade was standing by the door as we approached. He was older, but had an air of sophistication that offset it with confidence.
“Ms. Aiyeto,” the man bowed his head slightly, “I wonder if I might have a word with you and Mr. Akeju.” I moved forward. I didn’t like the way he carried himself. Way too authoritative.
“And you are?” Shade asked from behind me. This was her place and she exhibited the same confidence back at the man. The man smiled contritely.
“I would prefer we spoke inside,” he nodded to the reporters. “I suspect it would cause a scene neither of us could afford out here.” I knew exactly who he was. He wasn’t hiding behind lawyers this time.
“I believe this is High Chief Kunle Sanda,” I said quietly. Shade clenched her teeth and unlocked the door.
“Thank you,” Kunle Sanda said as he entered following Shade. She moved quickly into the dining room, and turned, wearing a less than friendly expression.
“You’re trying to ruin me,” Shade said. You could almost smell the poison in the air. I moved again to position myself slightly between the two. I wasn’t sure who I was protecting anymore. Shade looked like she might go for his eyes.
“Actually,” Kunle Sanda said calmly “I was trying to make you cave. I would have never taken it too far. I must admit, I didn’t expect the retaliation.” I was about ready to hold him down and let Shade scratch his eyes out. He shook his head and held up his hand when he saw our anger brewing.
“I’m done,” Kunle Sanda said, trying to cool us down, “to me, business is life.” He looked around the dining room. “I see you two have a different view.”
“Why?” Shade asked with her anger still at the forefront.
“Simple answer. You thwarted my plan.” Kunle Sanda shrugged his shoulders. “It’s the equivalent of throwing down a missile at me. I fought back.” He chuckled. “I just completely underestimated you. The amount of support you two gathered was impressive.”
“You could have sent your lawyer to concede,” I said with disdain. I wasn’t sure why he was here. I worried this was just another play.
“I am here to plead, Mr. Akeju.” Kunle Sanda was smiling as he spoke. He found the situation humorous. “You two have me by the balls. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to finish me off, but I have learned my lesson. I apologize.” He bowed to Shade whose expression changed to one of bewilderment.
“We haven’t touched you.” My confusion was apparent. “You’ve had us jumping through hoops the whole time.” Kunle Sanda laughed proudly.
“It’s your friends who have been thrusting the knives.” Kunle Sanda seemed generally surprised at our ignorance. “I have three of my companies contracts revoked. At this rate, I will be out of business by the end of the quarter. I won’t even tell you what the Governor’s office thinks of me right now.” Shade was trying to hide a smile.
“Look, I wouldn’t blame you if you buried me.” Kunle Sanda had lost his smile. “I’m rich. I’ll survive. I have people who work for me who aren’t rich. I would rather not hand out, not to mention having to tell my wife why.” He looked at me. “She thinks you’re something special. God only knows why,” he said, shaking his head. Shade let out a suppressed chuckle. I just cringed.
“Apology accepted, ” Shade said. The loss of jobs would have hurt her more than Kunle Sanda.
“Good,” Kunle Sanda said. “I sent the deed to the adjoining property with a transfer agreement to Barrister Sarah Waziri. If you agree to the donation, the land behind this City Kitchen belongs to you from now on. Consider it atonement for my sins against you and the homeless people you feed daily.”
High Chief Kunle Sanda turned to go, then stopped and turned back. “The first lady won’t be in office forever, you could have worse friends than me.” He was offering more than an olive branch. He was offering long-term stability. I looked at Shade and she shrugged her shoulders to defer to me. Kunle Sanda was one hell of an enemy. I suspected he was one hell of a friend also.
“This doesn’t mean I like you,” I said as I walked toward the door. Kunle Sanda smiled and followed me out. I had a feeling he always came out smelling like roses. The full press corps had caught up with us, and cameras were flashing as we exited. Microphones were shoved in my face and I answered a few simple questions. I put up my hands to stall more — I was surprised when it worked. I pulled Kunle Sanda next to me.
“High Chief Kunle Sanda has just generously donated the property adjoining the City Kitchen.” I was getting a little better at this. “This ensures the long-term viability of the Kitchen. I can’t tell you how much his donation means to us and the people we feed. Truly a remarkable gift from the heart.” The microphones shifted to Kunle Sanda and he humbly answered questions. He was much better at it than I. He tied himself to the Kitchen’s survival and guaranteed it all in public. Definitely a better friend than enemy.
I slipped away as soon as I could. Shade was busy starting preparation. I jumped in and another day began. I brought down all the chairs and realigned the tables. Last night’s clean-up crew didn’t quite grasp Shade’s meticulous tendencies. There were a couple of spots on the tables, which Shade seemed to spot from the kitchen. She looked like she meant to toss me a rag, then thought better and brought it out. She put it in my hand and then kissed me hard. I had to admit, it was better than a rag toss. She smiled and headed back into the kitchen, silent and very confident I knew what to do with the towel. I did.
“You know you’re going to have to sing for them,” Shade said when I pulled a basket of pepper out of the store. I knew she meant the police officers. “I know you did it for me, but they went above and beyond.” I’ve sung twice, I could do it once more.
“If you’re there, I will sing to you,” I reasoned, “they can listen if they want.” I loved making Shade laugh.
“You have such a lovely voice. You should share it.” Shade moved toward me.
“Is it okay with you if I don’t?” I asked honestly. She answered by kissing me again. Then she made me wash my hands. She had a way of making bossy seem so sexy.
The days that followed were wonderful. We spent our days running the kitchen and our nights; well the nights were simply more wonderful. I told Shade about Dolapo and she, in turn, told me about Richard. It was uncomfortable at first, but that faded quickly. We learned to share each other’s pasts. With the FIRS in the rear view mirror, it made everything easier. Well, almost everything. Shade and I took a risk with Fabio after Femi Adeshina got back to me with the information I asked him to find.
I sat down with Fabio. I put a fish on his tray and he smiled. I did not. Shade sat down next to me and did the same. Fabio looked up at our serious faces, and I could see he felt uncomfortable.
“I found your daughter,” I said quietly. Fabio lost his smile and his eyes swelled. He almost got up to leave. Shade covered his hand with hers and held him there. I could see him suffering and wondered if we had chosen wrong.
“She wants to see you,” Shade said gripping his hand. I could see the panic in Fabio’s eyes.
“She will hate me,” Fabio stuttered, “I couldn’t…I have to go.” Fabio stood, Shade held his hand and stood with him. I was afraid he would leave and never come back.
“Please don’t leave,” Shade pleaded.
“I owe you Fabio,” I said while I remained seated, “you can’t live without helping each other out here.” I repeated his words to him. Some of the first he told me after yanking me from the water. Shade gently pulled him back to his seat. His hands were shaking.
“You don’t understand,” Fabio said, “I couldn’t…I left her.” I understood more than he knew, Femi saw to that. His wife left, then, he lost his job. His world collapsed in on him.
“You left me with the Kachikwus,” a soft voice behind him said, “they are a wonderful family.” Fabio turned quickly, his eyes meeting his daughter’s.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Fabio cried. Shade had to let go of his hand. He rose and I thought he was going to run. Tokunbo Kachikwu smiled at her dad.
“Forgiven,” Tokunbo said softly, “for what, I don’t know, but you’re forgiven.” She took Fabio’s hand in hers. “Can you tell me about my mother?” Fabio’s eyes were tearing and he wiped them on his sleeve.
“Yes,” Fabio choked out.
We watched as Tokunbo and Fabio talked. His smile began to appear as the conversation continued. I wrapped my arm around Shade and pulled her close.
“That went better than I expected,” I said, “maybe she can talk him into going to a dentist.” Shade smiled up at me.
“I love that you did that.” Shade’s eyes told me she loved more than what I did. It was the middle of dinner; the dining room was full with more hungry coming in. It was not the place, but it was the time.
“I love you,” I said. I had thought it, and I had shown it. Now I said it without fear or guilt.
“I love you,” David said, with his eyes glued to mine. I knew he did, but it was the words that made my heart explode. I smiled up at him.
“I love you, too” I repeated to David. The way he shouldered the problems, making them his own. The way he made my pulse quicken by looking at me like he was right then. He was my future. He pulled me close and kissed me, the dining room disappeared and I barely heard the well-meaning gibes flowing from the tables. I loved the strength he didn’t know he had.
Richard had that type of strength. He made me promise him before he died. A promise I thought I would fail to keep. Not anymore. ‘Richard, I kept my promise. I found love again.’