It was strange being back in my home. It was comforting and really strange at the same time. Everything reminded me of Dolapo, not as strongly as before, but just as depressing. It was hardest in the closet, where her clothes collided into mine. My section kept getting smaller over the years. Fond memories of joking with her about her wardrobe burnt through my thoughts. I couldn’t live here anymore. Even if I would pack away everything of hers, the walls would still bleed her passing. It was just too much love to lose.
My trousers were too big in the waist and I had to punch two holes on my belt. I had lost a lot of weight since I jumped off that bridge. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t tell whether it was a good loss or an unhealthy one. I wondered if my beard hid an emaciated visage or a strong jaw. I wouldn’t shave it today, I would save that for the banquet. I packed some toiletries and filled a backpack with more clothes. I was done living like a beggar.
I put together a new set of keys from my spares and grabbed my jacket out of the closet. It was sitting next to Dolapo’s parka sweater. Dolapo hated the cold, and loved how the parka would shield her against it. I always thought it was overkill. I grabbed it and brought it with me. No need to let it rot on a hanger. It was time to start letting the past go.
Tony drove me to my car. It stood, lonely, in the vast parking lot of the mall next to the venue I had sung in so long ago. It argued with me, trying not to start, but eventually kicked into a nice idle. I thanked Tony for all his help. He thanked me for promising to make an appearance at the annual police boxing match next month. I couldn’t say no after all he had done. I wasn’t sure what I could offer a bunch of police officers, but I agreed. I returned to the City Kitchen, this time with a car and a full wallet. I felt more normal, although I wasn’t confident it was a good thing.
Dinner was in full swing when I arrived. I left my bags in the car, but brought in the parka. Shade did not look good. I could see the strain in her eyes, and knew it had been a difficult day. She was stoic at the head of the line, but I knew she just wanted to collapse and let it all go. I smiled at her as I entered and got a bit of a surprised look at my slight transformation.
“The caterer for the banquet canceled,” Shade said quietly when I moved next to her. “There was an article in the paper and they didn’t want to be part of it.”
“I think they will reconsider tomorrow,” I said confidently. I would have to move heaven and earth if they didn’t, but I didn’t want Shade to know that. She needed my confidence. I needed her confident.
“What did you do?” Shade asked, looking at me, confused.
“Everything I could,” I responded, “where is Jummai?” Shade pointed to the end table in the back. Jummai was eating with Fabio. “I’ll be right back.” I walked over to the two of them.
“See if this fits you, Jummai,” I said, holding up the parka. Jummai’s eyes went wide as she stood up and removed her old jacket. I held the parka up like a gentleman and let her step into it. It fit her wonderfully.
“I never had anything this nice.” Jummai said, as she ran her hands along the sweater.
“You do now.” Dolapo would be pleased. She would have loved to know the sweater was keeping someone warm. “Payment for the boots,” I added, nodding over to Fabio. He gave me one of his ugly toothy smiles.
“I owe you, Frank,” Jummai said, “I owe you a lot.” That was the language of the homeless when appreciating act of kindness.
“You owe me nothing and my real name is David.” I was done hiding. “I had something I didn’t need and you needed it. Simple as that.” Jummai surprised me with a hug. It wasn’t the first time I was hugged by that parka sweater. I fought the tears and hugged her back. At least Jummai would be warm this hammattan .
I walked back to Shade, clearing my eyes with the back of my hand. That was a little harder than I had expected.
“That was nice of you,” Shade said as I approached.
“It was Dolapo’s,” I said nodding back at Jummai and the parka. I saw concern form on Shade’s face.
“You went home?”
“Yes, I can’t stay there, though.”
“You are welcome here as Frank or David”
“You went home?”
“Yes, I can’t stay there, though.”
“You’re welcome to stay here,” Shade said, “as Frank or David.”
“It’s David and I would like to stay for now,” I said honestly.
“I’m glad,” Shade said and quickly went to deal with an issue on the serving line. I watched her skirt swirl with her hips as she moved and realized I was glad also.
It was at the tail end of cleanup when a well-dressed lady entered. She was wearing a tailored dark grey business suit with a silk blouse. She was carrying an expensive black briefcase case as if it was part of her. Her black hair was pulled back severely and secured tightly with a tiny black bow. She walked like she owned the place. I disliked her immediately.
“Shade Aiyeto?” the woman asked, holding her hand out to Shade. Shade nodded and shook her hand. “I’m Mojoyin Abudu Abudu, a lawyer at Adeye, Abudu and Co. I wonder if we could talk for a moment.” Shade led her to one of the dining tables. I hovered, re-cleaning part of the floor in the dining room.
“I represent a party who is interested in resolving the predicament you find yourself in.” Mojoyin held a half grin while she talked. I suspected it was always there, but I found it rude.
“What predicament would that be?” Shade asked, acting so innocent; I almost believed her.
“I am speaking of the charges that have been leveled against you and the City Kitchen. I assume you have seen the paper.” Mojoyin didn’t let Shade’s act fool her. It seemed to be a game she liked to play.
“I don’t concern myself with the idle chatter in the paper,” Shade said, waving her hand in dismissal.
“My accountants assure me I have been more than forthright and all the issues will disappear in time.” Mojoyin lost her grin. I don’t think she was expecting Shade’s strength. In truth, I didn’t expect it either.
“Things could get worse,” Mojoyin stated. Shade’s face was turning red and I could see fire in her eyes.
“Who is this person you represent?” Shade asked, holding back her sting.
“The person wishes to remain anonymous,” Mojoyin smiled.
“Then we are done here,” Shade said calmly and rose. Mojoyin just smiled and stayed seated.
“I don’t think you are considering the possible consequences,” Mojoyin threatened. Shade exploded and shocked me.
“Bring it on” Shade said loudly and pointed to the door. Mojoyin tried to hold her own, but fumbled her briefcase standing up. I guessed she was used to more decorum when she threatened people. I had to stifle a laugh as I stopped the phoney cleaning to watch Mojoyin scamper out.
“Tell me I didn’t just destroy my life,” Shade said, moving toward me. She was shaking with the release of adrenaline. I folded her into my arms. She seemed a natural fit as she wrapped her arms around me.
“Bring it on?” I questioned softly.
“It’s all I could think of. She was threatening me in my own place.” Shade looked up to me. “Did I overdo it?”
“I was kind of proud of it. I just never heard you use a bad word before,” I said with a smile. Shade tucked her head back into my shoulder.
“I hope I didn’t make it worse,” Shade whispered affectionately.
“It doesn’t matter. We will get through this.” I wanted to take back the ‘we’ as soon as I said it.
“You said ‘we’ again,” Shade responded without moving from my arms.
“I meant it.” I wasn’t in control of that word any more. I might as well own it. Shade squeezed me harder. I was glad I did.
The next day we got a taste of the madhouse to come. Femi, true to his word, made the front page. An exclusive interview with the living Promise Keeper was big news. Without making any direct accusations, he detailed Shade’s plight and the possible demise of the City Kitchen.
How I promised to save it and vanquish the bad guys was implied in every word he wrote. He promised articles to follow that detailed my
exploits since my singing debut. The time and place of the banquet was clearly written. He used poetic license to rename it the ‘Save the Kitchen’ banquet. It was over the top and the public bought it up wholesomely than I could imagine.
Calls started pouring in. The caterer was one of the first with an apology. They were willing to cater the event for free, as a donation to the cause. The banquet venue called and asked if we needed more room. They moved us to their largest hall at no additional cost. Best of all, Shade was Shade again. She was moving like a woman possessed. Everything was happening on schedule and everyone knew their job. With every phone call she received, her confidence spiked.
The Governor’s office called and asked if it was okay for the first lady to attend the banquet. She would like to say a few words of support. It seems the police reps were going to be there, so the first lady felt obliged. I saw it as a win. The first lady certainly couldn’t endorse the City Kitchen and then allow a developer to destroy it.
That afternoon, an auditor for Alege and Associates showed up. Tom Odogwu, a man I had worked with in the past. We had a quick reunion and I took him to the office. We spent the afternoon going over the initial data and supporting documents. Like me, he was impressed with Shade’s books. Tom called Mofe just before we opened for dinner.
“David is correct, these are clean and easy,” Tom said over the phone, “I’ll need two guys and two days to go through it all, but I doubt I’ll find anything.” He nodded and said yes a few times then handed the phone to me.
“You stirred up a hornets nest, David,” Mofe said pleasantly, “I got a call from a Mojoyin Abudu this morning. After the article, I guess she assumed you would come to me for help. She tried to convince me it would be in my best interest not to help.”
“I met her yesterday. Shade told her, and I quote, ‘Bring it on.'” I said it with a grin in my tone. Mofe burst out laughing.
“I like Shade already,” Mofe responded, “I told Mojoyin much the same thing, just in a more civil-minded manner. I did find out that your developer is the one and only High Chief Kunle Sanda. You certainly don’t pick small opponents, David.”
“High Chief Kunle Sanda picked us,” I said. At least I could now put a name to the gathering storm.
“Well Mojoyin pissed me off so I put in a call to Sarah Waziri. Her firm is willing to defend the class action, pro bono of course, if Shade will agree.” I put my hand over the phone speaker and leaned out the office door.
“Mofe Alege found you a good lawyer, F.O.C,” I called out to Shade, “you accept?” She laughed and nodded her head. I really didn’t need to ask, but felt it was appropriate.
“Of course she accepts,” I answered, “Mofe, you have gone way beyond the line of duty here. I’m not sure if I can ever pay you back.”
“I’ll get it back in spades,” Mofe said lightly, “the firm that backed the Promise Keeper. It has to be worth more. Are you going to sing at the banquet? My wife is expecting it.”
“I wasn’t planning on it. I was hoping the talent show was the last time I had to sing,” I said honestly. I didn’t really like the fear associated with being on stage.
“Well that will give me a leg up,” Mofe said, “right now it is two to one for you singing. No worries, Tom will bring a team out early tomorrow and get started. Tell Shade to let us worry about the FIRS. She just needs to get you to sing.” Mofe hung up before I could respond. It didn’t occur to me that people would want me to sing. Femi was planning on bringing a camera. There was no way I could sing for the world, much less another audience.
“Mofe said you should let him worry about the FIRS,” I informed Shade, leaving out the singing part.
“I can do that,” Shade said as she removed her latex gloves.
“Sarah Waziri is going to take care of the case,” I added. I was full of good news. Shade threw the gloves in the trash bin, wrapped her hands around the back of my neck and kissed me on my lips. I wasn’t sure how to respond. They were soft lips and slightly moist. She pulled back an inch and looked me in the eyes.
“My apologies to Dolapo, but you had that coming.” Shade smiled and headed out of the kitchen. It was 4:00 and people needed to be fed. It was the chuckles from the crew that broke my trance. In my defense, they were really nice lips. I heard ‘I Need An Angel’ over the speakers and headed out to join Shade on the line.
Surprisingly, the first person in the line was a uniformed police officer.
“You must be Shade Aiyeto,” the officer said, “and you must be David Akeju.” He smiled and held out his hand. I shook it as he explained. “There are two officers outside making sure the press and fans stay out. I’m supposed to stay down here in case they mess up. Unless you want to be on camera, you’ll probably want to stay inside. It is a madhouse out there. I’m officer Ocheme by the way.”
“Thank you, officer,” Shade said, “I hope this won’t be necessary for too long.”
“Just until the frenzy dies down,” the officer said, “your car caused most of it.” He looked and smiled at me when he said it. I guess everyone knows I’m here. I should have taken a cab.
The night went without incident. We fed officer Ocheme who also took some food to the policemen outside. No unauthorized homeless made it into the City Kitchen, but we were kind of in a prison of our own making. Shade decided to spend the night on site. I chivalrously gave up the camp bed. To her, it was a foregone conclusion — it was her camp bed anyway. I made do on a dining table. It was a little hard, but the blanket made it tolerable.
…to be continued