The next two days saw the auditors busied at work. Sarah Waziri stopped by the second day with a copy of the law suit. She and Shade talked strategy while I helped the auditors with data demands. In the middle of it all, we prepared the kitchen for the night’s dinner. Femi showed up just before ‘I Need An Angel’ to get some background on the City Kitchen. His articles had created a frenzy and he needed more information to keep them going. I took him to Fabio, the resident expert on the subject. Femi had no trouble fitting in and making friends. He liked to listen and Fabio liked being the expert.
The media spent those days camped out in front of the City Kitchen. Detective Bakare made sure there were enough police that the media kept their distance. A couple of reporters tried to sneak through as homeless and were caught. Jummai was eagle-eyed; she pointed them out and looked good doing it. It was a crazy moment, but no one left hungry so Shade was happy.
The day of the banquet brought with it a wonderful surprise. In the past, Shade would run the kitchen as normal then rush to the banquet site leaving a crew to clean. It made for an extremely hectic day. Before noon, two men and a woman all dressed in white chef attire met with Shade.
“Mr Seyi Morgan sent us,” the tall man said with an air of authority, “I’m Chuks Odinga and this is Raymond and Morinsola. We’re here to replace you for the day and let you concentrate on the banquet.” Morgan Catering was the firm catering the banquet. I guessed they wanted to make sure Shade wasn’t upset with their flip flop. Shade looked them up and down and decided they could handle it.
“That would be lovely,” Shade said with a grin.
“Do you think we could meet David Akeju?” Morinsola asked. I blushed at the request. I was not used to my fleeting fame. Shade laughed and introduced me.
“The beard makes you look older,” Morinsola said as she shook my hand. I could see undeserved admiration in her eyes.
“It was just a disguise,” I informed her, “I’ll shave it soon.”
“I sure hope so,” Shade interjected, “I’ve hated that thing since the first day.” I suddenly hated the beard myself.
“Have you thought about what you’re going to wear tonight?” I tried to say something, but Shade jumped in.
“I was thinking black trouser and shirt. It would look dashing with his frame.” Shade had obviously put some thought into it. I was going to try to tell her I didn’t have anything like that when Morinsola jumped back in.
“He would need black shoes with a matching leather belt.” Morinsola examined me closer. “Maybe the shirt should be collarless with a hint of grey to offset the trouser.”
“Ladies,” I said, a little exasperated, “I don’t own anything like that. I was just going to wear some chinos with a polo shirt.” Shade shook her head and smiled.
“We’re going shopping, David. There’s no way I am going let you look like a dork.” Morinsola giggled at Shade’s demand. I just sighed and agreed.
Shade spent the better part of an hour with the crew, explaining the planned menu and how things worked. She explained the ‘I Need An Angel’ dinner bell and was adamant about the 4:00 time. Chuks took notes and complemented Shade on the cleanliness of the facility. He put her mind at ease and guaranteed her no one would leave hungry. He certainly seemed competent and I could tell Shade thought so as well.
It took four police officers to get us out of the City Kitchen. We were able to make it out the back with limited exposure. A plain cloths officer was assigned to drive us where we needed to go.
“So, you’re really going to sing at the police boxing match?” He asked, after we escaped in his unmarked car.
“I never said I was going to sing,” I answered, trying not to sound ungrateful for the force’s help.
Shade looked at me, a little surprised. I had forgotten to tell her about the event.
“You got to,” He went on, “it’s the only reason my girlfriend is going to come. She hates the fights, but she adores you.” A felt my face flush again. It was only one talent contest. This was getting a little out of hand. I certainly didn’t deserve anyone’s admiration.
“You agreed to this?” Shade asked. I looked over to her.
“Tony asked. I couldn’t say no, not with everything he was doing to help us out,” I explained. Shade took my hand in hers.
“Us,” Shade said softly. Some guilt leaked into my mind, memories of Dolapo. Shade’s hand felt good in mine. I wasn’t sure if I should like it. My heart was beating faster than it should. “I’ll be there with you, singing or not.” She squeezed my hand with affection. God help me, I squeezed back.
The officer took us to a men’s shop downtown. A young woman attended to us. I felt like a mannequin as the ladies had me try on different trousers and shirts. They discussed the results as if I wasn’t present and pretty much ignored my likes and dislikes. I tried on six pairs of shoes before Shade was happy. Cosiness was not one of the criteria she considered. I would have just picked a pair of nice brown suede shoes if I had a choice in the matter. I had to admit, I did look pretty sharp in the mirror. I just didn’t think I could live up to the image staring back at me. Shade was pleased so I agreed, as if I had much of a choice.
I pulled out my ATM card as we approached the Point of Sale. The young woman spent some time making calls and I was wondering if I needed a fortune to make the purchase. She shook her head and smiled when I tried to hand her the credit card.
“We would like to donate the clothes Mr. Akeju,” She said calmly, “for the City Kitchen.”
“You recognized us?” Shade said with big smile.
“Not at first, that beard played trick on me,” She said, matching Shade’s smile.
“Thank you, and please call me David,” I said, genuinely touched by her generosity.
“You’re so welcome, Mr David, The Promise Keeper,” She said, “I really hope you remember us next time you shop.” The offer was laced with a fondness I didn’t deserve. I was happy my beard covered a good portion of my cheeks. I was not designed for fame.
“Of course,” I stuttered. Shade stifled a giggle and led me out the door like Dolapo would do.
The next stop was an upscale unisex salon. The beard was going to go, and with it, whatever I had left of my anonymity. Shade was excited. I would have preferred if she just handed me a shaving stick. My hair was bushy, but I had become comfortable with it. She wasn’t having any of it. For some reason, I was letting her run all over me. She was a formidable woman. I was sure Dolapo would have liked her. Dolapo would have never let me get so unkempt.
Pelumi was her stylist, or so she said. She looked too young to be anything but an amateur. She had a crazy jerry curled and dyed hair.
“What are we doing to hair today?” Pelumi asked. Again, before I had a chance to answer, Shade jumped in.
“First, let’s remove the beard and then…” I raised my hand sharply and gave Shade a look. I didn’t want to, but I felt I was losing myself. It was my head after all. “Sorry,” she said and covered her smile with her hand. I gathered my thoughts and realized I messed up.
“Um…shave off the beard and…” I had no idea how I wanted my hair. I turned my head sideways and looked at it in the mirror. I rolled my eyes, “and however she wants it.” I nodded my head weakly toward Shade who was no longer covering her silly grin.
“Get it off the collar and ears,” Shade kicked back in without missing a beat, “leave the sideburns down to about here.” She touched just in front of my ear sending an unexpected shiver down my neck, “Can you use a trimmer to layer it a bit, you know, business-like, but with a little modern style.” She had some kind of vision for my head. It had to be better than my vision. Suddenly, I had two women touching my head all over.
I was a mannequin again. She went on doing a good job of giving me a nice shave.
“I know you.” Pelumi’s smile grew. “You’re that promise guy.” I think my face was already red from the hot towel. At least I hoped so. I raised my finger to my lips and formed the international quiet symbol. “You’re the promise guy,” she repeated in a whisper. I nodded my head. “Can I get an autograph?” she asked. I rolled my eyes. Shade thought the whole thing was hilarious. Pelumi didn’t wait for an answer, she grabbed a marker and I ended up signing her blow dryer. It was my first autograph, and hopefully my last. I am not a celebrity for goodness sake.
Pelumi went to work on my hair. Large clumps of hair were falling down onto the cape she had covered me with. I felt she was touching me more than necessary. Her fingers would slide along my neck and up behind my ear. She would lightly fluff my hair as she cut, her fingers not flicking, but combing along my scalp, as she was petting me. At first I thought they were accidental. Their frequency increased and it began to feel like pre-intimacy.
Shade moved closer to me, examining the length being cut off. She absently placed her hand over mine. Like magic, Pelumi stopped the stroking. It was some kind of secret female nonverbal communication. Shade stepped back again, but Pelumi never returned to the caressing. It was strictly hair cutting from then on and I was thankful for it.
“You really have to stop flirting with every girl you meet,” Shade said once we had returned to the car. I heard the officer driver clearing his throat.
“I didn’t do anything to encourage her,” I claimed, “I’m just happy it stopped.”
“You look a lot younger without the beard, “The officer stated in the rear view mirror. I rubbed my hand along my newly shaved face. I had to admit it was nice to finally get rid of the beard. Shade ran the back of her hand softly along my jaw.
“It certainly feels a lot younger,” Shade commented. The officer’s eyes whipped back to the road in embarrassed reflex. The hand was an intimate gesture. It didn’t seem like it affected Shade that way. She just smiled and turned her head to look out the window. My thoughts turned to Dolapo, then back to Shade and the back of her hand. I closed my eyes and tried to see Dolapo. It was hard, the image imperfect and my thoughts were muddling it up. My memory was such a weak tool.
He brought the car to the back of the Hill Point hotel, the venue for the banquet. We entered through an employee only door where a tall lady in a business skirt and white blouse greeted us.
“Welcome Mrs. Aiyeto, Mr. Akeju,” the lady said confidently, “I’m Yeni Kadri, the manager. We have adjoining rooms prepared for you on the seventh floor. I think it’s best we head up there to discuss the preparations. It’s a madhouse out front.” She didn’t wait for a response as she took us to the service elevator.
…to be continued