“I still don’t know why you couldn’t come to live with us.”
“Seriously?” She asked, getting up and moving to the gas cooker, to wipe the oven clean with a rag. She had moved in two days before, and since it was Saturday, Zubi had finally been able to come over to see what the place looked like. “You think the best thing is for me to move in with you and crowd your three bedroom apartment that already contains a wife, two children and a maid?”
“Why not?” He challenged with a frown that was so like hers. They looked so alike that it would have been safe to call him the taller, more masculine, version of her. “Some families of seven in this same city of Lagos live in just one room.” He continued. “Go to Ajegunle if you don’t believe me.”
Ada snorted in disbelief. “You’re just talking.” She said. “Have you ever been to Ajegunle?”
“I am twenty four years old!” Ada told him. “I’m not too young to live alone. Anyway it’s too late because I’ve already paid for this place.” She was glad she had. She loved her new apartment. For a Lagos mini–flat, it was surprisingly large and spacious, the ceilings were high, the bedroom was large, and the fittings in the kitchen and bathroom were still new and shiny. Even the fenced compound was great, there were just four apartments, two large ones and two mini-flats including hers. There was a lot of space, enough for her to park a car if she finally bought one. She could see herself living here for years.
“Waste of money,” Zubi said dismissively, his eyes travelling over the white kitchen tiles, “Especially when you’re not even making that much.” He shook his head. “I’ve just decided to ignore your stubbornness because I don’t want to quarrel. I still don’t understand how I would go out of my way to get my younger sister a job in one of the best real estate firms in Lagos and have her reject it because of a hobby like photography.” He frowned almost petulantly. “You studied real estate management for Christ’s sake!”
“Photography is not just a hobby.” Ada protested tiredly, they had already had this argument a million times, just because he found fulfillment in his nine-to-five job he assumed that she would be also be happy in a job like that, and richer. He never stopped emphasizing the fact that she could get a good salary working in real estate.
Zubi shrugged and jumped off the counter. “Stop all this cleaning I beg you.” He said, laughing. “This place is spick and span already. You’re just like mummy, aren’t you? You can’t rest until you’ve chased every speck of dust into oblivion.”
Ada smiled, and for a moment, they grinned at each other, remembering their mum, who had always seemed to be dusting, wiping, or cooking something. Then they sobered. Thoughts of their mum always sobered them, she had been dead for more than ten years, but the sense of loss never went away.
“Your father called me last week.” Zubi said. He always said, ‘Your father’ when he talked to her about their Dad. His voice was tinged with the slightly bitter tone it always had whenever their father came into the conversation, “He was asking if you had found a job yet.”
“Tell ‘your father’ that I have a job!” Ada replied wryly.
“Try telling him that yourself.” Zubi said. “He made it sound as if you were unemployed and hopeless.”
“I’m not unemployed and hopeless,” Ada said. “I have a good job, and I make extra money from my projects, I paid for this apartment myself, for God’s sake!”
“I know.” Zubi’s voice was quiet.
Ada sighed. She understood how Zubi felt, ever since their father had left, and their mother had died, he had been determined to prove – to himself and most especially to their father – that he could be the kind of man people would look up to. He had done it, but even after a Mechanical Engineering degree, a scholarship to the Institute of Petroleum Studies, and a lucrative job in one of the biggest oil companies in the country, their father still acted as if he were ashamed of them. Now that he had nothing negative to say about Zubi, he used Ada’s reluctance (or as he saw it, inability) to get a ‘real’ job as a weapon to make Zubi feel bad. He didn’t even bother with Ada. Since the day he left them, he had treated her as if she didn’t even exist.
She patted Zubi’s arm. “It doesn’t matter what he says.”
“I know.” He frowned. “I have to go home. Ify is planning to get her hair fixed today, one of those expensive Brazilian things, and she won’t let me rest if I don’t get home on time to stay with the kids before she leaves.”
Ada chuckled. “Please go! Don’t let her punish you because of me.”
He surveyed the kitchen for a moment. “You need to buy stuff to stock your fridge and these empty cupboards.” He paused. “Let me take you to Shoprite on my way, hmm. So you can buy provisions.”
Ada started to protest, but he silenced her with the stern look he had cultivated when she had been a stubborn preteen and he her big teenage brother. “Don’t worry.” He said. “I’m paying.”
Ada rolled her eyes as he walked out of the kitchen and towards the front door, then she shrugged and followed him.
There is something infinitely uplifting about shopping with someone else’s money, Ada thought as she pushed a massive trolley through the aisles of the supermarket, rapidly filling it up with provisions and whatnot. Zubi had apologized that he couldn’t stay to drive her back home with her shopping, and then handed her a huge wad of cash, with instructions to take a taxi when she was done. Ada smiled. He was probably feeling guilty that he hadn’t helped to pay for the apartment, but then, she hadn’t asked him to, she sighed, happy to have an older brother.
She dumped fresh fruits, packs of cereal, fresh milk and some coffee into the trolley. Then she went hunting for fruit juice, and stopped with annoyance as she saw that, as usual, the queue for the fresh baked bread was so long that there was no way to get to the fruit juice stands. She paused, hesitating to leave her trolley unattended so she could squeeze in between the people on the queue and get what she wanted. She wondered, exasperated, what it was about the bread that people couldn’t get enough of it.
Ada jumped in surprise. The voice had only been slightly higher than a whisper, but he had leant so close to her ear from behind her that she had felt his warm breath on her ear and neck. She turned around, but she already knew who it was, so the sight of Eddie’s dimpled smile and laughing eyes didn’t surprise her at all, just annoyed her a whole lot.
In spite of her annoyance, her heart had already started to beat faster. She felt her skin flush. She almost stamped her feet with vexation when she noticed that her hands were trembling, and her neck and ears were beginning to feel hot. “Hi Eddie.” She said, giving him a look that would have made a wiser man issue an apology immediately. It didn’t even lessen his smile.
Out of every single person she could have run into, she thought with irritation, why did it have to be him? And why was she suddenly feeling so self-conscious that she was trying to remember if she had brushed her hair before leaving the apartment, or if she had looked in a mirror, and if her jeans and T-shirt looked okay?
She looked away from his smiling face and found her eyes level with his broad, well-muscled chest, clad in a white T-shirt. Trying to escape that view she looked further down and found herself staring at his long legs, the upper part of which were encased in a pair of knee length camo shorts, she looked back up into his smiling face.
“What’s up?” He asked, still smiling. He looked into her trolley and laughed. “Are you shopping for the end of the world?”
For a few moments, Ada wondered what to say? She couldn’t think of a smart reply. He always did that to her, he always somehow screwed up her mental wiring and made her slightly stupid.
“No,” She replied finally, “Just stocking up on provisions for a new apartment.” She noticed that he was holding only a set of screwdrivers, and she rolled her eyes mentally. When he had driven all the way here just to buy screwdrivers, why wouldn’t he make fun of her shopping? He probably didn’t have to shop for himself. He probably had girlfriends who were falling over themselves eager to help with his shopping.
He leaned towards her until he was so close, that his face was only inches from hers. Her eyes widened as she waited, wondering what he was about to do. Her heart was beating so loud she was sure he could hear it. He smiled, and then reached behind her and took a pack of chocolate digestives from the shelf at her back. “My weakness.” He explained as he moved away, seemingly unaware that he had almost given her a heart attack.
“What are you doing just standing here?” He asked with a curious frown, then his eyes went to the queue of bread seekers, and he grinned with realization… “Ah yes don’t tell me, they’re blocking the fruit juice.” He gave her a speculative look. “Why not mow them down with your trolley?” He suggested, chuckling as she recovered herself enough to glare at him. “I’m just kidding.” He said. “Okay tell me what you want,” He offered, “and I’ll get it for you.”
He crossed over the queue and picked out the items she wanted, constantly looking back to her for confirmation, she watched as people made way and strangers smiled at him. What was it about him that drew people to him like bees to honey? She waited until his arms were loaded with a variety of packs before she signaled that she was okay.
He walked back towards her looking slightly comical with his arms full. Comical but still attractive, Ada noted as she saw a couple of women giving him admiring glances. He waited as she unloaded the packs from his arms one by one. “You’re really shopping for the end of the world.” He said, sighing with relief when his arms were finally free. “Are you done?”
“No, I still have to…” She started saying, then watched in horror as he took hold of the handles of the trolley and started to wheel it. “Just tell me where to go.” He told her.
Away! Ada thought desperately, wishing that he would leave her be, with a combination of aggravation, annoyance and embarrassment, she allowed him to wheel the trolley while she picked items from the shelves, daring him with her best frown to show even the slightest change in expression as she threw in some feminine items. Thankfully, he kept a straight face, even though she was sure that she could see a glint of amusement in his eyes.
As they moved toward the counter, she wondered if he would attempt to pay for her things, guys sometimes tried to do things like that. It wasn’t part of her plan for the day to accept his generosity, she decided. He was her boss, not her benefactor. She wasn’t like all the other girls he probably took shopping all the time and she didn’t want to be.
For a moment though, she allowed herself to wonder what it would feel like, to be the girl on Eddie Bakare’s arm. It wouldn’t be a place like Shoprite, of course. He would take her shopping through the exclusive boutiques of Lagos, and buy her anything her heart desired.
Well, she didn’t want that, she said to herself, snapping out of her thoughts. As they reached the counter, she took hold of the handles of the trolley, “I can manage from here.” She told him, her eyes challenging him to object.
He gave her a thoughtful look, and a half-smile that seemed to say ‘I know exactly what you’re doing’. Then went ahead to pay for his screwdrivers and biscuits, smiling charmingly at the sales clerk as he did so.
Ada watched as the girl simpered and smiled back at him, ‘Don’t waste your time,’ She thought, almost pitying the girl, he already has women lined up from here to Timbuktu.
After getting his change, he helped her load her things on the counter, and waited while she paid, watching idly as a uniformed sales boys bagged the items and loaded them back on the trolley.
She followed him reluctantly as he wheeled the trolley out of the supermarket, whistling tunelessly. She tried not to admire the way he walked, or to look at the breadth of his shoulders, or the light dusting of black hairs on his legs. He had nice feet too, smaller than you’d expect, slim and remarkably neat. Her eyes skipped to his toes, and she looked away quickly, embarrassed, as she remembered what people said about men’s toes. Why am I even looking at Eddie Bakare’s feet? She chided herself.
“Where are you going?” She asked, lost in her semi-lustful thoughts, she had only just noticed that he was wheeling the trolley towards the car park.
“To my car?” He stopped and turned to her. “Sorry, did you bring a car?”
“No.” She replied. “I haven’t got one.”
“Yet.” He corrected. “You haven’t got one yet.” He nodded towards the trolley. “I don’t think you can fit all this stuff on a bike.” He said teasingly. “Do you?”
“I was going to take a cab!” Ada corrected.
He shrugged and started to move again. “No need.” He said, giving her another one of his dimpled smiles “I can take you home.”
The last thing she wanted was for Eddie Bakare to know where she lived. She started to protest but realized how silly and childish it would seem. She followed him silently into the car park, inwardly seething.
The journey to her apartment was short. He drove one of those Mercedes Coupes that purred like a cat and moved like a dream. He drove silently too, nodding his head to the music playing on the radio and listening as she gave directions. In no time, they were at her place.
She hadn’t planned to let him in, but she saw now that it would be impossible not to. He was carrying the bags, and she couldn’t see any reasonable way to get him to leave them by the door and disappear. He wouldn’t even accept that. Reluctantly she found herself opening up her new home to the last person she had ever expected, or planned to see it.
“Nice place!” He said as they walked through the living room to the kitchen. She knew it was true, but as it came from him, it seemed condescending. Why would a mini-flat seem ‘nice’ to him, when he had access to most of the best mansions in the country? She looked at him, he expected her to say something. “Thank you.” She managed finally, feeling unreasonably resentful.
“I’ll get the other bags.” He said, turning to return to the car, his eyes took in the bare walls and windows and the furniture piled in one corner of the living room. “How long has it been since you moved in?” He asked.
“Two days” Ada replied.
“So you haven’t unpacked.” He commented, stating the obvious. “I live close by, “He added, “I could help if you need someone who’s handy with a hammer.”
As if she would let him! “Thanks but don’t bother.” Ada said quickly, “I already have a carpenter coming soon to help with all that.”
He soon left, after bringing in all her shopping. Relieved, Ada went to work, unpacking, hanging up her clothes, arranging her toiletries in the bathroom, her plates and pots in the kitchen. The carpenter came and hung up the curtains, another man came to fill the gas cylinder, and an electrician to install the lights.
It wasn’t until early evening that she finally completed all her tasks. Exhausted and hungry, she was cleaning the last of the debris and dust from the carpentry work when the doorbell rang. She ignored it. It was probably a mistake, maybe someone was ringing at the next apartment, or a child was playing. Nobody knew where she lived yet, apart from her brother and… Eddie?”
The thought that it could be Eddie made her momentarily confused, but why would he come back to her apartment? She went to the kitchen to dump the duster and walked slowly back to the living room. It was probably a friendly neighbor, or the landlord, or maybe Zubi had come back.
She went towards the door and looked through the peephole.
It was him! He was standing there, just waiting as if he had every reason to be sure that he was a welcome visitor. What in heaven’s name did he want?
Ada paused. She could pretend that she wasn’t at home. There was no reason on earth why she couldn’t leave him standing outside, well apart from the fact that he was technically her boss, a little voice reminded her. With a sigh, she unlocked the door and pulled it open.
He looked fresh. He had changed his clothes and was now dressed in jeans and one of those short sleeve shirts that always looked stylish. In a moment of self-indulgence, she allowed her eyes to roam over his body. She had always thought that she didn’t particularly like handsome men. It was hard to remember that now as she looked at him.
He smiled, letting loose a dimple. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.” He said.
Ada folded her arms, suddenly and uncomfortably aware that while he looked clean and fresh, she was still wearing the clothes with which she’d been cleaning and dusting the apartment since morning. “No, you’re not disturbing me.” She replied, sure that the expression her face totally implied the opposite.
He nodded and then reached over. Before she could react, he had pulled something from her hair. It was a wood shaving. He handed it to her.
She breathed, frowning slightly as she tried to ignore the fact that while her heart had practically stopped beating a moment ago, it was now hammering wildly. She took the shaving from him. What had she expected, that he was going to stroke her face or her hair?
“Your apartment looks good.” He stated, his eyes moving past her to the living room, she turned to follow his gaze. The rug had been laid, and the curtains hung, she hadn’t put up her pictures yet, but it did look good.
“Thank you.” She replied.
“I’m on my way to the Island.” He told her. “One of my sisters demands my presence at her house.” He chuckled. “She probably needs someone to help her watch the kids.”
Ada listened, a little confused. Why had he told her that? Why was he being so friendly with her? Did he think she was Sophie, or another one of his close friends? She wasn’t. They weren’t friends, and they had never been friends. He had no reason to think he could tell her things like that.
“Anyway.” He continued, not at all looking as if he minded watching his sister’s kids, “I was thinking that, with all the things you had to do today, you might not be able to rustle up something to eat. So…” He handed her a package, and she took it on reflex.
“It’s just dinner for one.” He smiled.
Feeling slightly guilty, she thought about inviting him in, instead of leaving him standing outside like an incredibly well dressed deliveryman, but she didn’t want to, she didn’t want to be friends with Eddie Bakare. What did they have in common after all? How could he ever understand the kind of person she was, and the things that were important to her?
“Alright.” He drew out the word, when she didn’t say anything. “I should get going.”
He started to turn around.
“Wait.” Ada said. “Wait.” She paused. “Thanks for the today.” She said softly, “Thanks for everything.”
He smiled, more brightly than she had ever seen. Ada felt her stomach clench as the full brilliance of the glorious dimpled smile turned on her.
This is why I don’t like handsome men, Ada said to herself, her fingers trembling as she watched him run down the stairs, taking them two at a time, and fast. This has to be why.