There was no part of Victoria Island where parking wasn’t a problem, where it wasn’t necessary to circle once or twice trying to find a good spot before finally having to squeeze into a tight spot in such a way that it was only just possible to slide sideways out of the car.
Hope Alade’s office was no exception. Fifteen floors and yet, only the ground floor for parking. Once you secured a spot in the morning, it was possibly the most reckless thing imaginable to take your car out to lunch and have someone else take your precious spot.
The security man shook his head again, “Parking don full,” he said. “Auntie Hope, you go park for street.”
“Ohhhhh,” Hope groaned, exasperated. She backed away from the gate and found a space on the street in front of the building. She hated doing that. It never felt safe. Some reckless driver might scratch her car or the people from the traffic agency would appear out of nowhere and seize it, which was worse.
“Give him your keys so as soon as someone leaves they’ll move it inside,” Agnes said from her reclining position on the passenger seat. She looked drowsy. Pounded yam and native soup with goat meat was obviously not an advisable choice for lunch, Hope thought, watching as Agnes struggled to undo her seatbelt.
“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Hope glanced up and down the street. There were other cars parked on the curb, but it didn’t make her feel better. “I hate leaving my car on the street,” she muttered. “We should have walked.”
Agnes gave her a look that said ‘not-me-and-you’. “Walk ke! So we’ll arrive sweating at a restaurant full of big boys with my makeup running down my face. Thank you very much.”
Hope smiled despite herself. Agnes was obsessed with big boys, fine boys, hot boys, or just boys. In the two years they had worked together at Madueke and Makinde Engineering, she had come to realize that while Agnes was as sharp as a shiny new needle at things like circuit diagrams and specifications for electrical fittings, when it came to men, especially handsome ones, she was as hopeless as a teenager in the throes of her first crush.
“So how many big boys did you catch while we were eating?” Hope asked, turning off the engine and stepping out of the car into the unforgiving Lagos sun. The heat enveloped her like a malicious evil spirit and she grimaced, thinking how the interior of her car would be as hot as an oven in a few minutes.
“I didn’t catch any because I couldn’t concentrate,” Agnes replied, after pulling herself out of the passenger seat with some difficulty. She patted her stomach and sighed, making Hope smile fondly. Even in her drowsy state, Agnes had an undeniably sensual kind of beauty, large eyes, full lips, and a creamy complexion. She grinned at Hope. “And, I couldn’t concentrate because I was still thinking of the one I saw in our office right before we left for lunch.”
Which one was that? Hope wondered, searching her memory. She hadn’t seen any good-looking guys in the office. She strode inside the compound and gave her car keys to the security man, then waited for Agnes to catch up.
“I don’t know how you could have missed him,” Agnes breathed. “He came in right before we went out for lunch, tall, handsome, smooth… with lips like sugar.”
Hope burst out laughing. “I give up on you,” she said, “You’re just man crazy, Agnes.”
“Which one is man crazy again?” Agnes looked nonplussed. Even in her four-inch heels, she was still at least half a foot closer to the ground than Hope. She had a full body too, curvy in all the right places, and a full head of curly hair extensions. In contrast, Hope was slender, tall, with a loose long-limbed body. She favoured long wavy weaves that blended perfectly with her relaxed hair. Her skin was clear smooth chocolate, and her eyes, almond shaped and very dark. It was her lips though, full and a deep luscious pink, that always made people, men especially, turn back to stare.
Beyond the impressive revolving doors, the lobby of the Matador house was a cool and refreshing air-conditioned cave of marble floors and walls, with lots of familiar faces in suits and well-polished shoes that clicked on the shiny floors. “This Lagos sun is enough to kill somebody sha,” Agnes said. “Just from the street to the lobby and I’m already sweating.” She glanced at Hope. “And just so you know. It is perfectly normal for a girl my age to be man crazy. If I wasn’t, even my parents would be worried.”
“Yeah,” Hope snorted. “Now, I’m sure they’re worried that you like them a little too much.”
Agnes smiled and shook her head in a gesture of surrender.
The engineering services firm where they worked was on the twelfth floor so they went in the direction of the lifts. They weren’t in a hurry, at least Hope wasn’t. She was far ahead of all her deadlines. She enjoyed her work, and while the endless diagrams and schematic drawing of the intestines of buildings were boring to some people, they weren’t to her.
“You should have seen him.” Agnes stated, returning to the subject of the mysterious hot guy, “He came just before lunch for a meeting with one of the managing partners, and he was hot. Tall, team light-skinned with dimples,” she winked at Hope. “and have I mentioned the lips?”
Hope nodded. “Yeah,” she said wryly. “Lips like sugar.”
“Exactly!” Agnes sighed dramatically.
The description nagged at Hope’s mind. She knew one person who looked like that, well as close to Agnes’s exaggerated descriptions as she could imagine. And he was the last person she expected or desired to see in her office.
A lift descended and the doors slid open. Agnes continued her monologue as they entered, her eyes widening as she described the perfection of a man she hadn’t even spoken to. Hope listened, her feelings vacillating between amusement and boredom. She was used to it. If Agnes had suddenly started talking about politics or history, or kept silent, then Hope would have had to check her temperature to make sure she was all right.
The lift had barely moved from the ground floor when it came to a stop on the first floor. Agnes continued her chattering until the doors opened and Daniel Amadi walked in.
That shut her up.
That would have shut anybody up. Nobody would dream of indulging in idle talk when a man like Daniel Amadi was in the same room.
Everybody who worked in the building knew who Daniel Amadi was. He was the genius software engineer who had built his business from scratch, and whose offices occupied the top three floors of the building.
There was even something about the way he strode into the lift in his impeccable dark suit, crisp white shirt, and plain black tie. There was something about the set of his jaw, the understated glint of his silver cufflinks, the subtle hint of his cologne… It was as if somehow, with just his bearing, he was proclaiming that he owned the place.
He acknowledged them with a small nod. He never gave anybody more than that. What were they after all, but a couple of working girls in the small engineering firm a few floors below him. He was the most important man in the building.
As the doors closed, he turned his back to them to enter the number of the floor he wanted. At first, Hope watched his long graceful fingers as they moved over the keypad, then Agnes caught her attention, rolling her eyes upwards and fanning her heart with a face that said, ‘Be still my beating heart.’ Hope stifled a giggle.
He turned back towards them, totally missing the moment of hilarity. He wasn’t smiling. In fact, Hope doubted that she had ever seen him smile. She had never really been able to understand why all the girls in the office thought he walked on water. He was always serious and he always looked busy. Sure, he was handsome, in that tall, dark and intense way that would have looked good in a model, not the thin ones in the Burberry ads, but the thickly-muscled, sensual ones in the perfume ads for Armani and such…but what was the use of all the good looks if he never cracked a smile.
The lift started to move. Hope looked over at Agnes. Agnes was staring at the side of Daniel Amadi’s face like a deer caught in headlights. Hope stifled another giggle.
The silence was getting uncomfortable, and now she could feel him looking at her. Why was the lift so slow! It felt as if his eyes were burning swatches across her skin.
She looked up at him and caught him mid-stare. If he was fazed by having been caught, he didn’t show it. His eyes lingered on her face for a moment, and then he looked away.
Hope remembered to breathe. In that one moment that he’d held her gaze, it’d felt as if he was looking right into her soul. It was as if she had lost proper control of herself, her senses. She could feel the goosebumps on her arms. ‘five, six, seven…’ She counted the numbers under her breath as the lift passed the levels. They would get to her floor soon. For some reason, Hope couldn’t wait to get out of there.
She heard a clatter and almost jumped out of her skin. Then she realized her small clutch purse had fallen on the floor. In the moment it took for her to make that realization, Daniel Amadi had dropped gracefully to his haunches and picked up the purse. Hope stood frozen and watched as he rose and handed it to her.
“Here,” he said. There was nothing personal or friendly about his deep voice. She could have been any clumsy old lady, judging from his impassive face.
“Thank you,” Hope whispered, reaching out with wooden fingers to take the purse. Thankfully, she was able to grasp it without dropping it again.
“You’re welcome, Hope.” He smiled but didn’t let go of the purse.
Hope forgot that they were both holding her purse, that there was something wrong with that, that it looked awkward. She forgot all that because… What a smile! And how come he knew her name? She stared at him in surprise as the doors slid open. He had a perfect eyebrow raised as if in the question ‘Your name is Hope, isn’t it?’
Hope had forgotten where she was supposed to be going, caught up as she was in Daniel Amadi’s smile. When he released her purse, she stared at him for a few more moments, slightly disoriented. She finally managed to catch herself and walk out of the lift, her legs unsteady as she wondered what exactly had just happened.